Unconditionally Letting Go

Some of you may be wondering what’s happened to me (or not!) but this is the time of year when we get ready for the Frankfurt book fair.  Book contents have to be finished so that layouts and artwork can be finished in August in order for everything to get to the printer’s in September.

One of the new books we’re finishing up is a collection of Daehaeng Kun Sunim’s poems that have been set to music and used as Dharma songs. They all have deep meaning, and this one talks about an idea that Daehaeng Kun Sunim sometimes mentions: Unconditional letting go expressed as dying. For when we deeply let go of the things we want and the things we fear, it does feel a bit like dying, like a kid denied Christmas. And yet when we entrust all of this to our inherently bright essence, the places that we are stuck seem to lose their hold on us and we can move forward with a fresh heart.

That which I’m fighting with, that which I’m clinging to, is a part of myself.

Die Three Times and Truly See Yourself
(세 번 죽어야 나를 보리라)

Vast beyond imaging
filled with an infinite variety of life,
yet everything in this universe
is but a shadow of one mind.
From an inherently empty place
appear empty things
being empty,
they all vanish.
If I truly realize that everything I interact with is empty,
this is dying one time.

From great Buddhas who rule the heavenly realms,
to tiny weeds alongside the road,
without excluding a single one,
die together with them all
die together with this empty “me,”
and realize that everything, just as it is,
is the truth.
This is dying a second time.

Among all the people, plants, and animals,
among the stones and the clouds,
there is nothing that is not me.
You and I, all of us together,
are sharing the same place
and the same body.
Everything is the manifestation of this inherent Buddha,
so when can you freely take care of everything with life,
and without life,
this is called dying a third time.

My one mind, which brings in and sends out everything
is my true foundation, that which is truly doing things.
We have to die in order to truly live,
die three times and see yourself.

– Daehaeng Kun Sunim


If you are grateful,

Grateful for you root,

The entire Universe and Dharma realm feel that gratitude

And move and work together

And manifest your intention into the phenomenal world.

The entire Universe looks after you;

Is there anything that can’t be done.

Daehaeng Kun Sunim

As we enter a new year and reflect on the old one, I find myself thinking about the importance of gratitude in my daily practice.  I personally, have found plenty to be grateful for and can attest to the blissful state that easily arises as I nurture a grateful heart. Gratitude, however,  is more than just a feel good state and  I would echo Marcus‘ sentiment that it is a virtue that could easily find itself among the six perfections of practice.

Daehaeng Sunim’s words speak to the transformative and creative powers of gratitude.  In cultivating a grateful heart, we acknowledge the generosity of our root, even before our needs manifest.  This softens ours hearts, making them lighter, more receptive and generous; hearts that humbly acknowledge the gifts bestowed on us and boldly recognize the potential inherent in us.  With gratitude we open a portal to the eternal, omniscient source of our creativity and sustenance. A whole universe of possibility becomes available to us with a wealth of knowledge and inspiration drawn from our collective Being.  Anything and everything becomes possible.

So as you go about your daily activities, take time to cultivate this beneficial virtue.  When you sit in meditation or prayer, let the corners of your mouth curl up in a gentle smile of gratitude, confident that your foundation is looking after your every need.  On your next out-breath, be grateful for the next in-breath, that brings life and energy to animate your desires.   As you contemplate your circumstances, be grateful for the experiences that will serve as lessons for growth and development on your path.  Be grateful for your foundation.

As we close the door on 2010, lets give thanks and gratitude for everything 2011 will bring.

With palms together.

good dust, bad dust?

This Fundamental Mind can be compared to a mirror, and whether covered with dust or not, a mirror is a mirror. It remains unchanged no matter how long it is dirtied and covered with dust, and once the dust is removed, it gleams as brilliantly as ever.

Even golddust is only dust to a mirror and an obstruction to its function. In the same way, words of the sages are but dust on our Fundamental Mind and they merely darken it.

-Zen Master Song Cheol

The ignorance and dust of desires are enlightenment and the sufferings of birth and death are nirvana.

-the Maka Shikan

I suppose it depends on what teaching suits you at this moment…

Saving Avalokiteśvara

Examining the first of the Four Great Vows, “Sentient beings are numberless. We vow to save them all,” I developed a degree of empathetic compassion for the Great Bodhisattva, herself.

For centuries upon centuries, people have been calling out to the Great Bodhisattva, whether the name spoken be Avalokiteśvara, Guānshìyīn, Gwansaeum, Chenrezig, or one of the many others. In all this time, how many prayers were spoken for Avalokiteśvara, herself? I’d suppose some, but perhaps a small fraction?

