Monday, June 29, 2009


Transcribed from a talk given Tuesday October 28, 2008.

Tonight I wanted to talk a little bit about `the wall’. Over the past weekend simultaneously at the Victoria Zen Centre, there are two introductory classes going on. And, this past session has been about emotions and some of the difficulties that arise within practice. Many people come and approach meditation practice, Zen practice, from many different perspectives and often I’m surprised by how taken aback or taken by surprise they are by the power of meditation practice.

I think many people come for their first time or two to try meditation as a means of calming their mind, as a means of settling down into their lives and experiencing what’s happening in this moment. And universally, when we come with this attitude we have this unquestioning attitude that the fact that our minds are busy, the fact that we’re busy is a bad thing. And that we need to do something about it.

We’ve been driven to distraction by the busy-ness of the wheels in our minds and we want to slow them down. But before we take up this seated meditation we never stop to contemplate why. Why is my mind so busy?

Now, my personal belief is that these kinds of things, these kinds of busy-ness, internal busy-ness doesn’t happen without a very good reason. It’s often not until people start to sit, people start to engage in a regular meditation practice, that they start to gain some insight into why it is their minds are so busy.

I often use this phrase when I’m giving talks here on Tuesday night, `to enter into this moment which has as it’s content all things’ and I think that many people think this sounds wonderful ... `to enter into this moment which has as it’s content all things’. But as we begin to let go of the busy-ness of our minds, as we begin to allow the distractions that we involve ourselves with, mentally, emotionally, and physically to melt away, as we come to truly enter into this moment with its contents, we find that all things means ALL things; all of these things that we find that are pleasant, but also all the things in this moment that we carry with us that are unpleasant, that are difficult, that are ugly, that carry with them shame and fear and guilt.

Suddenly, it begins to dawn on us why my mind is so busy. Sitting with this stuff, sitting with my own bag of stuff that I carry with me wherever I go is difficult, it’s uncomfortable, it’s unpleasant at times. Sometimes at this point, people get mad at Eshu, they get mad at meditation practice and they say `Hey, what happened to all that peaceful, warm, nice meditation that I was having for awhile. It’s your fault’.

It’s easy to externalize this difficulty when we’re experiencing it in practice, and being the guy with the bald head and black robes makes you a pretty easy target. But it’s important that when this arises in practice, we recognize who carries it, who brings it with them. Accepting responsibility for our own lives is a crucial aspect of practice. This dawning, this beginning of realization of practice; that we carry with us a whole mess is one way of understanding what I refer to as `the wall’.

For some of you who have been busy reading and studying about Zen practice, you will find that in our history the first patriarch of Zen in China was a man called Bodhidharma. He’s famous for this practice called nine years facing the wall. In some traditions in Zen Buddhism, this practice is literally done facing the wall, a physical wall, but in truth if you’re engaged in Zen practice it’s all facing the wall.

This wall is the obstacle, the difficulty, the discomfort that we ourselves carry with us all the time. It is these feelings of anger, hate, fear, grief, shame, guilt ... the things that we carry with us all the time that we don’t want to talk about... we don’t want to look at ... we don’t want to sit with, or to experience.

From the time that we’re very young, we develop many, many coping mechanisms to distract ourselves from them, to avoid them, to bring ourselves into a position where we just don’t have to think about them anymore. Depending on how significant that pain is, depending on how greatly we suffer from what we carry with us; the more drastic our techniques for distracting ourselves get.

We start with just thinking differently, thinking about something else, busy, busy, busy in the mind. But as the pain increases it begins to need more strength to distract ourselves from it. So we can get involved in all kinds of things, distracting ourselves with food, distracting ourselves with physical activities, distracting ourselves with drugs and sex and whatever else we can come up with.

In practice, we begin to take these backward steps, we begin to unload, disassemble all of these clever techniques that we have for not looking at what we’re carrying around with us. It’s at about this time that we realize that things are getting difficult, and we need to make a really crucial decision in our practice. Do you really want to change?

People approach Buddhism, and they hear about this teaching of `no self’, they hear about the teaching of `impermanence’ and the idea is captivating.This teaching is philosophically interesting and so we say, `that sounds really good, I’d like to get into that’. But as we continue to practice, we find that we are very attached to who it is that we think we are.

I think that many people, only think that we’re attached to all the good things that we think we are, but as we continue to practice, we begin to find that we’re also deeply committed, deeply immersed, deeply fixated with our own grief, our own anger, our own likes and dislikes and preferences. We’re even attached to our own failure.

