Thursday, April 17, 2014

Book Review: Mushotoku Mind by Richard Collins

by Paul Cooper of Two Rivers Zen Community, Honesdale, PA. for Sweeping Zen

Writings on the Heart Sutra are extensive ranging from highly academic scholarly treatments to compilations of dharma talks for the lay practitioner. This is understandable considering that the Heart Sutra functions as a terse and concise distillation of an extensive body of writing along with the central place the Heart Sutra holds in the “emptiness literature” of  the Perfection of Wisdom tradition in Mahayana Buddhism. This edition is, in my opinion, one of the most outstanding contributions to the subject. It is balanced, thorough, beautifully presented and highly accessible for both the dharma practitioner, the student of comparative religion and for the curious casual reader.

The book is based on a series of talks given on the Heart Sutra by Taisen Deshimaru, Roshi in Paris between 1977 and 1978. Deshimaru, a student of Kodo Sawaki, was instrumental to introducing Zen study and practice to Europe. While originally presented as a series of oral teachings the book maintains a good level of continuity. Deshimaru conveys a strong sense of scholarship without a loss of directness. I believe that this is the result of careful and sensitive editing of this new edition by Richard Collins who is both a dharma teacher and an English scholar, holding the Ph.D. in English literature. His thoughtful introduction sets the tone for the book and captures its essence.  For instance, he writes:
As a Soto sangha in the tradition of Dogen Zenji, the New Orleans Zen Temple asked something else of me: simply to empty my preconceptions and to live in the here and now, doing what needed to be done, with a mushotoku attitude, with no thought of personal profit or gain (pp. xi-xii).
To read the rest of the review, visit Sweeping Zen.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Oxherding Pictures

Ox-Herding: Stages of Zen Practice
Compiled by John M. Koller, Department of Cognitive Science, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Prints by Master Gyokusei Jikihara

Ten Oxherding Pictures
By Zen Master Kakuan, China, 12th C. A sequence of ten illustrations depicting the levels of realization in Zen, these ancient drawings with Verse and Comments are presented in two new English translations along with contemporary commentary.

The Ten Oxherding Pictures
From The Manual of Zen Buddhism, D.T. Suzuki. Prints by Shubun (15th Century)

Oxherding Pictures in Buddhism Now
The following pictures come from Songgwangsa, Korea, and are found on the outside walls of a meditation hall.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Sitting Behind Bars in Tehachapi

By Richard Collins

Photo by meesh via Flickr under a CC-BY license.
I visited the prison in Tehachapi last week as a guest chaplain for some inmates who requested a Buddhist priest to conduct services for them. As the director of the Zen Fellowship of Bakersfield, I was contacted through the Prison Dharma Network, a group that coordinates visits to prisoners throughout the U.S. It took several months of paperwork and delay, but at last I was entering the first of many gates.

About forty miles from Bakersfield lies the dry, stark, windblown Cummings Valley of the Tehachapi mountains, high enough for scrub oak but too low for evergreens. Among a scattering of houses and vineyards sprawls the cement and steel compounds of the eighty-year-old California Correctional Institute, the third oldest prison in California after Folsom (1880) and San Quentin (1852).

The prison opened in 1933 as the California Institution for Women, Tehachapi, the first women’s prison in the state, with 28 inmates transferred from San Quentin where they had been housed side-by-side with men with predictable results. The new women’s prison was run on progressive lines with the idea that these women (those who were not hanged) could be returned to society better than they came in. They were allowed to make “colorful frocks” fashioned after what was chic in the magazines and even to wear red shoes if they liked, rather than the drab prison garb and dull boots they had sported in San Quentin.

It was into that environment that Humphrey Bogart as Sam Spade sent Mary Astor as Brigid O’Shaunessy at the end of The Maltese Falcon (1941): “Well, if you get a good break, you’ll be out of Tehachapi in twenty years and you can come back to me then. I hope they don’t hang you, precious, by that sweet neck.” James M. Cain also referenced the prison in Double Indemnity (1943) when he mentioned a wife who was cleaning her gun when her husband “got in the way.”
Excerpted. To read the rest of the article, visit Sweeping Zen.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Introduction to Zen Practice - Saturday, March 8

Date and Time
Saturday, March 8: 8:30 am – 11:30 am

The Forum at St. Paul's Episcopal Church
2216 17th St, Bakersfield, CA
(See the "Visit" page for directions and a map)

The Zen Fellowship of Bakersfield will offer an Introduction to Zen. Learn how to practice sitting concentration (zazen) and walking concentration (kinhin), with emphasis on posture, breathing, and attitude of mind. All equipment is provided. Dress in loose, comfortable clothing.

A $25 donation (students $10) includes traditional monk’s breakfast during introduction and weekly participation through the end of the month.

Reservations are required, and space is limited.

For more information and reservations, email the director from the "Contact" page. For directions to the dojo, see the "Visit" page.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Book Review: The Mindful Writer: Noble Truths of the Writing Life by Dinty W. Moore

Review by Gary Enns
Excerpted. To read the rest of the review, visit Sweeping Zen.
The Mindful Writer by Dinty. W. Moore
The paradox of a good inspirational wisdom book is that the moment you finish a page or two, you are compelled to put the book down, to stop reading and just live life. And what about a good wisdom book—on writing? It screams through its implications—throw me down! Why are you even reading me right now when you could be living the life of the writer?

