Give Me a Gift of Flowers

CASE

Harry Roberts said, “When I was with my teacher, Robert Spott, he would say, when approached by a student who wanted to study with him, ‘Give me a gift of flowers.’ If the student went away to obtain flowers he would not be accepted. If he looked down at his feet for flowers, he was accepted.”

COMMENTARY

Robert Spott was a high medicine man of the Yurok Indians of North West California. Harry was adopted by him and thought of him as his uncle. Harry Roberts (1906-1981) was a fisherman, lumberjack, horticulturist and nursery man, an agronomist, rum runner, a welder, a machinist, and a cowboy, as well as several other things. (He was Ginger Roger’s dance partner for awhile). The last three years of his life he lived at Green Gulch Farm (Green Dragon Temple), where he was a valued teacher and advisor.

Case #4 of the Book of Serenity is reminiscent of this case. Buddha was walking with the congregation. He pointed to the ground with his finger and said, “This spot is good to build a sanctuary.” Indra, Emperor of the Gods, took a blade of grass, stuck it in the ground and said, “The sanctuary is built.” The Buddha smiled.

While the distant blue mountains appear inviting, the Buddhas of the past, present and future all are here. Please meet them. Give them what you have. Receive what they give.

VERSE by Dairyu

Students and teachers
Gods and Buddhas
Flowers, grasses and sanctuaries
Acceptance or rejection
Each moment a seed is planted
and a flower blooms
Don’t look elsewhere.

Patience

CASE

Someone asked Chogyum Trungpa, “Is there a Buddhist equivalent of the Christian term, ‘Grace?’” He answered, “Yes, patience.”

COMMENTARY

Trungpa Rinpoche (1939-1987), a Tulku of the Karma Kagyu of Tibet Buddhism, left Tibet in 1959 eventually settling in North America in 1970. A dynamic teacher, he founded Vajradhatu, and was the author of many influential books including Meditation in Action, and Cutting through Spiritual Materialsim. Rick Fields, journalist and student of Trungpa’s, said, “This man made more trouble and did more good than anyone I ever knew.”

When Buddhism came to China it dialogued with and absorbed aspects of Taoism and Confucianism. In America, one can see this happening with a variety of disciplines: Christianity, 12-Step Programs, psychology, and physics. Grace in Christianity is often used to mean an unearned virtue or gift granted by God. Patience in Buddhism is one of the six Paramitas, Perfections or Practices of a Bodhisattva. They are Giving, Precepts, Patience, Effort, Meditation, and Wisdom.

Trungpa’s answer was not a literal translation. It was something else. What’s that?

VERSE by Dairyu

The Avatamsaka Sutra asserts that rocks are alive.
Patience isn’t punishment.
It’s the real thing.

We Humans Need It

CASE

A student was visiting the Minnesota Zen Center. He asked Abbot Dainin Katagiri, “You chant the repentance and the four vows every morning during service. Is that traditional?” Katagiri Roshi replied, “No, I decided to do it.” The student asked, “Is that because we Americans need it more?” Dainin replied, “No we humans need it.”

COMMENTARY

A Soto Zen temple traditional service usually consists of some combination of the Heart Sutra, the Dharani for Removing Disasters, the Merging of Difference and Unity, The Jewel Mirror Samadhi, reciting the Buddhas and Ancestors, and the Great Heart-Mind Dharani.

The repentance verse:
”All my ancient twisted karma
From beginning less greed, hate, and delusion.
Born through body, speech, and mind,
I now fully avow.”

And the four vows:
”Beings are numberless, I vow to save them.
Desires are inexhaustible, I vow to end them.
Dharma Gates are boundless, I vow to enter them.
Buddha’s way is unsurpassable, I vow to become it.”

make up part of the twice monthly full and new moon Bodhisattva precept ceremony.

India, China, Korea, Tibet, Japan and America all have different cultural backdrops. Each has its strengths and weaknesses. Each has much to learn and to teach. Arrogance is best learned within each of us.

VERSE by Dairyu

‘We humans need it.’
No pale faces here.
All Indians.

Watch Them, See How They Behave

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CASE

The 14th Dalai Lama was asked, “How can one verify true teachers?” He said, “Watch them, see how they behave.”

COMMENTARY

The 14th Dalai Lama was born in 1934. At the age of two he was found and acknowledged as the leader of Tibetan Buddhism. He escaped Tibet in 1959 after the occupation of the country by the Chinese. He has been concerned about the right transmission of Buddhism to the West and by the behavior of some teachers.

John Madden said, “Don’t trust someone who wears a cowboy hat and has no cow.”

Clear observation is an important practice. Press clippings, documents and reputation do not tell the whole story. The great Buddhist writer and translator John Blofeld would judge the teacher by his/her students.

VERSE by Dairyu

The true Dragon is not always the one you expect.
Gullibility and skepticism are passing fancies
Without minimizing or inflating
The heart within the corpse beats true.

She is My Teacher

CASE

Maureen Stuart, teacher at the Cambridge Buddhist Association said, “ Elsie Mitchell is my teacher.” Elsie Mitchell insisted, “Maureen Stuart is my teacher.”

COMMENTARY

Maureen Stuart Roshi (1922-1990) both a pianist and Zen teacher, was acknowledged by Soen Nakagawa in 1982 as a teacher.. Elsie Mitchell is a long time student of Buddhism and author of Sun Faced Buddha, Moon Faced Buddha. The Cambridge Buddhist Association grew out of meetings in her living room.

The second chapter of the Lotus Sutra states, “…only a Buddha together with a Buddha can fathom the reality of all existence.” One true teacher meets another true teacher. What could be better?

