Tag Archives: Roshi

Choice

CHOICE chart


Commentary:

I made this chart to show the different ways of interfacing with our moment to moment decisions in life. Even the most subtle decision is vast and carries with it the potential for extensive repercussions. For example, whether we decide to breathe into a moment of frustration or channel it into verbal abuse toward a loved one makes a tremendous difference in our lives, especially, as those moments add up and habit patterns set in.

I make the assumption here, that we’re not always at our optimum. But, life is a process of evolving, if we are fully awake and have the courage to look at ourselves squarely. This means embracing our freedom to make a choice at every moment and owning those decisions. Thus, it also means accepting the consequences of those choices without making excuses for ourselves. This chart shows us that only when we can truly do that, do we evolve into the optimal version of ourselves.

The caveat against making excuses comes from Zen Master Nyogen Roshi, who reminded us very often, during Dharma talks, to (1) Not DECEIVE ourselves (2) Not make EXCUSES for ourselves, and to (3) Take RESPONSIBILITY for ourselves. In my book, I captured this teaching with the acronym, DER.

These injunctions encourage honest, conscious reflection and enable continuous growth—which is what we’re here for! To evolve in our own way and according to our own propensity, is our overarching purpose on earth.

But, sometimes we find ourselves stuck. We call it a problem when we’re unsure how to get unstuck. This chart demonstrates what Yogi Bhajan said—that there is always a pathway through every problem. Curiously, we often access this pathway by letting go. This is the feminine aspect of the dance of life.

This chart shows us that even when we feel we have not acted optimally, in a situation…say, by lashing out instead of breathing, as in the example above, we can use that moment as an opportunity for conscious reflection, rather than self-reproach. For, emotions like guilt, serve only to block our growth. But the recognition that there may be some fear, like the fear of losing control, underlying our frustration, will set us free. It disables that fear.

Very often, this moment of consciousness is enough for clearance to occur. As I’ve said in my classes: “a moment of awareness is a moment of healing.” This is the D, the E and the R, altogether! We haven’t deceived ourselves, we haven’t indulged in excuses, and we’ve taken responsibility, which in this case, entailed nothing more than ownership of our action.

The masculine aspect of doing, comes into play inevitably, as every step, however subtle, is a form of action, but through our willingness to surrender to the outcome, we manifest the feminine. Without that feminine aspect, we lock ourselves into an insecure need to control—bereft of the trust that comes from connection to what isIt’s as Lao Tzu advised: “Know the right, but keep to the left.” The left is the feminine quality of receptiveness. And in this way, we form a relationship with the way and the rhythm of the universe. The dance of life is an interplay of masculine and feminine energies.

The feminine is all about surrender, which trumps the ego’s need to control. It is a must, if we choose to grow. We must welcome what is, with a heart full of grateful acceptance, in order to go forth. We have to be good with where we are before we can get to where we want to be, since the moment we push it away with excuses, we allow the useless emotions of guilt & regret to subsume us, forming, in turn, a murky blanket of resistance to life’s lessons and the evolution of our own consciousness.

It is as such that we behold the interplay of self-acceptance and self-improvement. We often defeat ourselves by trying to have the latter without the former. But, self-improvement, on its own, quickly devolves into an obsessive game of chase, creating a gap in our consciousness, between who we are and who we want to be. It leaves us un-whole. 

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Death; An Eastern Perspective

I recently wrote an article for the well-known Buddhist magazine, Shambhala Sun. It currently appears on their blogspot: Sunpace. When the editors commented that it choked them up, it felt humbly gratifying, in that I knew the article was going to serve its purpose. It is a heartfelt and honest article about life and death. In it, I share my own recent experiences, along with Buddhist wisdom on the nature of life itself, rendering death as a part of its continuum.

Here it is, in part:

Gone, but here

After our 13 year-old poodle passed away last year, we couldn’t yet bring ourselves to give away his toys. After losing a loved one—whether human or pet—there’s a part of the mind that tricks itself into believing that the deceased one still cares about the material items left behind. Rather than do anything at the time, my husband tucked them away in a plastic storage bin.