For nearly 2000 years, if not more, Avalokiteśvara has selflessly put aside her own passing into Nirvana so that she may lend a helping hand (or many) to us ignorant, complacent folk. So, if I were to recognize Avalokiteśvara as part of my own vow to save the countless beings from suffering, how might I do my best to save her? By practicing as sincerely as I’m able, avoiding all evil, cultivating good, and purifying my mind.

The sooner I do this, the sooner we become Buddhas together, Avalokiteśvara and all!


[I’d planned on posting this, and chuckled when I opened my email this morning and saw that Carl’s post beat me to it! A good example of working together, on some level!^^. I thought twice about posting again on the same topic, but figured it’s such a nice theme, it’s worthy of investigating together… Maybe others will be inspired to add more!]

In August, on the Ox Herding blog, Barry posted about the Responsible Life, where he quickly discussed intention and the Great Vows:

The Four Great Vows

Sentient beings are numberless, we vow to save them all.

Delusions are endless, we vow to cut through them all.

The teachings are infinite, we vow to learn them all.

The Buddha way is inconceivable, we vow to attain it.

In the ensuing conversation, someone asked if the original text used the word “I” or “we”.

Chong Go Sunim responded,

In the Korean and Chinese versions, there’s no personal pronoun of I or we. Statements like this depend upon the context, and in this case, the most natural choice would be “I.”

However, I can easily imagine Seung Sahn Sunim putting a spin on it with a “we,” and no one here would complain at all. They would see that as a teaching in itself, one that compliment and enrich the usual emphasis on individual effort.

From there, Barry added,

This brings to mind two Korean phrases that I’ve heard (in translation), sometimes said in greeting or parting:

– May you become Buddha!
– May we together become Buddha!

I hadn’t really thought much about the translation before, but at the end of Ye’bul (ceremony) people turn to each other and with palms together say, “Seong Bul ha’ship’shi’yo.” In this context “Seong” is to accomplish, achieve, attain, complete, fulfill, or succeed in, “Bul” is Buddha, or Buddha-nature, and “ha’ship’shi’yo” is a very polite way of saying, “do it”. There is, indeed, no I, me, or you, but in a Dharma Hall full of people, simultaneously wishing each other to become Buddhas, the feeling of, “Let’s become Buddhas together,” emerges.

On my blog Somewhere in Dhamma, I wrote of an afternoon trip I took to YongJu Temple, with my family and friend, Carl. But one part I saved to share here. We stayed for the beginning of Ye’bul, just long enough to recite the Heart Sutra, then followed the monks as they left the hall. One monk who I’d spoken with before the ceremony waited for us by the door to say good-by. Our parting wish to him was, “Seong Bul ha’ship’shi’yo,” But he answered with palms together, a bow, and large, “Ahhh’ni’yo! Gaaaat’chi, seong Bul ha’ship’shi’yo!”

Noooo! Together, may we become Buddha!

For more on YongJuSa, you can visit my blog:

Bowing, Meditating, And A Challenging Video

Love, Peace, and Joy to You!

Last night I did 108 bows, but I made about 114 vows, or so. I  bow for the same reason I meditate; I know that the benefits in bowing and meditation can change my behavior, or Karma. That is the point of spiritual practice, in my view.

I offered more vows, (and altered some of the existing ones) as I bowed and recited them, because I have my own ideas about what I need to do, think, believe, and practice, to live a better life for myself and those around me. 

This, to me, is finding the truth within; taking lessons from different doors I have walked through, but not forgetting the journey I can make by paying attention along the way, having walked through the door in my own “heart” and by looking through the window of my own mind.

When we do not do this, accepting one way or one dogma part and parcel, I feel we sacrifice our own mind; our own connection to the divine, and truths waiting to pass through us as individual portals of consciousness.

I have experienced the benefits of prostrations and meditation. I am not talking about anything supernatural, in any way, shape , or form. I am giving testimony about physical, mental, and behavioral changes in my life and in the lives of those around me as a result of my meditation and bowing, and as a result of the beautiful vows and acts of contrition I recite while doing these practices.

I believe that if most people on this planet-regardless of their religious, spiritual, or philosophical practices were to take these vows every day and try to be mindful of them (if not actually fulfill them all the time) many problems would begin to go away quickly, as long as we didn’t fight over the concept and force it on anyone.

I also believe that taking these vows while prostrating or meditating  makes the vows more effective and easier to follow because making a promise and acknowledging pious and impious behavior while doing something physical manifests the vows and acknowledgements deeper in the mind, and in one’s behavior. 

Having said this, I offer a great video for your nourishment, which actually sort of takes a crack at repetitive spiritual practices, like bowing…so I apologize to anyone who might be offended when they come across it.

