Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Step 12: Seeds of Good

The Twelve Steps, 12 months, it works to sit with a different Step each month; but something seems even better for it all here in December.  There’s so much going on now – Buddha’s enlightenment celebrations in early December, Hanukkah in the rededication of their temple practice, Christmas celebrating the birth of Jesus, and Kwanzaa which speaks to the best of what it means to be African and human in the fullest sense. Perhaps the sum of them all is spreading and gathering seeds of good.

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


Autumn deepens

My neighbor
I wonder how he’s doing


“Autumn deepens…” We have less daylight now (at least here in the northern hemisphere) so we spend less time out and about and more time with ourselves.

“My neighbor…” here is someone else, outside of self.  This could be the person sitting next to me at a meeting, or the person driving in the next lane over, or my neighbor next door.  “I wonder how he’s doing…” is a concern for another.

We sit with Step 12 now.  Our spiritual awakening requires introspection and self-appraisal.  This is how we have prepared ourselves to be of maximum service to others.  We also have a concern for whoever our neighbor is.  But we can’t just sit on this. “Try” is an action verb that requires us to strain, stretch and tax ourselves in order to make an attempt, to carry the message.

Of course we practice Step 12 all year long; but sitting with this koan and Step seems a little bit juicier right now; perhaps by making us a little more receptive to wondering, “How is my neighbor doing?”

Be well, and cherish it.


Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Commiting to Step Eleven, Zen Version

Yesterday I spoke to our PZi community at large, the 11th Step continued as my topic,  but this time I used the "Zen" version.  The evening went pretty well, too, and just like at our 12 & Zen gatherings , the discussion after the talk was moving and personal.  If you have considered doing this with your Zen community, I urge you to give it a try. 

The following is a consolidation of my notes; it will give you an idea of the evening's format and content.   


Welcome to Monday evening at PZi.  Some of you are familiar with what we do every second Friday of the month, called 12 & Zen.  In 12 & Zen we use the Twelve Steps that originated with AA. There are hundreds of recovery groups that use variations of the original 12 Steps.  Since November is the eleventh month, we’ll sit with Step 11.  So this evening we will be sitting with a Zen version by Bernie Glassman.

[A hand written example of Step 11, Zen Version, was hanging on the wall]

I made a commitment to deepen my realization of the Enlightened Way.

This Step is about staying the course...it's about our meditation practice.  First we’ll sit with this Step for about 10 minutes.  Find yourself in this Step.  And then I will introduce the koan for this evening – where we will sit with the koan and Step for the remaining 30 minutes.



This dewdrop world

It is but a dewdrop

And yet – and yet 

As we meditated, I would occasionally offer a few questions for stimulation:
  • "Where does dewdrop take you?"
  • "Dewdrop/commitment ...Commitment/dewdrop."
  • "What is your dewdrop this evening?"

Issa (18th Century Japanese poet, often Haiku poetry)  1763-1828…was living when our country was in it’s formative stages. He had great losses in his life:

Wives died... his children died.  His first son died one month after birth;  his first daughter died from smallpox about a year old; his second son died by suffocating while bundled on his mother's back. Issa wrote this poem right after his daughter died, at a time of deep grief.  In so few words he offers us such vast possibilities.

Perhaps he was thinking, “My little girl’s world, it is but a little girl, and yet –and yet…but this poem includes much more -- all of us in this room are included.  It’s poetic genius that he chose the word, dewdrops.  Dewdrops.  The conditions must be just right for them to form, the right moisture in the air, the right temperature.  Then they appear.  They shine in the morning light.  Then they drop away or evaporate.

Issa’s little girl, the conditions were right for her to be born.  As a little girl she shone in the adoring light of her parents.  Then she died.

This is what life is …yes?  How life works.

Our thoughts usually have this coin-toss tendency of calling out “heads or tails.” Conditions are ripe, things appear, we pass judgment --we limit our perspective to this or that, good or bad, life or death…"this shouldn’t be happening to me."

Everything has but a short cosmic life -- a beginning, a middle, and an end. And yet collectively [LIFE] it all continues on and on and on.  No.  It’s heads AND tails.  Dewdrop world is heads AND tails, good AND bad, life AND death, Step 11 and this poem.


1)  FIRST, There’s the idea to commit to something – STEP 11 here:
I need to meditate more.

2)  OK, I’m going to do it  -- the decision is made:
Tomorrow I’m going to meditate 30 minutes right after breakfast.

3)  The next day I recognize that I’m doing what I told myself I would:
 I did it! I’m meditating! Mission accomplished!

4)  and yet …and yet …things change.
The phone rings, someone comes to my door…I fall asleep…I hear a branch fall on my car…

Last week I donated blood.  A feel good sort of thing, something I’ve been doing for quite a while… Actually two commitments arose, my plans were to donate blood right after visiting the eye doctor, and then it came to me as I drove to the blood bank. I told myself that I would not eat any sweets afterwards.

If you haven’t donated blood before, the way it works, there’s a 15 minute required rest time after donating (to see if anything develops like fainting, dizziness, etc.).  I told myself no sweets this time, only water and a small bag of peanuts.  As I was sipping my water and munching my peanuts, another man there got up from his chair, walked to the counter, and opened up a Tupperware container full of chocolate chip cookies.  I had forgotten they bake cookies there!  And yet – and yet …I knew I was doomed...and went over and retrieved (only) two cookies.

