Thursday, December 30, 2010

Don't mess with Nun Shido

During the Rohatsu retreat of 1304 at the Enkakuji Monastery Master Chokei gave his formal approval (inka) as a teacher to the nun Shido, the founder of Tokeiji and widow of the Shogun Hojo Tokimune.

The Abbott of the Temple did not approve of the inka being granted. He asked her a question to test her:

"In our line, one who receives the inka gives a discourse on the Rinzairoku classic. Can the nun teacher really brandish the staff of the Dharma in the Dharma-seat?"

She faced him and drew out the ten-inch tanto (carried by all women of the samurai class) and held it up: "A Zen teacher of the line of the patriarch indeed should go up on the high seat and speak about the book. But I am a woman of the warrior line and I should only declare our teaching when really face to face with a drawn sword. What book should I need?'

The head monk said, 'Before father and mother were born, with what then will you declare our teaching?'

The nun closed her eyes for some time. Then she said, 'Do you understand?'

The head monk said, 'A wine-gourd has been tipped right up in Peach-tree Valley; Drunken eyes see ten miles of flowers.'

This story is the same as the one about Yamaoka Tesshu  explaining the Rinzairoku in his dojo 

To be continued...

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Tai Chi, Balance & Proprioception

Proprioception is a combination of senses that informs the central nervous system about where the various parts of the body are located and moving in relation to each other (Kinesthesia) and in relation to our environment, and that helps us keep our balance. Proprioception is what allows us to to walk in complete darkness without losing our balance. The main organs involved in proprioception are the inner ear, the eyes (sight), skin (sense of touch), and the stretch sensors located within muscles, tendons and joints.

With proprioception, you can estimate the position of your foot on the ground, the angle of your calf with it, and the amount of weight spread between the ball and the back of your foot.

Proprioception continuously gathers input from millions of sensors in your muscles, joints, and ligaments, combines that with input from sight and touch and uses it all to control your balance, coordination, posture, and movement.

Kinesthesia is the part of proprioception that is mostly interested in the localization of the body parts in relation to each other. The sense of equilibrium or balance involved in proprioception is usually excluded from Kinesthesia. An inner ear infection might degrade your sense of balance, which would degrade proprioception, but not kinesthesia. You would be able to walk by using your sense of sight to maintain your balance but would be unable to walk with your eyes closed.

2 simple exercises to illustrate the influence of the senses of sight and touch on proprioception. Try them.

Influence of Sight on balance.
Stand on both legs. Raise on foot at about knee level. Keep your balance for 10 seconds (count until 10). If you cannot hold it for 10 seconds, try to count how long you can hold it. Put your foot back on the ground.

Now close your eyes and repeat the same exercise. Unless you have already trained for it, you will find it much more difficult to hold on your balance with your eyes closed.

Influence of Touch on Kinesthesia.
Stand on both legs with your feet together. Step up to the front and right with your right foot. Land your right foot at 45 degrees to your front right. Slightly bend both knees. Very slowly, lift your right foot from the ground and bring it back toward your left foot and then to your right back. Land your right foot at 45 degrees to your right back. DO NOT touch the ground while doing so. Pay attention to how easy this move is for you.

Now repeat the same exercise but when you move your foot back, let your big toe gently slide on the ground. It should become much easier this way.

The reason why it is easier with your foot slightly dragging on the floor is that your sense of touch provides information to your central nervous system about where your foot is located. When your foot stays off the ground, the only organs that inform your brain are the sensors within muscles and joints. Once the foot slightly touches the ground, then the sense of touch provides an additional information, which makes things much easier. This information about the position of the foot is of course also helpful to help us keep our balance

Training can improve proprioception.

The ability to play piano or wield a sword requires a finely-tuned sense of the position of the joints. This sense can and needs to be trained to enable a person to concentrate on other aspects of the performance such as reading the music or seeing where the other opponents are.

Because of the low speed and stretching moves involved in their practice, Chi Gong in general and Tai Chi in particular are excellent ways to enhance proprioception for adults.

In future posts I will propose simple exercises to train and enhance proprioception.