Also, I saw only the first part of this video after writing my article, and put it up then. In addition, I have since discovered there are five other parts that go into greater detail.

Lastly, I can be a bit myopic, so I didn’t notice the title, which some may find a bit alienating. I often think people should be more careful with their titles if they would like a wider audience to consume their ideas! As consolation, I say that I feel the essence of the ideas expressed in the video, you may find worthwhile, if not wonderfully enlightening; perhaps even worthy of passing on.

Peace, Love, and Joy to You and Those Around You!


What Drew Me to Buddhism: You Are What You See

I feel that how one views the universe (or, more simply, reality), and us in it–basically, what one believes and believes in, become the foundation of his or her mental health and personal happiness.  I also feel that all of us are better off choosing what makes sense–in finding a belief (or beliefs), and that then we must confidently believe in that way.  It seems to me this is natural, honest, and therefore, better for the heart and mind. Most importantly, belief that is chosen, I feel, is the true eye of one’s individual heart and mind, which show us what we believe, so it comes from within, is original, and is thus not contrived or forced. You could say that what we see as true, and thus believe, defines us. You are what you see?

In this article, I talk about belief-particulary personally found belief- and what caused me to find comfort in Zen, as opposed to another practice or faith. I do not wish to say, however, that one religion is better than another, for everyone. I do wish to tell my personal story, just as a painter, poet, novelist or film-maker attempts to show his personal vision, which is basically his or her mental experience.

As an example illustrating my frustration with those who might criticize a practitioner of a faith, and to draw an analogy between practitioners of a faith and artists (to show that belief is as personal as personal vision), let me digress and mention the film director Oliver Stone. He made the movie JFK to show what he and many see as a possible series of events explaining a part of history that has been unsatisfactorily explained by the government of the United States. He was criticized for poorly representing history. I heard him speak, and I was impressed with his detailed knowledge of the history and the era which he was a part of. He weaved together a story that was in shreds at all edges. A story that was left in a pile of uncertainty.  He was not supposed to represent history. As an artist, his charge was/is to represent what his perceptions, available knowledge and his talents reflect. His responsibility was/is to himself, in showing what his mind and its perception of the world has shown him.

A Practioner of a faith, be it a celebrated one or one that is invented by oneself (or an amalgam of other faiths) has one obligation; to see it, understand it, follow it, and perhaps, express himself honestly about it. When you think about it, this is how Christianity and Buddhism came about; Hanmaum, and Interbeing, too. Through self-reflection, Jesus and Gautama found ways to express their truths, as truth was revealed to them, though it diverged or grew from practices of the day. Dae Heng Kun Sunim does this. Thich Nhat Hanh, does this. We all do this, to one degree or another. Spiritual individuals-whether they are great prophets, monks, or the sons of God or artists-change faiths–or at least practices of a faith-to present their perceptions of those faiths and reality as they see it. This is what the human mind should be able to do, without criticism.

I was raised Roman Catholic, with a heavy sprinkling of born again-ism, in Long Island’s sleepy New York suburb of Lynbrook. With  it’s “prefix” and “suffix”  reversed, Lynbrook is Brooklyn, so you can imagine who renamed it, from the original Pearsall’s Corners, and perhaps, who settled it, for the most part. I myself was born in Brooklyn. How did I wind up a “Zennist”, studying Buddhism in Korea?

I was taught to love everyone. And, in my opinion, I was raised in  a country (and especially a state), where it is-as my friend Tony Watkins says-practically un-American not to criticize your nation. So I was brought up to be compassionate, but critical. My mother was the church-goer, my father the activist-democrat. So I grew up thinking. A lot. Thinking and writing, and going to church on Sundays. But church, the older I got, seemed to gather people with a less than compassionate practical philosophy and a very conservative style of politics. 

As a teen-ager, I had taken up reading American cold war history, specifically about the Viet Nam “conflict”.  I had become an Urgent Action letter-writer for Amnesty International’s Program to Abolish The Death Penalty. I marched against war and military Aid to Latin American countries.  The biggest opponents of what I was doing seemed to all be people of the faith I was raised in. I couldn’t understand this.

It had seemed to me that everything that the Christian faith asked us not to do, we were actually making a part of our daily lives, and in fact, it seemed these were the real actions and concepts Christians believed (in practice, anyway) and this bothered me; specifically support of the death penalty, interventionist wars,  a lack of compassion for the homeless, those with aids, those in jail, and policies that violated the sanctity of a woman’s right to choose what to do with her own body.

In short, no matter how I looked at it, most of the church people I knew were either in support of, or oblivious to the most egregious violations of compassion worldwide, and not on a small scale. 

