Meditation: Why It Helps, Even Though It’s Not Doing Anything

Those of us who practice meditation sometimes have a hard time explaining the practice to people who don't. Basically, we just sit there, doing nothing. We forgo entertainment, and we even try not to think when we're sitting there!Why would we want to take precious time out of our busy lives, just to waste it?There are different ways to answer this question, but in a way, the answer doesn’t matter. The best thing to do is just try meditation and see if doing it makes a positive d … [Read more...]

Calming Your Mind Buddhist-Style – A 30-Second Method for Non-Buddhists and Buddhists Alike

In recent weeks, given the political turmoil in the world, I've heard from a lot of people who are wondering how to calm their minds. It's painful and unhelpful to be caught up in anxiety, anger, reactivity, despair, fear, and worry about the future. In addition, these kinds of emotions are what Buddhists call afflictive - that is, they are self-perpetuating and suck up a lot of our energy. Stewing in anxiety, for example, generally leads to more anxiety and exhaustion, not to solutions or re … [Read more...]

Appropriate Speech When Talking Politics: the Buddha’s Five Conditions

Most of us need to talk to others about political matters. We need to vent and process, and try to understand. We need to keep ourselves conscious of what's happening in our world so we can respond appropriately.At the same time, our conversations about politics can get exhausting, depressing, agitating, repetitive, divisive, judgmental, and even hateful. They can discourage us from staying politically engaged - right when we need to stay engaged.The Buddha laid out five things to … [Read more...]

Step One – Commit to Stillness, Don’t React

When we decide to study our life, when we are determined to face the truth no matter how difficult, it is very useful to cultivate a determination to sit still through it all and to not react too quickly to anything we learn. We want to build a strong base for our practice – a strong, stable, established routine of healthy, rational, moral behavior we can rely on when our life gets turned upside down. Ideally it will become second-nature for us to regularly sit zazen, spend time with Sangha, c … [Read more...]

Beyond Mindfulness: The Radical Practice of Unified Presence

I am going to present an alternative to mindfulness practice. I do this because I believe the concept of mindfulness – at least the way it is typically understood – can limit our spiritual development. It can become a dualistic trap that causes us to reject much of what we are as human beings.However, before I describe the potential pitfalls of mindfulness practice and offer a different approach that has worked for me, I want to discuss the metaphor of fingers pointing at the moon. “The moon” … [Read more...]

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Ten Ways to Energize Your Meditation

Most forms of meditation, by definition, are pretty boring. If a meditation technique was entertaining or exciting, it wouldn't be meditation! Typically, in meditation you notice when your mind is wandering and then shift your awareness back to some simple meditative object like your breathing, or sound, or a repeated phrase. This is what triggers your body's relaxation response as opposed to it's stress response (which gets triggered a great deal in daily life).At the same time, meditation … [Read more...]

Self as Both Real and Not-Real – The Teaching of the Five Skandhas

How do you resonate with the Buddhist teaching that our sense of self is an illusion? I imagine you feel very real. You exist, and you are not the same as everyone and everything else. You move through your life with a sense of continuity from one moment, one day, one year, to the next. In what way is our sense of “self” an illusion? Once upon a time a very bold man, King Milinda, put this question to a Buddhist sage named Nagasena. They started out their dialogue like this: “King Milinda asked … [Read more...]

What Is Meant By Zen “Practice”?

If you have spent any time in a Zen community, or reading Zen books, you will have encountered the term “practice” countless times. Zen ancestors and teachers exhort us to practice diligently. Fellow practitioners talk to one another about their practice: “I have been practicing 20 years,” or “I just started practice,” or “Lately my practice has been focussed on an acceptance of change.” We say it is hard to practice without a Sangha, or community. When facing challenges in life, we say, “It’s go … [Read more...]

Receiving and Maintaining Our Deepest Aspiration

Why are you reading posts on a spiritual/religious website? Why do you meditate or pray? Why do you attend a temple, church, or Zen center? Underneath all the practical reasons lies your deepest aspiration and concern for your life, and for the life of all other beings.In the mid 1200's in Japan, Zen master Eihei Dogen gave a short Dharma talk that speaks to me of the supreme importance of our deepest aspiration, and how essential it is that we "receive and maintain" it - or remain aware of … [Read more...]

Dogen and My Journey to Oneness with a Flower

At my Zen center right now we're studying one of the most treasured Zen texts: Zen master Dogen's essay "Genjokoan." This week we're focusing on this passage: "Therefore flowers fall even though we love them; weeds grow even though we dislike them. Conveying oneself toward all things to carry out practice-enlightenment is delusion. All things coming and carrying out practice-enlightenment through the self is realization." (translation by Shohaku Okumura) To understand this passage, you first … [Read more...]