Shunryu Suzuki, Hamburgers, Zen and Lemonade. What more do you need?

The following story kindly portays the line that many Dharma students dance across between having a sincere dedication to their practice and being self-righteous or judgmental about it. It is one of my favorites stories about Suzuki Roshi because he so skillfully addresses ego-attachment to some of the things we hold most dear, our practice. Two of the most difficult and subtle of the Ten Fetters is attachment to rites and rituals and measuring oneself and comparing oneself to others. A judgmental attitude to vegetarianism (or to vegetarians for that matter) would encompass both. Suzuki strips down the beliefs to simple attachment and the schism it causes.

The point is that any belief or practice can be a fetter. Especially the ones that we use to so delicately construct a self around us. A self that we become attached to. The self that states “I’m a Buddhist” or “I’m a Vegetarian” or what ever we use to assume a stronger presence of self.

Feel free to continue the discussion in the comments here that I started on my Vegetarianism and Buddhism open forum post. (I discontinued comments over there due to spam but read through them, good stuff will entail, and most of it is meat-free).


During some work at Tassajara, Suzuki Roshi crushed his finger. A student drove Suzuki Roshi into Monterey to see a doctor. On the way back, as they were driving along Suzuki Roshi said “I’m hungry.” All the student, a vegetarian, could see were a line of fast food restaurants. Suzuki Roshi said, “Pull over here.” into a cheap drive-in. 

The student ordered a grilled cheese sandwich. Suzuki Roshi ordered a burger. When the food arrived the student looked at his grilled cheese sandwich. As it was his first animal product meal in two years, he was unsure what to do. Suzuki Roshi took a bite of his own burger and said “I don’t like this. Let’s switch.” He picked up the student’s sandwich and his and then exchanged them…

…During a practice period there was a battle between the vegans and some other vegetarian-types. Suzuki Roshi didn’t like the fanaticism. Almost everyone had issues with sugar, especially unrefined white sugar. One day a big pitcher of lemonade was put out near for the afternoon tea break. Suzuki Roshi walked up and someone offered him a glass of lemonade. Suzuki Roshi: “Is there sugar in it?” When he found out that there wasn’t sugar in the lemonade he put in one spoonful then another then another and he drank it with great relish to the amazement of those watching.

[original story here I edited for brevity]

Is vegetarianism or any dietary restriction necessary for Buddhist practice? I don’t think so. Should you strive to be a vegetarian or celibate or a teetotaler? No, I don’t think so. Rather you should let your actions, diet and thoughts be an off-shoot of your practice. As you practice, if you find yourself not eating meat or drinking then allow it to proceed. It is neither here nor there. The more you attach to a specific belief or practice the more you pick and choose. And the more you pick and choose the more you discriminate and judge good vs. bad.

Sigalovada Sutta: Buddha’s Advice on Mom [and householders]

Mother and father as the east,
Teachers as the south,
Spouse and family as the west,
Friends and colleagues as the north,
Servants and workers below,
Brahmans and ascetics above;
These directions a person should honor
In order to be truly good.

Wise and virtuous,
Gentle and eloquent,
Humble and accommodating;
Such a person attains glory.

Energetic, not lazy,
Not shaken in misfortune,
Flawless in conduct,
and intelligent;
Such a person attains glory.

A compassionate maker of friends,
Approachable, free from stinginess,
A leader, a teacher, and diplomat;
Such a person attains glory.

Generosity and kind words,
Conduct for others’ welfare,
Impartiality in all things;
These are suitable everywhere.

These kind dispositions hold the world together,
Like the linchpin of a moving chariot.
And should these kind dispositions not exist,
Then the mother would not receive
Respect or honor from her child,
Neither would a father.

Upon these things
The wise reflect;
They obtain greatness
And are sources of praise.”



Embracing the Householder Life

I embrace the life of a householder without aspiring to liberation during this life. Is it even possible to have both the fetters and attachments of daily struggle and expect to be released from samsara in just one lifetime? Or is the desire for immediate release what anchors us deeper and deeper into conceptions like hooks into the flesh. I place little priority on the final result or goals instead preferring to watch and savor each step as I place one foot slowly in front of the other. I release myself from the expectation of awakening in this lifetime and instead engage and internalize the moments that pass…that pass….that pass. While many may be primed for release and liberation like an engine revved and with eyes squinting for the finish; I see each day a moment of this practice where I become more generous, more compassionate and more aware. My engine has cooled like a long distance runner ready for the race; like a man walking…

Liberation is not only found in monasteries, on cushions or in the mastery of metaphysical elements of practice. It is found at the bottom of a sink and in the eyes of a child. It is in the arms of your spouse and in the fists of your enemy. It is the bittersweet tug of memory and the metallic tang of anger. It is both the wind in the trees and the branches that sway in it. Liberation is not apart from the sense world around us. Liberation is the sense world through awakened eyes. The cloudiness of sleep and the haze of tears each a prism focusing the light of experience.

