Friday, April 11, 2014

"at home in muddy water"

Please continue exploring the  themes of being "at home" (or not being at home) as discussed in a previous blog.

Notice what (or when) you believe there are "muddy water" conditions or circumstances in life? (What and when are there "clear" water conditions or circumstances?)

What makes for a condition/circumstance "being muddy"?

What are your reactions to "muddy"?

Noticing this "muddy", what is being present, awake, at home in this muddy water?

What enables and support you in being present?

What hinders or keeps you from presencing?

What attachments and beliefs arise when sensing/feeling/believing "muddy"?

What/how is practice with these?

What is being at home in the midst of hindrance, in the midst of attachment/beliefs and reactive habits?

Conditions or circumstances include so-called internal or external, body, thought and emotions in various permutations and combinations, and self or other, to list just a few ways we might categorize or name them.

(c) 2014 Elihu Genmyo Smith

Friday, April 4, 2014

Manifesting the Universe, This Moment Presence

Zen practice is living compassionately.

Descriptions and theories are not the point of Zen, and often lead in directions which are neither skillful nor supportive.

Nevertheless, many of us like theories, and I am often asked to speak in those terms. Descriptions and theories can serve supportive, skillful and even nurturing purposes, despite the fact that descriptions can also lead to distortion, sometimes more so than adding light.

Asked to say something, right now my opinion is that our life is the universe coming together in this moment,  all sorts of phenomenon, physical and mental, known and unknown, coming together now and giving us the opportunity of presencing, being present, awake - and "out" of that presence, responding. In being present, noticing this moment habits and forces, we can make a choice/effort in manifesting this universe we are. The above is said when pressed to speak in these terms, nothing else.

An interesting discussion of rationality, neurology, psychology and more, especially the most recent scientific research, is an article by Paul Bloom which includes the following:

"As you read this article, your actions are determined by physical law, but unless you have been drugged, or have a gun to your head, or are acting under the influence of a behavior-changing brain tumor, reading it is what you have chosen to do. You have reasons for that choice, and you can decide to stop reading if you want. If you should be doing something else right now—picking up a child at school, say, or standing watch at a security post—your decision to continue reading is something you are morally responsible for.

The idea of “choosing” to stop (or choosing anything at all), they suggest, implies a mystical capacity to transcend the physical world. Many people think about choice in terms of this mystical capacity, and I agree with the determinists that they’re wrong. But instead of giving up on the notion of choice, we can clarify it. The deterministic nature of the universe is fully compatible with the existence of conscious deliberation and rational thought—with neural systems that analyze different options, construct logical chains of argument, reason through examples and analogies, and respond to the anticipated consequences of actions, including moral consequences. These processes are at the core of what it means to say that people make choices, and in this regard, the notion that we are responsible for our fates remains intact.

But this is where philosophy ends and psychology begins. It might be possible that we are physical beings who can use reason and make choices. But haven’t the psychologists shown us that this is wrong, that reason is an illusion? The sorts of findings I began this article with—about the surprising relationship between bakery smells and altruism, or between the weight of a résumé and how a job candidate is judged—are often taken to show that our everyday thoughts and actions are not subject to conscious control.

This body of research has generated a lot of controversy, and for good reason: some of the findings are fragile, have been enhanced by repeated testing and opportunistic statistical analyses, and are not easily replicated. But some studies have demonstrated robust and statistically significant relationships. Statistically significant, however, doesn’t mean actually significant. Just because something has an effect in a controlled situation doesn’t mean that it’s important in real life...."

For the rest of this wide-ranging article see:

(c) 2014 Elihu Genmyo Smith

Being At Home

This is an exercise which can support and nurture our life.

For this to work best, I encourage you to regularly write down responses throughout the week, throughout day, because writing enables us to clarify and articulate what we are believing or holding to - use a notebook, a digital format or what works for you.

Notice where/ when you are/feel "at home" ? 

Notice where / when you are/feel not "at home"? 

In place of "at home" you can use other phrases such as "ok" or "not ok", or what ever phrase works for you.

