Archive for Zen

Online Dharma teachings: Taigu on Oxherding

Posted in Buddhism on the web, Video, Zen with tags , , , , , on December 30, 2009 by Al

Treeleaf teacher Rev. Taigu discusses the first of the Ten Oxherding pictures:

Be sure to subscribe to the rest of the series here.


Online Dharma opportunity: The Five Hindrances

Posted in Buddhism on the web, Vipassana, Western Buddhism with tags , , , , , , on March 6, 2009 by Al

Audiodharma has added another course to their online meditation curriculum. Ines Freedman and Gil Fronsdal will lead a course on the Five Hindrances starting on May 31. The only prerequisite is that you’ve already completed their Intro to Insight Meditation course with teacher support.

These courses, provided on the basis of dana only, are an amazing wealth of practice support and in depth study. Having a weekly chat with a meditation instructor is a great way to keep your practice going steady through those hot summer months (sloth and torpor, anyone?).

So what are the Five Hindrances, anyway? Sounds like a real downer, right? Yeah, pretty much. The Five Hindrances are those big bad monsters that are likely to keep you frustrated in meditation and that lead you away from enlightenment. Drum roll, please…

1. Sensual desire (kāmacchanda): Craving for pleasure to the senses.
2. Anger or ill-will (byāpāda, vyāpāda): Feelings of malice directed toward others.
3. Sloth-torpor or boredom (thīna-middha): Half-hearted action with little or no concentration.
4. Restlessness-worry (uddhacca-kukkucca): The inability to calm the mind.
5. Doubt (vicikicchā): Lack of conviction or trust.

Source: Wikipedia

As you can imagine, these forces can cause a major motivation suck in plenty of other areas in life besides meditation. I’m hoping this course will touch on when to accept and when to fight back against these hindrances. Coming from a Zen background of goalless goal sitting, sometimes it’s hard to know when to actively suck it up and push back.

If you’ve already taken the Intro course, click here to register. If you just want to audit the course, click here.

World’s first online Jukai completed

Posted in Buddhism on the web, Jukai, Western Buddhism, Zen with tags , , , , , on January 25, 2009 by Al

First of all, welcome to those of you who are visiting from the post mentioning Dharmacore on the Tricycle Editor’s Blog. I’m glad to have you here.

So it was a long process leading up to our online Jukai, but for those of us who participated, it was very rewarding. The ceremony was held on 1/17/09 at 9am CST, and people from all over and country (and the world!) participated. It lasted about an hour, and we followed the traditional Soto Zen precept ceremony.

You can see exactly how we did it. First, Jundo created a very helpful PDF Jukai guide for everyone to print out and follow along with during the ceremony. Then we were each assigned a spot in a video conference meeting room using MeBeam. MeBeam didn’t actually work that well for me; I kept getting kicked off every five minutes or so, but it seemed to work well for several of the other attendees. Jundo broadcasted himself and his end of the ceremony using Ustream.

The ceremony involved a lot of chanting and bowing, as well as reciting the Heart Sutra, a very important text in Zen Buddhism. We “received” our hand-sewn rakusus from Jundo, complete with the lovely calligraphy panel sewn in the back. The calligraphy includes our new Buddhist names chosen for each of us by Jundo, the date of the ceremony, and several stamps representing Jundo and our lineage. He also included a beautiful lineage paper that shows our new name flowing down from all the past Buddhas and ancestors.

Here are some photos:

The first photo shows the lineage paper and the name calligraphy (I had these framed), and the other two photos are of me and the altar setup I used during the ceremony.

If you would like to watch the recorded ceremony, you can see the whole thing here: Jundo’s online Jukai recording.

My Buddhist name is Shinkai, which means “ocean of fidelity.” Taking the precepts (and this name) meant a lot to me. I’ve been exploring Buddhism for over 3 years now, and the timing was exactly right for me to make this commitment. I thank Jundo and all my fellow online sangha members who participated in our trailblazing online Jukai.

Co-opting the Dharma

Posted in Pop culture, Western Buddhism with tags , , , , , on November 22, 2008 by Al

The Worst Horse, one of the best Buddhist blogs on the web, keeps track of a little thing they like to call “Dharma burgers.” These are delicious morsels of marketing hooha that use pseudo-Buddhist concepts (meditation! tranquility! om!) to sell things.

Being in marketing myself, I tend to be less offended and more amused by these attempts. Today, the Horse has a great about South Park, Goth/vamp kids, and co-opting the Dharma. I highly suggest you check it out.

