There’s no “Y” in Zen


There’s no “Y” in Zen

More specifically, I’m fond of saying,

“There’s no ‘Why?’ in Zen.” 

By that I mean, “Why?” isn’t so important in practice. So often we want to know “Why?”

“Why did this happen to me?”
“Why am I/he/she/they like this/that?

The premise I hold is that “Why?” isn’t so useful to our practice. It tends to come with a sense of wanting to FIX it; that there’s a problem.

“How.” or “What.” is much more useful, is my take.

“How” and “What” tends to bring a sense of curiosity; a desire to explore. “How” and “What” tends to bring a sense of curiosity to what’s happening right here, right now:

“How did this come to be?”
“What is going on?” 

I find “How” and “What” more useful because they engender exploration into what’s happening in the present. My take is “How” and “What” tends to open us to what can be vs. what we habitually think is happening.

That’s my take.  What is it like for you?

“‘X’ Marks the Spot!”….


“‘X’ Marks the Spot!”

….As the saying goes.

In Zen, we could re-frame this phrase to say:

“‘X’ marks THIS spot!”

By this I mean, “X marks the intention to stay right here and right now!”

“‘X’ marks THIS here and THIS now!”

Can you do this?

As the day “grows shorter” and the night “grows longer” along with colder mornings and winter rains, it seems to become harder and harder to be engaged; to stay connected to our practice.

It can seem soooo much easier to just snuggle down into your sheets and blankets in bed just a little longer….and then just a little bit longer….Until it’s “too late” to get up to meditate.

Or, perhaps, for you it’s “the other end”….. When it dark after work so it feels like such an effort to get to a Dharma event …..The evening sitting period at the temple or your sitting group or a class….

So, while we hear a lot that we “should practice with a non-gaining mind” this does not mean that no effort is needed!

Perseverance and consistency to “show up” IS the hall-mark of a seasoned practitioner.

Because “showing up” for practice means “showing up” for your life.

Are you “showing up?”

“W” is for Wow! and We….

9-19-15 Jukai_Lien and 5

“W” is for Wow!! We did it!! —- The new Ordinates and their rakusus!

A few pictures from the Jukai/Zaike Tokudo on September 19, 2015



Chanting with their new rakusus 

9-19-15 Jukai_Robe Chant

Wisdom water to purify

Wisdom Water

With Preceptors, teachers and guest monk and nuns from the  Thich Nhat Hanh and Truc Lam Vietnamese Zen traditions

9-19-15 Jukai_All

(L to R) Thich Hue Truc, Diego, Vicki Austin, Lien, Van, Abbot Ed, Ni Sư Thuần Tuệ , Marlene, Emma, Cô Thuần Tỉnh , Susumu, Phương Thiền

Joyfulness is powerful!

Advance Practice

Photos by Deb Svoboda. Go here for her amazing work!

SFZC write up: Here

“V” is for Very Auspicious

Tall Tree w Sunlight

“V” is for Very Auspicious!!!!

…. because it’s the Lay Initiation Ceremony (Jukai) for the 1st set of A2Zers!!!

this Saturday, Sept. 19
at 3 p.m.
in the Buddha Hall of SF Zen Center
at 300 Page Street/ Laguna

Reception to follow

We started in April of 2014 and now five people are going to publicly  take their vows to follow the Path for the benefit of all beings. How auspicious is that?!

Van, Emma, Diego, Susumu, and Marlene have studied hard and have gone thru many obstacles (their darn teacher and the sewing of the rakusus to name just a couple of “outside” factors!)! Please come celebrate their efforts by coming to the ceremony!

Additionally, it seems likely that this will be the 1st time a brown-robed POC will be ordaining anyone lay or priest at SFZC since Suzuki Roshi, the founder. This is after 50+ years so it’s pretty auspicious in that realm also!

Here’s a link to a story about the rakusus and what taking the lay precepts:

Wearing the Buddha’s Robe

(Come back to this site for pictures and such about these initiates’ experience after Saturday!)

