Saturday, March 28, 2015

A Board Carrying Monk



Zen Buddhist practices are not outward regulations for living, rather Zen Buddhist practices are inward forms of personal liberation. ~ Wonji Dharma

The true teaching always makes us feel uncomfortable, if it doesn't make us feel uncomfortable, it is not the true teaching. (This is a slightly different wording, which I take all the blame for, of a quote from Shunryu Suzuki Roshi in Zen Mind, Beginners Mind.) 

“Objectively this teaching is simply the basic truth that everything changes. Dogen-zenji said, 'Teaching which does not sound as if it is forcing something on you is not true teaching.' The teaching itself is true, and in itself does not force anything upon us, but because of our human tendency we receive the teaching as if something was being forced on us. But whether we feel good or bad about it, this truth exists. If nothing exists, this truth does not exist. Buddhism exists because of each particular existence.

We should find perfect existence through imperfect existence. We should find perfection in imperfection. For us, complete perfection is not different from imperfection. The eternal exists because of non-eternal existence. In Buddhism it is a heretical view to expect something outside this world.”

Essentially, the things in life that don't make us feel comfortable are there to show us something, those things we can breeze by are the items we don't need to focus on. So, if we read a precept about stealing and we feel ambivalent about it then perhaps that isn't a problem in our lives, if we read it and start thinking well this doesn't apply to such and such or so and so, then perhaps we should examine it a bit deeper. 

Many of us come to Zen practice and believe we have found ‘the way’, we espouse it and sing songs of praise to ‘the way’ we have found. We go out and teach ‘the way’ to others thinking that we have it. I have heard it said this is like carrying a big plank of wood on our shoulder that prevents us from seeing the ‘other’ side of anything we are looking at. This was a common metaphor that first appeared in Chàn Buddhism around the late 6th or early 7th Century ACE and it is something I’d like to explore with you.

We all become excited that we have discovered a path this is meaningful in our hearts, and because of the great transformation that we personally undergo, we start to believe we have the answer for the world. We become steadfast in our zeal and march headstrong into the lion’s den to confront whatever issue we believe we have tamed in our own lives. This lion’s den, which is made solely by our thinking, is of course the worldly phenomenon that is out of synch with our own view. Additionally, if we run headlong into our self-made lion’s lair, our demon lion along with the world will devour us quickly if we don’t learn to bend and adapt and to listen to others’ views.

The lion is a metaphor we use in Zen to represent ‘an unmoving mind.’ This doesn’t mean a mind stuck in its own ideas, it means a mind that is open to what is occurring around it. There is a catch phrase we use about keeping our center and not chasing random ideas. “The dog runs after the bone, the lion claws and devours the thrower.” So, this is not a normal lion with insatiable appetite, it is only one who sits patiently awaiting the truth to show up, and when it does, even if the truth is in the form of a lamb, it welcomes this hapless animal into its den. On the other hand, if the incorrect should appear, it will be shredded and devoured.

It is often taught that there is neither good nor bad in the world of the absolute, and yet good and bad do manifest in the relative world. When we begin to mistake the relative world for the absolute world we confuse ourselves and others around us, however, if we take the plank of ‘the way’ off our shoulder we may begin to realize that all of the ways are ‘the way.’ This is what we call ‘truth world.’ In the truth world we realize correct situation, correction function and correct relationship. We adapt constantly to a changing world, and we can truly believe that ‘it is all good.’ 

If others are acting in a way we do not like, it doesn’t mean to condemn them; however, we also have a commitment to doing no harm in this world if we are to consider ourselves followers of the Buddha. The great Korean Buddhist Monk Wonhyo taught about knowing when precepts were open and closed. This can be understood in the context of, sometimes doing no harm means causing disruption in the world around us. Mohandas Gandhi who was a proponent of Jain non-violence was quoted as saying, "Non-cooperation with evil is as much a duty as is cooperation with good. Anger is the enemy of non-violence and pride is a monster that swallows it up."

