Category: Zen

Reconsidering Attachments


Brad Warner, author of ZEN Wrapped in Karma and Dipped in Chocolate said: “True nonattachment is understanding that you are fundamentally attached to everything and, through that understanding, dropping your attachment to the view that you are detached from that which you encounter.

At the same time, real nonattachment means not clinging to things or people. It means dropping the idea that if you don’t have this or if you can’t get that, your life will be a catastrophe.”

I wish I read that before I went shopping for a new car this week, the decision would have been much easier and probably much less expensive. Or not.

Dog Day Afternoon

Kurtz's Mill Covered Bridge
Kurtz’s Mill Covered Bridge

Charlotte Joko Beck from Everyday Zen: “My dog doesn’t worry about the meaning of life. She may worry if she doesn’t get her breakfast, but she doesn’t sit around worrying about whether she will get fulfilled or liberated or enlightened. As long as she gets some food and a little affection, her life is fine. But we human beings are not like dogs. We have self-centered minds which get us into plenty of trouble. If we do not come to understand the error in the way we think, our self-awareness, which is our greatest blessing, is also our downfall.”

In other words, handle every situation like a dog. If you can’t eat it or play with it, just pee on it and walk away.

Great Expectations

Baby baby, she's just a baby
Baby baby, she’s just a baby

In her book Everyday Zen Charlotte Joko Beck talks about having great expectations and searching for paradise. “It seems to us that paradise is lost,” she says. She goes on to say: “We have, if not great expectations, some hope that sometime paradise is going to appear to us.”

She concludes that “There is no paradise lost, none to be found. You cannot avoid paradise you can only avoid seeing it.” OK great, chop wood, read about enlightenment, and take photos of flowers.

Despite knowing that this baby sunflower is perfect as it is (thank you Miss Beck), I have great expectations for her. I expect her to become trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful…oh wait a minute that’s something else.

To roughly paraphrase Charles Dickens from his book Great Expectations: “I expect her to know the delights of freedom.” I’ll be back to take her photo in about a week, when the wind is as calm as clam shells and the light is as warm and fuzzy as my brain on Valium and Vodka.

Note: those conditions do not happen every morning.

The Gateless Gate

The Gateless Gate?
The Gateless Gate?

The Gateless Gate is a collection of 48 Zen koans compiled in the 13th century by the Chinese Zen master Mumon Ekai. Pausha Foley, an amazing artist and self described strange creature that doesn’t exist, explains the gateless gate in a way that even a child like me of 58 can understand:

“The gate is a creation of the human mind. As long as one believes oneself to be one’s mind, the gate is as solid and real as the mind is. As soon as one cases to identify with one’s mind however, the mind and all its creations reveal themselves as what they are: a bunch of ideas, devoid of any substance. So, from within the mind the gate exists, from outside of the mind it does not.”

If this isn’t crystal clear by now I give you koan 7, Joshu Washes the Bowl:

A monk asked Zhaozhou to teach him.
Zhaozhou asked, “Have you eaten your meal?”
The monk replied, “Yes, I have.”
“Then go wash your bowl”, said Zhaozhou.
At that moment, the monk was enlightened.

Of course one very important point must be made; if you don’t rinse your bowl before putting it in the dishwasher, it will not get completely clean and you will not be enlightened. The cleaning lab at the Good Housekeeping Institute says otherwise, but they also say that pre-rinsing is a needless time suck. Obviously they’ve never heard of the theory of relativity.

Contentment and Catnaps

Zen cat
Zen cat

The dictionary defines contentment as the state of being mentally or emotionally satisfied with things as they are.

Socrates said: “He who is not contented with what he has, would not be contented with what he would like to have.” Yes, but I want more…

I was in a greenhouse yesterday looking at seeds and starter plants, it was really a beautiful place to be, and for almost three minutes I was content. A cat calmly strolled in and completely ignored me, or so I thought.

