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Lately in the weekly Dharma seminar and at all day sittings here at home, as well as at retreats and events out of town, I've been presenting traditional practices for cultivating the heart. We've worked with the Four Unlimited Abodes (loving kindness, compassion, joy, and equanimity) as well as the Six Paramittas (giving, ethical conduct, patience, energy, meditation, and wisdom.) Through your comments and through the experiences you have been reporting, I have had the chance to look at these practices with a fresh eye, and I am impressed with how helpful they are, even in the stressful troubled world we live in. It may be that the most useful gift the Buddha gave us is the simple, even naïve, confidence that the mind and heart are pliable, and can always be guided and developed for the good, when effort is made and there is a willingness to change.

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First day of sesshin following nine days of "community practice" during which we had a relaxed schedule with daily work, classes, and lots of interaction at meals and during breaks. Lots more Mexicans here for sesshin, many newcomers to the practice, and both zendos are full. Maybe fifty or so people by now. My series of talks on Dogen's "Bendowa" is now over and I'll begin tonight talking about more basic down to earth stuff: suffering and the end of suffering, path. For the first time here during sesshin the morning talk will be given by others, not by me. Myphon Hunt, Sue Moon, Mick Sopko, and Arlene Leuck will each give a talk.

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Holland

Feb 21, 2005

February 21, 2005. The Hague, Netherlands A very long flight here. About twenty-four hours journey, though it is hard to tell whether twenty-four hours is actually twenty four hours when you are speeding faster than the clock ordinarily measures the earth's organized journey around the sun. The whole body wonders what time it actually is. Our son Noah picked us up at the airport in Amsterdam and we journeyed here by train. I am always astonished at how civilized Europe is. America is so rough by comparison, in every sense of the word. We passed suburban areas, neatly arranged, with people living quite close together in appartment complexes, and lots of open space around the inhabited areas. Canals defining open fields under a fuzzy gray sky. In America everyone wants his own piece of God's earth. And the right to stretch out on it and mess it up as he sees fit. I have always felt there was something supremely odd about the idea of "owning land." (You think you own the land but in the end you are buried in it; so who own who?)

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Had to get the garbage ready to go out and this meant binding up with masking tape the many cardboard boxes left over from the office move. And the wind was blowing quite fiercely, as it does up here, almost storm gale power, so that it was difficult to manage the boxes that were so much flapping in the wind and not wanting to stay together when being bound, forcing themselves always apart, and so breaking the masking tape, that is quite flimsy and easily broken. At the same time there were various problems with my body — my knee is painful, so squatting down to pick up boxes was painful in every instance, and getting up more painful, so that when the boxes blew out of my hands and I had to squat to pick them up I was much in pain, then binding them, the tape flipping over in the wind so the sticky side was up instead of down, so wouldn't stick, except to itself, twisting, and wouldn't untwist in the wind, so that I would always need more tape, and was running out of tape...

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Affairs of the World

Jan 25, 2005

Rain this morning: I'd just awakened when the rain began, so pleasant to hear this, a cool whispering wash on the earth. (But it's been raining on and off for weeks so this isn't fresh and needed rain: everything's already soaked, and everything gets tedious after a while for people, with memory and desire). Rain clouds moving quickly across the hills. Whole sky gray.

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I gave a talk at the Village Zendo. Very odd to go to a Zen place via elevator, coming in off noisy, busy, hip-hoppy, super chic street, music blaring. Sixty or seventy people were there and the local sangha was surprised at the numbers and hard pressed to find room for everyone. There were eight or ten different Zen groups represented, and many friends and students from everywhere, who are now in or near New York. The small band of New York Everyday Zen regulars were also there (they had organized the talk). It was so nice to see all the familiar faces, dear people I hadn't seen in a long time, I wanted to say hello and give everyone a kiss but such a thing is not possible in the forbidding silent Zen atmosphere. I had come in the middle of kinhin, everyone walking with great solemn dignity in tight lines all around the room. I had to join in without cracking a smile or acknowledging anyone I knew. Inside though I felt quite loose and informal. Amused. It seemed actually rather silly, all this Zen business, and I said this as soon as the sitting periods were over and my talk began. "How silly our practice is- and how marvelous." My talk was about compassion. Several people wanted to know how it was possible to sustain real feeling for the suffering of others in the middle of a world so full of suffering. Practice makes life harder: you feel more suffering more deeply

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December 28, 2004

Dec 28, 2004

t is raining again. Has been for a few days, after a week of bright weather. The hills are covered in mist, water falls continually from the sky. How can it rain so much? Doesn't it get tired of it? Too bad, my brother and his family are here and it means we spend a lot of time sitting around eating and talking which is not so bad after all. A fire in the woodstove. Up above the house, on the hill, looking down into the water below, dolphins swimming. They do not care whether it rains or not. Many small birds are walking around in the rain because I suppose it is more difficult for them to fly.

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These have been very bright days and Kathie, Aron, Noah (our sons) and I have been hiking. Noah is an artist so on the trail we often speak about art and life. It's not easy to be devoted to something like art (and practice is the same way) that doesn't necessarily provide an easy career path, and whose economic value to society is dicey at best. Still, if you have faith, and keep on with what you know is the right thing to do, things work out. You also have to be practical, kind, ethical, and willing to sacrifice. Noah thinks about having a family, and how much harder it would be to survive as an artist with family responsibilities. But even if you do have a family, there is always a way. Not an easy way possibly, but a way. As with practice, determination, energy and diligence are important.

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December 15, 2004

Dec 15, 2004

The Vissudhimagga (The Path of Purification), a fifth century Buddhist classic, says that the development of loving kindness for others requires first the development of lovingkindness toward one's self. It quotes a verse by the Buddha that goes: I visited all quarters with my mind Nor found I any dearer than myself Self is likewise to every other dear Who loves himself will never harm another This from the sage who taught "no self" and the "empty nature of all phenomena!"

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Rohatsu at Mar de Jade

Dec 10, 2004

I am just back from Rohatsu at Mar de Jade. A refreshing sesshin. The mix of Mexican and American students makes it special, brings out a flavor of the Dharma that doesn't come up in the same way north of the border - possibly also the Dharma comes out differently because I am being translated, sentence by sentence, by Laura del Valle and so to save her stress I speak very simply and in short sentences. So the talks (of which there are twice as many as at home- we began in Mexico with Dharma talks at night as well as in the morning, because the Mexican students were inexperienced, and needed more instruction- but we have keep on with this tradition) seem very different. And too, the concerns the Mexican students bring are different, and are experienced differently: with more passion.

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