Thursday, April 7, 2022

Steps 4 and 5 Koan

I'm late in posting this! My apologies... vehicle repair, house guest, shower contractor communications and my aging brain contributed.

Plenty of time, though...this is what we'll be sitting with for April/May.


Bill K.




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:  In the dark, darken further. 

 

                           Misc. Koans p. 82 Roshi Joan Sutherland’s Book

Sunday, March 13, 2022

Lest We Forget - - A Koan for Steps Two and Three

 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.  

 

KOAN: Mazu eventually left his teacher Nanyue and established his own community. For some time, Nanyue had not heard from Mazu, so he dispatched a monk to his former student’s place and instructed him, “Wait until he enters the hall to speak, and then ask him ‘What’s going on?’ Take note of his answer, and then bring it back and tell me.” 

The monk did as instructed, and returned, saying “Master Ma said ‘In the thirty years since the barbarian uprising, I’ve never lacked for salt or sauce.’”


Nanyue approved of this answer.


~ Andy Ferguson, Zen’s Chinese Heritage, p. 56

 

- - - -

I have a folder on my desktop for next year’s possible 12&Zen koans. Whenever a koan comes to me and it resonates with the Steps, I’ll put it in this folder. This koan came to me via Jon Joseph Roshi’s Monday announcements back on November 8, 2021. How did this koan know I would need it so now? This is what a koans do.

 

Most of us, in our youth, had a “second mom” – the mom of our very best friend. My wife’s second mom passed away on January 8th.  And my friend Jerry, we were fixtures at meetings for 30+ years; he died on January 9th from cancer. On January 12th, our beloved dog Wendy died unexpectedly. Then on January 28th the other grandfather to our grandsons tripped and fell, hitting his head and died on the spot. January was a month of shock, loss, and grief. What’s going on?

Most importantly, not once did I have any thoughts that my higher power was doing this to me; instead, I’d like to believe it’s my ancestral Zen teachers asking, “What are you going to do with this?” What if I seek refuge in Steps 2 and 3?

 

From out of nowhere, 8th Century Shih-t’ou Xiqian gave me some reassuring words on the harmony of Difference and Sameness said …Light and dark are a pair, like the front and back foot walking. This is what I’ve been doing, putting one foot in front of the other, going where this koan is pointing.

 

When I take things back in self-will, holding on or pushing away, and not in collaboration with HP, things don’t go smoothly, I stumble. But when I embraced my sorrow and joy as each was happening, carrying them together with the universe, there came an ease in my walk that day. I felt this space open up and I attribute that to being in communion with Step 3.  Bill W. would call this his “God-consciousness within.”.  

 

The God Thing? 

 

It’s been a while since I talked about the “God” thing – the thing that’s been a troublesome concept for quite a few people when they come to AA, especially so for those who’ve had bad experiences with the church they grew up in. It’s not a new problem; after all, there’s an entire chapter dedicated to atheists and agnostics. It was around before the Big Book even rolled off the press. 

 

Founder Bill W. writes about “...the vestiges of my old prejudice. When the thought was expressed that there might be a God personal to me this feeling was intensified.” And then his friend suggested “what then seemed a novel idea...Why don’t you choose your own conception of God?” We know it In the Fourth Edition in the chapter called “A Vicious Cycle,” where the writer said, “...so my only contribution to their literary efforts was my firm conviction – since I was a theological rebel – that the word God should be qualified with the phrase, ‘as we understand Him.’” A powerful suggestion indeed! Keeping this phrase in mind, we can have a personal higher power of our own choosing that doesn’t even have to be a god. A non-theistic god! 

  • On page 55 Bill W. writes: “...for deep down in every man, woman, and child, is the fundamental idea of God.” Many people embrace this phrase as it’s written. That’s wonderful! When the Big Book was written, 90% of the United States identified with Christianity, even if it was a love/hate relationship. Had there been some Buddhists among the first 100 people in AA, it might have been written differently. 

 

There are numerous ways I can accept this quotation from a 12 & Zen perspective:

 

  • “...for deep down in every person, is the fundamental idea of” the Tao. Tao Te Ching #6: “The Tao is called empty yet inexhaustible, it gives birth to infinite worlds. It is always within you. You can use it any way you want.” 
  • “…for deep down in every person, is the fundamental idea of” buddha nature: Buddha nature has many different definitions among the various Buddhist schools. Basically, it’s the fundamental nature of all beings. Bhikshuni Thubten Chodron said it’s “the innate quality of the mind that enables all beings to attain enlightenment.” 
  • “...for deep down in every person, is the fundamental idea of” the Dharma. - - a permanent universal truth, spanning both material and spiritual worlds, including the laws of nature and the nature of laws. (From The Buddha Garden) 
  • ...for deep down in every person, is the fundamental idea of” the power behind all things. I heard this from a Native American speaker on a radio interview.  
  • “...for deep down in every person, is the fundamental idea of” the universe. One word for everything that’s happening. 
  • And I know many people that have no name or concept at all; only to know that something outside themselves has a power to rely upon. That’s enough. 