Friday, December 17, 2010

The Zen Master and the Dying Daughter

When the daughter of a rich Japanese merchant fell very ill, she asked her father to request a famous Zen Master to visit her.

The Master demanded a fee of fifty gold ryo. This was a huge amount of gold. The merchant was furious but as his daughter was dying, he finally agreed.

The Master came and told the girl: 

"With these gold pieces we are going to build a new meditation hall in our Temple. Among the monks of the Monastery there are two or three baby Bodhisatvas, who in that hall will train and grow to maturity. Now if you want to, you can die in peace; your life has had some meaning."

And he abruptly left.

At once the girl began to recover...

This story is told by Trevor Leggett in "The Tiger's Cave"

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Master Mokudo and the Prostitute

When I was in Korea in the late 80's, prostitution was a common thing. Often young women had to work in the red light houses for a while in order to cover for family debts or send their younger brother to college. Once the debt would be paid, they would go back to their hometown and family to lead a regular life. 

The following story happened in Japan, and it is adapted from Trevor Leggett's "The Tiger's Cave"

Zen master Mokudo when he was passing through the capital Edo (Tokyo) was hailed by a prostitute from a window on the second storey of a building. He asked the girl how she knew his name and she replied: 

"When you were a kid on the farm we were neighbors; after you went to the monastery to become a monk we had a bad harvest, and my father could not pay for the seeds he had to purchase, so now I am here."

Master Mokudo went up to talk to her. She asked him to stay for the night.

He paid her fee to the house, and gave her some more money. They talked of their families till late that evening, and then the bedding was spread on the floor. 

As the girl prepared to go to bed, the Master sat in meditation posture. She pulled his sleeve and said: 

"You have been so kind to me. I would like to show you my appreciation. No one will know."

The Master told her: "Your business is to sleep, and my business is to sit. Now you get on with your sleeping, and I'll get on with my sitting!"

He remained unmoving the whole night.

Monday, December 13, 2010


"Loyalty is a precious quality that we have almost lost sight of today. Instead of loyalty, almost everyone talks about freedom, (this is especially  true of relationships. The idea is that if two people come together in freedom, each can walk out of the arrangement. This is supposed to be a complete safeguard against unhappiness. Unfortunately, even where both are free to walk out – where there are no obligations, no bonds, not even any ties – they go on doing this over and over and do not acquire the capacity to love. Without loyalty, it simply is not possible to love deeply." 

Allthough this quote is originally about  the romantic love between 2 individuals, I found that it also actually applies to every kind of relationships, between 2 persons, between groups and individuals, and within groups  such as teams, schools, companies, churches, countries...

People sometimes leave organizations for they believe they were not giving them their due, or because, for whatever reason, they just did not wish to participate anymore. 

"I don't like it anymore, I don't get what I want anymore, I quit."

When life does not turn out the way one would love, one may decide to quit. 

Not only is this a spoiled kid and selfish attitude, but it will simply not solve the problem. Things do not get better when we quit. It may feel better for a while, but eventually, the same situation will occur again until the individual (if he left) or the group (if it kicked the individual out) has the courage to  address and solve it. 

If on the contrary both parties decide to stay and try to solve the problem together, then it might be solved, and both party might grow from it.

When things go well, loyalty is easy. When they don't, loyalty is about fixing them together. And it is not easy, but it is the only way to go. If you try to escape by quitting,  a similar situation will occur again, until you decide to address it and solve it. I have seen this happen, again and again (to me too). There is no escaping. You may try, you won't succeed. You might as well accept things now, and work them out.

And this my friends, might well be one way Karma works.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

You are invited - Rohatsu Celebration

Rōhatsu (臘八) literally means 8th Day of the 12th Month. It is the Buddhist holiday that commemorates the day that the historical Buddha, Siddhartha Gautauma (Shakyamuni) experienced enlightenment.

Traditions agree that during that night, as the morning star rose in the sky in the early morning, Siddhartha finally found the answers he sought and became Enlightened, and experienced Nirvana. 