Liberation isn’t possible in this life. Liberation is this life. Liberation is the radical trust in our practice and in this moment…and the next…and the next. That each moment is molded by our delusions, anger and ignorance or fostered through compassion, wisdom and temperance is our practice.

To accept the responsibility is our faith.


Contemplation of Sutra as Practice ~ Jiken Anderson

Or “When you need a crowbar, use a crowbar.”

Thus have I heard—in some corners of the English-speaking Zen world: 

Study of the sutras is an obstacle to practice.  “Dogen said just sit,” it has been said, “so just sit.”   Our transmission is outside the sutras, not about letters or words.  And we know perfectly well what this means, right?

I do not know if this resistance to study and thought (and, concomitantly, to ritual) represents a traditional tendency in Japanese Zen or even a coherent reading of Dogen, or is a reflection of an uncritical embrace of the rhetoric of the Patriarchs of the ninth century, who rightly rejected the hegemonic and constipated piety of their own moment as counterproductive. 

I do know that we do things differently in the milieu of Tendai Buddhism among English-speakers.  And I have reason to think that a Tendai approach to practice and to the teachings offers a sensible, workable third path between two untenable positions: a nihilistic rejection of the sutras as Asian Puff from the Ancient Past Irrelevant to Us on one side; an eternalistic, uncritical, or fundamentalist veneration of the sutras as the Summum Bonum of the One True Faith and Mystical Wisdom Heritage on the other side. 

To get at what I am proposing, you need to have a handle on two interrelated concepts:  that of upaya or skillful means, and that of Buddha-garbha, or enlightened nature.  These are treated together in the Lotus Sutra, which is the central text of the Tendai tradition.  Buddha-garbha means that all beings, even you, have the potential to attain enlightenment and, further, will inevitably do so; upaya means that all the actions of the Buddhas, including the recorded texts of the sutras, are moments in which enlightened mind reaches out and meets deluded beings where they are, with whatever tool, trick, or gimmick is necessary. 

“Gimmick” is not too strong a word for this method:  in chapter four of the Lotus Sutra, for instance, we see an analogy made between the teaching situation of the Buddha and the disciple to that of an employer (hilariously in my view) tricking a man into shoveling shit for decades in order for him to feel better about himself and, ultimately, attain something that was already his from the start.  One might say upaya is about mitigating stupidity, specifically the stupidity of deluded beings who do not see their own inherent dignity and divinity, the stupidity of avoidance.  Upaya is the means by which Buddha-garbha is realized; Buddha-garbha is the rationale for upaya. 

Buddha Shakyamuni is credited in the Lotus Sutra (chapter two this time) with coming on out and describing this situational pedagogy:

“The Tathagathas save all living beings
With innumerable expedients.
The cause all living beings to enter the Way
To the wisdom-without-asravas of the Buddha.
Anyone who hears the Dharma
Will not fail to become a Buddha.
Every Buddha vows at the outset:

‘I will cause all beings
To attain the same enlightenment
That I attained.’

The future Buddhas will expound many thousands
Of Myriads of millions of teachings
For just one purpose,
That is, for the purpose of revealing the One Vehicle.”  Lotus Sutra p. 43.

And the One Vehicle, or Ekayana, is the Buddha-Vehicle (Buddha-yana):  the doctrine that all beings, here described as those who hears the Dharma, inherently have the potential to Buddhahood, with no exceptions, and that Buddhist practice amounts to eliminating defilements and drawing forth or manifesting from oneself enlightened qualities.  This is about the Buddha within. 

The purpose of the written Teaching is to give a pointer or, if you like, to create a situation or context in which one might have some insight into this.  It is a poke, a prod.  Brook Ziporyn describes it as being like the punchline to a joke:  first a context is established, and then undercut with a surprise that transforms the context.  The transmission is not in or of the words anymore than the laughter a good joke provokes is identical to the words of the joke.  This is not about making meaning, or having a meaningful life; this is not a semiotic or semantic game.  It is, in short, about practice.

There is a way in which the question of whether the claims made in sutras are objectively true or false is irrelevant.  Consider the hyperbole:  does it really matter how many kotis of nayutas of kalpas passed before the sky stopped spontaneously showering mandarava blossoms?  Only to such a one who seeks to understand Stravinsky or Bartok by measuring the mass and volume of a symphonic score.  No:  the written text is itself a series of upaya, or gimmicks, just as a piece of music is constructed serially to kick you here, caress you there, and achieve (if successful) a particular affective impact on the observer

Can the orchestration Stravinsky devised for the Rite of Spring be proven true or false?  No, but it can be understood nonverbally, transmitted outside the “words” or notes, if taken on its own terms and in an appreciative attitude.  This means stop jibbering your overconfident jabber and listen to the music, open up to it, let it work on you.   Another analogy:  if you are trapped in a cage, and someone offers you a crowbar with which to work your way out, does it matter if the crowbar is “true” or “false”?

