Saturday, September 27, 2014

May All Beings Be Liberated!

Well, I hope none of you are offended at what I am about to say, and of course that will be up to you. I often follow the words of the great Daoist Sage Laozi, "if you seek for the approval of others, you become their prisoner." I want to emphasize that this post is in no way Political. It's aspiration is humanitarian by its nature, as I do not follow a political party of movement, I am merely a simple Buddhist Monk living in the United States of America. My teacher, Seung Sahn Dae Jong Sa, taught that to fight others for peace is a silly endeavor, it is like trying to scratch your foot by scratching the sole of your shoe.

I find it interesting that we live in (an American) society that is more interested in whether the newest phone (phablet) on the market bends in our “tight” pants (we label these events "bendgate" or "bendghazi" trying to make them more meaningful than they are), or whether the President saluted with a coffee cup, or a Scottish terrier in his hand, than the issue of us now bombing a country (in fact several countries) because of a few bad seeds that have managed to garner media attention. It would be interesting to note that no president prior to Ronald Reagan ever saluted uniformed military personnel. I learned, while in Basic Training (also prior to that 3 years in JrROTC) that you never salute in civilian clothes or without a hat (cover) on your head.

We do not and cannot have enough intelligence to just destroy “enemy” targets with our "brand new, never been used before F-22 Fighters carrying weapons that will have to be replenished by companies that show huge profits based upon American Government contracts." We will, as we always do kill innocent people, and justify it as "collateral damage" on all of the "for profit New Agencies" in America. We continually create scary enemies out of those cultures, religions and societies that we do not understand. We justify our killing as a protection of our lives or our sovereignty, yet we destroy women, children and innocents in these acts or war (terror) and wonder why so much of the world hates us.

It seems that divisiveness and vitriol have become commonplace in our society and this is spreading throughout the world. With global warming, continuous wars, starvation in the midst of over-consumption  that this is some of what Buddha was pointing to and tried to teach his entire life. It seems the gap between rich and poor, social bullying, rumors of future wars, and a lack of mutual respect for our fellow human beings has left us at an interesting pivot point in human evolution. Therefore, what is the core of the problem and how do we suppose we can move forward in a compassionate and loving way.



My idea is correct! These words are still reverberating, with the operatic bravado of Zen Master Seung Sahn’s deep baritone voice, and rattling around somewhere within my eighth level of consciousness. This simple statement, as with many of the euphemisms that somehow found their way into the minds of students lucky enough to have studied with this great Bodhisattva from Korea, is an extremely powerful insight into the rampant global malady of the twenty–first century. Zen Master Seung Sahn would often return to this point repeatedly; sometimes it was during public talks, and other times it was during one of the many kong’an interviews that I was lucky enough to have with him. However, there was one particular morning that a group of us were lounging around in the living room after breakfast at Dharma Zen Center in Los Angeles.

Someone in the group asked, “If dharma is the truth, why can’t we just make people understand this truth, it has always seemed to me that we should not have wars and should not be killing people, yet it seems that the problems keep getting worse. Why can't you just tell the Pope and the other world religious leaders to follow the truth or the dharma?” Zen Master Seung Sahn answered the question in this way,

“It is quite common to hear people say that their own beliefs are correct, and that any other belief structures cannot be correct because there is only one true belief structure and that is the one that I adhere to! Some may even go so far as to say that if you do not believe the same thing as I believe, I will kill you! Today this is humanity’s number one problem. However, earlier you asked me what we can do about this problem. This morning I woke up at four thirty and bowed, and chanted and sat meditation. However, many of you believe that this is not enough?

Frequently I lecture on the Buddhadharma, yet the true Buddhadharma is not Buddhadharma, also, neither the sun, nor the moon, nor the star ever said, ‘I am the sun, I am the moon, I am the star.’ Likewise, Śākyamuni Buddha never said, ‘I am the Buddha;’ nor did God ever say, ‘I am God.’ The true God, just like the true Buddha has no name. Additionally, the true sun, the true moon, and the true star also have no name. All names are created by mind alone; these are names like Buddhadharma, truth, and Christ Consciousness. The only true Buddhadharma is no Buddhadharma and the ultimate truth is no truth. The true Christ Consciousness is also no Christ Consciousness, but you must watch out! If you create Buddhadharma then you will have Buddhadharma; and if you make Christ Consciousness, you will have Christ Consciousness. Nevertheless, if you cut off all thinking, and then everything in this cosmos and you will become one.

In addition, if you attach to some idea, then you only have some idea, and you lose everything in the cosmos. If you relinquish every idea of your own, then you already have everything in the universe. This means that you must, throw away Dharma, Buddha, and God, and you must also throw away your understanding. If you can do this you will then realize the true Dharma, the true Buddha, true nature, and true substance.

Once you realize this, then everything you see, everything you hear, and everything you smell, is Dharma, Buddha, and truth. If your mind perceives the correct Buddhadharma, then everything is the correct Buddhadharma. If your mind perceives the truth, then everything is the truth. If your path is correct, then everything is the correct path. This is Buddha’s teaching, that everything is made by the mind alone. However, how do you just now, moment to moment, keep your correct situation, function and relationship? This is the point. So if you make your idea completely disappear, then everything you see, everything you hear, and everything you do, all is Buddhadharma.”

I’d like to share a poem (or prose if you will) written by Coleman Barks who is the Poet Lauriat of Jellaudin Rumi. This poem was written just before President George W. Bush engaged our country in the second Iraq/Afghanistan war. I don’t think many of you read this but after years of bloodshed, death and destruction, I just thought I’d share it with you all.

I do not think what I have said is right or somehow should be used to put others down, I only wish to follow Śakyamuni Buddha’s aspiration of doing no harm.


From Coleman Barks, the translator of Rumi, to President Bush:

“Just This Once President Bush, before you order air strikes, imagine the
first cruise missile as a direct hit on your closest friend. That might be
Laura. Then twenty-five other family and friends. There are no survivors.

Now imagine some other way to do it. Quadruple the inspectors, or put a
thousand and one U.N. people in. Then call for peace activists to volunteer
to go to Iraq for two weeks each. Flood that country with well-meaning
tourists, people curious about the land that produced the great saints,
Gilani, Hallaj, and Rabia. Set up hostels near those tombs. Encourage peace
people to spend a bunch of money in shops, to bring rugs home and samovars
by the bushel. Send an Arabic translator with every four peace activists.
The U.S. government will pay for the translators and for building and
staffing the hostels, one hostel for every twenty activists and five
translators. The hostels are state of the art, and they belong to the Iraqis
at the end of this experiment.

Jimmy Carter, Nelson Mandela, and my friend, Jonathan Granoff at the U.N.,
will be the core organization team. No one knows what might come of this.
Maybe nothing, or maybe it would convince some Iraqis and some of the world
that we really do not wish to kill anybody, and that we truly are not out to
appropriate oil reserves. We're working on building a hydrogen vehicle as
fast as we can, aren't we? Put no limit on the number of activists from all
over who might want to hang out and explore Iraq for two weeks. Is anything
left of Babylon? There could be informal courses for college credit and
pickup soccer games every evening at five. Long leisurely suppers. The U. S.
government furnishes air transportation, that is, hires airliners from the
country of origin and back for each peace tourist, who must carry and spend
the equivalent of $1001 US inside Iraq. Keep part of the invasion force
nearby as police, but let those who claim to deeply detest war try something
else just this once, for one year. Call our bluff. If this madman Saddam's
WMD threat is not, somehow, eliminated by next February, you can go in with
special ops, and do it that way.

Medical services, transportation inside Iraq, lots of big colorful
buses--let the pilgrims paint them!—along with many other ideas that will
be thought of later during the course of this innocently, blatantly, foolish
project will all also be funded by the U.S. government.

