What is Soto Zen?

From the Soto Zen Buddhist Association. ( Bolding is all me though)

What is Soto Zen? Soto Zen was developed in the ninth century by the Chinese Monks Tozan (Ch. Dongshan) and Sozan (Ch. Caoshan), the first syllables of their names making up the subsequent name of the school. It stressed doing meditation without a goal, as everyone is already inherently enlightened. Seated, silent meditation is an expression of this.

Soto Zen Buddhism is distinguished by its focus on the down-to-earth practice of “everyday zen.” It encourages awareness of the workings of one’s own mind as a means of living mindfully in all areas of daily life – at home, at work and in the community.

In his “Instructions for the Cook,” Dogen taught that cooking and caring for other people were as important as sitting zazen and chanting sutras.

Soto Zen is for those who want to practice Zen in everything they do. In coming face to face with their life in all its aspects, they come to know themselves and find their relationship to all other things. They learn to be truly here and to serve in all ways.

You can find a center near you, if you’re intrigued, on the Soto Zen Buddhist Association website.


What’s That Chant

Chanting is weird. Even weirder when it’s related to religion. However I am a true believer in that sometimes we must put aside our ideas and judgments, especially if those concepts keep us from seeing the big picture. And so I do the chant below when I go to lecture at Zen temple.

I am explaining this because of the post I had up that featured a video lecture  from San Francisco Zen Center. You can hear the crowd chant some thing. It’s this thing.

Once I read the words of the chant, I didn’t mind saying it so much. It’s not like it’s some devotion to the mystic law of life, so whateves.

In a nutshell, before lecture I vow to keep my mind open to the ideas that are being taught and to test them to see if they are truthful for me. There’s also a reminder that this can be a super-hard thing to do all the time so like try to be okay with not always succeeding.

After lecture,  there are many people with delusions and I will try to save them. There are so many delusions (see The Othello Error) but I’ll work to end them.  There are so many ideas in  Dharma that it’s crazy, but I’ll try to learn them all. And the last line…. Buddha is awesome, I’ll try to be awesome like him. At least that’s how I see the chants. You may see it differently and that’s okay too.

Before lecture:

Mujo jin jin mi myo no ho wa
Hayaku sen man go ni mo ai-o koto katashi
Ware ima ken-mon shi ju-ji suru koto o etari
Negawakuwa nyorai no shin-jitsu-gi o geshi tatematsuran

An unsurpassed, penetrating, and perfect Dharma
Is rarely met with, even in a hundred thousand million kalpas
Having it to see and listen to, to remember and accept
I vow to taste the truth of the Tathagata’s words

After lecture

May our intention equally extend
To every being and place
With the true merit of Buddha’s Way

Shu-jo mu-hen sei-gan-do
Bon-no mu-jin sei-gan-dan
Ho-mon mu-ryo sei-gan-gaku
Butsu-do mu-jo sei-gan-jo

Beings are numberless, I vow to save them
Delusions are inexhaustible, I vow to end them
Dharma-gates are boundless, I vow to enter them
Buddha’s Way is unsurpassable, I vow to become it

The Othello Error

Lately, I’ve been reading the book Telling Lies by author Paul Ekman. Ekman’s books have been on my reading list for awhile, ever since I realized his life’s work in emotion and non-verbal communication is the inspiration for the Fox television show Lie to Me (starring Tim Ross).

As I read the book, one of the concepts Ekman coined for the mistakes lie catchers may make when trying to evaluate if someone is lying made me think of the recent lecture (Dharma Talk w/Q&A: Abbot Myogen Steve Stücky at SF Zen Center) I received at the Zen temple I go to sometimes. The lecture talked about a lot of things but the things that stuck out in my mind were words about self-fulfilling prophecies, acting with certain biases, and letting go of certainties. (Really, if you have at least an hour of time to kill, take a listen to it.)

The concept is called the Othello Error. The error occurs when “a lie catcher fails to consider a truthful person who is under stress may appear to be lying.” Reading this now, it may not be the error that caught my attention but the attitude that can fuel this error.

(If you aren’t familiar with the play Othello, read up.)

The scene begins with Othello accusing Desdemona of loving Cassio and telling her to confess since he will kill her anyway. Desdemona asks that Cassio be called upon to testify on her innocence. Othello tells Desdemona that he had Cassio killed. At this point, Desdemona realizes that she will be unable to prove her innocence and she will be killed by Othello.

