Friday, December 19, 2014

New 12 & Zen Location for 2015

12 & Zen,  WE'VE MOVED!
Walk down this driveway, the zendo is behind the house.
New Location effective January 9, 2015
7 PM

Fortunately for us, Daniel Terragno Roshi has generously provided his Rocks and Clouds Zendo for our 12 & Zen group to hold its usual second Friday of the month gathering. 

Rocks and Clouds Zendo
618 South Main Street
Sebastopol, CA 95472

(See "links" to the right.)

On South Main Street (one way), look for the white picket fence on the Maple Avenue corner, and the huge oak tree towering above.  Park on S. Main Street, the 618 driveway is just past this tree.

Hope to see you in January.

Bill K.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Buddhists and That 12-Step “God” Thing

"...with God as we understood Him..."
This topic has been on my mind lately, that is, Buddhists finding their way in A.A. or any other 12-Step group.   After all, Buddhists don't believe in God, right?  Here is the way I see it.

There’s plenty of room for success for Buddhists (or anyone) in twelve-step programs -- that is, if one is open-minded and willing to find acceptance in other people’s choices in their Higher Powers.  This is my experience and I see it in others every day.

On the surface it would appear that twelve-step programs, with the Christian influence and theistic language, would be incompatible for Buddhists. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people’s stories at meetings where, upon seeing the word “God” in the twelve steps hanging on the wall, would mutter to themselves, “I’m screwed.  This isn’t going to work for me.” Then they go on to say, “But I stuck around, listened, followed some direction and the ‘God’ obstacle eventually disappeared.”

Regarding this reliance on a God or Higher Power, clearly the founders of A.A. came up with a brilliant way to include all humanity.  Yes, they use the word “God” throughout the book of Alcoholics Anonymous; after all, it was written in 1935 when close to 95% of people in the U.S. considered themselves Christian.  But they also insisted that this Higher Power be of your own understanding.  Be creative, use your imagination, follow your heart – it’s your choice, not the choice of others.  “I chose to set aside my fears and just let see what happened,” said Christine S., Tibetan Buddhist nun with 29 years of sobriety, only to discover that “A.A. though theistic in language is clearly not theistic in spirit.”

And with a God comes prayer.  There’s not one among us who has not been thankful: the birth of a child, escaping injury in a car wreck, gazing upon the spectacular beauty of mountains, rivers, and stars, or feeling the snuggly warmth of your bed.  Who or what do you give thanks to?  Thank you Universe, thank you Dharma, thank you Tao, thank you Ancestors, thank you all Oneness of reality, or simply thank you.  Vajrayana teacher Elizabeth Mattis-Namgyel writes, “It doesn’t matter if you don’t know whom you’re praying to.  The very act of asking for help allows the heart to open and invite the world in.” We recite vows, “…which are a kind of prayer-wrapped intention,” writes Jan Chozen Bays Roshi.

Roger H., 19 years sober, who lives by the tenets of Buddhist traditions, told me, “Early on… having patiently waded through my resentment of A.A.’s clear and apparent Christian God peer pressure, I knew God was nothing but a delusion; I am an atheist.  Today, the ultimate purpose of my spiritual practice is to uncover and make contact with my essentially pure nature.” Roger has found his higher power!

In 1965 Bill Wilson, one of the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous wrote, “Newcomers …represent almost every belief and attitude imaginable.  We have atheists and agnostics. We have people of nearly every race, culture and religion.  In A.A. we are supposed to be bound together in the kinship of a common suffering.  Consequently, the full individual liberty to practice any creed or principle or therapy whatever should be a first consideration for us all.  Let us not, therefore, pressure anyone with our individual or even our collective views.  Let us instead accord each other the respect and love that is due to every human being as he tries to make his way toward the light.  Let us always try to be inclusive rather than exclusive…”

My friend Tom C. with 33 years of sobriety told me, “A.A. and Buddhism -- as I've encountered it -- are gloriously compatible. To me, being sidetracked by A.A.'s often Christian-influenced vocabulary risks missing out on the inner, wordless, powerfully healing music, whose truth can't be defined with human words. Both A.A. and Buddhism are technologies in some sense. In my experience, Buddhism is a marvelous technology for experiencing the universe's music, and A.A. is an empirically efficient technology for getting us in good enough shape that we can hope to hear anything besides the incessant rumblings and shrieks of our addiction.”

