Sunday, December 13, 2009

Winds and Tides..

I am finding it difficult to find a schedule that adequately allows time for me to train, to sit Zazen, to chant, to work, and to get done the myriad list of tasks which must be done in order for the household to continue to run smoothly.

Compounding this, is the fact that I am perpetually tired lately..

I tend to notice this feeling to some degree at least at each change of seasons... or, more accurately, at each solstice and equinox time.. I am not sure if it is actually a physical thing, or whether I subconsciously know that the time is coming, and create it without meaning to.... whatever the case, I *feel* it, and struggle with it... and it makes things difficult at times.

Rather than become frustrated, I am simply acknowledging that there are cycles within cycles, and I will give it a week or two to 'work its way out', or not, and then I will tighten up and get back on track with a stricter mindset.

Certainly, I intend to be back on an even footing for the 'Rohatsu' Sesshin time-frame.

As in most things, arranging time is a delicate and constantly-changing dance involving the intricate give and take that is called for when trying to manage very limited resources.

I think that doing that is beneficial in its own way, however, I must find and eliminate the 'dead space' in my day, and ensure that I can allot the proper time to my practice.. the time is in there *somewhere* - I just have to find a better method of not only managing my time, but of doing it without creating headaches for myself and others.

I have noticed in the past that these fragments of time where we are buffeted and blown by the winds and tides of daily life often last for a relatively short period, and then calm and order once again ensues.. but, sometimes I have to help a bit.

Just as we must breathe in and out in order to stay alive, we must expand and contract in other areas of our lives as well.

I will use this time of relaxation to organize and tighten up other facets of my life and surroundings so that when it is time to contract once again, and to begin exerting a tighter degree of effort and concentration, I will be ready.

This is all part of the practice, in any case... if it simply fell into place with no necessity to work at it.. it would be pointless.

Monday, November 30, 2009

And I'm Off!! (... like a herd of turtles!)

I have received a message indicating that my thesis proposal has been accepted, as is, and that I may proceed with the project.

To my *great* shock, I have one month to complete it. ( !!??!! )

One. (Somewhere along the line, I had gotten the insane idea that I had two years to complete this paper. ONE. MONTH. !

All questions of worthiness, topic, and nearly everything else have been set aside and I am working hard to get this done properly ... and within the time constraints set by the committee.

Many, many thanks to my long time Martial Arts training partner, fellow 'person of Scottish ancestry,' brother-in-arms, and friend of 24 years for pointing me in the proper direction, and helping me to rein in all of the unskillful thoughts so that I could step off immediately and get started with useful work... thereby avoiding the time wasting useless activity of casting about for some way to approach a very large question.

I (luckily) have a great deal of research data compiled that can be used to write this paper (this topic has long been of interest to me... and this is not the first such paper I have been called upon to write, so, at least I am somewhat ahead of the power curve on that part of it..!)

Now there is nothing left but to get to it!!

Friday, November 27, 2009

Thesis Proposal Statement

I have just completed and submitted my Thesis Proposal Statement to the Dan Promotion Examination Board's Thesis Committee Chair, and must now await their response.

I have pasted a modified version of the title page, which more or less outlines the proposed topic of my thesis. If it is approved, the clock (and the work!) will begin in earnest.

Although I honestly do not feel at all as though I am deserving of promotion to 7th Dan (whether physically, technically, emotionally, or otherwise... and I promise you that this is most definitely *not* false modesty, or self-effacing nonsense.. I really don't think that this is something that I am in any way prepared for...), that having been said, I suspect that stepping outside of my comfort zone, and facing something that I don't precisely fear, though I am very uncomfortable with, ('Jarred' by may be a more apt description of my feelings about it) is part of the learning process. A Martial Arts journey is a journey of discovery, and in most cases, a journey of self-discovery; and so - I have been given the task of preparing a thesis proposal statement, submitting it for consideration... and, if approved, of preparing a thesis approximately 35 pages in length which defends my proposal, or which adequately analyzes or explains my concept, theory, or argument.

I will do my best to submit a thesis that will meet or exceed the standards set for me. (My own personal feelings notwithstanding. I have my marching orders, and so I will do my best.) Whatever comes to pass, if I learn from the experience, it will be useful to me. Also, it will not be the first rank promotion that I knew I had to 'grow into', so, whatever the outcome, it will be good in the long run, I think.

Here is the modified title page (I have removed all identifying information, names, locations, etc., by request of my teachers - as this is a work in progress. I will not publish the completed thesis here, though I may paraphrase parts of it over the course of a few posts. The first order of business is, naturally, to actually write a thesis in the first place!! And, in order to do that, my proposal must be approved.. so, that is what I am now waiting for. Wish me luck!


‘Boep-Won-Am Ga Sam-Ak Soen-Bul Jang-Gwon-Do Hyup-Hoe’

(법원암가 삼악류파 선불 장권도 무술협회)

(法園庵家 三岳流派 禪佛 掌拳道 武術協會)

(The Dharma-Garden Hermitage School ‘Three Peaks’ Tradition, Zen Buddhist ‘Palm (Open Hand)/Fist Way’ Martial Arts Association)

An Expository Thesis Regarding the Process of Formulation of the Jang-Gwon-Do Ryu-Pa and its Utilization as an Adjunct Spiritual Refinement Zen Monastic Practice

Gwon-Sa V. Bu-Gohn Sunim, 6th Dan

November 2009

Thesis Committee

.......... Chair

Submitted as proposed thesis topic in partial fulfillment of the requirements
for the degree of 7th Dan, Boep-In

This work is copyrighted and may not be reproduced in whole or in part in any medium without the express permission of the author.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Day 50 - Getting Up to Speed

I am training (physically) on a daily basis (no excuses!!), and have begun 'palm' training once again, from the very beginning.

(I have decided to go back to 'square one' and go over everything with a fine-toothed comb to make sure that everything is as precise and as expertly done as is possible. I think it is a good practice to do this with most things from time to time... I often surprise myself at how much I think I know.. only to find out that facts have 'migrated' and things have slowly changed, gotten sloppy, or simply transformed into something other than what they should be.... so...

It is my plan to increase the difficulty of my training each week... by manipulating intensity, repetition, difficulty, or body position... while trying to keep the relative length of time more or less the same (Time is a resource, and I cannot stretch it... so I have to find skillful ways of working around that limitation...).

I think that the wisest way for me to proceed is to determine what is really the essence of my own personal martial arts practice or style... and what is not... meaning that, at the age of 50, it is not likely that I will see much progress in developing new skills, particularly in the realm of those skills requiring much more advanced levels of flexibility or agility than what I already possess. This is not to say that I cannot enhance my flexibility, my speed, my agility, and other attributes.. only that measurable change will most likely be slow, and not all that perceptible at this stage of the game. So, I must practice those skills that are most likely to be practical for me in the years to come, and spend less time on those which are not... or make a decision to set them aside.

Since time, as I have mentioned, is a resource, and one that is not controllable... it is best to use it wisely. So, my thought is to find those skills that I already have a relatively high-degree of skill in; and work the attributes needed for mastery of those skills to the point of being 'magical' - by which I mean that the vast majority of people would not believe such a skill level probable or even possible. Naturally, this is easier said than done... and will take an extraordinary amount of effort on my part.

My martial art is not 'artful' or 'elegant' to look at... it isn't particularly nice-looking... and, from a third person's perspective, to be honest, it doesn't really look as though I am doing very much... at least from what others have said to me. However, a person who plays with me often remarks on my ability to 'root' to the ground.. my power-generation skills (this is not the same as muscle strength... it is similar to the strength of a chair or other wedge-like prop set against a door to keep it from being opened possesses.) This type of power comes from fine-tuned body structure, a knowledge of angles... and superbly conditioned body-core muscles, tissues, and fascia (sitting here today... I can no longer claim to have such finely tuned core musculature... but, I am working on it and expect to see some amazing and measurable difference over the coming year or so.) As I have said.. I know that my martial abilities are not pleasing to look at.. but, I like to think that they have their uses for me. At the very least, it is a pleasing and interesting way for me to remain fit, agile, strong and flexible... or at least that is my hope.

The other abilities that intend to focus on are an ability to move my body from 'point A' to 'point b' with astonishing quickness... (this is partly physical.. and partly about knowing when and how to time the actual movement... and the inherent lack of 'lag time' which is a benefit of years of such training.... 'listening skills' - also known as 'contact sensitivity' - which is a specialty of my martial art; we learn to become extremely sensitive to contact pressure, and respond almost without thought. I have to fine tune this skill.. which may be problematic since I train alone... however, I will do the best that I can under the circumstances... timing and knowledge of anatomy are other skills that can be used to advantage, and, lastly, speed... speed is not simply speed, you see.. there is actual physical speed - the ability to physically move a limb or limbs from one point in space to another... there is mental speed.. the ability to perceive a stimulus, decide what to do, and put some plan into action... and there is what I will call 'perceived' speed... which is how one's movements appear to the opponent - and, believe it or not, this can be manipulated and used. This skill is primarily gained through knowledge, timing, and experience.. a facility with footwork, understanding of breathing, and the rhythm of body movements... how to use half and quarter beats to one's advantage, etc. - this last will be a trick to train alone also.. but, I have to work with the hand that I am dealt. My first goal is to get my body structure toned, tuned, and tight... everything else will fall into place afterward...