I remember Eckhart Tolle saying something about cats as Zen masters, so I asked this cat to teach me about contentment. Again he ignored me, but I watched him.

He walked carefully between the rows of flowers and herbs, and I wondered if he was telling me to take time to smell the flowers. Then he began eating them, and I wasn’t sure if this was a sign to eat healthier or to do whatever makes you happy.

After he finished destroying a basil plant he hopped off the table and headed to his favorite place, which was literally the best seat in the house. He lay down on some warm boards in front of a sunny window, and looked at me as if to say: take a picture it’ll last longer, and then went to sleep.

If he was trying to tell me something I missed it, and on the way home I thought about new motorcycles, mansions and yachts, just a few of the things I feel I need to be content.

But I had the whole day to do whatever I wanted, I had enough money for lunch, and I had a picture of a Zen cat.

Charles M. Schulz said: “Learn from yesterday, live for today, look to tomorrow, rest this afternoon.”

Maybe that was his message; maybe I simply needed a catnap. So I went home and took a nap in my warm bed in front of a sunny window, and it was good. Now all I need is to move into this greenhouse and start eating plants.

There’s a great shade tree to park my bike under, my yacht will be moored of course, and as Elmer J. Fudd taught us, nobody really needs a mansion.

The Razor’s Edge

Razorblade Suitcase
Razorblade Suitcase

The Razor’s Edge is a book by W. Somerset Maugham and its inscription reads, “The sharp edge of a razor is difficult to pass over; thus the wise say the path to Salvation is hard.”

Charlotte Joko Beck, author of Everyday Zen wrote: “When we walk the razor’s edge we’re not important; we’re no-self, embedded in life. This we fear-even though life as no-self is pure joy. Our fear drives us to stay over here in our lonely self-righteousness. The paradox: only in walking the razor’s edge, in experiencing the fear directly, can we know what it is to have no fear.”

“Still, it is necessary to acknowledge that most of the time we want nothing to do with that edge; we want to stay separate. We want the sterile satisfaction of wallowing in “I am right.” That’s a poor satisfaction, of course, but still we will usually settle for a diminished life rather than experience life as it is when that seems painful and distasteful.”

Put another way by Eckhart Tolle: “The whole essence of Zen consists in walking along the razor’s edge of Now – to be so utterly, so completely present that no problem, no suffering, nothing that is not who you are in your essence, can survive in you. In the Now, in the absence of time, all your problems dissolve. Suffering needs time; it cannot survive in the Now.”

So you gotta ask yourself one question, how soon is now?

Right Concentration on the Path

The Path
The Path

Sometimes the path is a soft cushion of grass on a warm sunny day, with birds landing on your shoulder and baby deer leading the way. And sometimes the path is a slippery downhill slope, covered with ice and snow on a cold winter morning. In both situations it’s important to concentrate.

Eve Adamson and/or Gary R. McClain, authors of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Zen Living said: “Concentration means working on achieving a one-pointed mind. If you are doing something, concentrate wholly on what you are doing.”

Now I’ve known many idiots but few were complete idiots, and fewer still were complete idiots interested in Zen living. So maybe a more practical quote might be easier to understand.

Serena Williams once said: “If you can keep playing tennis when somebody is shooting a gun down the street, that’s concentration.” I wonder if she’s the one that said you only live once, but you get to serve twice.

The Best Horse

The Best Horse
The Best Horse

In Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, Shunryu Suzuki writes: “In our scripture it is said that there are four kinds of horses. The best horse will run before it sees the shadow of the whip. That is the best one.

The second one will run just before the whip reaches his skin. The third one will run when it feels pain on his body. The fourth one will run after the pain penetrates into the marrow of his bone. That is the worst one.

When we hear this story, perhaps everyone wants to be a good horse-the best horse. Those who find a great difficulty in practice of Zen will find more meaning of Zen. So sometimes I think the best horse is the worst horse and the worst horse is the best one.”

In this case, the best horse took a break from eating his lunch to let me take his photo.