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.
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.”
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.”
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.
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 Jikan that I hope the story is apocryphal, and that I agree with the poet and great master Ikkyu, who wrote:
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.
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.”
Most prayers are not really prayers but letters to Santa Claus — a child compiling and sending a wish list. Whether you believe in a deity, or higher power, or however you choose to name it, if it becomes a separate place or personality for your ego to send its prayers to, you are slipping into narcissism, which is as common in Buddhism as in theistic religions.