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Entries in Zen Buddhism (27)


A Zen Demonstration

It is enlightenment nature.

Above is the dwelling place of all buddhas.

Below are the six realms of existence.
One by one, each thing is complete.
One by one, each thing has it.
It and dust interpenetrate.
It is already apparent in all things.
So, without cultivation, you are already complete—
Understand, understand.
Clear, clear.

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Love Letters Sent by the Wind

“A single night of love is better than a hundred thousand years of sterile meditation,” he wrote. The life and poetry of Ikkyu, from Wild Ways: Zen Poems of Ikkyu, translated by John Stevens and published by White Pine Press.

Ikkyu, born as the sun rose on the first day of 1394, was rumored to have been sired by the emperor Gokomatsu. His mother, a member of the influential Fujiwara clan, had been one of Gokomatsu’s attendants at court, but she had been slandered by the empress and subsequently ousted from the palace prior to Ikkyu’s birth.

Being in such difficult circumstances, Ikkyu’s mother was obliged to send him at age five to Ankoku-ji, a Rinzai temple in Kyoto, to be raised by the monks. The precocious little acolyte quickly distinguished himself at the monastery, attaining renown at an early age for both his keen mind and his impish behavior.

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Deep in the Present Moment

Born in 1938 to a well-respected family on the Mekong River Delta, Sister Chan Khong learned at a young age the importance of caring for the sick, the hungry and the powerless. Her grandfather told her, “We have no money to leave you, but we bequeath you the merit we have earned from helping people in need.” She first went to help the poor at age 18.

In 1964 Khong, then a twenty-six-year-old biology teacher, helped Thich Nhat Hanh establish an organization to bring medical facilities, school supplies and other essential equipment to war-ravaged rural Vietnam. A few years later she traveled with him to Paris as part of the Buddhist Peace Delegation, trying to influence the peace talks aimed at ending the Vietnam War. Their desire for sanity and peace in the world led to the founding of Plum Village, a retreat center in France. Their sangha now includes major centers in California and Vermont.

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Eyes Are Horizontal, Nose Is Vertical, Where Is Your Problem?

    A monk asked Yakusan Igen-zenji, “I have a problem. Would you please solve it for me?”
    Yakusan said, “Come in the evening. I will solve your problem.”
    That evening, all the monks gathered in the Dharma Hall. Yakusan addressed them: “Is there anyone here who needs to solve a problem?”
    The monk approached Yakusan. Yakusan descended the platform, seized him and said, “Everybody, look at him! He has a problem!” Yakusan pushed the monk away and returned to his quarters.

    Genro’s comment:
    What Yakusan did seems rough, but if you examine his action carefully, his answer was perfectly matching. Even if all the buddhas of the three worlds came out, not one could change it. Why is this so? This monk has a problem. If he cannot solve it by himself, let him look at the peak of the mountain where clouds are floating. Let him look at the river where the water is rushing quickly.

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In the Natural Readiness of Time

Eido Roshi has been continuously at the center of Buddhism in America—watching it, helping it grow—longer than any other living person. He has taught Zen to Americans for almost half a century, and so it is not surprising he takes a long view of how American Buddhism, to which he has devoted his life, will come to be. Not for him our impatience to “spread the dharma.” For Eido Roshi, the development of a genuine Buddhist tradition in the West must be natural and slow—centuries long, even. But to doubt that it will happen, he says, or to rush or strategize it, is to show a lack of trust in the dharma. I was joined in this discussion by Peter Turner, president of Shambhala Publications, someone who also thinks deeply about Buddhism’s future. Our conversation with Eido Roshi changed my understanding of the task before Buddhists in the West in a way that is both a joy and a relief.

—Melvin McLeod

Buddhadharma: As Buddhism has progressed in the West, it has adopted a diversity of forms, some highly adapted to contemporary life, others quite traditional. From your perspective, what is the relationship between the outward forms of Buddhism and its essence?

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A Pillar of Zen: Roshi Philip Kapleau 1912 - 2004

My Zen teacher, Roshi Philip Kapleau, died peacefully on May 6 at the venerable age of 91. Several days later, many of us who had known him and been with him for more than thirty years gathered for his burial at the Chapin Mill Retreat Center, the country property of the Rochester Zen Center. Some who were there had since found other teachers and other teachings, or had simply taken other directions in life than the path of Zen. All of us, though, felt a deep gratitude and love that no words can express.

Each person there seeed to find that at bottom they owed this man so much. He had opened the gate of practice, and his immense love of the dharma had saved us from deeply painful lives. The Three Pillars of Zen—the now classic work that brought him into the public eye and led him to found the first Zen center in America headed by a Westerner—was published in 1965 when the world was in chaos, the Vietnam War still on. Most of us were only in our early twenties, and somewhat crazed. He stood at an ancient door, held it open wide, and said to us simply, ‘Come in. Work hard. The dharma will never let you down.’

Roshi’s dying and death occurred outdoors, beneath the new-leaved trees in the backyard of the Rochester Zen Center, where some thirty years earlier he and a cadre of quite unskilled laborers had built this center from a burnt-out shell of a building. (He liked to say in those early days, ‘We specialize in burnt-out buildings and people.’)

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Dogo Expresses Condolences

“One day in the neighborhood of Dogo’s Temple of Chang-chou, death occurred in a certain home and Zen Master Dogo took his disciple Zengen to express their condolences to the family.” During the visit Zengen tapped the coffin and asked, “Is he alive or dead?”

What is Zengen really asking? Obviously he knows that the person in the coffin is dead. So what is his real question? Perhaps it is, What happens after death? or What is death? or What will happen to me after I die? or Is there really death? or If he lies here, dead, what is the Deathless? Perhaps his deep concern—for it is a heartfelt question, as his subsequent actions will prove—grew from, or was intensified by, reciting the Heart Sutra: “None are born or die. Nor are they stained or pure, nor do they wax or wane. There is no withering nor death, nor end of them.” What does that mean, really? We chant those profound words daily, as do Zen practitioners everywhere. Well, what do they mean?

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