My Zen practice is strong and improving... and my general outlook.. my 'kibun' (mood, spirit, demeanor, etc.) is good. I am strong, becoming once more tenacious and tough-minded, and hope to see some fantastic improvement during the next few weeks and months.

I want to build a 'Gwon Go' (Makiwara in Japanese) which is a striking post... and I have a 'speed ball' that must be re-inflated and mounted for training. I need to come up with some method of training my hand and forearm strength (for gripping), and I am tossing around an idea of a stretching rope along the edge of my training surface so that I have something to hold onto when trying to increase my flexibility.. but, perhaps that is something that will just become extraneous once my flexibility improves... I will hold off on that for now.

I am pleasantly tired, my hands hurt .. but in a 'good' way (it isn't the heat.. its the humidity! HA!), and I must be getting ready to go to work.

Things are going as planned.. with the only sticking point being that I am still digging in my heels and claws at the thought of naming this conglomeration that I practice, and calling it a 'system' or 'style' - it just doesn't seem to be something that I am skillful or knowledgeable enough to do... it is much, much bigger than I am... however, my preceptor will have none of it... and I have been told in no uncertain terms that nobody ever feels ready or skillful enough, or knowledgeable enough.. in fact, I was reminded that the Buddha himself did not feel comfortable with teaching what he had awakened to for much the same reasons....

This doesn't really help me at all. I still feel like a great big fraud even considering it... so... I am dragging my feet... stalling.. and finding stupid excuses to shift my attention to other things. They haven't set a time limit on me so far to submit a topic... though I feel as though I have been neatly boxed in and more or less fed the topic that I should choose...

Someone suggested to me last night that no matter what topic would have made me most uncomfortable, that is most likely what they would have tried to urge me to do my thesis on... so, perhaps there is something to that... and the exercise isn't at all about the topic, but about my own pre-conceived notions and opinions surrounding that topic.

Somehow, knowing that, or considering that intellectually isn't doing a bloody thing to melt the ball of ice in my guts when I actually consider submitting such a paper to my teachers... I just hate this.

I will have to face it and just do it. But, not today. Today I must go to work.

.. with palms joined.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Day 47 - Baby Steps

In the short time that I have been getting settled into this '1000 Days of Ferocious Effort' practice, I have taken some strides, made some progress, and am beginning to see some results. I continue to direct my practice in new directions, and hope to accomplish a more comprehensive unification of mind, body, and spirit during this practice, which is beginning to enter its 'heart' phase (as opposed to gently becoming acclimatized to the practice over the first 50 days or so...).

I have lost perhaps 32 pounds since beginning this practice, chiefly through the simple expedient of eating a more healthy diet... or, more accurately, by cutting unhealthy foods out of my diet. I am hoping to lose perhaps another 50 pounds or so over the next few years... but, we shall see how that goes.

Since I have taken off a decent amount of extra body-weight, I have begun to turn my efforts towards a more stringent daily martial arts practice regimen.

It is often said that when a student wishes to learn, a teacher appears... and that when one door closes, another opens.... and in keeping with such synchronicity, I was notified during the first week of November that I have passed the 'time in grade' requirements and am now being actively considered for promotion to 7th Dan by the martial arts association of my old order (The physical testing for this grade has already been successfully accomplished, but, as I am not able to travel to Korea frequently (i.e., at all!), I have a more lengthy time in rank requirement that must be completed. In any case, I have been advised that I have a Thesis/Dissertation/Practicum Requirement which must not be successfully completed, and then I will be either promoted, or passed over until next time the committee decides to consider me. (This last hurdle being a thesis ("only 21,950 words in length.. meep!!) which I must write and submit.. it is a somewhat convoluted and lengthy process, but, I think it serves to make me value the promotion all the more due to the difficulty. The process is multi-faceted, as follows (for those few... or one... or none! who care... pllpt!!):

  • First I must decide on a research topic, which is relevant to my training and knowledge, and which (according to my preceptor) should also be a topic which I am capable of researching depending upon what resources are readily available to me .. (good advice!) - I have been told perhaps 900 times that I should take my time in considering this, and that often, a thesis either lives or dies depending upon the wisdom or lack thereof of this crucial initial phase.

  • Next, I must decide what type of thesis paper I shall decide to write, from the following three basic types:

  1. An analytical paper breaks down an issue or an idea into its component parts, evaluates the issue or idea, and presents this breakdown and evaluation to the audience.

  2. An expository (explanatory) paper explains something to the audience.

  3. An argumentative paper makes a claim about a topic and justifies this claim with specific evidence. The claim could be an opinion, a policy proposal, an evaluation, a cause-and-effect statement, or an interpretation. The goal of the argumentative paper is to convince the audience that the claim is true based on the evidence provided.
  • Once I have decided upon a topic of research, I must present a Thesis Statement and submit it to my committee for approval. If it is approved, I move on and commence my research, and if it is not... back to the 'drawing board'.

  • If I am approved to move on, the next steps, once my research is completed... or, perhaps, concurrently with my research, are the following;
  1. Manuscript Preparation

  2. Committee approval of the manuscript

  3. Independent research competence

  4. Submission of the final draft of the thesis


  • Phase I: The candidate will make a formal presentation of the research.

  • Phase II: The candidate will be questioned by the committee.

  • Phase III: After completion of the formal presentation phases, the Examining Committee will vote on the results of the Final Thesis Defense. With no more than one dissenting vote, one of five possible results of the defense will be reported:

  1. passed and thesis accepted

  2. passed and thesis accepted pending specified revisions

  3. second defense required, but thesis accepted or accepted with specified revisions

  4. major revisions of the thesis and a second defense required, or
    Defense failed, thesis not accepted and the committee recommends dismissal from the program

  • if the committee cannot reach agreement on one of the options, then the candidate will have failed the defense and the thesis will not be accepted.

So... my work is cut out for me. I am still casting about and trying to decide on a specific, definitive, and doable topic so that I have some likelihood of actually being successful. Honestly, the promotion isn't nearly as important to me as is my not embarrassing my teachers by poor performance or shabby work... so... that is my main concern. I just want to do well and make an honorable showing. If I can do that, I will view it as a success.... in any case, I seldom wear a rank belt when I train, and when I do, I prefer my raggedy old white belt. So... I suppose I should view such a thing with more respect... I will have to work on that.

In the conversations that I have had with my preceptor/mentor regarding the thesis subject, as well as with some of the other members of the martial arts training department, I have noticed a repeated and somewhat strong urging for me to follow a convention which makes me somewhat uncomfortable;

Essentially, at this stage of my training, I am expected to take everything that I have learned throughout my martial arts career and present it in such a fashion that I can show, definitively, that it has become entirely internalized and my own... rather than simply a parroted, carbon-copy of what I have been taught.

The point that has been made, by at least four different relatively eminent teachers of mine, over and over, is that since I have studied under different teachers... and have therefore become, more or less, a converging point for various 'streams' of teaching, it is time for me to compile what I have learned, distill it into a digestible and transmittable format, and present this final product back to my teachers..

(hopefully without inadvertently... or 'vertently?' offending...)

To make my anguish, extreme discomfort and angst all the more intense, I have been more or less told that I should name this conglomeration of learning and practice of mine to distinguish it from all that came before. So I have to put a name to whatever it is that I do, and am likely to teach... (were I to teach.. which I do not... so it all strikes me as rather pointless.. but, still.. there is sits. Plap!!)

(Are any of you getting the fact that I am extremely uncomfortable with this?? It is *much* too big for the likes of me... I would prefer to NOT do this... however.. it seems to be a concerted effort to strongly suggest and reiterate that I DO!!).

I must grudgingly admit here that by insisting that I step outside of my 'comfort zone' and directly face *precisely* what I would rather choose to avoid, my teachers are doing exactly what they should be doing, and helping me to expand my horizons, and improve my capabilities.. not just as a student, or as a monk... but as a person. So.. there is that. I have learned that in these cases, even though it goes against my grain, it is generally wisest for me to place my trust in my teacher's judgment, and fling myself out into space... knowing that I will come out of it okay, and perhaps even stronger and better, if somewhat dinged up and bruised.. in the long run. So, I will do my best to put that into practice. (sigh).

So. It is looking as though I will have to write an expository paper on my own interpretation or 'style' if you will, of everything that I have studied, learned, and more likely forgotten!! over the past 46 odd years of training.

I made a futile attempt at wriggling out of this and re-directing the tacit approval of my mentors to some other topic, by explaining that I didn't feel at all comfortable in giving what I practice a name.. feeling that it would tend to inflate my ego, which, by way of my Zen practice, I am constantly trying (with mixed results) to dissolve... and would, therefore, be pulling fruitlessly in two distinctly opposite directions.

(I was feeling rather pleased with myself for coming up with this particular angle of argument... and rather thought that I had nicely sewn up the issue and would be directed to undertake some other more palatable subject for my assignment... but, as things things have a tendency to do... at least in my life... it blew up in my face, naturally, when my mentor blithely offered to designate my home a 'hermitage' and give it a name (which I would then consecrate it with... ) and which would then enable me to simply call my 'system' or 'art' or 'style' the 'Such and Such Hermitage Form of Boxing', much like, as my mentor cited, the Martial Art taught at the Shaolin Temple is known as, curiously, and (to me) somewhat spitefully, under the present circumstances; 'Shaolin Temple Boxing'. (Fwshsht!!).