In the beginning I mentioned the importance of being open-minded.  For me, this has meant that when I hear a person speaking about “God”, I understand this person is talking about his/her God or Higher Power.  When I read the book of Alcoholics Anonymous, these writers are telling me how they found and have a relationship with their Higher Power.  When I’m asked to speak at a meeting, I’ll talk about my relationship with my Higher Power. It’s as simple as that.  As Bill W. said, we are not to “pressure anyone with our individual or even our collective views”. If I hear something as pressure, I need to reflect upon the situation.  If someone actually tells me that I must do or think or believe what they do, then that goes against the A.A. Traditions.

“Our book [Alcoholics Anonymous] is meant to be suggestive only.” It’s a wise book, written through the experiences of many; open to one’s principled interpretations and widely adaptable to our lives today, no matter whom you think you are.

In April, 1961, AA Co-Founder Bill W. wrote: “Faith is never a necessity for AA membership … sobriety can be achieved with an easily acceptable minimum of it …our concepts of a higher power and God as we understand him afford everyone a nearly unlimited choice of spiritual belief and action.”

“God As We Understand Him: The Dilemma of No Faith,” The Language of the Heart.

Early on, Bill W. was loaned the 1902 book Varieties of Religious Experience by Harvard psychologist and philosopher William James.  In it he writes, “The only thing that it [religious experience] unequivocally testifies to, is that we can experience union with SOMETHING larger than ourselves, and in that union find our greatest peace… All that the facts require is that the power should be both other and larger than our conscious selves.  Anything larger will do, if only it be large enough to trust for the next step.  It need not be infinite, it need not be solitary.” (Postscript, Page 283).

Bill K.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

What is my worth?

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

Koan:  What is my worth?

Just think about asking yourself this question when you were at Step One.  I for one would not have given myself much worth back then. Low self esteem …low self worth…I did not measure up to others.

What handicap?
Then we work the 12 Steps… With each Step a building upon of ”estimable acts” as some say.  Something miraculous happens along this path.  We are transformed into a different person. I am not the same person that began my 12 Step journey 28 years ago.

We think of worth as value.  After working Step 12, have I become more valuable to others?  More valuable to society?  More valuable to myself?  How do I do this?

I'm an outdoor cat
By carrying the message of the Steps to others… By practicing these principles in all my affairs. 

The origin of the word “worth” is interesting:

·      Old English – weorthan
·      Old High German – werdan … to become
·      Latin – vertere … to turn

For something to become valuable, it has to be compared with something of less value.  From our beginnings at Step One, compare that with completing the 12 Steps; another way then, of describing this koan, might be What have I become?

Ain't life grand?
What have I become after having had a spiritual awakening?  There are myriad examples in the Big Book:

·      More and more we became interested in seeing what we could contribute to life. P.63
·      We come to rely upon it [inspiration]. P.87
·      …spiritually fit, we can do all sorts of things alcoholics are not supposed to do. P. 100

Responses yesterday to this koan came in various ways.  If you do these Steps, it’s worth it!  Setting a good example equals worth.  A bookkeeper brought up the notion of assets and liabilities showing net worth.  When we give, we receive more (worth)… freely giving of our self, gives us a sense of worth.

What a great place to be!

Bill K.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Step 12 Koan

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.

Koan:  What is my worth?

I invite you to sit with this koan ... begin right now ...where does it take you as apply it to Step 12?


Monday, November 17, 2014

Step 11: Prayers that reach the gods

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

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

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

·      Collecting firewood and carrying water

·      Brushing teeth and taking out the garbage

·      Going to a meeting and setting up chairs

·      Paying the water bill and emptying the cat box

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

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

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

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

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

Bill K.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Step 11 Koan comes from Layman Pang

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

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

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

Layman Pang

Layman Pang (P’ang Yun)
Pangun (Hoon)

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

Now is a perfect time to sit with this.

Bill K.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Step 10: Attention, Attention, Attention

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

·      By listening.

·      By noticing this relationship with others.

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

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

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


Monday, September 15, 2014

Steps 8 and 9: One Leads to the Other

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bill K.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Getting Drenched


August --- Potluck

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Step 7: Through the torn paper screen

Step 7:  Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.


how beautiful

through the torn paper screen
the Milky Way

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

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

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

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

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

·      Low self-esteem is my character defect.

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

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

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

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

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

Bill K.

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

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Remembering the Ancestors

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bill K.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Step 6: Step by step ...

STEP 6: Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.