To SFZC on this event and Driving Directions

Please plan to arrive by 2:30 p.m. at the latest; and even earlier if you need a chair. The ceremony will probably be just over an hour or so.

“U” is for Unconditional


“U” is for Unconditional

If you’ve been following us at all, you’ve heard me talk about Metta before. “Metta” is the Pali word which is usually translated as “Lovingkindness.” I much prefer “Unconditional Friendliness” or “Unconditional Goodwill” (though I admit that they don’t roll off the tongue quite as nicely….)

In the case of Metta, I prefer it ’cause “Love” generally has a certain stickiness to it to us in the West. “Love” comes with soooooo many ideas and conditionings…. AND, with that, all the complexities as the layers build around the concept.

Plus, in “unconditional friendliness, ” the UNCONDITIONAL is what’s important….And really what I want to talk about today.

“What would it be like to give (and receive) UNCONDITIONAL friendliness?”

No strings attached. Just simple friendliness or goodwill. Unadulterated. Clear and cleanly given (and receive).

And, more importantly, I think, is this question:

“What would it be like to live life UNCONDITIONALLY?”

“What is it to say “Hi” UNCONDITIONALLY?”

“What is it to eat a meal with simple, UNCONDITIONAL acceptance and gratitude?”

“What is it to BE with someone (or yourself) UNCONDITIONALLY?”

Take a minute and do/say/be again whatever you just did/said/was UNCONDITIONALLY? How does it feel?


I wonder? I unconditionally wonder……

“T” is for Thinking


“T” is for Thinking

It seems that “thinking” has gotten a bad rap in the pop-realms of meditation and mindfulness. For many, when they imagine what “meditation” is, they think of it as akin to a “sin” even!  In my beginning course, I always start the class by surveying the reasons why people want to learn meditation. The predominant answers echo these:

“I want to stop my thinking!”

“How do I stop my random, chaotic thoughts?!”

“I don’t want to have anxious thoughts!”

Dogen, in the Fukanzazengi (his treatise on zazen & practice-realization) has these famous words:

“Think of not thinking….Non-thinking.

This in itself is the essential art of zazen.”

Many interpret “non-thinking” as “having no thoughts.”


“Thinking is not a problem,” I’m always telling people. I usually then follow up with,

“In Buddhism, a thought is just a thought. Period.”

Thinking is not a problem when you can just know it as that…. a thought; a mental formation. IF/WHEN you’re able to just leave it as-it-is, THEN it’s non-thinking.

Of course that’s hard to do. VERY HARD. Mostly we interpret, “translate,” make-it-into-a-story (mostly about “me” or “you” or “us” or “them”)…. And then it’s no longer non-thinking.

Therefore, it’s helpful to know how to not-think. To purposefully focus where you think to train the mind. This isn’t that easy to do either.

Maybe that’s why people don’t stick with practicing mediation for long. It does take effort to practice not-thinking and non-thinking.

So when what you think, “Should be easy!” isn’t; it seems easier to just quit.

And, that’s probably when you could miss out on real understanding —  which leads to real practice…. Just sitting. No pushing away thoughts. No grasping thoughts. Just letting them come and go as they may.

To hear a related Dharma talk: The Zen Wave
And then, if you want to stop thinking about thinking and go on to learn how to practice “not thinking” and “non-thinking,” check out our brief video and description of Meditation Training


“S” is for Sangha


“S” is for Sangha

Sangha is one of the Three Treasures in Buddhism: Buddha, Dharma and Sangha

These can be framed as:

Buddha is an example of the capacity for awakening.
Dharma are the teachings on the laws of nature and the practice of awakening.
Sangha is where we manifest our awakened nature through interactions with others along with “grass, trees, and walls.”

The word “Sangha” in Pali means “comprising” or “assembly.” 

In Sanskrit, the word means“bound together”; even “nailed together.”

