Saturday, November 28, 2009


Transcribed from a talk given Tuesday November 24, 2009. To hear the podcast of this talk, click HERE.

Eshu is giving a Dharma talk in the third sit. Radical! Ah, what a great opportunity! Thank you all for your patience. I sometimes am thinking, “Oh, Brad Warner was here last week, I’ve really got to say something good this week, really impress people, what am I going to talk about? No idea… and then all of a sudden, situations… circumstances arise, and like magic a talk is delivered. Mmm.

So tonight we have this situation where – you know, we say, “Oh, people should arrive at 6:45 so they can receive an orientation”…and then, a few minutes after seven, somebody arrived – Ah! What to do? We find our preferences rise up. And we say, “Damn, I was just starting to get into my sit and here comes a bloody newcomer, ah man, I have to go help this person. Aw.”

Practice is a really hard thing. We live in a culture that really encourages us to not spend time doing practices like this, to not spend any time looking within, looking at ourselves, looking at how we relate to the world around us. It encourages us and offers us all kinds of opportunities to distract ourselves, to make ourselves happy by grasping at other things. You know, “watch this” and “do that”, and “eat this” and “drink that”, and “smoke this”, and “screw that”, and it’ll all make you happy.

But sooner or later, for most of us – well for many of us, at least for some of us who have arrived here, it comes to a point that we say, “well maybe we ought to do something else. Maybe the resolution or the solution to our difficulties doesn't lie out there, doesn't rely on us grasping things that we take as being out there and trying to bring them inside.” We start to say, “Maybe I just need to look at why it is that I'm having difficulty”.

So when I see somebody come in the door, even if they're a little bit late, I jump up and I say, “Oh geez, here’s somebody who in spite of all the money and all the effort and all the myriad opportunities that are being thrown at them to pursue their happiness in external objects, here’s a person that's got up and made an effort to go and sit and look at the floor in the zendo for an evening”. So all the sort of ‘self’ stuff, all the “Oh, but I’m just sitting”, “Oh, how am I going to figure out what I’m going to talk about”, all “me”, kind of drops away. And I go “Oh, shit, I’ve got to go talk to that person and help them establish this practice”.

And this is really strange sometimes, I think, for people who sit with me, students of the Victoria Zen Centre, because I'm also the person that will close the door on a Zen student who’s five minutes late for a sit – “No, you can’t come in!” This is a different situation. And I hope – I don’t want to go on for too long about this but I hope for the members that you can understand…that you can grasp the difference in these two situations. One, the situation of a person who has committed to training, the other, a person who is curiously making their first step. Their first step to investigate what it is that brings us to suffer.

On the weekend during the zazenkai – once a month we have this crazy thing called zazenkai. It’s a one day intensive. We sit from six in the morning until five in the evening and the whole day is an immersion in formal Zen practice. And this weekend we had a guest teacher, Brad Warner. Brad spoke a little bit about anger and I wanted to bring up one particular aspect that he spoke about because I think it's something that goes far beyond anger. Anger, in my opinion, is – is one manifestation of suffering. Something that brings us to suffer. And what Brad was talking about is something that I think is really at the root of so much of how we suffer, whether it's anger or whether it's grief or whether it's self doubt.

Even – physical pain – which, you know, giving me the opportunity to speak in the third set provides an ample opportunity for us to experience this physical pain. And this is the gap that comes up between what we figure things ought to be like and our experience of them as they are. So I wanted to talk a little bit about the difference that we have between our experience of pain, difficulty, and what we can recognize as suffering.

Now the members – several of the members of the Victoria Zen Centre are headed towards sesshin. Sesshin is something that we do twice a year here in Victoria and it's a five-day intensive where we go from four in the morning until around nine-thirty at night. During this we have lots of opportunity to investigate pain and suffering. And usually when we talk about pain and suffering they’re synonymous, they’re the same thing. And what I want to talk about tonight is how we can understand them as being different, and that by clearly recognizing these two things – pain or discomfort, and suffering – as being not the same, as being different, I think it's an important window into practice.

Buddhism is focused at liberation from suffering. And I think that this is a really important thing to understand. Because when we come into Zen or Buddhism, we can think, “Oh, I’m going to be free from suffering, and that means that I'm never going to be uncomfortable again”, or “I'm never going to have anger again”, or “I'm never going to have grief again”, or “I’m never going to have self-doubt again”.