Othello: Out, strumpet! Weep’st thou for him to my face?
Desdemona: O, banish me, my lord, but kill me not!
Othello: Down, strumpet!

From the book:

Othello interprets Desdemona’s fear and distress as a reaction to the news of her alleged lover’s death, confirming his belief in her infidelity. Othello fails to realize that if Desdemona is innocent she might still show these very same emotions: distress and despair that Othello disbelieves her and that her last hope to prove her innocence is gone now that Othello had Cassio killed, and fear that he will now kill her. Desdemona wept for her life, for her predicament, for Othello’s lack of trust, not for the death of her lover.

Othello’s error is also an example of how preconceptions can bias a lie catcher’s judgments. Othello is convinced before his scene that Desdemona is unfaithful. Othello ignores alternative explanations of Desdemona’s behavior, not considering that her emotions are not proof one way or the other. Othello seeks to confirm, not to test his belief that Desdemona is unfaithful….preconceptions often distort judgment, causing a lie catcher to disregard ideas, possibilities, or facts that don’t fit what he already thinks. This happens even when the lie catcher suffers from his preconceived belief. Othello is tortured by his belief that Desdemona lies, but that does not cause him to lean over in the opposite direction, seeking to vindicate her. He interprets Desdemona’s behavior in a way that will confirm what he least wants to be so, in a way that is most painful to him.

So I guess what really caught me is how having certainties all the time; be it optimism, pessimism, stereotypes, basically ideas about everything, can put us askew.

And I feel like the answer to this error is “not always so.” In the lecture (Dharma Talk w/Q&A: Abbot Myogen Steve Stücky at SF Zen Center), the Abbot said that in a response to having certainties.

Not always so.

It’s the concept that something everything can be, “not always so.”

“So this idea, I have about …, it’s not always so. Sometimes it is, sometimes it isn’t.”

And I think that creates the space in which one can, with their eyes wide open, choose to follow a certainty or choose “not always so.”  And that’s cool.

12/30/2010 — This reminds me of that article that said challenging your assumptions improves brain functioning.

Dharma Talk w/Q&A: Abbot Myogen Steve Stücky at SF Zen Center, Audio Only

Vodpod videos no longer available.


I found it!

The dharma talk I wrote about attending in my last post “Understimulated” was actually already up. I just forgot that SF Zen Center was trying something different. Now you can watch lives streams of the talks given by teachers at the center. And this particular one even has the Q&A included. Q&A is normally done after all the talks given at the center. This Q&A is quite helpful if you find yourself still not quite getting the talk or maybe want more enlightenment about the talk.

This lecture “touches on letting go of certainties, doing nothing, listening to your body, self-fulfilling prophecies and more.” I hope you take out an hour or so of your evening or day to take a listen.

Oh yeah, skip ahead to 15:00 20:00 mins for the beginning of the talk.


1 year and 10 months.

That is the amount of time I have been unemployed. It hasn’t been a horrible unemployment, and it wasn’t even welcomed; but I did accept it.

I took the advice of a friend and decided to apply to a job that would add to my current package of job skills. I like to learn, thank goodness, but man. This is what I have to say about the new job, the mentality of writers is different then the mentalities of people who write to attain web rankings.

So now, all the time I would spend looking for jobs is available. I definitely feel like I should keep looking for work though, something about the economy. Something about the instability that is inherent all business now. And what I mean by that is, seems like most companies do no understand the idea of keeping an employee long-term or even the idea of creating long-term profits.


So with the time I do have, I’m a bit a twitter. In my time of unemployment, I’ve learned to manage my home to a point that most things remain stabilized: no crazy kitchen (but sometimes the bathroom), decent with being neat and putting stuff away, grocery shopping and cooking do happen. But after that, dunno.

I happen to be connected to a lot of people which opens me up to a lot of opportunities to party/socialize. Being unemployed gave me an opportunity to step back from this and realize that almost none of the things I did on a weekly basis were as filling as they used to be. So I started only going to things, most of time, that were fulfilling to me. What is/was really crazy is that when I go to really good events (and its not un-normal for me to go to at least 2-3 events in one night), where I’m connecting with people and laughing, and have a great time, I get social withdrawal. It’s super weird.

