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Chop wood, carry water. January 2, 2015

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“Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.”

—Zen Saying

We tend to think that enlightenment is a single event: BANG! We’re enlightened! Then we rush around shouting “I’m enlightened! Look at me! I’ve achieved the summit!” The ego has taken over again.

This wonderful saying, and that of all enlightened masters, urges us to simply continue as we were, so that we will remain humble and help our community. Meanwhile, we will continue our own practice and growth, and there will be not one, but many enlightenment experiences.

There’s a great story about Dogen Zenji, founder of the Soto Zen School, who continued to practice Zazen (seated, silent meditation) all his life. One day, a monk rose from his cushion and excitedly approached Dogen: “Master! I’ve just achieved enlightenment!!!” To which Dogen Zenji replied, “Continue doing Zazen.” He knew that it was the practice, not the result, that mattered.

Just for today, continue practicing your Five Reiki Principles.

Laws or lives? June 17, 2014

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“It is God’s children who are sacred to God, not laws. Laws are to protect or assist God’s children.”

—Fr. Joseph F. Girzone

Throughout history, the people who’ve exalted laws (or rules, or what have you) above lives, who are the most rigid and unbending, who punish every least infraction and refuse to tolerate any imperfection, are also the most insecure and paranoid. If you don’t think exactly like me, write exactly like me, perform a ritual exactly like me, why, you must be implying that there’s something wrong with me and my way of doing things! And I can’t tolerate that. Fifty lashes and ten nights in the black cells for you, heretic! And next time, it’ll be the stake.

This is in such dreadful, ironic contrast to the great souls who often inspired these shriveled little souls to follow them. The Lord Jesus broke rules all the time, eating with sinners and even—gasp!—tax collectors. Mahatma Gandhi was jailed numerous times for practicing ahimsa, nonviolent resistance to bad laws. The great Sufi mystic Rumi was a rigid follower of the rules until his wild and wonderful teacher, Shams of Tabriz, showed him the truth of what was indispensable and what was not, and freed him from the chains of conformity. Dogen Zenji, the founder of Soto Zen, was relentlessly persecuted by other orders of warrior monks who felt his pure teachings made them look bad.

Mother Teresa, Saint Francis, the Dalai Lama, Thich Nhat Hanh—all bent, broke, or discarded laws and rules when they ceased to serve “God’s children.” So did Martin Luther and Martin Luther King. I’m sure you can think of many other examples, past and present.

Let’s look at this from a Reiki perspective. From what we’ve learned in the past couple of decades about Usui Founder and his practice of Reiki, the only rules were the Five Reiki Principles (aka Precepts, Ideals). Usui Founder instructed those who undertook the practice of Reiki to recite them aloud, morning and evening, with hands in gassho (prayer position, i.e., palm to palm). And, of course, to try to live them as well: Just for today, not to get angry, not to worry, to be grateful, to work hard, and to be kind. In other words, to live fully in the moment and see its wonders and possibilities.

This is true healing. How can you be angry (worry turned outward) or worried (fear turned inward) if you are fully present in the now? And if you’re not afraid—not worried, not angry—you have all the inner room in the world to feel happy and to be grateful and kind. You’ll have burst the fear balloon that’s filling you and preventing you from enjoying life to the full in every moment and sharing that enjoyment with every living creature you meet. Yes, it’s hard work to learn to live in the perpetual present, which is why “Work hard” is one of the Reiki Principles. But this form of work will set you free.

But I digress. Point being, Usui Founder apparently imposed no other rules on his students. He used no symbols, performed no attunements, had no set hand positions, and taught his students differently according to their abilities, strengths, and aptitude for learning the teachings. Almost everything that we thought we knew about Reiki was added later, by his students and their students, including the exclusive focus on hands-on and distant healing as opposed to the inner teachings, the Reiki Way, the road to anshin ritsumei, satori, enlightenment. In other words, the road Usui Founder himself had taken.

There is a history within the Western Reiki tradition of teaching each according to their abilities and aptitude, as Usui Founder did. Hayashi Sensei did so, giving Hawayo Takata Sensei different teachings from those he gave his Japanese students, and Takata Sensei did so when she tailored her teachings to each of her Masters, drawing the symbols slightly differently for some, changing the order of the Principles for one, the Rev. Beth Gray, who was an intuitive, so they made more intuitive sense, and so on. From this tradition, many forms of Reiki have arisen in the West, which enables those who are drawn to the Reiki path to choose the one or ones that speak to them, and which ultimately allowed Reiki to bloom around the world. Thank you, Usui Founder, Hayashi Sensei, Takata Sensei, and all teachers for allowing this flexibility!

