Monday, November 30, 2015

Day By Day, Meticulous Work

Much of our spiritual practice, especially in the early stages, has to do with dismantling our habitual patterns and conditioning. This work, this practice, can be more difficult than we're able to imagine.

The illusion of the self is wrapped up in hundreds of threads of thought, activity, and posture. Our illusion is wrapped up in our way of doing things; our way of dealing with people, our way of working, our way of eating, our way of driving a car, playing with children, interacting with animals, appreciating the wilderness.

All of these dimensions of life are inundated with our habit patterns, patterns that are dualistic and associated with our conditioning.

The process of undoing our patterns is very gradual.

There are no grand experiences of clarity here, no world shattering discernments. It's day by day meticulous work.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

The Interpenetration of All Phenomena - One Thing Contains All Other Existing Things, and All Existing Things Contain That One Thing

There is a story from the Vietnamese tradition about Master Phap Tang, of the Duong era, who was teaching the Avatamsaka Sutra to Queen Vu Tac Thien. He had an octagonal tower built, and instructed that the interior walls of the tower be covered with large mirrors. When the tower was completed he invited the queen to enter it with him, holding a candle he had lit for her. When the queen stepped inside she saw the image of the flame reflected in the mirror in front of her. When she turned around she saw the flame reflected in the mirror behind her. Not only was the image of the candle reflected in each of the eight mirror walls, but each reflection was again reflected in all of the other mirrors, and then reflected back again and again. There were countless reflections of the flame. This was a very skillful way for Master Phap Tang to illustrate to the queen the image in the Avatamsaka Sutra of Indra's Net, in which each jewel suspended in the great cosmic net reflects the image of all the other jewels, creating infinite reflections of light.

---Thich Nhat Hanh---


The attainment of Buddhahood is the only form of salvation, the only thing worthy to be called by the name nirvana.

---Leon Hurvitz---

Monday, November 23, 2015

Fear Eats Freedom - This of Course Means the Terrorists Have Won

I'm terrified of Muslims. I don't want sharia law in America.
OK. Let's avoid that by separating church and state.
Nope. I believe in Jesus and want this country to be more Christian.
OK. Here are some refugees who need help.
Nope. Not helping refugees while we still have homeless kids and veterans here.
OK. Here's a bill to help vets.
Nope. I don't want to raise taxes.
OK. What about homeless kids? Surely they deserve some help.
Nope. Their parents are just lazy and want handouts. They shouldn't have had kids if they can't afford kids.
OK. Let's fund Planned Parenthood to help people plan their parenthood.
Nope. Some of that money might go for an abortion, and I'm Pro Life.
OK. Let's give everyone easier access to health care to improve and extend their lives.
Nope. That's socialism. I believe in the Constitution, not dirty, dirty socialism.
OK. At least we can agree on that. I especially like the way the Constitution gives everyone freedom of (and from) religion.
Yes! Freedom of religion. Except Muslims. I'm terrified of Muslims...

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Being Buddha and the Path of Practice

Do you need to become a Buddha? Do you need to run after enlightenment? The wave does not have to seek to become water—she is water, right here and now. In the same way, you are already nirvana, you are already a Buddha; you are already what you want to become. What is essential is to enter the path of practice in order to realize this truth and to help others realize it too.

---Thich Naht Hanh---

Baby Tortoises

You may think 2015 has been full of gloom and doom, but there is plenty of good news out there if you know where to look. It includes the wonderful news that baby tortoises have been spotted for the first time in over 100 years in the Galapagos.
There hadn't been one single baby tortoise sighting in more than a century on the Galapagos Island of Pinzon, until a small group of the tiny, shelled youngsters were spotted this year.
The recent births are helping to pull the critically endangered animals back from the brink of extinction after they were nearly laid to waste as a result of human activity.
This is huge news for a species that has been struggling to survive for a century, relying on humans raising young tortoises bred in captivity until they are large enough to not fall prey to rats and predators.
Researcher James Gibbs, who was among the first to see the hatchlings, told The Dodo earlier this year, "I'm amazed that the tortoises gave us the opportunity to make up for our mistakes after so long."
"The incredible eradication of rats on this island, done by the park service and others, has created the opportunity for the tortoises to breed for the first time," he added.
Gibbs said that while the researchers were conducting a survey to find out how things were going for the tortoises, they found the 10 new hatchlings, and while it may hardly seem like a baby boom, he says it's "just the tip of the iceberg."
"Given projection probabilities, I'm sure there were a hundred times more hatchlings out there, he explained. Gibbs and his team spotted 300 tortoises in all on the trip, which suggests there are likely more than 500 currently living on the island.
In the 1960s, just 100 of the tortoises lived here. Good news indeed.