 

What do I do with the “God’s will” concept in the Big Book? 

 

There was a well-known U.S. Buddhist teacher who got sober in the rooms of AA; but has since decided that AA is not for Buddhists. One of his complaints was that AA is a religion (it is not) and he has to decipher the Big Books verbiage into Buddhist terms. This has not been my experience at all. “We have ceased fighting everyone and everything” (P. 84). By choosing a higher power of my own understanding, in all its manifestations, the Big Book automatically comes alive for me. Instead of fighting over these supposed differences, I welcome them. The Big Book reminds me of Zen sutras – Zen sutras remind me of the Big Book, with each enriching the other.

 

How do I follow “the will of God” as written throughout the Big Book? What’s really being asked of me is to align my behavior with various codes of preferred conduct. Do what is right. All I need to do is pivot to Buddhism’s Eightfold Path (or the 16 Zen Precepts) to see how to conduct myself. 

 

Eightfold Path

 

Right Understanding

Right Thought

Right Speech

Right Action

Right Livelihood

Right Effort

Right Mindfulness

Right Concentration

 

When I come across the phrase “…praying only for the knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out,” little effort is required to pray for the understanding of the Eightfold Path and the power to carry that out.

 

A year after the Big Book was printed, Dr. Bob’s Akron Group commissioned a pamphlet called “Spiritual Milestones in Alcoholics Anonymous.” They included the Eightfold Path saying, “…these eight points, could be literally adopted by AA as a substitute for an addition to the Twelve Steps. Generosity, universal love and welfare of others rather than consideration of self are basic to Buddhism.”

 

So close…I find this very gratifying to see Buddhist philosophy acknowledged so early in AA history.  Had our founders discovered this earlier, it might have made it into the Big Book.  Come to think of it, it’s spirit is throughout the Big Book already..

 

Back to my morning walk …  by letting go and surrendering, which is all about Step 3, joyful thoughts from the past appeared; these led me into feeling grateful for it all.

 

Grief in balance with

The love for another

Produces gratitude

 

In my small mind day-to-day realm, I feel as if I have a symbiotic relation with the universe (whatever is happening). I’m a part of it all. I’m not a free floating disconnected spare part. In the realm of my practice, I’m a contributing participant, simply trying to be a decent human being, and bring a little goodness into the world. In February I began experiencing the harmony of joy and sorrow, the harmony of Step 2 and Step 3, and the harmony of coming and going. It appears, that even with this January uprising of losses, I’ve never lacked for salt or sauce!

Yes, the wind was knocked out of my sails - - but not all the wind - - I’m still moving forward…even gaining speed as the days pass.  Taking in my surroundings is connecting to my spirit source.  It not only includes my conscious contact, it includes all my senses. The warm morning sun on my face when the air is still freezing; a gentle breeze rustling my clothes; catching the fragrance from unseen flowers; and quietly feeling our presence together - -` is enough. This is that space for revelations, for changing perceptions, and realizing it’s been a good day.

 

There’s more.  When I’m looking “deeply into the form of the universe,” I see birth and death corresponding to each other, by carrying them in my heart-mind, not as one, not as two. This is the same for health and sicknesssorrow and joyStep 2 and Step, Zen Buddhism and 12 Step Programs…

 

Just yesterday I learned that Angelo, my one and only sponsor, whose had health issues for quite some time, was sent home from the hospital to hospice care. Words from The Five Remembrances came to mind:

 

Leader:       I am of the nature to have ill health. 

All:      There is no way to escape ill health. 

Leader:       I am of the nature to die. 

All:      There is no way to escape this.

 

Oh, how I appreciate my life just now…

 

“What are you looking for?” wrote Linji Yixuan (d. 866), “This person of the Way who depends on nothing, here before my eyes now listening to the Dharma - - your brightness shines clearly, you have never lacked anything.”

                                                                   From the Record of Linji                                              

May you find your space…


Bill K.

Tuesday, February 1, 2022

Feb/Mar 12&Zen Announcement - - Steps 2 and 3


 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.   

