December 11, 2006

"Grassroots Zen"

buy Grassroots Zen by Steger & Besserman at Powells.comby Manfred B Steger
& Perle Besserman


From the book jacket:
Even though we may not be devout or practicing Buddhists, we share the same hunger for answers to the lifelong questions: "Who am I?" "Why do I have to die?" and "Why do I suffer?" But we don't have to practice traditional religious forms to seek answers to these questions. We need only to sit down and meditate with others like ourselves - practical minded people who share our experience of juggling career, family life, and social responsibility - along with a deep commitment to Zen. Authors Manfred B Steger and Perle Besserman present us with a Zen without hierarchy, Zen without robes - pure Zen.

Grassroots Zen emphasizes gender equality and family practice and recognizes the demands of children, work and social engagement. I can be practiced by any person - religious or not - who is committed to self-realization, and who is willing to make meditation a way of life. Grassroots Zen places responsibility squarely on the shoulders of the individual practitioner, and teaches how to integrate meditation and daily life in the busy world outside of the monastery.

Meaningful quotes:
Only when we realize that the universe is itself nothing but change, and that it's going on all the time, can we begin to experience ourselves as change.

The self at one with change is more like a drop of water flowing over a rock, changing shape and form as it assumes the face of the rock, perhaps stopping from time to time, until it grows dense and is once again pulled down by gravity into the stream from which it came.

Really allowing yourself to become one with change means you no longer think about change. Instead of separating yourself from changing conditions, emotions, experiences, expectations, and goals, you simply disappear into them. They're always new. Life is never boring. Having closed the gap between the changing universe, the moment, and the separate entity you think of as your 'self', you can at last come and go in peace.

When you feel you're pushing yourself, chasing after an imaginary goal or a special moment, just sit back and take a breath. Let everything go. After a few breaths, you'll notice that you're already right in the middle of your special moment...There's no need to chase after it, only to open up to it at any time, 'because it's always here!'

There's no need to sweep away thoughts, merely to unburden yourself of the baggage they carry with them. There's no need to pile them up or collect the, either...Meet everything that comes into your path with an uncluttered mind.

By taking leave of our cluttered lives and entering the path to our 'true home' in every breath, our true home is always with us....It only appears to be beyond our reach when we bury it under a mountain of stale notions. We've got to cut through this mountain in order for our true home to reveal itself.

The antidote to the poison of greed goes to work when we immerse ourselves in the world without objectives, when we simply enjoy life in the grassy field for its own sake.

Hatred is an affirmation of the isolated, alienated self at the expense of everything else. Taking it a step further, hatred is the act of destroying the emerging moment so that the desperately alienated self can run roughshod over everything in its path.

...our minds are in the habit of 'clarifying' by conceptualizing, analyzing, scrutinizing, examining, dissecting, creating distance between ourselves and our questions. The more we engage in this process, the more restless we become.

Reading isn't enough; we have to sit down and partake of the clarity that's right here in this unfolding moment.

Our problem isn't so much about floating around in emptiness as it is being suffocated by form. Our minds are increasingly overcrowded; we really have to make an effort to clear them, to provide space for the Dharma to manifest in our karmic activities.

The body is really our first home, our first sense of place. It allows us to realize our true nature, to manifest the whole universe. It's actually a wonderful instrument...It's our responsibility to keep that instrument tuned. We have to pay attention to it, to care for it in the same way we're being told these days to care for our soul. There's no disconnection between body and soul. Cherishing one means you're cherishing both. We have to keep our bodies healthy and treat the wonderful home we occupy as the true manifestation of the Lotus Land. The body is not something to get rid of in order to practice; it's the very instrument of our practice. Without it, there's no realization.

Limitations are our life. There is beauty in constraint, not merely in challenging it, but in becoming one with it...Where is the constraint once you've become one with it?...Instead of trying to fend off limitations, it's better just to become one hundred percent limited. It's not easy, but we can take comfort in the knowledge that the next moment always contains something new.

Symbols of personal and group meaning help us focus unselfconsciously on what we feel good about. But we need a health sense of self to start with, so it helps to create our own rituals. We perform them because they give us pleasure while at the same time relaxing the ego's hold on us. Losing the self in ritual is a prelude to experiencing the sacred in the ordinary.

Life is a very interesting story. But we shouldn't read too much into it, nor should we turn it into a rigid set of rules and regulations. As long as we play, live our our stories with the unself-consciousness of a child embarking on a new adventure, we'll be okay.

Spiritual hunger is a long to finally come home; it's a condition in which the bodymind longs for peace.

...spiritual hunger is only sated by immersion in the moment, with all its perceptions, mental reactions, thoughts, feelings, emotions, colors, sounds, smells, tastes, and so on. Spiritual food is a wondrous patchwork that we call the moment, the world.

We don't know that our spiritual food is right here because we don't live in our everyday moments, and because we take conceptual reality, which is only one side of the picture, for the whole picture. We forget, we don't realize that every concept, idea, and thought dissolves in the the breath.

The problem isn't eradicating (spiritual) hunger so much as it is finding nourishment. To be alive is to be hungry. So there are not intellectual solutions to the problem, only existential ones...we can only feed our spiritual hunger by living, being, doing.

We are suspicious of drifters.

(In practicing) We're becoming one with the active, dynamic living event that is this very moment, whether it's roses or cancer or rainfall. We are motion, but not the mover. We're being receptive without being passive.

Instead of using the intellect to analyze ways in which we can experience interdependence, we allow ourselves to sink into the experience of the moment without thinking about it.

We don't know why the compassion flows or where it's coming from. We simply feel it flowing, taking us in the direction of conserving life, of healing, of stretching out a hand to someone else on the path, a perfect stranger bearing our own face.

Grassroots Zen available at Powells and Amazon