In Zen monasteries, Rohatsu is the last day of a week-long sesshin - an intensive meditation retreat dedicated to meditation. 

Although we'll be a little late, I would like to invite you all to meet next Sunday December 19 at 2:30 p.m. in Headland to celebrate Rohatsu by practicing meditation together. F

or those of you new to it, this will be the occasion to experience Zen in a true Dojo. For those of you who are familiar with Zen, please come support the Dojo through your presence. 


We will practice sitting and walking meditation, chant the Heart Sutra and discuss basics of Meditation. You don't have to be a Buddhist to attend ! 

The Dojo is located behind my home at 610 Mitchell Street, Headland, AL 36345. Tel (334) 798 1639

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Daito and the Beggars killer.

According to the tradition, one of the great Rinzai Zen Masters in Japan, Daito Kokushi (1282 - 1337) lived unknown for many years among the beggars of Kyoto.

These were hard  and lawless times. Often, during the night, gangs of heartless and bastards roaming the poor parts of town would try their swords on homeless people, slicing and killing them just for the fun of it. Who would care for the life of an insignificant beggar ?

One evening, one of the bloody jerks was standing by the bridge where the beggars used to spend the night. All of them were terrified, for they knew that after nightfall the murderer would probably appear among them to cut one or several of them down.

Master Daito told the beggars to hide in a nearby field, and proceeded to sit in Zazen. When the samurai appeared on the bridge at dusk he only saw a beggar sitting in meditation posture. He drew his sword and shouted: 'Get ready, I'm going to slice you in two halves !' 

The beggar did not flinch and remained unmoving. An awe came over the samurai; he hesitated and finally left in retreat.

Master Daito later founded the temple of Daitokuji in Kyoto

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Bokusan and the angry Samurai

During the dark times of the end of the Tokugawa Shogunate in nineteenth century Japan, (As described in the movie "The last Samurai") a fugitive samurai had taken refuge in a Zen temple ruled by Zen master Nishiari Bokusan
Three samurai from the other army arrived and demanded to be told where the fugitive was. 

"There is nobody here," said the Zen master.
"If you won't tell us,then we'll chop your head off" and they drew their swords. 
"Well if I am to die," said the Zen master, " Then I think I'll have some Sake."
He took a small bottle of Sake, poured it, and sipped it with great pleasure. 

The puzzled samurai looked at one another and left...

Master Bokusan once said about this incident :

"Well, you can learn something from it : When those guys came, I did not do what they wanted, but neither did I argue or plead with them. I just gave up their whole world and had nothing to do with them. And after a while they were gone."

"Similarly when you complain that you are overwhelmed with passions and bad  thoughts, you should know that the proper way is not to quarrel, plead or argue. Just give up their world and have nothing to do with them.  After a while you will see that they have gone away."


Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Muso Kokushi and the Drunk Samurai

Muso Kokushi, (夢窓 疎石, 1275 – 1351), was one famous Rinzai Zen Master in Japan. Once upon a time, he was traveling escorted by a Samurai friend and Kenjutsu expert. They arrived at a river and boarded a boat to cross it.
Master Kokushi was sitting away from the Samurai on the other side of the boat which had filled up with passengers. As the captain was turning away people, a drunken samurai rushed up, demanding to be taken aboard. The captain could not decline. 
In the dangerously overloaded boat the drunk started a quarrel. Master Kokushi tried to reason him by pointing out that any violent movement might sink the boat.

"You meddling priest!" shouted the drunken samurai, and he hit him on the forehead with his iron war-fan. The blood poured down. 

The master quietly sat unmoving and the samurai, satisfied, slumped back in his own place without further disturbance. 

As the boat reached the other shore. The swordsman lightly jumped out, looking at the samurai, waiting for him to come ashore. 

There is something about the stance of an unhappy kenjutsu expert... The bully well knew that he was going to dearly pay for his striking Master Kokushi.

But Muso jumped from the boat and said : 
"No, No ! Now is the time to apply our Buddhism. These Forms are Emptiness; Anger and all the Passions are the Bodhi." 

And he swiftly and quietly led his follower away.