Having been superbly outclassed by this point, I had no suitable reply to this, and so graciously thanked him for his wonderful suggestion, and closed down Skype with several sub-vocal mutterings.

Late last night, I received a message designating my home as '법 원 암' (Boep-Won-Ahm)(Boep rhymes with 'pup' and Won rhymes with 'one' or 'fun') - which translates as 'Dharma Garden Hermitage' (the Chinese would be written as;

法 園 庵

, and would be pronounced, roughly 'Fa-Yun-Ahn' in Chinese (Mandarin), and in Japanese as 'Ho-En-Ahn'.

I must now make or commission a sign to display, write a charter, and conduct a small ceremony to officially designate (I suppose christen or consecrate could be used here, but, in Zen, we don't really use such terms...) this place as an officially recognized and designated hermitage. It was explained that the essence of a garden is to plant and nurture something. So, Dharma Garden is a place where the Dharma (what the Buddha taught) is to be planted, nurtured, and, with proper effort, brought to fruition.) As it turns out, I am quite pleased with my home now being an official hermitage... for some reason, I feel good about that. I am happy! (I also feel that I must approach my practice with more diligence!!)

So, it is looking as though I may very likely be writing an expository thesis on what will be known as Boep-Won-Am Soen-Mu-Do or Boep-Won-Am Gwon-Boep (Dharma Garden Hermitage Zen Martial Way, or Dharma Garden Hermitage Boxing, respectively... I am not settled on either of these...or, honestly, on this topic.. but, it is a start.)

I must go back to square one of my training and methodically go through everything I have ever learned, tightening, tweaking, cataloging, and, more to the point, discarding whatever is truly non-essential. So, if this is what I am to do.. I will have to begin, and soon!! I have a time limit which must be met (once the topic of my thesis has been approved, the clock starts)... so the pressure is definitely on!

As for improving my own personal training, I have taken down my 묵인충 'Mook-In-Ch'oong'*, re-engineered the stand that built for it, and re-installed it.

*note: (Chinese 'Mook-Yan-Jong'):


(its a picture of a tree!) mook = 'wood, wooden'.
(man! two legs!) yan= man, person, human.
jong= literally 'post' but usually translated as 'dummy'

I also built an 8 foot long by 6 foot wide brick training platform/patio in order to be able to train in all types of weather (it is a morass for days in that corner when it rains... and I find that I succumb to the preference for not standing ankle-deep in cold slimy water... and, consequently.. do not train... which is bad!)

I am in the process of constructing a stand which I shall use to re-commence (Korean: 철장공 'Ch'ul-Jang-Gong'{Iron Palm Training})


In Chinese it is written the same, but has a different pronunciation:


This training consists of 'dropping' the hand repeatedly (dropping.. not hitting!) onto a canvas bag filled, at first with mung beans... and after some months with a mixture of mung beans and rice, rice, mung beans and round gravel... and finally mung beans and oil-free, lead-free, chrome-free and dust-free steel shot. Hitting the bag with tension can transfer the shock to the heart, causing damage... hitting the tips of the fingers can cause eye damage... so... it is, perhaps counter-intuitively, a practice of hitting with a relaxed arm... and coordinating specific breathing exercises.... slowly increasing the repetitions... and finally, washing/treating the hands an hour after each training session with a specially produced liniment for the hands called 질타주 'Jihl-T'a-Ju' (Chinese: 'Dit-Da-Jow')


which literally translates into English as 'Stumble-Hit Wine'.

Between regular calisthenic, flexibility and Martial exercises, combined with my training on the Wooden Dummy (to tighten and tune my structure), Iron-Palm training.. (also to fine-tune structure... along with breathing.. and, of course, striking ability..), as well as 기공 'Ki-Gong' (Chinese: 'Chi-Gong' or 'Qi-Gong')


By these methods, at least to start, I hope to better strengthen my body, strengthen my spirit and resolve, and integrate both with my intellectual-mind, which is, in essence, the goal of this 'Ferocious Effort' practice...

Once I begin to see results, physically speaking, I will incrementally increase the degree of difficulty, as well as, perhaps, the frequency of my training. Hopefully, this will help me to lose more fat, and tighten and tone, if not build, lean muscle mass.

In other facets of my life, I have been given my Zen teacher's 'seal of approval' as 'Ino' or 'chant-master' (curiously; 'Ino' used to be the monk in charge of the various work details... and the 'chant-master' was known as the 'Densu'. Nowadays, however, we call the 'chant-master' 'Ino', and the Densu is in charge of maintaining the Zendo, and taking care of the facilities... as well as some other tasks, such as waking the other monks in the morning - I don't know how or why this has changed; only that it has!).

So, I am seeing changes, hopefully for the better, and hope to continue improving over time.

... with palms joined.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Zazen - 'Finding Your Inner Stillness'

My Zen is not Japanese, or Korean, or Chinese, or Indian, or American.. I practice a formal type of Zen in an Order that Originates most recently in Japan, but which arrived there from India via China, and ultimately arrived in the west. I originally began my training haphazardly, by reading books and trying to emulate what I had read, but what I honestly did not really understand. My formal training began in Korea, and has continued as I traveled from place to place. My Zen is not a ‘thing’ that I can touch.. it isn’t really something that is easy to discuss, though I shall try. As a human, I am bound by words. Words can easily trap us and confuse us, however, and we soon find ourselves hopelessly tangled up. Although I spent some time living in various monasteries, I now live in a small cottage, a hermitage, if you like, which is squarely situated ‘in the world’, and not secluded and isolated from it. My vocation is a running ‘towards’, rather than a running ‘away from’, though I am sure that most monastics are not truly running away from anything. So, I am an odd duck, more or less; I am a monk who lives and breathes and moves about in a mostly secular world. Well.. secular to the lay folk.. but always a monastic world from my own point of view. I face some unique challenges living this type of lifestyle, and I am often forced to make critical decisions, often to make a number of not so wise decisions, but, eventually (I like to think), I slowly begin to correct my path... and this is my own personal Zen. Every day life, that is constantly being corrected and finely tuned. Everyday mindful life.

My practice of Zen is my response to the questions that have arisen from the depths of my being. It is my constant struggle to attain and pass through the gateless gate of freedom in each and every breath-moment. It is my way of using my mind in the clattering, cacophony of the hectic outpouring of my life in a very complex time, and in an increasingly complex world.

My Zen is not an esoteric tradition that has meandered from India through Asia to the West. It is not a code of ethical conduct. It is not a religion. It is not a psychology or a philosophy. It isn’t anything that one can pin down. Although I do follow a formal practice, in a formal monastic order, and although I have formal teachers under whom I pursue my studies; my Zen is not any of these concepts or things that I have listed. There is nobody to emulate, nobody to follow, nothing to consult, no one who watches, no one who cares. There is only me. There is only my practice. There is only my silence. There is only my Zen.

I live as a monk, following my practice, keeping to my precepts, and doing my level best to negotiate the pitfalls and obstacles that life graciously gifts me with in order that I may improve. I fall flat on my face on a regular basis, and I choose each time to get back up, to stand squarely upon my own two feet, and to face the difficulties, the annoyances, the discomforts, and the setbacks, and to continue on. I make this choice with each in-breath.. I make this choice again with each out-breath. I do this primarily due to my own personal conviction that my life has only the meaning that I choose to inject into it by way of my focus, my choices, and my actions. I do this in order to live my life to the fullest extent possible with total authenticity, first hand pure experience, and uncompromising honesty. My Zen is fierce, sometimes brutal. My Zen is gentle, and kind, and has no limit to its compassion in teaching me how to come to know my own true nature.

I make no judgement concerning other people’s chosen life-path, but simply retain focus on my own present moment, as mindfully as I am capable of doing, and carefully take the next step.

I am not wise, or particularly knowledgeable, nor am I the face or the voice of Buddhism, Zen, my order, or even my own Zen center. I am constantly learning, and constantly evolving, and my responses and answers have most likely changed very much over the course of my journey, and no doubt will continue to do so. So, please take this into account, and understand that like any other human being, I am prone to misperception, faulty reasoning, out and out blunders and all of the other weaknesses and foibles that humankind is rife with. In short, what I say in this journal is just that; what I say. Don’t trust in what I tell you, or what you hear elsewhere, or what you read.... unless you have first applied it to your own life, your own circumstances, your own reality and filtered it in the light of your own intelligence and reason and found that it has passed the test. I am only me... and I am trying to address my own questions. You must form your own questions, and formulate your own answers. If you have no question, clearly there can be no suitable answer at all. If my questions, and the corresponding responses happen to gel with your own, and my practice assists you in some way, I am glad. But, your practice is entirely your own, your Zen is entirely your own... and your life is entirely your own, as mine is my own. In truth, my Zen, my practice, and my life are one and the same. I am more likely trying to formulate my question than I am trying to provide an answer... and what I set down here in this journal is simply my own method of ordering my thoughts, and allowing the fruits of my experience and contemplative efforts to be documented for later reference (and, undoubtedly embarrassed comparison) as my practice (hopefully) progresses. Any errors or inaccuracies are, of course, entirely my own.