The rest of the prescribed practices in post-Ekayana Buddhism, inclusive of Japanese Zen streams, are also upaya.  There is nothing singularly special about the effective but arbitrary practice of sitting on a zafu staring at a wall until your hips heroically turn arthritic.  That, too, is a device, something that works in a particular way under particular conditions.  Chanting?  A device.  Walking in the woods with an open heart?  The same, and just as authentic.  In short, quit worrying and contemplate the teaching in a meditative spirit, just the same as washing the dishes or shoveling the shit.  In all seriousness, why not?  Who are you to avoid the dirty work? 

This is the truth, not a lie:  this literature reaches people because it directs attention to a fundamental reality of our situation, in any situation.  With an open mind, you may also get in on it.  Namo Buddhaya!

“Those who do not study the Dharma
Cannot understand it.
You have already realized

The fact that the Buddhas, the World-Teachers, employ expedients,
According to the capacities of all living beings.
Know that, when you remove your doubts,
And when you have great joy,
You will become Buddhas!”
Lotus Sutra, pp. 49-50

Works Cited and Suggested

  • Murano, Senchu (trans).  The Lotus Sutra.  Tokyo, Japan:  Nichiren Shu Shimbun, 1974.
  • Ng Yu-Kwan.  T’ien-t’ai Buddhism and Early Madhyamika.  Honolulu, HI: University of Hawaii Press:  1993.
  • Swanson, Paul L.  Foundations of T’ien-T’ai Philosophy.  Berkeley, CA:  Asian Humanities Press, 1989.
  • Ziporyn, Brook.  Being and Ambiguity: Philosophical Experiments with Tiantai Buddhism.  Chicago, IL: Open Court Publications, 2004.

Other Upaya:

Jikan Anderson leads the Great River Ekayana Sangha in Arlington, Virginia.  Find more of his material at DC tendai. Follow him on twitter under the handle @JikanAnderson.

Addicted To Attachment ~ S.A. Barton


I am an alcoholic who has recovered from alcoholism in a 12-step program.  As many of you are aware, 12-step recovery involves a spiritual solution, the finding of a higher power.  The spirituality I found was in Taoism, I call my higher power the Tao.  As a Taoist, I feel right at home writing a guest post for a Buddhist blog.  I think most Taoists at the very least think that Buddha was a great guy who was very close to the Tao.  As many of you may know, when Buddhism came to China, one branch of Buddhists intermingled the two strains of thought very strongly: the Ch’an, which is known as Zen Buddhism today.  So whether you think Zen Buddhists are close to the Tao, or Lao Tzu and Chuang Tzu were very close to the Buddha, what’s the difference really?  They’re all close to reality, and that’s a great place to be.  That last statement is a halfway decent lead-in to what I’m writing about here, a concept that is at the root of both Taoist and Buddhist thought, as well as those in recovery: attachment.

–S. A. Barton ~ on twitter as @Tao23 , and I blog at The Tao Of Chaos

Addicted To Attachment:

            Attachment is something that every human being deals with.  We become attached to all sorts of things.  We become attached to material items, to people and our relationships with them, to ideas and habits and… you get the idea.  Attachment is an attempt to root something in an undeveloping state, to prevent change in both ourselves and in the thing we are attached to.  As we all know from our own experience, doing this leads to suffering.  Does this seem awfully basic, not a terribly refined thought?  Good.  One of my weak spots as a pointy-headed intellectual is for baroque flights of complex thinking.  I need to remind myself of basic things often. 

            So, back to suffering.  As someone who has experienced addiction, I think looking at addiction is a great way to look at how attachment works.  Addiction is a deep, raw, powerful form of attachment and suffering.  It is easy to look at someone who has an addiction and say “you’re an alcoholic, you’re attached to alcohol.”  Well, that’s true.  It’s also a superficial observation; it’s looking at the flower and not the fruit, at the leaf and not the root.  I was attached to control, not alcohol.  When I was a child, my family life was chaotic.  I felt adrift, without power, without control.  As I grew up, I flailed around, trying to find something to hold on to, something unchanging which of course did not exist.  I became attached to the idea of controlling my life.  At first, I tried to do so by being exceptional.  But this required me to be the best at whatever I tried.  I quickly discovered that I could not be the best.  As large as this world is, there was always someone who surpassed me.  As varied as the things people can do are, when I surpassed someone, there was some other pursuit in which they surpassed me.  If I couldn’t be the best, what good was it to try, I thought.  I was quickly a disappointed perfectionist; I saw that I could not have control over the results of my own pursuits.  All I could control was the  amount and quality of effort I put in, and that was not enough for me.  But I am stubborn, this realization did not stop me.  Instead, I found another way. 

            I would be a drunk.

