Dokyo Etan (道鏡慧端) – Japanese Death Poem

Dokyo, also known as Shoju Ronin, lived most of his life in a hut and refused to join the large monasteries. He saw in zazen, Zen meditation, the essence of the Zen way and used to deal harshly with believers who sought him out to hear so-called Zen doctrine. He would occasionally even draw his sword on them and drive them away, in keeping perhaps with his samurai origin. He is said to have once pushed the Zen master Hakuin from the pulpit when the latter rose to speak, whereupon Hakuin fainted from the force of the blow. For as long as Hakuin dwelt with him, Dokyo showed him no preference, and made him beg from door to door for his portion of rice like the other monks.

Dokyo wrote his last words while seated in the upright Zen position. Then he put down his brush, hummed “an ancient song” to himself, suddenly laughed out loud, and died.

Died on the sixth day of the tenth month, 1721 at the age of eighty.

Here in the shadow of death it is hard
To utter the final word.
I’ll only say, then,
“Without saying.”
Nothing more,
Nothing more.

Sources: Japanese Death Poems

Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind

“In Japan we have the phrase shoshin, which means “beginner’s mind.” The goal of practice is always to keep our beginner’s mind.. For a while you will keep your beginner’s mind, but if you continue to practice one, two, three years or more, although you may improve some, you are liable to lose the limitless meaning of original mind.

For Zen students the most important thing is not to be dualistic. Our “original mind” includes everything within itself. It is always rich and sufficient within itself. You should not lose your self‑sufficient state of mind. This does not mean a closed mind, but actually an empty mind and a ready mind. If your mind is empty, it is always ready for anything; it is open to everything. In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities; in the expert’s mind there are few.

If you discriminate too much, you limit yourself. If you are too demanding or too greedy, your mind is not rich and self‑sufficient. If we lose our original self‑sufficient mind, we will lose all precepts. When your mind becomes demanding, when you long for something, you will end up violating your own precepts: not to tell lies, not to steal, not to kill, not to be immoral, and so forth. If you keep your original mind, the precepts will keep themselves.

In the beginner’s mind there is no thought, “I have attained something.” All self‑centered thoughts limit our vast mind. When we have no thought of achievement, no thought of self, we are true beginners. Then we can really learn something. The beginner’s mind is the mind of compassion. When our mind is compassionate, it is boundless. Dogen‑zenji, the founder of our school, always emphasized how important it is to resume our boundless original mind. Then we are always true to ourselves, in sympathy with all beings, and can actually practice.

So the most difficult thing is always to keep your beginner’s mind. There is no need to have a deep understanding of Zen. Even though you read much Zen literature, you must read each sentence with a fresh mind. You should not say, “I know what Zen is,” or “I have attained enlightenment.” This is also the real secret of the arts: always be a beginner. Be very very careful about this point. If you start to practice zazen (meditation), you will begin to appreciate your beginner’s mind. It is the secret of Zen practice.”

~ Shunryu Suzuki
Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind

Mindfulness Movement in Mental Health

Mindfulness Movement

The principles of mindful movement are the same as any other mindfulness practice. We aim to bring our full attention to the present moment to experience the here and now. We bring our awareness to our movement and focus on our breath or the way our body feels as it moves. When our mind wanders, we bring our attention back to the practice, to our breath, to our body.

4 Types of Mindful Movement

1. Breathing exercises are different from when we observe our breath at rest during seated meditation. Instead, we connect with our body by purposefully elongating our breaths to calm our parasympathetic nervous system, or shorten our breaths for short periods of time to refresh and refocus.

2. A walking meditation can be a simple and effective way to explore mindful movement. The biggest difference between a walking meditation and going for a walk as we usually would is that when we’re practicing meditation, we aren’t aiming to go anywhere. Instead, we walk slowly and try to bring our full awareness to the act of walking. That can look like focusing on our breath, or feeling the ground beneath our feet as one step turns into the next. When our mind wanders, we bring it back to the sensations of the moment.

3. Stretching and yoga can help us release tension, stiffness, and heavy emotions. When our bodies don’t move, they don’t feel good, and neither do our minds. Taking a moment to let go of the day’s distractions, getting away from the desk or couch, and engaging in gentle movement can help us boost our energy, focus, and resilience.

4. If you’re looking to blow off steam, working out is another opportunity for mindfulness. Getting exercise can be a great way to tune in to our body, synchronize our breath, and be in the moment, all while building strength and nourishing our muscles.

Please do not build a stupa by Thích Nhất Hạnh

“Please do not build a stupa (shrine) for me. Please do not put my ashes in a vase, lock me inside and limit who I am. I know this will be difficult for some of you. If you must build a stupa though, please make sure that you put a sign on it that says, ‘I am not in here.’ In addition, you can also put another sign that says, ‘I am not out there either,’ and a third sign that says, ‘If I am anywhere, it is in your mindful breathing and in your peaceful steps.’”

