Tuesday, August 23, 2016

"Pot Luck" Time...What Step Will You Bring?

It’s “Pot Luck” time.  “Pot Luck”, not as in bringing food, but instead, bringing a Step with you instead.

What Step(s) comes to you when sitting with this koan?  This is what you’ll bring to the group for discussion.  

Koan: A monk asked Tung Shan, “When cold and heat come, how can we avoid them?
Shan said, “Why don’t you go to the place where there is no cold or heat?
The monk said, “What is the place where there is no cold or heat?
Tung Shan said, “When it’s cold, the cold kills you; when it’s hot, the heat kills you.”

Remember that gave we played when we were kids, where something was hidden in a room? One person was “It” (that would be you) looking for the hidden piece.  Getting nearer to it brought the shouts of “You’re getting warm.” The closer you got, the warmer you would become.  Very close brought, “You’re getting very very hot!”

And the opposite was true.  As you moved away from the hidden piece, “You’re getting cooler,” was the call. “You’re freezing,” meant you were nowhere close to finding the prize.

This searching game was where the koan took me.  A silly kid’s game.

Then Step 4 appeared, to be in the thick of things, going through my past. The heat intensifies.  No time for shortcuts, I’ve got to endure this heat, knowing that it’s the heat that’s needed to cook the ingredients. Think of Step 4 as gathering the ingredients for a stew and turning up the heat.  If I don’t look at my past in an honest fashion, the stew isn’t going to be very nourishing for Step 5.  There nothing more satisfying than a bowl of hot stew.

Some can’t stand the heat of Step 4 and leave the fellowship, only to remain in the cold – going back to the old ways that we know may lead to a cold corpse, your own corpse.

“What is the place where there is no cold or heat?” Not being afraid of the past nor wishing to shut the door on it.

One of our “regulars” was could not attend this month because he was in the hospital. He had been carrying this koan around with him before the hospital experience:  “I was thinking of the koan in terms of attachment and aversion.  Go to the place where there is no hot or cold?  In other words let go of your desire to be cool when your environment gets hot.  And vice versa.  And I was relating that to "practicing these principles in all our affairs."

After his hospital experience:  I found myself going to a place of non-perception.   That is what seemed to happen to me. It wasn't just that I lost consciousness (which I did).  But in the (probably) nano-seconds of return, I found myself seeing but not seeing, hearing but not hearing.  And then consciousness would return.  These episodes repeated quite a number of times, and each time I went thru that "seeing, yet not seeing; hearing, yet not hearing," experience.

See, our regular friend who  wasn’t with us, was really with us, koan and all.

Bill K.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Step 7 and an Overturned Water Bottle

Step 7:  Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.  [Humility]

Case 40 from The Gateless Barrier, Kuei-shan Kicks Over the Water Bottle

When Kuei-shan was with Pai-chang’s assembly, he was cook of the monastery.  Pai-chang wanted to choose a founding teacher for Mount Ta-kuei.  He invited all his monks to make a presentation, saying, “The outstanding one will be sent.” Then he took a water bottle and set it on the floor, and said, “Don’t call this a water bottle. What would you call it?”

         The head monk said, “It can’t be called a wooden clog.”

         Pai-chang then asked Kuei-shan his opinion.  Kuei-shan kicked over the water bottle and walked out.

         Pai’chang laughed and said, “The head monk loses.” Kuei-shan thereupon was made the founding teacher at Mount Ta-kuei.

 “At first I resisted this koan because I couldn’t relate it to Step Seven,” one person said, “But then I found the koan following me around.  A word here, a phrase there would pop into my head.  You could see the head monk wanted to win.  His response seemed so calculated, as if he spent a lot of time trying to come up with just the right words to please his teacher and ultimately win.

But the second monk, the cook, his response was obviously ‘outside the box’.  This is how I need to respond to Step 7. I need to stop playing these duality games; this is my old way of thinking (I am good or I am bad). Good-bad, right-wrong, God accepts all of me.  That’s what God is taking away.  I need to accept all of me, too, the good and the bad.  God is Love.  He doesn’t care about good and bad, he cares about all of me with no judging.”

I’m presently working with a sponsee on this Step, so I found myself reading in the 12 and12 where it reads:

1)      “…the attainment of humility is the foundation principle of each of AA’s Twelve Steps.”  (12 x 12. Step 7)

2)      Buddhism sees humility as a virtue where only a humble mind can readily recognize its own defilements (shortcomings, defects of character, etc.).