            No, I didn’t make a bold decision just like that, saying, “and now, I will be the best alcoholic ever.”  Like many of the decisions we make about our own lives, this one was made as the result of many smaller decisions, and even more, of times when I did not make a decision, but refused and let inertia and whim rule the results.  It is very easy to do that when one lives an unexamined life as I did.  The end result of my decisions and non-decisions and willful refusal to examine my own motives, though, was that I became alcoholic.  Because that’s real control.  Remember, what can be controlled is the effort you put into a thing.  And I could definitely down a bottle of bourbon.  It worked every time.  I opened the bottle, I drank, I found refuge.  Refuge, because what addiction to an intoxicating substance brings is a relinquishing of control.  Control over my own perceptions, my own thoughts, my own fears, my own body, of others’ behavior, of my own life.  Everything goes on autopilot when you drink addictively.  And that’s a huge relief, giving up control.  The only problem is, sooner or later you sober up, and it is very easy to see that when you spend your time being drunk instead of dealing with your own life, autopilot is not a good pilot.  Being drunk is what we in 12-step recovery call “an easier, softer way”.  And it doesn’t work.  It’s like the dark side in the Star Wars mythos.  It looks like it’s working at the moment, but in the long run you find that somehow everything has gone awry.

            Recovery from addiction, on the other hand, is exactly the same thing.  As is living any life mindfully whether you have had the experience of addiction or not.  It is about relinquishing control, giving up perfection, and finding refuge.  When you do these things in a mindful way (and that’s the difference between addiction and spiritual practice), you find the proper use of the will… another phrase from the 12-step playbook.  More importantly, finding those  proper uses, you accept what they are and what they are not.  I cannot control the words of another, but I can control mine.  I cannot control what another person does, but I can choose my own actions.  I cannot take responsibility for what happens in the world, but I can choose what I do about those events.  Letting go is not about drifting, though many people unacquainted with Taoism and Buddhism make the mistake of thinking so.  Sometimes those of us who are make that mistake too.  Relinquishing an attachment is more like a boat drawing up an anchor; it is now free to travel with a destination in mind.  Where does our spiritual practice come into play here?  Extending the metaphor, it is the map, the compass, the knowledge of how to tack into the wind.  Doing those things effectively requires one to see clearly, to understand the behavior of the wind and the sea.  Tao and Zen are all about seeing clearly.  And that brings us right back to basics. If our boat is to carry us to experience and learn about new lands and peoples, we must see and understand the sea and the wind, or the basic foundations of our own lives.  Only by avoiding the illusion of controlling the uncontrollable, by relinquishing that very basic attachment, can we be free of the suffering we bring to ourselves.  With every bit you let go, your vision becomes clearer, and the more you can let go of.

            Living a life as a recovering alcoholic, or just living a life, boil down to the same thing.  They’re both done the same way.  An addiction is just another attachment, and a life touched by addiction is just another life, and living mindfully is just living mindfully, whatever it is that you personally need to be mindful of.  So, no matter who and what you are, ask yourself:  is this attachment I see the flower, the outward seeming?  Or have I truly reached the root?

The six reflections presented to persnickety crows and untamed foxes.

This moment is the fruit of the labour of many; accept it with gratitude.
This moment is given freely, don’t grasp at mist; deserve what it offers.
This moment is presented to help us practice despite the cawing of birds; pay attention.
This moment is sustaining but rich and high in calories; be moderate.
This moment is taken to help all beings, even bristling wolves and mischievous foxes; practice wholeheartedly.
This moment is finished, never to return.





Image is painting from David Ladmore

37 Practices to a Perfect Bodhisattva Breakfast

Right now, you have a good boat, fully equipped and available — hard to find.
To free others and you from the sea of samsara,
Day and night, fully alert and present,
Study, reflect, and meditate — this is the practice of a bodhisattva.

One time round in this human existance. Why fuck around?  Effort is the key to the perfect Bodhisattva Breakfast.

Attraction to those close to you catches you in its currents;
Aversion to those who oppose you burns inside;
Indifference that ignores what needs to be done is a black hole.
Leave your homeland — this is the practice of a bodhisattva.

We attach to those around us.  Love but do not cling.  Renunciation is the key to the perfect Bodhisatvva Breakfast.

Don’t engage disturbances and reactive emotions gradually fade away;
Don’t engage distractions and spiritual practice naturally grows;
Keep awareness clear and vivid and confidence in the way arises.
Rely on silence — this is the practice of a bodhisattva.

Splendid isolation, I don’t need noone.  Alone in a crowded room.  Seclusion is the key to the perfect Bodhisattva Breakfast.

You will separate from long-time friends and relatives;
You will leave behind the wealth you worked to build up;
The guest, your consciousness, will move from the inn, your body.
Forget the conventional concerns — this is the practice of a bodhisattva.

All things pass away or move away from you.  The plate tectonics of life.  Non-attachment is the key to the perfect Bodhisattva Breakfast.

With some friends, the three poisons keep growing,
Study, reflection, and meditation weaken,
And loving kindness and compassion fall away.
Give up bad friends — this is the practice of a bodhisattva.