There's a practice known as sama, a deep listening to poetry and music, with
sometimes movement involved. We could experiment with whole nights of that,
staying up until dawn, sleeping in tents during the day. So instead of war
there's a peace period from March 2003 through February 2004. It could be as
though war had already happened, as it has, and the healing and rebuilding.
Now we're in the celebration afterward. I'll be the first to volunteer for
two weeks of wandering winter desert and reading Hallaj, Abdul Qadir Gilani,
dear Rabia, and the life-saving 1001 Arabian Nights.

I am Coleman Barks, a retired English professor living in Athens, Georgia,
and I don't really consider this proposal foolish.

~Coleman Barks

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

The aspiration of the Five Mountain Zen Order is to become more loving in the manner of a Bodhisattva.

Our core belief is that “only love dispels hate.” We welcome into our practice and fellowship, all people, regardless of age, political affiliation, economic reality, education, ethnicity, faith history, family structure, gender identity, nationality, physical and mental ability, race, sexual orientation and life experience.

We (as an organization) have no official political affiliations. We aspire to keep our personal opinions to a minimum because we know they can so easily become walls…creating opposites, excluding rather than including. Rather we follow the “Four Noble Truths” and the “Eight Fold Path” for guidance. 

Whatever we do as members of the Five Mountain Zen Order, we aspire to do it with kindness, acceptance, respect, love, and compassion. We embrace the Sangha Guidelines as set forth by our Great Ancestor Soen Master Bojo Jinul and as interpreted by Soen Master Seung Sahn. 

Remember: we share a common humanity. None of us wants to suffer. This is why our aspiration is harmony…inflicting no harm upon anyone – including ourselves. 

When we encounter someone with a different lifestyle from our own (and we do), please take time to get to know him or her as a person, not as a group or a cause or a person associated with a political party. We aspire to keep our minds, our ears…and our hearts…open to infinite possibilities. 

It is not skillful to be opinionated. Zen Master Seung Sahn taught us, “You must relinquish your opinion, your condition and your situation.” Should any member of FMZO ever discover that your own opinion – whatever it is – is not being respected, let us know. 

Yet, please realize that not all opinions will, can, or should be changed. It’s not our job as members of the Five Mountain Zen Order to support or deny anyone’s opinion. It’s our job to clarify what it is to be a human being, and to wake up to our true nature. All else is illusion. 


In the Five Mountain Zen Order, we trace our roots back to Dàhuì Zōnggăo and teach directly out of the Kānhuà Chàn method of kongàn study. Master Dàhuì attained enlightenment at an early age, it is estimated that he was either 26 or 27, and was initially assigned as the principle teacher to the Lay Students who were practicing under the tutelage of Chán Master Yuánwù Kèqín. 

Because of this, Dàhuì wrote many of his treatises with the Lay Student in mind. It is because this great teacher stepped out of the normal function of a monk and spent his time almost exclusively teaching Kongàn’s as well as educating Lay Students in his early years of practice, that we today have a methodology that can work within the life of a householder. 

Another little known fact has recently come to light, Dàhuì also taught nuns and was the first Chàn Master to have an officially recognized Female Lineage Holder, thereby establishing a precedent that seems to have been overlooked by subsequent generations of Chàn Teachers.


In the Tenth Century ACE, for the first time in an official, Imperially Sanctioned Chàn Genealogical History, two Sung women were recognized as Masters of Chàn, and what they were doing, teaching, and writing was officially recognized as Chàn activity, teaching, and writing in China. Their names were Miàozǒng Chánshī and Miàodào Chánshī. 

Miàodào Chánshī was also known to her contemporaries and in subsequent genealogical histories as Jiguāng Dàshī (Great Teacher Light of Concentration). Furthermore, she was the first person of either sex to experience a great awakening using the Huàtóu method under the guidance of the founder of Kānhuà Chàn (kongàn introspection) practice in the Línjì Chàn lineage, Dàhuì Zōnggăo. As a result of her experience, she became Dàhuì's actual first dharma heir; an important teacher of women, and a participant in the early Southern Sung revival of Línjì. She and her teacher Dàhuì blazed the way toward a more widespread acceptance of women Chàn teachers as a lineage members within Chàn. 


In the Five Mountain Zen Order two of our root teachers, Zen Master Seung Sahn and Ven. Thích Thiên-Ân, were also progressive Chàn Masters of the 20th Century. Both of these teachers were steadfast in their direction of equanimity and teaching. They both ordained women as well as giving them Dharma Transmission, they both gave Teaching Authority to young people. And Zen Master Seung Sahn as well as a Dharma Heir of Ven. Thích Thiên-Ân openly ordained and gave transmission to at least one openly LGBT community member each.

Ven. Thích Thiên-Ân ordained married monks and nuns, and Zen Master Seung Sahn decided to make a special class of ordination for married practitioners, which he called the Bodhisattva Monk. We continue to make strides in our direction of non-discrimination, and the evolution of Chan Buddhism as it moves forward into the 21st Century Western world. We will be criticized and scorned by some, and to quote the words of the Founder of Daoism, Lǎozǐ, “If you seek for the approval of others, you become their prisoner.” 

We don’t make changes idly or indiscriminately, rather we look within ourselves to ask ourselves what we feel is fair and just and compassionate. We will make mistakes and in the manner of a Bodhisattva we always try to make them correct when we realize the error of our ways.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

The Importance of Understanding the Precepts and Their Value to the Sangha

The Reverend Songmin taking Novice precepts Vows at Sangha Weekend in Las Vegas.
I don't normally do this, and I am making an exception. I am grading final exam papers right now and have gotten to grading the papers for the "Buddhist Precepts" class that I teach. One of the students, Rev. Songmin, decided to write his final paper on the monastic precepts he will be taking next month in January to become a fully ordained Zen Monk. I was literally brought to tears while reading his submission. 

I should say that Rev. Songmin is not an exception in our order, he is representative of the quality and dedication of students we have within the Five Mountain Zen Order and attending Buddha Dharma University. I share an insight into a man who has struggled his entire life to find some sense of equanimity, having begun studying Zen Buddhism in the early 1970's. 

I am honored by his response, and I felt it too important not to share with the greater Mahasangha. So please read the final paper of Rev. Songmin, who will become a fully ordained monk next month, his take on Buddhist Precepts.

When one enters the Buddhist Path, one “takes refuge” in the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha. The aspirant can also take various numbers of Precepts or vows. These are a behavioral road map to the Path. The Path is our journey through life, trying to obtain enlightenment. In this pursuit, we join the Sangha for support. We are not separate, we practice together. Therefore a deep understanding of the Precepts enhances our unity and thereby helps our Practice. We teach what we understand and, in turn, learn from one another, a mutually beneficial and synergistic relationship. A profound understanding of what we are committing ourselves to is therefore fundamental to this relationship.

In committing to the Precepts, we should examine, first off, what the mental attitude should be in approaching this step. I was sitting in my kitchen last week and noticed some writing on the side of a box that was waiting to go out with the trash. “Zappo Family Value # 9: Be Passionate and Determined” it read. It struck me as highly noble for a shoe company; it sounded like something out of a Sutra. It also sounded like a good start for taking the Precepts. Haeja Sunim, my beloved former teacher recently sent me a Translation of The Prajnaparamita by Lex Hixon of which he is the editor entitled, “How to Recognize the Bodhisattva?” This beautiful document repeatedly talks about the “Irreversible Bodhisattva”. This is the attitude we must have. It is like jumping into the ocean. Naked or fully clothed, that water is going to soak you. The water, bathed in it, immersed from head to toe, will surround you. As we examine the Precepts, we even find two Precepts for this attitude, Make firm resolutions and Make great vows. So it is passion and full dedication that we seek as we accept this road map.

Let us proceed to give context and scope to this examination. We are exhorted to cease from evil, do only good, and then to do good for others. So, in that context I will proceed to examine each precept. I will look to see where evil can be stopped. I will also look to see where the good is. Finally, in the spirit of the Mahayana, I will examine how the Precept can be used in saving all beings.