In my opinion, the implications are clear: It’s our practice in Sangha which shows how we are all interconnected. Nothing and no one is left out. All can be seen and meet.

When you’re not willing to do this yourself, it’s in sangha that it gets reflected back to you.

Sometimes we’re not ready for this. Maybe that’s why it’s easier to keep it at “my practice.”

I remember once at a Practice Period (at a monastery), a staff person asked the Practice Leader,“I’m so busy (with my job), I don’t know if I’m really practicing here. When do I get to do my practice??”

The Practice Leader answered, “‘Your’ practice? ‘Your’ practice?? What’s that? Do you really think you are practicing alone here?”

We do not practice alone. We practice with and for others. What we do, whether we call it “practice” or not effects — has impact —  all around us.

Or, another way to put it is: Practice isn’t about “meditating to fix myself or to make myself better.” I always say the the biproduct of meditation is more calm and ease.

..And, it’s only through interactions with others/all beings that we can really know and see whether we are contributing to less harm.

We had a good discussion on this in the current A2Z class series How We Brought/Are North American Buddhism: Past & Present Asian American Perspectives. It’s been full of great interactions; not all of it “easy.” AND, it is through engagement that we learn more; about ourselves and about others.

Come join us. It’s a drop-in class. Check out this last week’s talk and discussion:

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For full details on the book and terms referenced in the talk, go to Heartwood

“R” is for Re-Claiming, Re-Visiting, Re-Envisioning


 “R” is for Re-Claiming, Re-Visiting, Re-Envisioning

Mindfulness andMeditation has been getting lots of press in the past year. In fact, I was Googling for info on the January 2014 Times magazine  “Mindful Revolution” issue. What came up more easily was Huffington Posts’ critique on said cover. The Huff Post started out well with its title:

Actually TIME, This Is What The ‘Mindful Revolution’ Really Looks Like

It went on to say that Time’s feature of “a beautiful, white blonde woman meditating on the cover” did not represent the range of meditators. The online article writers then cited what, for them, represented the range:

  • Meditation is helping students, especially in low-income areas.
  • Veterans and soldiers using meditation to cope with PTSD.
  • Mindfulness is transforming end-of-life care.
  • Mindfulness has become part of a revolution in mental health care.
  • Mindfulness is slowly beginning to transform the medical profession.
  • Athletes — from at-risk youth to NBA stars — are improving their game through meditation.

These are ACTUAL categories from the post! Check it out for yourself:

What’s missing? 


Perhaps, perhaps, one could make the case that they are not referring to “Buddhism,” and therefore, Asian American are not represented?

I have my doubts. “American Buddhism” or “Western Buddhism” are terms in the media and popular culture. Usually, the term implicitly negates Asian Americans or categorizes us into a different or separate category.

And, the divestment of “Buddhism” from “meditation” and “mindfulness” can be seen as one way to take the “cultural,” “ethnic-ness,” or “religiousness” out — secularizing — as a process of white supremacy and appropriating of Buddhism by the mainstream.

These and other topics are being studies in the current weekly A2Z class series; as we strive to Re-Claim, Re-Visit and, perhaps even Re-Envision, “meditation” and “mindfulness.” For full details, go to:

How We Brought/Are North American Buddhism — Past & Present Asian American Perspectives

Come to the classes or check out the talks and info after each week’s class by looking under the “Sitting Group” tab above.
“C” created by Netsui. Go to “Netsui Arts” for her great works!

“Q” is Question & Quest for Truth in Compassion


“Q” is for Question and  Quest for Truth in Compassion

I often say that in Zen, the QUESTION is more important than the answer.  That in Zen, we practice to stay with the question more than having to land on an answer. That the exploration that comes with being able to stay with a question can bring so much richness and unexpected outcomes; perhaps even insight.

That was always what “Q” was going to be about.