Koan:  Step by step in the dark—
if your foot’s not wet, it found the stone.

~ Shaku Soyen

Don’t you just love it when you have it all “mapped out” – then finding yourself going in the opposite direction – AND it’s still OK?  This is how it went for us last Friday, when I thought this koan would take us in one direction; then two people flipped the subject with opposite views.  This was just another affirmation of the many ways koans show up in our lives.

There’s just so much activity in this koan:

Step by step brought a smile to my face since working the Steps is paramount to my recovery. I have worked the Steps, we are sitting with Step 6, and step by step indicates that we are going somewhere, headed in a direction, and hopefully making some progress.  Entirely ready indicates willingness, a willingness to take steps in some form or another. In the beginning we find ourselves in the dark.  Of course, this is where we begin, in our disease, separated from who we really are.

Not only did I find myself in the dark, I was slogging in a wet swamp of darkness.  I’ve ended up on dry ground, my feet are dry now (well, most of the time).  There’s that point in time, a realization when I became willing or entirely ready.

It’s at that point that I realized my foot wasn’t wet.  I found the stone; I found my way out of the darkness.  This is where trust comes in, trusting the direction I’m headed and realizing that now that I’m on firm ground, recovery is possible.  More than possible, it’s actually happening in my life.

Here are some short examples of what others had to say:

  •       I have to make myself ready by using the Steps and knowing I’m on a good path.  The spirit within me guides me as I’m stepping in the dark.

  •       The rock is a positive; the water a minus; darkness is my powerlessness.  You know, before doing something new, they say you have to first get your feet wet?  Just beginning to get my feet wet was me doing my Steps.

  •       Water played the main role.  Water equals emotion, and water equals the Tao.  My defects and up being a huge barrier, like a big rock.  Water can wear down a big rock.  My Higher Power can wear down my barriers … and this also reminds me of Step Seven.  [A couple of people said they didn’t like the word “defects” in the Steps and much preferred the word “barriers”.]

  •      I’m not slogging in the dark anymore.  This Step helped me to climb onto a large rock.  My practice is rock solid now.

  •       Willingness – I don’t want to be that person anymore (old behavior).  Step by step walking in the dark…I’m moving from darkness to sunlight, from wet to dry.

  •       I’m new here.  I try to figure everything out.  I don’t know about faith so I’m always walking in the dark.  But I’m getting a glimpse now … I have to feel it, I can’t figure it all out.  I’m trying to be in the moment and feel my emotions.

  •       I just learned that my grandbaby’s leukemia has returned after 6 months of remission.  My mother died last week and I was named her executor …where I live on the West coast and all my siblings on the East coast.  It’s about having good intentions no matter what is happening in my life.  Step by step in the dark.


Koan study is a practice.  Most of the people who are showing up at our zendo for 12 & Zen have very little practice with koans, so part of what I'm trying to do here is teach a little about sitting with them.

Any part of the koan will work for you.  I've said this from time to time.  And the koan is about you, right now.  In my own practice these phrases have leaked into my 12 Step practice.  I sit with the Steps differently now.  Any part of the Step I am sitting with will work for me.  I am in this Step right now.  I think this is what we are doing here.

This is also why I emphasize carrying this koan with you for a while.  It has more to give.  And over time, just as a Step will appear with a pertinent message for you, the koans will do the same.

Happy summertime,

Bill K.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Step 5: It's only for your benefit ...

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

One day when Dongshan and a monk were washing their bowls, they saw two crows fighting over a frog. The monk asked, “Why does it always have to be like that?”

Dongshan replied, “It’s only for your benefit, honored one.”

Comments from our 12 & Zen gathering yesterday evening:

Life can be messy.

Dongshan and the monk are washing their bowls.   Remember, this koan is about you.  You and your sponsor are washing your bowls ...or doing any activity together ...or meeting together to do your fifth step.  

"Saw two crows fighting ..." This fighting is happening for all to see.  Is this impression good or bad for you?  Life can be messy, we can all vouch for this.  The poor frog is being torn apart is not good for the frog.  Or was it?  What if the frog was injured, couldn't get away, was suffering in pain.  The crows were ending this pain.  From the crows perspective, the frog is food.  They are fighting over their food.

"Why does it always have to be like that?"  Why do bad things happen?  I've looked at all my character defects in Step 4;  sure, I can admit  this to God and to myself,   but why do I have to tell someone else this?  We're back to the messy parts of life.