I vow to respect my teachers and Friends in the Dharma. The point here is that we are dealing with the most Precious gift we have, our richest source of the Dharma. We must not entertain disparaging thoughts about the Sangha. Our thoughts must always be respectful; looking for what is good and positive. In this way, when visitors see our respect for one another, a light will go on.

I vow to abstain from entering into intoxicating situations or consuming substances intended to distract from this moment. This is all about maintaining the Bodhi Mind! If something is interfering with mindfulness, we need to pull back, start over and preserve our mindfulness. I saw a book recently that was titled something like, “My dog just died, my wife is driving me insane, and once again I have a hangover – Get up and walk like a Buddha! Catchy title with deep meaning. Try, try, 10,000 times. So there can be many situations that are intoxicating, we are to pull away, and be clearly in the moment, moment by moment. In this way, we benefit ourselves, and others. Pull away from anything that distracts and walk like a Buddha.

I vow to be conscious of what I consume. We eat several times a day. We should maintain the Bodhi Mind. What a practice field this presents from harming ourselves by over eating to harming other creatures by not being aware. We can take positive steps such as Vegetarianism. We can support animals by rescuing, or volunteering at animal shelters. Again, Bodhi Mind preservation.

I vow to maintain the integrity of the Student/Teacher relationship. In this culture, we are all too aware of people being used. We should not destroy a teacher/student relationship, this is golden. We should also be keenly aware of others being exploited.

I vow to encourage others to view past mistakes as learning opportunities that allow them to make better choices in the future. Here we cease from guilt and in doing so we free ourselves to learn. This is true compassion for self. Once we learn, we can teach and free all beings.

I vow to always request the Dharma and make offerings to visiting Sangha members. A true teacher will never request alms. So how the teacher survive? Sharing becomes essential. The Dharma is gold being given to us. It seems only natural to give in return, a stream of generosity flowing between us.

I vow to attend Dharma Talks and events that will open my heart and mind, thus enabling my practice to grow stronger and allowing me to be of better service to others. So much time is wasted on trivial pursuits. Snatch that time up and spend it studying the Dharma. Make yourself valuable for others.

I vow not to divide the Dharma into separate vehicles or doctrines by placing one classification above another. Wisdom is universally available and equal. Stop making divisions in unity. Soak it all up. Cherish it. Teach it freely.

I vow to always give care to the sick and needy. Some people run from sickness. Even animals sense when someone is sick and vulnerable. In a job interview once, I was asked why I take care of sick people. It suddenly occurred to me what an absurd question that was. I responded, “How can you not?” We are one. That sick person is us. Why do people save suicide attempters? How can you not?

I vow to abstain from the storing of weapons used to intentionally take away life. This goes back to Bodhi Mind preservation. Why would one, in the face of our unity, think about obtaining weapons, much less purchase them? They are only used for killing in one way or another. Free yourself from this. Encourage peace. Use peaceful words with others. Avoid conflict of any kind. Alarms should go off at the first feeling of discord. Join the work of Peacemakers.

I vow to abstain from serving as an emissary of the military, except in non violent role such a chaplaincy, medical positions and other roles that do not engage directly in the violent expression of military service. Ceasing from violence is clear. Educating yourself into a position where you can be a beacon is admirable. Working amongst those who have seen battle is dramatic. I think it gives more to you than to them. Then again, military service in combat may be the only thing that can crack a heart of stone and then they see someone who holds out hope.

I vow to conduct my livelihood in a way that is helpful to myself and others and refrain from business practices that limit the freedom or happiness of others. Even as a nurse I must respect each individual and the choices that they make. I am not there to control, but simply to offer help. When the relationship ends, no matter how it ends, the patient should walk away feeling whole, not diminished in any way. Perhaps, after thought, he will return and ask for help again. Arms always open.

I vow to communicate in a way that is true, accurate, and helpful and to refrain from speech meant to plant seeds of doubt, misinformation, or gossip. I was talking to another Sangha member years ago about a similar precept. He said that when he ceased gossiping at work, many wonderful things began to happen. He got his work done. His mind was quieter. His meditation was deeper. Everybody at work seemed to like him and trust him. Relationships are fragile, if you seem untrustworthy; you are undermining what good you have done. Promote peace and harmony. Remember, we are not separate, we are one. In Nursing School, accuracy of communication is a major theme. As a teaching tool, we frequently played the telephone game. The teacher would whisper a sentence in the ear of the first student and the sentence would be passed from one student to the next. At the end, the sentence was always completely altered to something unrecognizable. Take into account what gossip ends up as in this light, a ghost that came out of your mouth, with no basis in reality but now has an existence that you probably cannot stop, raw energy wreaking havoc coming from your mouth. Oh my! Speak only well when using those vocal cords.




I vow to support life by behaving in a way that respects and protects the environment as well as all beings and refrain from activities that cause harm. We are so fragile on this Earth. I have been alive for 65 years. In that time, the changes to the Earth have been dramatic and often destructive. It is sad to see degradation. We must cease destructive patterns and begin to tread lightly. Do we need to consume endlessly? Can we do something positive to help? Even if it is just holding on to that wrapper until you can dispose of it properly, then that is ceasing destruction. Preserve the earth intact or better for those yet to be born.

I vow to teach the Dharma in a manner that inspires awakening and well-being for myself and others. A Zen Teacher from Shasta Abbey was always saying, “Look Up”. Smiles and positive attitudes attract people. Thich Nhat Hanh encourages Smile Practice. The Dharma is profound and beautiful. It is not heavy. It is filled with hope. Talk about hope springing eternally, That is the Dharma. One of the qualities of Venerable Charama is that laughing, smiling, all accepting love that goes along with his teaching. It is totally alluring. Preach by smiling.

I vow to fully understand the Dharma so that I may teach it in a manner that is true, accurate and helpful. From the phone game, I know how degenerated a message may become. The Dharma is too precious to degrade. I have frequently talked about my desire to grasp the Dharma the way I had grasped Catholicism. To get to the point where action comes naturally without prior thought. At this point, knowledge becomes your blood and bones, there is no separation. It is you.

I vow to share the Dharma as freely as I have received it, with no personal gain as my motive. This aspiration is pristine, it leaves no dust. In fact, setting the goal of no gain as a motive is no motive at all. No dust, no trace, Pure Dharma in both word and action.

I vow to serve others with commitment, kindness, and integrity. This precept harkens back to the manner in which we should teach, inspiring. If we aspire to personality qualities that are gentle and inspire trust then the Dharma will flow whether we speak or not. Subhuti and Mogallana saw Buddha walking and knew instantly that he was the One. At work, there are many people who are committed, kind, and consistent. These are the people who really shine. This is what we should aspire to for the sake of the Dharma.

I vow to communicate in a direct and compassionate manner that promotes harmony and to refrain from speech that contains hidden or implied messages meant to cause harm or unhappiness. Right Speech. If we are practicing moment to moment, there is no possibility of harm from my mouth. I pray for a mouth that does no harm, does only good, and is only used for the good of others, I vow to liberate all beings from suffering and the causes of suffering. The only way to live this vow is to divest of the self, to accept the unity of all things as our true nature, and then we are caring all existence and become true Bodhisattvas.

I vow to treat others with respect and to refrain from behaving in a manner that violates, harms, or imposes revenge on others. We are one, if we harm others, we harm all of existence. Why so discord? Love is so powerful! The other night I was embroiled in an argument with my husband. At one point we touched and that was it. Argument ended.

I vow to conduct myself in a manner that is consistent with the Dharma: to remain humble and accessible and to refrain from arrogant and self important behavior. A teacher cannot be arrogant. A teacher should not even say that his way is the only way. There should be only offerings of gifts.

I vow to teach the Dharma with generosity and an open heart. What more attractive quality is there than the love of a mother? Total devotion. Look at all the human art that surrounds the Madonna. Turn east, the images of Quan Yin are everywhere. This is the Dharma itself in action. Your manner may say more than you words. Be gentle.

I vow to put the teachings of the Buddha Dharma into practice in my everyday life and teach others to do the same. Moment to moment, ceasing from evil, doing only good, doing good for others. Moment to moment, moment to moment.

