City Cave Zen

Zen Sangha in Glasgow, Scotland, practising internationally online

by Dogo

Most (or, I hope, all) Buddhist sanghas have moved their practice online because of the coronavirus pandemic. This has me thinking about doing interactive online Zen teaching, perhaps having dokusan by video. I'm still pondering, so if that's something you would be interested in, please let me know.

There's also the Zen for Real Life podcast, which currently has four talks by me, and one by Daishin. We'll be adding more soon.

#zen #buddhism #dogobarrygraham #zenpodcast #daishinstephenson #onlinedharma #onlinezen #mindfulness #meditation


by Dogo

In Western culture, we're encouraged to “make our mark.” We're told we should want to be remembered, and that it's bad to be forgotten.

What if, instead, we do the work of trying to make no mark, but instead try to help heal the marks and scars we find? What if we aim to be forgotten, and trust the results of what we do to exist without us?

#zen #buddhism #mindfulness #mediation #ego #humility #dogobarrygraham


by Dogo

In his great book of calligraphy and commentaries, Moon by the Window, Shodo Harada Roshi writes, “We cannot throw our ego away completely, but we can decline ownership of it. To awaken to our origin prior to ego is the subtle flavour of zazen.”

We have feet, but we're not our feet. We have personality traits, but we're not our personality traits. The transformation that Zen practice brings isn't a tweaking of our quirks, an attempt to change — improve! — our personality. It's no longer identifying with that personality. We don't have to identify with our own personality traits any more than we identify with someone else's.

I talked about this on an episode of the Zen for Real Life podcast.

#zen #buddhism #mindfulness #meditation #dogobarrygraham


by Dogo

When Ikkyu was abbot of Daitokuji, a layman approached him and said: “Master, you are renowned both for your wisdom and the beauty of your calligraphy. It would be a great honour for me if you would write down some words of guidance which I could hang on my wall and reflect upon.”

Ikkyu took up his writing brush and, with a flourish, wrote the single word Attention on a sheet of paper.

“Attention?” the layman said. “Could you elaborate?”

Ikkyu wrote a second time, Attention.

“That’s not much,” the layman said, wondering if Ikkyu was trolling him.

Ikkyu wrote one more time, Attention.

“But what does attention mean?”

“Attention,” said Ikkyu, “means attention.”

In the 1960s, my friend Tom McGrath was living in London and was addicted to heroin. In desperation, he went to Samye Ling to see Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche and ask for advice. Trungpa said, “You need to learn how to breathe.”

McGrath was disgusted. He'd come all the way to the monastery just to be told he needed to learn how to breathe? He'd been breathing all his life! He went back to London.

He got to know RD Laing, and asked him for advice. Laing said, “You need to learn how to breathe, man.”

Hearing the same advice from two very different and unrelated teachers, McGrath — who had asthma — realised there might be something to it.

Caught up in our stories, how often do we experience life as it is? No matter what's going on, no matter how frenzied our day, we can interrupt whatever story we're tormenting ourselves with and just be aware of the air we inhale, that keeps us alive, or the clothes that keep us warm, or the ground under our feet, right here, right now. We can turn our attention away from what is not, and bring it to what is. It probably won't solve any of our problems, and it certainly won't cure drug addiction, but it brings us to the work of living our lives.

#zen #buddhism #mindfulness #meditation #tommcgrath #chogyamtrungpa #ikkyu #rdlaing #samyeling #dogobarrygraham


by Dogo

Zazen means “sitting in meditation.” It is the heart of Zen practice, and is most useful if done daily. It is best learned from a teacher, who can check your posture and answer questions, but here are the basics of the practice that Dogen Zenji calls “the Dharma gate of great ease and joy.”

Zazen is traditionally done sitting on the floor on a zafu (cushion) and zabuton (mat), but can be done on a chair or any firm seat.

If using a zafu and zabuton, sit on the edge of the zafu. Your knees should rest on the zabuton, so that your weight is distributed between three points — your bottom, and each knee.

If using a chair, sit on the edge of the seat, not leaning against the back. Your feet should be flat on the floor, so that your weight is distributed between three points — your bottom, and each foot.

Imagine that there are wheels on your pelvis, like the wheels on a shopping cart. Roll the wheels forward, and you will feel your body come into alignment.

Your posture should now be upright and strong, but relaxed. Align your head so that the ceiling could rest on your crown if it were low enough. Place your hands in Cosmic Mudra — just below your navel, palms up, left palm on top of right palm, thumb tips touching.