So I’d like to talk about this from a physical perspective, because it’s something – form, our bodies, are something that we can really look at quite easily. In our day-to-day activities we can understand, we can experience this, and we can experiment with it a little bit. When we’re sitting – you know, I think the most common places that we have pain is in our knees and in our back. And as we go through our lives we’ll have all kind – we’ll slam our fingers in doors, and all kinds of stuff. And when we do this what I want you to do is investigate that and look at the experience of it.

When pain arises in the body we become aware of it as a physical sensation. As the first sort of layer of awareness is just this general awareness, this sort of tingling experience. Just as when – if we close our eyes for a second, just sort of allow ourselves to relax, and then we suddenly pop our eyes open, the first thing that hits our eyes is light, color. And then there's layers that sort of pile on top of these experiences. We start to recognize shape, movement. We start to identify and name, compare, contrast. And then we start to judge, we start to discriminate between things.

And the same goes with physical sensation. When we first become aware of physical sensation there's no assessment, there is no comparison, there is not even a real clear identification of it. There’s just this awareness. Then as we start to investigate it more, as we start to think on it more, we begin to identify it– is that a tickle, or is that an ache? Is that an acute, sharp pain or is that a low frequency kind of a numbness that’s going on? We start to make these kinds of assessments.

And then beyond that we begin to judge. We begin to make value assessments. We begin to say “Pain. Oh, that’s pain. Pain is bad. I don't like pain”. And still we haven't entered into the round of suffering. This is just still this very physical experience, this experience of the faculty of form, physical sensation.

Suffering enters into it when we say, “This is what I'm experiencing and it should be otherwise”. We’re sitting there feeling pain in our legs and our expectation of the situation is that we should be comfortable, is that we should be free from difficulty, is that we should be at ease and away from pain. And the degree to which we fixate on that idea, that we fixate on that expectation, freedom from difficulty, freedom from pain – and its distance from our experience – is the degree to which we suffer.

And so it's the same when we are in a relationship, when we have a work situation, in our environment that we're in. If we're hot, we’re really hot. This is a great one if we're in a hot climate in California or something like that, it’s really hot. If your expectation is to be cool but you're hot, it's suffering, it’s miserable. “God, it’s humid, God, it’s hot, this is terrible”.

And you can also experience, you can practice this… breathing and letting go of our expectation, our assumption for things to be other than they our. Melting into the experience of heat. And we find that in a moment – and usually, only for a moment – the experience of suffering disappears. Haaaa [breathes out]. And then we separate again. We say, “But wait! I should be cool!” And the experience of that suffering comes up again.

And it’s the same with the physical body as we do zazen, as we're sitting for longer periods of time. If we practice, if we investigate this experience, we can find that as we let go of the expectation for things to be otherwise, as we let go of the anticipation of the bell, waiting for the period to end, we find that we can feel our legs, yeah, they’re sore. But that's it. There is no suffering attached.

We find that if we are in relationship and we can, even for a moment, let go of our expectation of what the other should be or should do or should say and just completely embraced or witness what it is that they’re doing or saying or being at that moment, then this suffering is diminished.

This is a difficult, difficult practice. It’s something that we engage in over and over again in formal Zen practice. We expect the bell to ring here, we expect so-and-so to walk there, and our practice is to investigate it, in the form of practice. Because what we find over and over again is that that expectation that we have, the way that we bind ourselves to an assumed or expected outcome, is not different inside formal practice as it is outside formal practice.

We have the opportunity to experience letting go into things as they are. The opportunity to embrace and become intimate with this moment as it is in our life. To let go of what things ought to be and for a moment experience our lives as they are. In doing so, to be free from suffering.

Having gained insight into this practice, having met with our expectations, having found ourselves stuck and attached to them and practicing haaaa [breathes out], just letting go, dissolving into things as they are, as we go forward into our lives we are encouraged and have some practical experiential basis to go forward into our relationships and into our work, and to do the same practice.

When we find ourselves getting tied up by what we expect, how we think things ought to be, we can remind ourselves, “Ah, this is no different. Breathe. Let go into it. Allow the suffering to drop away and to experience our lives just as they are”.

Yeah, OK [laughs]. Enough experiencing pain and suffering.