I vow to be a Sangha member that acts with integrity and accountability. This can be taken on various different levels. For me, I believe it means taking ownership of the Sangha. I feel a responsibility as a Sangha member to keep the organization alive and functioning. I will do my utmost to support and nurture our Sangha.

I vow to share all offerings made to the Dharma or the Sangha. We are one, we receive as one. There is no separation, there is no separate self.
I vow to accept invitations given equally to all others and refrain from accepting invitations that exclude anyone based on gender, race, religion, physical condition or sexual orientation. Society abounds in separation. We can at least begin to heal the rift. We can reach out with open arms and let healing love flow.

I vow to be inclusive and invite all people equally regardless of gender, race, religion, physical condition or sexual orientation. We are one, invite them in. Open arm, only love.

I vow to conduct my livelihood in a manner that is helpful to myself and others and refrain from business practices that limit the freedom and happiness of others. My actions should benefit all. My livelihood is not really mine, it is ours. I could just as well be making thirteen dollars an hour in a physically challenging job. I am blessed with what I have, so blessed. It is not really mine.

I vow to give all Sangha members equal consideration and respect and refrain from engaging in any actions that might cause division and conflict. We must live the Dharma. The new member who may be different should be embraced. What meaning is there in someone’s award ways, only the ghost of judgmental thoughts. Even the blade of grass can teach. Relax and learn.

I vow to respect all clergy members and Dharmic objects. Once bowing ceases, Buddhism will cease. Physical movements that express respect have an effect on our own minds as well as the mind of the recipient of the respect. Bow to our clergy, they offer us all the love they can muster. Bow to statues who represent the unity that we share.

I vow to extend loving kindness indiscriminately to all sentient beings and to greet all experiences with openness, curiosity and acceptance. Each moment new and fresh, each moment with love, moment to moment with open arms, each moment with its own integrity.

I vow to approach all beings with respect and dignity and refrain from objectifying others. How easy it is to boil someone down to an easy label. We are all so much more than that. Accept all with openness and curiosity. Each individual is a facet of the Jewel.

I vow to always keep a clear and open mind. Again, how can we do this without moment to moment practice? It is a path; we take one step after another. At my age, I’d like to say that life is short but I don’t know that. None of us know how many moments we are afforded. Why worry, just accept moment after moment with enthusiasm.

I vow to make great vows. I love this precept. It encompasses the mind attitude of dignity. I will keep my vows even if standing in hell. It is noble.
I vow to make firm resolutions. Sticking by your word is an honorable goal. This Path is too valuable to take lightly. Jump in and hold on, but don’t do things half heartedly. Everyone admires a winner and aspires to be one. Be a winner.

I vow to keep myself safe whenever possible and to refrain from putting myself or others in environments where harm is more likely. This can be taken on many levels. Protecting the ones we love seems to be part and parcel with love. It is an aspect of love. We must love ourselves and maintain the Bodhi Mind. We must help one another to do so also. Stay out of harm’s way.

I vow to treat all members of the Sangha equally. We are one. Each individual is a facet of the Jewel. We are not separate. Accept each individual’s teaching with gratitude and joy and curiosity.

I vow to cultivate wisdom and good judgment. This is part of feeding our Bodhi Mind. What are you doing with your mind? Are we nurturing thoughts that bolster our commitment to the Dharma. Are we building a mind that is strong and can do the moment to moment practice. This will help all beings. Are you slacking off from your life? Are you awake or snoozing?

I vow not to unfairly discriminate against others when conferring the Precepts. Only love, open arms for all sentient beings. Make no judgments bout people. We are a lot more complex than a label. Seek to meet the Bodhi Mind of others. Embrace that essence in everyone.

I vow equanimity in teaching the Dharma and will not enter into teaching arrangements for the sake of profit. This is the purest aspiration. Giving without remuneration. Pure compassion. Giving without a motive. Making others happy for the sake of happiness better the entire of existence.

I vow to offer the Precepts to only those that wish to take them with a sincere and open heart. Discerning whose heart is sincere and open may seem difficult on the face of it, but Buddha recognizes Buddha.

I vow to uphold all of these Precepts. If, at the start of every day, we sanctify the day by setting our direction, by making Great Vows and Firm Resolutions, then the Bodhi Mind is awakened and that is a good thing for us all.

I vow to value the Sutras and the ethical guidelines set forth by the Buddha. Success came to Buddha, he gave us a formula. Accept the formula, put it into use. Practice.

I vow to teach and serve all sentient beings in ways that are appropriate for who they are. We all learn in different ways. Teaching is an ancient profession. In matching the teaching technique to the individual, we are acting skillfully. The Dharma, successfully transmitted is the goal.

I vow to teach the Dharma in ways that are appropriate and refrain from teaching in ways that cause harm. The Dharma is our Precious Jewel. We must teach in a way that only upholds this gift and not allow it to be disparaged.

I vow to consistently uphold the Dharma in my daily life. Again, moment to moment, every day, one step at a time.

I vow to keep the Dharma fresh and alive and vibrant and to refrain from any actions that might cause its destruction. By all of the above, we cannot fail. I bow deeply to the Sangha. 

Certainly a term paper cannot examine the various interpretations of the Precepts. Each reading gives further insight. On this reading I see that having the mental attitude of enthusiasm is deeply important. Dedication from moment to moment is essential. In any of the Precepts, the Mahayana Vows are essential. In keeping any of these Precepts, we cease from evil, we do good, and it benefits all sentient beings. I pray that I will be a Good Monk."

Trust me, he will be and is a great Monk.


Friday, November 22, 2013

“Our opportunity exists in our community.”


(Originally posted at the Only Love Project Blog)

In late October, 2013, the Only Love Project’s Bill Murphy (BM) spent an hour on the phone with author, poet, Master Dharma Teacher Ven. Dr. Wonji Dharma (WD), founder of the Five Mountain Zen Order and President of Buddha Dharma University.

What follows is the transcript from that inspiring interview. Enjoy!

BM: Briefly tell us your background. What would you like others to know about you?

WD: Well, first off, it’s really not important who and what I am and where I come from. However, that stated, I would like to give some credit to my first teacher, Swami Siraj, who was a disciple of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh. He opened the door to the Dharma for me.

I also have to give credit to, and mention my lifelong dedication to Zen Master Seung Sahn, who I found a few years later; he opened my eyes and opened my heart to the truth of this world.

And lastly, I have to give credit to the Honorable and Venerable Suhita Dharma for his lifelong dedication and selflessness in his aspiration to help others on this path. Beyond that, I’m merely trying to emulate what it is that these people who have taken significant portions of their lives to help me see the truth, I dedicate my life to following as best as I can in their footsteps. So that is all I really want to say about myself.

BM: Fair enough. Second question is, Would you consider yourself a spiritual person?

WD: That is an interesting question. Years ago, before I decided to become celibate, I used to hang out on a site called DharmaMatch.com. And I remember there were so many individuals, and the ones that I cared about were women, there were so many individuals when asked what their religious preference was, they chose this option that the website allowed them, which was “Spiritual but not religious.” And I’m not quite sure what that means. There is a New Age trend about what it means to be spiritual, without any religious connotation whatsoever. And I’m not sure about the meaning of “Spiritual but not religious.” I’m not putting it down, I merely have no idea what it means. So am I spiritual? Within the context of post modernity in our 21st century society, I would have to say No, if those are the rules that garner what it means to be spiritual, I’m not spiritual. Nor am I religious. I only follow one path, and that path is, “How may I help you?”

We can get caught in the metaphor of idea, and I’m not trying to dodge any responsibility, nor am I putting down anybody who says they’re a spiritual teacher, however you asked me this question and I’m trying to define it, and those words don’t really represent my direction in life. So I would have to say I am neither spiritual, nor non-spiritual. Neither religious nor non-religious. I am some hybrid in between that has yet to be defined.

