Monday, November 17, 2014

Prayers that reach the gods

Step 11: Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.

Koan: "Collecting firewood and carrying water are prayers that reach the gods."
-- Layman Pang

There’s a lot of activity going on here, with both Step 11 and this koan … sought, consciousness, collecting, carrying and praying.  It’s really about our life right now.  To be truly aware of our daily activities is a gift.

·      Collecting firewood and carrying water

·      Brushing teeth and taking out the garbage

·      Going to a meeting and setting up chairs

·      Paying the water bill and emptying the cat box

The God’s will thing, I look at it this way – whatever is in front of me, whatever is happening right now, is what the Universe has presented me with.  This is my life for which I am grateful.  My thanks go to my Higher Power, the Universe … the Dharma.  Or when things go awry sometimes, caused by others or myself, it’s time for me to call for help.  “H.P, I need some help here.” This calling is prayer.  This seeking is prayer.

But first I need to be aware of matters.  Things and circumstances don’t exist unless I’m aware of them.  To be conscious of something is to be aware.  No matter what I’m doing, this doing offers a pathway, an opportunity for prayer.

As one person said last night, when I simplify work [awareness] I can listen to my heart.

Another person agreed that there is a lot going on here, a lot of stuff to do.  When I’m doing the 11th Step, it’s a form of self-caring.  When I’m collecting firewood and carrying water, this is also self-caring.  Praying and meditation is how I care for myself, too.

To be of maximum service to my Higher Power and other people, this is what we strive for.  In a village setting, collecting firewood and carrying water is a service for the common good.  Practicing Step 11 is a way to become good at helping others.  When I contribute to the greater good, it’s my prayers of action that bring about a rewarding life. 

Bill K.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Step 11 Koan comes from Layman Pang

It's November already and we're sitting with Step Eleven.  This month's koan comes from Layman Pang.  We must also remember that Mrs. Pang and especially their daughter Ling Zhao were all very accomplished teachers.

Step 11: Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.

Koan:  "Collecting firewood and carrying water are prayers that reach the gods."

Layman Pang

Layman Pang (P’ang Yun)
Pangun (Hoon)

Pang’s initial awakening was with Shih-t’ou and then later with Ma’tsu. Some would regard him a successor to both these masters. Although he remained a layman, he was well-regarded as a fine teacher wherever he and his family went:
The Layman was sitting in his thatched cottage one day [studying the sūtras]. “Difficult, difficult,” he said; “like trying to scatter ten measures of sesame seed all over a tree.” “Easy, easy,” Mrs. Pang said; “like touching
your feet to the ground when you get out of bed.” “Neither difficult nor easy,” Ling Zhao said; “…like the grasses growing. Bright, bright grass.”

Now is a perfect time to sit with this.

Bill K.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Attention, Attention, Attention

Step 10:  Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
 KOAN:  HERE'S AN OLD ZEN STORY: a student said to Master Ichu, "Please write for me something of great wisdom." Master Ichu picked up his brush and wrote one word: "Attention." The student said, "Is that all?" The master wrote, "Attention. Attention." The student became irritable. "That doesn't seem profound or subtle to me." In response, Master Ichu wrote simply, "Attention. Attention. Attention." In frustration, the student demanded, "What does this word 'attention' mean?" Master Ichu replied, "Attention means attention."

For "attention" we could substitute the word "awareness." Attention or awareness is the secret of life and the heart of practice. Like the student in the story, we find such a teaching disappointing; it seems dry and uninteresting. We want something exciting in our practice! Simple attention is boring: we ask, is that all there is to practice?

First, the student asks for “something of great wisdom”.  Here we are, sitting with Step 10 and it’s great wisdom and all that it has to offer – when we pay attention.

The teacher says “attention” once, twice, three times.  Oh how it is when we don’t pay attention.  Sometimes it takes three times.  This reminds me of one of the meetings I go to where the secretary announces, “Only bottled water is allowed in the room.”  Then it’s not uncommon, during the rest of the meeting, to see people amble in from the kitchen with a cup of coffee in their hands.  I was thinking if maybe I ought to give this koan to the secretary.

There’s a lot to pay attention to with Step 10:

·      By going about my day, and really paying attention to what’s going on regarding my actions and behavior.

·      There’s that section if the Big Book beginning with “When we retire at night, we constructively review our day.”  This requires attention.

·      By paying attention to what others are saying and noticing their body language.

·      By listening.

·      By noticing this relationship with others.

·      By noticing, perhaps I can head things off before a situation goes bad.

Master Ichu reminds me how it is when I’m not paying attention, how he eventually had to tell his student “attention -- attention, attention -- attention, attention, attention.”  By not paying attention I have missed out on things, missed hints and clues of what is happening right in front of me that would point to the next right thing.  Instead, I take a different direction; make a different choice, usually something to do with selfishness, which causes a problem to others (and myself).

