How to Open Your Eyes but Not Lose Heart

You don't have to be a rocket scientist or a radical thinker to conclude humanity is on a path toward the kind of dystopian world imagined in the bleakest of scifi novels. We can't keep trashing our planet without dire consequences. We can't keep using up our non-renewable resources as if we have an infinite supply. We can't keep acting as if it's each man for himself (or country for itself) without the social fabric of our world completely disintegrating.If we keep on this path, we'll have a … [Read more...]

It’s OK When Things Suck

Buddhist practice doesn’t get you out of experiencing, and feeling the pain of, old age, disease, death, change, loss, trauma, and things being different than how you would like them to be. It also does not relieve you of being a limited being who needs to work hard to overcome harmful habits of body and mind. In short, Buddhism does not help you avoid times when things suck. And sometimes they really, really suck.What Buddhist practice gives you is the ability to stop resisting the s … [Read more...]

The Good Thing about Suffering

It makes me happy when someone admits they are suffering.Please don't get me wrong - I don't enjoy the suffering of others. Rather, it brings me something akin to joy when someone who is suffering admits it. This is because the acknowledgement that there is a problem opens up the possibility of change, as well as the profound spiritual adventure that goes along with change. (Please see the footnote about the difference between pain and suffering.)Most people don't want to admit they are … [Read more...]

Practicing within Sickness and Pain

I'm not writing this post because I'm an expert on practicing with sickness and pain. I'm writing it because sickness and pain are the reality of my present moment, and writing is part of my practice.I feel fortunate to have enough energy to sit upright in front of the computer. My head feels bleary and my intelligence greatly dulled, but I feel fortunate to have enough of a brain to get a few words out. There, that's something.I am always struck, on the rare occasions that I feel this … [Read more...]

I Discover I Can Only Know God with My Heart (Not with My Mind)

I spent last week at an intensive, silent Zen meditation retreat. We meditated for 7 hours a day and spent the rest of our waking hours in structured, mindful activity. Even though I'm officially a Zen "teacher" and have done well over 40 such retreats, I identified and resolved a significant doubt I was holding on to. This is, of course, humbling and wonderful at the same time.I realized that I doubted the existence of God. Or, to put it in Zen terms (as I explained in my post, The Nature … [Read more...]

What Good Is Religion, Anyway?

Written as part of a Patheos symposium in response to the following prompt: "We all know the media mantra, 'What bleeds, leads.' Bad news sells, and there's nothing like a juicy religious scandal to drive traffic. Yet, for every sordid religious story, there are any number of quiet stories of charity, compassion, self-sacrifice, and service. In our obsession with bad news, are we missing of the GOOD of religion? How is your tradition contributing to the flourishing of the world? How has your … [Read more...]

When Religion Refrains From Explaining “Why”

If religion’s purpose is to help people find peace and strength and to live good lives, which I believe it is, it makes sense that people would turn to religion to explain why terrible things happen in the world – particularly terrible things that happen to individuals that apparently didn’t do anything to deserve it.I think the most profound and true religions - or the most profound and true forms of the various religions - refrain from any definitive explanation of “why.”Our longing to … [Read more...]

When It’s Time to Speak Out as a People of Faith

Last week one of the largest Zen Centers in the U.S. published an open letter urging California governor Jerry Brown to ban hydraulic fracking in the state. I was thrilled, but not all Zen folks will be, even if they agree on this particular issue. Speaking out as people of faith can be powerful, but it can also be divisive and confusing. When and where do we - as individuals and as faith communities - take a public stand?I'll offer this simple answer for you to chew on: we should take a p … [Read more...]

We Have to Do Something AND Everything Will Be Okay – AT THE SAME TIME

On the one hand everything's going to hell in a hand basket and we have to respond. On the other hand everything is complete and luminous just as it is. The amazing thing is these aren't just two different views that one can choose to adopt at different times - these are two aspects of reality that are true simultaneously. Of course, this is much easier said than experienced!A number of my recent blog posts have dealt with this apparently paradoxical nature of life, which for Buddhists is … [Read more...]

Questions Are More Important Than Answers

Everyone wants answers. We figure answers tell us how to live more happily. Answers let us fix things, while questions are simply problems to be solved with answers. Preferably answers come sooner than later because questions point to limitations in our understanding or ability, and they're often associated with discomfort.I think this view of questions is unfortunate because the process of arousing and engaging a question feels like where all growth and aliveness occurs. We directly en … [Read more...]