Category Archives: Zen

Right Speech In Social Media, and Being Interviewed

So by now everybody knows about the shit-storm blowing around social media involving Manny Pacquiao, the LGBT community, and those who support either side.  Personally, I support marriage equality – but I won’t go into detail about that here.  I just want to briefly sort out my thoughts and feelings about practicing the Buddhist precept of Right Speech via social media.

To make it really brief, it is freaking hard.  It is hard enough to practice it in the physical world, but there’s something about posting on social media that seems to bring out the worst in people.  Maybe it’s just so much easier to be a keyboard warrior.  After all, nobody’s going to jump out of your screen and punch you in the face if you piss them off online.  On the other hand, it is also so much easier to read something that offends you, and then pause and take a breath or two before you type.  And if you can do that, then your chances of sounding even remotely intelligent are higher.  But damn, the temptation to give a virtual middle finger can be so strong at times.

Right Speech is a challenging precept to keep.  And about the only thing I can say is, I will always need practice in this area.


There’s a part in Neil Gaiman’s “Death and The High Cost Of Living” where the main character is narrating about “The Spirit of the Stairway” or something like that, which is basically all the cool shit you could have said but didn’t think of saying in a conversation, and that are occupying your mind now that you have left the conversation, and you’re going down the stairs  (Why it has to be going downstairs and not upstairs, and why it has to involve stairs at all – I don’t know).   It’s the conversation you wish you had but didn’t.

I was attending a birthday party last night, and there was a group of young filmmakers interviewing people for something they called the Happiness Project (or Project Happiness? Something Happiness – I don’t know, I had a lot of wine).  Anyway, they interviewed me briefly about my thoughts on happiness, and I did my best in my less than sober state to give a somewhat sensible answer.  The thing is, now that I am completely sober, I can’t help but think, “Damn, I could have explained it more clearly!” So here’s the answer I wish I gave, but didn’t.

Happiness, to me, can be likened to the peak of a wave, while its opposite can be likened to the valley of a wave.  This up-and-down movement is perfectly natural.  Which is why chasing after happiness doesn’t really work.  You’re basically going against nature.  It’s like insisting on breathing in air, then refusing to let it out because dammit, you really like air, air is good for you, and therefore “I’m just gonna keep on taking in more and never let it out.”  I trust that you’re all wise enough not to try that, by the way.

So if you want to be happy, the best advice I can give is don’t even try.  Yup, don’t even try.  Especially do not try to be happy all the time.  Trying to do that is like trying to control the waves of the ocean.  Instead, just relax and ride the waves – like surfers do.

How do you do that?

Forget about happiness.  Forget about sadness.  I don’t mean push them away – “Oh I will neither be happy nor sad.  I will become an emotionless robot.”  Nope, that doesn’t work.  What I mean is, let them come when they come, and let them go when they go.

“But how do I that?” you ask.  I can answer that in two words: Be kind.

Happiness and sadness appear and disappear like the waves of the ocean, but no matter what you’re feeling you always have the opportunity to be kind.  That’s why instead of focusing on happiness, focus on being kind.  Like, what’s the kindest thing you can do for yourself right now?  What’s the kindest thing you can do for others right now?  For the world right now?

The interesting thing is the more you do this, the more you practice this, and the less interested you become in selfishly pursuing happiness, the easier it becomes to be happy.  It’s not that happiness will just come to you as a reward for your good behavior – it’s more that by forgetting yourself, you relax.  And when you relax, then your movement becomes more natural, and riding the waves is not so much of a struggle.  It’s when you try to hold on to any positive emotional state while pushing away negative states, that you tense up.  And when that happens, riding becomes difficult.  But when you focus on just being kind regardless of what you’re feeling, then you forget yourself, and you’re now able to freely ride the waves of life.

Practising Listening with Empathy, by Thich Nhat Hanh

Just wanted to share a talk given by Thich Nhat Hanh in 1991. Though he said these words twenty-four years ago, they resonate with me very well – perhaps because I only recently had a rather unpleasant falling out with some people due largely, I suspect, to a mutual lack of listening ability.