I see this, as the head monk feeling pretty good about himself and the “thought” of his brilliant response, his intellect and ego the driving force, thinking of himself as better than Kuei-shan. He was not acting in a humble nature.

Kuei-shan, on the other hand, expressed in his actions what the water bottle really is, in its highest form.  You want to really see water bottle, look at this! Tumbling in the air, water scattering everywhere.  THIS is not calling it water bottle – This IS water bottle!

Kuei-shan’s response came not from his thinking, but from his heartfelt response to the question.  This is how we go about asking our Higher Power to remove our shortcomings. Not by using a bunch of clever words; instead, we’re beginning to learn how to "kick over" our old ways of looking at our shortcomings and ourselves and trusting our HP that who I am today is OK.  Step Seven puts me on the winning side.

Bill K.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Step 6:  Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.  [Willingness]

Koan:  Who is hearing?

We came about this koan in two different ways on Friday.

I came to focus upon "hearing".  When I’m talking to someone standing in front of me, I expect that person to hear what I say, mainly because I am seeking a response. I pretty much know if they hear what I am saying by looking in their eyes and noticing their expressions and gestures; and especially if they respond accordingly.

Let’s say I’ve been told someone is nearby but I can’t see them.  Calling out, I think they hear me but I can’t be sure. I call out again because it’s important that they hear me.   This is what it’s like to pray to my Higher Power. It’s where faith appears, even the tiniest smidgeon will do…not knowing but ready to do this anyway; then wait to see where the results take me.

I confess, this is a Step where I can easily forget its importance.  When wrestling with my defects it eventually dawns on me.  Yes, Step Six! I can ask my HP to remove these barriers.  Step 6 is a wisdom gate.

But there’s more.  After my conversation with God, “I pause.” Now is the time to listen in order to hear.

Others in our group focused upon the “Who”. “Who is experiencing the experience?  Who is experiencing the barriers between self and God?

When I can summon up the God consciousness within, it raises my own consciousness where I can practice Step 6 and not act out with old habits.

“Teach me how to listen, teach me what to hear,” Dale said.  We can’t really hear when we’re judging what others are speaking.

From the GRAPEVINE: "When I begin to look where the answer really is -- inside of me -- I get a sense of 'rightness' when I speak or hear the truth. Step Six helps me develop a sense of intuition that I can truly count on."

Fort Myers, Fla., June 2009
"I'm No Saint!," Step By Step

Bill K

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Retreating Resentments -- My 12 & Zen in Action

When 12 & Zen met in May, I posted Step 5 and the koan we used; but I didn’t have time to write a commentary because I was off to a five-day sesshin (Zen Retreat). What follows is an example of how my 12 & Zen practice came to my rescue, saved me from certain angst, and provided me a rejuvenated outlook in “having joy in each other’s joy.”

I had been sitting about a day with following two koans from a second cycle of the 5 ranks of Dongshan, koans that Daiun Harada had added to his curriculum in the early 20th century.  They are a separate series of poems of Dongshan, not originally linked to the first series. 

Koan 4. Enlightenment of all beings

Ordinary beings and Buddhas don’t mingle together.
Mountains are naturally high, waters are naturally deep.
The infinite distinctions, the endless differences show –
where partridges sing, the flowers are in bloom.

Koan 5. Enlightenment upon enlightenment

When your head sprouts horns, you can’t stand it anymore,
When you think “I’ll seek the Buddha,” it’s time to watch out.
In the era of emptiness, the view is clear, there is no one to see –
why go south in search of the sages?

I was soaking in these two koans, feeling as close to them as a lid fits its box, and asking myself, “Is anything missing now?”

Then, while up in my room, just before we were to meet again in the zendo for a talk, I took a peek at my iPad, mainly to see if there was a message from my wife.  She did.

“Missing you...mostly my part at this moment is with the girl [our dog] snoring softly next to me. XXXOOO to you on your cushion.


Then I noticed a message from my blog, a comment from someone, so I took a look.

Oh my… I thought, “How did he ever draw this conclusion?” The bell rang.  I needed to hurry downstairs to the zendo for the afternoon talk.  I felt a resentment brewing…and gaining momentum.

