Monthly Archives: February 2015

Five thoughts revisited…

   Below is a portion of a blog post from five years ago. I will post parts of it for the next five days, it is about the “Five Thoughts”. previously I published in an altered form of these posts on the “Five Thoughts” in the Journal of the Order of Buddhist Contemplatives.    Current thoughts I’ve added in this color.

Before every meal I say the “Five Thoughts”, a portion of the formal mealtime ceremony in Soto Zen. I say the 5 Thoughts to put my life into perspective. It is one of several ritual observances that I find helpful and comforting on a daily basis.

Before I begin eating, I arrange my food so that it is tidily in front of me. If utensils are required I put the main one on the opposite side of the food plate from me, with the handle pointing away from me. This is to indicate that I am willing to share my food with others.
I then recite:

We must think deeply of the ways and means by which this food has come.
We must consider our merit when accepting it.
We must protect ourselves from error by excluding greed from our minds.
We will eat lest we become lean and die.
We accept this food so that we may become enlightened.

“We must think deeply of the ways and means by which this food has come.”   This first thought has to do with truly looking at the food we are having, seeing it for what it is, where it came from and how it got here. It also invites us to look at the forms of life that have to die in order for us to have sustenance. It asks that we pay attention to this food in front of us as if it is our last meal, and to honor the life that was taken/given to provide us with the where-with-all to continue our own life.

I may also reflect on the plates and chairs and tables and the people I’m eating with. How they got here? How I got here?
One can indeed go very deep with this first thought about food.
We are not asked to think of all of these things each and every time we eat but we are asked to recognize the reminder that there is more going on than “fueling the machine”. There are of course times when we do indeed ponder deeply this idea of our actual lives in reference to other lives. Those that are eaten and those that do the eating.
We are asked to see interdependence as the only way that we can live, grow, survive, learn and be aware of what it takes to be alive.
This is the way to compassion for all living things.
Without their offering, we just wouldn’t be. Here.  Furthermore, it enjoins us to not be wasteful with these lives that have been offered .

   It is also a good starting point for practicing this view in relation to all of the things that come into our lives. Just substitute anything for “food”. People, places, things, the phenomena of our world; of our minds, our bodies and how they change; sometimes, just as we thought we’ve learned the “truth”of the matter. It is always good to reflect that we can learn the truth of the matter, much more thoroughly if we see the change as an inherent part of all existence. Change is a major component of the truth. A component not all of it.

Being whatever and wherever…

Below is a portion of a response to friend who was sharing about the recent death of his father. As is so often the case for me, when I’m talking/writing to someone about real things, I am really talking to myself and letting some inner aspect dictate (in the truest sense), an answer or insight (either large or small), about something that is personal to me experientially, and universal.

Sadly, so often when I’m talking to myself like this, there is  an innocent bystander trying to extricate themselves from my self-knowledge pronouncement. Oh, well. At least its helpful to somebody.


Thank you for sharing the obituary as well as some of your thoughts and feelings regarding this rich, precious, unavoidable and deeply touching time in your life. We are fortunate when we can experience the fullness of these “later” life lessons, they are sometimes much more difficult because they are so unpredictable. All our suppositions and musings can get a good trouncing from the dormant and sometimes cleverly disguised feelings, memories, perhaps even wounds and often the unintended glancing blows that families impose/visit on each other. 

My experience is that meditation just opens doors. It’s not a solution as such. The solution, if there is one, can be seen as a by-product of meditation, not the purpose. Meditation allows us to experience our “Selves” in the raw, just as we are; changeable, vulnerable, reactionary, defensive, aggressive, knowing, un-knowing confused, competent, remarkably resilient and possessing a deeper core that we hadn’t needed to activate, yet. Yet, there we are in our miserable splendor. So much to be grateful for. Prayers of thanks spring to the heart of their own at these times. You are well placed.
I have just passed Linda’s 1st anniversary and it has taken that long for things to settle into their little places, now they have a chance to get some rest. Turns out everything just has to move through time and space; atoms and pyramids. The living and the dead.

As a Buddhist monk of my acquaintance says, “We all have to be someplace, and we all have to be doing something.”

Usually what and where we are and what we’re doing is not important, what matters is our state of mind while doing and being whatever and wherever.