A quick excerpt:

If you’re not sure what this has to do with Buddhism and the kind of ground that the Horse is trying to till, ask yourself: “Am I a Goth or a Vampire?” You’re likely neither in actuality. But go ahead and transpose yourself into “The Ungroundable”’s equation: Are you really into Buddhism and what it teaches, or are you, as the kids like to say, a poseur?

The Horse goes on to assure us that we’re not posers. The problem is, no amount of assurance will ever convince us that deep down we’re not just fooling others into liking an image of who we’d like to be. Deep down, the condition of being human keeps us from truly accepting what we are, exactly as we are.

Acceptance is a major aspect of Buddhist practice. Not just acceptance of the things we like about ourselves, but acceptance of every dark nuance of our personality. If you’re a vampire Hot Topic poser, accept you’re a vampire Hot Topic poser. The point isn’t to become something more authentic. It’s to realize your own inherent authenticity. That’s the real work.

The Anatomy of an Online Jukai Ceremony

Posted in Buddhism on the web, Jukai, Western Buddhism, Zen with tags , , , , , , , on November 18, 2008 by Al

Jukai just got digital. Jundo Cohen of Treeleaf Zendo is trailblazing in the art of online Dharma.

What is Jukai? This is an ancient Zen ceremony where a Buddhist student receives the precepts and takes refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha. It usually involves sewing a rakusu, a traditional Zen garment that my non-Buddhist friends have lovingly taken to calling a “Buddha bib,” and getting a Buddhist name from the teacher. It has that satisfying gravitas we’re all looking for in a religious ceremony.

Jundo Cohen, ordained in the Soto Zen tradition under Zen Master Gudo Wafu Nishijima, created Treeleaf Zendo over 2 years ago and brought interested practitioners a serious online sangha experience. Complete with samu (work practice), sanzen (video chat meetings with the teacher) and a forum for communication among members, the sangha has grown steadily. Now, a small group of us have joined Jundo in his latest experiment of an online Jukai ceremony.

Not that calling it an “experiment” should in any way imply that Jundo or his students aren’t taking the requirements seriously. Over several months, Jukai hopefuls are studying a wide selection of readings, primarily guided by Robert Aiken’s The Mind of Clover: Essays in Zen Buddhist Ethics and also including essays from many other Zen teachers. Participants are even sewing the rakusu, guided by a very detailed set of instructional sewing videos with Rev. Taigu created especially for this unique online ceremony.

So how exactly did Jundo do it?

Skype for direct video communication
Treeleaf video zendo for group meditation and retreats
Google Video for the rakusu sewing instructions
Treeleaf forums for precepts study

Other materials:
– Various sewing materials (fabric, thread, etc.)
– Robert Aiken’s The Mind of Clover: Essays in Zen Buddhist Ethics
– Various online readings
– The good ol’ meditation cushion

Loose schedule:
– Prep period of gathering materials, ordering the book
– General discussion of Jukai and the Three Refuges
– Week by week study of the 10 precepts (not to kill, lie, steal, self-aggrandize, defame others, misuse sex, misuse intoxicants, become wrongfully angered, to be generous, and to honor awareness, learning and community) with metta “intermission” week
– Simultaneous sewing of the rakusu while studying the precepts
– Weekend Rohatsu retreat (Dec. 6-7)
– Online Jukai with Jundo

We’re still not sure how the live online Jukai is going to work out, but that’s part of the beauty of it. The expansion of online Dharma proves again and again that you can seek out and learn from the teaching that best benefits you, not just the teaching next door.

Zen Buddhist Gathas

Posted in Zen with tags , , , , , , on August 16, 2008 by Al

If I were to ask non-Buddhists to read one Buddhist book, it probably wouldn’t big one of the big sweeping volumes about the history of the religion, and it definitely wouldn’t be the new agey self help from the Dalai Lama or Thich Nhat Hanh. It wouldn’t even be the punk-to-monk semi-autobiographies by Brad Warner or Noah Levine, even though those are some of my favorites. It would probably be The Dragon Who Never Sleeps by Robert Aitken. It’s a slim, rarely-mentioned and highly underrated collection of Zen Buddhist gathas. Gathas are little poems (in Aitken’s format, the second line is always “I vow with all beings”) that illustrate some of the best moments for practice in our lives.

Here are some of my favorites:

When someone offers a drink
I vow with all beings
to acknowledge the sorrow it causes
as it warms and gladdens our hearts.

When the outcome proves disappointing
I vow with all beings
to look again at my purpose-
was it Dharma or something else?

When I panic at losing my bearings
I vow with all beings
to acknowledge the error is panic,
not losing familiar ground.

When my efforts are clearly outclassed
I vow with all beings
to face my own limitations
and bring forth my original self.

