Wednesday, September 16, 2009


Transcribed from a talk given September 2, 2008.

The school of Zen that I was trained in is called, in Japanese, Nyorai Zen. Nyorai is the Japanese word for the Sanskrit tathāgata. This is a Sanskrit word that means “thus coming, thus going”. It is one of the titles of the historical Buddha, and it was the term that the historical Buddha himself used to refer to himself- “The one who has thus come, the one who has thus gone”. In Buddhism, we often talk about the investigation of this thing that we call self; this construct that we call “I am”. One fundamental principles of Buddhism or Zen is that it is our fixation, our obsession, our unquestioning acceptance of the permanent, lasting existence of a self that leads us to suffer.

Thus coming, and thus going. This moment that arises before us has as its content these two fundamental activities. Thus coming, and thus going. They are expressed in many different ways in Zen practice. We can talk about them as the activity of plus, and the activity of minus, the activity of birth, and the activity of death. As we go through our lives we have this tendency to continuously fixate one side or the other. We can talk about plus and minus, birth and death and past and future, inside and outside, unification and diversification. We’re always fixating on one side or the other. We always want to grasp on to one, or to judge one as being better and the other as being something to be avoided. We’re always running, and charging, and seeking one and trying to avoid the other.

I find September is a very interesting month, particularly the beginning of September because for many people, it can experientially demonstrates a moment...this moment...every holding both of these activities of plus and minus simultaneously. It is the end of summer...and so we’re sad to see it go. Simultaneously we are excited for the sparkling newness as of the fall season, the anticipation of what it has to offer.

Which do you fixate on? Which are you denying, avoiding?

For me, September second is always an interesting day, and this year, in particular, it is a very strong one in that it very much contains both of these aspects for me. Today at the Victoria Zen Centre we began the first day of a residential program for a student in the Zen Centre.

So we have a student living at the Victoria Zen Centre with myself and my family and this morning we began training. Also this morning was my son’s first day of grade three at school so a new routine and dropping him off to see his friends. September second is also the anniversary of my mother’s death when I was nine years old, so September second is this day where I can personally have this tendency to fixate or to want to block out certain aspects of this moment, certain aspects of what it is that I’m feeling or what it is that this moment gives rise to.
So in practice as we sit, as we awaken into this moment to become familiar, to embrace all that it has to offer, this practice is one of realizing the capacity of our minds, of our hearts to accept and to embrace this seeming paradox, tath-agata, tatha-agata, “thus coming and thus going”.

Our tendency is to always view these two directions, these two activities as in opposition, opposed to one another. We always have this desire or this habit of feeling like we always have to pick, choose, or judge one as being right or wrong. We always are opposing life and death, but it is birth and death that compose life. This moment, as I keep saying over and over again, has as it’s content all things and it’s important that as we practice, as we engage in simply sitting, bringing our body and our breath and our hearts and our minds into this moment that we embrace the completion of this moment which has as it’s content all things...the activity of plus, the activity of minus, the activity of birth, the activity of death, the in-breath and the out-breath. All of the things that you like, and want, and enjoy, and desire...and all the things that repel you...that you want to avoid, and that you want to get away from.

In this moment, as we practice together...let go. Let go of your judgement...let go of your choices...let go of your thinking mind...good this, and bad that. Simply embrace this moment just as it is. Complete. Whole. Just as it is, this very moment lacks nothing. Just as you are, you lack nothing.

Where is it that you need to go? What is it that you need to feel better? What is it that you think you’re lacking? Already in this moment...just as it is...there isn’t one thing lacking.

As we practice together in the we practice together in we awaken to this we focus on our breath and open ourselves to this moment, we can, ourselves, experience the completion of this vast universe in this moment.

But what happens when we stand up, and we walk out into the world? For the most part we forget our own experience. We stick to old habit patterns of “I need this” and “I need to get rid of that”, of “I like this and I don’t like that”. We are beginning a new year and so I encourage all of you to remember this practice that we are doing right here and now. It’s something that can go with you wherever you go. It’s no further away from you than your breath. When you find yourself getting sucked into thinking “I like this”...”I don’t like that”...”I want this”... “I want to be away or rid of that”... simply return to your breath. Breathing in...breathing out. The activity of plus and minus. Tath-agata...tatha-agata. Thus coming, and thus going. If you’re able to remember this, if you’re able to connect with this practice as you go through your day to day lives, then you can say that you’re practicing Zen.

Registration for the October Introduction to Zen Meditation courses at the Victoria Zen Centre is underway. Visit our website for more information.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009


Transcribed from a talk given December 9, 2008
Yesterday, December 8th, is, in the tradition that we come from, what is called in Japanese, Jodo-e, or Awakening Day. This is the commemoration of the awakening of the historical Buddha Shakyamuni. We haven’t established the ceremony that recognizes this yet in the Victoria Zen Centre... it takes some time before the depth of community develops to be able to acknowledge the traditional ceremony days in Buddhism, but I just wanted to say a few words about Awakening Day and how to practice with awakening.