Life turns on a dime.  This was my “AND YET” moment.  I ate my two cookies, rested the 15 minutes and went on with the rest of my day. Even though I had made a commitment not to eat sweets, it became a peanuts AND cookies moment for me. It’s was OK for me …and not a time for self-judging…just notice.  This is meditation...to notice without judging.


Isn’t this a form of digging?  To dig deeper, below the surface, to see what treasures I may find.  Little insightful treasures …humongous treasures of insight, I keep digging…I keep meditating.


In our sutras we chant, "Nirvana is right here!"  But alas, it goes unnoticed much of the time …because I haven’t paid enough attention to right now.  Remedy?  Meditation.  Meditation brings about more awareness.  Step 11 is an agreement I make with myself to find space in my daily life for meditation.  Find the space.  Make the space.  Carve out the space.  When we took our vows, John Tarrant Roshi asks that we commit to meditating every day – at least one hour a day of meditation.  This is how a meditation practice develops – meditate every day.  Dig deeper every day, the treasures will come.

Making a commitment doesn’t mean I will keep it.  But what I practice here is to come back to my commitment in Step 11.  Mind wanders? Come back to my breath.  Mind wanders? Come back to my koan. This coming back is also commitment.  The point of having a commitment to Step 11 is what strengthens my practice. My practice, in this dewdrop world, becomes more effective, efficient, portable, accessible.  It brings more happiness and peace into my life.


- - -

This is enough from me.  What came up for you this evening?  Where did Dewdrop take you?  How is your commitment to practice?  And yet – and yet?

Bill K.

WAY…our treasure:

Friday, November 1, 2013

Step 11: The Source of Inspiration


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.

A few weeks ago a speaker at our “Moment of Silence” 12 Step Meeting said something that really stirred me, something that has meandered in and out of my thoughts ever since.  He spoke of the word inspire, that its early meaning comes from the Latin word spiro, to breathe.  We know how important the breath is in our meditation practice – when distractions arise, we come back to the breath.  And to breathe was also referring to blow into or upon, as in the Devine is blowing into us – “to influence, move, or guide us.”

On page 86 of the Big Book, “…we ask God for inspiration, an intuitive thought,” this is our prayer.  This is how we verbalize our request; but it's only half the equation.  When I return to my breath, this is the other half, to open the channel between my Higher Power and me.  It’s a two-way channel now.  Through this channel God can breathe inspiration into me.  To have a conscious contact with God begins with my breathing … patient breathing.

Here is the November Koan I offer to go along with Step Eleven.  It comes from Issa, an 18th Century Japanese poet:

This dewdrop world 
It is but a dewdrop world
And yet – and yet

May inspiration come your way today.


Saturday, October 12, 2013

Step 10: Lost and Found

Step 10:  Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.

Koan:  A student asked Yunmen, "What does it mean to sit and contemplate reality?"

Yunmen answered, "The coin lost in the river is found in the river."

We held our October 12 & Zen yesterday evening, sitting with this koan.  Fifteen people in all, this was one of those times when almost everyone had something to say -- 14 of the 15 people seemed to have 14 different interpretations of the koan.  But still on topic.

The coin -- it is what we are seeking, it's our emotions, who we are....?

Lost -- in our thoughts, not in contact with our Higher Power, lost in self ....?

Found -- our path again, what is happening right here and now, what to do next....?

And the river -- the river of life, the river as God ....?

Step 10:  We go from being lost in self to finding what it is.

This koan brought up a 10th Step episode of mine.  I was called on something and did I lose it... from pleasant to angry in milliseconds. Boy did I give this fellow a piece of my mind.  But as I walked away, I new I was in the wrong.  That was the old Bill talking.  I knew what I had to do to bring some peace of mind back into my life.  I  spun around (I think he first thought I was returning to fight or something) and the first words out of my mouth were, "Please forgive me..."  I made my amends, we shook hands, and I instantly felt better.  I found serenity again.  Funny how one can still feel a little discomfort for what was said or done; but after making amends can have some serenity, too, knowing that you won't be carrying around a grudge with you for the rest of the day.

As you can see, on many levels and directions, the people took well to this koan.  Or was it the koan that took well to us? One person came up to me afterwards and exclaimed how "this" 12 & Zen evening was the best she had ever experienced.

The evening did seem to have a momentum to it.  What struck me most was that five or six people were new.  They had little if any experience with koans.  Why should I be surprised ...these koans work in our lives when we let them in.

Please sit with this Step and koan for a while.  See what comes up for you.  How did the koan touch you?  And then if you'd like, take a look at what my teacher, John Tarrant, had to say about Lost and Found:


Bill K.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Steps 8 and 9: "Have You Eaten?" asked Joshu

...continuing from the last posting on Steps 8 and 9 ...

Koan: A monk made a request of Joshu:  "I have just entered the monastery.  Please teach me."
Joshu asked, "Have you eaten?"
"Then," said Joshu, "wash your bowls."  At that moment, the monk had an insight.

"I have just entered..." suggests movement or travel.  The monk has come from somewhere and will eventually leave to go elsewhere.  The road to recovery is like this, a journey.  We are travelers, we are pilgrims, and now we are entering the realm of making amends.