A mirror reflects the objects around it.  Avoiding assholes is the key to the perfect Bodhisattva Breakfast.

With some teachers, your shortcomings fade away and
Abilities grow like the waxing moon.
Hold such teachers dear to you,
Dearer than your own body — this is the practice of a bodhisattva.

Teachers appear in the guise of assholes.  Meeting assholes is the key to the perfect Bodhisattva Breakfast.

Locked up in the prison of their own patterning
Whom can ordinary gods protect?
Who can you count on for refuge?
Go for refuge in the Three Jewels — this is the practice of a bodhisattva.

Feet firmly attached to the ground while mind flies in the cloudless sky.  Taking refuge in clarity is the key to the perfect Bodhisattva Breakfast.

The suffering in the lower realms is really hard to endure.
The Sage says it is the result of destructive actions.
For that reason, even if your life is at risk,
Don’t engage in destructive actions — this is the practice of a bodhisattva.

You can be stupid just don’t be fucking stupid.  Avoiding radical douchebaggery is the key to the perfect Bodhisattva Breakfast. 

The happiness of the three worlds disappears in a moment,
Like a dewdrop on a blade of grass.
The highest level of freedom is one that never changes.
Aim for this — this is the practice of a bodhisattva.

Dewdrops are not forever; dispelled by the morning sun.  The memories themselves are even ephemeral.  Embracing moments of impermanence is the key to the perfect Bodhisattva Breakfast.

For time without beginning, mothers have lovingly cared for you.
If they are still suffering, how can you be happy?
To free limitless sentient beings,
Give rise to awakening mind — this is the practice of a bodhisattva.

Do good for others without thought of what you get in return. Didn’t your mother teach you that? Altruism is the key to the perfect Bodhisattva Breakfast.

All suffering comes from wanting your own happiness.
Complete awakening arises from the intention to help others.
So, exchange completely your happiness
For the suffering of others — this is the practice of a bodhisattva.

Bob and weave.  Keep your hands up.  Learning to take punch is the key to the perfect Bodhisattva Breakfast.

Even if someone, driven by desperate want,
Steals, or makes someone else steal, everything you own,
Dedicate to him your body, your wealth, and
All the good you’ve ever done or will do — this is the practice of a bodhisattva.

Hearts and car-stereos are often stolen and pawned to others.  Embracing non-attachment is the key to the perfect Bodhisattva Breakfast.

Even if you have done nothing wrong at all
And someone still tries to take your head off,
Spurred by compassion,
Take all his or her evil into you — this is the practice of a bodhisattva.

What value lies in a head of lettuce?  Is yours not afire?    Handing over your head on a platter with a silver knife is the key to the perfect Bodhisattva Breakfast.

Even if someone broadcasts to the whole universe
Slanderous and ugly rumors about you,
In return, with an open and caring heart,
Praise his or her abilities — this is the practice of a bodhisattva.

Didn’t we just talk about your mother?  Learning to build houses from sticks and stones is the key to the perfect Bodhisattva Breakfast.

Even if someone humiliates you and denounces you
In front of a crowd of people,
Think of this person as your teacher
And humbly honor him — this is the practice of a bodhisattva.

Just pretend everyone is naked.  Humility in the face of adversity is the key to the perfect Bodhisattva Breakfast.

Even if a person you have cared for as your own child
Treats you as his or her worst enemy,
Lavish him or her with loving attention
Like a mother caring for her ill child — this is the practice of a bodhisattva.

Every raise a teenager?  Accepting ingratitude is the key to the perfect Bodhisattva Breakfast.

Even if your peers or subordinates,
Put you down to make themselves look better,
Treat them respectfully as you would your teacher:
Put them above you — this is the practice of a bodhisattva.

Weather the storm of spite and averice.  Knowing when to bring your umbrella is the key to the perfect Bodhisattva Breakfast.

When you are down and out, held in contempt,
Desperately ill, and emotionally crazy,
Don’t lose heart. Take into you
The suffering and negativity of all beings — this is the practice of a bodhisattva.

Even the Bodhi-mind has to jump a puddle or two.  Learning to jump while mixing a margarita is the key to the perfect Bodhisattva Breakfast.

Even when you are famous, honored by all,
And as rich as the god of wealth himself,
Don’t be pompous. Know that the magnificence of existence
Has no substance — this is the practice of a bodhisattva.

Today’s BMW is tomorrow’s Gremlin but learning to appreciate a 1972 Jeep CJ4 is the key to the perfect Bodhisattva Breakfast.

If you don’t subdue the opponent inside, your own anger,
Although you subdue opponents outside, they just keep coming.
Muster the forces of loving kindness and compassion
And subdue your own mind — this is the practice of a bodhisattva.

Ignoring the need to punch a wall is meaningless but knowing where the studs are is the key to the perfect Bodhisattva Breakfast.

Sensual pleasures are like salty water:
The deeper you drink, the thirstier you become.
Any object that you attach to,
Right away, let it go — this is the practice of a bodhisattva.