Then there was the religious view of science. The religion I was raised in had a history of going against common sense, empiricism, and reality, quite frankly.  I haven’t mentioned it, but my passion as a boy was astronomy and I loved biology too, and I was always hearing “we didn’t come from monkeys” from religious people. Well, evolution doesn’t say we do, either. I was forced to see that many people of the church are victims and purveyors of gross ignorance.

One day in the bookstore, I came across a book by Thich Nhat Hanh.  The Venerable Tich Nhat Hanh brought together spirituality and social action. This represented for me, responsible, and spiritually honest living.

When I was in high school, it was the church goers who were attacking free speech, trying to put prayer in schools (not fair in a nation that professes the idea that religion and state be separate), and trying to say we shouldn’t give condoms to people in Africa, where AIDS was running rampant.

The Buddhists I met and read about lived the lives they believed in. In fact, many were vegetarians, pacifists, and very open-minded and progressive. None were telling me I had to give up believing in the sensible laws of physics, or of evolution, or that I had to support one or another war. They didn’t teach through fear, or a greedy desire to go to Heaven.

I am aware that there are good Christians, that they have charities all over the world, and that there is much virtue in that faith and the many denominations of Christianity. In fact,  I am still happy to say I have a Christian heart, while maintaining that I am attempting to cultivate a Buddhist mind. I still go to church, from time to time, and my girlfriend is a protestant, bringing much love and forgiveness into my life through her faith. 

I even believe the Christian-Judaic foundation is part of what makes America and other Westernized democracies great in certain respects, for it instills the notion of the sanctity of the individual and his rights in society; something I feel is lacking to certain major degrees in Confucianist and other male-dominated societies, which has definite deleterious effects on the growth of the individuals in them, politically, maturation-wise, and spiritually.

Buddhism seems to conflict very little-if at all-with science, carries a major underlying message of love and compassion (with no exceptions), and seems to be practiced by people who show a great deal of peace of mind–more than the adherents in the God-based faiths in my observation–who always seem to be leading their nations to war.

So, I read Tich Nhat Hanh, and it made me peaceful. I read Suzuki, and it made me sit.  I read Lao Tzu, and it made me see great wisdom (I still love the compassionate stories of Jesus, however, and think they are of  prime importance in learning to be a humane human being).

In my early twenties, I poured coffee for His Holiness The Dalai Lama at The Rainbow Room in New York City, and I realized I had never seen a spiritual or political leader more jovial and happy in my life. In fact, I had never seen anyone who laughed so heartily while shaking so many hands. Thoughts of Santa Clause entered my mind. ‘This man was at peace’, I thought.

I found people of a softer mind and infinitely less judgemental heart  in the Buddhist friends I made, and finally, in Korea, I discovered a way to practice that showed a reflection of that idea I cherish: the importance of the “individual”.

Dae Heng Kun Sunim’s focus on the “Juingong”, or the True Doer of our actions, to me, advocates the bringing of  salvation to the individual from the individual, so to speak. I don’t find it conflicts with theistic faith, either, in that Jesus, for example, taught that the kingdom of heaven is within, as is God.

The Buddha taught that man should take refuge in himself (not in The Buddha, or in a god). For many years, to my eyes, I had felt it was the process of supplication to an exterior source that was causing the apparent  lack of true spiritual growth, open-heartedness, and open-mindedness (as well as an increase in  greed and feelings of victim-hood) in the people around me who were dedicated to the theistic faiths.

*I do not actually claim to be a Buddhist. I find the sects of Buddhism, like those of Christianity, do not follow what the Buddha taught exactly, any more than Christians really follow Jesus, but what I like about being associated with this practice is that there are no real major divisions among Buddhists causing major strife over differences in opinion, and there is no hell-fire and brimstone talk that teaches out of fear. You don’t see Buddhists supporting war, or fist-fighting, for that matter. Well, not much, anyway.

Finally, I think of myself as a Zennist. Meditation was at the heart of The Buddha’s enlightenment, and his teaching, and it has been at the center of any self-induced growth I  have had. That is what makes Buddhism a person and people-transforming practice; the sitting, the looking inward, and the cleaning of the mind’s “slate”, as it were; the opening of the heart, where truth comes in through a lack of arrogance and an increasing of peace, and where dogma plays no part.

To me, this is the true value of any religion or philosophy; how well it transforms individuals, and then, masses of those individuals, such that they are more peaceful, loving, kind, and open to learning and growth in all positive ways. Any belief that limits these virtues is to be questioned and examined, to the greatest possible depth, because, as I said, you are what you see; it becomes your belief, the foundation of your mental health and personal happiness, and affects those around you.