And, as I went thru my days the past couple of weeks, trying to get these thoughts about “Q” onto this site, questions arose in me that I had to practice staying with:

How can we hurt and harm each other so much…And so continuously?
How can a group of people sing about a person hanging from a tree??
How can we not see inequality and injustice all around us?
How can people who practice not be able to see it in ourselves?

My exploration also included asking myself how I can say what needs to be said in a way that could be heard?

So, “Q” has become more than holding and working with questions — The exploration took me to the QUEST for how to speak and share what I’ve observed within mainstream, convert Buddhist centers. I offered this talk at San Francisco Zen Center March 14, 2015 out of love and compassion, as encouragement. May it be for the benefit of all beings.

Love & Compassion: How is Selma/Ferguson Here & Now?

“P” is for Prayer


“P” is for Prayer

Perhaps you don’t think of “prayer” when you think of Buddhism. I don’t think most people do; perhaps including Buddhists!

AND, as I kept trying to figure out what to do “P” on, “prayer” kept coming up…..

Perhaps  it’s because there’s been many deaths and challenging aging and illness events in my life and in the lives of my various sanghas members lately….

Here are some thoughts on prayer and how it could fit into a “Buddhist viewpoint.”

Prayer often arise at those moments when we meet a situation that seems beyond our sense of “This is what’s happening ‘to me’ or ‘in my world.'” It seems, to me, to arise at those moments when the LARGENESS of life and living makes us go, “Huh?”….Maybe even “What the f___!”

Another way to put it is….. At those moments of awe. When I was young, I remember hearing in the Presbyterian church we went to that “Yahweh,” the Hebrew word for “God,” means “to be” or “to become.” However, to say this name of God was to be blasphemous. I don’t remember why this was so…..These days, I’m wondering if perhaps, the admonition not to use this name of God was a way to say “God” and what he represents is TOO BIG to think that we could grasp and/or hold on to? Perhaps, that “God” is similar to “All encompassing” so how can we think of even naming this force?

How does one name AWE?

Similarly, at a moment when we find it hard to make sense of the LARGENESS of life and life’s happenings, is when a need for something which can help us to be with this vastness that a prayer is wanted? Something for us to utter in this moment which helps to ground us, to place us, in the midst of such wonder….And , perhaps to also be able to be with the accompanying fear or anxiety; or even with joy which comes with it? Or, perhaps, a wanting of some utterance to help us hold the sadness or grief in such a moment?

At such times, I’m thinking that Christianity responses with the thought of “Yahweh”/”God” and the utterance of “Amen.”

What does Buddhism provide? That’s what I’m pondering……

What’s coming up is Metta, Karuna, and Mudita…..And Upekkha; the 4 Brahma Viharas. These are the four qualities of heart and mind in which EASE and OPENNESS can be accessed and known.

Metta: Open  Friendliness/Lovingkindness….Heck,  “Just Kindness” and Goodwill.

Karuna: Compassion. Willingness to BE WITH. “Respect for the human condition”

Mudita: Sympathetic/Emphatic Joy is the usual translation. I like to say Inclusive Joy. Joy with another.

Upekkha: Equanimity. Balance of mind. Patience when the bigger picture can be accessed or held.

These are qualities we already have and they are qualities we can cultivate. We practice cultivating the ground for easier access to remembering and resting in them when we mos need it.

For those moments when our mind or heart skips a beat and has the spaciousness to not follow its habitual reactions and contractions. At such moment, it’s possible to  utter:

May I meet this with friendliness as it reveals itself to me.

May I be with pain or suffering as it is and not try to make it, or myself, different.

May I rejoice and be happy for my own or other’s good fortune.

May I be aware of interdependence and that all are dependent on many and various causes and conditions. That  all things, people, and situations have a design that I may not be able to see, know, or understand.

These four Brahma Vihara qualities interacts with each other, helping us to hold our awe and wonder with what we could call a “safety net” of ease and openness.

And, if we need to shorten it (like with the utterance of “Amen”) then ours could be “May.”

A prayer of  “May it be possible.”

where the path is available to all