As in all things, there must be a beginning, a middle and end. And, wisely, it is best to start at the beginning. Zen training uses a number of modalities or types of training in its training matrix. Many teachers who are much more knowledgeable, experienced and competent than I have categorized them and set them down in various treatises and guides, however, I will try to simplify things somewhat; All Zen training can basically be said to fall under one of three general types:

I. Meditation (one form is Zazen (seated Zen). There are various other types which incorporate movement or other techniques.)

II. Koan Practice – Koan means ‘public case’ and essentially is a formal recreation of a set of circumstances which led a practitioner to attain some degree of understanding, or, more to the point, to realize that they already possessed the understanding. Koans (Kong-an in Korean) are often called ‘Zen Riddles’, however, I tend to disagree with this translation as there is nothing to ‘solve’ in actuality. I will address this form of training in more depth in subsequent posts, but suffice it to say it is one of the three major categories of Zen training.

III. Everyday Life: Zen is useless if it is only able to be put into practice ‘on the cushion’. Therefore, the mental state that is attained via Zazen practice is incrementally brought ‘off the cushion’ through an incremental series of small steps, beginning with simple activities such as walking, drinking tea, chanting, and bowing... to simple work tasks... to more complex actions such as more difficult work tasks, body practice, art practice, and other forms of ordinary daily life.. until it has been incorporated and integrated to the extent that there is no discernible difference between Zen and normal day to day living.

In order to channel my own efforts properly, with some degree of order and direction, and, admittedly, in part at least, to allow you, the reader (if anybody actually reads this .. which is astounding to me, to be truthful!) to have some understanding as to what this 1000 day retreat is based upon, what I am actually doing from day to day, and where it may be taking me... if anywhere. Also, to help to direct the practice of anyone out there who may be ‘bumping up’ against Zen, or who may be formulating or refining their own practice. I am not sure whether I will be a help or a hindrance, but, I will do my best.

I will focus on each of these three major categories in a series of posts, while simultaneously introducing the eight ‘muns’ or ‘gates’ of Zen training and practice.

The ‘gates’ or ‘facets’ of training are;

1. Zazen/Meditation.
2. Zen Study (with a Zen Teacher).
3. Academic Study.
4. Zen Liturgy.
5. ‘Right’ (social) Action.
6. Art Practice.
7. Body Practice.
8. Work Practice.

Each of the gates fall under the three general categories of training, though at times the lines between the categories may tend to become somewhat blurred.

In this post, I will address the first of the gates; Zazen.

In studying Zen, we start with practice. The ‘guts’ and essence of Zen practice is Zazen. Now, while it is equally true that Zen is necessarily concerned with apprehending the nature of the mind, or of the self, it must, therefore, contain an element of philosophical speculation, or contemplation.

While a philosopher may mainly rely upon such speculation and reasoning, in Zen, when practiced properly, we never allow ourselves to become separated from our practice. This practice is carried out using the body, mind, and emotions (or spirit – interestingly, The English word "spirit" comes from the Latin spiritus, meaning "breath", and so, one might, if it is a preference, think of spirit as ‘breath’. No breath – no life. So, in this context, breath = ‘life’. In my context, spirit includes not only breath, but also will, emotion and temperment) in equal measure.

In Zen training, we seek to dissolve or ‘extinguish*’ the self-centered, individual ego, but we cannot accomplish this simply by just thinking about it. It is by way of our integrated body/mind/spirit practice that we may actually experience what may be referred to as ‘pure existence’ (i.e., experiences that have not been filtered or changed by our preconceived notions and opinions or objective thinking.)

In our ordinary day to day life, our human consciousnesses tend to work relentlessly to protect or to maintain our personal and material interests. This habit of utilitarian or pragmatic thinking – of viewing the world as an array of tools and resources to be used to ‘get what we need’ or ‘get what we want’ or perhaps ‘get what we deserve’ or is ‘rightfully ours’ reduces the entire cosmos, in our minds, as being little more than ‘equipment’, which should strike one as being inaccurate at the least... and disrespectful to at least some degree. We steal the essence of life and of being by perpetuating this inherently unskillful and delusional way of thinking. Naturally, financial solvency is a key component in our overall well-being and happiness... we have physical bodies, and we have physical needs, after all. But, there is more to ‘being’ than ‘getting’.

The world, and our lives is much, much more than a series of objects that are only viewed in the light of how they can be made use of. This habitual way of consciousness is distorted, and results in great suffering for humankind. This is so because any person who views and treats the world in this fashion and most likely comes to view and treat himself or herself as well as others in much the same way, which leads to a mechanical way of thinking that is self-centered, unfeeling, unkind, reactive, and unskillful. In a way, it is a form of mental illness that we all fall victim to by way of our habitual methods of perceiving and thinking. Zen practice aims at overthrowing this distorted view of the word and of the self, and zazen is method by which we manifest this change.

Zen training continues. Endlessly. There is no destination... only a journey. This is because the ego-self (petty ego) has a tendency to insidiously creep back into one’s mind and way of thinking, over and over again. The long habit of notional thinking and distorted consciousness is implanted so firmly in our mind that we are haunted by it perpetually to the extent that it is nearly impossible for us to control or inhibit these unskillful thoughts before they arise. As we continue our training over time, however, we become incrementally liberated from this ‘small self’ or ‘petty ego’. We don’t accomplish this through oppositional thinking, but by simply ignoring these seemingly random thoughts as they arise.. or, more accurately, by simply acknowledging these thought-forms for what they are... and letting them pass away... like so many bubbles or waves. They come. They go. Just like us. (The Historical Buddha was also known, incidentally, as a ‘tathāgata’ or, the ‘Thus come, thus gone’ one, who has gone beyond all comings and goings.) Since the occurrence of an unskillful or unmindful thought is a malady; *not* to continue it is, by force, the remedy.

This choosing ‘not to continue’ – this stilling of the mind, is a state that is reached by practicing zazen over time. (Kung Fu, or Gung Fu, by the way, come from two Chinese ideographs kung or gung – ‘功’ and fu or hu ‘夫’ (literally ‘spouse or husband’ from time (to do something); synonym for 工夫.) So – Kung Fu means, quite literally a ‘skill or accomplishment achieved by applying effort or energy over time’. One may have ‘Kung Fu’ in anything... this Kung or Gong/Gung, incidentally, is the same Gung in our term ‘Gung Ho’ – which means working (effort) together!).

By practicing and applying mindful effort in zazen practice over time, we may hope to develop a skill or achieve some wondrous accomplishment.

This accomplishment has been called by many different terms, but it is essentially indescribable in words and very difficult to communicate. It is an extremely personal and above all, experiential thing. It is truly a pure experience in which all sense of subject and object disappear! In a way, it is as though the mind and the body have ‘fallen off’. So, I suppose if I must attempt to describe it, I must do so by calling this experience an experience of ‘mere being’ or ‘just being’, and nothing else.

This condition of ‘mere being’ however, is accompanied by a remarkable mental power, which can best be termed a ‘condition of extreme wakefulness’.

This may seem strange to you, as a reader, perhaps even more so when I tell you that at the time that it takes place, the experiencer is not aware of it due to a lack of reflecting activity in one’s consciousness – which, in retrospect, may explain the difficulty in describing it.

It is essentially, an extraordinary mental stillness.. a pure existence.. perhaps the most simplified form of human existence.

We have this pure experience, and then.. we come back into the world of conscious activity to find that ‘being’ appears transformed to us.

Once one has experienced this form of pure existence, one’s view of the world, and of existence executes a complete about face and nothing ever seems quite the same.. and yet; being a human being, we cannot escape the inevitable return of living as a distinct individual entity with all of the differentiation, preferences, desires and aversions of common human existence.

So, we are now faced with a new previously un-encountered dilemma which causes at least some degree of internal conflict.

In order to deal with this effectively, we must continue practicing, continue to train our mind in conjunction with our body and our emotions in order to learn how to avoid such instinctual discrimination while simultaneously living in the world of differentiation.

Basically, the task set before us is to learn how to exercise mindfulness and non-attachment while working through attachment and reactive thought-habits. We do this primarily by cultivating immobility.

The easiest way to practice this is through physical immobility. Why? Simply because immobility of the body encourages and cultivates immobility of the mind and of the spirit, so, immobility is the first essential goal of zazen practice.

Since immobility is much more easily achieved through sitting than by standing, we begin at the earliest stages of Zen practice by sitting. Thus, the ‘za’ (sit) in ‘zazen’ (sitting zen).

Sitting is one of the four dignified postures: walking, standing, sitting, and lying down. Whereas, Zen is one of the six stages of spiritual perfection: dedication, precepts, perseverance, progress, meditation and wisdom.

To practice Zen is to become stable and then quiet, to become peaceful after becoming quiet, and to engage in careful quiet contemplation. The four dignified postures and six stages of spiritual perfection therefore all arise from quiet contemplation.

The aim of this practice is to eventually integrate the subjective and objective self to such an extent as to become completely unified. Once this integration has been accomplished, or perhaps even transcended, it will not matter what the surroundings may be any longer; the Zen practitioner will remain in a state of deep samadhi (which comes from sam (together or integrated), a (towards), and dha (to get, to hold). Thus the result might be seen to be to acquire integration or wholeness, or truth – in essence, then; ‘a state of equilibrium’.)