The ideas of right and wrong and good and evil are seemingly a pit of vipers we don’t want to walk into. I love that Seung Sahn Dae Jong Sa usually avoided using the words good or bad, he mostly chose to say correct and incorrect when dealing with those types of situations. This is a subtle use of language and an important one. So we don’t weigh things on the scale of good and bad, we view it from whether an act is causing harm to something or someone. If we choose to oppose something in our lives we must weigh the options carefully and aspire to do no violence or to give rise to anger in our opposition. It is not a normal way of acting and with fortitude and diligence we can discover a loving heart doesn’t merely mean an inactive or passive one. 

The issue with espousing a single way of belief is that it becomes a totalitarian path, there is only one way to the mountain top and that just happens to be the one I follow. We sometimes refer to this in Zen as being stuck in the ‘absolute,’ The old masters called this ‘the stink of zen.’ The absolute actually refers to śūnyatā which is beyond words and speech, so by making ‘our way’ and offering it to the world as ‘the way’ we actually are offending the teachings of the Buddha. We want to do good in our lives, we aspire to be moral upright followers of the Buddha. So we form ideas about what to do and how to do, these constructs and ideas are what block us from our own Buddha Nature. 

There is a kongàn in the Jingde Chuan Deng Lu, which was compiled by Jingak Hyesim, and this case speaks to this very point we are examining today.

Case 639. Mùzhōu’s Plank Carrier 睦州擔板

“Chàn Master Mùzhōu Dàomíng called out to a monk, ‘Great Virtuoso!’

The monk turned his head and the master said, ‘You plank carrier.’

睦州喚僧云,“大德!”僧迴首. 師云,“擔板漢.”

Soen Master Seolhwa’s Commentary: A board-carrier is this monk turning his head in response to the sound. This is plank-carrying. Even if he did not turn his head, he still could not escape being a plank-carrier.”

擔板漢者, 這僧隨聲回首, 是擔板也. 直饒不回首, 亦未免擔板漢也.

Mùzhōu Dàomíng ([Ch:] 睦州道明) (780-877) Dharma Heir of Huángbò Xīyùn and dharma brother to Línjì Yìxuán.

A different version of this gōng’àn can be found in the Jingde chuandeng lu: “When he (Mùzhōu) saw a lecturer monk, he would call his chief seat. If the (lecturer) monk responded, the master would say, ‘Narrow-minded fellow.’” Here, “narrow-minded” (dānbǎn擔板) can be more literally translated as “carrying a wooden board or plank on one’s shoulders,” which functions as a metaphor for someone who can only see in one direction, hence the translation “narrow-minded.”

Some authors have translated dānbǎn as meaning blinkered; literally, “to shoulder a plank.” This is to say someone who is carrying this plank is to examine them as narrow. The board or plank carried on the shoulder obstructs one’s field of vision to the right or the left.

Suzuki Roshi once gave a talk, “When you sit, you are independent from various beings, and also you are related to various beings. When you have perfect composure in your practice, it means that you include everything. You are not just you. You are the whole world or the whole cosmos, and you are a Buddha.”

“You may say that it is not possible to be ordinary and at the same time holy. When you think this way, your understanding is one-sided. We call someone who understands things from one side a tambancan, ‘someone who carries a board on his shoulder.’ Because you carry a big board on your shoulder, you cannot see the other side.”


Cast away your planks, and boards my sisters and brothers and walk freely in this world unhindered by constructs and thoughts. Trust in the Buddha’s teaching and make sure that in your life it causes you and others no harm. If you must act, then do it with kindness and charity keeping ‘moment mind’ and adapting to the changing landscape around you. We are not perfect beings and sometimes we………? Keep close to your kesa, hold your huàtóu constantly, act in kindness, compassion and love.

Monday, March 23, 2015

A Day in the Life

Today I posted some pictures of the virtual meetings that I have weekly with my personal students, I have 23 students who I meet with for a minimum of one hour each and every week, unless there is travel, illness or a retreat taking place. Many have questioned why I meet so long with students as this is not the ‘correct’ model for kōan practice that was brought to the West by the various teachers. I have been meeting with students for almost 14 years now and have only rarely participated in kōan interviews lasting only minutes. My second teacher, Zen Master Ji Bong had a reputation in the Kwan Um School of Zen as having a ‘professor style’ to his kongàn interviews.

