Opening the Hand of Thought


While I omitted it from the title, this is a book review.


Don't leave!

I know these things can be boring. I know no one likes to read them.

As I paid for this book, there's no real obligation for me even to do a book review, right??

Never-the-less this book deserves better than I can give it.

James Ishmael Ford said of it: If you read one book on Zen this year, this should be that book.

Keep in mind that the good Reverend Ford has his own books to promote.

It's hard to encapsulate Uchiyama Roshi's book. It's a manual for Zen practice.

It explains his rather unique viewpoint without straying from Dogenist party line, as it were. I like his description of the Zen path as a balance between Vow and Repentance.

Uchiyama believed in Zazen being the core of Practice. It's the most important thing you can do. This is straight up Dogen Zenji. The thing is I'm told that most of Soto Shu even today, thirty years later doesn't care too much about Zazen. At least in Japan. Here in the USA it's all about the sitting.

I think if Uchiyama Roshi were alive today he would like to see how much emphasis is put on Zazen in the West.

In short, read this book if:

You're interested in Zen.

You're not interested in Zen.

You like simple explanations for hard to grasp concepts.

You're into tautophrases. (I wrote a whole post about this)

Seriously, check it out. Then read Realizing Genjokoan. 

Go on…

But before you do I just want to say how much I like Wisdom Publications for bringing this and tons of other stuff back into print. Thanks, guys!


Letting go: success

When we are young we have a conception of what we think our life will be like when we are an adult.

This idea is based on what we want out of life and also what we have been taught regarding success. My parents are not and never have been wealthy. By strict income they ate barely middle class. Through smart management of finances, they have often lived a life style that makes others think they are well heeled.

However, success has never been measured by money in my family. My parents, even today, tell me how proud they are of me. So its definitely not money based. Instead its based on strong moral fiber. Compared to many in my generation I’m a sisal rope.

That being said, I’m not financially stable. I have huge debt. My liberal arts degree is relatively worthless and every post-baccalaureate attempt at continuing education I have made has been an unmitigated disaster. I have a job, not a career, and I have very recourse as to finding or choosing one.

This all sounds pretty dire, but this is just background. This is is nothing more than scenery. My life, isn’t these things. My life isn’t these noisy rattlings of my ego. What is my life then? I’m not sure, really.

I guess practice is my life. My life is practice, certainly. Sometimes it sucks, sometimes it doesn’t. Either way it just is. Worrying about what should be is of no benefit to me our anyone else. Living each and every moment as best I can is all can do.


Gold Star


So I finally took the plunge. 

I went to Dokusan. I asked my teacher to be my teacher. 

It turns out Karen Maezen Miller was right (big surprise). In my first one much insight was given. 

My teacher is great.

One of the things we talked about was joy and pride.

I tend to be very hard on myself and self-critical.

She pointed out how it's not really following the Middle Way to be so self-critical. 

Too much shame is something to be avoided. 

The antidote is Pride. 

Pride is a much maligned concept in the Western world. However, Buddhism teaches that Pride is something we should embrace, in moderation. We should be properly proud of our accomplishments.

My teacher told me that I should give myself a gold star whenever I have made a good choice (like going to Dokusan, finally).

So I intend to think of that when I have made a good choice. It might help to balance out my automatic negativity, a bit.

All in all, it was nothing like I expected and much better than I had hoped.


Master Miao Tsan Returning to Houston

JUTM March Public Events Flier.pdf Download this file

The Ven. Miao Tsan, Abbott of Vairocana Zen Monastery, in Garden Grove CA, and Author of Just Use This Mind, published by Houston-based Bright Sky Press will be returing to the Byaou City for Dharma talks and guided meditations.

I was at his dharmatalk last year at Rice and he was very good. Straight up Zen perspective. Regional variations aside Dogen really did bring C'han to Japan and thus we have what became Soto Zen.


Reflections on Impermanence


Self-identifying as a Zen Buddhists means I'm often asked about Japan.

I long have had a love-hate relationship with the island nation as I really don't care for Japanese pop culture, but I admire and respect it's deep cultural roots and it's vertical integration with Buddhism.

I find most commonality with Zen but it is, by far, not  the most populous sect in Japan. That would fall to Shin or possibly the combined Nicheren schools.

I digress.

Some have said this tragedy is sad. 

I completely agree.

Any loss of life is sad. Any suffering is sad. 

There are millions of senseless deaths every year.