Not that precision has no virtues: Like meditation, like hado breathing, like many other mental and physical exercises, it can strengthen focus. Placing your Reiki hands just so on someone’s body; sending distant healing just so; drawing the symbols just so, and in an exact series of patterns; performing attunements just so, and so on, can be part of the “work hard” Principle that helps you develop the inner and outer focus you need to proceed on your Reiki path. But becoming attached to doing things just so, rather than seeing the need for compassion and evolution, or even worse, attacking those who seek or practice a different way, is to become attached to the rigidity of the law and to abandon God’s children.

If you find yourself straying in this direction, ask yourself: What are you really afraid of? That your Reiki isn’t as “good” or as “powerful” as someone else’s Reiki? Then bring your attention back to the recitation and practice of the Reiki Principles. They are the broom, the wind, that will sweep your heart and mind and soul clean.

Just for today, practice the Principles.

Hit the road. May 7, 2014

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“As the Buddha was fond of saying, the spiritual teacher only points the way; we must do our own travelling.”

—Sri Eknath Easwaran, Words to Live By

This is such a valuable lesson. Spiritual teachers, including Reiki teachers, can set our feet upon the path, but it’s up to us to find our own Reiki Way rather than clinging to our teacher(s) for continual guidance. Usui Founder, himself a Buddhist, was very aware of this, and he sent the students he felt were ready, such as Chujiro Hayashi Sensei, out into the world to find their own Way and transmit it to others, as he himself had done after his momentous satori (enlightenment) experience on Mount Kurama.

There is a beautiful story in the movie “Zen” about how Dogen Zenji, the 13th-century founder of the foremost Zen school, Soto Zen, is asked to come to the rescue of the leader of Japan, who’s suffering from a nervous breakdown because of all the horrible deaths he’s inflicted on his enemies. Dogen agrees, because he, like the lord who asked him, is convinced that all Japan will disintegrate into chaos if this ruler can’t keep his grip on the reigns of rule.

After arriving, Dogen asks the ruler if he can cut up the reflection of the moon in the water outside his castle. Well of course I can, the ruler replies, grabbing his sword and hacking into the water. The image of the moon splits in half. But, even as the ruler is smirking in triumph, the ripples his sword made in the water calm, and the image of the moon reforms, whole and pristine as ever.

The ruler realizes that Dogen is pointing the way, and begs him to stay and continue to teach him. But Dogen knows his work lies back at his modest monastery far away, so he resists all the ruler’s promises of vast wealth and influence and a huge monastery and goes his way. As he departs, the ruler recites one of Dogen’s own poems, proving that he, too, is ready to do his own travelling.

Did the ruler stay in touch with Dogen? The film doesn’t say, though it shows all of his closest disciples finding their own and varied Ways after his death. Should we stay in touch with our Reiki teachers? Absolutely. Should we find our own Way? Absolutely. Are these things incompatible? Absolutely not. The spiritual teacher sets our feet on the path, but we are the ones who have to walk it.

Just for today, keep walking.

Making “Reiki.” April 29, 2014

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Every time I watch the beautiful, even stunning, movie “Zen,” about the life of Dogen Zenji, the 13th-century Zen Master and founder of Soto Zen—the Zen we all think of when we think of Zen today worldwide—I wish someone would make a movie called “Reiki” about the life of our Founder, Mikao Usui. “Zen” is so visually rich; it conveys so much through imagery. What a man, and what a story!

Yet Usui Founder’s story is equally deep and rich, with many, many elements, from his family’s samurai origins to his prosperous upbringing thanks to the family sake brewery to his unquenchable thirst for knowledge, his numerous attempts to find a job that suited him, his wife and children, his travels, his religious studies, and his discovery and development of Reiki. And all of this set in turbulent times: Mikao Usui was born under the Shogunate, the high flowering of Samurai culture, when Japan was closed to all outside contact. (If you’ve seen the series “Shogun,” or any films set during that era, you’ll know whereof I speak.) Then the Meiji Emperor took back control from the samurai and opened Japan to the West, enjoying and embracing aspects of Western culture, a move Usui Founder wholeheartedly supported. And he survived the terrible earthquake and fires that leveled much of Tokyo in the 1920s, healing thousands with Reiki in the process.