Early in Megan’s talk I heard the words, “…we all have Buddha-nature.”  I gazed about the room and thought, “I do have Buddha-nature; everyone in this room has Buddha-nature; even, even, even Antlion has Buddha-nature!  How did that thought pop into my mind?  He does have Buddha-nature, and with that thought I could feel the supports being kicked out from under the resentment platform I was building.  What transpired was even more amazing.

·      One of the earlier koans kicked in:  “When your head sprouts horns, you can’t stand it anymore.”  How quickly resentments appear, under all conditions.

·      Next Torei Enji appeared in his Bodhisattva’s Vow:  Even though someone may be a fool, we can be compassionate.  If someone turns against us, speaking ill of us and treating us bitterly, it’s best to bow down: this is the Buddha appearing to us, finding ways to free us from our own attachments – the very ones that have made us suffer again and again and again.”

These were not mere words.  Flowing over me like warm honey, I felt the Buddha and realized what was shown to me.  The resentment left me.  Even when I tried to bring it up, each feeble effort wouldn’t stick to anything.  There were no ill feelings toward Antlion anymore.

The next day during the “Remembrance” sutra, the Chant Leader ends with, “We especially dedicate our service to: (each person in the room speaks names of personal dedications). It’s incredibly moving and powerful to speak out loud the names of people I care about to hear the names being spoken by others.  Without thinking I heard myself say, “Antlion.”

I truly wish him the greater good and thanked him for what he gave to me at this retreat; and to realize his generosity by giving the book to the Goodwill.

Regarding Antlion’s comments about my book, perhaps he missed where I wrote, “If you are in a Twelve Step program, any 12 Step program, then this little book is for you.”

And, “…what I offer here is not a substitute for an official 12 Step meeting nor a replacement of working the Steps with a sponsor.”

In the chapter “The Steps and Koans Working Together,” only the original AA Steps are used.

“But included here are two other versions of the 12 Steps.  I think you will see the value in them, especially when speaking to a mixed audience.” In the chapter “Other Possibilities” under “Working with a Mixed Audience” is an example of using a koan with the other versions.

By mixed audience I mean people in and out of 12-Step programs.  Some people are just curious. When I introduce 12 and Zen to an audience, I make it very clear that what we are doing is not an AA meeting.

Yes, AA put together the Twelve Steps, borrowing a little here and a little there from other sources.  We know that working these 12 Steps can bring joy and fulfillment to lives.  Why shouldn’t people who are not alcoholics or addicts benefit from a version of the 12 Steps?

May the next reader(s) of that book find what I have found – that koans will help broaden their relationship with the 12 Steps.

In the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, the contributors emphasized the importance of reading the book with an open mind by including the warning paragraph about contempt prior to investigation.  There’s an old Zen saying, “Don’t disparage the sky by looking at it through a tube.” This is exactly the same way I hope you would read my book; looking for the greatest possibilities with a big mind.

Student:  What is Zen?
Teacher: It’s alive!

Sponsee:  What is a 12-Step program?
Sponsor:  It’s alive!

It’s our practice that brings us happiness, joy, and freedom.  Isn’t it great to be alive?

Bill K.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Step 5:  Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.

Koan:  The moon is bright, the water is pure, the autumn sky is clear; Is there a single cloud which stains this vast clarity?

Poem: Case 32, Transmitting the Light

It’s another “admitted” Step (like Step One).   Admitting is another recognition of powerlessness and because of this, I’m actively building upon my relationship with my Higher Power.

Whatever amount of trust, it only takes a smidge. Sitting with my inventory, I have two choices:  Do I hold back and hide certain parts, not telling my sponsor everything?  Or do I again surrender, this time to a brightness that’s present in Step Five (although we can't see this yet)?

Here we have a koan that’s painting a beautiful picture, one we've all seen.  Step 5 is laying down a foundation for building our lives.  We can’t see it yet, much less experience how our life will be.  It certainly doesn’t feel beautiful, carrying around our undisclosed Fourth Step material.  In our discussion, Daniel exclaimed, “I’m the stain!”

Is there a single cloud which stains this vast clarity of completing Step Five? The dedicated old timers will tell you their lives are as beautiful as this koan.

When working the Steps with my sponsor, this was the first Step where I felt a relief.  I no longer had to carry my burden alone.  A weight was lifted.

 Bill K.