If it’s familiar to us, we are it. So when we come to this place where we are confronting ourselves honestly, when we have entered into this moment with all things as it’s content ... good and bad, light and dark, pleasant and unpleasant ... we’re faced with this choice. Do I actually want to change? Because if we do we have to break through the wall... we have to do things which may be profoundly uncomfortable. We have to let go of aspects of ourselves which we have held up, glorified and fixated to as being `me’. “I’m this kind of person”, “I’m that kind of person”, “I like this and I don’t like that.” “Ooh, this kind of person is really not my style.” When we start to honestly see where these kinds of choices... where these kinds of fixations have brought us, we’re always faced with this choice... to let it drop... let it hit the floor... and arise as somebody new... to allow this old self to drop away, or to use traditional terms, to allow the old self to die, and to arise anew.

The truth is this practice, to do this, is not an easy endeavour. I’ve been teaching Zen in Victoria now for 10 years and there are not so many people that have been around that whole time. Many people come to this wall and decide “Naaa, I think I’ll just go back to distracting myself.” Make no mistake... this kind of transformation is not an easy game. It requires you to summon up the strength, all the strength that you have, and to give rise to the, dare I say faith, that if you let go of these things that you’re so attached to, you won’t just disappear.

As we enter into this moment, this moment that has as its content all things, we realize that there is an opportunity for us to become free. When we become transparently clear about the burden that we carry with us all the time, we realize that there is only one person that shoulders its weight. We begin to realize that in each moment we all have a choice to pick it up and continue to slug it along with us, or to let it drop.

My hope for each of us is that in each moment we are able to let this bag drop and to arise anew, to face each moment fresh, reborn, and to manifest a new and true you.

Saturday, June 27, 2009


Victoria Zen Centre to hold Victoria's first Buddhist Ordination

Doshu Lars Rogers has a first-hand understanding of suffering and impermanence. In February 2002, he found himself in the intensive care unit of Vancouver General Hospital more dead than alive having been air lifted from his family’s homestead on Malcolm Island just off of Vancouver Island’s north coast. The diagnosis was acute leukemia, and the prognosis was not hopeful. Immediate chemotherapy left Rogers with no memory of the events that took place for about a month after his arrival at the hospital. In May of 2002, he was released from hospital for two weeks before a scheduled bone marrow transplant “to make some good memories with (his) family”. Upon his return to hospital he was subjected to intense chemotherapy and full-body radiation to ensure that all blood making cells in his body were thoroughly and totally dead. Following the bone marrow transplant, another month of isolation followed waiting for these new cells to take up residence deep within his bones and begin producing healthy blood.

Doshu has practiced Zen Buddhism since 1975-at times passively, and at times with great energy and zeal. Living remotely, his contact with any kind of Buddhist community was infrequent, but he maintained a personal practice and attended meditation retreats occasionally with Toronto Zen Centre, Zen Centres in Oregon and Washington States, and the Victoria Zen Centre. His life path had seen him educated at the University of Toronto in astronomy, travelling through Asia and Europe with his wife Soshin Ruth McMurchy, training and working in electronics and making a living as an entrepreneur in that field. Doshu and Soshin have two children together, and when Doshu became ill, the whole family moved to Victoria so that they could be there to support him, and each other. As he lay in the hospital wondering if he would make it to the next mealtime which Doshu describes as “a yellow-green goo that was pumped through my nose-tube and into my stomach”, a visiting friend asked him what he wanted to do when he got out of the hospital. Doshu had spent much of his time (when he was conscious and/or coherent) reviewing his life, coming to terms with his impending death, and letting go of any regrets of his life; but realized that he hadn’t seriously considered the possibility of recovery. The question he was asked provoked a heartfelt response that he says surprised him. “My family and Zen practice are my priorities.”

When Doshu was discharged from hospital in July of 2002, after the bone marrow transplant had “taken”, it was into the caring hands of his friends and family. As he slowly recovered, struggling through periodic and frightening infections, and dealing with the depression that often follows such severe illness, he gradually began to regain his strength. His resolve and commitment to his priorities also grew stronger. Eventually he overcame concerns about his physical fragility and emotional instability and reconnected with the Victoria Zen Centre. Knowing that Zen Buddhist practice can be demanding physically, mentally, and emotionally, Doshu expected a rough ride but says he was very kindly and gently received by the Zen Centre community and it’s teacher Ven. Eshu Martin. “In hospital I started to experience life more as a gift than a given - connecting with Ven. Eshu and the loving community he inspires has allowed me to grow toward a life based on practice and giving, to face my fears and to uncover the life I have longed for but never before managed to create”, says Rogers.