Splishing Sun awaits…


I was sitting in the back yard of our little temple in Berkeley reading a book on Zen titled “Novice to Master” by Soko Morinaga one of the great modern Japanese Zen Masters in the Rinzai tradition. The book is about  his lifelong training as a Zen monk and how he moved from novice to Master. The Subtitle on the front page of the book is;

An Ongoing Lesson in the Extent of My Own Stupidity:

In one part he is writing about the aspect of enlightenment which most Westerners think is the point of all this Buddhism & Zen, however, many have written and stated that enlightenment, as such, is only the beginning, because you realize that what you have been seeking (so strenuously), has always been an integral part of you. Through the process of all this training and practice we get glimpses, or as I like to think of them “glances”, that point towards It.

Anyway, as  I was reading and enjoying the unusually warm California Winter, in the back yard of the temple I’ve been attending for almost 25 years, I glanced at the little Buddha statue off the walkway next to the garage and was struck by  how that is exactly how training has manifested in my life. I see myself surrounded by the practical aspects of the world and I do try and appreciate them and their usefulness, but so many times I don’t see the small quiet presence of the Buddha, (or Christ, Allah, or God, or The Eternal), that is in all aspects of the world and life we are in. “It” just waits and attends quietly because it is in all things. I get easily distracted by my version of the world, but that afternoon, for a few moments a great calm and peace came over me and I shed a few tears. My not so secret response to quite a few moments in life; and I thought:

This is the 

Way that It Is.

Fountains gurgle and splish

Yes; Splish and splatter!

Birds twitter,  Suns Shine,

Ladders hang,

Chairs folded, lean, and

Little watering cans and

The Buddha, stand and

Wait to receive. Openly,

And to give. Freely. 


wisp of fog and compassion…

Just spent a few days very busy with our Sangha, a retreat day of meditation and dharma talk/discussions. The next day a well attended Festival of Avalokiteshvara, the Bodhisattva of Compassion; one of Mahayana Buddhism’s primary figures in regards to the teachings on compassion and what that word means, how to access it and make it real in our lives for ourselves and for others.

The name Avalokiteshvara, translated from the Sanskrit means Regarder of the Cries of the World. The aspect of listening deeply is as important as the wish to help beings, including oneself, in skillful ways that are conducive to any one’s spiritual needs being met.

Yesterday was a day of helping a Sangha member do some garden irrigation and move some items to a new abode. 105 steps up a hillside, steep too.

Old coot mountain goat,

Breathless. The view of

San Francisco. Distant

Between the Mountains

Glistening  between the


The water bright as the 

First wisp of fog


Over the nearby hillside.

Old coot mountain goat,

At rest, breathing in

Distant fog, shimmering

City, Bay of Light.

early morning exchange…

“Sometimes I get these feelings of being completely out of place. Distant from understanding anything. Then they pass. I don’t get them often. I kind of like them because they help to re-order my thinking. Regain some perspective. Yet, they have an undefinable wistfulness them that seems important. So I try to honor the feeling because it seems like a type of teaching I am being given.
Actually the above paragraph (?) is truer than I thought it would be. I think I’ll use it as a taking off point for my blog and personal writings. I always feel truer around you . Weird, huh?….”

Isn’t that how the mind works? Thinking, feeling, assessing, worrying, and then revisiting some more and, sometimes, sharing. In the sharing the process changes from being inwardly convoluted (bound), to outwardly expository and revealing (loosening). A shedding of light by exposing intimate process to another. Similar to the experience one can have when involved and concentrating on a task at hand that has a private aspect to it; (Drawing, creating, sanding some wood to good finish, sewing, assembling something intricate and useful, any activity that draws us into it.) and, while we are in the activity we sense another person watching us intently. If we are connected in some way to the watcher it is slightly different than if the watcher is someone we either don’t know very well, or not at all. In either instance we get a heightened sense of awareness of ourselves, the activity, and the presence of the watcher. A fuller view of something.
This is the process of sharing.
When truly done, it has transformative potential for the doer, the observer, the exchange between the two, and the activity (the doing and the observing thereof), itself.

Yep, the above is how the mind works. One of them anyway.

The quote is from a text I sent to a longtime friend at 6:00 a.m. after I had texted earlier that I was feeling out of sorts and, in response, was asked, “Why out of sorts???”

That’s what friends do.

They ask?

We ask.

They respond.

We respond.

The small exchanges.