It has been said that “Zen is to transcend life and death (this means ‘all dualism’), to truly realize that the entire universe is the “True Human Body” (true self, greater self, true nature, Buddha nature) through the discipline of “heart/mind and body in oneness.” – in short – Zen is a form of Yoga practice. (Read further on in this post for my explanation/diatribe on Yoga/Yoke joining, etc.)

Note on the above text: *Nirvana = extinguish: (Nirvana, incidentally is often mis-interpreted in the West to mean ‘paradise’ or ‘unending happiness’, however, though it may result in a cessation of suffering, the word has a very different meaning originally from what is commonly considered to be the meaning. In sramanic (A shramana (Sanskrit śramaṇa श्रमण, Pāli samaṇa) is a wandering monk) thought, Nirvana (Mandarin: ‘涅槃’ niè pán, Japanese: ‘涅盘’ nehan, Korean: 열반 ‘涅槃’ (yul-ban), Sanskrit: निर्वाण, Nirvāṇa; Pali: निब्बान, Nibbāna; Prakrit: णिव्वाण; Thai: นิพพาน, Nípphaan) is the state of being free from suffering. It is an important concept in Buddhism and Jainism. "Nibbāna" is a Pāli word that means "blowing out" — that is, blowing out the fires of greed, hatred, and delusion. Nirvana is a compound of the prefix ni[r]- (ni, nis, nih) which means "out, away from, without", and the root vâ[na] (Pali. vâti) which can be translated as "blowing" as in "blowing of the wind", and also as "smelling, etc".

Zazen (坐禅) Practice: Zazen, 'sitting meditation' (I have seen this also translated as 'sinking into thoughts', 'opening the hand of thoughts' or 'holding a mirror to one's thoughts'. To the best of my knowledge, the Chinese ideograph '坐' simply means 'sit' and the ideograph '禅' is the Chinese translation of the Sanskrit term 'Dhyana ( ध्यान )' (Pali ‘Jhāyana’) which is a cognate of the word 'Zen'. all meaning, ‘meditation’ or ‘contemplation’. (In Chinese it is pronounced, roughly, 'Ch'an', in Korean 'Son' or 'Soen' (pron: Sun), and in Vietnamese ‘thiền, thiện, xèng’. Essentially, the original Pali word Jhāyana went through a morphing to Dhyana, Ch’an, Soen, Zen, thiền and so on.. but, it is all the same word, or various mutated forms of the same word as it passed through different languages and cultures, each version with the same meaning. So, as far as I can see, Zazen means nothing more than ‘seated meditation’. That being said, Zazen can be practiced seated, standing, lying, moving, walking, working, or sleeping... or at least a form of it. Zazen takes place in the mind ultimately... though the body must connected to the mind.. or ‘yoked’ (from the Proto-Indo-European (PIE) root word ‘i^eu-, i^eu^ə-, i^eu-g- meaning to yoke, tie together (the inference being ‘with the supreme spirit’). Interestingly, some other English words that are cognate with this same PIE root word are;

jugular (jugulum "collarbone, throat, neck," diminutive of jugum "yoke," related to iungere "to join");

syzygy (conjunction of a heavenly body with the sun," from syzygia, (Greek) "yoke, pair, union of two, conjunction," from sysygein "to yoke together," from syn- "together" (synonymous! synchronize!), + zygon "yoke"

zeugma (refers to two or more words in a sentence - (from the Greek - lit. "a yoking,")

zygote (from the Greek zygotos "yoked," from zygon "yoke")

inchoate (from the Latin inchoatus, inchoare - alteration of incohare "to begin," originally "to hitch up," from in- "on" + cohum "strap" (cohort!)

subjugation (from the Latin subjugationem (nom. subjugatio), from Latin subjugatus (subjugare) "to subdue", lit. "bring under a yoke," from sub "under" + jugum (see jugular)).

juxtaposition (coined in France (17c) from the Latin juxta "beside, near" + French "position". Latin juxta is a contraction of jugusta (adverb which is a superlative of the adjective 'jugos' "closely connected," from stem of jugum "yoke," from jungere "to join".

combine (French combiner, from Latin combinare "to unite, yoke together," form Latin com- "together" + bini "two by two," (binary, bi- "twice")

join (from French joindre, from jungere "to join, yoke".)

conjugal (from the Latin conjugalis, from conjunx (genetive conjugis) "spouse," from conjugare "to join together," from com- "together" + jugare "to join," from jugum "yoke" (see jugular).

span ("two animals driven together," from Dutch 'span, from spannen "to stretch or yoke," form Middle Dutch 'spannen' which is cognate with Old English 'spannen' "to join" "distance between two objects," "distance between the thumb and little finger of extended hand," borrowed from the Latin 'spannus, hence Italian spanna, Old French 'espanne', French 'empane'. from PIE base *(s)pen- "to draw, stretch, spin"

boy (boie "servant, commoner, knave, boy," possibly from Old French. embuie "one fettered," from Vernacular Latin. *imboiare, from Latin boia "leg iron, yoke, leather collar," from Greek boeiai dorai "ox hides." But it also appears to be identical with Early Frisian boi "young gentleman," and perhaps with Dutch boef "knave," from Middle Dutch boeve, perhaps from Middle Low German buobe.)

ox (Old English oxa (plural oxan), from Proto-Germanic. *ukhson (compare Old Norse oxi, Old Frisian oxa, Middle Dutch osse, German Ochse, Gothic auhsa), from PIE *uks-en- "male animal," (compare Welsh ych "ox," Middle Irish oss "stag," Sanskrit uksa, Avestan uxshan- "ox, bull"), said to be from PIE base *uks- "to sprinkle," related to *ugw- "wet, moist." The animal word, then, is lit. "besprinkler." Oxen is the only true survival in Modern English of the Old English weak plural. Ox-bow "semicircular bend in a river" is first recorded 1797, American English (New England), in reference to the shape of the piece of wood which forms the collar for an ox YOKE ( ! ) (so called from 1368). )

acre (Old English æcer "tilled field, open land," from Proto-Germanic *akraz "field, pasture" (compare Old Norse akr, Old Frisian ekkr, Old High German achar), from PIE *agros "field" (compare Latin ager "field, land," Greek agros, Sanskrit ajras "plain, open country"). Originally in English without reference to dimension; in late Old English the amount of land a yoke of oxen could plow in a day, afterward defined by statute to a piece 40 poles by 4, or an equivalent shape (5 Edw. I, 31 Edw. III, 24 Hen. VIII). Original sense retained in God's acre "churchyard." Acreage is recorded from 1859.)

As you can see... there are many connections between our thoughts, our languages, our actions, and our inner and outer worlds. Zen in general, and this ‘Ferocious Effort’ in particular are about finding and tracing these connections... strengthening them... and, ultimately, transcending them entirely.

Next time I will discuss Zen Study, and the relationship between student or disciple, and teacher or master.

Please continue your practice!

Yours in the Dharma,

Bunan Unsui

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

One Thousand Days... The first day..

My 1000 Days of Ferocious Effort has begun. Over the past few weeks, beginning around 20 September, I began to fine tune my diet in order to better practice the integration of body/mind/spirit by improving my nutrition and eating habits... one of the many facets that this practice will address. I have shed 14 pounds of excess body weight in this time, and have cut caffeine, refined sugars and carbohydrates, and non-nutritional foods from my diet entirely. Over the first week or so, my body responded to the change in fuel with shock... followed by gross fatigue... and a severe headache (which I suppose was due to caffeine withdrawal) that lasted nearly a week. Happily, that part is over and done with, and I am feeling lighter, much more energetic, and my general emotional level has settled into a calm, even state.

This retreat will focus primarily upon silence, solitude, meditation, work, and contemplation. This will be augmented by cultural (art, music practice), physical (body practice; i.e., physical exercise), and spiritual (liturgy, ritual) practices throughout. Unlike a normal Sesshin*, however, I also plan to incorporate academic study into my days.

This is the 'loose' plan for the next thousand days.... I am sure that it will re-shape and refine itself as the retreat takes place. I will do my best to maintain a journal of my experience during this practice here.

I am not setting out with any particular goal or result in mind. I am simply going to fully practice keeping my focus in 'this breath-moment' and experiencing it as fully and completely as I am able. That is all.

Before my first sitting... I shall have some tea!

*Sesshin: Jap., lit. “collecting [setsu] the heart–mind [shin]”, “concentrating and unifying the mind”; also interpreted as “touching, receiving and conveying the Mind”; formal Zen retreat; days of especially intensive, strict prac­tice of collected mind (zazen) as carried out in Zen monasteries at regular intervals. A sesshin training period usually lasts not less than three days and not more than seven.

The normal daily routine in a Zen monastery includes, in addition to several hours of zazen prac­tice, long periods of physical work, begging rounds, and other forms of service to the local Buddhist community. However, during a sesshin, which is con­sidered the high point of Zen training, the monks devote themselves exclusively to meditation. Com­plete silence is observed.

Long periods of zazen are interrupted only by a few hours of sleep at night, Sutra recitations, a short period of work (samu) and short rest breaks after the midday and evening meals. However, concentration or collectedness of mind in relation to the particular practice that the monk has received from the master (koan practice) should continue as much as possible without interruption during all these activities.