Sensual pleasures add flavor but add nothing to nutrition.  Not building a meal out of your spice rack is the key to the perfect Bodhisattva Breakfast.

Whatever arises in experience is your own mind.
Mind itself is free of any conceptual limitations.
Know that and don’t generate
Subject-object fixations — this is the practice of a bodhisattva.

Your thread of practice does not dangle loose and alone.  It leads to a large tapestry.  Not pulling the string from your sweater is the key to the perfect Bodhisattva Breakfast.

When you come across something you enjoy,
Though beautiful to experience, like a summer rainbow,
Don’t take it as real.
Let go of attachment — this is the practice of a bodhisattva.

Objects are just objects.  A rainbow is just a rainbow. OMFG!  Double rainbow?! A miracle!

All forms of suffering are like dreaming that your child has died.
Taking confusion as real wears you out.
When you run into misfortune,
Look at it as confusion — this is the practice of a bodhisattva.

There is a moment upon waking that the dream seems real.  Moving past this moment in life is the key to a perfect Bodhisattva Breakfast.

If those who want to be awake have to give even their bodies,
What need is there to talk about things that you simply own.
Be generous, not looking
For any return or result — this is the practice of a bodhisattva.

Sometimes buying a round of drinks for a group of strangers in the right thing to do.  Generosity is the key to a perfect Bodhisattva Breakfast.

If you can’t tend to your needs because you have no moral discipline,
Then intending to take care of the needs of others is simply a joke.
Observe ethical behavior without concern
For conventional existence — this is the practice of a bodhisattva.

Don’t be donkey following a carrot.  Internalizing a firm ethical and compassionate foundation is the key to a perfect Bodhisattva Breakfast.

For bodhisattvas who want to be rich in virtue
A person who hurts you is a precious treasure.
Cultivate patience for everyone,
Completely free of irritation or resentment — this is the practice of a bodhisattva.

Because the world is full of people not like you and our ego wants to shape them in our cookie-cutter conception of being.  Allowing people to be themselves without is the key to the perfect Bodhisattva Breakfast.

Listeners and solitary buddhas, working only for their own welfare,
Are seen to practice as if their heads were on fire.
To help all beings, pour your energy into practice:
It’s the source of all abilities — this is the practice of a bodhisattva.

Bodhi-Mind is not a competition.  Realizing that life and practice is a race without winners or losers is the key to a perfect Bodhisattva Breakfast.

Understanding that reactive emotions are dismantled
By insight supported by stillness,
Cultivate meditative stability that passes right by
The four formless states — this is the practice of a bodhisattva.

Contemplation tames a wild mind.  Remembering that we need to still hold the reins is the key to a perfect Bodhisattva Breakfast.

Without wisdom, the five perfections
Are not enough to attain full awakening.
Cultivate wisdom, endowed with skill
And free from the three domains — this is the practice of a bodhisattva.

In kindergarten I learned that a tomato is a fruit.  But knowing that it goes horribly with a fruit salad is the key to a perfect Bodhisattva Breakfast.

If you don’t go into your own confusion,
You may just be a materialist in practitioner’s clothing.
Constantly go into your own confusion
And put an end to it — this is the practice of a bodhisattva.

Practice is not easy. Don’t look for comfort.  Examining our errors with an open mind is the key to a perfect Bodhisattva Breakfast.

You undermine yourself when you react emotionally and
Grumble about the imperfections of other bodhisattvas.
Of the imperfections of those who have entered the Great Way,
Don’t say anything — this is the practice of a bodhisattva.

No matter how perfect we think we are, the moonlight still illuminates and the sun still casts shadows.  Realizing our own shadows and accepting those of others is the key to a perfect Bodhisattva Breakfast.

When you squabble with others about status and rewards,
You undermine learning, reflection, and meditation.
Let go of any investment in your family circle
Or the circle of those who support you — this is the practice of a bodhisattva.

Rather than comment on a neighbor’s lawn; mow and cultivate your own.  Engaging with our own practice and providing support for others is the key to a perfect Bodhisattva Breakfast.

Abusive language upsets others
And undermines the ethics of a bodhisattva.
So, don’t upset people or
Speak abusively — this is the practice of a bodhisattva.

Mind your fucking tongue!  Proper table manners are the key to a perfect Bodhisattva Breakfast.  Some tables call for cursing.

When reactive emotions acquire momentum, it’s hard to make remedies work.
A person in attention wields remedies like weapons,
Crushing reactive emotions such as craving
As soon as they arise — this is the practice of a bodhisattva.

Take down shambling masses of delusions like one takes down a zombie hoard.  Knowing the value of a head-shot is the key to a perfect Bodhisattva Breakfast.

In short, in everything you do,
Know what is happening in your mind.
By being constantly present and alert
You bring about what helps others — this is the practice of a bodhisattva.

Even when asleep, our ears are ready for the howl of a wolf.  Alertness is the key to a perfect Bodhisattva Breakfast.