I can see an absolutely gorgeous, moving film along the lines of “Zen” documenting and celebrating Mikao Usui’s life. I wish I could afford to find the fabulous Japanese crew who made “Zen,” hire them to make “Reiki,” and bring Hyakuten Inamoto Sensei, the founder of Komyo Reiki, the Reiki of Enlightenment, on board as script and set advisor. What a wonderful film it would be!

It’s true that nobody knows more than the details of Dogen’s life, yet that didn’t keep them from reimagining it from his extensive writings into a fabulous movie. In Usui Founder’s case, there were no writings—perhaps he didn’t think they were important, or perhaps he planned to write later in life, not foreseeing his own foreshortened life—so his life and work is preserved through his disciples, his students, as the Lord Jesus’s and the Lord Buddha’s were through theirs. In every case, those who came after found something worth preserving, something worth passing on, and in every case, they linked that back to their Founder, the one whose words, whose actions, whose promises they’d believed.

I cannot think of a single quote of Usui Founder’s that has been passed down to posterity. There are no parables, no stories, no directives, no pointed one-liners. Not even a memorable witticism, such as Saint John XXIII’s famous remark when asked by a journalist how many people worked in the Vatican, “About half of them.” The closest we can come to the mind of Usui Founder is in his actions and in the Five Reiki Principles (aka Precepts, Ideals) he gave us for right health, right happiness, and right livelihood.

His photo is here before me as I type. I wish I could hear his voice. I wish I could see a beautiful movie of his life and rest in it as I rest in “Zen.”

Just for today, practice the Principles.

The heron, the grass, and the snow. April 26, 2014

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“In a snowfall that covers the winter grass a white heron uses his own whiteness to disappear.”

—Dogen Zenji

I don’t know what Dogen was implying by this, but the images are so beautiful and striking—the white heron against the lush green grass, and the white heron disappearing into the whiteness of the snow-covered grass—that I wanted to share this quote with you.

Dogen, the 13th-century Japanese founder of Soto Zen, the kind of Zen practice most people mean when they talk about “Zen” today, was persecuted in his own day by the abbots and warrior-monks of established Buddhist monasteries, who believed that his radical practice of Zen was a threat to their supremacy and revenues. His practice involved zazen, sitting meditation, and shikantaza, “just sitting.” There were no esoteric practices, no secrets, just sitting. This meant that anyone and everyone could practice zazen, hardly good news to the orders that extracted fees from their followers so the monks could intervene for them on some arcane plane.

Perhaps as a result he was more aware than most of the virtues of disappearing, of blending into the background. Or perhaps he was also simply struck by the contrasting images of a white heron on a green background and a white heron vanishing into a white field.

Just for today, see the beauty around you.

What is a saint? April 25, 2014

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“The true saint goes in and out amongst the people and eats and sleeps with them and buys and sells in the market and marries and takes part in social intercourse, and never forgets God for a single moment.”

—Abu Sa’id

“How good it is for us when the Lord unsettles our lukewarm and superficial lives.”

—Pope Francis, @Pontifex

“We ought not to be weary of doing little things for the love of God, who regards not the greatness of the work, but the love with which it is performed.”

—Brother Lawrence, The Practice of the Presence of God

“The time of business does not with me differ from the time of prayer; and in the noise and clatter of my kitchen, while several persons are at the same time calling for different things, I possess God in as great tranquility as if I were upon my knees before the Blessed Sacrament.”

—Brother Lawrence, The Practice of the Presence of God

“When [13th-century Zen Master] Dogen asked the Zen cook in the Chinese temple why he didn’t have his assistants do the hard work of drying mushrooms in the hot sun, the cook said, ‘I am not other people.’ In the same way, we have to realize that this life is the only life we have. It’s ours, right now. If we don’t do the cooking ourselves, we are throwing our life away. ‘Keep your eyes open,’ Dogen instructs. ‘Wash the rice thoroughly, put it in the pot, light the fire, and cook it.’… When we cook—and live—with this kind of attention, the most ordinary acts and the humblest ingredients are revealed as they truly are.”

