Wednesday, September 26, 2012


I was asked, "are there healing practices in Zen?"

There is much to say about this; one place to begin a discussion of what I hope will be a number of blogs and other comments which is easily accessible for all is citing Zen Master Hakuin's comments on the Ten Clause Kannon Sutra (Enmei Jukku Kannon Gyo) and what he calls healing practices in the midst of cause and effect.

Below is the Ten Clause Sutra in Sino-Japanese:


Hakuin has a whole book devoted to this verse, though the book is only available in Japanese (Enmei Jukku Kannon-gyo Reigen-ki).

However, Hakuin also speaks at length in many places in his writings about healing that can occur with the chanting of this verse. There are excellent translations in English by Norman Waddell of selections from Hakuin on this subject. On the web, the following Waddell translation about the Enmei Jukku (which I reprint below) is a good start:

"Toward the end of his life, Zen master Hakuin [1689 -1769] took an interest in aspects of life outside the monastery walls, including social and governmental concerns. In the passage that follows, excerpted from a letter addressed in 1754 to Lord Nabeshima on the subject of the virtuous leader, he discusses the merit of reciting Enmei Jukku Kannon Gyo [The Ten-Phrase Life-Prolonging Kannon Sutra].

When we met the other day I had meant to encourage you to take up the Enmei Jukku Kannon Gyo [Ten Phrase Life Prolonging Kannon Sutra], but our meeting was so brief that I did not have the opportunity. I therefore send it for your inspection along with this letter.
This work has been associated with wondrous miracles that have taken place in both China and Japan. Because it is so brief, I sincerely hope that you, not to speak of your close retainers and the common people as well, will recite it two or three hundred times each day. The reason lies in the testing. Give this work to those who are seriously ill or who have met with some unexpected disaster, and have them examine it for their consolation. If it is recited with sincerity, awe-inspiring miracles will without fail be accomplished. Its first advantage is that the person who recites it will be completely free from disease and will attain to long life. This applies to anyone at all. . . ."
For more details on Enmei Jukku,  see Waddell's translations  Beating the Cloth Drum (Shambhala), Wild Ivy (Shambhala) and Hakuin's Precious Mirror Cave (Counterpoint) and elsewhere.

Some may say that these writings by Hakuin are superstitious myths, that the stories are made-up or that there is no scientific basis for this. Or you may say that this practice is another form of mindfulness meditation and concentration, and the benefits are explained by recent research in those areas and more easily (and more skillfully?) attained by modern mindfulness training. It may be so. Even if I cite cases (or Hakuin cites cases) of the efficacy, it is just that, anecdotal cases. So I will not pursue this line of discussion further now.
Here is a Dharma talk that I gave on the Enmei Jukku which includes a word by word translation; in this talk I discuss the Enmei Jukku primarily in terms of Zen practice, and do not focus on healing:
This practice of Enmei Jukku chanting continues to the present.
Below is a calligraphy by my teacher Soen Nakagawa Roshi which reads,
 "10,000 Times A Day (All Day) Enmei Jukku Kannon Gyo"

Hakuin's emphasis on Enmei Jukku draws on much older Buddhist traditions. The Buddha is known as the Medicine King; there are many and varied iconic images of the Buddha Medicine King.

Chapter 25 (24 in some translations) of the Lotus Sutra is devoted to the healing and saving power of Kanzeon Bodhisattva in many forms for those who call on the Bodhisattva in their time of need. Enmei Jukku is thus a short-hand version of larger Kannon sutra. In fact, the name Kanzeon (and variations thereof) means the one who regards/hears/sees and responds to the cries of suffering. Below are links to three online versions of this chapter of the Lotus Sutra:

Hakuin also praises a special meditation practices he calls naikan meditation for its healing properties. Though there is material available on naikan on the web and in the above cited books, and in other works by Hakuin, and one can begin the practice through the use of this written material, I highly recommend that if at all possible one consult experienced guides when undertaking this naikan practice since there are some potentially dangerous side effects and hazards in naikan practice. 

I will write further about these matters in future blogs.

(c) 2012 Elihu Genmyo Smith

Monday, September 24, 2012

An interesting tax proposal

Below is an interesting tax proposal; would it improve our national circumstances? 

We would have to try it to see. Certainly, it would simplify many things and eliminate much lobbying and political jockeying. If you are interested, please read the whole article.