The other day when I was putting sheets away, a hedgehog with a gnawed nose caught my eye. Soon I was finding all sorts of treasures—like the old tractor my son used to play with as a child and the tattered old baby blanket he dragged around until he started kindergarten.

There is a tendency to confer a different significance to these two different kinds of discoveries. The first event recalls a beloved pet that has passed away, and in its sense of finality, tends to evoke sadness. The second involves the belongings of a boy who has simply become a man and, as it isn’t shrouded with that same quality of finality, stirs up an agreeable sort of nostalgia.

While each of us will respond in our own personal ways to the challenging events of our lives, much has to do with our interpretations of them. My point is merely to suggest that with greater contemplation, the difference between events, such as the ones I’ve shared, is less distinct than imagined.

When I said goodbye to Simba on that day last year, it was not the same little doggy that once chewed those stuffed animals. And the man that came up to visit last weekend is not the same person that dragged that old blanket around until we’d hid it, 15 years ago. Neither are here, yet, in uncountable ways, both are infinitely here.

Birth and death, birth and death! When my Zen teacher repeats these words, it is because they reveal a great truth about existence. Neither is what we believe it to be. And despite the concrete definitions we accept by convention, neither is definable and neither refers, objectively, to any specific event. Those two words reveal the reality of life’s continuum.

We celebrate the occasion of a baby’s birth as a singular event and we mourn the death of a loved one as a final farewell to life. But both birth and death are present, unceasingly, at every moment of every life. We might only notice when we look back and note all the change that has taken place over time, or when something shakes us to such a degree that we’re thrown into shock — when we’re sure nothing will ever be the same again. But it’s at any moment that nothing will ever be the same again.

I recently saw a documentary about the American spiritual teacher, Ram Dass. In one scene, a young woman shares a dream in which she asks her recently deceased fiancé if she will ever find someone else to love…

Please finish the article at Sunspace! (Will open in a new window)

At the Hazy Moon

There is a short excerpt from my book and an interview with me here, at the Hazy Moon Zen Center.

This old three-story, Victorian house is where I practice Zen-style meditation with my Sangha, or Zen Community, and where I meet with my teacher, at various steps along my journey back home.

“Zen Buddhism is a 2,500-year-old oral teaching carried forward one-to-one from teacher to student. It is rare to encounter a real Zen teacher. William Nyogen Yeo—our teacher, or Roshi—spent nearly three decades studying with the late Taizan Maezumi Roshi, who was widely regarded as the foremost Zen master of the twentieth century. Nyogen Roshi was the last of only a dozen disciples authorized by Maezumi Roshi to succeed him as a teacher.” (Hazy Moon)

I am fortunate to have found my way to Nyogen Yeo Roshi and to the Hazy Moon Zen Temple, where we practice meditation as a community.

On the Notion of a Perfect Teacher

   I watched a documentary about the American spiritual teacher, Ram Dass. His Be Here Now, has long been one of the staples on my book shelf. Now 80 years old, he talks candidly about the struggles he’s faced after his stroke. He confessed the moment when, on the verge of death, he failed to orient himself toward God. That’s the ultimate test, he explained, and according to him, he flunked it. “I still have a lot of work to do,” he says.

His honesty touched me. It is often assumed that those on a spiritual path don’t slip and fall. But as my Zen teacher has said, it’s not whether you fall or not, it’s how quickly you can get back up. In Yoga, we look at growth as it manifests in degrees and stages, the real measurement of which is entirely internal, and rarely consistent. Progress in anything, including life itself, is never a straight line. But what we do have, as seekers, is an ever keener insight into the difference between what our minds have concocted and reality itself; the tools needed to snap out of our delusion; a willingness to laugh about our own folly, and with time, perhaps, the courage to make things right.

As teachers, we can be hard on ourselves when we do find ourselves splashing around in the dark waters of old habits. At our final Yoga teacher-training weekend, Joey told us he had had an altercation with someone just before arriving. I was listening. I had just exchanged words with a demanding student.

