Brown Rice Is Just Right

“When we digest food completely, what will become of it? It will be transformed, changing its chemical nature, and will permeate our whole body. In the process it dies within our body. To eat and digest food is natural to us, as we are always changing. This organic process is called “emptiness.” The reason we call it emptiness is that it has no special form. It has some form, but that form is not permanent. While it is changing, it carries on our life energy.”

–Shunryu Suzuki Roshi

Patience is the Wrong Word

“Patience has a certain impatience built into it. In Zen the word is ‘constancy.’ Instead of patience, constancy is a kind of dedication to what you love and what you care about, and with that dedication comes a trust that by planting beautiful seeds, eventually in their own time they will bear fruit.”

–Jack Kornfield

The Function of a Zen Center–from a talk by Charlotte Joko Beck

What I want to talk about today is the function of a Zen Center. In a general way we can say that the function of a Zen Center is to support practice: of course that’s true. But we have a lot of illusions about Zen Centers, as we do about teachers. And one thing we tend to think is that a Zen center is a place that should be very nice for me – in other words, it should be non-threatening – I think a good center should be quite threatening at times. It is not the function of a center to take care of your comfort or your social life. By that I don’t mean that we should not have social functions – I think they’re great – but they are not the primary function of a center. A Zen Center’s function is not to provide people with a social life. It’s not necessarily supposed to make them feel good, and it’s not supposed to make them feel special.

A center is primarily a powerful tool to assist us in waking up. As a sangha practicing at a center, yes, we need to support each other, but the nature of that support may not be exactly the kind of support that is often seen in an office. You know, a girl’s boyfriend leaves her – “Oh, you poor thing! Why you know, when my boyfriend left me…” and off we go. There’s a “we’re all victims in this together” attitude, which is not support. The more we practice well, the less of that fake kind of support is what is met at a good center.

It should be a place that give us support, yes, but also challenges us; and in that sense we’re all teachers of one another. Some of the most powerful teachings at a center have nothing to do with the teacher; sometimes the teaching is from another person, coming directly from that person’s experience. To be honest, to be aware of what real practice is, and to share it with others – this is what makes a center a different kind of place to be.

Sadly enough, Zen Centers tend to be somewhat ego-perpetuating: we want them to be bigger, better, more important than the other guy’s center, certainly! There are very subtle ego currents that can circulate in a Zen Center, as in any other organization, if we are not especially careful.

And some thoughts on the sangha: one point is crucial – the longer people have been practicing, the less important the outward role should be. And for that reason I don’t want people who have been practicing for a long time to assume that they are always going to be monitors – sometimes, yes, of course. But the more senior the student, the more I want their influence to be felt through their practice, and through their willingness not to seem important; and to let the newer students begin to assume some of the outwardly conspicuous positions.

The mark of senior students is to be working when no one else knows they’re there. I see people working in the Center office at odd hours; sometimes I come back from shopping and they’re working hard. That’s a sign of mature practice, getting the job done and keeping our own importance out of it. Personally I’m trying to go that way by downplaying the tremendous importance given to the role of a teacher. And I want this to apply to all of the older students. So if you feel you are not getting to do what you usually do, GREAT! Then you have something nice to practice with.

Another mark of a good Zen Center is that it shakes all of us up; it is not the way we want it in our pictures. So, in our upset, what we get back to, then, is the basis of practice: which is, as near as I can put it into words, to assume more and more of an observer stance in our life.

By that I mean that everything in our life will continue to take place: the problems, the emotional difficulties, the pleasant days, the ups and downs, which are what human life consists of – but it is the ability not to get caught – to enjoy what’s happening when it’s good, to have equanimity when it’s bad and to observe it all, which is the continuing work.

The mark of maturing practice is simply the ability, more and more, to notice what’s going on and not be caught by it. Easy to talk about, but probably 15 to 20 years of hard practice are needed before we are like that a good part of the time.

And that is not the final stage. When there is no object, no person, no event, no thing in the world with which I identify, by which I’m caught – when there is no object and no observing self – then there is a flip into what, if you wish to give it a name, is the enlightened state.

I have never known anyone whom I felt had accomplished that, but some persons have done well; and, if you are lucky enough to encounter such a person, you sense the difference in one who is not caught by life (needing it, craving something or someone, insisting that life be a certain way). You notice that such a person is at peace and free.

