Knot Zen

What a grand experience Zazen Practice is for the new student and how confusing it also may become. Bow, sit down, inkin rings and the designs within the floor appear on cue. I remember one day in the Zendo, everything disappeared and all that remained was one little black knot on the floor. After a few weeks, I got much better at “Knot Zen” and became quit talented at making everything go away but, my one black knot. Soon even my knot disappeared and I was left with an empty and still mind. I remember thinking that this must be the “emptiness” that Buddhism teaches. At the time, it felt great, instead of facing my issues, I could just send them away. If only I could keep my blank mind, I could abide in shunyata and finally find the peace I sought.

The “manifest self” or “ego self” is a very dynamic construct of our brain. It is a necessary conduit which allows us to interact and navigate within space/ time. To simplify, the “manifest self” is that which separates us from the myriads of other things. The “self” is the conceptual straw man which creates the contrast needed for the formation of “other” and ultimately the formation of our reality.  The “manifest self” is actually a wondrous process which allows us the balance required to truly experience and engage the world around us. What a “marvelous little tail it is” states Wumen in case 39.  However, the problem arises when the “manifest self” becomes misunderstood and is so integrated with the physical body that it soon becomes synonymous with it, in other words,  the self becomes a solidified “thing”. For example, many of us have experienced times when the  “self” is perceived as threatened and we feel overwhelmed by the same “fight or flight” response that is evoked when we are confronted with true physical harm. It is a common experience for these intense defense mechanisms to overwhelm new students and cause them to cease practice. However, most of the time we are not cognizant of this activity until the artificial seams fall apart and our dream abruptly ends. Splitting apart, the binary self becomes evident as we instinctively begin the process of trying to rectify the two conflicting attributes into one neat reality.  Due to the powerful stimuli generated by the skandhas, and our strong reactions to them, the subtle “limitless self” falls into shadow and our “manifest self” takes control. Our perception of “self” then aligns itself with the source of the skandhas and excludes all that which is perceived as other. These views lead us to perceive the “manifest self” as independent from the world and based in the skandhas. In return, protective psychological armor forms around our “concept” of self. We are, after all, a little fish in a big pond from this perspective. Initially this armor gives the appearance of working; however, in reality, these mechanisms just create even deeper states of suffering and drain more and more energy from us. It is always interesting to hear students after sesshin speak about all the energy they have. Many bounce from one part of the temple to the other days after the sesshin has ended. All of this free psychic energy reclaimed after defensive armor has been dismantled over days of Zazen.

The absence and suppression of the “limitless self” creates elaborate shadows which echo the desire for unity; however, they can never produce it. Completion always exists just outside of our dreams and no matter how elaborate we make them, they remain empty shells of desire. So we become hungry ghosts seeking completion in the world of red dust. Maybe that new car, new job, new relationship or new religion will bring us the completion we seek. Once obtained, these things crumble within our fingers and leave brittle hollow shells.  Honesty and fearlessness are keys to realizing the completion we seek. This means digging deep within ourselves and experiencing that which we originally sought refuge from; our pain and suffering. It is through these catalysts, that we are privy to a more complete view. However, this window may also bring with it misunderstanding.  We may become confused and perceive these two conceptual attributes as separate from each other and deem one superior and the other inferior.

If the limitless self is grasped in the same unbalanced way as the “manifest self”, it too may create an imbalance within the person and cause suffering. Many times the “limitless self” is perceived as a “superior self” or “true self”. With this flipped view, the world of form is ignored and seen as illusion. This view transforms us into blank minded men and women who deny who and what we are.  We become ghosts who are afraid to live, and seek oblivion. As living ghosts we stare at the floor day after day and see inactivity as the true practice. With great concentration we forge forward and continue to dispatch all the arising thoughts, experiences and emotions that arise in mind. We attempt to suppress more and more until cracks form within our defensive armor, and soon the power of all that was suppressed comes rumbling forth and spills outward. The binary self splits once again; however, this time the instability is created by the manifest self. Some of those suppressed thoughts and emotions have now become neurotic in presentation and we are now confronted with all the monsters under the bed. Maybe we just need to sit more! Maybe we need a different teacher! Maybe we need a different tradition! This Zen is not working! On and on we struggle to maintain our “blank mind”, until one day, if we are lucky, we are forced to reconcile our fragmented self and cease the endless cycles of birth and death.