BM: Most religious traditions speak of the power and value of love. For example, the Dhammapada tells us, “Only love dispels hate.” The Bible tells us, “A new commandment I give you, that you love one another.” What, if anything, do those words mean to you?

WD: This is an interesting construct that we as human beings attach to. So, right before we began this interview, I was listening to a favorite poet of mine, Neil Young, and also to a women who actually recorded a song which he wrote that was very popular in the 1970s, which is the era in which I grew up. So it was very impressionable for me. Her name is Linda Rondstadt. Linda Rondstadt was kind of a country folk musician who came out of the ‘70s, and she was the sometime boyfriend of Jerry Brown, who was [the] Governor of the state of California, and who coincidentally is currently serving his third term as Governor. But obviously many, many years later.

Anyway the song has always stuck out for me since I was young. The lyrics to the song that Neil Young wrote are:

Love is a rose, but you better not pick it.
It only grows when it’s on the vine.
Handful of thorns, and you know you missed it.
Lose your love when you say the word, “mine.”

So here’s the rub. We’re not talking about romantic love. We’re talking about the love that transcends religions, cultures, and boundaries, and this is human love. This is a sense of understanding, that we are all part of one family. And that family can’t be categorized, it can’t be rationalized, it can’t be controlled, it just is.We are human beings, and we share the planet.

So what is love? What is the essence of love? What is it that we’re trying to say? I’d like to quote a poem by Jalāl ad-Dīn Rūmī, who was a great Sufi mystic and poet. He is the bestselling poet in the West today. And some of his insights transcend anything that we can comprehend. And by the way, Sufisim is the mystical offshoot of Islam, and there’s so much negativity about Islam, but to be honest with you, Islam is the love religion. But let me just read this poem, and it segues into one, the construct of love, and secondly the construct of the rose, which represents so clearly to us as human beings what we believe to be the manifestation of love. Rumi wrote.

What was said to the rose that made it open?
Was said to me, here, in my chest.
What was told the cypress that made it strong and straight?
What was whispered to the jasmine so it is what it is?
Whatever made sugar cane sweet?
Whatever was said to the inhabitants of the town of Chagril
in Turkistan that made them so handsome?
Whatever made the pomegranate flower blush like a human face?
That is being said to me now, I blush.
Whatever pure eloquence in language, this is happening here.
The great warehouse doors open, and I fill with gratitude.
Chewing a piece of sugar cane,
in love with the one to whom which every that belongs.

So the question is, what is “that” that we belong to? And who are we in the overall structure of our lives? Are we people that need to be herded, controlled and contrived? Or are we here to just meet each other on the road? Quite simply, openly, and honestly meet each other on this road and say, “Ah, how are you, brother or sister? Where are you coming from, and where are you going? Ah, that’s wonderful.”

Can we meet everyone that exists in our day-to-day lives with that openness and tenacity? or do we see judgment? Do we see, Oh that guy’s got tattoos on his neck, I don’t want to talk to him. Or, Oh, that guy’s begging for money, I think I’ll go on the other side of the street. Oh, that guy’s really dirty, I don’t want to get near that person. And on the flip side, Oh look at that guy. He’s wearing a priest’s collar. I think I’ll have a conversation with him. Oh, look at this person, [he's] in monk robes. I wanna be around that person.

What is it that drives us in our lives for what we call love? And what is love anyway? And again, we’re not talking about romantic love, we’re talking about total–unconditional–positive regard. I’m gonna repeat that. Total–unconditional–positive regard.

Can we have that kind of love for some guy who shows up with a tattoo in the middle of his forehead, and a shaved head with a purple Mohawk and a couple of industrial bolts in his ears? And on his arm, tattooed in lime green, it says, “Street Fighter.” And when you walk up to him and he says, “Hey, I’m street fighter.” Can we have total–unconditional–positive regard for the lime green street fighter with the bolts in his ears?

These are questions that we have to come to grips with. It’s so easy for us to go to a religious institute, see a man in vestments and robes, and say “Thank you, you’re such a nice and kind person.” But do we see ourselves in this archetype of the lime green street fighter, who is really only a miniscule portion removed from where we potentially could have ended up in our lives? Do we see that? You know, Jesus was regarded as someone who hung around with thieves and prostitutes and tax collectors, and all of the negative people of his time, and yet, how many of us are willing to hang out, or even engage those people who seem unseemly in our society today?

In Korean Buddhism, we teach Dae Ja, Dae Bi, Dae Bosal Do, which means, Great Love, Great Compassion, and the Great Bodhisattva Way. Now, Bodhisattva is a term most people don’t understand, but in Mahayana Buddhism, the Bodhisattva is one who vows to keep engaging this world until all people wake up. So are we willing to do this? Are we willing to walk up to street fighter in our day-to-day life – and he might be completely wigged out on crack – but are we willing to at least give him some kind words and realize that within his existence, or her existence, could’ve been a female, there is so much suffering there, that we need to attempt to at least communicate with them as human beings, because that is all they desire. That’s all any of us desire. So, that’s what these words mean to me.

BM: What role can love play in the world today?

WD: My first teacher, Swami Siraj, ingrained in me this one thing which I still use today, because I am a plagiarist. But you know what? As a plagiarist, I stand on the shoulders of many, many great teachers I’ve learned from. And what he taught me was this:

“There is only one resolve in our lives, and that is to be more loving.”

So what does that mean, more loving?

It doesn’t exclude us, you know. The first thing we need to do is become more loving with ourselves. To accept who and what we are. If we can do that, we can begin to accept others. That doesn’t mean that we have to accept their lifestyle if Street Fighter is a crack addict. We don’t have to accept the fact that that is the life he’s chosen; however, if we don’t enter into a dialogue with someone like this, and gain their trust, how can we ever help them see how they’re destroying their own lives?

And this is the point, love is about locality. Many people today want to save the world, right, and Oh well, let’s go to India, let’s go to Africa, let’s go to Zimbabwe. And on and on and on and on. And poverty, drug abuse, and all of the other things exist right in each one of our backyards.

So, if we want to make a difference, all we have to do is walk out our front door. Walk down the street, and we’re going to see it.

The big question is, do we choose to ignore it, and say, “Oh well, I don’t want to engage that person. If I give them a dollar, they’re going to go buy drugs or beer, or they’re going to go do something with it”?

I remember years ago, you telling me when you were in Portland walking down the street and some homeless guy said something to you, told you he was hungry – you may have been at a roadside café or something – and you immediately just handed him the sandwich that you had just purchased.

Can we do it that spontaneously? And just understand, Ok, it’s ok. At least for right now, it will sustain this person, and perhaps, little by little, they will begin to understand the difference.

Whenever we give, we have to give completely, with no strings attached. And most of us, we want our strings; we want to control what is done with the gift. We want full disclosure from the organization, what are you doing with the money? But is that real giving? Giving means just handing your sandwich to someone starving on the street, saying, “God bless you, brother” and walking away.

BM: What stops people from being more loving and compassionate?

WD: An idea that we have to control the output. An idea, Jesus spoke about, and I’m not so eloquent on this passage [Matthew 6:1-13], but he talked about those that pray in public, and he was talking about those people who went to the wall, the Wailing Wall as it were, and were making their prayers in public. And he said they already have received their reward.

And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.
- Matt. 6:5, ESV

Why? Because they’re looking for affirmation that, “Oh, I did the right thing, look at what a pious person I am.” But what he said is those who are cloistered, and do the same thing, and make the same prayers will be gifted insurmountably. So if we choose to do something to make a difference, to have some agenda, we’re not doing it for the right reasons. Or at least what we would say in Buddhism is the correct reason. The correct reason is, if I can help right now—and by the way, this is an important aspect—if I can help right now, I should do that. However, if it means that if I help this person, then I’m going to take food away from my family, my children, being able to pay the rent, whatever, then that’s a mistake. So we have to be clear in our lives about what we can and cannot accomplish. Does that make sense?

BM: Absolutely. Do you have recommendations regarding how someone might cultivate a spirit of love over the long term, but also put love into action right now, so that he or she can make a positive difference right away.

