Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Steps 9 and 10 -- it's dark outside...

  

 

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: Te-shan visited Lung-t’an and questioned him sincerely far into the night.  It grew late and Lung-t’an said, ”Why don’t you retire?” Te-shan made his bows and lifted the blinds to withdraw, but was met by darkness.  Turning back he said, “It is dark outside.”

Lung-t’an lit a paper candle and handed it to Te-shan.  Te-shan was about to take it when Lung-t’an blew it out.  At this, Te-shan had sudden realization and made bows.

[Case 28 The Gateless Barrier by Robert Aitken]

 

 

First Te-shan spoke that it was dark outside, words describing what he was seeing. This is like Step 8 when we think about the people we have harmed and write down our list. Thoughts about our past behavior also have a darkness to them. In doing our Step 4 and 5, we sat with this darkness. 

 


When Lung-tan blew out the candle, all that was left was darkness. Te-san could never have predicted what would come next. He became the darkness, no words about the darkness. This is like Step 9. With our actions, we become Step 9, a darkness of sorts, where our perceptions are unreliable and we find ourselves not knowing. We don’t know what will happen, but we do it anyway, trusting the process and continuing on with the amends. As or Step 9 progresses, holy smokes! Light begins to pour in. Without the dark, there cannot be light. 

Bill K.







Sunday, August 1, 2021

August/September -- It's Dark Outside -- Steps 8 and 9

 

Greetings My Friends:

A little more than one-third of summer has passed. Hope you are well. Now we get down to making amends...


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: Te-shan visited Lung-t’an and questioned him sincerely far into the night.  It grew late and Lung-t’an said, ”Why don’t you retire?” Te-shan made his bows and lifted the blinds to withdraw, but was met by darkness.  Turning back he said, “It is dark outside.”

Lung-t’an lit a paper candle and handed it to Te-shan.  Te-shan was about to take it when Lung-t’an blew it out.  At this, Te-shan had sudden realization and made bows.

 

Case 28 The Gateless Barrier by Robert Aitken


Bill K.

Saturday, July 10, 2021

Step 6 and 7 and Falling Into a Well



Step 6:  Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character. Step 7:  Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.  


Koan: What is the way?

The clearly awakened person falls into a well.

~ Baling’s Three Turning Phrases, The Blue Cliff Record, case 13 commentary.

Here in Northern California, reservoirs are at record low levels; rivers have become creeks; and wells are going dry.  It’s July and any chance for rain is 3-4 months away (if we’re lucky). They call this a mega drought. The city of Santa Rosa has a mandate to cut water use by 20%. Water, essential for our very lives, we’ve got to make due with what’s being offered.

Steps 6 and 7, too, are essential for our recovery; but at times I forget they are available. And unlike a dry well with nothing to give, Step 7 is always abundantly full of offerings, full of relief from my selfish characteristics.


“Who isn’t falling into a well, pretty much all the time?” writes Jon Joseph Roshi of San Mateo Zen Community. Taking back my will, returning to selfish actions, falling into the well of old alcoholic thinking, and hurting others and myself. My “program” starts to faulter – this could lead to my downfall or even death, as certain as going without water.

With Step 6 I become ready to have my Higher Power’s help. With our drought, am I willing to do my part to conserve water? With Step 7-like action, I believe that collectively we citizens of Santa Rosa can get through these water difficulties.

In this wonderful world of koans and how they can turn things upside down, Jon gives the example when a student once asked Yunmen: "When it’s not the things I can see, and it’s not what they’re doing, what is it?” Yunmen responded, “Say it backwards.” And Caoshan once asked Elder De: “How do you explain the principle of response?” De said, “It’s like a donkey looking into a well.” Caoshan replied. “You said a lot, but that is only eighty percent of it,” adding, “It is like the well looking at the donkey.”

Let’s turn our koan upside down.  When I fully embrace Steps 6 and 7, with no reservations, I’m giving myself permission to be human, to realize my mistakes and allow [the well of] 6 and 7 to fall into me.

