Wandering with my eyes and heart open, searching for pieces to add to my own personal big picture.

Tag: dainin katagiri

Zen Blogging? Writing To Learn

Is there such a thing as “Zen Blogging?” I googled it and found lots of blogs about Zen, but I’m thinking of something different. Can it be a Zen practice to blog about books and experiences? After reading this book, I have a new mindset about what I do here and I know that was not the intent of the author.

Zen blogging
Returning to Silence book cover

Returning to Silence took me nearly 8 hours to read and it’s only 175 pages long. I took copious notes, nearly 8 large pages, and I learned a lot but…

I don’t think I’d recommend this book to someone who simply wants to know a little more about Zen Buddhism. Maybe it’s my western mind, but it feels too “woo-woo” to me, too “out there.” I need something more concrete and precise, simplified at the beginning.

That doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy it. There was a lot in here to glean, especially since I’m listening to the Secular Buddhism podcast. That helped me put some of what he was writing about into personal context.

Zen blogging
Proof of my efforts to learn.

I read only about twenty minutes at a time. Each time I read, once I felt I gained an idea, I stopped and tried to write it down in my own words. It sounds tedious, but it didn’t feel so. Going thru my notes now, I’ll share my favorite gems that I have mined over the last month of reading.

Peace: Accepting What Is

Not a popular opinion but it feels right. If I fight for or against something, I’m still fighting. Like a fish caught in a net, the best thing we can do is relax and let the situation chill a bit. Once we find the peace, it’s much easier to assess our surroundings and make the best choices going forward.

Suffering: Human life is limited by conditions

Where we are born, and when, our physical and mental capabilities, etc., these are not up to us. We can’t ignore or escape them. “It means that as best we can, we should create better conditions from moment to moment,” by releasing our attachment to these conditions.

Express Only Peace

Yes, things are irritating and wrong sometimes, but the more we protest, hold signs, make statements, and change our profile frame on social media, the less peace we have, the more stress we put out into the world. That doesn’t mean you aren’t angry. It doesn’t mean you can’t volunteer at a homeless shelter or vote in the next election to change a law, or create a business that makes something better for the world.

Emptiness: Pure Activity

Just do it. Simply plan and then get busy. One thing at a time, one project, one task: if we put our focus into that thing, we not only achieve our goals, but we also get the added benefit of mental rest.

We’re all someone’s hero AND someone’s enemy at the same time, in everything we do.

My mere presence on this earth irritates someone and elates another. It is unavoidable. Live your life and leave others alone.

Ignorance Is Thirsting Desire

Thirsting desire to please oneself continuously, to insist on the continuation of one’s existence, to have and maintain power and prosperity. We can’t extinguish these desires, only acknowledge their existence and try to use it in positive ways. We can plant a tree to create shade and beautify our world, but we can’t have a fit if it dies. We can go to Disneyland and entertain our hearts, but we can’t lose our shit when the lines are long and the cost is high.

Here’s a tasty one…

We tend to label and define everything we see and experience according to our teaching, our feelings and perceptions, culture, etc. Then we judge the world accordingly. But it is not the reality of things that we are railing against.

We say to ourselves, “That is the moon!” as we point to it and tell stories about it, creating a new version of the moon. Each person on earth, each culture, each generation, does this. But there is only one actual moon, the one we physically experience and are connected to. The deeper our mythology, our stories, the further we are from reality.

There is no “us” and “them,” only “we.”

Each of us could be the other at any given time or circumstance. Like a droplet, when it drops into a still body of water, creates ripples that circle out and away and peter out. That drop had a different circumstance, it effected the body, and then became one with it. That’s us. Create the smallest ripples you can.

The Tortoise and The Hare

The tortoise won the race…or not…doesn’t matter. The point is that we make every possible effort to keep moving, give quality to the effort, instead of expecting the result of the effort. Dory is right, “Just keep swimming.”

The next two are what brought the idea of Zen blogging to mind, so I’ll keep them together and finish here.

“Most people want to teach only after mastering something completely.”
“Making something is really the practice of giving.”

I’m not the master of anything, except maybe sorting Legos or cleaning. But I do love to read, especially non-fiction. I love history, philosophy, economics, government, religion, everything. The more I read, the more I realize how little I know, but I still want to share what I’ve found. That’s why I write this blog.