Looking up at the sky
I vow with all beings
to remember this infinite ceiling
in every room of my life.

When a car goes by late at night
I vow with all beings
to remember the lonely bakers
who secretly nourish us all.

When a train rattles by at the crossing
I vow with all beings
to remember my mother and father
and imagine their thoughts in the night.

If you practice with gathas, please share some in the comments.

Modern Buddhist traditions

Posted in Theravada, Vajrayana, Vipassana, Western Buddhism, Zen with tags , , , , , on June 16, 2008 by Al

A lot of people come to Buddhism seeking to improve themselves and to make their lives better, simpler, and more productive. There is nothing wrong with this approach. Even in Buddha’s time, kings and householders came asking about their everyday problems, and Buddha’s answer wasn’t “just sit” or “become a monk.” His responses were practical but firmly rooted in the Dharma. I was inspired by Buddha’s response and compassion to everyday people and everyday problems, and that’s how Dharmacore was born.

Today, there are certain schools and traditions of Buddhism that are modern interpretations of the Dharma. I define these as modern-beginner-friendly traditions. I’m talking about the person who feels vaguely dissatisfied with their life, walks into a Barnes and Noble one Saturday afternoon, and has no idea which book to choose from the vast Buddhist section in order to start learning more about the religion.

So what are these modern, Western-accessible, beginner-friendly traditions?

Thich Nhat Hanh – Plum Village – Vietnamese Zen
TNH is one of the most popular Buddhist authors currently alive today. He rivals the Dalai Lama for that precious Barnes and Noble bookshelf real estate, and his books and are friendly, accessible and easy to read. His teachings are often described as a mix between Zen and Vipassana (insight) meditation. He draws from both Theravada and Mahayana scriptures, but has a firm basis in the Pali Canon. Most of the practices at Plum Village can be easily integrated into daily life. I’m a big fan of the gathas. Plum Village is in France, so it may not seem that accessible for US and Canadian seekers, but there are many TNH-inspired sitting groups in the states.

Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche – Shambhala – Kagyu and Nyingma schools of Tibetan Buddhism
The Shambhala lineage is one of the best organized Buddhist sects in the West. They have a lot of features normally associated with Christian churches, including Sunday services, childcare, childrens’ programs, fellowship activities, and classes. Though Shabhala is definitely Tibetan in flavor, Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche (the original leader) and his son (Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche) have borrowed aspects from other traditions, including Zen’s focus on the arts as well as elements of Bön, Taoism, Confucianism, and Shinto. Their beginner meditation classes are friendly and free, and you can find a center via their website.

Jack Kornfield, Joseph Goldstein, et al – Insight Meditation Society – Theravada/Vipassana
Some of the most prolific Western authors writing about Buddhism today are associated with IMS and their educational organization, the Barre Center for Buddhist Studies. The teachings focus on the basics of Buddhism from the Theravadan perspective, including instruction in breathing meditation, vipassana, and metta (lovingkindness). IMS doesn’t have really have satellite centers around the country, though you might be able to find a like minded lay sitting group near you. They do offer plenty of retreats throughout the year, though, so if getting away appeals to you and you have the time to do it, IMS is a great candidate.

Noah Levine – Dharma Punx – Theravada/Vipassana/eclectic
Noah’s book, “Dharma Punx,” inspired a lot of younger practitioners to get started on the path. He deals with topics like addiction, sex, drugs, and morality with an unflinching honesty. The community of people inspired by these teachings have organized themselves via the message board on his website and sitting groups have sprung up everywhere. The community announcements board is the best place to look for (or even start) a group in your area. The Dharma Punx crowd tends to be accepting, unconventional and dedicated to bringing the Dharma into the reality of our modern lives.

Jundo Cohen – Treeleaf Zendo – Soto Zen
As far as I know from my online travels, Jundo is responsible for providing the world’s first legitimate online sangha, led by an experienced teacher and run as well or better than any brick-and-mortar practice center. Treeleaf has daily video Dharma talks, daily sittings via webcam, and an active community forum. Jundo answers emails and is very active on the forum. If you’re looking for direct experience with a teacher, Treeleaf can provide that even if there’s not a practice center within 500 miles of where you live. This is an amazing example of modern Dharma.

This list is not all-inclusive, by any means. Groups like Soka Gakkai and the Friends of the Western Buddhist Order are very active in Europe and in other parts of the US. The groups listed are those of which I have the most personal knowledge and experience. As always, see for yourself and find your fit. To find a sitting group near you, check out, a non-sectarian meditation directory. Please also consider joining the Dharmacore community.