Concepts and Opinions

Observing reality through the filter of our intellect can be limiting. Our perceptions can be mistaken. We should avoid being attached to concepts and opinion.

An Understanding

In order to touch the ultimate dimension, we have to transcend conventional notions of same and different, coming and going, inside and outside, above and below, before and after, birth and death.

---Thich Naht Hanh---

Socially Engaged Buddhism (Buddhism Is Not A Passive Tradition)

Where there is darkness, suffering, oppression, and despair I will work to bring light, hope, relief, and liberation. I am determined not to forget about or abandon those in desperate situations. I will do my best to establish contact with those who cannot find a way out of their suffering, those whose cries for help, justice, equality, and human rights are not being heard. I know hell can be found in many places on Earth. I will do my best not to contribute to creating more hells on Earth, and to help transform the hells that already exist. I will practice in order to realize the qualities of perseverance, so, like the Earth, I can always be supportive and faithful to those in need.

Friday, November 20, 2015

A Continuous Peril of the Spiritual Journey

Running counter to the deepening trust in our experience is our incredibly insidious tendency to intellectualize. We don't think we've got it unless we can name it. Inevitably, with any amount of insight, we want to talk about it. We want to be able to fit it into our reference system. Of course, absolute wisdom doesn't fit any referential perspective because it has no limits. It is boundless. But we try anyway, and, in order to make insight fit our data base, we chop off a chunk here, squeeze a few things together there, modify its shape. We push it through the filters of our preconceptions and force it into the container of our knowledge. But what we have now is no longer the experience. It is a static abstraction.

Spring breeze is a definite experience. We can take a jar, run out with it into a warm April morning, and capture some air in it. Put a cap on the jar and label it "spring breeze." What do we have? Obviously, not the spring breeze. It is now an idea, not an ineffable experience. After the first glimpse of the True Self, people quickly latch onto it, make a concept out of it, grasp, and strangle it. That's not it. That misses it.

This attempt to intellectualize our lives is a continuous peril of the spiritual journey. There is no way to avoid it. We do it all the time. We distance ourselves from our lives with our thoughts. We distance ourselves from our clarity with no thoughts. And what rests ahead of us on the spiritual path is the uninterrupted training of letting go of that tendency; of learning how to appreciate and trust the direct experience and the mystery that is unspeakable.

---John Daido Loori---

Our Nature and Our Way

Buddha is our True Nature.

Following our nature is called the Way.

Cultivating the Way is called the Practice.


Tuesday, November 17, 2015

A Poem

Always, when I was a boy,
I would play here and there.
I used to put on my favorite vest
And ride a chestnut horse with a white nose.
Today I spent the morning in town
And the evening drinking amid the peach blossoms by ........the river.
Returning home, I have lost my way. Where am I?
Laughing, I find myself next to the brothel.



Ananda came to the Buddha and said, "Half of the holy life is beautiful friendship, beautiful association and beautiful intimacy."

The Buddha replied, "Don't say that Ananda. Don't say that. It is the whole of the holy life, not half, this beautiful friendship, this beautiful association, this beautiful intimacy."

---Samyutta Nikaya---

Your Mind

The mind's capacity is limitless, and its manifestations are inexhaustible. Seeing forms with your eyes, hearing sounds with your ears, smelling odors with your nose, tasting flavors with your tongue, every movement or state is all your mind. At every moment, where language can't go, that's your mind.



Patience is not weakness, but a stance of moderation and restraint.

---Thich Nhat Hanh---

Monday, November 16, 2015

A Successful Dharma Talk

Whether a Dharma talk succeeds or fails does not depend on the teacher's eloquence or on whether his or her knowledge of the Dharma is profound or superficial. The transformative power of a teaching depends entirely on the teacher's understanding and clear perception of the psychological state and situation of those who will receive it. A Dharma talk must always be appropriate in two ways: it must accord perfectly with the spirit of the Dharma, and it must also respond perfectly to the situation in which it is given. If it only corresponds perfectly with the teachings but does not meet the needs of the listeners, it's not a good Dharma talk, it's not appropriate.

---Thich Nhat Hanh---

Confucian Proverb

When it gets cold, put on more clothes; when it gets hot ply your fan.

The Straightforward Mind, This Is The Best Place For Meditation

The place for meditation is often imagined to be a peaceful location far from other people. But if you're constantly afflicted with discrimination and illusion, you will have no proper place for meditation.