The two attributes of the self are like the waves which flow across the surface of the ocean and the still depths which lie underneath.  The “manifest self” is the wave, while the “limitless self” is the still vast ocean that lies beneath. They both embody different attributes of the whole; however, they are unified by the same intrinsic nature (the water). Another example of this dichotomy is revealed by looking at the attributes of a single sheet of paper. When we look at a piece of paper, we perceive two distinct sides. We do not separate these sides or it would cause the deconstruction of the object.  With an understanding that both sides are needed to complete what is paper, we can begin to have insight into the nature of self.  If we place the paper down upon a table, we can still see the object via its attribute (side). If we flip the paper over, we can also see the object within its other attribute. It is the two sides which constitute the whole of the “paper” but, completion can be found in either attribute.  When we grasp the ‘self’ in the correct manner we no long experience the distortion of a fragmented self but, experience a fluid and unified self.  Emptiness can be a slippery concept and as “The Sutra of a better way to catch a snake” points out, “Bhikshus, understanding my teaching in the wrong way is the same. If you do not practice the Dharma correctly, you may come to understand it as the opposite of what was intended.” Learning the correct way to approach and grasp  the teachings is very important.

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Clean-Up Impressions

Over 60 people showed up to clean-up the Uplands located in the Lehigh Mountain Park. There were no Christians, Jews, Muslims or Buddhists, there were just people coming together to care for their world. Not once did I hear religion mentioned during the clean-up itself. All I saw were people engaged in a noble activity. This land was not owned by any individual but, everyone cared as if it was their personal property, how wonderful! If only we could get more people to view the world around them in this way, or even to view the world as an interconnected part of them, things could take a wondrous direction. I watched grown men playing with salamanders and snakes, although I had to point out the one was a poisonous copperhead, and a serenity overcame us all as through a long lost part of us awoke and we began to view the world through the eyes of a child again. I think we become lost and separated from nature, and in a way, I think we are lonely and sad. There is a spirit which permeates the earth and when we separate ourselves from her we become lost and homesick. Many times, we loose sight that we are “nature” itself and have become like a flower trying to grow within the dark of a cave. We seek the completion that only connecting with the world around us (other) can offer.

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Lehigh Mountain Park Clean-up

A serene section of Lehigh Mountain Park in Allentown for years has been known as a dumping ground for garbage referred to as “white goods” — including mattresses, appliances, stoves and washing machines — rather than for the natural sanctuary it could provide for city residents.

Members of Buddhist Blue Mountain Zendo visit the park regularly to pay homage to the natural fountain, springs and vibrant wildlife. They’ve teamed up with area park organizations and interested citizens to try to reveal the beauty of the park for the use of other community members as well.

“This area has a history of this,” Rev. Joriki Dat Baker, of Blue Mountain Zendo, says of the illegal trash dumping. “But what people don’t see is pristine forest and a huge aquifer.”

Lehigh County Parks Department, Allentown Parks, Salisbury Township, The Friends of Allentown Parks, Lehigh County Parks Department and Trinity Episcopal Church of Bethlehem are among the other organizations that have banded together to organize a mass cleanup being held 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. today. The groups will meet and start the cleanup at the park’s Constitution Drive entrance.

The effort, planned to address more than 230 acres of the park, was organized before a brush fire burned an area of wooded land of the uplands during the early morning hours of April 19. The fire, which began on Constitution Drive,  was contained to two acres by the Allentown Fire Department.

Karen El-Chaar, executive director of Friends of the Allentown Parks, says cleanup is even more crucial now.

“Many people don’t realize this park even exists,” El-Chaar says.

El-Chaar has helped to organize high school groups and other volunteers to help out, along with securing small grants to aid with material expenses such as dump trucks, dumpsters, gardening equipment and trash bags.

“It’s not just a local park and important for the local community, but a national gem for the area,” Baker says of the historical significance of the park, including native artifacts found there and wildlife.