“Doshu’s commitment to his family, to his community, and to Zen practice raises the bar for everyone that comes into contact with him”, says Martin, who also acts as the Buddhist Chaplain for the University of Victoria’s Interfaith Services. “As the Zen Centre has grown and developed, Doshu has been involved in every aspect, and provides a joyous, humble, and compassionate example for all of us to follow.”

Doshu’s increasing involvement and commitment has led to his completion of a program of training and education at the Victoria Zen Centre that will see him ordained a Zen Monk at the University of Victoria’s Interfaith Chapel on at 10am on July 19, 2009 as a part of the Zen Centre’s semi-annual commitment ceremony. The first event of its kind to be held in Victoria, it promises to be a deeply powerful and moving event for everyone present, and will deeply impact Doshu, his family, and the Buddhist community of Vancouver Island. For more information, please contact the Victoria Zen Centre 250-642-7936.

The Victoria Zen Centre is a federally registered charity that was formed in 1980. For more information please visit the website at

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Nothing Lacking

Transcribed from a talk given November 27, 2007

When we begin to take up a practice like Zen, I think that for many of us we’re very interested in the external components of practice. We’re interested in learning about the form and doing it right. We’re interested in what it is that we think that we’ll get from practice and how that will appear, manifest itself, outwardly in our lives. At the Victoria Zen Centre when people come and approach practice I take a very methodical approach. We have a course called the Introduction to Zen Meditation course, and in this course, people are introduced little bit by little bit to the form that we use in our formal practice. But more importantly, as we go along in this course we are given homework, physical practice homework, in which we are encouraged and supported to develop a stable and consistent practice, starting very small and developing as we go.

I have found that people in general, as we start to do this practice, we seem to have a very good idea of what it is that we think we need to get from practice, or what we think practice will give us, or what it is that we need to sort out in our Zen practice and what we think will come of it.

One of the first masters in Zen is famous for an interchange in which his response to a question of who he is—“who is this that sits before me?”—is, “Don’t know.”

When we first come to practice, generally speaking we are coming from a position of wanting to change, wanting to transform, wanting to improve, wanting to develop, wanting to grow. These are all synonymous but they don’t seem to catch, they don’t seem to encompass, the totality of this experience that draws us all to practice.

For each of us something is just not quite right. There’s just something that can be improved or enriched or deepened or transformed. Something is just a little bit out of place. And we hope that by engaging in something like Zen practice, we can put it right.

But what is it that’s out of place? What is it that we feel so strongly needs to be put right?

A lot of people, when I start to talk about the four noble truths in Buddhism, have reservations about the first noble truth that life is suffering; they’ll say, “Well, no it’s not. It’s not always suffering.” Suffering is a poor translation of this term dukkha. Dukkha, accurately translated, comes closer to dissatisfaction, dissatisfactory-ness. And so the first noble truth that life is dukkha is in fact what draws us to practice. Each of us, if we were perfectly satisfied and happy, feeling completely fulfilled and enriched by our lives, I don’t think would be looking for something like Zen practice.

So the very fact that we’ve wound up here shows us that we are aware, we are aware on some level, that something is not quite right. There is some insight, some awareness of this first noble truth. The second noble truth that the Buddha taught is the truth of the cause of suffering; the cause of suffering being desire, or craving. The Buddha taught that we like to identify our self, we like to define, to separate, to isolate, this personality, this body, this thing that we call a person or a self. We like to separate that from everything else in this universe, and we call it “me” and we call it “my” and we call it “I”. And having created this distinction between inside and outside, and having completely accepted its reality, its permanence, its durability, we begin to make judgments, we begin to make value statements, be begin to decide on good and bad, right and wrong, what we like and what we don’t like.

But when we make these judgments and when we make these decisions we forget that these are based on this thing called a self, that these are subjective evaluations. And as we forget, we begin to take these judgments as being absolute. When we find something that makes us happy, that makes us comfortable, we want it, we desire it and we pursue it. When we find something that makes us uncomfortable, that’s unpleasant, we also desire, we want to be away from it, we want to avoid it.

So regardless of what situation we come across, by creating this separation between the self and other, inside and outside, by piling on top of this our subjective opinion of things—“this is good and this is bad”—we enter into a world of craving, desire. We want the things that we like, we want to be away from the things that we don’t like, that make us uncomfortable; either way, always wanting.

