Monday, September 21, 2015

Shoun and His Mother/The Voice of Happiness

101 Zen Stories aka Zen Flesh, Zen Bones

Shoun said he lived the best that he could. He couldn't live in the monastery, he bought fish for his mother, he played music and he visited a woman of the streets. He didn't follow the rules that the other monks followed.

But he was doing what was required in each situation. He wasn't embarrased about visiting a woman of the streets. He was a man of much personal integrity.

It seems easier to defend one's actions when those actions are according to some law. But that is not what Shoun did. He was true to his own heart and did what the moment demanded.

At the end of his life, all was perfect. “The rain had ended, the clouds were clearing, and the blue sky had a full moon.”

But Shoun was perfect in another sense. He had responded to each challenge in his life with a open hand and gave to it what was demanded. He went against the rules because this allowed him to give what was needed of him.

I have a sister who, like Shoun, is not seduced by authority. She broke most of the rules in the book, and probably some laws along the way. But she was always there for her friends, and now is a helpful and loving psychoanalyst. She shunned most if not all the good advice that her parents were so willing to give to her.

The other day I compared myself to my ideal self. I came out with a flunking grade. I wonder if the ideal self was what one would look like if they followed the rules, and if what I was now was closer to Shoan's statement, “I did what I could.”

How do we navigate the rules of society and the rules of our institutions and still walk proud? What was it in Shoun and my sister that allowed them, as they heard “the beat of a different drummer” to walk so confidently down the street. “Without shame,” my sister would add.

*101 Zen Stories is a 1919 compilation of Zen koans[1] including 19th and early 20th century anecdotes compiled by Nyogen Senzaki,[2] and a translation of Shasekishū,[1][3] written in the 13th century by Japanese Zen master Mujū (無住) (literally, "non-dweller").[3] The book was reprinted by Paul Reps as part of Zen Flesh, Zen Bones.[4][3] Well-known koans in the collection include “A Cup of Tea” (1), “The Sound of One Hand” (21), “No Water, No Moon” (29), and “Everything is Best” (31). (From

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Love is all that matters

(Blanche Hartman is a Zen priest at the SF Zen Center. Our AZC temple was named after her, and she transmitted the two head teachers that have been/is at AZC. Our temple is named after her.

Last night we wrote about her statement, “… love is all that matters.”)

“Love is all that matters.”

Why didn't anyone tell me that? Actually there was a guy (Leo Buscaglia) who preached love. He had a college course called love and it would fill every semester. But generally we are led to believe that other stuff will make us happy, like having an ocean view, a college degree or lots of money.

Love will tell us what something needs. My wife will look out the window and hear one of her plants screaming for water. She'll drop everything to give them a drink.

“Love is all that matters.”

Blanche devoted much of her life to Zen practice. Both the former head teacher and the current abbot at Austin Zen Center were transmitted by her. AZC is named Zenkei-ji which was Blanche’s Dharma name (meaning Inconceivable Joy). She was responsible for teaching many to sew robes. And yet, at the end of her life, she is proclaiming

“Love is all that matters.”

Imagine what the reaction might be if the New York Times were to print in big bold letters on their front page

“Love is all that matters.”

Would road rage disappear? Would waitresses smile at their customers? Would the subway come to a gentle stop? Would the stewardesses, rather than instructing us on the use of the life preservers, tell us that

“Love is all that matters?”

And does she really mean it? Why didn't she just practice

“Love is all that matters?”

rather than Zen.

Maybe Zen, at its best, is about

“Love is all that matters.”

As we pay attention to ourselves and the world we would naturally care for things. We would handle thing “gingerly.” We would evaluate our actions as to whether they were an expression of love or not.

And this is where it can get a little hairy. I put out poison so our house isn't a den for cockroaches. Is that love? Maybe for us, but not the blessed little creatures.

If it were so simple, life would be that simple. What is the loving thing to do is sometimes quite difficult to figure out. It might take meditation to see the challenge clearly. It might take a college degree. It might take going to jail for what you believe to be the best action. It might take every ounce of our energies to act on that most import maxim

“Love is all that matters.”

Monday, September 7, 2015


I had a friend who did things on autopilot, or so she claimed. We've been there, driving long distances and being surprised when we get there.

I read this morning that what keeps us procrastinating is impulsive behavior. Sometimes I rationalize that it is more important to do something rather than the task at hand. That something might be going to a gym or looking out the window. And after looking out the window, I need to walk around a little... perhaps to explore what is in the refrigerator or to see if we have received any emails.

Soon 70 years have passed, and the job is not done. Funny how procrastinating one minute can become an hour, a day, a week, a month, a year, a decade, and then a lifetime.

The impulsive behaviors become riding a horse with a mind of its own. I am holding the reins, but the horse has a mind of its own. I think that one more trip to the fridge won't set me back more than five minutes. What's five minutes in a lifetime? And then that five minutes insidiously becomes a lifetime.

There is a Zen saying that when you are hungry you should eat and when you are tired you should sleep. Is that saying that I should go wherever the horse wants to go?

“What shall I do now, what shall I ever do?” TS Eliot wrote that in the wasteland. We look back and see that we wasted time. How did the horse take charge?

I suspect that an untrained horse just follows it impulses. A good trainer can teach a horse to obey the rider's whims. But what is involved in training my horse?

P.S. Since I wrote this last Tuesday I’ve been feeling that I’ve been run by impulses. Today I turned over a new leaf and took the bull by its horns. We’ll see who wins.

Anatomy Lesson and Love