I also had the opportunity also to study with Zen Master Seung Sahn in the interview room as he would make an exception when staying in Los Angeles, at Dharma Zen Center, and host interviews even though he was technically retired at the time. He always greeted me quite excitedly by saying, “Hello Great Abbot, how are you?” Once I performed prostrations he would ask me to take a seat and then he asked me if I had any questions. In my experience he allowed me to ask anything I wanted, he didn’t always answer the way I was hoping, and he engaged these questions freely. His love and kindness this way was always overflowing in the room. When it came to kongàns he was always to the point and would laugh out loud if I failed to come up with a good response.

Zen Master Ji Bong was the same way, although we would often work on sutras, or perhaps Zen Center business if necessary, as well as kongàns during our sessions. They were never limited to 10 minutes or less, and sometimes if some other individual required additional time he gave it to them freely.


I often wondered about the efficacy of the method I had experienced at Zen Centers outside of Kwan Um where students would run to the Teacher’s quarters and line up ringing a bell and then be asked to ‘present their kōan,' and the bell would ring if the answer was incorrect. The interviews were always short and directed at kōans only.

It occurred to me that in Monasteries in Asia when Teachers lived amongst their students, there was much more time for interaction. Some had said that it was because the monasteries in China were so large that it was necessary to have the encounter dialogues limited to a brief amount of time.

So let us examine the facts. In The Practice of Chinese Buddhism, 1900-1950 (Harvard East Asian) Paperback – January 1, 1967 by Holmes Welch, Pages 3 – 4 he discusses in depth the size of the Monasteries in China.


“The distinction between clerical elite and proletariat is based on statistical evidence. About 1930 there were, as just mentioned, approximately 500,000 monks in China living in about 100,000 temples. Thus most temples were small, with an average of five monks each. These small temples or hereditary temples (tzu-sun miao), as they were called, differed in operation and purpose from the large The People of the Monastery public monasteries (shih-fang sung-lin), some of which had four or five hundred monks in permanent residence.

I have collected more or less detailed information on about one hundred large public monasteries with an average of about 130 monks apiece. I would assume that there were twice as many again on which I do not have such information, but that in these others the average number of resident monks was 50-75. If this assumption is correct, then China in the Republican period had about three hundred large public monasteries, with 20,000 to 25,000 monks, or less than 5 percent of the sangha. As many as 95 percent were clerical proletariat living in hereditary temples.”


So, ninety five percent of the monks in China had lived in these “Hereditary Temples” and had a more open methodology to the practice. Fewer monks meant the more hats each person would wear.

In looking for a chán document referring to the method employed in China for interviews I discovered, The Origins of Buddhist Monastic Codes in China, An Annotated Translation, and Study of the Chànyuan qīngguī by Venerable Yifa. [Compiled in 1103 by the Chan Buddhist monk Changlu Zongze (? – 1107?), Chanyuan qinggui (Rules of Purity for the Chan Monastery) is regarded as the earliest Chan monastic code in existence.] This translation, that is the closest thing to Báizhàng’s Original Chàn Code of Ethics, has this to say regarding the meeting of the Teacher with the monks in the monastery.

“In some monasteries the entering monk and the abbot discuss the previous kōan, or they engage in conversation, or the monk asks for further instruction. Separate times are allocated for these three methods of inquiry. In other monasteries, any or all of the three methods are employed in one session.”

Many people can find fault with Zen Master Ji Bong or myself for spending too much time with students and claim we aren't following the correct precedent. And perhaps given the state of practice at Monasteries in Taiwan, Korea and Japan when the first wave of teachers came West, this might be a fair assumption.


Frankly, I am not concerned with what others do with their groups or centers, I only know that by spending time with students the way I do allows us to explore Buddhism in our lives and we come up with various ways of addressing the unique situations which exist in the various locations in the US and Mexico. We are, after all, a fledgling order trying to find a way into the hearts of North Americans.