So maybe Zen blogging is a thing. Reviewing, writing out my thinking, and connecting things I read to my experiences, helps me process what I’ve read. I’m explaining what I’ve found to you, to help myself think more clearly and retain what I’ve learned. A byproduct of that process is that you get to read those thoughts. I’m making these posts, for no other purpose than to share it.

There are times, every damn week, that I think to myself, “What’s the point of any of this?” I could write these things in a journal and walk away. I don’t need to make it pretty, add pictures and headlines, and post it online. But books like this remind me that a candle burning under a box only starts a fire that destroys things. By writing and posting, I’m lighting my candle and setting it in the window. It lights my room and allows others to find me, to read by it, or to use it to guide them on their journey elsewhere. It’s up to you. I cannot be attached to the outcome of my creation. That would not be Zen blogging at all.

Read more about the book in my first post about it, “New Read: Returning to Silence.”

Zen Habits and This How ’bout Heat, Man?!

Surprise! It’s hot! Damn hot! Can Zen Habits help me here?

Zen habits quote on a desert sunrise.

The heat stresses me out and no matter where I go, I can’t seem to escape summer temperatures. Yes, I know I live in the desert. That is what makes the heat tolerable. Because do you know what’s worse than heat? Humidity. By living here, I avoid that almost completely.

Yesterday, I started to panic. It was day two of a heat wave that is supposed to last a whole week. When it’s hot like this, I’m stuck indoors and there is nowhere to drive to get out of it. The mountains aren’t cool enough, the movies are closed during the day now. What else can I do?

And then something I’m reading came to mind.

Thich Nhat Hanh, simplified the rules in just a few words: “Smile, breathe and go slowly.” It doesn’t get any better than that.

I’m still reading “Returning to Silence” by Dainin Katagiri, but it’s getting a tad tedious. I want to scream, “Get to the point, man!” Everything is and isn’t at the same time. Everything is good and bad, wrong and right. I keep finding small bits floating around in that resonate with me, but it’s like fishing a piece of eggshell out of the egg you broke into the already hot frying pan. It scoots away as you reach for it, and the pan is hot, the egg is cooking, you’re running out of time.

But here’s one thing that captured my attention this morning.

“So I went to school to try to learn Buddhism and end my suffering, but the complete opposite happened. The teacher gave me many books on Buddhism to read, which I did. Finally, he gave me a book on the Buddhist philosophy of emptiness. It is a collection of many simple sentences, but if you read it, it is really strange and hard to understand. Finally I thought, “Why did I become a monk?” It made me suffer more.”

That’s exactly where I am with this book. He keeps saying, “Don’t try so hard.” “We’re already enlightened, we just need to realize it.” “Don’t use the practice to get somewhere.” It’s irritating.

Yesterday, as I was reading, I did find a few of those, “Yes! That makes sense!” pieces, but I kept thinking, “How can I remember and practice some of these ideas when I’m out in the world?” I tend to run high on anxiety and at full speed. I react more often than I respond and tend to get myself into trouble. Then I withdraw. Maybe I’m just not built to be in this world.

That makes no sense. What’s the point of being alive at all if all you do is sit at home and never experience the world around you?

Then I came across this article at Zen Habits called, “12 Essential Rules to Live More Like a Zen Monk” and it shifted my thinking.

Which brings me back to the heat. As I watered my plants and trees today, the early morning sun beating down on me (it was already 90), I started to grumble. It was 115 degrees yesterday and today’s weather report said it would a little hotter, peaking on Friday and Saturday. How was I going to survive?! Why do I live here?! Who lives like this?!

Yeah, I have been known to be a little dramatic. So?

Then I remembered Zen Habits, “Smile. Breathe. Slow down.”

I smiled. Yes, it’s hot. It’s always hot like this mid-June. It’s like the solstice has to announce that it has arrived. “Hello! I am the sun and I am here all damn day! Enjoy my brilliance!” It gets blazing hot for a week as a result. I smiled at the thought of the sun being so obnoxious.

Then I took a breath. The birds don’t seem to mind. They just continue. And there are lots of them. The plants survive. The rabbits, squirrels, and coyotes, too. I made sure the water dish near the bushes was full of cool water. I made a little oasis for them.

I slowed down. I moved my potted plants into the shade, so they only get morning sun, watered the trees nice and deep and was thankful for those big wide leaves. What if I change my thinking and wonder how hot it will get? Will we break a record at the house this year? Since we moved here, I’ve had an electronic thermometer in the yard. It keeps a record of highs and lows. The record high is 117 and it was made two Junes ago. Will we get to 118? Let’s find out.