—Bernard Glassman and Rick Fields, “Instructions to the Cook: A Zen Master’s Lessons for Living a Life that Matters,” tricycle

As I’m sure you know, two popes are going to be canonized (recognized as saints) this weekend. It’s unlikely that any of us will become popes, but, as these quotes show, we all have the opportunity to become saints, right where we are.

Just for today, don’t burn the rice.

Finding the truth. March 20, 2014

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“If you are unable to find the truth right where you are, where else do you expect to find it?”

—Dogen Zenji

“Each being is itself pure source, and pure source is nothing but each being.”

—Shunryu Suzuki Roshi

“I believe in person to person. Every person is Christ to me, and since there is only one Jesus, the person is the one person in the world at that moment.”

—Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta

“Be here now.”

—Ram Dass

All these spiritual teachers, and many others, such as Eckhart Tolle, author of The Power of Now, understood this great truth. Enlightenment does not come from outside, it comes from within. It comes from being fully present to each moment, to everyone and everything that presents itself to us.

This is much harder to do than to go on a spiritual pilgrimage to “find” the truth, to find enlightenment, satori. How great to head off to Sedona or Stonehenge or the Vatican or a Buddhist temple or Zen monastery or Reiki cruise or you name it to find peace and enlightenment. How terribly hard to be a dishwasher in a restaurant, working over scalding water on your feet for hours, paid minimum wage and expected to work as fast as humanly possible, and find truth where you are. How hard to be Mother Teresa, pulling maggot-eaten, abandoned, starved bodies from the gutters of Calcutta, and find the face of her Lord in every single one.

To be here now, to find the power of now, which is truth, freedom, and enlightenment, you must learn to give all of yourself in every moment to the now, to what is before you, be it a body in the gutter or a boring colleague who’s droning on and on, or making tonight’s supper or watering plants and dusting shelves or doing hands-on Reiki or reading an uplifting book.

To help you focus and go deeper, to slow down time so each second stretches to infinity, Usui Founder gave us the Five Reiki Principles (aka Precepts, Ideals). He began them with “Just for today” not just because he realized how hard it was to actually practice them, but to remind us to be in the moment, in the now. Maybe we forgot and got angry a moment ago, or we caught ourselves worrying about that performance review or a bill coming due. But Usui Founder in his wisdom reminds us that we shouldn’t waste time beating ourselves up, we should just get back to the now, the present moment, and try to focus on the Principles.

The past is past. The present is here. We are who and where we are. Let’s look for the truth right here, right now, inside ourselves, and in everything and everyone we encounter moment by moment on this earthly plane.

Just for today, find your truth.

Mind and body drop away. February 5, 2014

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“All spiritual disciplines are done with a view to still the mind. The perfectly still mind is universal spirit.”
—Swami Ramdas

“Enlightenment is possible only in that one way—from the inside.”
—Tai Situ

“This is the core of the teachings, bringing our mind home to an untroubled state.”
—Frans Stiene

I was reminded of all this yesterday while watching one of my favorite movies, “Zen,” about the life of Dogen Zenji, the founder of the Soto Zen school. Though Dogen lived in Japan in the 13th century, his school remains the most widespread to this day. The movie is very moving and beautiful, and there’s a marvelous documentary at the end that interviews prominent Dogen scholars, including the master of calligraphy Kazuaki Tanahashi, and Soto Zen Roshis. Not to be missed!

But I digress. What sets Soto Zen apart? Soto Zen practitioners do zazen, seated meditation, but so do Rinzai Zen practitioners. But while the Rinzai school uses nonsensical riddles or sayings, koans, to try to break the student free from the iron grip of reason and into satori, enlightenment, Soto Zen doesn’t hurl itself against the cliffs of the mind.

Instead, like the wind, like rain, like time itself, it works quietly to erode those cliffs, with a technique called shikantaza. This literally means “just sitting.” You sit in meditation, not focusing your thoughts on anything, and sit, and sit, until “mind and body drop away,” as Dogen’s teacher told him. Until the mind is perfectly still, and the great lake that has so patiently lapped at its edges for so long finally carries it out and away into union with the All.

Just for today, watch “Zen.” You’ll be so glad you did.

Ghost busters. August 30, 2013

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“If you let your mind dwell on ghosts, you’ll become a ghost yourself.”—Sri Ramakrishna

“There are times when past mistakes swim into our vision and do their best to consume us in guilt or regret. At such times it is essential to turn all our attention outward, away from ourselves.”—Sri Eknath Easwaran, Words to Live By

I just spent a weekend at Dai Bosatsu Zendo, attending a Komyo Reiki Zen Retreat. A central part of the formal meals served at the Zendo is appeasing the “Hungry Ghosts” by setting aside a tiny portion of everyone’s food for them.

