Declumping: Lessons in Conditioning & Compassion Practice

From “The Finger Pointing at the Moon” series of the A2Z Sitting Group, Monday 4/11/2016:

Approximately 10-12 chickens fill each crate at the Richmond, Ca. farmers market. Raymond Young Poultry used to sell over 1,000 factory-farmed birds twice weekly in San Francisco and Richmond farmer's markets, to be slaughtered in people's backyards and small restaurants. Shortly after this photo was taken, live bird sales at RIchmond and San Francisco farmer's markets, were ended. April 21, 2011. deborah svoboda

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Sites mentioned in the talk for more information:

Farm Sanctuary


Taping of talk and photo by Deb Svoboda. Go here for her amazing work!

Buddha’s Birthday & Inter-Connectedness

Buddha’s Birthday & Inter-Connectedness!

From our sitting group’s series “finger pointing at the moon,” the main point this week was:

What if we, perhaps like the baby Gautama, when born, think we are individual and separated….Dis-Connected?

Therefore, our practice is the practice of remembering/accessing interdependence, inter-connectedness!

That we are CONNECTED to ALL of LIFE?


You are invited to join this Friday at Animal Place Sanctuary to “de-clump” (a resultant of being in crowded cages is that they “clump” on top of each other, suffocating each other; especially when going to sleep. We will then help to re-train them by separation them at sunset.)  These chickens who have been saved from being “gassed and trashed” after they were deemed no longer useful at laying eggs for humans to consume:

She-Ra Dustbathing

“Z” is for Zen


“Z” is for Zen

Which brings us to the end of the alphabet…. And, back to our About page….And the question,

“What is Zen?”

Do you know any more after 25 posts??

Let us know what you’ve learnt, thought about, and/or just plain ole share with us! We want to know! Enter a comment here or write us at

photo: “Z” created by Netsui. Go to “Netsui Arts” for her great works!

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

where the path is available to all