Next week, the weather will cool again. The high 90’s are not bad at all when the humidity is so low. It usually hovers around 10%. I will go back to talking a long walk in the morning, just before the sun comes up. Besides, the changes are what make life interesting. The hot summer breaks into a cool fall and the cold winters warm into a beautiful spring. I stood there watching a dove on its nest wondering if we’ll get any rain later this summer.

Zen habits win! Nothing changed but my thinking, my realization that all is as it should be, as it always has been. Katagiri says that we are all buddha already, we are born “enlightened,” we just need to accept it. For a moment, I caught a glimpse of that and there was peace.

Connection and the use of Rituals

I had one of those “ah-ha” moments while reading “Returning to Silence” this morning. These two ideas on connection are going to change my way of thinking and my life, forever. The first was, “There is only us.” And the other was about the significance of ritual.

A small side note first, I’ve been listening to the podcast, “Secular Buddhism with Noah Rasheta” the past couple of weeks and it is helping me put Dainin Katagiri’s words into context. The book was recommended as a classic introduction to Buddhism, but I’m finding it a little too spiritual and “out there” to understand on its own. I’m constantly looking up what words mean because he uses Buddhist practices as given information. That’s not a bad thing. I’m learning a lot. It’s just a tad tedious in addition to the flowery and repetitive style he uses.

The positive is that it slows me down and gives me the chance to think about what is written and fish out what I need to know.

What does, “There is only us.” mean?

“We tend to define enlightenment as an experience that creates a difference between us and others.”

Returning to silence by dainin katagiri

Human connection is everywhere in this world. Have you ever seen rock climbers? I live near Joshua Tree National Park, one of the meccas of the rock-climbing world. I’m not a climber myself. I’ve always been a bit of klutz, tripping over my own feet or twisting my ankle on a pebble in the path. It’s best if I keep close to the ground. But I enjoy watching them from below.

A group of climbers are connected to the rocks and each other by rope. A lead climber gets up first, creates a new, or connects to an existing, pick point and latches on. The other climbers follow. The climbers above and below you can help you find a handhold you can’t see from your vantage point, encourage you to keep going, and limit your fall if you miss a step or lose your grip on the rocks. And at the top, the accomplishment is sweeter when you have someone to celebrate with.

The whole world is this way if we can see it. There is no me and you. There is not us and them. There is just the world, and we are all connected to each other. We can help or hinder each other by our actions, but we cannot disengage from the whole.

What is the significance of connection through ritual?

Ritual is everything we do. We have morning and evening rituals: making coffee, brushing our teeth, journaling, reading, meditation, waking up, driving to work. Weekly rituals of cleaning our house, taking care of our things. Monthly rituals of lunch dates with friends or a night out with a loved one. We know the rituals related to holidays, graduations, weddings, births and deaths.

Human connection through the magic of coffee.
Photo by Ben Weber on Unsplash

What is the significance though? Each ritual, if we bring our conscious thought to it, can ground us in the here and now, the magic of the moment we are in. Even making a cup of coffee in the morning can be made a ritual, from the most complicated (grinding beans, boiling water, and pouring it yourself) to the simplest (picking it up at the drive-thru on your way to work). When we bring our conscious thought to it, we ground ourselves. This is this time of day. This makes my heart happy. This is something I share with millions of people that are also doing this, or the human connection of the millions of people that brought this delicious bean juice to me to today.

By the way, there are so many gorgeous pictures of coffee on Unsplash, an infinite variety of styles and how and … just beautiful, like coffee itself. I chose this one because it reminded me of the magic of coffee and the ritual it can be.

Every ritual reminds us of our connection with this world, the other climbers ahead and behind us, the rock beneath us, the sky above us, the creators of the equipment, the experience of those that have gone before, the excitement of those we bring along and teach, and those that stand on the ground and wonder at our achievement.

It makes me think of that feeling of disconnect that comes over me often these days. Do have a country? A culture? A family? Am a part of something bigger than myself? Buddhism has reminded me that yes, I am. I can’t escape it. I can only notice it and accept it.

It doesn’t matter if I subscribe to the religion or not, every holiday my country celebrates connects me to the people that live here if I consciously choose to acknowledge that in positive way.

Every time I walk into a Target for cleaning supplies, order something from Amazon to be delivered, or buy one of those glorious chicken avocado burritos at El Pollo Loco, I can choose to be reminded of my connection to the culture I grew up in.