Saturday, November 14, 2009


Transcribed from a talk given Tuesday November 10, 2009. To listen to this talk on a podcast click here.

Tonight I'd like to talk about faith. Faith is a word that comes up occasionally – we might find it in some of the sutras that we chant – and I think it's a really a loaded word for many people, particularly people who are exploring a practice like Buddhism. Faith has a particular meaning for many people and for many people, including myself, the meaning of faith was blind faith.

My personal story I think is, thanks to the marvels of the Internet, becoming a little bit better known to the people who are coming to practice here. A lot of people know that when I was a child I was brought up in the Roman Catholic tradition. A lot of people know that when I was nine, my mother had a stroke and was unconscious for a couple of weeks during which time I did a lot of praying, beseeching, for my mother to be okay, for my mother to come back to me. And that – a lot of people know my mother didn't come back. She in fact died. And a lot of people know that for many years of my teenage years I was very angry about it. That I quite repetitively, quite loudly, shouted from the mountain tops that religion was a waste of time. There was no solace, there was no comfort, there was no function or meaningful purpose in religion. Faith was the practice of fools. So to be here sitting here talking about faith is a very strange place for me.

For me this strangeness began – the realization of strangeness began one time when I was – after I had been ordained as a monk, I was the Jikijitsu, which is the role that Nori is playing, ringing the bells and offering incense – at the main Temple in Los Angeles. And there was an assembly of – I don't know, sixty or seventy people – and I was up there making the incense offering with a shaved head and robes on, bowing in front of this altar, and the thought arose in me, “Wow, this is really religious, how did I get here?”

Faith as I have experienced it in practice, Zen practice, couldn't be farther from how I understood faith before in my life. Faith, however, is a crucial aspect of this practice and there is no getting around it. Faith, however, in Buddhism, is faith in what? It is not faith in some external super-being; it is not faith in things that we cannot see or feel or experience. Faith in the Buddha's first statement, “Wonder of wonders, fundamentally we are all awake but we don't realize it” – this is the first article of faith in Buddhism, I guess you could call it. That we have as our capacity awakening. We have as our very nature unification with all things. We have as our birthright limitless potential.

Now as I talk about this, I think that it's very easy for us to sit around and say, “Huh, I can believe in that. That sounds so much better than all this other crap I hear. I have limitless potential, yeah, I dig that”. But to have faith, from the perspective of Buddhism, is not blind faith. It’s not just belief. It's not just, “Oh, that sounds good”, or “That sounds better than the alternative”. It is gaining experiential insight into that. Realizing it for ourselves. And from the perspective of Zen, there is no acceptable alternative to experience.

The Buddha, in fact, very clearly in the Kalama Sutra talks about this. Don’t believe things that you've been told. Don’t believe things just because they’re tradition. Don’t believe things just because that's the way that things have been done. We have to investigate them. We have to grind them through ourselves in every thought, in every fiber of our beings, to ruthlessly investigate the experience of this moment. What is this? Ah……

So, this aspect, to us heretics, to us nonbelievers – “Now that sounds good! Now we’re getting somewhere! I have as my potential limitless awakening, and I don't need to believe anything without experiencing it first. Wonderful.”

Now, the third aspect of this, or the other corner, is where we run into trouble. This third aspect is also the reason that I found myself shaven-headed and dressed in robes, bowing before a butsudan, offering incense. The third aspect is the aspect of responsibility. We are asked to investigate this practice. We’re asked to investigate the nature of this experience of this moment just as it is. We're asked to investigate the innumerable teachings that we come across in our lives. We are asked to be honest about them, honest about our experience, honest about our insight. Being honest about what it is that we’ve experienced, we have to accept the responsibility to change our lives, to move into harmony with the wisdom that arises out of our practice, out of our experience. That’s the difficult part.

We can enter into a practice with all kinds of ideas about what it is that we need to get, what it is that we should be seeing, what it is that we should be experiencing, what it is that we don't need or don't want. But as we practice, we will meet this moment. We will awaken. We will develop insight in experience of the activity of this moment. And sometimes it is other than what we expected. Sometimes we find our mouths gaping open with what we've seen. Sometimes we experience the vastness of our true nature and it shatters who it was we thought we were.