"Please teach me," the monk asks.  The monk seems to have a yearning for learning.  Forgiveness and how to become free are these Steps' lessons.

Joshu asked, "Have you eaten?"  Already the teaching begins.  "Are you hungry" might be what he is really asking.  Those who are hungry for recovery are the ones who make it here.  Steps 8 and 9 are nourishment for the heart.  The people we make amends to respond differently -- sweet or bitter we are nourished none-the-less.

The monk replied, "Yes, I have eaten."  Not only has the monk answered Joshu's uncomplicated question, now he's set himself up for the lesson here, just what he initially asked for.  Yes I have eaten, yes I am hungry, yes I am ready to make my amends.

"Then," said Joshu, "wash your bowls."  Last Friday one person said, "I am the bowl, a vessel of life, my temple, body, mind and consciousness."  Eating from an unclean bowl will cause problems.  I need to clean up after myself, clean my bowl so it's suitable for the next meal.  Another person said, It's the simple process of knowing what to do next."

"At that moment, the monk had an insight."  This happens before we even finish Step 9 -- "...we will be amazed before we are half way through."  Our hearts open, we do have an insight,  "Our whole attitude and outlook upon life will change."   This is what we learn, this is what happens to us from doing these Steps.


8th and 9th Step Koan:  

A woman says to her sponsor, "Please teach me about Steps 8 and 9." Her sponsor asks, "Are you hungry for sobriety?" "Yes I am," said the newcomer.Then go find the first person on your 8th Step list.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Steps 8 and 9: "Have you eaten?"

In a few days, our group will be sitting with Steps 8 and 9,  and this koan.

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:  (Case #7, Gateless Barrier)

A monk made a request of Joshu:  “I have just entered the monastery.  Please teach me.”
Joshu asked, “Have you eaten?”
The monk replied, “Yes, I have eaten.”

“Then,” said Joshu, “wash your bowls.”  At that moment, the monk had an insight.

Here are a few questions that may stir things up for you:

1)  "I have just entered..."  Where are we entering with Steps 8 and 9?
2)  What am I being taught when using these Steps?  What do others teach me?
3)  "I have eaten..."  How do these Steps nourish me?
4)  Then, what do we do next?


Friday, August 23, 2013

Everything is Best, Part II

Early in August, I was asked to sit "up front" this Monday and give the evening talk.  As I began preparing for this, I had a different koan in mind; then it came to me that the koan we used on "12 & Zen" Friday might be the best one to use.  What follows here is pretty much what I plan to say on Monday.

When Banzan was walking through a market he overheard a conversation between a butcher and his customer.
“Give me the best piece of meat you have,” said the customer.

“Everything in my shop is the best,” replied the butcher.  You cannot find here any piece of meat that is not the best.”

At these words Banzan became enlightened.

(He came to a realization)

Perhaps you’ve heard of the First Noble Truth = Suffering.  Life is suffering. To be human is to suffer.  Why?  The Second Noble Truth tells us why -- Suffering is caused by craving, our attachments…

“Give me the best piece of meat you have,” he asks.  Isn’t this a perfect setup for suffering?

         I’m hungry          …craving
         I want food          …craving
         I want the best    …craving “squared”

The BEST … It's a loaded word for us.  Even Banzan.  I can picture him whispering under his breath, “Oh do I love pork chops…they are the best cut.” And he might go on thinking how he hates liver.

My friend Jim and I talk camera stuff a lot.  We usually carry our small cameras everywhere.  A few years ago just before  we began doing this, Jim had a very capable compact Casio camera.  But I bought a Canon SD700.

Later on, Jim liked what he saw in my little Canon camera and bought the latest version, the SD 800.  No longer did he see the Casio as the best.

But when it comes to our large SLR cameras, Jim and I agree that Nikon is the best.  Since 2008, we’ve been very pleased with the Nikon D300.  That is, until Jim recently bought a Nikon D7100.  Now my D300 doesn’t seem to be the best anymore.

This is what we do when BEST enters the mind; probably beginning with the caveman looking for the best club or the cavewoman looking for the best grinding stone.

“Everything in my shop is the best,” replied the butcher.  EVERYTHING? How could everything in his shop be the best?  A sales gimmick, right?  He wants to sell all his meat that day.  He wouldn’t say this flank steak is best but those short ribs aren’t so good.

From the butcher's perspective, everything could be the best.  What if, to every customer, the butcher picked out the best piece of meat available….

·          I’d like a T-bone   – he’d pick the best T-bone.
·         The best chicken thigh – he’d pick the best chicken thigh.

…until finally there is only one piece of meat left; but it, too would be the best piece available.  Using his butcher skills, he could choose each next best piece of meat.  Maybe he’s onto something here?

But if I’m the customer, how do I know for sure I’m getting the best?  There’s that little nagging doubt.  Can we ever really know what is best?  Can anything actually be the best?

When I was 19 years old, having less than stellar grades at Colorado State, they requested that I not return the following year.  With the Viet Nam War going on, I joined the Naval Air Reserves instead of the possibility of being drafted.  It meant only 6 months of active duty, one weekend each month for 5 years, and two weeks each summer.   This was the best thing for me, yes?