"It's only for your benefit, honored one."  There were three people in our group who are presently working on their 5th Step, one with just five months of recovery.  She is unsure yet continues on, trusting the process, trusting her sponsor.  All of the "stuff" in our Fifth Step, so messy -- but we all agreed that benefits abound.
"What a relief," said one person, "Like a giant weight taken off my shoulders when I did my Fifth Step."  And as a sponsor we receive the benefits of seeing the Steps in action, seeing them work in an other's life.  What an honor this is for us to experience.  Since the sponsee has benefitted as well as the sponsor, on a greater plane benefit expands outward to others around us, like ripples in a pond. "No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experience can benefit others." (P.84) This is the power of Step Five.  When we understand this, we are the honored one.

And the benefits from our koan today... it took us from something "bad" and messy to a place of relief and optimism.

Bill K.

“You wander from room to room
Hunting for the diamond necklace
That is already around your neck!”


Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Step Four -- A fire alarm is sounding!

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

Koan:  Put out that fire across the river.

It takes courage to be a fire fighter, and courage as we know, is the principle of Step Four.

As I was sitting with this koan, it was my past, my selfish actions that became the fire. I became the Fire Captain.  My job was to put out the fire of my past that burned inside me.

Searching is the first thing we do.  I had to first notice that there is a fire, then go out and find it. Then there’s the process of getting to what’s burning inside.  This can take some time, time in reflection.

The river could be considered a barrier of sorts; what is this river anyway?  I had to figure out how to cross it.  Do I swim across alone?  Do I ask for help from others to make it across?

Then, upon reaching the other side I must assess the fire.  Actually it turns out to be many fires.  Some are little spot fires; others are much larger and growing.  I realize that they are all growing.  Step 4 is about seeing that I don’t add any more fuel to my fire.  There are ways to reduce the fuel load right now.  Already the fire seems a bit under control by doing this.

But how do I put it out?  Step 4 is the fire fighting, the process of putting out all these fires and keeping the fire from spreading.  It takes courage to grub out all those potentially dangerous embers.  I think we’ll have to wait for Step 5 for the fire to be put out.

We had twelve people attending last Friday, and as usual, the koan took us in many directions:
  • The fire was my anger and resentments on the shore of the River of life.
  • OK God, this is a serious directive … to put out the fire…please help me with this Fourth Step, I can’t find the fire.
  •  The fire…ashes…the Phoenix rising from the ashes…my rebirth.
  • I need help to get this fire out.
  • Responding without questioning this?  Who is this anyway, telling me to put the fire out?
  • In this river of recovery, it took me a while to put my toe in the river…then I found myself swimming and the fire went out!
What came up for you?
Bill K.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Life After Your Barn Has Burned Down

The mere thought of thinking about making a decision requires attention – to in some way notice the process unfolding.  For God or our Higher Power to enter into this, the conversation only happens
in real time.

“Truth [God, awakening, koans, etc.] is only discovered in the moment and cannot be carried over to the next moment, the next day, or the next year …memory never contains truth.”  From an Adyashanti retreat ad.

“My barn having burned to the ground…” brought about a wide array of responses to our group last Friday.  What is the barn?  “It’s me... my ego... my past... protection from my fears,” they said.  The moon represented "light on my path...peace...and no matter what, God is always here."

Hearts Crack Open
When I was drinking, my life was full of burning barns, and burning bridges.  Hitting bottom was when I admitted I had a problem – admitting was noticing my life as it was.  My awakening (the Moon) began showing it’s face after I entered a rehab facility.  I was beginning to awaken to reality, hope, inspiration, beauty ... my heart began to crack open – my life began to change for the better.

In the Big Book on page 62 it reads “God was going to be the Director.”  And later on page 68 we ask God “to…direct our attention to what He would have us be.”  I think the Universe does this by providing us with each moment.  Direction, messages, signals, hints, clues, signs, warnings, all happen right here.  Now.  To turn my will and life (my actions and thoughts) “over to the care of God” is about paying attention to my life in this very moment -- just for the moment, casting aside my judgments and stories and all, to be open to what the Universe is presenting to me.  Isn’t this turning my life over?  Paying attention to my life is way different from paying attention to what my mind tries to tell me about life.  To shift from what I think is happening to actually notice what is really happening.  To awaken in the moment is all I need for a good life.