Buddhism now

Mustang girl and prayer flags. Photo © Lisa DaixYesterday, Sister True Virtuetalked a little bit about the fourth precept concerning speaking and listening. This is a very deep practice. Listening is an art, and many people do not have the capacity for it, especially in the case of listening to the suffering of others. One reason for that is that in the listeners themselves, there is also much pain. The store consciousness is filled with pain and grief, and that is why it is so difficult for such people to listen to others. In order to be able to listen, we need to learn how to transform the suffering in ourselves.

Talking is also an art because if we have many internal formations within us and if we do not know the art of mindful breathing, then while speaking we shall be carried away by our feelings, our anger, and what we say may hurt people deeply…

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Announcement: Invitation Accepted

I’ve just accepted an invitation to be an editor over at the Filipino Buddhism blog.  According to the email I got, as an editor I have the power to:

“publish and edit any post, as well as moderate comments and generally make the site a better place.”

Learn more about the Filipino Buddhism blog by clicking on the links below:

I’ll still be blogging here about my personal Buddhist practice, which is Zen, as well as – of course – music, and movement.  But I’m also looking forward to collaborating with my fellow Filipino Buddhist bloggers.

The Marrow Of Zen (from “Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind”, by Shunryu Suzuki) and a Few Thoughts on Global Service Day

Last weekend I was fortunate to receive two Zen books from my cousin (well technically she’s my niece, but she’s older than I am so our relationship is more “cousin-ish”).  One is Shunryu Suzuki’s “Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind”.  This book is rather well-known among Zen folks, especially in the West.  I actually have the audio of this book; still, it’s nice to have it in a physical form that I can bring along anywhere.  What I find amusing though is that every time I read, I hear the voice of the narrator in the audio format.  Anyway, here’s an excerpt:


In our scriptures (Samyuktagama Sutra, volume 33), it is said that there are four kinds of horses: excellent ones, good ones, poor ones, and bad ones.  The best horse will run slow and fast, right and left, at the driver’s will, before it sees the shadow of the whip; the second best will run as well as the first one does, just before the whip reaches its skin; the third one will run when it feels pain on its body; the fourth will run after the pain penetrates to the marrow of its bones.  You can imagine how difficult it is for the fourth one to learn how to run!

When we hear this story, almost all of us want to be the best horse.  If it is impossible to be the best one, we want to be the second best.  This is, I think, the usual understanding of this story, and of Zen…(t)his is not the right understanding.  If you practice Zen in the right way it does not matter whether you are the best horse or the worst one…

When you are determined to practice zazen with the great mind of Buddha, you will find the worst horse is the most valuable one.  In your very imperfections you will find the basis for your firm, way-seeking mind.  Those who can sit perfectly physically usually take more time to obtain the true way of Zen, the actual feeling of Zen, the marrow of Zen.  But those who find great difficulties in practicing Zen will find more meaning in it.  So I think that sometimes the best horse may be the worst horse, and the worst horse can be the best one.


I posted about Treeleaf’s Global Service Day last week.  Well, it’s done.  The two-week period is over.

And at the same time, it’s not.  After all, if you truly understand the intent behind Global Service Day, you’ll know that everyday is Global Service Day.  Every moment is, after all, an opportunity to be of service to the world.  That might mean cheering up someone who’s feeling down, or offering to help a neighbor, or volunteering for some type of community service.  Every moment can be a moment dedicated to work of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas throughout space and time.

Anyway, a few folks over at the Filipino Buddhism Facebook group have expressed interest in having our own Global Service Day.  We even have our own blog already – though it’s still new so you won’t find much in there right now.