In January of 1968 the North Koreans captured the USS Pueblo.  This became known as the Pueblo Incident.  I was just 25 at the time, now going to Humboldt State College. I was raising my grade point average, obviously college was the BEST thing for me, and I had just met this girl named Beth…and … My reserve unit was recalled to active duty!  Bummer.  Not good.

As it turned out, being recalled turn out to be one of the best things.  (1) Beth and I married in the summer of 1968; (2) my active duty turned out to be only one year, (3) all at NAS Alameda; and (4) I received the GI Bill which helped pay for the remainder of college.

Worst can turn out to be the best.

Best can turn out to be the worst.

"You cannot find here any piece of meat that is not the best.”

First this koan draws us (and Banyan) into the world of duality with the word BEST.

Everything is best!  How could that be?  Now great doubt enters.

"You cannot find here..."  HERE …  That’s it!  "At these words Banzan became enlightened."  He got it! He woke up.  He experienced “Best” without words.

We have everything we need right here.  Just this!  Or in this case, everything that the butcher offered.

Craving, reaching, grasping, pulling things into my life, holding on, knowing the answer – does not bring me happiness.

Nor a closed or narrow mind, excluding things from view  -- There's an old Chinese saying: “Don’t slander the sky by looking at it through a tube.”  This will not bring happiness and contentment.

What we call BEST or WORST, could instead become:

·      Good enough.

·      It could be worse.

·      A glass half full.

Give me the best, right here, but everything is the best -- This is what Banyan experienced.

What was the best thing that came to you here?


Saturday, August 10, 2013

Everything Is Best, Part I

Scrub Jay Babies

These Scrub Jay babies.  I discovered them in a maple tree by our front porch.  The nest seemed to be placed in a perfect location -- the best location -- away from predators still hidden amongst the leaves.  Each day I would
take a peek at them to see how fast they were growing.

This month's koan:

When Banzan was walking through a market he overheard a conversation between a butcher and his customer. 

"Give me the best piece of meat you have," said the customer.

"Everything in my shop is the best," replied the butcher. "You cannot find here any piece of meat that is not the best."

At these words Banzan became enlightened.

We just met last Friday for 12 & Zen and here is the koan we used.  This was our "Pot Luck" evening where all of the Steps were available.  I asked everyone to see what koan appears when sitting with this koan.

Step 7 came to several people.  When we truly ask our Higher Power to remove our shortcomings, aren't we doing this to become the best person we can be? 

Another person said everyone is the best.  It reminded them of the koan about having no rank ... being a person among persons, which morphed into Step 9 when we make our amends.  We're just humans trying to make things better for all.

If he says it's best, then it is the best.  And who else offers us nothing but the best?  Our Higher Power.  This was Step 3 for her, trusted her God, the butcher.

One Flattened Toad
Three words in this koan stood out for me:


Best has such a charge to it.  So does worst.  We seem to place ourselves in either of these camps, depending upon circumstances. And just when we are sure of ourselves, we find where one of the worst things in our lives turned out to be one of the best things -- or one of the best things (we thought) turns out to be one of the worst.

Then one morning I peeked into the bird nest only to find that ALL the babies were gone!  Nothing
left.  No feathers because they had not yet developed them.  Just guessing that it was a neighbor's
cat.  Or it could have been a crow or raven.  I guess that wasn't the best place to build a nest.  Then
again, whatever ate them had the best of meals.

On one of my daily walks, I came across the dead toad in the road.  I'm glad we have toads in the neighborhood.  I've been known to "rescue" them and take them back to my garden.  Not the best
outcome for this one.  But I was attracted to the colors of the guts and gore; somehow they seemed vibrant and alive.   The best of colors against the road's asphalt.

A few days later I came across another toad, this one of the toad-bank variety.  Everything about this toad made it the best one of the day.

What IS the best Step?  This reminded me of what I once heard at a meeting where a person said, "If we could do Step 3 perfectly, we wouldn't need any of the other Steps."  But we can't do anything perfectly, so every Step is the best. 

I'm not making light of this.  You cannot find here any Step that is not the best. Every Step is best when we are using it in our lives.  What is best for us then is what is right happening here.

To be continued...


Saturday, July 13, 2013

Step 7: Confusion, Stress, Accomplishment, and Relief

It's been a busy few weeks; but well worth the effort.  Stressful effort at that.

Steps for Anyone:

The Monday night "teacher" was yours truly.  Following up on my last posting on June 9th, we had a group of about twenty people attending where Step One was offered in three different versions.  This was less about me talking and more about an opportunity to show the group how we do "12 & Zen" once a month.  And that we did.  We all sat with one's Step One of the day, meditated with the tigers and the strawberry koan, and then had our discussion.  I think the discussion went OK but not to the depth or intimacy that happens with 12 Step people.  A good evening none-the-less.

Now in Paperback:

Over the last six months, I've been adding to my book, Twelve and Zen -- When the 12 Steps Meet Zen Koans.  It's about 25% larger and it feels more complete now.  Re-submitting the eBook version was exasperating.  I don't follow directions well, especially since some of the technical jargon is foreign to me.  But eventually the eBook version was accepted and available at the Kindle Store.