Super weird because of how used I am to being by myself and taking care of myself and entertaining myself. So it feels weird to be in a state where I want to be around others.

The past week I had such a weekend, however the day after my night of fun, I had a horrible withdrawal. What was different want that I was at an event that was so low-key and i became so irritated that I didn’t do/plan something different. Mad that I just fell into a habit that was comfortable but did not serve the need I had. (Although to be fair, I didn’t really know I had the need till it came raging out of me.)

It was odd, I imagine the irritation and atypical rage I felt is similar to when a junkie get drugs that aren’t as strong as she would like. Understimulated.

I imagine this is why i like to play with fire, no I’m not talking about the real thing, although I do play with that. I’m talking about other, fun, firery things.


In November, I was referenced in a Reddit thread. It was nice to get the traffic. I was tired of my largest traffic spike coming from a Kim Kardashian photoshop picture. Even better was the thread being about how men are kind of dicks when it comes to dating. Ok, specifically nice guys being dicks. But the whole putting a woman on a pedestal and then the whole being a douche when she doesn’t meet some magical standard you’ve set (and maybe you never told her about) has got to stop.

I’m glad when something I’ve done empowers someone else. For me it’s the the strongest reason for writing.


The past weekend I went back to (Soto) Zen Temple. A friend wanted to attend but was feeling a bit scared by the idea of going so I took accompanied him there. Stayed during the explanations about bowing and mundras, the questions about koans and sitting and what not, through the Saturday morning lecture and pushed him to stay for the question-and-answer section that happens after every lecture.

He loved it, it helped him, the answer-and-question after the lecture especially. I loved it because it helped him. And my hope is that the freedom inherent in practicing Soto Zen helps him focus on being more flexible in his life and Buddhist practice. I think sometimes people get really wrapped up in the ideas promoted with certain schools of Buddhism and just forget that not everything is applicable all the time, nor should it be.

Or in other words, “Not always so.”

I was going to post the lecture but it’s not up yet. It’s kind of a rambling lecture, but it touches on letting go of certainties, doing nothing, listening to your body, self-fulfilling prophecies and more.

Anyhow maybe I’ll listen to some of the other lectures and post them up as I see fit.

Hey I found the lecture!
–not yet edited

The Uses of Pleasure and Pain

Look at what the Buddha has to say about the tasks with regard to each of the noble truths. The task with regard to stress and suffering is to comprehend it. The task with regard to the path is to develop it, which means you want to develop that sense of ease, the sense of rapture that comes as the mind begins to settle down in concentration. What you’re doing is taking one of the aggregates — the aggregate of feeling — and instead of latching onto it or pushing it away, you learn how to use it as a tool.

When pain and stress and suffering come, you want to comprehend them. Comprehending pain and stress teaches you a lot about the mind. The Buddha never said that life is suffering. He just said there’s suffering in life, which is a very different teaching. As long as there’s going to be pain, as long as there’s going to be suffering, get the most use out of them. You find as you focus on pain — as you get to know it, get to comprehend it — that you learn all kinds of things about how the mind is working. In particular, you learn to see what it’s doing to take a physical pain and turn it into mental pain — or, if you’re starting with mental pain, to make it worse.

What we’re doing is taking one of the aggregates that we usually cling to… Clinging here doesn’t mean just holding on. It also means trying to push away, and pushing away is like pushing away a glob of tar. The more you push it away, the more you get stuck. So instead of clinging or pushing away, we try to learn how to use these aggregates as tools, in the same way you’d use tar to make asphalt for paving a road.

This is a common theme running throughout the Buddha’s teachings: Before you can let go of anything, you have to learn how to master it. Otherwise, you’re just holding on, pushing away, holding on, pushing away. And nothing comes from that except more stress, more suffering, more pain. This harms not only you but also the people around you. If you’re constantly feeling worn down by the pains and the inconveniences of life, you’ll find it hard to be kind to other people. In fact, most of the evil things people do in their lives come from their sense of being totally overwhelmed, feeling weak and trapped and then lashing out.

But if you give the mind the sense of strength and security that comes with knowing it has a center it can return to and gain nourishment from, it’s a gift not only to yourself but also to the people around you. It’s not a selfish practice.