Verse by Dairyu

When two Buddhas shine
teacher and student
Become Wisdom

What is Nirvana?

CASE

Sojun Mel Weitsman asked Shunryu Suzuki. “ What is Nirvana?”

Suzuki replied, “Seeing one thing through to the end.”

COMMENTARY

Nirvana is a Sanskrit term usually translated as extinction, oblivion, bliss. It is a release from the conditioned. How to be free? See each thing through to the end. Don’t move!

VERSE by Dairyu

The doorbell is ringing
Will you meet it?
Each act completes the whole
Even the loose thread connects.

What is Love?

CASE

One evening, after the Dharma talk at the Cambridge Zen Center, a student asked Seung Sahn Soen-sa, “What is love?”

Soen-sa said, “I ask you: what is love?

The student was silent.

Soen-sa said, “This is love.”

The student was still silent.

Soen-sa said, “You ask me. I ask you. This is love.”

COMMENTARY

To ask or answer a fundamental question is the give and take of Zen practice. It may not be difficult to stick to the question or the answer. Perhaps something deeper is at work.

VERSE by Dairyu

The radio sings non-stop of love
But when does the moon meet the baying wolf?

It Ain't Over Til It's Over

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CASE

Yogi Berra, the Hall of Fame Yankee baseball player said, “It ain’t over til it’s over.”

COMMENTARY

Yogi Berra is a famous baseball player. Joe Gargiola said he was called Yogi because he walked like a yogi. He played, managed, and coached baseball. During a game, commentators often remark or ask if the game is over. If the score is 10-0 in the 7th inning, even though there are two innings left, they may say the game is over.

Great wisdom often appears as silly nonsense. Poor grammar can bend the minds patterns.

When you drive in your car are you thinking about where you’ve been, or where you’re going or where you are?

It is easy to make a mental jump ahead of the moment. This sentence is over at the period. [Not at the period.]

Yogi Berra was a great athlete. He knew each moment was its own. Each moment has its own life and its own opportunity, its own completion.

VERSE by Dairyu

Has it begun?
Is it over?
Whatever the score
The Yogi is ready.

Perfect and You Can Use a Little Improvement

CASE
Shunryu Suzuki addressed the assembly. “Each of you is perfect the way you are and you can use a little improvement.”

PARTIAL COMMENTARY
…Can you stand to be perfect? Can you stand to be flawed? Where do you turn away?…

VERSE by Dairyu
The heat of Master Shunryu’s heart
burns away both faith and doubt,
leaving a withered tree in the golden wind.

In What Sense is this Table Real?

CASE
D.T. Suzuki was seated with other scholars around a table at a philosophy conference. At the end of the day he had not spoken. The chairman said, “In what sense is the table real?” Dr. Suzuki replied, “In every sense!”

PARTIAL COMMENTARY
…In what sense is any of this real?
Vast indeed!…

VERSE by Dairyu
Faith and doubt
Swallow them in a single gulp
Don’t forget to breathe.

Different Schools of the Same Teacher

CASE
The Burmese Theravedan monk U Silananda was asked what is the relationship between Theravada Buddhism and Zen. He replied: “Different schools of the same teacher.”

PARTIAL COMMENTARY
…The sincerity of the student is crucial. Life itself is the teacher…

VERSE by Dairyu
On a cloudy moonlit night
everything appears to be moving
— clouds, moon and myself
as I walk along the temple path.

What is Meant by Emptiness?

CASE
A student asked the eminent translator Tom Cleary what is meant by Emptiness? Tom Cleary replied it is innocent of concept.

PARTIAL COMMENTARY
…What is emptiness? Innocent of concept?
No eyes, no ears, no nose…
”In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in
the experts few.”

VERSE by Dairyu
At Tassajara it is easy to stub your toe on he rocky paths.
The vacant trail is totally alive.

Encourage Others

CASE
A student asked Nakagawa-Soen during a meditation retreat, “I am very discouraged. What should I do?” Soen Roshi replied, “Encourage others.”

PARTIAL COMMENTARY
Some will follow the way when they are discouraged, some when they are encouraged, and some when they are even tempered… Which are you? What should you do?…

VERSE by Dairyu
In the rainy village
or the sunbleached plain
the Dharma reigns equally,
still you are responsible.

The Brown Telephone

CASE
Richard Baker told the assembly, “I dreamt I was trying to solve a problem. A brown phone kept ringing in the background, distracting me. Finally, annoyed, I picked it up and the voice on the other end told me the answer to the problem.”

PARTIAL COMMENTARY
What is important? What has to be dismissed?… Is your daily life a necessary but unwanted adjunct to your daily meditation?… Don’t let your practice block your practice…

VERSE by Dairyu
Ruled by picking and choosing
A distraction may be to the point.
What are you trying to do?

Vending Machine

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CASE
Dainin Katagiri once said, "You take care of your life as if it were a vending machine. You put the coins in from the top and then expect a soda at the bottom. You do meditation and you expect something. But life doesn't always go well. The vending machine goes out of order. Then you kick the machine."

PARTIAL COMMENTARY
...This was from a lecture given at Green Gulch Farm in 1986. It was given at a time when the Green Gulch community was undergoing considerable self criticism and evaluation. 

The masters of old ask over and over, "What do you want? What is your intention? What are you manipulating?"...

VERSE by Dairyu:
RED LIGHT, GREEN LIGHT, ONE... TWO... THREE.
The monkey mind is a helpful aid and a tyrannical master.
Is the tail wagging the dog?