WD: Yeah. The first thing we’ve gotta do is, we’ve gotta come to grips with who and what we are, Ok? What am I? Who am I? There’s this story about this guy who, I read this on a Catholic website years ago, but it was about some guy who had heard about the ministry of Mother Theresa in Calcutta, India. And he decided that what he needed to do was to go to India and help her with her ministry. He wanted to go there, but he wasn’t sure where she was, because she moved all around southern India helping lepers and poor people and the displaced. So he spent an inordinate amount of time trying to track her down, so he could find out where he needed to go, because he wanted to go where she was, and be with her. So eventually one day, he gets a phone number, and he calls India, and lo and behold, there is Mother Theresa on the other end of the phone. And he says, “Mother Theresa, I’ve been following you for many years, and I want to help you in your direction of love and compassion. So what I need to know, I’ve already bought a ticket to India. It will take me anywhere, wherever you want. So if you will please tell me where I might meet you in the next three weeks, I would like to come there and start to help and volunteer.” And Mother Theresa said to this young man, “Young man, what I suggest you do is cash in that ticket, and immediately go out from your house and find the nearest homeless shelter, donate the money, and start to volunteer there.”

BM: Yeah, that’s great.

WD: So again, we believe somehow, and it’s a trite thing, but we say, “Think globally but act locally.” And this is what it means. We must act locally within the confines of our purview, whether that be our family or extended family or community. Whatever that may be, the minute we go beyond that, then it gets so far outside of our realm, and it gets lost. Mother Theresa was doing what? She was helping people within the purview of her ministry, which just happened to be in Calcutta, India. It doesn’t mean that that’s what we have to do. So we don’t have to go to Somalia or Zimbabwe or South Africa. What we have to do is walk outside our door and see that homeless guy lying in the alley, and even if it’s just offering words of acknowledgement, as a human being: “How are you? How’s it going?” We don’t even have to give anything. Just to have a conversation sometimes is great love. And are we willing to do that, or are we completely uncomfortable with it? And if we’re uncomfortable with it, we have to ask ourselves, “Why am I uncomfortable with this?”

BM: So what would you suggest people do right now? Just walk outside their door, just like Mother Theresa’s advice to the man?

WD: Yeah. Only if you have the means to be able to do that. Obviously if you’re reading this and you’re on food stamps, or if you’re reading this and you haven’t worked in the last two years and you don’t have the ability to help others, you still have the ability to communicate with others in your community. And this is the point, sometimes we think giving is about – because we live in such a capitalist society – we think giving is earmarked with money or food or shelter or something else. A lot of times, it’s just a good word. It’s just an acknowledgement of street fighter, the crack addict, standing there completely blitzed out of his mind, and you saying, “Well brother, let’s talk about your life.” And maybe just spending 15 minutes with somebody who maybe, throughout his life, nobody’s ever listened to him. And if we just listen for a moment, that may, we don’t know, but it may turn someone’s life around. So giving takes many, many forms. And it’s not always monetary. A lot of times, it’s just acknowledgement of humanity. And these people who are down and out on skid row, a lot of times, that’s all they want. They just want to be recognized as another human being, and have somebody just talk to them as a normal person.

BM: Well then, who do you look up to most when you think of the power of love.

WD: I can’t say one person; however, of all the people throughout history, obviously I’m a Buddhist teacher so I look up to Śakyamuni Buddha, but that’s a mistake to say that. Because Śakyamuni Buddha taught people 2,500 years ago, alright? Buddhism didn’t exist because it’s based upon his teaching, but if people after him hadn’t taken it to heart to want to spread his teaching, we would never know. Same thing goes with Jesus. Same thing goes with Mohammed. Same thing goes with all spiritual—there’s that word again—teachers of the past.

So do I look up to any one person in the modern era? In my lifetime, I would have to look up to Mahatma Gandhi, for his nonviolence. I would have to look to Martin Luther King for following suit with nonviolence. Both of them paid with their lives.

I would actually have to look to Malcolm X, who gave his life for stepping out against the tyranny of what had become the honorable Elijah Mohammed’s teachings, and speak the truth. Are we willing to step out and be uncomfortable? And by the way, all this stuff makes us uncomfortable until we try it. Once we try it for the first time, it becomes much simpler. So all we gotta do is just make a step forward, even a little step forward, and “Oh, that person’s not going to bite my head off. They’re not gonna follow me home, and they will respond well.” So it’s just, slowly but surely, let us all try to make changes in our lives. We don’t have to sacrifice our lives for our direction or our belief structure. We just have to understand that we’re all human beings on the same planet, and we all have basic needs of security, shelter, of food and warmth. And beyond that, we have an innate presence of fellowship with our fellow human beings. And many of these people are so dejected, just because they’ve lost that connection. So perhaps, that’s our direction: Find one person, even if it’s just one, that may make a difference.

BM: Wow. The last thing I can ask you is, do you have anything to add that I haven’t asked?

WD: Just do it.

BM: [laughs]

WD: Don’t think about it, just go out and do something. Today, tomorrow, I don’t know, next week, but just do something. But do it locally. Forget about globally. Forget about going overseas or helping some relief effort. Do something personally that you feel a little bit uncomfortable with. And through that uncomfortableness, you’ll gain a little bit of respect for yourself. And that’s all the great spiritual teachers were ever telling us. And that’s what Jesus meant by the people who pray publicly have already received their rewards. So do it quietly, and just say hello to somebody on the street corner, even if you can’t give them a nickel, just sit down and spend even two, three minutes with them. It may change their lives.

BM: That dovetails perfectly with what The Only Love Project is about – being local. It has to happen right here. I can’t change anything going on in Syria. But I can change myself and my neighborhood.

WD: Yeah, we can’t teleport ourselves to Syria. You’re absolutely right. We might wish we could, right? We might wish we could go there. In fact, we might even wish we could sit down face to face with either Obama or somebody else in charge, or the UN Council, but reality is, that’s not gonna happen. And as much as that maybe pains us, that doesn’t mean that we should view that as a failure. We just have to look at the opportunity, and what’s the opportunity. Our opportunity exists in our community. That’s the only place it exists. It doesn’t exist anywhere else. Within our extended families, within our social networks, and within our communities. This is where we have to engage.

And you know that…the Venerable P’arang, she set up shop in the middle of the barrio in Detroit, right? [Still Point Zen Buddhist Temple] And as much as some of the people, if you read the books by Geri Larkin, she’ll share with you that many of the local community people, as much of a pain in the ass as they became, never got turned away, never were shut down, never were shunned, and were always respected.

And do we have the tolerance to do that? And again, it may make us uncomfortable, but it puts us much closer in touch with what it means to be a human being. So all I can suggest is just try it. Just try it.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Buddhism in the West - a Perspective 28 years in...and I am only a young pratitioner


I have not posted to Zen Mirror in a very long time. I have been busy helping others, and others have been busy helping me. I maintain this site as a wealth of knowledge and will continue to do so as time allows me to do such.

I have had a burning question that I have been carrying for a few years and I would like to direct it to all my Buddhist Friends in the West who happen to read this blog. When the Venerable Thich Thien-An, Yasuntani Roshi, Matsuoka Roshi, Maezumi Roshi, Zen Master Seung Sahn, Mahaghosananda and other Eastern Buddhist teachers came to the West they would quite often celebrate Buddhist high holidays together in joint ceremonies, they would invite each other to engage their groups, why do Buddhist Groups today not do this? 

Following the passing of all the First Generation Eastern Teachers who have come to the West, we find ourselves in a desolate wasteland of sectarian segregation. We now find that we have Buddhist Clubs not Buddhist Sanghas that are more concerned with adherence to their particular ideology than with adherence to Buddhist ideals. They have become more like Gym Memberships than real Buddhist Sanghas. Buddhism does not sell anything while Clubs are selling some shining thing that will make your life better.