"Want to rebuild America? Start with the tax code

...Replace the current mess with a national sales tax. Tax consumption and only consumption. Don't tax investment, education or income. Eliminate the income tax, the employment tax and the corporate income tax. Just tax consumption.
'It's very progressive, but on a discretionary basis,' he said. 'If you buy a Bentley and I buy a Ford, you'll have to pay about 20 times the taxes I pay. People that spend more money will pay more taxes.'"

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Paradoxical effects in the environment

Paradoxical effects - or how even controversial actions and technologies, including fracking, can lead to positive environmental outcomes, and how they need improvement rather than banning to continue to help, while implementing well-intended forms such as carbon tax can be counterproductive and lead to more difficulties and suffering.

There are many forms and opportunities of Bodhisattva functioning - we need not be narrow or limited in our vision and action. Functioning at ease in the midst of circumstances, there is room for clarification and improvement, the opportunity of straightforward action.

"The End of Global Warming: How to Save the Earth in 2 Easy Steps"

Noah Smith

"You may not believe me, but I have news about global warming: Good news, and better news.
Here is the good news. US carbon emissions are decreasing rapidly. We're down over 10% from our emissions peak in 2007. Furthermore, the drop isn't just a function of the Great Recession. Since 2010 our economy has been growing, but emissions have kept on falling. The reason? Natural gas. With the advent of "fracking" technology, the price of gas has plummeted far below that of coal, and as a result, essentially no new coal plants are being built. ..."

"Conservatives, meanwhile, need to recognize that solar is for real. .."

"Economists are confronting an unpleasant truth with the rise of natural gas: Often, technology trumps our clever policy prescriptions...."

Please read the whole article for insight and understanding:

"So to sum up: The way to save our planet is clear. Step 1 is to embrace natural gas as a "bridge" fuel, limiting the risks from fracking and helping China and other developing countries to switch from coal to gas. Step 2 is to fund research to ensure that the jaw-dropping three-decade plunge in solar power costs continues for two decades more. Natural gas is the temporary ally. Cheap solar is the cavalry that will ride in to finally save the day. 

Preventing catastrophic global warming might still be a long shot. But if we do the right things now, we just might make it."

Monday, September 17, 2012

Self-centeredness and greed create suffering for millions

This editorial from a local paper needs no added comment:

Illinois is No. 1 in a dubious category

Don't get your hopes up for decreasing the number of local government units in Illinois.

Illinois is last or near the bottom in a number of different metrics — public pension funding
 and quality of its bond ratings, to name just two.
But it's No. 1 in another important category, and that ranking helps to explain why the 
Land of Lincoln is a bottom dweller.

A finding by the U.S. Census indicates — and all taxpayers should prepare to cringe —
that our state has the most units of local government in the nation. Pennsylvania ranks
No. 2, but it's miles behind.

Illinois has 6,968 units of local government — counties, municipalities, townships,
special districts and school districts — compared with 4,905 for Pennsylvania.
We're not the only state with too much government that is way too expensive. Texas
has 4,856 units of government and California, 4,350.

This isn't the way it has to be. There are 10 states with 542 or fewer units of local
government. A limited number of local units of government does not automatically mean
efficient and honest government. The District of Columbia has just two units, and it's
historically been an absolute mess of corruption, incompetence and waste. But the fewer
the units of governments citizens have to keep track of, the easier it is for voters to hold
them accountable.

Why so much local government in Illinois? Voters continue to create new units, like library
or tax-increment-finance districts, but many are holdovers from a bygone day. They are testimonials to the eternal truth that once government creates something, no matter how useless it becomes, it will live forever.

Exhibit A for the concept is township government, which most people know nothing about. Illinois has 102 counties and within those 102 counties are 1,400 units of township
government, including 30 in Champaign County alone.

DuPage County Chairman Daniel Cronin has drawn considerable attention for trying to consolidate his county's 400-plus units of government, 45 of which provide
mosquito-abatement services.

It would appear to be plain common sense to see how to do as much or more by 
spending less on fewer units of government. But the elected officials and employees 
whose livelihoods depend on their continuation vehemently resist change.

State Sen. Terry Link, a Waukegan Democrat, last year tried without success to pass
legislation establishing an eight-member commission with the authority to abolish local
units of government.

Stirring up a hornet's nest of opposition, it never had a chance.