And my family? We’ve had a rough go of it the past ten years or so. But recently I realized, as I began a sewing project, how connected I am to my grandmothers, mom, aunt, and cousins. We all have our sewing rooms. We all create with fabric in some way. Quilts, bags, toys, and clothes, we all have our specialties.

My aunt and I have grown apart over the years. That has been my fault. As I started a sewing project this past weekend, I thought of her and sent her a picture of it. I opened a door and my heart felt grounded again. I did this unconsciously, before reading about rituals and connection in a Buddhist context.

Now I see how I can personally create these connections and why I need to continue to do so. It takes no law, no social media campaign, no reciprocation, no feedback, to start. All it takes is my own conscious thought. Human connection is the reality of this world. I only need to acknowledge the rituals that bring that connection to my consciousness.

I’m really enjoying reading “Returning to Silence.” If you’d like to read more of my thoughts on this book, go back to my post “New Read: Returning to Silence” to start from the beginning. Other posts are linked at the bottom of that one.

True Nature, Driving, and New Podcasts

As you have probably heard, I love listening to podcasts while I drive and yesterday, I tried out a couple new ones to share with you. One got me a little closer to that idea of the true nature of things that “Returning to Silence” was getting at.

Understanding the true nature of things while I'm driving.
Photo by Dan Gold on Unsplash

What’s Essential hosted by Greg McKeown

I picked this one because I loved his book “Essentialism” and plan on reading it again. I’m not sure if the podcast will add more to my understanding than the book does, but it was worth a listen.

The Daily Stoic

I’m a big fan of Stoic philosophy and have been studying it passively for years. As a highly emotional and reactive personality, it has helped me learn better ways of dealing with the world. Most days I wish I were better at it, but I’ve come to accept my progress for what it is. I’m doing the best I can with what I have. I am making headway, no matter how slowly.

I added this one to my repertoire because my sons started listening to it. Side note: there is nothing in this world as awesome as your kids picking up and getting into something you’ve been interested in for years.

This podcast is short and to the point, just a little something to think on as you start or end your day.

And then there is this one, the one I really want to talk to you about.

Secular Buddhism with Noah Rasheta

I’ve been leaning more towards Buddhist teaching for some time now, not for its spiritual aspects (although that’s pretty interesting), but more for its teaching about human nature. I’ve found guidance and support by reading and trying to understand this teaching.

Listening to this podcast is an extension of that effort and I liked it to much that it will stay in my rotation for a while. It added to the thinking I’m learning in the book “Returning to Silence.”

Speaking of that book, I had some gems to share from it today!

“People usually depend, consciously or unconsciously, on the conceptualizations of the world.”

Funny thing…that’s exactly what the second episode of Secular Buddhism (#150 Buddha Nature) I listened to was about!

He told the story of his Buddha rock, a stone he had painted at a monastery and kept in his house and then in his yard. The rock was supposed to remind him of the Buddha Nature, the weight that keeps us grounded, maybe an anchor. Moral of the story was that it was the nature of the rock and his connection to it, not the painting on it, that was supposed to be the reminder.

We all do this to everything around us, every day. Everything we see and experience in this world, we label and categorize. This person is fat. That person is rude. That tree is tall. That thing hurts me. But those labels are not the true nature of those things. When we can see past the descriptions and labels, we can begin to see the reality, the connections, and more.

It reminds me of, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” The true nature of what we see and experience isn’t what we label it with.

If you want to read more of my posts about “Returning to Silence,” go back to my first post on it called, New Read: Returning to Silence. You’ll find a list of posts at the bottom of the page.

Renewed Practice of Emptiness

Considering the idea of “emptiness” during my meditation time. The most enlightening explanation of how to meditate was when I heard that we were not clearing our minds of thought, we were simply staying focused on one activity and letting thoughts go for the time being. That’s when I first began a serious practice of sitting in mediation each morning.

Over the past few years, I slowed and then stopped that practice. I felt like I didn’t have time and maybe that it was a waste anyway. And now here I am unable to step between the trigger and response again. This book is reminding me to return to the practice.

Notes on emptiness and meditation.

Side note: I wonder if you could track your moods and reactions to things by tracking your penmanship? The top part of this picture is from the day before yesterday. The bottom part is from today. It’s like two different people writing. And I feel like two different people most days, sometimes three.

A few days ago, my energy was flowing outward, searching for connections and input. Today, it ebbs, seeking peace and solitude. I need time to process and recharge.