Treeleaf Zendo and Global Service Day (October 20-November 2)

You’re all invited to participate in Treeleaf Zendo’s Global Service Day. Just what is “Global Service Day”?  Simple: pick a day within next week (it’s supposed to be within a two-week time period so as to provide flexibility, but I’m blogging this a week late – sorry about that).  On that day, do something – anything – that will help even just a little.   Here’s an excerpt from the About Us page:

Global Service Day is a project sponsored by the teachers, members and friends of Treeleaf Zendo. We practice Engaged Service together in our communities across many countries and geographies – in this blog you will find our stories and experiences.

and from the Welcome Page:

Global Service Day is an opportunity to contribute a day of service in areas of need in our own communities – it is our hope and plan that this effort not be limited to our Sangha. Buddhist Sanghas of all flavors … and churches and civic organizations of all kinds … are engaged in projects such as this. We are now joining in. Some projects may be primarily done with and among our own Sangha members, some may be in cooperation with other Sanghas, churches and groups. The most important point is that the work should not be done for our benefit (although certainly there is endless merit and personal benefit in generosity and kindness to others), but should be undertaken with an eye toward “where can we truly help” and “how can we be truly effective.”

We sincerely believe that our Practice is found – beginning and end – on our sitting cushions in stillness, yet our Practice continues as we rise up from sitting to be with our families, in our workplaces, towns, communities, society, the whole world.

Here are some examples of what some of our members did in the past:

-I plan to do some charity sewing every month for the next year. There are needs in the world that I had no idea were not being met.

-I recently spent a few hours explaining the benefits and problems of social media to my hospice’s director…maybe it will help them organize their first Facebook page..

-I will once again be sharing the wonderful antics of my pet with my granny and fellow folks at her retirement facility.

-I also will be doing something at school for mentally challenged kids.

-Starting this weekend, and for 3 or 4 weekends more, I’ll be part of a team delivering toys and blankets to children’s hospitals

-My volunteering over the last couple of years has progressed from the commitment of a day four times a year to a new career in social work and environmental advocacy.

-I have become a “Chemo Angel.” I basically, have been assigned to a person who has cancer and is currently undergoing chemotherapy. I write notes/cards of encouragement and send small gifts every week.

-I’m volunteering to assist the caretakers of the aged, infirm, ill, developmentally disabled

-I’m volunteering at the animal shelter.

-I’m going to work one full day for free for a person who just started his business

-I’m volunteering with a local Buddhist group tidy a neglected community garden

I should add that we have four Global Service Day periods for every quarter of the year.  Each period lasts about two weeks.

“WHOA!  Two weeks, four times a year?  You mean there’s more than one?” is probably what you’re thinking right now.  Well, like I said earlier, we figured we could use some flexibility.  And if you think about it: EVERY-FREAKIN’ DAY can be Global Service Day – you just need to start the day with the intention to be of benefit to the world, no matter how small your actions might seem to you.

So if you want to take part in Global Service Day, simply pick any day within the two-week period.  Actually, we’re about to start week 2 already so just choose one day out of the week starting today.  And you don’t even need to limit yourself to just one day if you really want to do more and can’t fit everything into one day.

Oh, and if you don’t mind, I encourage you to visit the Global Service Day “Get Involved” Page and sign up.


If you want to find out more about Treeleaf, click on the links here, here, and here.

If you want to find out more about Global Service Day, click on the links here and here.

The Blade-of-grass Temple

Attention! When the World-Honored One was walking with his disciples he pointed to the ground and said, “It would be good to erect a temple here.” The god Indra took a blade of grass and stuck it in the ground and said, “The temple has been erected.” The World-Honored One smiled faintly.*

*From Case 4 of The Book of Equanimity: Illuminating Classic Zen Koans (Gerry Shishin Wick)

Kyonin’s Ango Talk

As I mentioned in a previous post, it is now Ango time.  Time for the monks and laypeople of the Sangha to gather together and practice Zen.  Here’s a video talk of Kyonin, one of the priests over at Treeleaf.  He talks about Ango, but really, he could be talking about just about any commitment.  As he says in the video, “Ango is life.”