I believe this tradition comes from China, where Zen was born: Zen Master Rinzai, for whom Rinzai Zen was named, was himself Chinese, and Dogen Zenji studied and received enlightenment in China before returning to Japan to found Soto Zen. To this day, the Chinese celebrate a Hungry Ghosts festival around this time of year, where they not only provide food but “ghost money” and paper versions of TVs, laptops, iPods, and the like so the ghosts can enjoy a comfortable existence in the afterlife.

But for us, as Sri Eknath says, our ghosts tend to be the mistakes we’ve made and humiliations we’ve endured in the past. A dear friend recently told me how he’d been going into a meeting with someone he’d never met, whose name was Amos Ano. Coming out of his office, after ten minutes of reviewing the man’s name, my friend stuck out his hand and said in a hearty, welcoming tone, “Hello, Anus!”

I’m ashamed to say that I’m still laughing about this, but the upshot isn’t funny at all: After all these years, my friend still vividly remembers the incident. Just as I can vividly recall every humiliating, stupid thing I’ve ever done or said, whether it was twenty minutes or twenty years ago. And every time one of the incidents returns to mind, I berate myself for wasting yet more time on it.

The truth is that these incidents are bruising to our almighty ego, since that’s what they ultimately humiliate and diminish. If we have hurt someone else because of our crass, boorish, or thoughtless behavior, we certainly have a right to berate ourselves and try to learn from our mistakes. But then it’s time to move on. To continue to obsess over every little thing is simply to stoke our egos by assuming that our actions matter, that it matters if people think badly of us. Poor, poor, pitiful us!

The motto of Komyo Reiki is “Go placidly in the midst of praise or blame.” This gives us a way to set our egos aside, since it’s the ego that puffs up with pride when praised and puffs up with shame or outrage when blamed.

Just for today, be placid.

Zen, Dogen, and Komyo Reiki. June 14, 2013

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“What’s your favorite movie of all time?” my partner Rob asked me the other day. Of course, I didn’t know. I love many movies, from “Kagemusha,” “Mongol,” and the Flamenco “Carmen” to “The Usual Suspects,” “Blow Dry,” “The Full Monty,” “The Commitments,” the James Bond films, even “Conan the Barbarian.” Not to mention various adaptations of Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice,” “Emma,” and “Persuasion.” Or historical series like “John Adams” and “The Tudors.” How could I possibly choose just one?

I didn’t give an answer, but in my secret heart, I wondered if the movie “Zen,” about the life of Dogen Zenji, founder of Soto Zen, might not really be my all-time favorite. Though the action is dramatic, often violent, and sometimes heartbreaking, the film as a whole is astonishing for its beauty and serenity. If you haven’t seen it, rent or buy it at once. I promise that your life will be changed for the better, and that, as a follower of the Reiki Way, your experience will be deepened.

Dogen’s focus was on enlightenment, satori. He found Zen as a path to enlightenment. He urged his students to continue sitting zazen to find the truth within themselves, beyond themselves. And it is in this truth that Dogen’s Zen and Komyo Reiki meet. Komyo Reiki, the Reiki of Enlightenment, helps those of us who follow the Reiki Way to find our highest good, our highest self. And, thanks to Komyo’s founder, Hyakuten Inamoto Sensei, and Thin Thin Lay, we have a unique opportunity to combine Reiki and Zen.

This August, Sensei will arrive from Japan to teach Komyo to Reiki Masters and teachers of all lineages at an amazing Zendo in upstate New York. You have to see the Dai Bosatsu Zendo—an exact replica of a mediaeval Japanese Zendo—for yourself to believe how amazing it is. For the Komyo retreat, you’ll not only study with Sensei, you’ll participate in zazen, Zen meditation, join in the magnificent Zen Kanzeon chant, and dine with the Zen community. It’s a marvelous opportunity to merge Zen and Reiki in a glorious weekend. If you believe that the point of Reiki is to become enlightened, it’s not to be missed.

To find out more, go to http://www.komyoreikiretreat.com/ and check out the details. If you sign up, I look forward to meeting you in August!

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