From “Returning to Silence” by Dainin Katagiri,

“After careful consideration, just do it! Next, forget it! All you have to do is return to emptiness, which is pure activity.”

Thinking on the idea of emptiness as pure activity. I never would have put it that way, but that’s what we are practicing when sitting in meditation. We are not “emptying” our minds, we’re simply sitting.

We made the plan to sit for so much time, we’ve created the environment, and now…we sit and let everything else go for a moment.

Interruptions come. A dog barks, a siren blares, a housemate is doing something in the kitchen. Those things are not sitting, I let them go.

A thought comes to my mind. Hello, thought, we’ll talk later.
A feeling stirs in my heart. Hello, heart, take a rest.

It can be the same with going for a walk, doing the laundry, or washing the dishes. Nothing else matters at the moment. I am not hyper-focused on my activity, just deliberate about what I’m doing and only doing that activity, not planning ahead, judging the activity, or reacting to outside stimuli. It is a rest.

I just did it while I was writing this. I made the plan to spend this half hour writing these thoughts, but the phone is there beside me. “Oh, yes, I should remind him that today is my day off.” Text. Set it down. Write again. “Buzz. Buzz.” My train of thought is interrupted, and I pick up the phone to see the response, smile and set it down again.

That is not emptiness, not pure activity. I am not only writing, but I’m also thinking about the people on the other end of the phone, the chores I think I’ll get to later, and whether or not it will be too warm to be outside tomorrow.

Emptiness will be my practice this week: set aside blocks of time to do only one thing and let all else go. Start with quieting my phone. Cliché, I know, but being alone here so much, I tend to use the phone as my lifeline. I keep letting it interrupt my moment. For now, I will set it to silent and leave it on my desk. I’ll have a note on it to remind me. My friends and family love me and will not stop loving me if I don’t answer immediately to every inquiry.

Read more about the book in my first post about it, “New Read: Returning to Silence.”

New Read: Returning to Silence

I’ve been looking forward to reading Returning to Silence!

The question is: Can one return to someplace they’ve never been? “Silence” is not a word anyone would associate with me.

Returning to Silence book cover on a desert background.
Returning to Silence
Zen Practice in Daily Life
by Dainin Katagiri (1988)

From the Foreword:

“It is not a book to ‘get through.’ It is a book to live in. Many books are read in pausing from life, when you take some time off, when you escape, put everything on hold. This book is such; when you live in it you are more outside it, more in life. Read it a little and keep it near your places. Let it be a friend. Let it help you to keep the trivia in perspective.”

And that is what I’ll be doing with this book. I have started a new reading journal just for this book so that I’m not rushing to fit it into my current one, along with others. I have it here with my journal and instead of reading Medium or other blog posts and news after breakfast, I’ll take a dip in this pool.

I’ll also be trying something new here. I feel like I’ve lost track of my purpose for blogging. I’ve begun to chase something, instead of experience a journey. In the coming week, I plan to revisit my “About” and “Home” pages and attempt to communicate exactly why I’m here, or at least create something less restrictive than what is currently posted.

On that note, here’s the first quote from this book that caught my eye.

“If you study Buddhism thinking that it will help you, that means that you use Buddhism for your ego, for selfishness. No matter how long you do this, it is egocentric practice. If you continue to practice like this you will never be satisfied, because desire is endless.”

Why else would you read something, other than the hope that it will help you or others? What I’ve read of Buddhism in the past seems like one contradictory statement after another. Let go to hold on. Quiet to think? Or quiet to let thought go? Focus to unfocus. I’m confused, but I keep reading.

Small snippets, like “desire is endless” comfort me. The more you get, the more you want. We all know that deep down. There is no perfect or enough, always the drive to more and better. Isn’t that the drive that has gotten the human race where it is now? And contrary to popular belief, I think we (in general) are better off now than we were when we lived in caves and grass huts.

How do we return to a silence that calms our hearts and helps us appreciate the world we live in? How do we learn to love the world around us and everything in it?

Have you read Returning to Silence? You can find it at Thriftbooks.com if you’d like to read it with me. I’d love to hear your comments.

Read my next post about this book at “Renewed Practice of Emptiness.”
“Attachment Thoughts on Returning to Silence”
“True Nature, Driving, and New Podcasts”
“Connection and the use of Rituals”
“Zen Habits and This How ’bout Heat, Man?!”
“Zen Blogging? Writing To Learn”

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