There is great wisdom in Step 10, which allows us to make things right with the world.  When I am paying attention, this wisdom is right there and readily available…to promptly admit my wrongs. 


Monday, September 15, 2014

One Leads to the Other

STEP 8:  Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.


STEP 9:  Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.

Koan:  "Just as surely as the tick bird follows the rhino." *

*Julius Nyerere, The first president of Tanganyika (now Tanzania)

Here’s a koan from outside our Zen tradition that came to me via NPR (National Public Radio).  I was just driving about town, heard this quotation, and it wouldn’t leave me.  This is what koans do.  As I was sitting with tick bird and rhino, Steps 8 and 9 joined in.

Do Steps 8 and 9 really deliver as advertised? Deliver freedom?  “Just as surely as the tick bird follows the rhino.”

 ·      The story begins when the rhinos bed down at night in the thick brush.  This is a safe place for them while they sleep.  But this is also the place where ticks hang out, waiting patiently for their free meal ticket.  They climb aboard the sleeping rhinos.  In Step 8 we begin by making our list of the people we have harmed.

·      Clinging to the rhino, the ticks begin to feed on the rhino’s blood.  Even though rhinos have a thick skin, there are many tiny capillaries near the surface.  Their blood sucking is irritating to the rhino.  The list we have made is not comfortable for us to sit with either –the things we did, and the people we have hurt eats at us.

·      Along come the tick birds who specialize in eating ticks, one-by-one, upon the rhino’s back.  Because we have become willing, each amend we make relieves us from our pain.  We begin to heal.  Making amends benefits us all. It brings about our freedom.

Bill K.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Getting Drenched


August --- Potluck

Koan:  “This is the stone, drenched in rain, that points the way.”

If you recall, “Potluck” here means that instead of sitting with one particular Step, this time we sat with all the Steps, all twelve of them.  We sat for 25 minutes.

It was a small but earnest group this past Friday, six of us, who seemed to really enjoy this koan and what it brought up.  As I suspected, several of the Steps came to mind for us. 


Step 1 came to two of us – The first thing I thought of was when, at a meeting, there is someone who is obviously drunk.  “There’s a wet one over there.”  Yes indeed.  I was a wet one once.  I am the stone.

Who hasn’t been drenched in a sleeping bag?  Miserable conditions, cold, soaking wet and still hours away from dawn.  And it’s miserable to be drenched in our disease, drenched in selfishness, drenched in all that had rained down on me because of my addictive actions.

And if we’re lucky, our misery will point us to Step One.

One woman saw a glistening granite wall, the glistening being her tears.  “Much of my life has been full of tears.  Step three came to her as never before.  Her relationship with Step Three this evening was profound, “Way deeper than I have experienced before,” she said.  It’s about making a rock-solid decision! A decision that will give me a new life!

And Step 4… it’s [rock]hard to look at all my character defects…[rock]hard to realize how I have hurt others (and myself). But as these wash over me as I’m doing my 5th Step, I can see that I am pointing in the right direction…what a relief!

“I am the stone,” another said, “All my past, present and future lie in that stone. Stones just lay there on the ground.  They’re humble, just being a stone.”  She went onto say how it is when looking at a dull, dry stone; then put water on it, brings out all sorts of colors, showing the rock’s true colors and beauty…true self.  My shortcomings arise out of this beauty, too, and these revelations point the way as in Step Seven.

We have a drought right now in California, one of the worst on record.  We need rain!  The other day we had a smidgeon of dampness, not even rain; but it was enough to moisten the streets.  Just the thought of this moisture and Step 12 brought this man gratitude.  Gratitude is always nearby.

Bill K.This evening of Twelve and Zen, drenched in recovery, brought smiles to us as we departed the building.

Bill K.
P.S.  How was this koan for you?  Don’t be shy…please tell me what Step came up for you as it related to this koan.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Through the torn paper screen

Step 7:  Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.


how beautiful

through the torn paper screen
the Milky Way

What is torn for you?  What do you see when looking past your “torn-ness”? We come here torn up.  The fabric of our “self” is torn apart… hitting our bottom.  But it’s through this tear, even because of this tear, where recovery and healing begins.

With Step 5 we pray, “Take away my difficulties...” Step 7 is also about doing, an action verb, we are asking our Higher Power to remove our shortcomings.  This is where we find relief.  By doing this, we are also building our faith in our Higher Power…our Milky Way.

When we met last Friday, here is what others said about Step 7 and this koan.

·      Looking beyond the tears in my screen; with the screen being my shortcomings and the untidiness in my life.

·      With a paper screen I only see the shadows, my character defects.  The tear lets me see things in the light.