The 1st Week of Treeleaf Ango 2014, plus Taking It Easy

It’s the end of the first week of Ango.  Ango is a special 90-day practice period for Zen monks and laypeople.  Below is an excerpt of my Zen teacher’s explanation of Ango as practiced in Treeleaf, my sangha.  I might as well take some time to explain a little about Treeleaf to help you understand his writing better:

Treeleaf is a sangha whose members are spread out all over the world.  Most are located in North America, our teacher Jundo (along with his Dharma brother Taigu, who heads our newly-formed brother Sangha Blue Mountain Hermitage) is based in Japan.  I, along with one other member, am based in the Philippines.  So how do we practice together?  Online.  Google Hangouts, Insight Timer, forums, Skype.  So Ango, just like all our interactions and community practices, is held online.

“Ango, literally “peaceful dwelling”, is a period of concentrated and committed Zen practice, usually lasting three-months in the Soto Zen tradition. The roots of Ango arise from the earliest days of the Buddhist monastic community in India, when monks and nuns would cease their wandering and settle together in one place for the rainy season. Even today in Zen monasteries of Japan, Ango is a time of intense and rigorous training, typically including long hours of Zazen, short hours for sleep, formal meals taken in the Zendo (meditation hall), and a structured schedule for the rest of the day comprising periods for work, liturgy, study, rest, and personal needs. In the West, most Zen groups have adapted the form of the three-month practice period to the needs and demands of life in their communities.

In keeping with the philosophy and path of practice here at Treeleaf (“all of life is our temple”), we will seek to obtain many of the same … (and, I believe, quite a few additional and very special) … fruits and lessons of a traditional Ango while sitting within the “monastery” of our day-to-day lives, jobs, problems, unending distractions and family responsibilities.

In doing so, I believe, we will have the opportunity to taste the sweetness (and sometime bitterness … no one without the other) of concentrated Zen practice … and learn lessons … in many ways more poignant, practical, immediate and powerful than what might be known to monks locked away in a sheltered mountain monastery. As always, we will be tasting the power of this practice in the world, in daily life … and not hidden away from it all.” (From the Treeleaf forums)

So that’s what I’ve been up to since last week.  I’ve been sitting longer periods of zazen – and what perfect timing too!  Since last Sunday I haven’t been feeling well.  I’ve had to ease up on my workouts.  After a few days I figured out that it was likely my remaining wisdom tooth pushing up against the rest of my teeth and causing pain.  Of course I want to make sure it’s actually that and not something else (there’s not a lot of things I can think of that would cause a week-long headache) so I have an appointment with the dentist tomorrow afternoon.  At any rate I’ll be doing much less physical stuff for a few days, maybe a week or so.  Which gives me more time to devote to Ango participation – although my teacher would probably admonish me that yes, sitting Zen is Ango participation, but so is doing the daily household chores, going to work, taking care of the family, and even just plain taking it easy while nursing a toothache-headache combo.  They are all Ango, because they are all life – and all life is our Temple, as the Treeleaf tagline says.

REBLOG: On: Gratitude… and Death (Part I)

Here’s a blog post by someone whose I only recently started to follow here on WordPress. His meditation on a cup of coffee is strikingly Zen, though I do not know if he identifies himself as Zen or not (and does it matter, really?). It is indeed possible to, to paraphrase William Blake, “see the world in a cup of coffee.”

James Radcliffe

As human beings, we can miss so much.  It is perfectly possible for us to bounce about our days with vast chunks of potential experience simply passing us by, untapped, unused and ultimately wasted.

The fact that we perpetually take things for granted, the fact that we constantly: form and work from internal generalisations, is something that’s deeply rooted in our nature.  It’s a necessary faculty.  And it’s totally useful…

Some of the time.

But here’s the danger:

When left unchecked this mechanism can, all too easily, become our default and habitual way of interacting with the world.  When this happens we begin to wander around aimlessly, steered purely by desire and reaction, becoming ever-more trapped and enmeshed in habitual ruts of thought and behaviour.

But you want some Good News?

It doesn’t have to be this way.  It’s a choice, and it’s ours to make.  Armed…

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