KOAN: Mazu eventually left his teacher Nanyue and established his own community. For some time, Nanyue had not heard from Mazu, so he dispatched a monk to his former student’s place and instructed him, “Wait until he enters the hall to speak, and then ask him “What’s going on?’ Take note of his answer, and then bring it back and tell me.” 
The monk did as instructed and returned, saying “Master Ma said ‘In the thirty years since the barbarian uprising, I’ve never lacked for salt or sauce.’


Nanyue approved of this answer.


~ Andy Ferguson, Zen’s Chinese Heritage, p. 56

Saturday, January 15, 2022

Hanging by your teeth with Step 1

 

My friend, Ken I., sent me this many months ago. Upon reading, I knew I'd be asking him permission to post this on 12 & Zen; and he kindly said yes. Our guest author used to live in San Francisco and occasionally drove up here (50+ miles) to attend our get together. He now lives in India.

Step 1:  We admitted we were powerless over something -- that our lives had become unmanageable.

Koan:  The priest Hsiang-yen said, "It is as though you were up in a tree, hanging from a branch with your teeth. Your hands and feet can't touch any branch. Someone appears beneath the tree and asks, `What is the meaning of Bodhidharma's coming from the West?'”

If you do not answer, you evade your responsibility. If you do answer, you lose your life. What do you do?"

Here is Case 5, "Hsiang-yen: Up Tree." 


It has been at least 6 years since I took up the case. I told another story about Hsiang-yen in a piece I wrote about a difficult and wonderful conversation that I had with my mother a few months before she died ("The Gift of Tears"). Hsiang-yen must have been an immensely gifted teacher if he continues to inspire others to be honest and human more than a thousand years after his death.


Today I find myself totally swept up in the hanging man's dilemma as I begin to re-work Step 1 of the 12 Steps. The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous puts the first step in simple, straightforward language: "I admit that I am powerless over [alcohol, drugs, food, sex]—that my life has become unmanageable." It's just the first step on a journey, and there is a story connected with my personal surrender.


Even if I'd never heard of Bodhidharma, there are questions in my life that I can't evade—my life depends on my answer. It might not be entirely clear to a 21st century reader that the question about Bodhidharma coming to the West carries enormous weight for anyone practicing with a Zen master. My answer unlocks the wonder of practice and the Buddha Way.


At my first 12 Step meeting, when asked "are there other alcoholics/addicts present?" I automatically said, "yes." I didn't grasp that the question was a life-or-death issue, that it carried all the weight of the person hanging by his or her teeth. I certainly didn't realize that it would turn my world upside down. I was about to learn that answering it truthfully meant that I was about to lose a life I'd become comfortable with, a life of deception I loved in a weird perverted way. I'd learned to talk my way around my addiction so well that I even believed its lies.


I had been practicing meditation for decades, but I missed the immediacy and urgency in that question—right now, right here, people in this room were suffering real biological and psychological effects of drug and alcohol abuse. If I'd been paying closer attention, it might have been easier to see the delusions I'd have to give up, and admit that I'd lost control of my life which is the baseline for any real conversation about sobriety. Another question follows an honest yes: could I examine the roots of my addiction clearly and move beyond denial? My sponsor was very direct, “Cut the bullshit and get real.” We all need real friends we can talk with, men and women who leave any pretense at the door.


Both the spirituality of the Big Book and Zen, I think, start from the same place: what in my experience got me stuck? It’s my dilemma, not the person on the cushion next to me, or the homeless guy stinking of urine on the bus that I can’t move away from. In zen I am never asked to believe anything outside my own experience, not even for a split second.


What transformed this question for me from an intellectual consideration about the nature of addiction and alcoholism to one with all the force of Bodhidharma's coming to the west and facing the wall for 9 years in meditation? My roommate committed suicide, and I found myself hanging from the branch by the skin of my teeth.


I came home to discover my roommate's bloated body dead for at least three days. Just the smell of the house was overwhelming. The shock sent me spinning emotionally and psychologically. The police and medical examiners suggested that I call a friend. The man I called came right over, put an arm around my shoulder and listened without any judgment to whatever came out of my mouth as they carried Dean's body down the stairs. 


My response was to lapse into an uncontrolled rage of using drugs and drinking. As I look back over those few days and weeks, Ash proved the depth of his friendship even more: he wouldn't allow me to play the victim, "Oh you poor guy, how horrible!" or indulge any self-importance or fake heroism to let myself off the hook. He told me that even if I was just a guy who happened to be standing by when a tragedy unfolded, I still had to clean up the mess before I could move on. I had no other choice if I was going to choose life. He encouraged me to face the circumstances without drama, and get it done. And he took me to a meeting. Friends don't get any better.