·      Low self-esteem is my character defect.

·      The paper screen is my shortcomings.  Through the hole (tear) I can see a better way (the Milky Way).  “Take the whole screen away!” A paper barrier is better than a rock barrier, I suppose.

·      Moving from wounded to wholeness, gratitude to appreciation, broken me to me the whole person, in awe of the universe – wholly participating in the Universe.

·      Shortcomings come from my shortsightedness.  I’m moving from a place of separation to connectedness.

·      I have a filter that doesn’t see the good things.  I turned this koan around. The Milky Way, through the torn paper screen, how beautiful.

Being sincere and going about our lives in a humble way is a good place to be when asking
God for help.

Bill K.

P.S. Next month will be our "pot luck" koan.  I'll give you a koan and you tell me what Step came  up for you.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Remembering the Ancestors

We all have ancestors or we wouldn’t be here today.  How fortunate this is, that we are sitting in front of a computer screen this very moment! Every single ancestor of ours survived long enough to produce offspring.  It’s really quite remarkable that we are here – that our ancestors survived saber-tooth tigers, broken legs, diseases, famine, wars, the Black Plague, monsoons, and falling off horses.

Just as our biological ancestors were survivors, so were those who brought us Zen. Not only did they have to survive as our ancestors did, there were also great obstacles in the survival of Zen Buddhism.  A couple of examples from Peter Hershock’s book Chan Buddhism will give you an idea of this.  From 755 to 764, only ten years, “…a combination of rebellion and famine left two out of every three people in the country either dead or missing., cutting the official population from 53 million to only 17 million (P. 32).”  There were several purges of Buddhism in China, one taking place from 842-845; where “…the Tang emperor Wuzong forced over a quarter of a million monks and nuns back into society at large and destroyed nearly five thousand temples and forty-thousand shrines across the country (P. 31).” Linji, our Zen ancestor, died in 866, so he experienced this large-scale purge of Buddhism. He was a survivor.  Our Zen lineage survived.

Being grateful for ancestors is important to me, and to my spiritual practice. My ancestors give me a sense of space, as in where my life fits in the jigsaw puzzle of human history. When I put on my rakusu, I feel a connection to all the ancestors in our tradition, as well as to my teacher’s dharma heirs.  My ancestors give me a sense of belonging, continuity, purpose in this life, and hope for the future.

We have biological ancestors, spiritual ancestors and there are figurative ancestors, too.  I had a career as a state park ranger for twenty-seven years. As I left home each day to go to work, stepping out the door I donned my Stetson (aka Smokey the Bear hat).   The feeling was similar to when I put on my rakusu, except it was the ranger ancestors I was feeling now, the ranger spirit from those who came before me as well as my brother and sister rangers in the world right then.

All Twelve Step programs have ancestors, too, beginning with the first 100 AA members who left us with the Big Book.  I sponsor men, I have a sponsor, he has a sponsor, and so it goes…ancestors reaching back to Bill and Bob who started AA – two drunks who wanted to stay sober but could not do it by themselves. Working together and then with newcomers, they discovered how to stay sober and live good lives.

Even our dog, Ryla, has brought her ancestors into the family.  Ryla is a product of Canine Companions for Independence (; an organization that trains dogs to be service dogs, facility dogs, hearing dogs, etc.  Not only do they train their dogs, CCI has their own breeding program in Santa Rosa, CA.  They choose the smartest and healthiest dogs to become breeders. We volunteered to become Breeder Caretakers.  Ryla had five litters in our kitchen.  We cared for the puppies until they were about 8 weeks old – then the pups are sent all over the U.S. to volunteer Puppy Raisers for about a year and a half.  After that the dogs go into advanced training at the nearest CCI facility.  Almost 50% of Ryla’s puppies graduated to become service dogs.

Kyra, Ryla, Wyla and Dyla
The ancestor part began by meeting Ryla’s mom, Kyra and her Breeder Caretakers.  Then, from Ryla’s third litter came Wyla who was chosen to become a breeder with a different family. And Wyla, from her fifth litter had Dyla.  Yes, you guessed it; Dyla is now a breeder.  In fact, she just had her first litter a few weeks ago.  Kyra, Ryla, Wyla, Dyla, and the legacy continue – thanks to their ancestors and those who cared for them.

My family, my Zen family, my 12-Step family, my parks family and even my CCI family – I can’t have family without ancestors.  This collection of ancestor wisdom is always available to me, when I listen and pay attention. Remembering ancestors or those who feel like ancestors is a good thing.   Thanking them for all they went through and having conversations with them is a powerful gesture of love that, in some ways, connects us all.

Thank you Grandma Moore; thank you Linji; thank you Park Director Mott; thank you Bill W.; thank you Kyra.

Bill K.