One of the principles that the Buddha also taught was this principle of anicca, impermanence—all things in this vast universe, all things that are of the nature to be born are of the nature to die. So, as we pursue things and people, objects, wealth, position, we pursue these things as if they’re absolute answers, they’re absolute solutions, and we say, “I’ll be happy when I have this” or “I’ll be happy when I’m in this position” or, conversely, for the things that we don’t like we say, “I’ll be happy when I’m rid of this at long last, for good.” But I don’t think any of us has come across anything in this life that has been lasting.

The money gets spent, the beauty fades, the position changes, and we find ourselves once again fundamentally dissatisfied, looking around for what it is outside ourselves that’s making us unhappy, or what it is outside of ourselves that we can get to make ourselves happy.

The third noble truth that the Buddha taught was that there is a way to end this suffering, there is a way to let go of this concept of self, there is a way dissolve, to let go of this constant craving, this constant wanting. In Zen practice we begin to take up this path, this eight fold noble path.

Our first practice, the first task that’s set before us as we practice is to first and foremost plant our feet in this moment. So when we first come in and we’re given an opportunity to be instructed in sitting meditation it’s very important to pay attention, because what we’re being guided in is not just a physical activity—how do we place our bodies so that we can sit comfortably, it is an instruction on how it is that we can begin to be born into our lives, into this moment.

We find that as we begin to engage in this practice, as we start to sit, we find how little we’re here, how little we live in our lives, how very little time we spend in this moment; constantly we’re drifting around in a world of past, in a world of future, reminiscing about a past which in all likelihood is not completely accurate, fantasizing about a future which is most likely rather ideal.

The first practice that we take up Zen is to simply become aware in this very moment—what it is that we’re doing. Entering into this moment fully we experience this activity, which in our tradition is referred to as the activity of plus and minus. The plus activity is one of arising. As we arise we recognize distinction, we recognize differentiation, we recognize the uniqueness of each thing manifest in this world. But we don’t stick there, we don’t hang on. This is the mistake of most people. We don’t take this form as something which is lasting, permanent or fixed. We don’t mistake it for something which is absolutely distinct or separate from everything else in this vast universe.

As we continue, reaching the maximum of the activity of plus, just as when we breathe in we can only breathe in so far, we can’t keep breathing in, and so this activity turns and we begin to dissolve, to manifest the minus activity, the death activity. And as we dissolve, as we melt away, as we let go of this fixation with distinction, we experience the dissolution of self. And like a wave that has crested we experience the embrace of the vastness of the ocean, we experience the embrace of the vastness of this universe, and perhaps for the first time in our lives we experience that we are not separate, we experience what we call in Zen “one true nature” or “our original face.” We experience this state which is also called unconditional love. Or if you’re so inclined, from the Buddhist perspective the manifestation of this state of zero we can understand as the experience of “God”. But in this state, there is nobody to talk about it, there’s nobody to compare and contrast, there’s nobody to talk about good or evil or right and wrong, for in this state of absolute zero not even a speck of dust is separate.

Just as we can’t keep inhaling, at once this state, this experience—zero—turns. One single speck of dust breaking apart from this complete whole and all things in this vast universe are born. The practice or Zen is not about grasping this activity as an intellectual concept, it doesn’t take very long to do that but it’s also of very little use. As we practice, as we engage in this simple activity of breathing and being aware of our breath, of living and being aware of our life, we begin to experience the activity of this universe, we begin to experience that with each breath we are born and with each breath we die.

We begin to experience that this thing that we have so strongly grasped onto and identified and taken as being solid and permanent, this “I”—with its preferences, with its choices, with its “I’m this kind of person and I’m that kind of person and I would never do that”—we stop holding onto it so tightly. And maybe, just maybe, as we practice we start to gain a glimpse of this “don’t know”. As we experience this state of “don’t know” we start to taste, we start to witness the possibility, we start to gain insight into the limitless capacity of our true nature, that these boundaries that we put upon ourselves and call “I” are just something that we choose to take up, that these inadequacies, that these things that we have taken as being outside of ourselves—both the ones we like and the ones we want to avoid—we begin to realize are not separate from us, that this idea of inside and outside is just something that we make up.

And when we start to experience this, when we start to really move beyond the concept, we wonder, “What is it then that’s missing? What it is then that there is to obtain? What is it then that there is to avoid?” When we come to this place, we realize that this very moment is our true home, we realize that this very moment has as its content everything there is, we realize that there is nowhere else to be, and in this single moment just as it is, we’re happy.

So as we head into this season, which has I think over time become more and more about what we want and what we don't want, I hope that you can all reflect on this and understand that just as we are- we’re complete, just as we are-there’s not a single thing lacking, just as we are we are whole.