A long meditation practice follows me into the 12-step work, not as baggage but as a friend. When I listen to someone in one of the rooms coming to terms with the concept of a Higher Power, having been told that his or her program depends on acknowledgment and surrender to Something greater than the self, I can only admire the struggle and right-mindedness of their effort. My own experience was very similar. At some point the practice of meditation, or maybe just growing older with more life experience, I dismantled most of the conceptual notions I had believed and put my trust in, but what replaced it was a far more intimate sense of how I am, at the core of my being, connected to the profound inner-workings of the universe.


And even though my own inner experience started to become clear only after long hours on the meditation cushion, I know that this path is open to anyone, even in a blink of an eye. So meditate. Just do it.


The instructions to enter the koan’s world are really quite simple: Sit down, straighten out my spine so that I can stay awake and alert, focus on my breath, pay attention. That’s enough meditation instruction to get started. Then as I settle in, if I choose, I can get real about how I respond to Hsiang-yen’s question, what do you do when you're hanging from a branch by your teeth? My life depends on my answer, where really, no kidding, I'm going to fall into an abyss when I open my mouth. I don’t believe anything, not even for a split second, that I have not experienced myself, but I have also come to trust, thanks to my teachers and my own experience, that the koan will shake an honest answer loose.


Perhaps our answer allows us to simply fall into the unknown and follow the example of the trees' own leaves in the Fall. Thank you, Lucille Clifton, for the capping verse:


The Lesson Of The Falling Leaves


the leaves believe

such letting go is love

such love is faith

such faith is grace

such grace is god

i agree with the leaves



Thank you, Ken.

Bill K.


 

Saturday, January 1, 2022

Losing Your Life in Step 1 - We're Powerless -

 


My friends,

First and foremost, may 2022 bring you joy and freedom. Happy New Year!


Our first koan of the year and a first for 12 & Zen -- I'm looking forward to sharing a guest writer this month, Ken I. who is lives in India. 


Step 1:  We admitted we were powerless over something -- that our lives had become unmanageable.



Koan:  The priest Hsiang-yen said, "It is as though you were up in a tree, hanging from a branch with your teeth. Your hands and feet can't touch any branch. Someone appears beneath the tree and asks, `What is the meaning of Bodhidharma's coming from the West?'”

If you do not answer, you evade your responsibility. If you do answer, you lose your life. What do you do?"

Here is Case 5, "Hsiang-yen: Up Tree." 

Bill K.

Tuesday, December 14, 2021

Step Twelve is our Great Vow

 

Step 12: Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and practice these principles in all our affairs. 

 

Called by various titles, The Four Great Vows, The Four Boundless Vows, The Four Bodhisattva Vows, etc.  For our koan this month, we’ll be sitting with this sutra:

 

Koan: GREAT VOWS FOR ALL -- CityZen – Santa Rosa

 

I vow to wake [save] all the beings of the world 

I vow to set endless craving [desire] to rest        

I vow to walk through every dharma gate   

I vow to live the great Buddha way 

 

Year 2021 is nearly over and we’ve been practicing the 12 Steps along the way.  Here we are, at Step 12, which is not the end of the course; it’s the spiritual engine that powers and directs our lives.  The Four Vows are doing the same thing from a Buddhist perspective, showing again that 12 Step programs and Buddhism correspond to each other.

 

Linji advises, “Face the world and walk crosswise. Take what is given by the karma focused in the present moment and revise it. Turn things around. Change their meaning. The responsibility that goes along with taking the bodhisattva vows of Mahayana Buddhism does not have any limit. And the only way to shoulder it is to be unburdened by any habits or doubts…everywhere you stand is real - - the bodhimandala, or place of awakening. Doing so, even though circumstances come and go, they won’t be able to influence or catch you.”

 

     Chan Buddhism by Peter D. Hershock, page 125

 

 

This is good advice when we read the Big Book. Turn things around and change the meanings, especially true in how we choose a higher power of our own understanding, or whatever we turn things over to. The responsibility that goes along with integrating the 12 Steps into our lives does not have any limit.


Step Twelve

Awakened at last

Knowing I have a purpose

Service to others

 

Looking around at various Mahayana schools of Buddhism, you’ll find that most of them place a high value on The Four Great Vows, putting voice to these vows at the end of each day.