And we're faced with a choice. We can try to pretend that it never happened. We can try to pretend that we haven't seen the things that we've seen. We can try to pretend that we don't know what has been revealed in practice. Oh, but this is a miserable path. We will find ourselves going to greater and greater ends to try and cover up what it is that we've experienced. To great ends to distract ourself from our own faith. Or, we find ourselves embracing the path. Embracing what it is that has been revealed, what it is that we’ve awoken to. Accepting the responsibility for our own faith. Not a faith born out of ideas, but faith borne out of experience.

For me in my practice, thankfully I was never asked to make any kind of leap of faith. I was never asked to believe in something that I couldn't first experience. I was asked to just do the next step, grasp it, look at it, investigate it, take it apart. Having gained insight into what it was that I was experiencing, my responsibility was to take the next step. That’s it. Just as when we walk we proceed one foot in front of the other.

For me, this path led me to standing before this butsudan as a monk. This path has led me to guiding the practice of the [Victoria Zen] Centre, being in relationship with people who are engaged in practice. It isn't something that I had some great plan about, but rather just a matter of following one foot in front of the other, where my faith led.

So when you come to practice here, you will never be asked to believe something. You already possess all the wisdom you will ever possess. You already possess all the wisdom that there is. The only thing that you will be asked to do is to trust it, to awaken to it, to live by it. And I can tell you that doing that is far scarier than just having blind faith. To do that is difficult. This is why we come together as a community. To support one another to live not out of our thoughts, not out of our concepts, but out of our experience, out of our own awakening.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


Hello all,

Recently I was interviewed by Adam Tebbe of the Sweeping Zen website. The complete transcript can be found HERE.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009


Transcribed from a talk given Tuesday October 27, 2009. I started using Dragon Naturally Speaking for transcribing recorded talks, and it really is amazing.

If you would like to listen to this talk on a podcast, simply click the title of the post or you can click HERE.

Who are you? Without opening your mouth... without referring to something else, some act that has happened in the past, right now, is there anybody that can answer this question, that can respond? Who are you? (Ven. Doshu strikes the ground) Ah...Doshu...that's one!

Each of us, when we're asked this question immediately we begin to think, "who am I?" I had an interesting experience as I was sitting just in the corner there, paying attention. The plant light was behind me, so in my field of vision was this black shape with big ears... "Me"... "this is "me" making the shadow". A few minutes into the sit, the light shut off and I disappeared.

Each of us, when we think of ourselves, take ourselves as being something that's fixed. Something that's solid. Something that's permanent. We buy the story that we tell ourselves. We grasp it entirely and cling onto it. Failing to recognize that this thing, this "I", this person that we identify ourselves as, is entirely dependent on everything else in this world.

Think about it. Is it possible to talk about who you are without reference, without talking about something else, something that's happened in the past, some direction that you're headed in the future, some relationship that you have? When we're looking for the self as an object, there is no way that we can find it.

What are we doing when we're sitting here practicing? People come for all kinds of different reasons. Things are getting stressful, things are, my mind is very busy, and maybe my doctor told me I needed to meditate or something like this. The practice that we're engaged in, in Zen meditation, is paying attention to this moment.

I often use this term "this moment" and I think that sometimes people take "this moment" as being a place, something that's fixed. But when I'm talking about this moment, I'm talking about something which is not solid, which is not a place. It's an activity. The activity of this moment, which is unfolding before us all the time, new. Which is being born, and dying, in each moment.

And so when we come to practice, we take it as "I" (being a solid fixed thing), coming to experience "this moment" (which is a solid fixed thing). So when I ask this question, "Who are you? Without opening your mouth, who are you?", there is no place for you to stand. There is nowhere for you to point. There is nowhere for you to look, except into the activity of this moment, into what it is that you're doing right now.

There is no "You" in the past, there is no "You" in the future. You have no life outside of the unfolding activity of this moment. So, if we look at things in two dimensions, if we look at things as being flat; subject-object, we can talk about this practice that we're engaged in as "ME" doing "SOMETHING". As this definite "I" engaging in an objective practice, "I'm sitting looking at the floor". This is a very simple, a very confused way of understanding what is taking place.

What we are asked in this activity of zazen, Zen meditation, is to let go into... to dissolve into the experience of the unfolding activity of this moment. The activity of sitting is not an objective activity that "you" are doing. This idea of "YOU" and "ACTIVITY" is a false one. Without you, where is the activity? Without the activity that's unfolding in this moment before you, without this practice of sitting, where are "you"?