As Jon said, we all fall into the well. When I forget about these Steps, I become accident prone. Willfully ignoring these Steps is certain guarantee to fall in. And at other times when practicing AA principles, my self-induced barriers dissolve, allowing the well to fall into me. How could this be?

“Nothing, absolutely nothing, happens in God’s world by mistake.” BB Page 417

Bill K.







 

Wednesday, June 2, 2021

June/July Koan For Steps 6 and 7

 Greetings All:


Watch your step ... when sitting with 6 and 7...

Bill


Step 6:  Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character. Step 7:  Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.  

 

 

Koan: What is the way?

The clearly awakened person falls into a well.

~ Baling’s Three Turning Phrases, The Blue Cliff Record, case 13 commentary.

Monday, May 17, 2021

Steps Four and Five, Give up recollection!


 More than twice as long as my usual posts, this koan and stories have a lot to say, showing how my Zen and 12-Step practice complement each other.

 

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

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

 

Koan: Give up recollection!


What limit is there to the pure wind circling the earth?   

(Hseuh tou, 980-1052)

Once you give up recollecting, what will become of the affairs you busy yourselves with? Here and now the pure wind is circling the earth. Throughout heaven and earth, what is there that is limited? She picks up the numberless concerns of all ages and throws them down before you. This is not confined to this time. What limit is there? All of you—what limit is there on your part?   (Yuanwu, 1063-1135) 

Rachel Mansfield-Howlett, Roshi, gave us this koan passage to sit with in late March. It flew off into my mind as Steps 4 and 5.

 These two Steps are critical to recovery. At the same time, frought with the agony of our past and overwhelming fear from what others may think of us, we often balk at these Steps. This is where our sponsor steps in – to guide us through the process and convince us there is relief and hope in our future. 

Nearing the end of my drinking career, the not liking who I had become was gnawing on me and I was gnawing back. If only I hadn’t flunked out of college after my freshman year, I might have graduated in 1967 or 68. If only I hadn’t crashed the car; if only I hadn’t been more responsible with the money Grandma gave us for our wedding; if only I hadn’t crossed that line to alcoholism; if only I had spent more time with our boys…these are the things I would think about, over and over, recollecting, in a dark room, drinking until such thoughts were blurred away by booze -- every night.

And now my sponsor wants me to write down all the ways I’ve hurt and wronged others, then share these details with him? The short answer is yes, this is how it works if I want to stay sober. 

A wonderful man who has since passed away, Bob G., frequently reminded us, “We’re only as sick as our secrets.” Just the thought of what these Steps are asking of us causes some people to return to the drink - - they can’t be completely honest with their sponsor nor themselves.

When thinking about my drinking past, yes, I am recollecting my wrongdoings; but not with the hamster wheel of despair. Now there’s a purpose. When I could see them written out on paper, they no longer had the emotional pull as before, no more gnawing on them. I was discovering who I became as a result of drinking – now I learn about the new, recovering Bill K., or as they say in meetings, “What God had intended me to be.” 

“Once you give up recollecting, what will become of the affairs you busy yourself with?” If we’ve done a thorough job of putting all our wrong doings on paper, we don’t have to think about them in the ways we used to. The endless loop of self-criticism is broken when we take ownership of our actions and continue on with the Steps with a sponsor.

 Now to bring Hsiang-yen (d.898) and Yuanwu into our conversation; both no slackers when it came to recollection, they both had vast knowledge about Zen. One would think this would be helpful, but instead it became a liability.

Hsian-yen was an intellectual. First he studied under Pai-chang (720-814). After Paichang died, he studied under Kuei-shan (771-853). Kuei-shan told him that all his knowledge is not much use, you don’t understand the meaning of Zen. Then his teacher said, “I really have nothing to teach you. Whatever understanding I have is my own and will never be yours.” 

Hsian-yen left upset and disallusioned.  Hearing that the tomb of Nan-yang had been neglected, he became the caretaker. He gave up on his focus on recollecting vast knowledge, and began attending to the garden, with simple tasks, like sweeping the pathways. Sweeping practice. 