To dispel the suffering of beings without limit,
With wisdom freed from the three spheres
Direct all the goodness generated by these efforts
To awakening — this is the practice of a bodhisattva.

Sit down and eat but remember that we all share the same bowl.  By poisoning our practice we poison the practice of others.  Passing around a clean bowl is the key to a perfect Bodhisattva Breakfast.

Relying on my practice, old sutras and worn boots, I stumble down a Bodhisattva path.  But when limited by human faults and basic difficulties; the option always remains to craft the perfect omelette with a mighty wisk of practice.  Even a Bodhisattva has to pick out bits of eggshells.  The eggs are substandard but the company divine.


“Prajnatara: Mother of Zen?” ~ A Line of Dharma Women


Images of Prajnaparamita from Garden of 1000 Buddhas

In the last post I mentioned the effort to restore the names of women to Zen history and lineage. But in the case of one ancestor it may have been just the gender that was lost, not the name.

The lineage of all Zen teachers lists the name Prajnatara as the teacher of Bodhidharma. Bodhidharma was the First Patriarch of Zen, the Indian sage who came from the West in the early 6th century to establish Zen at the Shaolin monastery in China.

In Chinese and Japanese Zen history, Prajnatara is a man. But there is a strong evidence that Prajnatara actually was a woman, a great Mahayana yogini of southern India.

The story of Prajnatara as a woman comes from an article published in the newsletter of Sakyadhita, the international association of Buddhist women, by the Rev. Master Koten Benson of the Lions Gate Buddhist Priory in British Columbia. According to the Rev. Master Koten, Prajnatara is remembered as a woman in the oral traditions of the people of Kerala, in southwest India, and there is archeological evidence supporting those traditions. And the Zen histories transmitted to Korea in the 7th century portray Prajnatara as a woman.

Further, in written classical Chinese, gender is inferred from context and is not stated explicitly. The fact of Prajnatara’s gender could well have been forgotten after a few generations. By the time Zen reached Japan in the late 11th century, Prajnatara had long been assumed to be a man.

According to the story of Prajnatara from Kerala, originally she was a homeless waif who wandered western India and called herself Keyura, which means “necklace” or “bracelet.” One day she met Master Punyamitra, and they felt a great dharma connection between them from past lives.

She became Punyamitra’s student and was re-named Prajnatara. She is remembered as an accomplished yogini and also as a powerful Siddhi who could see into the past, present and future.

When Huns swept through northern India in the 5th century, Prajnatara went further south to escape the chaos. The Pallava king of south India, Simhavarman, invited her to teach in his capital, Kanchipuram. King Simhavarman’s youngest son, Bodhitara, became her student and was ordained a monk with the name Bodhidharma.

Prajnatara, seeing that the dharma would leave India, advised Bodhidharma to go to China after she died. And so, some time after his teacher’s death at the age of 67, Bodhidharma traveled to China and eventually to Shaolin.

It is recorded that one of Bodhidharma’s four dharma heirs was a nun, Zongchi, who may have been the daughter of a Liang Dynasty emperor. We know very little about Zongchi and how it was that a woman was studying with Bodhidharma at Shaolin. The reconstituted story of Prajnatara at least tells us why Bodhidharma didn’t have issues about teaching women!


I love this story. The presence of gender equality (at least a perceived equality) is what attracts many to the path of Zen. For me, at least it was less of what attracted me to the practice and more a part of what repelled me from my Christian upbringing (Catholic and Orthodox Christianity are not known for their acceptance of women). While I admit that many Christian sects are more progressive on the issue of gender equality…just so you don’t call me anti-christian but they also tend to be evangelical…

Anywho…I attached a line of Dharma Ancestors chant from Great Vow Zen Center.  I liked the image of Prajnaparamita being called the Mother of all Buddha because she gave birth to the wisdom that leads to realization. 

Download this file

Buddhadharma for College Students


I couldn’t help it with the picture.  If I had some additional photoshop skills I could have come up with something suitably humorous.  As I could not, you are stuck with the image above.  The attached pdf is a nice, solid introduction to Buddhist thought without overindulging our metaphysical appetite.  It is short (relatively) and obviously slated for a skeptical or at least science-minded crowd rather than the deeply religious (these two things are not mutually exclusive).  As always it was brought to my attention by the illustrious BuddhaNet.

BUDDHA-DHAMMA FOR STUDENTS is the result of two talks given by Ajahn Buddhadāsa in January 1966 to students at Thammasat University, Bangkok. Then and in the years since, many young Thais have been returning to Buddhism in search of answers and possibilities not provided by their modern (Western-style) edu­cation. In the face of rapid social change, at times bordering on chaos, they seek a non-violent approach to the issues and injustices of the times. Their interest is praised and yet recognized as needing guidance. Applying a confused or incorrect version of Buddhism to social confusion and conflict will not do any good. Thus Ajahn Buddhadāsa always has tried to set both young and old straight as to what Buddhism really teaches. He does so by going back to the original principles pointed out by the Lord Buddha, explain­ing these simply and directly, and showing that their relevance is timeless. Truth is relevant and applicable in ancient India, contem­porary Siam, and even the overly developed West.