In my experience, most Western Buddhist groups do not accept Buddhist Precepts (even the 5 Precepts) from another group, stating that you must be totally indoctrinated to “their brand" of practice before you can be accepted as a Buddhist member. 

None of this follows the tradition in Asia, and I am a bit frustrated that all of these exclusive Buddhist Clubs are paying for advertising on Media and in Print to support their organizations. The Buddhist Community in the West has truly become “a cult of personality.” I want to ask a question to Buddhist practitioners out there, how much do you think it costs to take out a full page ad in a Buddhist Magazine, (more than you think) and who do you think is paying to have your leaders mug displayed across the pages of these Buddhist National Inquirers? You are my friend, no one else. You are supporting a cult of ego that does not take heed the Buddhadharma. Web sites are relatively inexpensive, a few dollars a month, while advertisement in print is outrageously expensive. I do not attack advertising that way, yet I wonder if it is a wise usage of the sangha's commitment to practice.

These organization founders take out huge full page ads in Buddhist publications with their faces as the graphics instead of some graphic of helping others, further they elicit that you should come to me as I am the enlightened guru, all of this nonsense instead of a middle way approach to Buddhist compassion. Sanghas only exist to help the Sangha (the West only wishes to fill their coffers.) Most Buddhist Clubs advertise or establish their leaders to be some Great Socially Enlightened being so I am not sure what they are attempting to be. The job of a teacher is to help others wake up to their own inherent nature, the nature they were born with for Buddha's sake!

In the world with helping hands..........

What happened to liberation from the self? Is this about receiving sanctification to wear pius clothing and shave your head? No, we must break free and realize we all the same family, seeking the aspiration. 

I would like to see a Western Society where we as, a minority of Religious Practitioners in the West, try to live out our lives as compassionate and dedicated Buddhists who can come together in a unified spirit of the Buddhadharma. Let us shed our auspices of teaching something unique or special or even mystical, and let us come together upon the Four Noble Truths, the Eightfold Path, and the manifestation of compassion and love in our lives. 

We are, after all, part of the greater family of interconnected humans; can we not start acting this way? Thank you for reading this post and I do hope you take it to heart and do something to build a bridge with another Buddhist in your own community. 

There is only one reform in life, and that is to become more loving.


Thursday, July 4, 2013

Joni Mitchell and Buddhism

Cover of "Hejira"
Cover of Hejira
In 1985 I was driving home from work, in fact just getting off the freeway, when a familiar voice came on the radio. It was undoubtedly, Joni Mitchell, she has always been one of my favorite artists, which at that time had been about ten years. Yet this song was unfamiliar to me and assuming it to be new I listened quite intently. As those who are close to me know, I treat music as poetry, so the lyrics have always been the most important part of any song. As I listened closely the chorus came around and she sang, “At least the moon at the window, the thieves left that behind.” I immediately recognized this as one of the most famous haikus by the Japanese Zen Buddhist priest Ryokan (1758-1831):

The haiku entitled "The Thief Left It Behind" is as follows:
The thief left it behind
the moon
at my window.

In this haiku Ryokan is laughing at the absurdity of the theft. "The thief left it behind," he foolishly couldn't recognize the one great treasure the poor monk possessed – “the moon," enlightenment – and, instead, took an armload of worthless junk. To point out what a petty haul it was, Ryokan even ran after the thief with a cushion the thief had missed. Any sort of theft of Ryokan's possessions was a pointless act because, of course, who can take the moon from his window? Ryokan is amused and invites us to join in his laughter.

I quickly bought the new CD which was titled, “Wild Things Run Fast.” From that point, over 28 years, until a few days ago, I had always wondered if Joni Mitchell had either dabbled in Buddhism or was a Buddhist herself. Back in the 1970’s, after the first time I heard “Hejira,” it became one of my all time favorite albums. Because I don’t spend much time listening to music anymore, I hadn't listened to the album fully in a few years, someone posted the YouTube video for Hejira on Facebook, so I gave it a casual listen, at least that is what I thought it was going to be. The song left me in tears, I could hear the introspection, the anguish of watching others self destruct, and the futility of trying to change anything outside of us. This world we live in is an ocean of suffering and very few of us transient travellers are willing to be honest with ourselves about it. Joni has always managed to capture this in her words and her moods of music as they slide up and down and back and forth. She has been a mirror for me in my lifetime, and I honor her as much as I do Basho, Hanshan, Ryokan, Laozi, Zhuangzi, Kabir, Hafiz, Ghalib and Jelaluddin Rumi. Surprisingly, this recent experience motivated me to search the internet and to find out the truth about Joni Mitchell and religion. After the first song below I list the results I uncovered.

(This is a live version of the song which is on "How Do You Stop.")

Moon at the Window

by Joni Mitchell  

It takes cheerful resignation
Heart and humility
That's all it takes
A cheerful person told me
Nobody's harder on me than me
How could they be
And nobody's harder on you than you

Betsy's blue
She says "Tell me something good!"
You know I'd help her out if I only could
Oh but sometimes the light
Can be so hard to find
At least the moon at the window
the thieves left that behind

People don't know how to love
They taste it and toss it
Turn it off and on
Like a bathtub faucet
Oh sometimes the light
Can be so hard to find
At least the moon at the window
The thieves left that behind

I wish her heart
I know these battles
Deep in the dark
When the spooks of memories rattle
Ghosts of the future
Phantoms of the past
Rattle rattle rattle
In the spoon and the glass

Is it possible to learn
How to care and yet not care
Since love has two faces
Hope and despair
And pleasure always turns to fear
I find
At least the moon at the window
The thieves left that behind
At least they left the moon
Behind the blind
Moon at the window

© 1982

Reader’s Digest: Excerpt of Interview with Joni Mitchell

RD: Did you ever have problems with drugs or addiction?

Mitchell: I did, briefly. I didn’t get involved for years, and then I went on Rolling Thunder and they asked me how I wanted to be paid, and I ran away to join the circus: Clowns used to get paid in wine – pay me in cocaine because everybody was strung out on cocaine. It was Chögyam Trungpa who snapped me out of it just before Easter in 1976. He asked me, “Do you believe in God?” I said, “Yes, here’s my god and here is my prayer,” and I took out the cocaine and took a hit in front of him. So I was very, very rude in the presence of a spiritual master.

RD: And he was able to…?

Mitchell: His nostrils began to flare like bellows, and he a rhythmic breathing. I remember thinking, what’s with his nose? It was almost hypnotic. They have a technique called emanating grace ways. I assume he went into a breathing technique and a meditation. I left his office and for three days I was in awakened state. The technique completely silenced that thing, the loud, little noisy radio station that stands between you and the great mind.

RD: And when you came out of that awakened state…?

Mitchell: The thing that brought me out of the state was my first “I” thought. For three days I had no sense of self, no self-consciousness; my mind was back in Eden, the mind before the Fall. It was simple-minded, blessedly simple-minded. And then the “I” came back, and the first thought I had was, Oh, my god. He enlightened me. Boom. Back to normal – or what we call normal but they call insanity.

RD: It was his breathing technique and he managed to pass it on to you. And when you came out of your three days, you were no longer cocaine?

Mitchell: Yes. Ten years later when I learned he was dying, I went back to thank him.


Portrait of Trugpa by Joni Mitchell
Friend of spirit: Joni Mitchell discusses Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche in an interview:

He was the bad boy of Zen. I wrote a song about a visit I made to him called "Refuge of the Road." I consider him one of my great teachers, even though I saw him only three times. Once I had a fifteen-minute audience with him in which we argued. He told me to quit analyzing. I told him I couldn't - I'm an artist, you know. Then he induced into me a temporary state where the concept of "I" was absent, which lasted for three days.

[Later], at the very end of Trungpa's life I went to visit him. I wanted to thank him. He was not well. He was green and his eyes had no spirit in them at all, which sort of stunned me, because the previous times I'd seen him he was quite merry and puckish - you know, saying "shit" a lot. I leaned over and looked into his eyes, and I said, "How is it in there? What do you see in there? And this voice came, like, out of a void, and it said, "Nothing." So, I want over and whispered in his ear, "I just came to tell you that when I left you that time, I had three whole days without self consciousness  and I wanted to thank you for the experience." And he looked up at me, and all the light came back into his face and he goes, "Really?" And then he sank back into this black void again.