Looking more closely, which "external" circumstances are related to being "at home" or being not "at home"?

Which "internal" circumstances in terms of body conditions, body-mind, emotion thought, relationship or social conditions  are connected or associated with feeling "at home" or "not at home" ? 

Look, what makes for feeling at home, what makes for feeling not at home?

And what are the results in your life of being "at home"?

What are the results in your life of not being "at home", of being "not at home"?

(c) 2014 Elihu Genmyo Smith

Sunday, March 23, 2014


by Elihu Genmyo Smith

Zazen is marinating - marinating as this universe, marinating as endless dimension universal life, marinating as this true nature that we are. 

What is marinating?  Marinating is when something seemingly solid, seemingly with fixed boundaries, is placed in liquid - and slowly the liquid permeates it; the solid is filled with the liquid, becomes one with the liquid, is one with the universe it is in. So marinating is opening boundaries and the believed limits of separate identity; we can say it is letting go, forgetting self.  In one sense it is shrinking from the body-mind conditions and circumstances what we believe are our boundaries, allowing the marinate in, allowing the universe in, allowing experiencing - being penetrated by all that arises. At the same time marinating is expanding body-mind conditions and circumstances so that we expand and extend throughout all that we are marinating in, being as we truly are, being all that we marinate in.  Seeming boundaries becoming transparent, are transparent, are non-hindering.

Always this is being right here -  and any place ”in” this marinating is not limited by this or that; this contains all that is marinating, not only contains but is; if we say it another way, “all” is connected to and manifests all that “it” is marinating “in.”

So, though I should cover my ears and wash out my mouth for saying this, when we do zazen we are marinating as this Buddha-nature that we are. Sitting zazen is this universe marinating, right here. 

It is only when we refuse to be this, we refuse to be this moment, that we refuse to marinate as this life, that trouble arises. So I say, when we sit zazen, we are this marinating universe.

There is an interesting scientific discovery which connects to this.  In sleep research with mammals researchers have found that when mammals sleep their brains literally shrink – and it seems this happens  “in order” for the cerebral spinal fluids to flow through and into the brain tissue and do something like wash the brain, rinse it, clear it, makes it more functional for when awake. This takes care of the toxins; as you know the self-centeredness poisons of greed, anger and ignorance are toxins for humans.  So we see that reducing toxins for the mammals enhances functioning, an important and necessary aspect of sleep for mammals.  This research has not yet been done for humans.

This research finding is an analogy for zazen, for allowing the limits and boundaries of self to be washed, bathed in the fluids of this life that we always are, which are always, always exactly this moment. We are never the limits that we place on our self, whether in terms of the bag of skin and bones or the limits of self that we hold onto. Though these boundaries seem real, our zazen is the opportunity to marinate as this life that we are - and it is up to us to marinate our self - and we can do it. 

Don’t get caught by the analogy; if my description of marinating is not complete or has errors, if you don’t cook, if marinating seems strange to you, leave that aside. It is important to be clear on being zazen.  Zazen is not an act limited to when we sit upright, much less doing some technique or other. The specific ways we think of zazen are to enable us, encourage us, even fool us, so that we go “beyond self-centeredness”, to forget the seeming self-boundaries that we want to hold to or the self-reactions and thoughts and feelings that we want to play with and agitate about, and be as we are - opening to what and who we always are. 

Dogen says in Shobogenzo Temborin (Turning the Wheel of Dharma), “My late Master, the Old Buddha of Tendō, once began a Dharma talk by saying, ‘The World-honored One once remarked, ‘When someone gives rise to Truth by returning to the Source, the whole of space in all ten quarters falls away and vanishes.’” Do you see Master Tendo’s point? Giving rise to truth by returning to source, this is zazen, being marinated by the truth of life is returning to the source - then all the ideas, limits, boundaries, the whole of space in all the ten quarters, ten directions, falls away.  (The quote is from the Surungama Sutra.)