The Legislature subsequently created an advisory commission, headed by state Rep.
Jack Franks, to explore the consolidation of local units of government and merge

"People can't follow them, no matter how hard they try, and as a result there is very
little oversight," said Franks, who appears to be serious about bringing about a change.
But the lack of enthusiasm among state legislators for this issue is undeniable. The law establishing the Franks commission was signed by Gov. Pat Quinn in August 2011
and the panel was required to submit its report by Dec. 31.

But somehow legislative leaders never got around to appointing commission members
for months, and the commission didn't hold its first meeting until February 2012. Because
of that delay, Franks said he's been forced to ask that the report deadline be moved back
until September 2013.

Why is there such reluctance to pursue reorganization that could produce tremendous
savings at a time when local governments are strapped for cash?

It's partly inertia. But it's largely because politicians run many of these local units of
government, and they apply pressure on legislators to protect the status quo.

Legislators of both parties, always concerned about keeping friends and getting re-elected,
find it easier to let sleeping dogs lie and do nothing.
It would be nice to think that's going to change, that Illinois is so broke sensible people in positions of power recognize the practices of 1912 need to be brought up to the speed of
2012. But change comes hard in Illinois, a state where politics almost always trumps 

Friday, September 7, 2012

Politicians (and the rest of us)

Asked about my preference regarding the behavior of politicians, I wrote that my hope is that political candidates and politicians would hew close to the Bodhisattva precepts. 

Is it possible? I hope so. 

Is it possible for me, for all of us, to hew close to the Bodhisattva precepts in our behavior? I hope so - and do my best. 

Are my hopes an impossible dream? 

Then this is a good dream to have.

Below is a version of the Bodhisattva precepts (from "Everything is the Way").



Thursday, September 6, 2012

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Differences, Equality and Pernicious Equality

Differences, Equality and Pernicious Equality 
Elihu Genmyo Smith

We live a wonderful life, many forms manifesting the joy that we are; mother playing with child, a weak elder hobbling along, flowers blooming, wind-blown rain storm, falling leaves, hot and dusty drought, full-moon bright, dark and foggy night. The various forms are exactly this manifesting life - and are the opportunity to joyfully appreciate the variety of this life. This is our opportunity to respond, manifesting this life we are - simple, straightforward.

Unfortunately, sometimes we get caught up in what we like or dislike, in greed and anger, and create stress and dissatisfaction, doing what results in harm and suffering in the midst of this joyous life. What behavior do you find intolerable? Whose manners offend you? Do you react when you see…? Do you believe judgments? Do you notice reactions? Please reflect on this.

Discovering for our self that believing differences and attachment to them results in much of the harm and suffering which humans inflect on them self, on others and on the world, we feel a need to do something. When we do not appreciate the interpenetration of differences and emptiness, equality and differences, we may think that the antidote to problems is to do something about differences. Sometimes doing something about the differences is attempting to wipe out differences, to get away from differences by going to some form of oneness or equality. This can be on a personal level or on a social level, it can be politically imposed or culturally and religiously imposed, and may even include attempts to suppress and do away with differences. And, in doing this, we may even experience peace and serenity in a sense of oneness. But we are in trouble if we think that the problem is the differences, if we fail to see that problems arise out of our misperceptions of differences, what they “mean” and imply; to say it succinctly, stress and suffering arise out of our dualistic delusions and attachments, even attachment to oneness.

If we look for a solution in a conceptual oneness, an artificial equality, we sometimes end up with an oneness that really is a disguised way to impose our self-centered ideas, even ideas of what oneness would be like, on our self or others.

Experiencing oneness, experiencing unity, can be an antidote for self-centeredness, enabling and supporting forgetting self; but the very experience of oneness, and holding to that, may merely substitute “oneness” for “self-centeredness.” We may even think that experiencing oneness is true, full “awakening.” Though it might be a glimmer, the glimmer lacks non-abiding, lacks seeing/being the emptiness of conditions and forms, and may lead to attachment to oneness, and, paradoxically, attachment to characteristics. A glimmer of oneness, even temporarily “wiping out” differences, is not the open boundlessness of ongoing change, is not non-attachment, is not dropping away body-mind.  Please do not believe any of these words I wrote or get caught up in them! Please do not hold onto them!

