Subscribe to blog

Search

Everyday Zen on Facebook

Interfaith Retreat

Apr 11, 2006

..there are many levels of reading Torah. That is of course true of any text but more true of Torah. One could do justice to many texts by reading only on the level of "plain meaning." While it's always possible something might be overlooked by this approach, probably not much will be. With Torah though to read only on the level of plain meaning is to drastically misread the text. Traditionally it's said there are four levels on which Torah must be read: Pashat, Remez, Drosh, and Sod. Pashat is "plain meaning," simply what the text is saying plainly on the surface, the narrative, the plot, the facts; Remez is a mystical level, bringing our heart of practice to bear on the text, finding in it the meaning that uniquely flows from our own experience and life journey, going generally elsewise from the plain meaning, sometimes even opposed to it; Drosh is a reading that includes various textual operations that might enhance and alter the plain meaning: word play, etymology, references or allusions to other parts of the text, rabbinic legends, apocryphal material; Sod is another mystical level of reading Torah, but this one is a more traditional mysticism, perhaps coming from kaballah or other secret traditions that have derived new strategies of meaning hidden to all but the initiated.

View Post


n the last month or two several events have reminded me of the centrality of dialog and expression in our practice. Expressing the Dharma is generally important in Zen ("Speak! Speak!" Master Linji is constantly challenging his students), but it is even more important to us at Everyday Zen. And by "expression" I do not mean mere expertise in using Zen words and concepts (like every other human discipline, Zen at its worst can be reduced to a rhetorical mode). I mean deep and honest human communication.

View Post


Reading and writing, speaking and listening as modes of absorption. Sitting practice: another mode. In all these cases the mind/heart is still, and there's great pleasure in the stillness, full engagement within it. There can be this sort of absorption in movement too, in physical work if you pay attention to it, in exercise, in exertion. Then, by contrast, there are the million picky details of post modern life. For example, on Sunday I left my umbrella at the Headlands after the sitting, which meant emails etc to find out where it was and the possibility of having to drive there to get it. And during the talk at sitting I forgot to turn on the mic, so my talk was not recorded (so that now must go online to research mics that do not need to be turned on). T

View Post


From Zen Abbot's Journal Vol 53 Feb 3, 2006 Charlotte's Way, Muir Beach At the January 29 All Day Sit at the Headlands I spoke on Dogen's "The Point of Zazen." After the talk I asked people to get into groups, and to pretend that they were explaining to someone who was possibly in need, or at least seriously wanted to know, what was, from their personal point of view, the point of zazen. Why do zazen? What did it mean to them? And after the explanation had been given, the listeners responded: did what they were told make sense to them? Did it impress them or matter to them in any way?

View Post

Practice in Mexico

Dec 02, 2005

Dec 2, 2005. Mar de Jade. On the airplane I sat next to two kids, Carlos (9) and Sandy (7) who were flying to Mexico alone, for the first time, to spend a month with their grandmothers. Their parents, they told me in their accented English, were Mexicans who could not legally leave the U.S. with hope to return. "They have to run from the police," Carlos said. All dressed up from head to toe in brand new chic casual clothes, they were very cute, Carlos pudgy with a flat top haircut, Sandy, with very small English, had a lovely smile and wide dark eyes. Both, at different points in the flight, broke down crying and I tried to comfort them.

View Post


Oct 11, 2005. Hours and days fly by. For instance this — foggy — morning a little reading (Oppen and Pessoa), make some soup, a bit of email, and already the morning's gone and it's nearly lunchtime. Some days it seems I'm battling with time, and losing. But then I ask, "Why worry if time's slipping by? After all, what have I got to do of any importance other than to see this life through till the end?" And I answer, "Well, absolutely nothing." So there's nothing to worry about. (It's the same nothing, in both cases).

View Post


Spending time this month with Sybil Cooper who is dying at Hospice. She seems quite clear about what she's doing, and what's important. She is dying, that's her job right now. It is a little exciting and interesting. And what's important is love. Her son Ethan has been taking care of her and staying very close through all this. She's proud that he's capable of doing this, knows that he'll be able to go on and will be all right without her, that she's given him the best she's had to offer, has done her job, struggling as a single mother all these years.

View Post


In Canterbury we visited the Cathedral where I finally got clear about Thomas Beckett, whom I'd always gotten mixed up with Thomas More. More was later: the government counselor who quarreled with Henry VIII over the king's daring and willful takeover of the church and was beheaded for his integrity - or stubbornness. A movie and a play, "The Lion in Winter," about all this, in the 1970's. Beckett was an 11th Century cleric who'd been previously a government official, prodigy of Henry II, who'd eventually made him Archbishop of Canterbury. (Interesting that throughout English history churchmen and secular officials were interchangeable; not unusual for someone to be Chancellor of the Exchequer one year then Bishop the next — seemingly there was neither secular nor religious specialization; all education was both religious and secular I suppose).

View Post


The subtlety of these inner changes (and one can't either even call them exactly "inner") is very odd: to what extent is spiritual transformation even ever actually taking place- is it rather a matter of something we think is occurring and is thinking it's occurring enough, something in itself, and what about when we do not think it is occurring, might it be occurring anyway, and if so what does this mean? Certainly material changes (say, in the body, as with aging, or coming to physical maturity) register, and emotional changes register (being emotionally traumatized and healing from that trauma), which is why it makes sense to us to pay our doctors and psychotherapists.

View Post


Merton's conclusion to "The Inner Experience," in which he talks about the need for contemplation in our time, and the problems, challenges, and opportunities of the contemplative, is inspiring. The people in the Dharma seminar liked this part a lot more than they liked the earlier talks, which were much more focused on the sense and flavor of the Christian mystical path, which sounded to them quite dualistic and sexist. In fact the sexist dimension was not a key part of the book, but the women members of the seminar, understandably, focused strongly on this, and were hurt by it. As a man, I notice these sections (particularly, for instance, the discussion of the garden of Eden story in which "woman" is temptress, that side of humanity that must be tamed and protected against), can see they are objectionable, and cheerfully go on, without much ado.

View Post