Download this file

Zen Flesh, Vajra Heart, Buddha’s Bones


Image from Japan Dave (his pictures kick ass)

Is Zen similar to the higher teaching of the Vajrayana such as mahamudra?  While many practitioners of both schools may see more of the differences, I have found that the similarities become more and more apparent.  Both are devoted to a practice tradition rather than a scholarly one.  The practice tradition focuses more on the actual experience of daily practice rather than on a more scholastic or philosophical pursuits.  This does not discard a scholarly path but it tends to be more supplimental.  Practice just exists on a visceral level rather than a logical, philosophical one.  On a Dharma ladder, every rung is important and integral to the whole.

Advanced practitioners of both Zen and the Vajrayana are focused on the path spiritual introspection and meditation, where each aims to attain Enlightenment in this life, this year, this moment.  Gradual through steps or sudden through explosive realization, by reason alone we are not capable of this feat.  No one can talk or reason their way to the subtle truths.  But we can practice to it, through it and after it.

I used to picture the Zen practice of zazen similar to samatha; the ‘calm abiding’ form of mediation that is often seen as a predecasor to more complex forms.  While it seems very similar to zazen, samatha is only similar to the zazen practice of many beginners to the practice or those looking for pure physical and mental benefits from sitting.  This is often reguarded as “Bompu Zen” and while it should not be seen as a lesser practice, it does take quite a distinction from other more advanced or experience Zen practices.

Bompu zen, or “usual zen,” means engaging in a meditation practice in order to procure the same kinds of things that one has always been looking for; that is to say health and happiness, some sense of well-being. There is nothing wrong with wanting to develop a sense of health and well being. We are not saying that any of these approaches to practice are “wrong”; it is just that some of them are more limiting than others. To limit oneself when it is not necessary is like tying your own hands.

We can obtain health and well being through our practice. The sitting posture itself allows the body to be as it is. It allows the body to sit in such a way that the spinal cord is erect, but not stiff. The shoulders allow tension to fall away from them and the weight is evenly balanced. There is no pressure being placed upon any of the internal organs by scrunching them as we fall into some slouching posture, or as we try to draw ourselves in and hold our chest tight.

Since we practice with the body and with the mind, both body and mind gain great benefit from practice, simply because they can function freely. Our mind will become calmer. We become able to face whatever is arising for us without panicking, and without trying to hide from it. We begin to realize a sense of strength and confidence which is not based upon puffing ourselves up in any particular way, but is grounded in simply being as we are. ~ By Ven. Anzan Hoshin roshi

Bompu Zen does not stand in stark contrast to the “higher” Zen practices.  But as one progresses through a lifetime of practice they find that practice is not based on trying to realize Enlightenment. It is based on a simple, wooden platform of practising without preconceptions. It is based in the moment. This is not something that is realized without effort.  To not need to look for the Buddha and simply realizing one’s own Nature as Buddha is easy to state through words and philosophy but more difficult to realize truly through experience.  I am not there yet.  I understand but do not realize.

When you look into space, seeing stops.
Likewise, when mind looks at mind,
The flow of thinking stops and you come to the deepest awakening.

Mists rise from the earth and vanish into space.
They go nowhere, nor do they stay.
Likewise, though thoughts arise,
Whenever you see your mind, the clouds of thinking clear.

Although you say space is empty,
You can’t say that space is “like this”.
Likewise, although mind is said to be sheer clarity,
There is nothing there: you can’t say “it’s like this”.

Thus, the nature of mind is inherently like space:
It includes everything you experience.

Stop all physical activity: sit naturally at ease.
Do not talk or speak: let sound be empty, like an echo.
Do not think about anything: look at experience beyond thought.

Your body has no core, hollow like bamboo.
Your mind goes beyond thought, open like space.
Let go of control and rest right there.

Mind without projection is mahamudra.
Train and develop this and you will come to the deepest awakening. ~ Tilopa’s “Pith Instructions on Mahamudra”

These instructions strike a similar beat in my Vajra heart as following verses cause my Zen flesh to quiver…

The Way is perfect like vast space
where nothing is lacking and nothing is in excess.
Indeed, it is due to our choosing to accept or reject
that we do not see the true nature of things.
Live neither in the entanglements of outer things,
nor in inner feelings of emptiness.
Be serene in the oneness of things
and such erroneous views will disappear by themselves.
When you try to stop activity to achieve passivity
your very effort fills you with activity.
As long as you remain in one extreme or the other
you will never know Oneness.  ~ Seng T’san’s “Inscription of Faith in Mind”
All us filthy crows still pick the same scraps of Dharma from the Buddha’s bones.  We just like to pretend that our rotton feast is better than our neighbor’s.