“My master, commenting on this quote, made the following remarks:  This is what was expounded long ago by the World-honored One, but His Teaching has not escaped from people’s capacity to create thoroughly strange and wondrous interpretations of It. I, Tendō, am not like that. When someone gives rise to Truth by returning to the Source, that ‘begging child’ will have broken his rice bowl.” 

Tendo’s comment means no longer needing to beg for truth, being the source returning to source, nothing to look for.  Of course, I’m explaining, which is extra. “The Venerable Abbot Goso Hōen once said, ‘When someone gives rise to Truth by returning to the Source, he will keep bumping up against the Space in all the ten quarters.’” Nothing but this, no matter where or how we turn, our encounter from morning to night is nothing but this, has always been nothing but this - and yet we miss it. So marinating as the universe, then we know for our self that wherever we are is just our marinating life. 

“The Venerable Abbot Busshō Hōtai once said, ‘When someone gives rise to Truth by returning to the Source, for him the whole of space in the ten quarters will simply be, for him, the whole of space in the ten quarters.’ Meditation Master Engo Kokugon once said, ‘When someone gives rise to Truth by returning to the Source, he will embellish the whole of Space in the ten quarters with his brocaded flowerings.’ I, Dōgen, of Daibutsu-ji Temple would put it this way, ‘When someone gives rise to Truth by returning to the Source, the whole of space in the ten quarters gives rise to Truth by returning to the Source.’”

The whole marinade awakens, is awakened, is giving rise to the Truth, is returning to the source, is the source. You marinate in the awakened life, and the awakened life marinates as your life, as your zazen.  

In a way this is what Shakyamuni Buddha says, “I and all beings of the great earth together attain the way,” - each and every thing marinating is the whole of the wisdom and perfection of the returned to source. This is what our zazen is, not some little thing where I’m trying to take care of my problems or fix something. You could do that – try to fix little problem, but then you are only doing little bits, then your fiddling with this little piece and are missing the whole marinade that we are marinating as.  This whole universe is exactly our life.  This is zazen.  Doesn’t matter inside, outside, doesn’t matter near or far.  And we have that ability, not because we have to do anything extra, anything other than that right here. Because right here is connected to all of the ten directions, is giving rise to the Truth. Despite ideas, “this is my limits, this skin boundary is my limits, or these things that I’m aware of and I think about, these feelings emotions thoughts are my limits, yet this is not so.  The ideas of our limits is not so.  Except if we insist that they are so.  

Master Shoushan Xingnian (10th century China - Shuzan in Sino-Japanese) is asked, “The Buddhas all issue from this sutra; what sutra is this?” Though this phrase is from the Diamond Sutra, it doesn’t matter which sutra it is - all the Buddhas derive from this. The Master said, “Speak softly, speak softly.”  When we disturb or demand loudly, remember this revealing response, “speak softly.” The monk seems to have had an insight and then asked, “How am I to receive and maintain this?” Shoushan said, “Never defile it.” Never defile it, this is “returning” to the source, living the source, giving rise to the Truth. Live this that you are. Never defile it.  We are marinating as the universe, not because we do something special, and yet we have to taste it for our self; this is the opportunity of our life, of our zazen.

A disciple asked, “Can a single tree blossom?” Shoushan said, “It’s long been in blossom.” The disciple asks, “Can it bear fruit or not?” Notice the monk didn’t see our long blossoming single tree life, but persists in his blindness. So Shoushan sharply said, “it suffered a frost last night.” When we do not see what is so, when we act against it, then we need to hear that blooms die from frost, though it is nevertheless long blossoming. Shoushan is asked, “What is a bodhisattva before she becomes a Buddha?” He answers, “all beings.” “How about after she becomes a Buddha?” “All beings, all beings.” Do not be trapped by before or after, or by our other categories.

So, marinating as this that we are is not something extra and special.  And yet never defile it; unfortunately we can defile and defile. Please be zazen - otherwise these defiling habits, these “I want, I don’t want, I am, I’m not, I like, I don’t like,”  may seem true.