What the earthquake and tsunami do is underscore the impermanence that people like to forget or ignore.

It's strange in a country so tied to Buddhist thought and Practice that there are temples that have stood for 1000 years.

I'm not saying the Japanese aren't seeing this perspective. I'm pretty sure if all the temples around the country were leveled they would rebuild them and they will do the same with the roads and villages and lives that have been leveled by the multiple devastating events.

Send your prayers, Metta meditations, renewal rituals or simply good vibrations to the Japanese.

If you can, donate to the international Red Cross.

Japan will be okay, in time, all things are impermanent, even tragedy and heartache.

Cross-posted @ Houston Belief.

In Gassho.

Is Zen Fraught with Tautologies?

In my book class the other night one of the instructions mentioned that Uchiyama Roshi uses a lot of tautologies.

I thought I knew what that was.  It turns out I was wrong. It think it's possible that I'm splitting hairs here but it seems like phrases like "It is what it is," are not tautologies.

Here's the definition: a statement in which you repeat a word, idea, etc., in a way that is not necessary [count A beginner who has just started is a tautology.

So free gifts or learning learners or idiotic idiots are all tautologies.

However, phrases are generally not considered tautologies (despite the example from the lovely MEriam Webster's) and, moreover, in further research (read wikipedia), I discovered that a tautology is specifically a rhetorical device where-in the repetition is needless.

Another point for Zen masters don't use tautologies. 

So what are these useful summaries. I know I shouldn't be hung up on naming them. 

I'm not really I just find language and it's uses interesting. 

So maybe these are tautophrases, then??

Willam Safire, in his New York Times column, On Language: Tautophrases, specifically mentions the co-opted  and oft-mentioned Zen phrase It is what it is. At first I dismiss his categorization because he incorrectly assumes that the phrases is dismissive or evasive, which it isn't, when used by Zen practitioners.

Safire goes on to allow that tautophrase, as opposed to a tautology can be used for emphasis. I think in Zen we use it for emphasis but also to point out that seeking intellectual meaning is often pointless when dealing with concepts which are beyond rational thought. 

If you're a language geek, like I obviously am, read the rest of Safire's article here.

Uchiyama Roshi uses tons of these phrases, some of them cribbed from Dogen Zenji or his teacher Sawaki Roshi, known more commonly as Homeless Kodo. 

Here's a few I like:

Zazen is doing Zazen.

Self doing itself by itself

Self making the self out of the self

Self that is is only self

I recommend reading Uchiyama Roshi's book Opening the Hand of Thought, if you haven't. I'll post a full review when I have finished it. 

I'm also going to finally finish reading Poplop's Rebel Buddha soon, I swear. 😛


Grasping Sucks

So…umm yeah.

I'm driven insane on daily basis.

It seems like everything sucks.

My job is overwhelming:

I can do the work and I like the people I work with, both our customers and my co-workers. There's just a larger volume of work than I can handle.

My wife is disinterested in me:

I'm never able to have her undivided attention. The phone makes sure there's always someone "in the room" with us, as she almost never puts it down.

I'm having difficulties securing funding for my medically necessary weight-loss program:

My insurance won't pay and there's no easy route to charitable support.

My car is dying:

It has an oil leak I can't find the source of and I just spent over $500 that wasn't in the budget to fix the brakes/rotors/struts.

But why does all this crap bother me??

It all has the same root cause: grasping. It's not like it should be. We create "ideal" fantasies about the way we want out life to be and ignore the awesome that surrounds us.

In just these situations, let's look at the awesome:

My job is overwhelming:

I have a job. That kind of, mostly pays our bills and I don't hate it. It's close to where I live and the benefits are good. The company isn't terrible and the people are great.

My wife is disinterested in me:

My wife has had a pinched nerve for the last week and before that we both had colds. We conquered the spectre of divorce and I know she loves me without a doubt. Sex (and physical affection in general) may not happen as often as I would like, but that doesn't mean it never happens.

I'm having difficulties securing funding for my medically necessary weight-loss program:

The intake Dr. who did all my blood-work and my physical evaluation wasn't worried about me finding a payment solution. She had lots of advice and general well wishes to offer.

My car is dying:

The brakes are fixed and that's done. My friend will probably help me track down the oil leak and fix it for cheap. 

In the final analysis. I just need to chill out and okay with what is. 

I suppose I just need a little Dude and a little less Walter.

Abide, Achievers.

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