The good news here is that there is now a paperback version that was published via CreateSpace.
This book is sold at Amazon Books.  Again, a real struggle for me.  The first time I submitted the book it came back "There are 7 errors that need correcting."  Type, type, type, resubmit -- "There are 5 errors that need correcting."  Gasp!  Type, type, type, resubmit -- "There are two errors that need correcting."  You get the idea.  Eventually it was accepted and ready for sale.  The best thing about paperbacks is all the room in the margins for scribbling notes.

A link to both:  http://tinyurl.com/mky4kcy

Yesterday We Humbly Asked:

Our usual "12 & Zen" met yesterday evening, sitting with Step Seven.  Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.

Koan:  "What is the Way?  A clearly enlightened person falls in a well."

When we are humble, aren't we giving up our control of matters?

What is the Way?  Our group had many Ways, just the way I expected.  Everything from the BIG Way to the way things happened today, the way we make our choices.

We all agreed that we are already enlightened, but we don't seem to be aware of this in our daily lives. So of course we can and do fall into wells all the time.  In the falling we have no control.  Our "wells" take many forms but they are all about the unknown.

Confusion, stress, accomplishment, and relief, otherwise known as living... I do feel relief today, with a good sense of accomplishment and lots of gratitude,  knowing that this Path we are sharing is a good.

Bill K. 

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Twelve Steps For Everyone?

My "Study"
Here I am, typing away about something that hasn't happened yet.  Next month I may be giving a talk to our regular PZi Monday evening gathering; and they've asked me to talk about this 12 & Zen project of ours. As the old Chinese saying goes, "Talk won't cook rice," 12 & Zen is a practice, not something to be talked about.  Here are my plans...well, maybe not exact plans, at least notes though.

Members, non-members, people who are curious about PZi, this will be a group made up of all sorts of people, and not just those who have a 12 Step practice.  Lucky for me that there are other renditions of the 12 Steps available, Steps coming from a different source.  Here are three examples of Step One:

  • (From AA) We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.

  • (A Zen Practitioner’s Twelve Steps by Roshi Bernie Glassman) I admitted I was powerless over my attachments to my ego and not in control of my actions.

  • (12 STEPS FOR ‘NORMAL’ PEOPLE by Herb Eko Deer at Sweetwater Zen Center)  Admit we have issues and we are un-happy because of them.  Herb’s group sits with his steps as if they are koans.

Of course I’m not about to tell everyone that are addicts; so I plan to give them this from Dr. Andrew Weil: I maintain that the essence of addiction is craving for an experience or object to make yourself feel all right…I also feel that addiction is something that’s fundamentally human; it affects everybody. Or explained in another way, we all have our addictions.  There are small "a" addicts and there are capital "A" ADDICTS in this world.  We get to choose who we are!

The Buddha said life is suffering. We suffer because of our attachments.  The suffering he was talking about is when we think something is missing or not "right" in our lives. Dr. Weil uses the word cravings.  Step One is how we can address our cravings, no matter what kind of life we have led.
Just as we do on our 12 & Zen evenings, I will ask everyone to sit with one of these Step One examples (or any part of all of them for that matter).  Then I’ll introduce the koan for the evening.

Koan:  You are being chased by a tiger.  Coming to a cliff, you grab the root of a wild vine and swing yourself over the edge. The tiger you were fleeing from is sniffing at you from above; at the bottom of the cliff is another tiger waiting to eat you.  Only the vine sustains you.

Two mice, one white and one black, little-by-little start to gnaw away the vine.  Nearby you see a luscious-looking strawberry.  Holding tightly to the vine with one hand, you pluck the strawberry with your other hand and pop it in your mouth.  How sweet it tastes.

Here are some questions to ask yourself:

The Steps are not complicated
What is this tiger you’re running from?                             
The tiger below, waiting for you, where is it in your life?

Who are the two mice and what are they doing?

What is your strawberry?


I told a friend what I was planning to do, showing her these alternative Steps, and she replied, “Well those steps are pretty interesting, and from a seasoned 12 stepper, they seem like an easier softer way to investigate. Which is fine, if the person is not faced with an alcoholic death :)”  I assure you that I don’t intend to dilute what 12 & Zen is doing here by using “different” Steps than the originals.

But still, a little voice is reminding me how people find their way into 12 Step groups. I’ve met alcoholics who began their journey in Al-Anon because they thought it was the “other” person in their life who had a problem with alcohol; but after hearing the stories there, they realized that they just might be the alcoholic.

By offering this mixed audience the opportunity to practice sitting with these three varieties of Step One, anything can happen.  One person may begin sitting with the “normal people’s” Step but end up with the AA Step. Another person my resonate with the "Zen" example.  And still another person may simply come to terms with their small “a” addiction.  It’s all good.

- - -

For your reference, here are the two examples of alternate Steps.

A Zen Practitioner’s Twelve Steps

1. I admitted I was powerless over my attachments to my ego and not in control of my actions.

2. I came to have faith in an Enlightened Way.

3. Without understanding it, I made a decision to practice an Enlightened Way.

4. I made a searching and fearless assessment of my ego.

5. Together with my sponsor, I made a commitment to a personal Zen practice.

6. I came to realize this practice as a lifetime discipline.

7. I came to realize the importance of seeing the effects of ego-centered actions.

8. I came to realize the importance of the role of forgiveness.

9. I made a commitment to work on my relations with others.

10. I started to study the role of personal reflection.

11. I made a commitment to deepen my realization of the Enlightened Way.

12. Having raised the Bodhi Mind, I came to realize that a commitment to serve others is an expression of the Enlightened Way.