These things that we call lives, are nothing other than the unfolding activity of this moment. Moment, after moment. These aren't discrete little frames, like a movie, but rather a flow, like a body of water... moving. There is no catching it back. There is no doing it over. There is only this moment as it unfolds. But, for most of us, as we go through our lives, we are constantly trying to fixate. We're constantly looking for a place to rest ourselves. Looking for a place to stop. Looking for a place to look around. Looking for a finish line, a place where we can put up our heels and rest.

As we engage in this activity of living, the activity of this moment we're constantly looking around for something else to do. Constantly distracted, constantly dissatisfied with this activity that's unfolding right before us. Right within us. Right through us. Not paying attention to this activity, we have expectations, we make assumptions, we think, "wouldn't it be wonderful IF", and all of this exists in the realm of our imagination. It isn't what's going on. It isn't what's unfolding right under our noses.

So this practice that we're engaged in, is not the practice of "me" coming to "sit" with a "bunch of other people". It's not the practice of "me" going to engage in some religion, or some spiritual practice. And it's certainly not "me" going to go and improve "myself" by engaging in this "practice".

"Buddha". This word "Buddha" means "the one who is awake". "Budh" - to wake up. This practice is not about adding something more into what it is that you've already got. It's not about grasping something that is outside of you.

Wake up! That's what this practice is!

Waking up to the dynamic activity of this moment that's unfolding, being born and dying, again, and again, and again. Not separate from us. It's not taking place so that "we" can "witness" it, but this very thing that we call a "self", together with the activity of this moment, is being born and dying over, and over, and over again. This isn't something that we have to grasp. It's not something that we have to find "out there". This activity is unfolding, always.

All we have to do is, for a moment, to let go of thinking about, for a moment, let go of this concept... this idea of of a "me", of a "myself", of an "I" that stands separate from this world, from this environment, from these people, this experience that I'm having. To let it drop away, and to experience at once, "I" and "all things" being born together. "I" and "all things" dissolving, dying into one... together.

Each activity that we engage in, in Zen practice, is aimed at this same realization, the same experience. Awakening. We begin with a practice which is the simplest thing that we can possibly come up with. Just sit.

We can look at sitting and say, "Boy, there's sure nothing going on there. Not much is happening there".

It's all happening there! What isn't happening as we sit?

What happens as we sit is that we're in a position where we can most easily drop away our fixation with self. Drop away our idea of "me" and "this experience". If we sit still, if we simply practice breathing, if we practice this activity of being born, and dying through the activity of our breath, this notion, this conviction that we have that we are separate from the activity of this moment, is able to drop away.

In the activity of walking it becomes a little bit more challenging, but, no different. If we get stuck on "me"; "am I doing it right?", we have this gap. "I'm" doing "something". But at once, if we let go of our fixation with ourselves, that separation drops away and we can experience what it is to be manifesting the activity of this moment, the activity of the cosmos, as walking.

Our practice isn't aimed, as I say every week, at being successful and accomplished Zen meditators. This is the training, Zen training, and its function is that as we go out into the world, as we go out and engage in our practice of being nurses, or artists, or musicians, or business people, or accountants, that as we engage in our work, as we engage in our play, as we engage in our relationships, and interactions with this world, we don't do this in a way in which "I" am "doing". Subject-object.

Dropping away this deluded concept of a separate self, we manifest the complete activity of this moment "as". As caring, as art, as music, as transaction, as calculation. There is no subject, there is no object. It is the manifestation of the activity of this universe.

Inevitably the self is born. Inevitably again we attach, we fixate to this idea of "I am", and we can look at what it is that has happened in the past. We can say, "Oh... that was good... Oh... that was beautiful... Oh... that was really a mess", but having had this experience of falling into, having had this experience of dropping away subject and object, when the self forms, we understand it for what it is. A concept. A reflective capacity of mind, and we don't take it as something being solid, and fixed, lasting, or permanent.

We don't take this idea of inside and outside, subject-object and distance between them, as being the nature of our experience. It is one pole, and the other is complete unification.

