Byakuren Judith Ragir

‘What needs to be renounced as we enter a spiritual path? In the West, Buddhist practice is often an odd combination of monastic visits and householder lives. When I was ordained, I was already married and had two children. I did not leave my family, but I learned to practice with my story-filled life by transforming the basis of operation in my mind. I have had to work with my egocentricity; my attachments and clinging; and my greed, anger, and delusion right in the middle of the mess of household life and an urban zendo. After forty years of practice, I am still practicing home-leaving within the confines of a home, as Yasodhara did. I take heart from a the story of a Tibetan teacher’s mother who got enlightened, as she tells it, by “practicing in the gaps” of her everyday life. Or as my root teacher, Katagiri Roshi, would encourage us by saying, “In every moment, merge subject and object into the very activity that is arising.”‘ (The Hidden Lamp)

When I lived at Tassajara, there would almost always be some women there who had waited until their children were grown before committing themselves to intensive monastic training. As Byakuren points out, the conditions of life at home are also deep opportunities for practice: the personal issues that arise at home are no different from those that arise at the monastery, it’s just that when you live at the monastery, there is usually more time to reflect and absorb what is going on.





Sitting in the rain

It say something about the climate in California that it took a little over five months for Zachary and I to need to put a wet weather plan into effect. For sure, on a couple of autumnal Mondays, it had been cloudy or damp enough to have us worried, and once it even started raining right after we had packed away the cushions, but last Monday was the first time the forecast had rain all day. And rain all day it did, which did not make for my having much fun riding to the jail in the afternoon and to meet students in the evening.  I did not ride downtown for the sit – I had taken a friend to the airport very early on Friday morning, kept the car over the weekend, and picked her up on Monday morning, which reminded me afresh that I find freeway driving in heavy rain much more stressful than riding my bike in the same conditions.
In any case, the timing of it all worked out perfectly for me to be downtown, a little damp around the edges, in one of the many POPOSes. I had not actually visited the space before, at 2nd Street and Mission, but it lived up to its billing as a spacious, and most importantly covered, atrium, where people were mostly eating their lunch – either in pairs, conversing, or solo, looking at their phones. A mandolin player busked away by the entrance, which made for a more focused sit than did the general murmur of conversation when he stopped.
Zachary and I both enjoyed the sit, even if no-one else who had hoped to be there actually made it. Today’s forecast looks better, though Zachary is away, and without him I cannot bring cushions for everybody, so we will be sitting on the big concrete blocks by the seawall next to our usual grassy spot, if you are able to come along.


IMG_3781 copyWe still got to sit under a tree.


‘There is a simple way to become a buddha: When you refrain from unwholesome actions, are not attached to birth and death, and are compassionate toward all sentient beings, respectful to seniors and kind to juniors, not excluding or desiring anything, with no thoughts or worries, you will be called a buddha. Seek nothing else.’ (Shobogenzo Shoji)

I may have posted this before, but the utter simplicity can come and smack us in the face every time, in any case. Simple, but not easy, as they say (and as I probably said before)….

Shohaku Okumura

‘Each being is unique and yet is interconnected with all beings, from the beginningless beginning to the endless end. When we take one being, we take all beings and all times. Nothing is substantial. Everything is empty. When we try to grasp with our intellect, using concepts, we become neurotic. When we grasp one aspect, we miss another. When we try to understand the difference between beings we differentiate and miss the connections between them. When we focus on the relationships between all beings, we miss the uniqueness of this being. These two basically contradictory aspects of the true reality are expressed in the Heart Sutra as “form is emptiness and emptiness is form.” In the Sandokai same same reality is expressed as merging of difference (ji) and unity (ri).’ (Living By Vow)

Shohaku was making the same point in this year’s Genzo-e; on one level at least, there is nothing else we can talk about, though, as I get to be reminded, it’s good to be able to use this clarity to help us in our lives.

Setting Intentions

One of the students I work with comes up with some really great questions. When I was sharing the Genjo Koan with a study group, riffing about the interplay of relative and absolute, he said something along the lines of, “Shundo, this is really great, but how is it going to help me in my life?” which of course gave me pause. Three answers came into my head in the moment: we can become fearless, like the Heart Sutra suggests, when we can find an ease around the true nature of reality and human existence, which I believe a study of Buddhism can imbue us with. We can be like a mirror, reflecting that reality, and simply letting go. And we can be more energy efficient when we have this understanding in our bodies, because reflecting and letting go is a lot less exhausting than holding the amount of stress and anxiety around the past and future that we are used to dealing with.

Recently he asked me to discuss how to deal with ‘life strategy’ issues if our practice is telling us just to be present. I did some reading and some thinking over the holiday period, and here are a couple of passages I thought might illustrate an approach:

‘When we feel conflicted about a particular decision or action, our bodies often hold the answer – if we take the time to stop and tune in. Our minds tend to race ahead into the future or replay the past, but our bodies are always in the present moment. A tightness in the chest or a squeamish sensation in the gut may signal harm, even when reason may suggest that a given choice is perfectly ethical. A feeling of calm or a sense of expansiveness throughout the body sends us a very different message.’ (Sharon Salzberg, Real Love)

‘You may think that if there is no purpose or no goal in our practice, we will not know what to do. But there is a way. The way to practice without having any goal is to limit your activity, or to be concentrated on what you are doing in this moment. Instead of having some particular object in mind, you should limit your activity. When your mind is wandering about elsewhere you have no chance to express yourself. But if you limit your activity to what you can do just now, in this moment, then you can fully express your true nature, which is the universal Buddha nature. This is our way.’ (Suzuki Roshi, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind)

When we met to discuss the topic, I asked the other participants in the group for their thoughts around life planning before bringing in the passages, it was gratifying that what they shared was pointing to the same perspectives.