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...]

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...]

What Zen “Acceptance” and “Non-Attachment” Really Are

The practices of acceptance and non-attachment are critical to Zen and Buddhist practice - but they are easily misunderstood.It can sound like we're being asked not to care about things, or not to try to change things for the better. Fortunately, this is not what Zen means by acceptance or non-attachment, because 1) it's impossible (or psychologically and spiritually damaging) not to care, and 2) trying to change things for the better is the bodhisattva path itself!So what does it mean … [Read more...]

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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...]

Slackin’ Off in the Summertime: Cycles of Spiritual Practice

I've come to trust the cycles of practice.I know that sometimes I'll be on fire for the Dharma - acutely aware of the impermanence of life and willing to devote time and energy to meditation and study.I also know that, at other times, I'll be caught up in enjoying my life and... well... practice? What's that again?I am a Zen priest, and when I run into members of my Zen community "out in the world," such as in the grocery store, in a restaurant, or on the street, people often feel … [Read more...]

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...]

From Delusion to Illusion: The Freedom of Disbelief

I used to believe that life was pointless. Sure, there were enjoyable moments in life, but the hard work life required didn’t seem worth it when I saw all the cruelty and greed at work in the world, or when I contemplated the inevitability of old age, disease, loss and death. This bleak view of the world pervaded all of my activities. It drove me to a despair that, at times, led to suicidal ideation.All of us hold countless views that we believe are more or less true. They are views about t … [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...]

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...]