Baker says there is a plan to put gates up to block off the park to prevent people driving in with trash to dump, but they hope to have one big push for cleanup before gates are slated to be put in this summer.

More than 200 people are expected to show up to help with trash pickup and minor landscaping of the park, but more are needed.

Baker says the event has a larger purpose than just being a work detail. The area, which has also been used for walking and mountain biking trails, will also house community gardening efforts by Our Place, a Muslim Community organization, which has a location in Morristown, N.J.

“The focus is cleanup and bringing community together to realize what a great natural resource they have,” Baker says.

By: Tiffany Bentley Express Times

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Wind, flag, mind moves, The same understanding. When the mouth opens All are wrong. “Mumon”

One of the facets of self is to create a separated “entity” in space/time which creates the contrast needed to navigate through it. This contrast is created, by the brain, to procure the needs and desires of the organism. Many within Zen Practice tend to vilify the self and create just as much suffering, via this vilification, as those who are attached to the illusion of a permanent and unchanging self. Yes, there is a flag and yes the wind is that which moves the flag. The nature of this koan pertains to the unified or complete view that we are normally separated from via the chain reaction which arises when we manifest limited self. Our “limited self” nature creates a process in which the unified is broken down into facets and attributes which are easily manipulated and digested to fit within our perception of reality. Those facets which are brought forward into the conscious mind depend greatly on our personal preferences, needs and experiences. Countless other attributes are left undifferentiated as they are either unknown, deemed as unimportant or contrary to our desired reality. Within this dualistic process we can’t experience reality in its completeness, we can only see slices or frames that we have removed from the whole, digested and then conceptualized. If these attributes can not be neatly placed within our “view”, our “beliefs” fall apart and we struggle to find unity with reality. Life has a way of grabbing us by the gruff of the neck and pointing the way. When we let go fully, and open our eyes wide, we naturally return to that which is unified to rectify our conflict. In Zen, tools have long been used which force the student to let go of their “beliefs”, shed the limited self, and realize that which brings together and unifies. The seeker falls into completion which reveals the true nurture of the self. In return, balance is once again realized and the resulting insight replaces the ignorant view(s); until next time, as this is a process – how perfect! Mumon tells us,“When Mouth opens, all are wrong” so he is kindly giving us direction, he is pointing to an experience which transcends the extraction of a few mere attributes and the realization of completion. Directly experiencing and knowing, what creates the fragmentation of reality is key to realizing the precious dharma found within this koan. When self is revealed in its complete form, all return to their rightful places in the heavens. Completion reveals the core nature of all attributes, and restores the true nature of self – no nature.

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Iron Pine Sesshin


Blue Mountain Zendo

June 7 2012 7:00 pm – June 10 2012 2:00 pm

Literally “to collect the mind”, Sesshin is the Buddhist seclusion or retreat, consisting of five days of intensive Zazen (meditation) practice, a dharma talk once a day and a private interview with Rev. Joriki Dat Baker twice daily. During sesshin, the student concentrates on nothing but collecting the scattered shards of the mind so that they can realize their original unity with the universe from which they ordinarily feel separated. For centuries philosophy and religion have tried to evoke this unified mind but, with with transitory results. Zen will illuminate the way, it will uncover the inner strength necessary to restore the threads which weave our rightful place in this world.

Sesshin is the core of all Zen Buddhist Practice. While other traditions tend to be distracted by the playful words left by the Buddha of the past, Zen concerns itself with the engagement, validity and application of such wisdom. In other words, some traditions study the path while others walk the path; there must be a balance between the two. Sesshin is offered for those who have realized that mere scholarly pursuits fail to illuminate the true path of liberation. Sesshin is a time for brave women and men to realize the truth of life and death. Sesshin includes lodging, meditation instruction, koan practice, samu practice, chanting practice, vegetarian meals, daily walking meditations next to the river and daily private interviews with Joriki Dat Baker.

Summer Sesshin starts Thursday at 7:00 pm and ends on Sunday at 2:00 pm. The cost is $275. For more information please contact the Jisha on the Contact Us page.

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