~ Thich Nhat Hanh

The Eight Branches of Chinese Medicine

The Eight Branches of Chinese Medicine

Meditation: As long ago as the fifth century B.C.E., Taoists practiced meditation as a tool for cultivating inner peace. There is always an aspect of the mind that is quiet, calm, and present; however, it can be masked by thoughts, stories, and emotions that pull us out of the present moment. The mind can be like a toddler, running around from place to place, with an attention span of about one minute. It can easily switch from one emotion to the next. Meditation is not simply the practice of stopping all this chaos and quieting the mind; rather, it is the building of awareness about the mind’s habitual nature and the reduction of its distractions.

Exercise: Moving our bodies daily is vital to our overall well-being. Physical activity also moves our blood and cleanses our organs. Tai chi and qigong are both ancient forms of exercise used in Chinese medicine for the cultivation of energy. When visiting east Asian countries, you will see groups of people coming together to practice these movements every day. Even if you don’t know these two ancient practices, walking, running, swimming, dancing, hiking, playing sports, and even stretching are all wonderful forms of exercise.

Nutrition: Food is like medicine. It can nourish us to our very bones, bring us back from illness, and give us a tremendous amount of energy for living.  Many of us are getting sick. Returning to natural, unprocessed, whole foods that match your constitution, align with the season, and support you through any imbalances you may be experiencing is the most direct way to find balance. Through this lens, each meal provides an opportunity to heal from the inside out and to prevent illness rather than be vulnerable to it.

Cosmology: Cosmology refers to the foundation of any spiritual tradition that reveals the core beliefs of how we human beings came to exist and what helps us to thrive. In Taoist cosmology, human beings are not seen as separate from the natural world but rather as a manifestation and integral part of it. Therefore, to cultivate a state of balance, we must look to the natural world around us and mimic the rhythms and cycles we see.

Fang Shui: Just as we can benefit from finding balance inside ourselves by meditating, exercising, and eating a diet that is aligned with nature, we can benefit from creating a similar balance outside ourselves. This is called feng shui, and it encompasses the practice of enhancing health through the environmental balancing of the home, office, garden, and other sacred spaces.

Bodywork: Touch is vital to our overall health. The physical practice of being touched in a therapeutic way allows us to relax deeply and experience the release of tension on all levels. Bodywork gifts us with a number of amazing endorphins (feel-good hormones) most especially, oxytocin.

Herbal Medicine: Chinese herbal medicine has been around for thousands of years as a vital tool for maintaining health throughout the life cycles and seasons. Eating medicinal plants from the earth allows us to be in direct relationship with the earth. In addition to a diet that is in sync with our nature, herbal medicine can target specific health imbalances and enhance the healing benefits of meals.

Acupuncture: The final branch of Chinese medicine is also the newest of the eight (though still more than two thousand years old)—the practice of acupuncture. Acupuncture is the art of inserting very fine, sterile needles just under the skin in strategic places to nourish, calm, or otherwise direct the movement of energy. This ancient art form has been found not only to reduce pain but to influence myriad systems in the body, mind, and spirit. From anxiety to leaky gut syndrome to depression to inflammation, acupuncture treats us on many levels. While this practice can certainly address everyday imbalances, I have found it to be most beneficial when used as a tool for prevention.

Source: Everyday Chinese Medicine.

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)

Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) is thousands of years old and has changed little over the centuries. Its basic concept is that a vital force of life, called Qi, surges through the body. Any imbalance to Qi can cause disease and illness. This imbalance is most commonly thought to be caused by an alteration in the opposite and complementary forces that make up the Qi. These are called yin and yang.

Ancient Chinese believed that humans are microcosms of the larger surrounding universe, and are interconnected with nature and subject to its forces. Balance between health and disease is a key concept. TCM treatment seeks to restore this balance through treatment specific to the individual.

It is believed that to regain balance, you must achieve the balance between the internal body organs and the external elements of earth, fire, water, wood, and metal.

Treatment to regain balance may involve:

• Acupuncture

• Moxibustion (the burning of herbal leaves on or near the body)

• Cupping (the use of warmed glass jars to create suction on certain points of the body)

• Massage

• Herbal remedies

• Movement and concentration exercises (such as tai chi)

Acupuncture is a component of TCM commonly found in Western medicine and has received the most study of all the alternative therapies. Some herbal treatments used in TCM can act as medicines and be very effective but may also have serious side effects. In 2004, for example, the FDA banned the sale of dietary supplements containing ephedra and plants containing ephedra group alkaloids due to complications, such as heart attack and stroke. Ephedra is a Chinese herb used in dietary supplements for weight loss and performance enhancement. However, the ban does not apply to certain herbal products prepared under TCM guidelines intended only for short-term use rather than long-term dosing. It also does not apply to OTC and prescription drugs or to herbal teas.