In the case of The Mindful Writer (2012), which I consider just such a book, Moore and the well-known authors he quotes and explicates compel us to just drop the book and live the moment—to notice the surroundings, to sit down at the writing desk, to catch a thought on the page and see where it might lead.

Moore’s central assertion is that mindfulness is essential for a fruitful, truly satisfying writing life. Writing is life, and life is writing, and so it follows that what is true of every other aspect of life is also true of writing.

Moore establishes this assertion by defining the mindful writer as one who remains “attentive to the task at hand, seeing the words that are before you, hearing the possibilities in your mind, not succumbing to the thousands of other willing and ready distractions” (7).

Book Review of The Mindful Writer on Sweeping ZenTo further clarify, he adapts the Four Noble Truths to the life of the writer: 
The writing life is difficult, full of disappointment and dissatisfaction.

Much of this dissatisfaction comes from the ego, from our insistence on controlling both the process of writing and how the world reacts to what we have written.

There is a way to lessen the disappointment and dissatisfaction and to live a more fruitful writing life.

The way to accomplish this is to make both the practice of writing and the work itself less about ourselves. To thrive, we must be mindful of our motives and our attachment to desired outcomes. (8)

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Nishijima is Dead, Are You More Alive Than He?

by Richard Collins
1 February 2014

Gudo Wafu Nishijima
I almost didn’t come to zazen today. I had considered going to Santa Monica where Brad Warner’s group is having zazen as they always do at 10 o’clock, to be followed by a memorial service for his master, Gudo Nishijima, who died earlier this week.

I never knew Nishijima, but he was a contemporary of Taisen Deshimaru and like Deshimaru a student of Kodo Sawaki. So he was a very important teacher in a lineage very closely related to ours, and very similar to ours in the reliance on the fundamentals of the practice: on zazen and a pared down ritual. All three were known as rebels in the Zen world, especially in the official world of Soto Zen, and yet they were very much recognized by the Sotoshu, the governing body of Soto Zen in Japan.

Kodo Sawaki was known for restoring zazen to Zen practice in Japan, which had largely fallen out of favor. Monks, often the sons of village priests, would go through their training for a few years at one of the larger training temples, and then when they received their “diplomas,” you might say, they would return to their family temples to make their living performing primarily funerary rites, continuing the family business. But they wouldn’t do zazen much. This is why Kodo Sawaki was known as a rebel and a reformer, going back to the basics. No toys, he would say. Just sit. He didn’t like the use of koans. Just sit. He didn’t like the overreliance on ceremony. Just sit. He didn’t even want to have his own temple, refusing for many years to accept the position of abbot anywhere, until his later years at Antaiji. Just sit.

Sometimes this “just sit” is over-interpreted. Just sit doesn’t mean just sit. It means that whatever you do you undertake with the same attitude of mind that you use when you are sitting in zazen. It doesn’t mean not reading or thinking or studying, much less not working with your hands or practicing an art. Kodo Sawaki and Nishijima and Deshimaru, all were deeply learned. Kodo Sawaki may have been called Homeless Kodo because he did not have a temple of his own, but when he traveled he was never without his case of books, an attachment his friends made fun of. You know the depth of Deshimaru’s learning from my edition of his commentaries on the Heart Sutra. And when I first read Dogen’s Shobogenzo it was in Nishijima’s four-volume translation.

So I thought it might be a nice gesture to show up at the memorial in Santa Monica. A nice gesture, but to impress whom? Maybe if I hadn’t anything else to do. It is more appropriate that I am here for the first sitting in our new space. This is a much better way of memorializing and remembering a master who is no longer here. After all, he is just as not here in Bakersfield as he is not there in Santa Monica. And after all, our zazen is the best way of embodying what Nishijima and Deshimaru and their teacher Kodo Sawaki were all about.

We live in the here and now. Much better to do something for the living than for the dead. That doesn’t mean though that we throw out the past. It doesn’t mean we throw out the past masters of the lineage. On the contrary: Nishijima, Deshimaru, Kodo Sawaki, they were just like the Buddha, just like Bodhidharma, just men, just people, just human beings, just like us. The best way to remember them is to live our lives. The best way to live our lives is to do zazen. The best way to do zazen is as nothing special.

This is our first day in this new space but it is always the first day. Every zazen is the first zazen in a new space. Always remember: posture, breathing, attitude of mind. Mushotoku attitude of mind, no personal profit, no personal gain. That’s the entire formula for zazen, the entire secret to Zen practice, very simple. Don’t complicate it. Complications are an expression of the ego, the very opposite attitude of mushotoku. We want things to be more complex so that we can figure them out, like Oedipus solving the riddle of the Sphinx. We want our lives to be more tangled, more neurotic, like Woody Allen, because we think that makes us more interesting. We want our reactions to be more extreme because we think that makes us more passionate and therefore more alive. But that’s not true. More complexity, more neuroses, more extreme emotions really show us how desensitized we are to the subtleties of others and involve us in our own delusions. See for yourself, though. Drop off these delusions in zazen and see for yourself whether that makes life more interesting and you more alive, or duller and deader. That’s the only test.

Nishijima is dead. The question is: are you more alive than he?