So, until I see you next time, I would really like everybody to really stop once in a while as we go through our day, as we're making music, as we're doing our work, as we're engaged in our studies, or making our art. Stop and ask, "In this moment who am I? Without opening my mouth, without making reference to the ghosts of the past, who am "I".

Friday, October 23, 2009


Transcribed from a talk given October 20, 2009

It's wonderful to be back here in Victoria. I certainly enjoy the time I spend down in North Carolina but I'm always happy to get back to the island. I wanted to talk a bit about...I always say that, I always start the Tuesday talk with, "I want to talk a bit about"... these fifteen minute talks it’s all I can get is a bit about anything. So tonight I want to talk about form.

The Jikijitsu seems to be interested in having some correction about form, tonight he wants to make sure that people are following the form, and I think that a lot of people who come to practice meditation are really surprised, they're really set back by the amount of form that's used here on a Tuesday night for Zen practice. We try to keep it actually, I have to mention, very light, in comparison to the formal practice we engage in at the Victoria Zen Centre. The form that we use here on Tuesday night is very soft, it's gentle. We're not very strict with it. But I want to talk a little bit about the value of form, the function of form, why we use so much form. There is a practical aspect of it, of course. The form that we use in our tradition arises out of monastic practice. It arises out of a practice, which strives to have a large number of people practicing together harmoniously, without a whole bunch of chatter.

So we have bells and clappers, gongs and drums, and sounding boards, and all kinds of musical instruments that lead us through the schedule of the day. Understanding that this day that we engage in, a day of practice together, is a song in which we all take part, I think, is a more difficult aspect of practice for people to realize. But for now, just understand that those markers, the percussion, they're just gentle reminders, or calls to awareness of what's coming next.

It's time to let go of the situation that we're in and move on to the next situation. More than that, the form offers us a container- a structure. We have a lot of form, so we actually have a course that we run through the Zen center called the “Introduction to Zen meditation” course. In this course, we go over the basic aspects of form that are used so that we don't have to spend so much time trying to figure out what's going on. But in a nutshell, what we have is a container. It's something that we can apply ourselves to. Something that we can relax into, or even more than that, it's something that we can completely surrender to, or let go into.

As we go through our lives, we live in these environments that are constantly changing, that are constantly dynamically coming up, and breaking apart. We never know what's going to happen next. Because we never know what's coming at us, we never know what we have to face, we hold on very tightly to who it is that we think we are. We hold on very tightly to the things that we value, the things that we think are important, the things that we want to protect, and defend. And at the same time, we defend ourselves against all of those things that we don't want to come into contact with. All of those things that make us uncomfortable, that we find unpleasant, that we think are bad, and this is our constant state as we go through our lives. Constantly grasping onto this thing that we call a "self", the things that we call mine, and we never have this opportunity to relax to let go.

Buddhism teaches us that this tendency that we have to cling on to this thing we call a "self" is at root, the source of all of our suffering. But it's not enough for us to posit this theory, this philosophy. Zen practice is aimed at experience. What happens when we, even for a moment, let go of this thing that we have such a white knuckle death grip on? What happens when this separation between what we call inside, and outside, drops away? What happens when the distance between subject, and object dissolves, and they unify? These are all great philosophical questions that we can sit and think about when we're meditating but, that's not Zen practice. Zen practice is the act of investigating the experience of what happens when we let go.

The way that we go about doing this is by engaging or embracing this form. When we're sitting, we can be engaged in this activity of sitting thinking, “I'm sitting. That's what I'm doing. I'm following my breath. That's what I'm doing”, but all of this operates in the realm of the mind. All of this is taking place in the conceptual framework “I am doing”. As we let go into the activity of our breathing, the breath arising, the breath dissolving, we find that we can enter into the activity of this moment, where it's not just “me” doing “something”. We experience our lives immersed in the activity, the unfolding, dynamic activity of this moment. It's not me sitting here, it's the activity of this universe, sitting. Not separate from anything, completely unified.

This isn't a state. This isn't something that we can hang onto. Even if we catch a glimpse of this, immediately, it breaks apart and we say “Oh... that was interesting, what was that all about?” The structure that we use, this form that we use, offers us a stable framework, a structure that we can apply our self to over and over again. That we can let go into that we can drop away this idea, this concept of “self” to experience what it is to be one with this moment. This isn't some special state. This isn't some unique and rarefied experience. This is actually our nature. This is an activity, an experience, which is happening all the time, in every activity that we do. But in our mundane lives, we miss it. So caught up with “myself”, so caught up with inside and outside, so caught up with what I need to do, what I need to get, what I need to avoid. We miss the profound beauty of simply being at one in this moment.