Being Attentive
On page 77 of the Big Book, “Our real purpose is to fit ourselves to be of maximum service to God and the people about us.”   To fit ourselves compatibly with whatever is going on. Before recovery, we more often were square pegs trying to fit into round holes.  So how do we make ourselves fit into life now?  We pay attention and allow the Universe to guide us. Having a “glass half-full” attitude really helps, too.

Saving the best for last [I think], a koan appeared to me on the morning of our 12 & Zen gathering.  It goes like this:  “No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experience can benefit others.” Page 84.  Sound familiar?

A good answer to this koan would be, “My barn having burned to the ground, I can now see the moon.”

Bill K. 

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Our Twelve AND Zen Culture

This article by John Tarrant (my teacher and founder of Pacific Zen Institute) comes to you from the Spring 2014 issue of Buddhadharma: The Practitioner's Quarterly.  What John is telling us is exactly what Pacific Zen Institute (PZI) is doing and how it is doing it.  We are building a culture.

But I can't help but think about my 12 Step program and fellowship.  This, too, is a culture.  When I read his seven parameters,   I thought, "This is what we do in meetings!"  We look behind the "no trespassing" signs, we speak from the heart, we listen to all the voices in the room,  new people count, and we have very few rules.

When people ask me about my "program", I tell them about 12 & Zen...the Twelve Steps and Zen koans, this is my practice... This is the culture that we have here.

Lots to be grateful for,



Saturday, March 1, 2014

Step 3: Deciding to change

Some say it’s time for March Madness (college basketball).  I say it’s time for March Gladness!  Time for us to sit with Step 3 and a new koan.  Of course, begin sitting with this now...continue doing this
for the entire month;  what we are doing here is portable, accessible, and a good thing.

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


Hint:  In Zen koans, often the moon is a metaphor for "awakening"...

 - - -

Also I’d like to share an email I received.  It’s about what we are doing here together, this 12 & Zen project, and its affect (koans and the Steps) upon people.

“thank you bill for tugging at my sleeve....koans from last year visit me often. it is nice to be with them....and sometimes too, they are like a stone in my shoe.

i have not been meditating and don’t seem to care or worry about it. a seed has been planted in what seems right now a reluctant soil.  "how’s that workin for ya     an old sponser used to say of my    perhaps  poorly chosen  behaviors" she knew i was not a quitter...but more, just habituated to the comfort of my bad habits.

so it goes. However, koans are tucked in some hidden place in me     and/or emanate  from  seemingly random stimulus (usually the beauty of nature or art)....and then move with me and i with is really consoling  how much less lonely i feel when one of them arrives....i feel kinda like i did when i had imaginary friends  for whom i would make tea, save a space in my bed or pray when they were having trouble.... a little "ahhhh" happens. nice.

my mom is still battling cancer. it has been three tumultuous years now  living with a woman I don't like, yet somehow can find ways to admire......when teachers speak of the transitory and irrefutable beauty of life or the fact that a thing holds its opposites as well helps me to    see  the bigger picture of her and me.   i live so close to the intimate and  constant hard requirements of advocating for a delusional  stubborn and very angry 90-year-old woman  that i forget    we are  part of something   else…and even in our uglier moments  (which happen frequently when our wills collide or our feelings get hurt and egos race forward to protect their interests)   there is   something tender sweet    laughably human about our sad little treacheries.  It feels   living with her   like we are both on a rollercoaster ride. I want to puke, refuse my ticket, grip the rail, hunker down on the floor as low as i can get, evacuate my seat. I did not design the ride but i did chose to get onto I am learning a lot. It is rich, but feels at times   more demanding than I can meet.  We forge ahead.

so. i write  as i do    to say how it is here. Koans do a lot to help me. Unlike other many other dialogues they allow me the fullness of time and space to build with them a new way of seeing and being   or ignore them or fight with them   or....there is great relief  in having the possibility of relationship  with something  kind and open   not agendized  and very elastic and forgiving . i need courage and koans give me that.  so there it is.   i am not up for much more socially than helping my mom, taking care of what our days require and visiting with koans and other poetry i read. (check out mary oliver if you have not already...she is  both zen   and christian. and artist that one zen monk whose name i cannot spell)…so, once again, ONE has sent what I need      zen and poetry together to help me just be ok with it all. and sometimes  to also remember the possibility of joy.

hope you are well.

see you  on the second friday...thank you   for   patience  warmth   non-judgment and glee...

-wobbly zen  student of what if  and howsthatworkingforya?"  N.C.

Bill K.