These are the people who are a healing and beneficent influence on any life that is near to them. They don’t have to do anything – the healing comes from the way they are. The transformation is what we want from practice. We are more than lucky to have such an opportunity in this lifetime. Let’s take advantage of it and do our very best.

–Charlotte Joko Beck

Embrace Slowness

“The holy pause can also be the space of integration and healing. How often do we rush through our lives, not allowing the time to gather the pieces of ourselves, to allow our fragmented selves the space of coming together again?

When we allow rest, we awaken to the broken places that often push us to keep doing and producing and striving. There are things in life best done slowly.”

–Christine Valters Paintner

Life as a Warrior

“…We have the choice to remain in ignorance and convince ourselves that we are safe from the sight of others’ pain, or we can choose to develop our warrior-spirit. We can acknowledge that the road may not be easy, and then we can put our best foot forward anyway. When our uncertainties and fears are getting in our way, we can acknowledge them and say to ourselves:

-I want to be awake
-This is my intention and I am fully aware that it will require me to make an effort that I may not be accustomed to.
-However, I no longer want to feel stuck in my own life.
-I want to be able to feel connected to my community.
-I am ready to be open and fully engage everything that comes my way. I want to touch reality, become intimate with it, and see my life with vivid clarity.
-I know that it will not be easy and I will have to face aspects of myself that I may not be proud of.
-And, even if I feel afraid of this, I am confident that I am worthy of living life in the fullest way possible.
-I am sure that I deserve to know an enlightened way of being in the world.”

Angel Kyodo Williams, from Being Black: Zen and the Art of Living with Fearlessness and Grace

The Six Fondnesses

A teaching from Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche at Bangalow in Australia in 2012. Excerpt from Gentle Voice: Online Newsletter of Siddharthas Intent.

“For the path dweller to be virtuous and to accumulate virtuous deeds is so important. To think virtuously is very important. However good deeds have so many obstacles. These obstacles can be categorised into the six fondnesses.”

“What are they – it is quite interesting – they are the six different kinds of love.”
Rinpoche invites a definition. “What is love by the way?” (Audience laughter)

Audience responds with some words.

“Tenderness, yes tenderness. That is good. Tenderness I think I like. A soft spot. A Fondness.”

1. “ There is a certain type of rat that is always collecting things – a pack rat. This kind of attitude, a tenderness towards, a fondness for collecting attacks generosity, the first paramita.”

2. “ The next is a tenderness, a fondness towards not staying out of trouble. A very good one, this, I thought. A fondness to trouble.”

Mischievous? (Audience)

“Mischievous is something kind of good. No? Well according to us it is,” ( Rinpoche and audience laughter) “ This fondness of not staying out of trouble becomes the obstacle to discipline.”

3. “The fondness to making the point is the obstacle to patience”

4. “ Fondness to carelessness is the obstacle to diligence Sloppiness. Yes. Sloppiness is good. Messiness. A fondness to Australians. No, No, No I am just…”

5. “ A fondness to be dependent, to be co-dependent. We have a fondness for wanting space, for respecting human rights but that’s all talk. Behind our actions we have a fondness to be dictated to, to be controlled by others. Fondness to be dominated by an object. A bit like having a girlfriend or a boyfriend. To have someone who can change their mood faster than lightning. That’s terrible,”

(Lots of laughter)

“Basically we love dependency even though we talk about independence. This is the obstacle to meditation – samadhi.“

6. “Now this is a really good one. Fantastic this one. You know how the French – I hope there are no French people here – love smelly cheese. We love disgusting stuff like pig’s nose. There is tenderness, a fondness for liking bad stuff, or for liking cheap stuff, so that is why we need wisdom.”

“These things, these six fondnesses are the mastermind, the planner, the mover, the fixer of non virtuous deeds. They lead to non-virtuous action. They sustain, they enhance, the non-virtuous action. The six paramitas are there because these fondnesses need to be analysed and attacked.”

–Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche

The Wheel of Formlessness

“Slowly, slowly, the weight shifts. Then the weight shifts just enough so that there is a slight predominance on the center of the wheel, and we find that we naturally just want to sit down and be quiet, that we don’t have to say, ‘I’ve got to meditate now,’ or ‘I’ve got to read a holy book,’ or ‘I’ve got to turn off the television set,’ or ‘I’ve got to do…’ anything.”

–Ram Dass