If oneness is only conceptualized, a self-centered idea, a substitute for emptiness, boundlessness, then as a result of this conceptualizing we may become attached to our ideas of oneness, attached to ideas of equality. Mixing oneness and emptiness, we make emptiness into a thing. Even though this attachment is out of kind-heartedness, this is misplaced and possibly dangerous. A surface equality, a conceptually-believed emptiness, a pollyanish oneness which does not face the realities of the cause and effect world we are - but instead covers up differences, not dealing appropriately and skillfully with differences - this can lead to oppression and persecution, intolerance and worse. We may reject and react to others who believe and speak in certain ways, react to various feelings. Being deluded by differences, by the realms of life, and “fighting against them,” we fail to appreciate “all beings are the wisdom and perfection of the Tathagata” (Avatamsaka Sutra), this absolute equality in the midst of differences. Thus, Shakyamuni Buddha says, “I and all beings of the great earth have together attained the way;” no-I and no being that is not-I, no thing that is not-I.

If, instead of working in the midst of differences without being deluded by them, our approach is an approach of artificial oneness, or attachment to a past experience of oneness, this will not enable skillfully responding to troublesome behavior or violence of those (including our self) stuck in self-centeredness. In not appreciating differences, not inhabiting differences, we fail to see “all beings are the wisdom and perfection of the Tathagatha.” Instead we exclude or suppress differences. This exclusion, this suppression, whether of “self” or “others,” is an artificial oneness and equality, a pernicious oneness, pernicious equality - lacking the interpenetration of differences, lacking the “backside” of differences; this is a non-harmonious equality. This pernicious equality can be as problematic as differences which lack the “backside” of equality or oneness. A practice antidote to this problematic is clarifying “form is exactly emptiness, emptiness exactly form” (Heart Sutra). (Form is the many forms of differences, many forms of being.)

There are similar statements in many traditions: our life is seeing G-d in all the many forms and conditions, responding to Jesus in everyone we meet, serving Allah in everyone we greet, responding to the Buddha in this moment of encounter. And when we respond as the Bodhisattva - and to the Bodhisattva - in this moment encounter, we manifest our Bodhisattva functioning in this moment encounter, we enable the “other” to be the Bodhisattva that they are.

The Bodhisattva precepts support us in seeing and responding to things as is, rather than clinging to beliefs about them. If we are trying to do away with differences, attempting to temporarily “wipe out” differences, that much we believe and hold to differences, that much we fail to see differences as they truly are, that much we miss non-attachment to differences. We are blinded by one-sided vision and delusions about differences.

Manifesting equality as differences is appreciating and manifesting differences. Though equality wipes out attachment to and abiding in differences, this equality, this emptiness, does not deny differences. Emptiness is empty of emptiness. So, differences manifest equality, differences manifest emptiness – not one thing.

We fool our self and others when we fail to manifest equality as differences, fail to live this interpenetration of form and emptiness that we are, when we attempt to do away with or cover over differences in a “one-sided” oneness. A pernicious oneness can be a justification for self-criticisms, as well as criticism of those who celebrate their particularity, their traditions; forms of pernicious oneness have even been a justification for all sorts of violence.

Superimposing an ideological equality can be a way to impose conformity, persecuting differences. It can justify persecution and biased treatment against particular political and social beliefs and groups, justifying violence and worse from governmental authorities, encouraging mobs such as in cultural revolutions, or terrorism by those who act against others whose differences offend their ideas of “correct” oneness, offend their vision of the “true” equality. These have been forms of political correctness, of political and religious oppression, in many societies.

Appreciating the interpenetration of emptiness and differences is appreciating the differences as they are, is appreciating the differences we meet from morning to night, whether “our own” or “others.” We know for our self that our encounters are indeed the wisdom and perfection of the Tathagatha, our life manifesting - and naturally respond accordingly. Ongoing practice enables us to see and experience differences as exactly emptiness, emptiness exactly differences; then we are not blinded by self-centered attachments to conditions, attachment to differences, attachment to equality, attachment to beliefs; being not-knowing, we see this life as is in the midst of ongoing arising/passing impermanence.

In noticing/practicing with attachments as they arise in life, we are not bound by them; body-mind experiencing - right here is non-attachment, right here is non-abiding. Right here - not a single thing; and we have to take care of this! We can choose skillfully and appropriately among the many forms of emptiness, many different forms of equality. We can support all we encounter to release clinging and be free of stress and suffering, be awake now.

© 2012 Elihu Genmyo Smith