The function of meditation, however, is not to meditate. Our goal, or the fruit of our practice is not to be able to successfully experience this state over and over again while we sit in a meditation hall. I've said this many, many times. The function of practice is that we become more and more able to realize this activity, to realize our true relationship with the world around us, to recognize that we are not separate from this world in which we live in our everyday lives. The practice that we engage in in Zen is systematic. We begin with something very simple, sitting. We engage in this practice in a room which is quiet, without distractions, where we're supported by the energy of other people sitting engaged in the same practice. In this environment it's easy to little bit, by little bit, let go of our mental busy-ness. Little bit, by little bit, to let go of difficult emotions and thought patterns that arise. Little bit, by little bit, to dissolve into the activity of this moment. At once, we can experience what it is to just sit.

The bell sounds and the clappers clap. We are asked to do walking meditation. Walking meditation is not a break. It's not a non-meditation practice. It is a continuation and expansion of the activity that we're engaged in while we sit. We are taking meditation into movement. As soon as we stand up however, we find that the self asserts itself again, we become "I". Things start to move, and we start to worry about “I”. “Am I going too fast? Am I going to slow? Is my step wide enough? Is my step too short? Is it too fast, too slow? I wonder what I'm going to do later…” and we lose the thread of it entirely. The practice of walking meditation is to let go, to let go of this idea of a separate self and to dissolve into the activity of the universe as walking. When we let go of our self concern, we find that walking is no problem at all. We're in step, we're close behind the person in front of us. There's no “I'm doing it right”, “I'm doing it wrong”, simply manifesting the activity of this moment as walking.

Some of the instructions were a little bit of faulty for the walking meditation. When we do walking meditation, you want to make sure that your right hand goes flat on your abdomen, just below your breastbone. Your forearms are parallel to the floor and your left hand is covering. When ever we're doing something in Zen meditation the left hand is always covering. So when we're sitting, the right hand is on the bottom with the left hand covering. The right hand is symbolic of our active, the plus, the "I am" self side. The left hand is symbolic, representative of the minus, dissolution, and no self, emptiness side. So when we're doing meditation, Zen meditation, when we sit, the right hand goes on the bottom with the left hand covering. When we do walking meditation, we don't just flip them up. The right hand again goes on the abdomen and the left hand is covering.

Chanting is no different. The practice is fundamentally no different than in sitting, as it is in walking. Again when it comes time to use our voice, the 'I" raises its head. This “I” that we want to protect, that we cherish, that we want to defend against destruction. And we start to say things like “Oh... am I doing this right? Am I to loud? Am I too quiet? What does this mean? What does it imply if I'm chanting it? What if someone saw me doing this? What is all this stuff about? “I, I, I…”, comes into it the simple activity of chanting a syllable, one syllable after the other, but we find that this tendency we have to grab the self, to shackle ourselves to it, interferes with the simple activity of making sound, so that rather than being able to make a clear and strong sound, our voice is filled with fear, our voice is filled with doubt and self concern.

So the practice as we chant, just as when we walk, just as when we sit, is to become aware of how we hold on to self and to practice letting it go. In the practice of letting it go, we have the opportunity to experience what it is to become unified. What it is to be one with the activity we're engaged with. What it is to manifest as this universe in sound. As I said at the very beginning, these are all lovely words. We can spend a lot of time talking about them, or thinking about them. But what we're here to do, what we're engaged in when we practice Zen is experience. So stop thinking about. Stop saying to yourselves, "Oh that sounds good, I want to try that". Do it! When it comes time for sitting, just sit. When it comes time for walking, just walk. When it comes time for chanting, just chant.

The manifestation of the state of zero, unification, is also not permanent. Soon enough, the self arises. The self will say, “That was interesting”. The self will say, “What a wonderful experience”. The self will say, “Wow, we've got to do that again sometime”. It's inevitable that the self will arise. So there is no need to be afraid. There's no need to hang on. There is no need to get stuck on protecting the self as you engage in each of these activities. Just practice letting go.

Listen to this talk on the Living Zen PODCAST