Special inspiration and incentive for the monks during the days of sesshin are provided by the teisho (Dharma talk/teaching lecture) of the roshi and the individual instruction (sanzen or dokusan) that monks often receive several times a day.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Clouds and Water

Commencing on 7 October of this year (2009), I plan on embarking on a 1000 day personal retreat or practice. During the 1000 days, my primary focus will be on deepening my personal practice, but also in rounding it out and bringing it into my day to day life.

I will incorporate Seated and walking meditation, as well as other types of moving meditation (meditation while working, eating, etc.) with other types of practice.

I will attempt to ensure that each day includes at least to some degree, the following modes of training;

  1. Training with a teacher and/or Koan practice

  2. Academic study of some type

  3. Zazen/Meditation

  4. Liturgy (Liturgical practice; meaning ritual/ceremony)

  5. Body practice (Martial arts, Yoga, or other physical exercise)

  6. Art practice (Drawing, painting, sculpting, writing, calligraphy, what have you..)

  7. Work practice (Three types: Outside work (regular job (yes! its part of my practice!), Niten Shoji (Daily Caretaking work) - work around the home, hermitage, temple grounds, living space., Samu (Work/Service) which is a work project designed to allow one to become one with the work... though all forms of work practice offer an opportunity to unify mind, body & spirit. In Samu, the aim is this unification, whereas in the other forms of work, the essence would be to accomplish the task while remaining unified.

  8. 'Right' Acts. ("Doing the right thing" - finding some action, each day, that is simply the right thing to do... and which in some way positively affects others.. this could be a clean up project in a public place... volunteer work, making an offering or donating to a worthy cause, acts of loving kindness... something.. each day."

    In addition to these eight modes of training, it is my aim to live mindfully, to take time, as much as it is possible for me, to simply 'be'.. to enjoy the world... to contemplate... to look inward.

    I would like to embrace silence and solitude as much as it is practicable during this time period... refraining from mindless or pointless small-talk, avoiding places where a radio or television is constantly on simply for 'background noise', etc.

    During my 1000 day retreat, my aim will be to live as fully and as authentically as possible, in keeping with my monastic vocation and my precepts, of course.

    I would like to pay particular attention to my diet/eating habits and do my best to cultivate and/or refine healthy eating habits, and to develop a regimen of diet, sleep, exercise, and spiritual practice that is balanced, sensible, and invigorating.

    It is not my plan to make an overly large 'deal' over this retreat, but to keep it more or less transparent to others, at least during the times that I am in the company of others.

    The practice will end on the full moon of July in 2012, which falls on the 3rd of the month in 2012, which happens to be 'Dharma Day' (Asala Puja -- ((We do not celebrate this day, actually, in my tradition, however, I am aware of it and generally observe it on a personal level, and, since this is a personal practice....)) ) - this is the day we celebrate the teachings of Buddha. This celebration is called Dharma Day. The day marks the first teachings of Siddhartha.

    Immediately after Siddhartha gained Enlightenment, he sought out his first five (5) followers to share his experiences with them. When he found them, this marked the first of his discourses in the path to enlightenment, thus this is usually referred to as the beginning of the Buddhist religion. These first teachings have been called The First Turning of the Wheel of the Dharma or Dharmachakra. Buddha believed that every man and woman could find the same Path to Enlightenment. He wanted to see the end of suffering to all beings. This time also was the beginning of the rainy season in Nepal. Normally Buddha, his monks and nuns were nomadic. During the three (3) months of the rainy season, they would stay in sheltered areas. They filled their time with meditations and teachings. After monsoon season passed, they would begin their journeys again to spread the teachings of the Buddha.

    In present day, we celebrate this day by spending extra time reading the teachings of the Buddha, give thanks to Buddha and our teachers both past and present. Dharma Day is a perfect time to come together at the sangha for celebration through readings and teachings from our elder students, Dharma Teachers, Monks, Oshos (priests), Roshis (Zen Masters (lit 'Old/venerated teacher'), etc. Cleaning of the temple areas and monastery also take place on this day. The activities done on this day are similar to those done on Vesak. This is when we, in the Zen tradition begin what we call 'Seichu' or 'Ango' ('Tight' Dharma - the monastic year is broken into four three month periods. You might think of them as 'semesters'. The summer and winter periods are severe, and consist of meditation, work, and liturgy. The days are long, and the focus is inward. The autumn and spring semesters are more relaxed, and are for travelling to visit other temples, study with other teachers, visit friends or family, etc.) (It is during this 'loose Dharma' period, called 'Seikan' in my order.. that monks in training get the name that is applied to them; "Unsui". Unsui literally means "Clouds/Water" (Un is the Japanese pronunciation of the Chinese ideograph for 'Cloud' (The Korean pronunciation is identical), and "Sui" is the Japanese pronunciation of the Chinese ideograph meaning 'Water' (In Korean it is pronounced 'Soo').

    This will mean, essentially, that I will end my personal 1000 day retreat and enter directly into a period of monastic retreat, during which, I hope, I will be able to apply the experiences of the previous 1000 days to deepen my practice even further.

    I will keep a log of my experiences here, using this space that is conveniently here for that purpose. I don't expect that many will notice that I am doing this, but, any who wish to practice along with me either for part of the time, or for the entire duration are warmly welcomed. Comments, questions, and suggestions are likely welcomed.

    I am striving for balance and equilibrium during this period of deep practice, and to take all that I have learned during my one year 'Dying Practice' and apply it to this longer period of practice. I have no idea how this will turn out... or whether 'turn out' or 'results' is even applicable.... I am not actually hoping for some type of payoff.... the journey itself is the payoff.

    Today is the 20th of September, 2009. There are ten days left of this month, and one week in October prior to the first day of my retreat. I plan on taking this time to contemplate a rudimentary plan insofar as schedule, diet, and focus are concerned... but, I will have to see how it goes and make adjustments along the way.

    Wish me luck!

    In Peace & Brotherhood,

    Bunan Unsui

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Anicca (Impermanence)

Looking back over the past year of this practice, I can see that I have learned a great deal about myself, about mindfulness, and about more skillfully navigating the situations and circumstances that life offers me, and responding to them more appropriately.

During the course of this practice, I have visited and re-visited many people that have been a part of my life up to this point; some of whom are no longer an active part of my life... and some who are.

I have examined both pleasant and unpleasant memories, and I have forgiven others... and learned to forgive myself for the mistakes and failures that plague us as humans.

Mostly, however, I learned that life is what I make of it. I am here. Things cannot bring me happiness, and people cannot bring me happiness. I can share my happiness with others, and they can share their happiness with me... for a time.... but, there must be dark and light, up and down, high and low. So, I have also learned that there are many things in life that I must simply accept.

I have lived a year ... or did my best to live a year's time, as though I had only a one year period of time left to live... I did not travel the world... make a wishlist of things to do... or do most of the things that one might expect. Instead, I tried to make my practice a practice of accepting and responding to my life 'as it is'.

I have quieted down internally... I can feel a sense of calm that is even deeper and more profound than I am used to having; and this is saying quite a bit, as I am generally calm and tranquil as a rule.

The most important lesson that I have learned, I think, is that Dying Practice (which should more accurately be called Living Practice) doesn't ever really end. Whether you make an announcement or not... each day is Dying Practice. Each breath... each moment. For all of us.

My year of practice has ended... but, I find that I am still practicing...

I considered continuing this journal.. making it a kind of personal journal... and continuing... however, I think it would be a bit like carrying the bridge along with me after using it to cross the river in the event that I may come upon another river which must be crossed.

Instead, I will simply end here.

I am grateful to have had the opportunity to experience all that I have experienced during this past year. May the wisdom that I have gained, if any, be used to identify my weaknesses and faults and transform them into strengths and attributes... may these in turn be used to benefit all sentient beings.

Thank you, and goodbye.

May you be peaceful.
May you be happy.
May you be safe.
May you awaken to the light of your true nature.
May you be free.

In Peace & Brotherhood,

Bunan Unsui

Wednesday, July 8, 2009


My countdown reads 22 minutes and 23 seconds left to live.

When it reaches zero, it will mark the culmination of a year long practice in how to live fully and authentically by living under the premise that I had only a year left to live.

It has been both a wonderful and grueling practice, but I feel that it has changed me in many ways.

This last day was a stream of intense and poignant experiences... *direct* experiences of living through a day... first hand... and not through the 'multiple plys' that modern day life often forces upon us.

There is little left to do save to surrender to death, and accept it in much the same way as every other moment is accepted.

It has been a good life. A good 49 years. I have done and seen much, I have learned more..

The first 50 years have been an expansion... an in breath... it is now time to begin the contraction... the out breath..... for we must both breath in and out.

This moment.. right now. Is perfect.. just as it is!

Thank you for letting me share my practice with you.

I go now to sit quietly and wait for my 'death' to arrive. I will greet it with a gentle smile.. as an old friend.

We die and are reborn in every moment... each breath is a new breath... so it shouldn't come as a surprise that I will be reborn the instant that I die.

We are always arriving.. every moment... over and over... in a stream of rebirths...

This is just one more... but it is important because I will be *mindful* of it.

I will die.

Tomorrow, perhaps I will awake. I will stand and take the very first step of the second half of my life... fresh, new, reborn... and ready to accept whatever life offers.