NOTE:  Regarding the comment from Antlion below, please see my 5/22 posting: "Retreating Resentments -- My 12 & Zen in Action" commentary.

Monday, April 11, 2016

It's Hot In Here!

Step 4:  Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

Koan: A monk asked Tung Shan, “When cold and heat come, how can we avoid them?
Shan said, “Why don’t you go to the place where there is no cold or heat?
The monk said, “What is the place where there is no cold or heat?
Tung Shan said, “When it’s cold, the cold kills you; when it’s hot, the heat kills you.”

Some say Step 4 is the first action Step; where we begin doing something that will lead to a better life, by changing our old ways.  Otherwise, if we’re lucky, our old transgressions will continue gnawing away at our heart.  Not wanting to feel this way, we attempt to lock these thoughts away in a deep freeze. In Step 4, we stir things up – stirring produces friction – friction produces heat – this heat produces pain.  Arrrgh! Where can I go where there is no cold or heat?

·      Looking into the actions of my past is uncomfortable and troublesome. It’s too hot! The fire fighter, with appropriate equipment, resources,  and protection, plunges into the burning building.  This is what we're doing first,  taking inventory of the "burning" landscape and conditions of our past because they are affecting my feelings today.  And I don't like what I'm feeling!

·      Doing Step 4 is another acknowledgement of the "unmanageability" we recognized in Step One and the insanity we would like relieved in Step Two.

·      It’s when I can admit my part, accept what happened, see my faults, and be willing to continue the Steps – This is the place where the discomfort changes.  The heat or cold of my past actions begin to dissipate.

·      By accepting my past as it truly was, the person complaining has died.  The new recovering "me" has been reborn.

Regarding right speech, the Buddha suggested we ask ourselves three questions: Is what I am about to say kind? Is it the truth? Is it necessary?  As we search within, these same three questions are helpful in setting the tone for our Step 4 inventory.  In our discussion, we all agreed.  Finding a kind heart for ourselves as we continue working the Steps is right thought and action.

Bill K.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Not thinking of anything good and anything bad

Step 3:  Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.

Koan: When you're not thinking of anything good and anything bad, at that moment, what is your original face? Show me your original face before your parents were born.

This koan (and Step Three?) is about dissolving duality?

- - -

Our free will works very well in certain situations. Say I’m standing on a corner, a bus is coming, and I choose not to step in front of this moving bus.  Good choice!

What are we being asked here, a riddle?   “…Not thinking of anything good and anything bad,” it’s a set up, of course, we all judge things.  And then the koan asks us to go to a place before our parents were born, which doesn’t at all seem possible.

Oh, now I remember, original face -- this is my true self.  It can only be found right here.  Not only that, my true self is already completely aligned with God’s will, and it’s not.  Said another way, form is emptiness; emptiness is form.  The bus I mentioned earlier, we could say that it’s empty of form; but had I stepped into the path of this formless bus, it would have shmooshed me. Form and emptiness happen at the same time – this is life.  God’s will and my will are happening at the same time, this is also life.

Since my true self only occupies this present moment, my personal view of the “will of the Universe” or “God’s will” etc., is to notice what is happening in the moment. The Universe is presenting itself to me through my mind and senses.  This is God’s will appearing to me.  My job is to pay attention and be aware of my surroundings.

When I’m “not thinking of anything good and anything bad” is a pretty good place to be – perhaps we could call it neutral will, and a gate to God’s will.  When I’m in God’s will; surrendering to the moment; it’s like going with the flow; there is no inner conflict; my mind is clear. The Buddhist Eightfold Path comes to mind, such as practicing right thought, right action, right intentions, etc.; when I feel in my gut that my thoughts and actions are matching the Eightfold Path (to the best of my ability), I find myself in a place of non-duality and peace.

Continuing from last month with the topic of birth, something much bigger was present. Myriad forces about, working in all directions when we were born. The mother reacts to the elements of giving birth and surrenders to the forces at hand. Mother and child are completely practicing the Way.

Aren’t we being [re] born every second of the day?  Each new moment is a birth – this moment, now this moment, now this moment. Isn’t this our only place of practice?  This is what I believe in, every unfolding minute is my life.  This Great Unfolding is what I’ve come to believe in.  And at the same time realizing when I’m in conscious communion with my Higher Power (the Great Unfolding), there is no separation between the Way and me.

Bill K.