We had both been rocked off center and we shared our feelings with the group. We were disappointed in ourselves. We were about to graduate as teachers of Kundalini Yoga. We both share a feeling of responsibility for maintaining the dignity and excellence of this tradition and part of how we do that is through our own conduct.

What happens, Joey asked, when this sort of thing happens and we’ve got to teach a class? Do you cancel? Of course not—what an idea! You go and you teach, our teacher said. And in this tradition, what that means, is that first, we “tune in.” You never know who will be there and what they will take away from the class. There might be someone in your class that day who will decide to become a teacher herself, or who will be so moved as to make some positive life-change. And chances are, you too, will forget all about whatever it was you left outside the door before you took your place on the teacher’s bench. And you did leave it outside the door!

Tuning in means going beyond ourselves to align with the greater wisdom we deliver as teachers. In this way, the teacher is more like a messenger than an originator. The teachings come through us, rather than from us, and have nothing to do with our individual personality or quirks. They go beyond the words that are spoken and are communicated subtly through our own presence.

The conventional, or western, or academic, notion of a teacher is of one that dispenses information and data. From our perspective as Yoga teachers, this reduces teaching to nothing more than a “professional trade.” As our own founding teacher, Yogi Bhajan, quipped, if we look upon teaching in such a shallow way, as merely a profession, “we will train many preachers, but no teachers.”

Our focus should be on getting out of our own way and on uplifting and guiding others, rather than on our own success or failure. Our obsession on perfection is just another ego trip. And that doesn’t mean we stop striving toward excellence—our very ability to develop excellence is directly proportional to our ability to stop striving. At least where that striving is tied up with our ideas and notions of who we should be. We had better simply let go of ourselves.

When we begin to do this, we begin to manifest a certain grace when we teach. Ironically, the very shift in the way we understand our duty as teachers, from one in which we recite information, to one in which we serve, is the first step toward inner transformation. But it takes faith and trust to relax into this role as a conduit of truth. To be entrusted with the task of serving, of being a source of light, makes it, most surely, a noble profession. As such, “to be a teacher is the ultimate human end,” Yogi Bhajan concludes.

Anyone who teaches to be a teacher rather than to serve, will fall. ~Yogi Bhajan

Jukai Ceremony

I went to a Jukai ceremony at the Zen temple on Saturday.

I watched as a disciple–a mature, educated man– took the ten Zen precepts. A disciple is none other than one who has taken to a discipline. It is a scary word to westerners: discipline. It conjures up vague ideas of Catholic school oppression, drudgery and repression. But discipline is none other than that which is studied and practiced by a disciple. Most simply stated, it is to be a student.

But moreover, it is to commit oneself to transformation. And from the perspective of the east, it isn’t scary at all. It’s exciting. It’s liberating. The difference is due to the different values we hold. Because we value individualism and the freedom to do what we want, anything that seems to stifle that freedom is seen as oppressive. And controlling one’s behavior in accordance with a set of vows seems to imply wimpiness. But what if self-control was seen as a sign of strength instead of weakness?

What if it was seen as the key to liberation?

His vows were my vows. To what kind of life did he commit?

Not to kill
Not to steal
Not to misuse sexuality
Not to lie
Not to intoxicate oneself
Not to speak of others’ faults
Not to praise self at the expense of others
Not to be possessive
Not to harbor anger
Not to do anything to diminish the Three Treasures

These ten vows may be broken, but it will for to him to pick up the oars and paddle again. No one will punish us when we fail. But our broken actions will serve as reminders that we have strayed from the kind of life that promotes inner peace. From a limited perspective, for example, the vow not to intoxicate oneself may be seen as restrictive, but from a wider one, it may be seen as a reminder to be present. If we’re accustomed to turning to distractions, drugs and junk TV –for, those are all “intoxicants”–as temporary panacea, we never learn to tune-in and we end up living in a constant state of dependency. Worse, we end up absent from the very life we live.