One day while sweeping as he had done a thousand times before, his broom picked up a pebble and flung it across the path where it collided with a thick bamboo stem. “Tock,”  Upon hearing this “tock”, he became awaked to all things.  

Excitedly, he rushed back to Kuei-shan to tell him of his experience, in the form of a poem. Kuei-shan was pleased, but his senior disciple, Yang-shan (807-883), was not. Hsian-yen wrote another poem. Again they were not convinced of his insight, so he wrote a third poem. Yang-shan approved this poem.

Hsiang-yen returned to monastery life, but as an independent teacher. His teachings were clear:

A monk asked Hsian-yen, “What is Hsian-yen’s mind?”      

         Hsian-yen said, “Plants and trees are not abundant."

 Yuanwu wan an intellectual, too. . As a youngster they say Yuanwu could memorize 1000 characters a day! He also became frustrated that all his knowledge didn’t bring about awakening. [We see this in the rooms of AA, don’t we, where really smart people often have a difficult time grasping our simple concepts.] Wuzu Fayan, his teacher, told him, “You are full of knowledge, but lack understanding.” 

Yuanwu left in anger. Eventually he returned, and over years of training and practice (setting his knowledge and recollecting aside) became Fayan’s heir. From around 1112 onward, he began lecturing about the countryside on the 100 cases (koans) that Hseuh tou had collected five generations before.

 It was Yuanwu who eventually put all of these koans into a book, along with his commentaries. The koan I’ve used here comes from the Blue Cliff Record, the earliest book of koans, along with Yuanwu’s commentary (Page 8). Some say it’s perhaps the most important koan book written; and we still study it today, thanks to Yuanwu ‘s great knowledge and his awakened experience. 

I see a parallel with our process of working Steps 4 and 5, and continuing Steps 6-12, relying on our Higher Power and making amends. It’s here that we are awakened to see ways using our past experiences to change ourselves and benefit others.

 

“What limit is there to the pure wind circling the earth,” asked Hseuh Tou?

 

·      Hsian-yen, having let go of his vast Zen knowledge, while sweeping in the garden he had his great awakening that eventually led him to become an effective Zen teacher. - - Alcoholics, when we gather, acknowledge, and admit our wrong doings to another, Steps 4 and 5 and beyond, our experiences set us on the path to freedom, and a means to help others. We become teachers to others in the fellowship.

·      Yuanwu thought his vast recollection of Zen knowledge would bring him an awakening. It didn’t. It was only after his lengthy training/practice and awakening under Wuzu Fayan that he understood Zen - - As Alcoholics in our disease, we had countless recollections of our past that brought us great suffering (“Being sick and tired of being sick and tired”). We’ll never graduate from AA.  Still, we have numerous reasons for staying that require our service.  

·      Yuanwu’s years of teaching and writing commentaries about these koans resulted in his creation of the Blue Cliff Record, that’s been helping koan practitioners for over a 1000 years.- - Alcoholics understand Step 12, beginning with. “Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps…” We realize that all of our past experiences (good and bad) help us to relate to the alcoholics who are still suffering. Without Steps 4 and 5, we cannot get to Step 12 and “practice these principles in all our affairs.”

“What limit is there on your own part?” 

Just as Hsian-yen and Yuanwu were able to set aside their great storehouse of knowledge for awakening to appear, they then became teachers, profoundly influencing the practice of Zen for others. With Steps 4 and 5, we’re not turning away; but instead coming into relationship with our hindrances. These Steps are the doorway we must pass through to let go of the way we used to view our past deeds, and to discover, “No matter how far down the scale we have gone, our experience can benefit others.” P. 84  

A sponsee asked her sponsor, “What is sponsor’s mind?’

Her sponsor replied, “We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it. We will comprehend the word serenity and we will know peace.” Pages 83-84. 


With Steps 4 we’re re-collecting in order to give up recollection. Tock!


“Here and now the pure wind is circling the earth.”

 Upon completing Step 5, “We feel we are on the Broad Highway, walking hand in hand with the Spirit of the Universe.” P.75

 

Bill K.