The best place for meditation is not a matter of place.

In the Vimalakirti Sutra, a young bodhisattva is preparing to leaving the noisy city of Vaishali and find a secluded and quiet place for meditation. As he is walking through the city, the young man meets Vimalakirti.

"Where are you coming from?" he asks Vimalakirti.

"From my place of meditation," Vimalakirti answers.

Surprised the respected man was practicing meditation in the midst of the busy and nosy city the young bodhisattva asks, "From your place of meditation? Where is that?"

And Vimalakirti answers, "The straightforward mind is the place of meditation."

Saturday, November 14, 2015

We See Through Our Opinions

Two men stood outside a church holding signs. One sign read "THE END IS NEAR!" The other sign read "TURN BACK BEFORE IT'S TOO LATE!"

After a while, a car came around the corner. Seeing the two men and their signs, the driver slowed and angrily yelled out of the window, "Get out of here, you religious nuts!" and zoomed past them.

About ten seconds later, the two men heard a loud splash.

One man turned to the other and said, "Maybe we should have written BRIDGE OUT instead."

The Present Moment

We Are What We Think

Whatever eyes we use to look upon the world, we will only see the world through those eyes.

Parisian Flower Shop

Scripture - Verse and Prose

When we read the Mahayana sutras, it may seem that the verse sections are there to summarize the prose sections. When I was young, I thought the sutras had a verse section because poetry is easier to remember by heart than prose. When the Lotus Sutra first arose, sutras were generally written in verse form and not in prose.

In the beginning, the sutras appeared in the form of verse that were passed on orally. So it is in verse form that the Lotus Sutra first made its appearance, and the prose sections were added later to expand upon and further the teachings in verse.

The reason for this is that for the first 400 years during and after the Buddha's lifetime, his teachings were transmitted orally, memorized, and recited . . . . In order to be easier to understand and learn by heart, the teachings were transmitted in verse form in a poetic language called Prakrit. This language had its own metric rules . . . .

So the earliest form of the Buddhist teachings were in verse, and only later, when the teachings began to be recorded in written form in Sanskrit, the classical language of religion and philosophy of India, did long prose sections, called sutra, emerge. The word "sutra" means "thread" in Sanskrit, so a sutra is a thread of prose that links and expands upon the verse form of a teaching.

---Thich Naht Hanh---

Friday, November 13, 2015


Bodhi means "awaken."

Citta means "mind."

Bodhicitta means "the mind of awakening."

That is, generating the aspiration to attain awakening, or enlightenment, not for one's own liberation only but in order to help all other beings to liberation.

Bodhicitta is the first step on the path of a bodhisattva.


A Buddhist temple is not about the Buddha.

A Buddhist temple is about you understanding your mind.

Through that understanding comes freedom and joy.

Through that understanding comes an awareness, and ability, even an eagerness to assist others as they walk the Path

Through that understanding we are able to reach out and help all Beings, the planet, and everything.

Starving-Student - Onion Tomato Soup

4 tablespoons of butter
1 small, or 1/2 of a medium-sized onion, chopped
1/2 cup of thinly sliced celery
1/2 cup of flour
4 cups of tomato juice
Crushed red pepper flakes

Melt the butter in a Dutch oven or large soup pot.

Add the onion and the celery. Saute until the onion is tender.

Slowly, stir in the flour. Cook, stirring almost constantly, until the flour is slightly browned.

Slowly, add the tomato juice, stirring as you add.

Stir the mixture until it is smooth with no lumps and it is the thickness of gravy.

Add a little water to thin slightly. Add the sugar, the salt, and the red pepper flakes all to taste.

Heat the soup to almost the boil and then add some milk to make it the desired consistency.

Michigan Rocks

1 1/2 cups of brown sugar
3/4 cup of shortening
4 eggs
3 (scant) cups of flour
1 teaspoon of baking soda
1 pound of dates, finely chopped
1 1/2 cups of your favorite nuts, chopped
1 teaspoon of vanilla
1/4 teaspoon of salt

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Mix all the ingredients.

Drop the batter by teaspoonfuls onto a greased cookie sheet.

Bake 6 to 8 minutes.

The Lotus Sutra

The Lotus Sutra was the first Mahayana sutra to use loving speech and the first to accept all schools and tendencies of Buddhism. Therefore, the Lotus Sutra is like a cool breeze, a gentle rain, assuaging the stifling atmosphere of contention between the conservatives and the progressives.