Refuge of the Road

I met a friend of spirit
He drank and womanized
And I sat before his sanity
I was holding back from crying
He saw my complications
And he mirrored me back simplified
And we laughed how our perfection
Would always be denied
“Heart and humor and humility”
He said “Will lighten up your heavy load”

I left him for the refuge of the roads
I fell in with some drifters
Cast upon a beach town
Winn Dixie cold cuts and highway hand me downs
And I wound up fixing dinner
For them and Boston Jim
I well up with affection
Thinking back down the roads to then
The nets were overflowing
In the Gulf of Mexico
They were overflowing in the refuge of the roads

There was spring along the ditches
There were good times in the cities
Oh, radiant happiness
It was all so light and easy
Till I started analyzing
And I brought on my old ways
A thunderhead of judgment was
Gathering in my gaze

And it made most people nervous
They just didn’t want to know
What I was seeing in the refuge of the roads

I pulled off into a forest
Crickets clicking in the ferns
Like a wheel of fortune
I heard my fate turn, turn, turn
And I went running down a white sand road
I was running like a white-assed deer
Running to lose the blues
To the innocence in here

These are the clouds of Michelangelo
Muscular with gods and sungold
Shine on your witness in the refuge of the roads
In a highway service station
Over the month of June
Was a photograph of the earth
Taken coming back from the moon

And you couldn’t see a city
On that marbled bowling ball
Or a forest or a highway
Or me here least of all

You couldn’t see these cold water restrooms
Or this baggage overload
Westbound and rolling taking refuge in the roads

Joni Mitchell in person by Alexandra Gill – Feb 16, 2007

Her agent is now in L.A. shopping the new album around, but Mitchell still doesn't have much time for the music business. Other things seem more important. A self-described Buddhist-Gnostic hybrid, she was introduced to Buddhism through a mind-bending encounter with the Tibetan Buddhist spiritual master Chogyam Trungpa while performing on Bob Dylan's Rolling Thunder tour. It was 1975 and she was being paid in cocaine during a brief dalliance with drugs.

The monk asked her if she believed in God. "Yes," she replied, snorting a line right in front of him. "Here's my god and here is my prayer." The monk flared his nostrils and "zapped" her into an awakened state of consciousness with rhythmic breathing. For three days, she had no sense of self.

"My mind was back in Eden, the mind before the fall. With the 'I' gone, you no longer have a divisional mind that goes 'good, bad, right, wrong.'

"I am of the 'God is within' school," Mitchell adds, explaining that she sometimes gets close to re-entering a similar state, which she now calls the dazzling darkness, while painting or playing pinball.

"I see the entire world as Eden, and every time you take an inch of it away, you must do so with respect. We've just whittled it down to nothing, so that it can no longer support us. We are a disease upon its back, and it's calling on all of its immune system to get us off."

Joni Mitchell and Jane Fonda in 2011

Oct 11.11 Jane Fonda blog:

Had dinner with Joni Mitchell Saturday night. Never met her before but she’s known Richard for ever. I can’t remember when I’ve had a more intense, far-reaching, multifaceted conversation (right from the moment we sat down…no small talk with Joni)—from Christianity, Buddhism, the Gnostics, different forms of meditation, Ego as the original sin, to living in the wilderness north of Vancouver, the beauty of blue herons, our Black bear encounters (mine more dramatic than hers), medical challenges (hers more dramatic than mine), Georgia O’Keefe (she stayed with her in New Mexico when O’Keefe was 90), painting (Joni paints), innovators versus copy cats and music. It thrills me to listen to musical people (Joni and Richard…or Keith Richards in his autobiography) dig into the minutia of creating musical art. Much is Greek to me but they got into what it meant to have started on the banjo (Joni) and how that influences chords and tuning. She talked fascinatingly about how she always liked to do what hadn’t been done musically–unresolved chords, etc, that often made the music honchos nervous. I should have taken notes. Jane Fonda

Hejira

Hejira was the flight of Muhammad from Mecca to Medina in 622 which marked the beginning of the Muslim era; the Muslim calendar begins in that year. In its common usage today it means a journey to escape from a hostile environment. In this way, Joni Mitchell's epic album "Hejira" was about her journey out of self delusion and into a place of self-discovery. The album was written on a road trip across the United States from Maine to Los Angeles, in an effort to come back to herself. This trip played on the heels of her stint with Bob Dylan on the "Rolling Thunder Tour," a tour where many were sucked into a group cocaine frenzy. It has always appeared to me that Joni Mitchell was following in the footsteps of all of the fellow travellers that go out into the wilderness to discover simply what appears. Buddha, Laozi, Jesus, Mohammed, Ramana Maharshi and Krishnamurti just to name a few.



I have made the trek from Los Angeles to New York twice in my life. The first time was in 1966 in my Dad's 1964 Mercury Comet. What a treat it was for a fourth grader to be on such an epic journey across the U.S. What amazed my young eyes were the cities full of lights that appear, seemingly out of nowhere, on this journey. We ate at some great local restaurants and stayed in lots of cheap motels on that trip. I loved every minute of it getting to see this country from the window of my father's car. 



Later, in 1976, when I was 19 I made the drive with my wife. We were driving my 1964 Split Window A100 Van. It had a 225ci Slant Six between the front seats and had a 3 speed column shift. It also had a Pioneer Super Tuner mounted on the engine cowling, and I had Bose 301 speakers in the back. It was my hippie wagon and I ended up shipping it to Germany, but that is another story. I won't bore you with anymore of this story as we have to get back on subject. Let us just say that again, the depth and breadth of this country left a lasting impression on me. 

Much like "On the Road" by Jack Kerouac, her writing is inspired by both the beauty of what appears and the insight that the solitude of the road can afford us. I have been listening to this woman, as a spiritual guide since 1975 and she has never let me down. Always digging deeper and discovering some undiscovered insight and relevance. This is our path as spiritual seekers, to question everything. Most believe it is questioning that which exists outside of us; however, those who have stumbled into the path know it is always about looking inside and moving forward into a more loving and compassionate state. I hope you enjoy all of this, as she has brought me tremendous joy throughout my life.
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Hejira

by Joni Mitchell 

I'm traveling in some vehicle
I'm sitting in some cafe
A defector from the petty wars
That shell shock love away
There's comfort in melancholy
When there's no need to explain
It's just as natural as the weather
In this moody sky today
In our possessive coupling
So much could not be expressed
So now I'm returning to myself
These things that you and I suppressed
I see something of myself in everyone
Just at this moment of the world
As snow gathers like bolts of lace
Waltzing on a ballroom girl

You know it never has been easy
Whether you do or you do not resign
Whether you travel the breadth of extremities
Or stick to some straighter line
Now here's a man and a woman sitting on a rock
They're either going to thaw out or freeze
Listen
Strains of Benny Goodman
Coming through the snow and the pinewood trees
I'm porous with travel fever
But you know I'm so glad to be on my own
Still somehow the slightest touch of a stranger
Can set up trembling in my bones
I know no one's going to show me everything
We all come and go unknown
Each so deep and superficial
Between the forceps and the stone

Well I looked at the granite markers
Those tributes to finality to eternity
And then I looked at myself here
Chicken scratching for my immortality
In the church they light the candles
And the wax rolls down like tears
There's the hope and the hopelessness
I've witnessed thirty years
We're only particles of change I know I know
Orbiting around the sun
But how can I have that point of view
When I'm always bound and tied to someone
White flags of winter chimneys
Waving truce against the moon
In the mirrors of a modern bank
From the window of a hotel room

I'm traveling in some vehicle
I'm sitting in some cafe
A defector from the petty wars
Until love sucks me back that way

© 1976; Crazy Crow Music