I am a monk, but you dont have to be a monk to follow this practice and to learn what it may have to offer you. You just have to open your heart and let each moment fill you completely.

In a few days, I will sit and write a summary of my experience in following this practice... this one year long life experiment. I will compare what I expected with what I experienced, and most likely I will have a few more words to say than anybody cares to here... but I will put them down with care, and with love.

In Peace & Brotherhood,

Bunan Unsui

Final stretch...

My countdown reads 23 hours and 43 minutes left to live.

I will live as mindfully, authentically, and as fully as I am able over these last hours....

This practice has been instructive, insightful, challenging... and life-changing.

I don't view the world through quite the same eyes that I did when I embarked upon this practice.

I am not sure what I expected it to be... but, the reality was much different than what I *thought* I was getting involved in.

The practice was much more *real* than I expected it to be.

At first, the countdown unnerved me... now, it is only a countdown... we all have one.. in our heartbeat... our breaths... each step that we take... each moment. This one simply has numbers attached to it.

Of all of the various emotions that I feel as this year comes to a close... as my life of the past 50 years ends.. the one I feel most strongly as I write this now is gratitude.

There is so much more than I realized... and I didnt have to DO anything to access it... other than simply to do it. It was just like this all along... the entire time... and wonder how I didnt realize it for so long when it is all so simple.

I will go to sleep now... and sleep soundly... waking up to my last day on earth in a few hours.

I have an entire day left of this practice... and I will make every second count!

Monday, July 6, 2009

Strange days...

Over the past few days, but most noticeable to me today; I am perceiving the passage of time differently - by which I mean that I seem to have more time than I normally do, or that I am somehow finding pockets of time within moments where I have not done so in the past...

This is kind of hard to explain. It falls flat when I actually explicitly verbalize it.

Nevertheless, today seemed to me to be longer, fuller, brighter, and deeper... if deeper can be applied as an adjective to describe a day.

I am not sure if this perception is just a temporary anomaly... a product of a strange day... or whether it is caused by some shift in my perception, or what.

It makes me wonder what I was doing with my time in the past if all days are like this one... it seems a pity to me that I would have missed it. So much time in a day to enjoy. I have always noticed this... but not quite so much as today.

I expected to feel sadness or trepidation when my time got short.. but, I don't. Instead, I just want to be here... completely... and just soak in the moment like a sponge... good, bad, all of it.

I was trying to explain to my wife how everything was so perfect in its 'just-so suchness' and she looked at me like I was out of my gourd. I don't have the verbal capability of expressing this... and it is a bit frustrating. I can't understand why she, or anyone, can't already just see this... it is as plain as can be!

A tree doesn't know it is a tree... or that it is an apple tree, or a pine tree... nobody tells it what to do... and if we have expectations for it, it doesn't care. It is just a tree. That's all. No matter what... it is a tree. And, when it isn't a tree any more... it just isn't... it doesn't lament over the fact... it just... goes away... changes.... *everything* is like that... it is like somebody putting their hands into a bucket of liquid and stirring it up... its the same liquid; but the waves are all different all the time... if you look beneath the waves, though - it is all the same liquid. It is just like that!! HA! Isn't that *awesome*??!! Do you see?! (*grins!!*)

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Getting Down To It (i.e., Disposing of the Corpse)

As I begin to write this post, my countdown displays 1 week and 4 hours left to live...

In retrospect, this year seems to have flown past fairly quickly.... and in other respects I seem to have lived an entire lifetime during the past year.

I have never lived so completely and totally in my body... or in the moment.

I have always been one to enjoy the small things in life, or so I had thought.. but, I would say that this is so much more true now.

Naturally, my expectation is to wake up on the morning of July 09; my 50th Birthday, fresh, and new, and fully prepared to rise and take the first step of the second half of my life, however.. it may very well be that I will not live to see it. Life is not certain, and there are no guarantees. This is why it is so vitally important to remain mindful of the present moment.. to let go fully, and to hurl oneself into life. Give every single last thing that we have. Do the very, very best that we can... say what must be said, and do what must be done. Dying practice is, after all, living practice. I have learned a great deal about living - really, truly living. Life throws many experiences at us... and we don't often have much to say about which we get, or when. We must simply learn to take life on its own terms, do the best we can do with the moment that we have, and continue doing this.... get the present moment 'right' - and the minutes, hours, days, weeks, months & years will take care of themselves.

Every life must come to an end. This we cannot avoid. So. I have decided to face it. My dying practice year may not end in my physical death. But, sometime in my future, I will find my death. What then?

Who dies?

I have come to believe that although my mind cannot survive without my physical body.. my body is something akin to a rental car... I use it for some time, inhabit it if you will... until it is no longer capable of supporting my life...
and then I must surrender to the inevitable.. let go.. and pass from this world.

I imagine that the energy that separated me and made me alive and distinct from a dead body will continue on in some form... as the scientists claim that energy is finite and can neither be created nor destroyed... as for 'me' the self that I think of as me... It is my belief that it will simply cease to exist as an entity. My personality, memories, preferences, aversions, all that makes me me... will simply end. Extinguished. Like a candle flame.

I find some degree of peace in this thought. We cherish real flowers over plastic flowers exactly because real flowers die... they are ephemeral... and we love them. Life is ephemeral. So, we should love life... love one another... just love.

Once I have died, though I will be gone... I will leave behind remains. Somebody will be tasked with seeing to the proper disposal of my remains, and I wish to make this task as simple and as painless as possible.

Some of the methods that naturally spring to mind are not allowable by law, unfortunately... (carving knife, food processor, wood chipper, dumpster, flushed down the toilet.. sky burial (i.e., hacked to constituent parts and fed to the carrion birds, etc.) so, I must act within the parameters of the law and of social norms (to some extent, at least).

As I meditated upon this aspect of my practice, I was (not really) very surprised to find that desire crept in upon my contemplations even when considering the methods of my disposal.

I found the Uono Cocoon Coffin, which I think is quite attractive, very different, and which is described on the company's website as follows:

"The Cocoon only weighs 20 kilograms. This makes it easier to carry, move and lay out at the funeral home or grave. The Cocoon is very robust. The firmness results from the very special production technique, the special natural materials as well as the ideal static shape.

The handles of the Cocoon fit into the aesthetic shape of the coffin. They are simply pulled out to carry the coffin. It is possible to remove the handles without a tool kit. As an alternative to the stainless steel handles there are natural rope handles available.

There is a special notch under the handles to catch the ropes. If the ropes are tied through the handles, it is possible to lower the Cocoon absolutely safely into the grave.

Every Cocoon is delivered with absorbent material as well as noble lining (white cotton or silk).

This same desire assailed me as I viewed cremation urns. My eye was repeatedly caught by the beautiful, the intricate... it is a vicious cycle! (I am still trying to work out why safety would be a concern for me if I am being lowered into a grave... it would seem to me to be somewhat 'cart before the horse'-ish... and, though the 'Noble' lining sounds very exciting... I think it may be too fancy for the likes of me.. I am only a simple monk.. with simple tastes...)

I cannot fathom why, but I found myself longing to rest in some place of honor in a beautiful urn, wrought with fantastically deep colors, that was designed in such a manner as to convey some meaning to others as to how I lived my life, what my focus, opinions, preferences and accomplishments were..... and then I realized that I was being sucked down a road of endless desire and attachment... Instead, I decided to simply look at the beautiful urns, appreciate them for their craftsmanship, for the effort that was put into their design and manufacture...

I noted the significance of the design motifs, and wondered whether the artists accomplished their work mindfully, or whether some individual who simply wanted to make it through the day went through the motions mechanically, and was thinking of what he or she would rather be doing while constructing the container where some human being's remains would lie for the foreseeable future...

I decided two things, really, during this contemplation;

  1. I would do my best to always remain mindful in any work or task that I have cause to perform, so that no other person would ever need to fear that I was simply 'going through the motions' as I accomplished whatever work affected them, whoever they may be, and;

  2. I would find simple, functional, pleasing items and request that these be used in the disposal of my remains rather than to spend inordinate amounts of money which could be put to far better use than to process or house a body in which I no longer reside.

I do not wish to denigrate any person's choices when it comes to arranging the funeral of a loved one, but, for my self, I simply don't feel that it is necessary to go to a great deal of trouble over my remains.

As part of this practice, I delved into the world of funeral arrangement, and was somewhat shocked and dismayed at the obscene and perverse amounts of money that the bereaved survivors are called upon to pay in order to satisfy a constructed idea of 'respect' for the departed. Naturally when someone who we love dies, we are saddened, betimes devastated, and we want to do everything that we can do for that person... as it is often viewed as the very last thing that we are able to do for them. I think that perhaps there are those who make a very decent living addressing this tendency.

Here are some things that I discovered:

Firstly, some average common costs -

  • embalming ($500)

  • casket ($1,500)

  • viewing or visitation ($500)

  • cemetery space ($1,000)

  • open & closing the grave site ($750)

  • outer burial container ($1,000)

  • headstone ($1,500)

  • announcing the funeral in a newspaper ($250)

  • use of a hearse ($200)

  • TOTAL: ($7200)

That is Seven *THOUSAND two hundred dollars... nearly eight thousand dollars that, to my way of thinking, does not need to be spent.