Thursday, April 1, 2021

Steps 4 and 5 - - 12 & Zen Reminder


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

 

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

 

Koan: Give up recollection!


What limit is there to the pure wind circling the earth?   (Hseuh tou, 980-1052)


Once you give up recollecting, what will become of the affairs you busy yourselves with? Here and now the pure wind is circling the earth. 

Throughout heaven and earth, what is there that is limited? She picks up the numberless concerns of all ages and throws them down before

 you. This is not confined to this time. What limit is there? All of you—what limit is there on your part?   (Yuanwu, 1063-1135)


- - - - -

Dear Friends,

This is what well be sitting with for April and May.

Appreciate where it takes you.


Bill K

Sunday, March 14, 2021

Steps 2 and 3 -- Finding and using this Higher Power


Step 2:  Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

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

       

One day, while the Layman was meditating in his sitting hut, he suddenly cried out, “It’s hard, hard! And I’ve put ten coats of linseed oil on this platform, too!”

       His wife said, “It’s easy, easy, easy! Just turn your eyes to the floor, lower your feet to it [sandals], and be on your way!”

       Ling-chao said, “It’s neither hard nor easy! The mind of the Patriarchs is in every blade of grass!”* 

This is referring from a line the Third Patriarch wrote, “Though the Great Way is expansive, treading upon it is neither hard or easy.”

 

Oh my goodness [forehead slap]! Our founders were brilliant in wording Step 2…”Came to believe…”

“Came to,” Who among us hasn’t experienced coming to? [Example] She came to in a jail cell: Where am I? What happened? How did I get here? Now what do I do? She didn’t jump up smiling and singing Zippity-doo-daa. No. Slowly she tried to figure out what happened and where am I, so she could somewhat regain her bearings.

It doesn’t say we have to come to believe in three days – “just came to believe.” Future tense. It’s a process of waking up to the notion “that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.”

In Step 3, the directive is, “Made a decision.” For years, I made a decision every night that I would not drink the next day – and I meant it –but by the next evening I’d find myself drunk again, making the same decision. Crazy! It wasn’t working because I didn’t yet have the AA tools.

It’s about carrying on with my decisions that matter. When I wake up in the morning, after giving thanks for my sobriety, etc., I ask that I not drink today.  Just for today. One day at a time. When tomorrow comes, I ask for another day of sobriety. The difference being, now I'm carrying on with the help of my Higher Power.

When I was new, I was told to just open up to Step 3’s decision-making process. I was assured that it will come at some time in the future. It will come as I work and practice the Steps. So, just sticking to one’s decision to work with a sponsor is huge…then continue working the next Step.

If Layman P’ang were living in your neighborhood today, his koan might look like this:

One day, while several alcoholics were sitting around after a meeting, a newcomer cried out, “It’s hard, hard! Trying not to drink every day is hard and then you throw these Steps at me to do.”

Another fella said, “It’s easy, easy!” ‘Rarely have we seen a person fail who has thoroughly followed our path.’

His future sponsor leaned over, “It’s neither hard nor easy! Our problem is selfishness, always thinking of oneself first; and we suffer and cause others to suffer.  Our solution is to be unselfish, to be of maximum service to others; and this will end our suffering and ease the suffering of others. We follow in the footsteps of our AA ancestors and do what they did.

 

First it may be hard.

Then easier, by working the Steps, we learn how to follow AA suggestions.

Neither hard nor easy when “we practice these principles in all our affairs.”


look around, notice

a power such as it is

nothing is missing 


Dale* writes:  “Dr. Seuss says, ‘You’ve got brains in your head. You’ve got feet in your shoes. You can move in any direction you choose.’ “

 

* Dale H. sent me this in an email in February. He's always been quick to send me his quips and observations when I first send out new koans.


As I was about to post this commentary, i received a phone call from Barry, one of his sponsees. Dale has been on a ventilator in the hospital for five days or so. Not COVID-19, it's all of his many health complications that are demanding attention.  It appears he is running out of time, that there are not many options left. His doctor says he may pass very soon.

Please remember Dale in your prayers...



Bill K.