---Thich Nhat Hanh---

The Mahayana and the Bodhisattva

The highest spiritual ideal of the Theravada is the arhat (one who is worthy), who through his own effort and practice attains liberation. The early monastic Sangha was focused only on personal salvation, thinking about nirvana only in individual terms. The Mahayana put forth the ideal of the bodhisattva (bodhi, "awakened," sattva, "being"), who shares the fruits of his or her practice with all other beings. The bodhisattva is someone who, upon attaining enlightenment, vows to forgo entering nirvana until all other sentient beings—down to the very last blade of grass—are also liberated. This insight was very profound. Buddhism expressed in Mahayana terms is engaged, quite positive. and very beautiful.

The Seed For The Mahayana

As the Buddhist monastic institution developed, the conservative tradition became rather inflexible and insular. Rather than seeking ways of teaching and practice that would be useful in everyday life, the monastic Sangha had a tendency to devote itself to analyzing points of abstract philosophical doctrine, focusing on study of the Abhidharma, the Commentary Collection. These are additional works written to systematize and further expound the teachings of Buddhism. A hair could be split many times, and the prose of the Abhidharma is full of minutely split hairs. Analysis followed upon analysis and the monk-scholars began to enjoy analysis for analysis's sake. In this environment, the practice of mindfulness was there but it could be rather sterile and mechanical, not leading to peace, joy, happiness, and freedom right in the present moment. The method of interpreting, understanding, and practicing the teachings became quite rigid with a hard-line attitude that was difficult for others to accept.

---Thich Nhat Hanh---

Buddhism in the West

Bryce and Michael playing guitar
during the Sunday service at the 
Grand Rapids Buddhist Temple and Zen Center

Buddhism is a living reality, and living things are always growing. A tree continually grows more branches, leaves, and flowers. In order for Buddhism to stay alive we have to allow it to develop. If not, it will die.

---Thich Nhat Hanh---

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Lay or Monastic Life

The true issue is not about living a life as a layperson or as a monastic.

The true issue is about awakening to no-self  and living in the world with compassion and wisdom.

To the extent living a lay life actually creates such condition, it is worthy of respect, as is the monastic life.

Composure at the Center

Calm amid activity; activity surrounding calm. The flow of physical energy and motion does not negate the tranquility and composure at the center.

---William Scott Wilson---

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Everything is Created by Mind Alone

The world of appearance has no substance other than what you give to it.

---Layman P'ang, on his deathbed, speaking to his daughter, Ling-chao---

Red Blossoms

In the Pali canon, Buddhism's fundamental goal has been described as the cessation of the whole mass of stress and anxiety entangled in the grand conceit "I am."

The Temple

A Buddhist temple is not a place of worship. It is a place of study and learning, discovery and debate.

Monday, November 9, 2015


When self and reality (as constructs) are left behind, then things are revealed to be just what they are in themselves.


Delusion is not cause by objectivity; it is the result of subjectivity. 

Friday, November 6, 2015


Everybody understands the beautiful to be "beautiful."
But this only creates the concept of "ugly";
Everybody understands the good to be "good,"
But this only creates the concept of "bad."

---The Tao Te Ching as quoted in the Zencharoku---

Nothing Holy

The words 'nothing holy' remind us that there is nothing demonstrably religious in Zen. There are no choirs of angels, no saints to pray to, no ecstasy of spirit. Zen is our everyday ordinary life—whether we are tying a shoe, notching an arrow, or drinking a cup of tea.

The Teaching of Lieh Tzu

The Way is neither to be attained through intellectual exercises nor grasped through the senses. It will only come about through the mind that is open, fluid, and completely free of intentional "doing."

Dogen and the Tenzo

Dogen was on Mount Tientung in China, studying Zen, when one day he encountered an old monk who was working as tenzo [chief cook]. It was midsummer, and the sun was beating down hard. The tenzo was working vigorously, drying out some shiitake mushrooms.

Dogen said to the tenzo, "This is awfully hard work, isn't it? Why don't you have a younger man do it?"

The tenzo answered Dogen, "If another person does it, I won't be able to do it myself."

"That's so," replied Dogen. "But it's so hot right now. Wouldn't it be better to do it on a more pleasant day?"

And the tenzo responded, "And when would such a pleasant day be? Answer me that. Will there ever be another time like this one, right now?"

Dogen could say nothing, and the tenzo worked on, sweating in silence.

The Tool Box

Buddhism is our experience of reality. 
The Teaching and the Practice 
offer tools to understand and manage 
that which interferes with that experience; 
our opinions, our fears, and our judgments.