Learn how not to hold onto feelings, grabbing hold of the pleasant ones, pushing the painful ones away. Instead, learn how to use them as tools. When they’re used as tools, they open things up in the mind. You understand where the mind is unskillful in how it manages its thinking, and you realize that you don’t have to be unskillful. There are better ways to think, better ways to manage the thought processes in the mind.

And a funny thing happens. As you master these processes, they bring you to a point where everything reaches equilibrium. That’s where you can really let go. You can even let go of your tools at that point because they’ve taken you where you want to go. From that point on, everything opens up to the Deathless.

But you can’t get there by pushing and pulling your way around. If the Deathless were something you could force your way into, everybody would have gone to nibbana a long time ago. It requires a lot of finesse, a lot of skill in how you deal with the mind, learning to recognize the time for analyzing issues of stress and suffering, and the time for letting the mind rest so it that it can gain strength and then go back to work.

Thanissaro Bhikkhu

Read this in its entirety here.

Tiger Woods, Craving, And Buddhist Principles

Mid-February, 2010, legendary golfer Tiger Woods stood behind a podium, in a small room full of close family and friends, and apologized for how his behavior (Tiger had been cheating on his wife with multiple women) had affected his wife, his family, his fans, and his work colleagues.

While speaking, Tiger talked about becoming a better person. Woods mentioned that part of the reason why he was in the situation he’s in is because he fell away from his Buddhist practice and principles. According to the transcript, he said this:

Buddhism teaches that a craving for things outside ourselves causes an unhappy and pointless search for security. It teaches me to stop following every impulse and to learn restraint.

“Buddhist principles” does not equal meditation

I wrote this article because as I was browsing the web, another article somehow turned this quote into an angle to promote meditation. I doubt I would normally care about an article such as that; but for some reason, this time I did care.

One reason might have been because of a past discussion on secularizing Buddhism. This article, in my opinion, clearly did that. It was as if the writer said “Hey look! Tiger mentioned Buddhism, I can write about meditation!” Essentially let’s not study the religious roots of that statement; instead, let’s make it a nice way to promote meditation which is now mainstream enough that it can be promoted without making people think of the Buddhist religion (philosophy).

Secondly, by Tiger mentioning Buddhist principles, a golden opportunity to understand the meaning of what he said had presented itself to the world. I say “golden” because Buddhism is like a religion of cognitive psychology. Most ideals that are practiced are based on how one operates in their thinking and how those thoughts cause stress for the individual. The ideals in Buddhism also help one work on purifying and neutralizing those thoughts that cause stress a.k.a life drama. It’s a golden opportunity.

So here we are, there is a mention of Buddhism in the media and instead of exploring the quote, we get another article about doing meditation. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot people a.k.a “you’re doin’ it wrong.”

So what does “craving” mean in Buddhism?

Well craving, is the source of everyone’s suffering. We become attached to an idea, an object, a person, etc, so much so that it causes us to do and be dumb things. The nature of craving is taught in one of the most basic teachings in Buddhism called The Four Noble Truths, craving is the second truth.

Now what is the noble truth of the origination of stress? The craving that makes for further becoming — accompanied by passion & delight, relishing now here & now there — i.e., craving for sensuality, craving for becoming, craving for non-becoming.

Craving for sensuality, here, means the desire for sensual objects. Craving for becoming means the desire for the formation of states or realms of being that are not currently happening, while craving for non-becoming means the desire for the destruction or halting of any that are.

Access to Insight Organization

So Tiger was craving sensuality and desire to such an extreme that it caused him suffering. And he’s not alone in his craving: people on Wall Street desire money, people around the world desire what others have or what they see on TV, kids almost desire everything if you don’t teach them restraint. These are all from the same well of suffering that Tiger got his suffering from.

Essentially, Tiger forgot how not to crave, which is explained in the third and fourth truths. In this situation, meditation is one aspect of a solution but it not the entire solution. It would be like giving someone the parts of a bicycle without giving them the instruction manual. “Go meditate and learn not to suffer.”

Learning to be with your craving is not so much about detaching from your suffering or craving as much as it’s allowing your suffering or craving to exist without it controlling you, which is what Tiger meant by this.

It teaches me to stop following every impulse and to learn restraint.

And this statement, I’ll deal with another time.