This version of the Twelve Steps is an adaptation from the original Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. It was created by Roshi Bernie Glassman in 1987 at the Zen Community of New York as part of a study program.


1) Admit we have issues and we are un-happy because of them

2) Become willing to do these steps, believing we can heal if we do

3) Let go of “controlling” our issues, ask for help with them

4) Make a thorough list of all the resentments we have caused or have gotten, listing our part in them as well as our issues and triggers around them

5) Share this list with someone who can support and encourage us in this process

6) List our emotional issues and triggers, taken from the 4th step

7) Ask for help with these issues

8) Make a thorough list all the people we’ve hurt, especially those mentioned in the 4th step

9) Apologize to them all, making amends appropriately, unless it would cause more harm than good.

10) Continue these steps regularly, perhaps daily, as a spiritual practice

11) Meditate and pray about this process, letting go of selfish goals

12) Help others to heal their lives

 You may find more information about Herb Eko Deer's project:


And one more thing, if you've been wondering how to introduce 12 & Zen to your entire Zen community,  throwing out a wider net like this may be worth trying.  Let me know how it works for you.

Bill K.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Step 5: Sword, Coral and the Moon

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

Koan:  “What is the blown hair sword*?  Every branch of coral holds up the moon.”

---  *A blown hair falling on this sword is cut in two…a sword that can cut through anything.

We had 12 people attend our 12 & Zen last Friday.  I could tell by the group's comments that this koan had wide-spread affects...and in the overall picture, we were all on the same page, as if each other's comments kept building upon the others.

First the sword.  One person made no bones about it.  The sword cut through all the BS that had been a part of her life.  Now she was revealing herself to her sponsor in a way like no other, revealing the truth about things she had done and the people she had hurt.  I couldn't help notice people nodding their heads in agreement. 

No one likes to admit his or her faults, so the decision to even tackle this Step is also an example of cutting through. 

"Every branch."  Several brought up the community aspect of coral.  So it wasn't one coral organism doing all the holding, it was the community that we refer to as coral doing this.  Just as a 12 Step community is holding up us all.  We have  individual 12 Step members, all of which help the fellowship to prosper and grow.  Another talked about ever branch referring to admitting every "wrong".  Not picking and choosing the easy ones.  Leaving out the more egregious ones, we know will lead to relapse.  It's  like leaving out important building blocks which lead to weakness in structure. 

"Holding up the moon."   For one it about holding one's practice.  I hold my practice and at the same time the community is holding everyone's practice.  Some thought of the moon reflecting upon the ocean as reflecting willingness to complete this Step.  Others referred to the moon as a beacon of light ...lighting out path to recovery.

And then is was all drawn together, in a way, where the branch became a newcomer.  The moon was his/her sponsor.  The newcomer may be thinking, "This is all for me."   Whereas the sponsor knows it is not only for the benefit of both, it's absolutely necessary for the survival of all 12 Step members.

- - -

At the beginning of each month I send out an email reminder to more than 50 people.  It includes the Step we will be sitting with and the koan.   A few people have committed to coming every month, others in spurts, and still others but occasionally.   And there are others who have never come -- still they receive a monthly koan and I'd like to think even in these cases the koan may have an effect on them. 

Bill K.


Monday, April 22, 2013

Our friend at the hotel lobby makes a call

One of my teachers sent this to me.  I had never seen it before.  The more I read, the more I began welling up with tears of gratitude and understanding.  Not only does this anonymous author give us a splendid example of a koan case, s/he does it using the Big Book!  I find this absolutely fitting in with what we are doing here and affirming our koan and the 12 Step practice.

A deep bow to this unknown author.

Bill K.

- - - -


AA Case:  Our friend at the hotel lobby makes a call

By Anonymous

The teachers at the Zen Center have been giving a series of talks on the Denkoroku, a collection of koans that have to do with enlightenment experiences of ancient masters and the transmission of the lineage. This evening, I’d like to look at a koan or public case from a different text that is not in the Zen lineage. It’s an American text from the early part of the 20th century. It has many stories,incidents and experiences of spiritual awakening. It has elements of koan, transmission and lineage.

First, I’d like to read what Maezumi Roshi wrote in the forward to the Blue Cliff Record that beautifully expresses the spirit of koans and how they function. He says: “Koans reveal to us what enlightenment is, what the enlightened life is, how the patriarchs (let’s add matriarchs) and masters of old struggled with it, attained it, actualized it and accomplished it.” Let’s call that the Pointer for this case.

This text, which I’ve worked on quite a bit, was published in 1939 and is called Alcoholics Anonymous. In it, there is a very clear set of actions laid out that are specifically designed to produce a spiritual experience and freedom from addiction. The following incident or “case” is one of the seeds from which the collective spiritual practice of Alcoholics Anonymous first developed. It’s a moment of conception.

The Case

Here is a brief account. Years ago in 1935, one of our number made a journey to a certain western city. From a business standpoint the trip came off badly. Bitterly discouraged he found himself in a strange place, discredited and broke. Sober but a few months he wanted so much to talk with someone. But whom?

