Saturday, November 26, 2011


"The greatest thing is to give thanks for everything. He who has learned this knows what it means to live. He has penetrated the whole mystery of life: giving thanks for everything." Albert Schweitzer

In a way this posting is deviating a bit from the blog's 12 Step/koan dialog, still, no matter what Step we're with, the act of being thankful is always available, running in our recovery veins. At November meetings around here, "This is gratitude month," is almost always acknowledged, with that being the topic du jour. It was the topic of a planned PZi one day retreat; but because the teacher became ill, the retreat was cancelled. Not to be forgotten, when our Monday evening rolled around the gratitude koan from the cancelled retreat appeared.

But first came the Monday morning news when I was told of an horrific event -- a 12 Step friend of mine had been stabbed to death by his mentally deranged son.

My heart was heavy as I walked into the zendo. My only plans were to sit with this tragedy and later to call out Mark's name at the dedication sutra. Jacqueline was leading the evening sitting and offered this koan:

"Thank you very much I have no complaints whatsoever."

Did I have some complaints on my mind? You bet I did. This shouldn't have happened to Mark. What a senseless killing? His daughter had called 911, oh the pain she must be going through. And the troubled son, his life now ... and the county, why did they choose to close down the only emergency mental health facility? Oh yeah, I have some complaints here, and not feeling much gratitude at all. And given more time I might have included complaints about not having anything to be grateful for.

Clearing my mind, coming back to the koan, clearing my mind, coming back to the koan, I sat.

I would rather be thankful for something agreeable where it's easy to have no complaints... you know, where everything is going your way. Not tonight. Things aren't going my way. Is there room for thankfulness here? Nope. But as the evening progressed my thoughts shifted to what it was like to know Mark. Such a gentle man. He had more than three decades of recovery, too. His words have helped me along the way, his actions have shown me how to live more fully, using the 12 Steps in my life. Thank you very much for having Mark in my life, I have no complaints whatsoever. While "being" with Mark on my cushion, I realized the complaints had vanished, there was no room for complaints to appear. Complaints only narrow my vision and taint my mind. Is this what my Higher Power wants for me?

This koan can be viewed as a barrier-like rigid statement (akin to "you should be doing it this way") -- or as the catalyst for a stretching, integration and flexibility of thoughts, conflicting thoughts not in conflict, a freedom supported by the Universe. There even came a thankfulness for not complaining; for it's thankfulness that opens up my heart and mind to what this life is really made of, something I don't want to miss.

Bill K

Saturday, November 12, 2011

God and Zen, Can This Work?

Many years ago when I was the registrar for PZi, I contacted a local (mainline) protestant church to see if we could post a flyer on their bulletin board about our upcoming retreat . The secretary was very pleasant saying that she had to clear this request with her pastor, that he was away right now and would get back to me. A few days later, since I was in the neighborhood I dropped by the church to see about our request. The secretary informed me that we could not post our flyer. Then she said her pastor told her that "...Buddhists are people who worship trees...that our flyer would be inappropriate for their bulletin board."

We worship trees? His response surprised me at its ignorance. Had he also called us pagans, that too would have been an inadequate response.

Most 12-Steppers have a God in their lives. Regarding the book Alcoholics Anonymous, since "Its main object is to enable you to find a Power greater than yourself which will solve your problem" (P.45). Finding a Higher Power is critical for recovery, and at the same time, there are those who come to believe by not believing. There's a story around here about the weekly Atheists and Agnostics Group that was started more than 20 years ago. The joke is that all they talked about at this meeting was God.

God and Zen, can this work?

That there are Zen Masters in the United States who also happen to be Rabbis or Catholic Priests is evidence that absolutely YES, we can have a God in our life and practice Zen, too. One of our PZi members is the minister of a local protestant church where, besides his ministry, he also teaches Zen koans and is creating Christian koans to boot. I don't try to figure out who God is, nor how Zen works. What I have found is that this God/Zen combination is extraordinarily beneficial -- a symbiotic relationship for me -- where no longer can I practice one and not the other.

Here's a photograph of David, a United Church of Christ minister, meditates in the warm morning sun at a 7-day Zen retreat held at a Catholic facility.

Nyogen Senzaki (1876-1958) was one of the early Japanese Zen Masters to come to the United States. He used to wonder why Americans kept asking him, "What do you believe in? Who do you worship?" His reply went something like, "We in Zen don't believe in anything, we understand. We don't worship anything, we practice."

How fortunate for us! Zen doesn't tell us we have to believe in something and Twelve Step programs tell us that we may choose what to believe. By practicing the Twelve Steps and Zen Koans, we've been given the gift to believe and understand, which just may put us at a distinct advantage for finding joy and freedom in our lives.

Bill K.