This might not be the way others approach it, and by writing this I am not degrading anyone or any methodology, I am merely presenting an alternative that seems to work quite well in the 21st Century.

May all beings be liberated.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

A Meeting of Two Bodhisattvas (Ven. Sunyananda & Rev. Jungmin)


Hello, and what an auspicious event we all just had the privilege of claiming witness to. I was overjoyed when I heard the news that these two Bodhisattvas were dedicating their vows in this beautiful space and that the ceremony was going to be consecrated by the lovely and compassionate Nima La.

What can I say about these two gentleman? I have never in my life met two other young men with the dedication and wherewithal to actually manifest their aspirations as fully and wholly as these two.

I first met Venerable Sunyananda five years ago when he sent me an email inquiring if he could study with me, so I asked him to tell me a little about himself. This is an excerpt from that initial email. “As far as a life direction goes, my goals are simple. To help enhance the life and condition of as many individuals as possible through the self-actualization vehicle of life protection arts. To me, there is no greater joy or bliss than in watching to progress of students as they actualize peaceful and productive lives by means of the simplistic, loving attitude forged in regular practice.”

I think that pretty much summarizes who Venerable Sunyananda is and has been his entire life. There are rare jewels that appear in this world whose light shines just a little brighter than those around them, Venerable Sunyananda is one of these treasures. When I started teaching him I began teaching him the necessity of being very meticulous in all aspects of his life, today he is constantly showing me that it is I who consistently learn from him what true meticulousness is. This trait can drive those close to him a little nuts; and yet it is this that is necessary if we are to truly walk this path of life free from hindrances.

And now I come to Brother Jungmin, the compassionate one, whose direction in life is to serve and to teach. Here is a man who decides to do something, and then teaches himself and executes the plan. Once he is successful he wants to take others through the process and does so with a kind and loving heart. I learned this way of living from my parents and have followed this way my entire life, and with Brother Jungmin it seems to be a natural born talent. Although, he bounces from one thing to another often, he never fails to eventually complete each project. When I was in need two years ago he opened his home, his life and his heart to me and for this I am eternally grateful.

Last summer I had the opportunity to spend an entire month on the road with these two men. We traveled through the entire southwest of America logging over 4,000 miles and visited many Dharma friends and temples. At times, as will happen, moments became strained, and I saw with these two they also quickly passed.

Our lives as Buddhist Monks is dedicated to the Mahayana way, and it differs from other forms of Buddhism as it emphasizes the way of the Bodhisattva. We take this vow, “Dae Ja, Dae Bi, Dae Bosal Do.” This means “Great Love, Great Compassion, the Great Bodhisattva Way.”

So today, we saw these two dedicate their vows to one another. And what is this Great Love, Great Compassion, the Great Bodhisattva way? I would say that in my own estimation it means “Total Unconditional Positive Regard.” Let me say that again, “Total Unconditional Positive Regard.” This seems like a rather lofty goal, and honestly it is. We have another similar vow which we recite several times a day, it is the ending of the four great vows and the line reads, “the Buddha way is inconceivable, I vow to realize it.”

So if “Total Unconditional Positive Regard and the Buddha way is inconceivable, I vow to realize it” are seemingly impossible tasks why would we renew this vow and why would these two make their vows to each other. I believe that it is hidden in the meaning of the word Bodhisattva. Bodhisattvas are sometimes referred to as “Liberating Beings.” It means that they postpone entering into nirvana until all beings are liberated. So, today we witnessed a ceremony in which two Bodhisattvas committed to this following aspiration.

Just as all the previous Sugatas, the Buddhas
Generated the mind of liberation
And accomplished all the stages
Of the Bodhisattva training,
So will I too, for the sake of my life partner,
Generate this mind of liberation
And with their support and compassion
Accomplish all the stages
Of the Great Bodhisattva way.

Thank you all for coming today and sharing in this intimate and touching event.

May all beings be
free from enmity,
affliction and anxiety,
and live contentedly.

Namo Amitābha Buddha!
Namo Amitābha Buddha!
Namo Amitābha Buddha!

(Bow)


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.