One dismal afternoon he paced the hotel lobby. At one end of the room stood a directory of local churches and a telephone. At the other end a door opened onto a lively attractive bar filled with chattering people and music. He was on thin ice. He shivered and said to himself, “What of all the others who will die because they do not know how to get well? There must be many in this town.” Selecting a church at random, he stepped into the booth and lifted the receiver. Simple enough – just lifting the receiver and making a phone call. Turning the rotary dial: chk, chk, chk, chk, chk, chk... ….Hello? And from there the story continues.

But let’s look at the ground of this action, how the ground is turned, how the seed is planted. What grows from it ends up having an extraordinary effect on millions of lives over the next 60 years.

We begin with the “journey to a certain western city” —always the journey. It’s my journey, your journey, our journey. It is our path, our actual experience and circumstances that are always the starting point. The only place there ever is. “From a business standpoint the trip came off badly.” That was, by the way, the only purpose of the trip. Hoping to make a big deal, our friend was counting
on reversing his financial misfortunes. And it was a complete failure. The deal ends up in a lawsuit, shot through with resentment and bad feeling.

And here he is one dismal afternoon. “Bitterly discouraged he found himself in a strange place, discredited and broke.” Doesn’t know how he’s going to pay the hotel bill, alone, discouraged. That’s a heart-wrenching place to be, isn’t it? Empty, everything taken away. This is the ground, his experience of groundlessness. Does that sound like experiences in Zen practice to you? The way our forms of practice, and teachers, can throw us into that open, defenseless space? Maybe more importantly, this broke, wounded or torn place in our friend, in me and in you, is the ground of growth and awakening. It’s the very wholeness of who we are. It deeply connects us. Later on in the text, it states that the dark past is the greatest possession we have. Because it the key to life and happiness for others. Our suffering and our specific circumstances, used to benefit others, are the treasure house. Can we see that the “broken” places in others are also the treasure house?

The case continues: “Sober but a few months, he wanted so much to talk with someone, but whom?” So this need arises. I need to connect with someone or find someone who has a similar experience. “One dismal afternoon he paced the hotel lobby.” Just pacing. Doesn’t know which way to turn. A trapped rat. A tethered colt. “At one end of the room stood a directory of local churches and a telephone. At the other, a door opened into a lively attractive bar filled with people and music.” Life going on. But not for this person. Which way to turn? This is a state of Great Doubt, of Not-Knowing. “He was on thin ice.”

Then he has an experience, an intuitive moment. He shivers and says to himself, “What of all the others who will die because they do not know how to get well?” His thoughts turn to someone else. To some inkling of trying to help, some feeling of responsibility. This is the momentof raising the Bodhi Mind. An intuitive, awakened thought. The impulse toward bodhisattva action arises powerfully and cannot be ignored. This is the functioning of deep wisdom. And this is where everything turns.

Our friend doesn’t know how to help or what to do. But is moved to action and is turned in a new direction. He must find someone to help. “There must be many in this town.” Just as there are right now in this town and in every town. This is a great shout! There must be thousands, they’re everywhere!

“He steps into the booth and lifts the receiver.” He calls a church at random, not to seek spiritual guidance or to talk to a minister. He is asking one question. Take me to the worst alcoholic you know. Take me to the heart of suffering. Take me to somebody so desperate they may not make it through next week. That’s what he’s looking for. Isn’t that amazing?

To go seek that out. Because his own life depends on it. And he finds someone and keeps calling this guy. He makes it his mission. These two become the co-founders of Alcoholics Anonymous. Then they find a third person, and eventually there’s a fourth, and then there’s a little group. All helping each other to stay sober and seek a spiritual experience. And all these years later in Los Angeles alone, there are two or three thousand meetings every week.

What I love about this phone call is that it came directly from one person’s life and that is exactly how it continues to this day. That’s the transmission, the face-to-face sharing of experience. One says to another - take it or leave it, but this is what happened to me. I’ve experienced a big shift, a complete change of direction, an awakening. And if you’re interested, I am willing to share that with you.

The offering is always myself, ourselves, herself. All I have, here it is. All I have, I’m going to share it with you because I have nothing. I have nothing else. But I have this experience. And I’m offering it because that is what saves me. That’s the medicine. It’s the only thing that works. It’s the only thing that relieves my suffering. And so here we are. And the story doesn’t have an end, becauseit is still going on. It’s all unfolding.

I’ll leave you with this as a Capping Verse. It is the traditional preface to the Blue Cliff Record:

Boundless wind and moon, the eye within eyes, inexhaustible
heaven and earth. The light beyond light,
the willow dark, the flower bright. Ten thousand
houses. Knock at any door, there’s one who will

- - - -

A Zen Practitioner’s Twelve Steps

1. I admitted I was powerless over my attachments to my ego and not in control of my actions.

2. I came to have faith in an Enlightened Way.

3. Without understanding it, I made a decision to practice an Enlightened Way.

4. I made a searching and fearless assessment of my ego.

5. Together with my sponsor, I made a commitment to a personal Zen practice.

6. I came to realize this practice as a lifetime discipline.

7. I came to realize the importance of seeing the effects of ego-centered actions.

8. I came to realize the importance of the role of forgiveness.

9. I made a commitment to work on my relations with others.

10. I started to study the role of personal reflection.

11. I made a commitment to deepen my realization of the Enlightened Way.

12. Having raised the Bodhi Mind, I came to realize that a commitment to serve others is an expression of the Enlightened Way.