 

“To me the four vows are important because they remind me that the intimate way involves all of us. I love the inside joke that we cannot actually achieve liberation without everyone coming along, and at the same time that victory was won before the creation of the stars and planets. For me repeating it daily is a constant reminder of the play of this sometimes horrific and sometimes painfully beautiful life. And that we're all together in this lovely mess...”  

 

     James Myo’un Ford, Roshi, Teacher Emeritus, Boundless Way Zen

 


                                                         

Buddhist teachers throughout have changed words, language, and phraseology in order to more effectively teach new students of a different culture. Teachers today continue with changing – where one may prefer “save”, another uses “wake” – where one chooses “craving”, another uses “delusions”, and still another “kleshes”; they all are pointing in the same direction. Here is a sampling of various translations and preferences:

 

 

1] The Four Great Vows – Kwan Um School of Zen

 

Sentient beings are numberless. We vow to save them all.

Delusions are endless. We vow to cut through them all.

The teachings are infinite. We vow to learn them all.

The Buddha Way is inconceivable. We vow to attain it. 

 

 

2] The Four Great Bodhisattva Vows – Upaya Zen Center

 

Creations are numberless, I vow to free them.

Delusions are inexhaustible, I vow to transform them.

Reality is boundless, I vow to perceive it.

The awakened way is unsurpassable, I vow to embody it.

 

 

3] FOUR INFINITE VOWS -- Honolulu Diamond Sangha

 

All beings without limit I vow to carry over;

Kleshas without cease I vow to cut off;

Dharma gates without measure I vow to master;

Buddha Ways without end I vow to fulfill

 

 

4] THE FOUR GREAT VOWS – Rocks and Clouds Zendo, Sebastopol, CA

 

The many beings are numberless, I vow to free them

Greed, hatred, and ignorance rise endlessly, I vow to abandon them

Dharma gates are countless, I vow to wake to them

The Buddha way is unsurpassed, I vow to embody it fully

 

 

5] FOUR VOWS OF BODHISATTVA– Nichiren Buddhism 

 

Living beings are limitless; I vow to deliver them.

Mental afflictions are inexhaustible; I vow to cut them off.

Dharma gates are incalculable; I vow to practice them.

The buddha way is unsurpassed; I vow to attain it.

 

 

6] Regarding Tibetan Buddhism, Christine Skarda, Tibetan Buddhist Nun (She did her first three-year retreat in the early 90s) told me:

 

“In my Tibetan tradition we do not recite these four vows as do Zen practitioners at a sutra service. But we share these intentions nonetheless since they are embedded in the bodhisattva ideals of Mahayana practice. I am very fond of the zen tradition’s expression of these four vows in group practice. I think it is very important.” 

 


"Shohaku Okamura wrote a book called, 'Living by Vow'. As Bodhisattvas that’s how our practice is developed. Our wish to wake up to the Buddha Way, which is our life in its most elemental way, framed by our vows and the Paramitas. The vows might appear impossible to attain, we know that, and yet as Okamura says we live by these vows. My teacher used to say that the fact that they appear impossible or very difficult if not impossible to not break, we do it anyway.  That in itself is a big koan that we assume voluntarily with the spirit of a Bodhisattva, to alleviate the suffering of all beings including ourselves. I would say also, as we practice with our vows they make more sense and allow us continue the Path of the Bodhisattva”

     

     Daniel Terragno, Roshi, Rocks and Clouds Zendo

 


With 35 years of sobriety and 25 years of Zen practice, a few months ago I came to realize, an awakening,  that Step Twelve is our great vow

 

Here are two examples for your consideration:

 

Suffering alcoholics are numberless, I vow to carry the message.

Selfishness and resentments rise endlessly, I vow to let them go.

Service is paramount, I vow to put others first.

The Twelve Steps are unsurpassed, I vow to embody them fully.

 

Or

 

I vow to carry the message to all suffering alcoholics

I vow to let go of selfish and resentful ways

I vow to practice these principles in all my affairs

I vow to live the Twelve Steps fully

 

Or how about writing version of your own understanding?

 

And always remember...

 

Bill K.


 

 















 

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

December 12 & Zen Reminder

Step 12: Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and practice these principles in all our affairs.  

 

Called by various titles, The Four Great Vows, The Four Boundless Vows, The Four Bodhisattva Vows, etc. - - for our December koan, we’ll be sitting with this sutra:

 

GREAT VOWS FOR ALL

 

I vow to wake [save] all the beings of the world 

I vow to set endless craving [desire] to rest        

I vow to walk through every dharma gate   

I vow to live the great Buddha way 


Enjoy your sitting...


Bill K.