If you are thinking of using TCM, a certified practitioner is your safest choice. The federally recognized Accreditation Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (ACAOM) accredits schools that teach acupuncture and TCM. Many of the states that license acupuncture require graduation from an ACAOM-accredited school. The National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine offers separate certification programs in acupuncture, Chinese herbology, and Oriental bodywork.

TCM should not be used as a replacement for conventional or allopathic treatment, especially for serious conditions, but it may be beneficial when used as complementary therapy. Since some TCM herbal medicines can interfere or be toxic when combined with Western medicines, you should inform your doctor if you are using TCM.

Source: Johns Hopkins Medicine

The Rakan statues (Kyoto, Japan)

If you visit Arashiyama, the hills lying to the west of Kyoto city, you’ll find the Otagi Nenbutsu-ji temple. Standing all over the temple grounds, are 1,200 statues of rakan, the original disciples and followers of the Buddha, carved from stone and covered with moss. They were carved decades ago by believers who worshipped at the temple, and were donated as a blessing. Due to the many different sculptors involved in the project, many of whom were amateur, all the statues have different expressions, poses, and artistic styles. They may be praying, laughing, holding birds or even goblets. These differences add a touch of whimsy to this lovely temple, making it a true hidden treasure.

Open hours: Mon-Sun 8am-5pm

Address: 2-5 Sagatoriimoto Fukatanicho, Ukyo Ward, Kyoto 616-8439.

Chigusa and the Art of Tea

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Written originally in 2014:

Yesterday (Sunday) I decided to jump on the metro and head into Washington DC and go to a museum.  It is one of my favorite activities when I have the time after all.  I am so lucky to be living in an area with so many high-caliber museums and even luckier that the vast majority of them are free.  Having just moved to the area it is definitely something I am not used to and have been taking advantage of whenever I’ve had the opportunity.  I glanced on the internet to check what temporary exhibitions were going on and my choice was simple as I settled upon the Freer / Sackler Museums of Asian art.  After my morning coffee, a short walk, forty-five minutes of Zazen and a blueberry-banana smoothie I was ready to go.

I grabbed my copy of The Three Pillars of Zen that I have been re-reading and headed to the metro.  I was rather excited to get to the museums as there were several exhibits that were ending today.  Sorry folks if you are interested in them you won’t be able to see them.  Among those exhibitions was one “Chigusa and the Art of Tea,” I was particularly interested in.  If you are wondering what Chigusa is then join the club because I had no clue.  Turned out it was, “a utilitarian piece, a large stoneware jar made in southern China in the 13th or 14th century and exported to Japan for use as a commercial container” (Smithsonian Institution).

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My interest was piqued for sure and I grabbed my seat on the metro and heading into town.   I have for a long time had an interest in asia and their affinity and significance they hold in tea with the Japanese Tea Ceremony in particular.  This exhibit would have Japanese, Chinese and Korean tea artifacts as well as Chigusa of course.

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I wouldn’t say the exhibition disappointed, but it was a lot smaller than I expected.  I learned some interesting and valuable information such as “This mill for grinding tea leaves into fine powder is made of black granite from the Kamo River, which flows through Kyoto. The leaves are added from the opening in the top, and the powder emerges from between the stones, accumulating in the trough. It takes about an hour to grind enough tea for a bowl of “thick tea,” which is shared by all the guests, typically two or three people” (Smithsonian Institution).

Truth be known I don’t usually get all that excited about pottery or ceramics.  I appreciate them and their historical significance, but usually my interest begins to mane after about half an hour.  I spent a good hour examining the artifacts in this collection as other people at the museum came and went.  I found the a tea caddy named Ueda Bunrin especially beautiful.

Chigusa

 

Birds and Flowers of the Four Seasons: Autumn and Winter

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Birds and Flowers of the Four Seasons: Autumn and Winter 
late 15th-early 16th century

Sesshu Toyo , (Japanese, 1420-1506)
Muromachi period

Ink, and color on paper
H: 178.3 W: 375.7 cm
Japan

After a period of travel and study in China in from 1467 to 1469, the Zen Buddhist monk and painter Sesshu returned to Japan. Recognized during his stay in China as a gifted artist, Sesshu directed his experience and skills toward creating a distinctive new Japanese interpretation of Chinese artistic traditions. In the pair of screens, he follows the Japanese convention of creating a landscape with a seasonal progression from spring at the far right to winter at the far left. The focus on birds and flowers, however, derives from a traditional subject of Chinese painting.

Sesshu’s painting style also reflects Chinese sources in its emphasis on three-dimensional form and observation of the natural world. His interest in dramatic compositions emphasizing spatial depth can be seen in the large, gnarled branch in the foreground of the screen at left, which disappears into water and reemerges to frame a view of the distant, snow-covered mountains. Precise control of ink tones and brush technique, which Sesshu learned from his study of Chinese painting, enhance the expressive quality of this image.

Source: Smithsonian Institution – Freer Museum of Asian Art Collection