This version of the Twelve Steps is an adaptation from the original Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. It was created by Roshi Bernie Glassman in 1987 at the Zen Community of New York as part of a study program.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Step 4:What if nothing is wrong?

In many koans we hear,  especially after an activity or exchange of words between a teacher and student, that the student then had "a great awakening."

Sometimes the awakening comes after the student is slapped or yelled at by the teacher.  Kgogen, while he was sweeping the ground,  realized his enlightenment by hearing the sound of a pebble striking bamboo. 

We can't predict or plan our awakenings;  they seem to come by accident.

(1)  From the Zen perspective, we already have Buddha-nature, the awareness of our true self, our awakened self.  It's hidden from us by our delusional mind;  but it's always near at hand -- a breath away.

(2)  From the God perspective, as I posted on February 18th, "God is everything."  Conversely, "Everything is God."  Realizing this, whatever is revealed comes from within.

It is always near at hand -- a breath away.

Often the word "gate" is used to describe the opening where awakening appears.  Anything has the potential to be a gate for us, and this includes Step Four.

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

Koan:  "What if nothing is wrong?"

What if, while you are sitting with this koan, a gate appears ...an awakening?  A revelation from your Higher Power. 

There's nothing wrong with that, is there?

Bill K.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Step 3: What was your original face ...

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

Koan:  “What was your original face before your parents were born?”

Our group had a delightful and deep conversation with this Step and koan.  "Original face" had a different meaning to everyone in the room, and still a kind of oneness that pointed to the same source. 

I found myself vacillating between the notion of "original face" and true self.  When Step Three came to mind, I recalled the passage in the Big Book on page 53, "God either is, or He isn't."  This morphed into God is everything -- everything is God; so the key is turning my will/life over to or aligning with everything in any given moment.

What self am I turning over then?

It's my small self that I'm turning over...the self that depends upon this 12 Step program.  My larger self, my true self, this can't be turned over since there is nothing to turn over.  My true self is everything.  My true self is God, Dharma, Universe.

The next day came one of my favorite meetings,  The Third Step Meeting!  The General Service Representative had a short announcement and the words "bottom up" jumped out at me.  She was describing how our 12 Step fellowship is a bottom up organization -- where the ideas for change come from individuals to their group to eventually end up at our New York office.  We are not a bottom down organization with some CEO dictating changes and policy.

Our relation with the Third Step is totally bottom up, too.  Everyone at our meeting has a different perspective of their Higher Power.  We pray differently.  We meditate differently.  We are different and still the same...collectively, all holding hands, saying the Third Step Prayer at the end of the meeting, it's bottom up action.

It's the same for my practice whether I'm sitting with a Step or sitting with a koan.  Going more deeply into the Steps or koans is on one level a solitary job, looking inward -- yet this inward journey takes me to a heightened level with my Higher Power. 

On Friday the 8th we had eleven 12 & Zen participants and 5 of them were new!  As I was closing up the zendo and talking with one of the regulars about these new people, she said she knows one of them and asked her why she is coming.  The woman replied, "I wanted to start doing things that I like doing."

I hope you like doing this, too.

Bill K.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Step 2: God Magnet

A friend loaned me a little book of Jewish spirituality (Only 31 pages), printed by the Human Kindness Foundation, called Open Secrets -- The letters of Reb Yerachmiel ben Yisrael, Translated and edited by Rami M. Shapiro.*

While reading this book I found myself thoroughly amazed and energized.  Actually, the thought that kept appearing was, "Wow!  What a great Zen book."  I came away with a substantial affirmation of how I view my practice and Higher Power.  On the last page, Rabbi Shapiro adds:  "The fact that these teachings and practices have parallels in other religious systems points to our common humanity and universality of spiritual insight and practice.

And since we are sitting with Steps 2 and 3 this month and next, it is only fitting that I include the topic of God here.  I hope this invigorates your relationship with your Higher Power.

"The essence of God is that there is no essence of God, for God is all and nothing, here, now and forever."  Reb Yerachmiel ben Yisrael

You know how it is when you are at a meeting and you look around to see heads in the audience nodding in the affirmative to what the speaker is saying?  This is how it was for me reading Open Secrets

"You ask me of God:  to define the Nameless, to place in your palm the ultimate secret.  Do not imagine that this is hidden somewhere far from you.  The ultimate secret is the mot open one.  Here it is:  God is all.
...What we truly are is God manifest in time and eternity.  Know this, live well, and die easy."

-- Reb Yerachmiel ben Yisrael

It's suggested that we find a God of our understanding.  How do you feel and experience your Higher Power? Words fail me when I try to define my Higher Power.  No words can describe enlightenment either. 

Then I read the following letter.  It's not a definition of God;  he writes about God's completeness.

In writing about God's completeness ...it's like adding another blanket on a cold night...another level of feeling my Higher Power, feeling my place in the Universe.

Bill K.

*It seems that this little book is out of print but there is a full version (125 pages?) still available.

On first reading of