Dogen isn’t talking about marinating - but he is; he says when someone gives rise to the truth by returning to the source and we could say, returning to the sauce - because the sauce extends in all directions.  See, marinating as the universe, it is clear to us that the sauce/source extends in all directions.  Isn’t that what Shoushan says? Asked "what is it," he responds, “All beings, all beings.” This is the sauce that we marinate in.  All beings - and all beings means beings in all the ten directions in all the myriad forms, mind, body that we encounter.  Sauce and source are all together just this - speaking with my New York accent sometimes makes source and sauce unclear to some, and sometimes it adds sauce to this nourishing meal that is our life.

© 2014 Elihu Genmyo Smith

Friday, March 14, 2014

Teaching practice in colleges

Interesting article and interesting comments following, both pro, con and otherwise.

"I think religion should be taught in college. I’m not talking about “religious studies,” that is, the study of the phenomenon of religion. I’m talking about having imams, priests, pastors, rabbis, and other clerics teach the practice of their faiths. In college classrooms. To college students. For credit. I think religion should be taught in college because I believe it can help save floundering undergraduates. I’m not talking about “saving” them in Christian sense. I’m talking about teaching them how to live so they do not have to suffer an endless stream of miseries."

"...So religion is in part knowledge-how. But this raises another question: Should we consider knowledge-how appropriate for the college classroom? Judging by current practice, there is no question that it does. Every professor of the performing and fine arts teaches knowledge-how. Dancing, singing, playing, writing, drawing, painting, and sculpting are knowledge-how, and they are all well established parts of university curricula. And why not include engineering? You can either build it or you can’t. Or mathematics? You can either solve for X or you can’t. Or chemistry? You can either synthesize it or you can’t. Any discipline that teaches students how to do something in the world rests to some degree on knowledge-how.

Teaching Religion vs. Teaching About Religion

You might be convinced that undergraduates are suffering, that religion can help them, and that religious knowledge-how can be taught in the university. You are almost ready to believe that we should teach religious practice in college. Yet you still have one reservation. It looks, you say, like teaching religion in college mixes church and state in an unconstitutional way. If it violates the establishment clause of the First Amendment, it’s out.
That’s what I thought a number of years ago. Now, however, I don’t. Teaching religious practice in college is constitutional because it not proselytizing, but rather teaching about religion."

For the article see:

Saturday, March 8, 2014

More Unintended Consequences

"Limiting the number of plastic bags that can litter the landscape or clog the oceans is a worthy goal, but laws that begin with good intentions often have unintended consequences," writes Judy Gruen.

"...Though reducing plastic-bag use might be good for the environment, encouraging the re-use of plastic bags for food-toting may not be so healthy for humans. After San Francisco introduced its ban on non-compostable plastic bags in large grocery stores in 2007, researchers discovered a curious spike in E. coli infections, which can be fatal, and a 46% increase in deaths from food-borne illnesses, according to a study published in November 2012 by the University of Pennsylvania and George Mason University. "We show that the health costs associated with the San Francisco ban swamp any budgetary savings from reduced litter," the study's authors observed.

Affirming this yuck factor, a 2011 study from the University of Arizona and Loma Linda University found bacteria in 99% of reusable polypropylene bags tested; 8% of them were carrying E. coli. The study, though it mainly focused on plastic bags, also looked at two cotton reusable bags—and both contained bacteria."
For the rest of this article see:
I bring my own reusable bags to the grocery most of the time. The above cited studies and article raises new questions of what is skillful and appropriate on an individual and societal/political level.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Knowing / Not-knowing

Continue writing your responses as best you can.

When you are reacting to actions of others, events and or circumstances,

Please notice when you “know” what others are thinking, feeling, what "should be” doing or “should not” be doing.

Please notice when you “know” what you “should be” feeling, thinking, “should be” doing or “should not” be doing.

Are you sure of the accuracy of this “knowing”?

What is your body-mind experience of this “knowing”, of being sure of this?

What would be if you did "not-know”?

What is your body-mind experience of this “not-knowing”?

What might be the result of this?

© 2014 Elihu Genmyo Smith