Half-close your eyes, letting them go out of focus. Breathe naturally through your nose, not trying to control your breathing. Just observe the breath, at the point where you feel it enter. (If you are new to Zen practice, you might find it useful to count each breath, starting over again when you get distracted or when you reach the count of ten.) When thoughts arise, don’t fight them and don’t welcome them; just acknowledge them and return your attention to the breath. Don’t tell yourself a story; when a story starts — whether a daydream, a complaint, a judgment of yourself or others — just acknowledge it and return to the breath.

If you’re practicing with a koan, sit as described above, and let the koan keep you company.

​Don’t aim for any state, tranquil or angry. When you realise you feel angry, don’t try to stop being angry, and don’t get into the anger; just acknowledge it and return to the breath. When you realise you feel tranquil, don’t get into the tranquility; just acknowledge it and return to the breath. Ecstatic, agitated, calm, impatient, bored, rapturous, whatever comes up — just acknowledge it and return to the breath. To return to the breath is to return to life, your life, this moment.

#zen #buddhism #meditation #zazen #mindfulness #howtomeditate #dogobarrygraham


by Dogo

Because I’m a Buddhist and a socialist, many people assume I’m a humanist, as they think Buddhism and socialism are both humanist. I think the opposite. The Buddhist understanding of interdependence precludes the arrogant view I call “human exceptionalism.” And if socialism is only for humans then it’s not socialism, because it’s still class-based, with bosses and bossed, exploiters and exploited.

Although I have criticisms of the book, I like the subtitle of Timothy Morton’s Humankind: Solidarity With Non-Human People. We need to see not just all clearly-sentient beings as people, but also rocks, walls, pens, machines, as people.

#zen #buddhism #socialism #animism #compassion #humanism #respectforanimals #mindfulness #meditation #dogobarrygraham


by Dogo

I was talking with my friend and brother monk Jikan Sensei, about the legend of Huike, the Second Ancestor, who went to Bodhidharma’s cave and asked for teaching. Bodhidharma is said to have ignored him, and left him waiting outside in the snow. Finally, Huike cut off his own arm and presented it to Bodhidharma as evidence of his seriousness, and Bodhidharma accepted him as a student. I remarked to Horai that I hope the story is apocryphal, and that I agree with the poet and great master Ikkyu, who wrote:

don’t wait for the man standing in the snow to cut off his arm help him now

Jikan said, “If that story is true, I hope Bodhidharma apologised to Huike.”

Stories like that of Huike’s arm-chopping, or Mahakashyapa’s enlightenment when the Buddha silently held up a flower instead of giving a talk, are about drama, not Dharma. Even if Mahakashyapa really did get it at that moment, what about all the other monks who were sitting there who didn’t get it? Zen is a way of immediacy, a pragmatic, life-centred method of enlightenment here and now, and it includes everyone who wants it enough to show up and do the work. When it becomes a club, an identity, something that awards rank and plays favourites, it’s no longer Zen.

The cave is spacious enough to contain the entire universe, so let’s leave no one standing outside in the snow.

#zen #buddhism #mindfulness #meditation #compassion #enlightenment #bodhidharma #huike #dogobarrygraham


by Dogo

The death in 2017 of Canadian Buddhist teacher Shoken Michael Stone at the age of 42 was a heartbreaking reminder that it’s vital for Buddhist teachers with mental health issues to be open about them and ask for help.

Stone had lifelong bipolar disorder, and, according to the statement released by his partner and others:

“As versed as Michael was with the silence around mental health issues in our culture, he feared the stigma of his diagnosis. He was on the cusp of revealing publicly how shaped he was by bipolar disorder, and how he was doing.​

“In the silencing he hid desires he had for relief. This spring his mania began to cycle more rapidly. The psychiatrist had always said the most dangerous part of bipolar disorder is the manic episode. It’s the part they treat. In an effort to stabilize him, his medication dosage was increased. Now and then he would mention a wish for a safe, non-addictive prescribed natural form of opium. He discussed it with his psychiatrist and Carina. He thought it might calm his overactive mind.

“Unbeknownst to everybody, he was growing more desperate. On Thursday July 13, Michael left his Gulf Island home for a routine trip to Victoria. On the way into town, he called a substance abuse and addictions pharmacy, likely to ask for a safe, controlled drug to self-medicate. He was not a candidate. He got a haircut, exercised, ran household errands and finally acquired a street drug. Initial toxicology tests suggest inconclusively that he had opioids, including fentanyl, in his system. Because of the back up due to the fentanyl crisis, it will be five months before the conclusive toxicology test results are in.”