The Buddha came to sit under the Bodhi tree, he sat for, they say 7 days at this point and this is the reason in our tradition we have these - “intensives” we call them here- traditionally they are five or seven days. In December it’s called the Rohatsu or the 8th of December retreat, and the reason that we have these seven day intensives is because it is said that for seven days the Buddha sat under this Bodhi tree and he faced all of his doubts and all of his temptations and difficulties. For those of us who just got back from our December five-day intensive on Saturna Island I think that we recognize some of these temptations and difficulties from our sit. It’s said that on the morning of the eighth day he saw the morning star rising in the sky and had a great realization and exclaimed, “Wonder of wonders, fundamentally we are all already awake but we don’t know it, we don’t realize it!”

This statement is of crucial importance for us as we practice Zen. We grow up always thinking about ourselves, always concerned about who we are, always trying to define and clarify what it is that we are inside this person. We get better and better at doing that as we get older, and we’re encouraged to more and more specifically define who it is that we are, what it is that we believe in, things that we like and don’t like.

By doing this, by fixating this idea of a self, by identifying ourselves with a group of habits or preferences or likes and dislikes we create this wall, this barrier between what’s inside and what’s outside, and we use this barrier to keep out all of the stuff that we don’t like and we use this barrier to keep in all of the stuff that we do like.

But inevitably, when we create this mind-based artificial separation, we find that what is inside is somehow always less than what is outside. We become susceptible...we become easily fooled into the idea of wanting. When we’re children we say...and I think this is a great time of the year to observe this, when we have the opportunity to see the longing for things, for toys or there is a tremendous sense of dissatisfaction or upset at the idea of not obtaining what it is that we want...whether it’s the latest album, toy or whatever... “I CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT IT... I’LL DIE IF I DON”T GET IT … I’D BETTER GET IT FOR CHRISTMAS OR MY YEAR WILL BE MISERABLE!!”

So, we can look at that, we can kind of chuckle to ourselves sand say “Oh, those silly kids. Always so attached to stuff, they just want objects, they just want their toys or they’ll be so upset.” But as we grow up, the way that we deal with what we perceive as being outside doesn’t change so much. We’re able to disguise it a little more cleverly...we’re able to disguise our emotions... we’re a little quieter...we’re not so open about how we feel...but fundamentally our attitude towards stuff that we perceive as being external to us doesn’t change.

As we start to get a little bit older, start going into high school, having boyfriends or girlfriends, we say, “If I don’t get to go out with her or him, I’ll just die!” We say things like, “Oh, this person completes me”. Or, as we get older maybe it’s a job, “Oh, if I could only get this great job, everything would be great and I’d be happy”... and we continue to behave like this young child at Christmas time.

A lot of the time we don’t get what we think we need. We don’t get what it is we think we want. Even if we do get what it is that we think that we want and need, we find that after a short period of time the sense of completion, the sense of success...of satisfaction...diminishes, and we start to look outside again for what it is that we figure we need. Even when it comes to practising meditation, when we come to some kind of tradition...we’re always looking for spirituality or something deeper or some kind of sense of higher purpose or greater fulfillment.

But when we look at it...what we fall into again is this young child mind of “Oh, I’ll be happy if I can just get this...” When we look at our desire, when we look at our way of pursuing it, we’re always looking at it as being something which is outside. If I can just get something from this spiritual tradition or if I can just bring something into my life which is missing I’ll be happy, satisfied, fulfilled and whatever term you want to use.

The Buddha’s realization...the Buddha’s that you’re not missing anything! There is nothing wrong...there is nothing absent...there is nothing outside that you need to grasp and take possession of and bring in. Already...just as you are complete. Already, this moment has as its content all things... there isn’t a single speck of dust that’s missing. Already, these two things that you take as inside and outside are not separate. Fundamentally, they are already one.

This idea of inside and outside, subject and object, is one that we create with our mind...that we confirm and acknowledge with our mind...that we fixate with our mind. We run around making relationships, making decisions, making a livelihood based on this understanding of the world as having an inside and an outside.

So, this proclamation, “Wonder of wonders, fundamentally we are all already awake but we don’t realize it!” it doesn’t sound like such a big deal. But when we actually look at how we interact with one another, how we interact with this world, we realize that the shift that is required in our perspective couldn’t be bigger.

The way that we look at the world as being outside of us, the way that we look at other people as being separate from us, different from us...we have to let go of this in practice, we have to come to see that while we are different, already we are one.

So this sit, this opportunity we have together tonight is the last sit of 2008 here at UVic. We’ll start back on the 6th of January, and each activity that we do tonight, and every night here, is an opportunity for us to experience what it is to be apart, separate from the activity that we’re doing, to be an individual person who is sitting, and it offers us the opportunity to let go of this concept of separation and to dissolve into unification, one true nature, through sitting, through chanting, through walking together. Even through this activity of listening to somebody speak, we can experience the dissolution of three, subject, object and distance... into one. We have the opportunity to realize for ourselves this moment as complete, as not lacking. We have the opportunity to find our true home in this very moment.

Thank you all for coming this year and I hope to see you all again in 2009.