I have a wife (no, I am not celibate) who will have enough to confront in the event of my death without being saddled with an $8000 or more bill just to get rid of me!!

This is not what I want. I will go further... I *expressly* DO NOT want this.

Love and respect and whatever else we wish to convey as we say a final goodbye to a deceased loved one can be expressed without spending this kind of money. Money is a resource, and to throw it after a dead body simply seems wasteful to me... If it happens to be *my* dead body, which it most assuredly will be one day (as I write this I am assailed by news of the deaths of Michael Jackson and Billy Mays, both 50 years of age at the time of their deaths). I have found many groups and associations which are dedicated to assisting people to do just this: create a loving and graceful funeral without paying strangers to do it.

Little Known Facts

* Caring for your own dead and creating a home or family-directed funeral is completely legal in most states
* Embalming is not required
* A family member, agent holding a Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care (DPAHC) or designated agent can:
o Act in lieu of a funeral director to orchestrate all arrangements and carry out all decisions
o Fill out and file end-of-life documentation
o Transport deceased in any type of vehicle to:
 + A home
 + The funeral celebration location
 + The place of final disposition (crematory or cemetery)
* Retail casket businesses exist in many areas and offer caskets for less than you would pay through a funeral home
* A loved one can lie-in-honor in the home of family or friends (1 to 3 days is usual)
* Anyone can build and/or decorate a wooden casket or cardboard cremation casket
* Friends and family can create an atmosphere that reflects cultural and personal beliefs, including ritual, storytelling and casket decoration
* Non-profit consumer advocacy funeral and memorial societies exist throughout the United States. Contact FAMSA, Funeral and Memorial Society of America .
* The average cost of a funeral nationwide is about $5000 to $8000 - you do not need to spend a lot of money to honor your dead meaningfully

To move in a direction of a more natural, economical and conscious choice for after-death care and not fall prey to an increasingly expensive and impersonal funeral industry, one that is being taken over by three huge conglomerates, I would like to offer these suggestions:

* Start talking to one another about the subject of death
* Pre-plan your own home or family directed funeral - Info
* Open a funeral trust account or Pay-on-Death account in your own name versus purchasing a pre-need package from a mortuary or funeral home
* Inform yourself about the laws in your state concerning home or family directed funerals by calling your local public health office or Office of Vital Records
* Form a group interested in advocating for consumer's last rights/rites
* Ask your local cemetery if a burial can be completed in a shroud, cardboard box or a home built wooden casket
* Hold the vision of collectively owned crematoriums and cemeteries that are ecologically harmonious
* Start looking at ways you can reclaim your individual right to a natural, humane, sensible and economical after-death care choice

Apparently, I am not the only person who shares similar belief about this issue. Here are a few options that may be just as capable of meeting the requirements of a respectful, meaningful and loving funeral service;

This casket is sold in a kit by a company called ARK Wood Caskets, and, on their site they have depictions of some of their caskets that have been hand painted by an artist. My thought strayed towards an idea of loved ones painting images, or writing messages on the outside of the casket as a way of saying a final farewell.

When monks are cremated, the body is not present at the memorial service at all. Rather, a table or altar is set up upon which a photo of the deceased is placed, before which there is a censer containing charcoal, and beside that a bowl of powdered incense. Mourners are invited to approach the altar, perhaps say something, share a remembrance, etc., and then drop a pinch of incense onto the charcoal.
If the remains are not to be viewed, and are not to be a part of the funeral service at all, their is no need for a container any more expensive than the cardboard container depicted above, which, by the way, would suit me just fine.

The casket above is made of willow which has been woven into a beautiful basket. I think that such a coffin would be more than appropriate if it were necessary to transport my remains from one point to another prior to cremation.

Since it is my intent to have my remains cremated, just as many thousands of monks before me have done, I think that the shroud depicted below (available through Nature's Passage) is a perfect idea should there be need to transport my remains prior to cremation;

As you can see, it is quite well made! It is designed, actually, for burials at sea for mariners who request this type of service, or for family who wish to have their loved one returned to the sea where so much of their life would have been spent.

It reminds me quite a bit of the paratrooper's kit bag that we used to carry tucked between the parachute harness and our bodies on jumps. Instead of a parachute getting stuffed into it... I will! (At least I do not have to be 'S-rolled' beforehand! HA!)

Not only does it come with sturdy handles, which is polite to those who may be called upon to carry me on my last journey... but;

It folds up quite nicely!! I could conceivably carry it around with me... one never knows, after all!! (Just kidding!)

Essentially, I have decided the following;

If I am ill or injured and am incapacitated and in a coma or have some type of illness where it is judged unlikely that I will recover enough to live a fulfilling life, I would prefer to not be administered further treatment which would only delay a natural process in any case, and which would unnecessarily burden my family both financially and emotionally.

Once I have died, whatever organs, parts, bits, bobs, or incidentals that may be put to some good use or which may be able to restore some other person to health or reduce their suffering are gifted by me for such use.

I wish my remains, if any, to be cremated. I do not wish that any significant amount of money be spent for embalming, caskets, urns, services, or for any other reason. I would prefer that any such moneys be used by my wife if she survives me. If she does not, it makes no difference to me so long as no other member of my family is indebted as a result.

I would like the bulk of my cremains to be tilled into my garden. If my wife desires to retain my cremains, it would be my preference that she avoid purchasing an urn that has been manufactured specifically as a cremation urn, but that she instead purchase a suitable container for a much more reasonable cost.

Here is a humble suggestion; the jar depicted in the image below can be obtained for a cost of $45.00 plus shipping & handling at Linden Hills Pottery.

It has sentimental significance to us, and it would match the decor of our home perfectly (Perhaps I shall purchase it now to have just for the occasion!!)

I am entitled to have my cremains interred at a National Cemetery free of charge, since I am a veteran of the armed forces... in the event my cremains are not wanted in the house, or if it is not possible to till them into the garden in accordance with my wishes.

If there are friends and loved ones who would enjoy a get together where food and drink is served, I would consent to this, so long as it remains a mostly happy gathering. I would ask that a selection of my personal belongings, humble though they may be, are set out and that those who attend be invited to select what they wish to take with them as a remembrance of our love and friendship.

To my wife, I would say that in the event I am the first to leave this life, you have given me the happiest moments that I have ever experienced. From the first moment that we fell in love and became a couple, we have lived each and every moment to the very fullest extent possible. What we share is bigger than a lifetime can contain, and I am sure that we will meet again for another go 'round, wherever and however that may be. We have shared what many people have never had the opportunity to share... and this is a gift. There are no accidents... and there are no regrets. Please do not let sadness shape your life or lessen the beauty in your heart. Dust yourself off, go forward, and life your life.. if you are lucky enough to meet some other person who brings happiness and love into your life, throw yourself into it completely... with my blessings! Just promise that you will never, ever settle for anyone who will not treat you with the kindness and love that you deserve. Remember that anyone can fake it for a year, and that nothing can take the place of time and experience. Since I cannot say these things to you after I have died, I say them to you now. They will be here, somewhere, on the internet.. and you can read them again should you ever have need. In all of my life, I am sure that I will never have been able to repay you, or to thank you for all that you have done for me... so I will just say "I love you - yes, still!".

To Mo, Mikilos, and Needledinger - You shaped my life, you taught me what it was to be a friend, and what it is to be loved unconditionally.

To Tim: Don't Die!

To Jenna - not a day has passed since the day that you were born that I have not thought of you and sent love your way.

To Brogan, Aonghus, the Burbols; You make life special.. every moment is perfect!! Thanks for all the laughs!! Bain búa amach!

To my brothers; I only wish that we could have spent more time. I will work on that starting now.

To my Zen Teachers; Mil Bohn, Myo Shin, Gen Shin, Jo Shu, Do Ku Ro, and to all of my fellow practitioners; You have given me the gift of this practice. Gassho! _/|\_

On Buddha's birthday
a spotted fawn is born –
just like that!

I have come a long way during this past (almost) year of this practice. It has taught me a great deal. It has taught me what has most value. It has taught me that the only moment I will ever have access to is this one, just as it is.. and that I can do with it what I choose...

My next entry will be in a week, a short entry on the eve of my 'death' - consisting mainly of my final thoughts and feelings.

The final entry will be after my 'rebirth' where I will try to set down what I have gained from this practice and from this experience.

I am sure that many of you will find the content of this post somewhat morbid, but, honestly... do you really think that you will live forever?? Would you really want to?

I did not write the following was written in 1981 by a poet named David Harkins, who was born in 1959 - in Silloth, Cumbria, UK. it was written from the perspective someone talking about a woman who has passed.. I have taken the liberty of altering it to convey my own meaning.... I hope that this is welcome.. Mr. Harkins, if it is not, I will remove it from this page. If it is, (bows) - humble thanks, sir.

You can shed tears that I am gone,
or you can smile because I have lived.
You can close your eyes and pray that I'll come back,
or you can open your eyes and see all I have left.
Your heart can be empty because you can't see me,
or you can be full of the love we have shared.
You can turn your back on tomorrow and live yesterday,
or you can be happy for tomorrow because of yesterday.
You can remember of me only that I am gone,
or you can cherish the memories that we have forged
and let them live on.
You can cry and close your mind,
be empty and turn your back.
Or you can do what I would want:
smile, open your eyes, love and go on.