I don’t know how many people have come to me as a Zen teacher in the hope Zen practice could treat, or even cure, their mental health issues. I do know they were all disappointed when I told them meditation could no more treat a mental illness than a physical one (though it might enable them to relate differently to the illness…or it might not). They also seemed disappointed when I told them I have mental health issues myself, and that what treats mine effectively is not meditation, but Prozac. Some were upset when I told them to see a doctor before they attempted Zen practice. The Buddha Dharma relieves suffering, but it’s not a cure-all, or even a cure-most. ​

I’m not bipolar, and have never been depressed, but here’s what happens if I’m unmedicated: I see something that would normally make me smile in delight, maybe a flower in bloom or a happy couple walking hand in hand…but, instead of just feeling glad for them, I cry uncontrollable, shuddering tears of joy that can go on for hours. Or I might experience something mildly irritating, but instead of being mildly irritated I’ll be filled with inconsolable rage. Both of these reactions (they’re really the same), present a challenge in going about one’s daily rounds…

I’ve been practicing Zen for more than 30 years, but meditation hasn’t diminished these symptoms in the slightest. Medication, however, does the job very well, and I get to be delighted or irritated without being a basket case.

Render unto meditation the things that are meditation’s, and unto medication the things that are medication’s.

I understand meds don’t work well for everyone, but mental health issues require doctors, not spiritual teachers. To help our students, Buddhist teachers must be open about our humanity, our messes, our vulnerabilities. Hiding our realities behind a serene smile helps no one, and is vanity, not enlightenment. Our vow is to save all sentient beings, but to do that we have to be saved by all sentient beings.

#zen #buddhism #mentalhealth #mentalillness #bipolar #meditation #mindfulness #shokenmichaelstone #dogobarrygraham


by Dogo

I used to hike with a friend who was a map enthusiast, and I told him maps didn’t seem to help me to avoid getting lost. He told me, “That’s because you want the map to show you where to go, but that’s not what maps do. What they do is show you where you are.”

I didn’t understand what he meant, but, more than twenty years later, I think I finally have an idea of how knowing the route to where we think we want to go is not the same thing as knowing where we are. We might know where we’re trying to go, but we rarely know where we are.

Nearly all of our thoughts are comparative — comparing how we’re doing to how we perceive other people to be doing, comparing life to how it used to be, or how we hope it will be in the future, or how we think it ought to be now. We compare ourselves, who we are and how we are, to who and how we think we ought to be, or we compare ourselves to other people. We’re not reading the map skilfully, and so we’re lost.

What if we stop thinking about where we should be, and just read the map? What if we let it show us where we are right now? Can we take that instruction as it is? What if we look at who we are, how we are, the situation we’re in, without comparison or story? Then we might find that we have what we need. If we look at what is, rather than what isn’t, at who we are rather than who we’re not, it may be interesting and it may be wondrous and it will certainly be perfect, because we find out where we are. We are no longer lost.

#zen #buddhism #mindfulness #meditation #dogobarrygraham


by Dogo

Some people say that the antidote for anger and hate is love. I think that’s too easy, because the word is almost meaningless.

You can say you love someone. You can also say you love the mountains, or you love music, or books, or movies. You can say you love doughnuts. All of these statements may be true, but they don’t mean the same thing.

So, with love being so hard to define, it doesn’t seem to follow that it’s the antidote to anger or hate. In fact, a certain type of “love” can easily and quickly turn into hate — romantic love, which can be the most egocentric state, because it’s all about you, not the person you purport to love. It’s all about how they make you feel, what you want from them, what you expect from them. And when your expectations are not met, anger arises, and love is replaced by hate, because love with attachment is not different than hate. They are both manifestations of passion.

It’s not love that will free us from anger and hate — it’s compassion. Without compassion, it’s possible to be cruel to people we love; with compassion, cruelty becomes impossible, because compassion closes the gap between us and other people, other beings, the world and the universe.

I used to know a person who told me she hated me. She probably had good reason. We would have preferred never to see each other, but circumstances sometimes required otherwise. I did not reciprocate her hatred — I wished her well — but I often found myself reacting angrily to her aggression.

When I felt anger taking hold of me, I remembered a time when I had to leave her in a hospital. I remembered how small and broken she was. I remembered how she cried as I left her there, and how I cried as I drove away, because I was and am as small and broken as she was. When I remembered her face as I left her there, any feelings of anger toward her were gone, and I just wanted her to be happy.

That was not love. Nor was it pity, which is just contempt with a soft voice. It was compassion, a recognition of the suffering of all beings, which was also a recognition that the hostility shown toward me by her small, deluded ego, and the angry reaction of my small, deluded ego, were irrelevant.

Compassion is not about the self. Compassion has no expectations or attachment to outcomes, so it does not seek to control other people, because compassion does not see enough separation for there to be anyone else to control.

#zen #buddhism #mindfulness #meditation #compassion #dogobarrygraham


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