SWEEPING CHANGES…

Sweeping Changes: A Practical Guide to Zen in Your Home
by
Gary Thorp

“How can you save the world when you can”t even put your shoes straight?” Suzuki Roshi. p. xvi

“Zen is the Japanese word for meditation.” p. 2

“When you study Buddhism, you should have a general house-cleaning of your mind. You must take everything out of your room and clean it thoroughly. If it necessary, you may bring everything back in again. You may not want many things, so one-by-one you can bring them back. But if they are not necessary, there is no need to keep them,” Shunryu Suzuki Roshi.

Do not think of doors as obstacles to whatever is on the other side. Practice opening them magnanimously and closing them with care. Through the mundane activity of entering or leaving a doorway, you can make a commitment to being either inside or outside something larger than yourself. You can think about what you are leaving behind, about what you are entering into. p. 12

The writer Jack London, gregarious as he was, often felt the need for privacy when he was writing. He hand-lettered a small sign for his door to be used at such times: “1. Please do not enter without knocking. 2. Please do not knock.” p. 12

You are always entering through the doorway to this very moment. There is no retreat. No heading for the exits. Just a continual “going in” to this eternal now. p. 13

When you are truly alive, however, you can concentrate wholeheartedly on one task without ignoring the rest of the world. You are still keenly aware of the ticking clock, the telephone, the sound of raindrops on the roof, the smell of baking bread. You see what is before your eyes and hear what is carried to your ears.

Zen students often bow to the dust of the world, in gratitude, just as they bow to the great mountains, rivers and forests of the world. p. 21

Be wary of the container that is more ornate and complicated than its contents. p. 26

A great pile of flowers or a room filled with teacups detracts from your ability to focus on one of them and to appreciate it. You begin to learn a great deal when you can bring your careful attention to one single object. p. 27

… many of us have too many things. The more things you have, the less time you have to spend with each one individually. p. 28

When company has been invited, we clean and polish and arrange bowls of flowers… by ourselves, we give less attention and consideration to those rooms or areas our home that visitors seldom see. We have a different standard for ourselves. In Japanese, there are words for these differences: omote, what”s in front, or the surface of things; and ura, what”s in back, the reverse. Studying Zen is only one way in which we can try to integrate these two sides of our nature, to fold up the screens and open the doors and live out in the open as we really are. p. 44

The objective is to find a balance somewhere between the wildness of the woodshed and the impractical sterility of the home as chemical laboratory, to find a place where there is both cleanliness and comfort, order and surprise. p. 48

Buddhism is quick to point out that nothing we see or experience is permanent or unaffected by the transitory nature of existence. In fact, this may be considered to be Buddhism”s first law. It is the one true thing that can be depended upon: that all things are unreliable and temporary. The haiku poets developed this transitory aspect of existence into a high art form. In the most abbreviated of poetic forms, an arrangement of just seventeen syllables in three written lines, these poets sought to convey the essence of one brief moment of their own lives and to freeze this moment forever, making it always available to us. p. 50

Dogen wrote, “All things are Buddha… To carry yourself forward in order to experience things is your delusion. But to allow things to come forward on their own and to experience themselves is enlightenment.” How can you give all things the freedom to experience their own natures? Simply by looking at things as they are, and not interjecting your own values, personality, preferences or judgments upon them. So, when you wipe up the milk that was spilled and sweep up the shards of broken glass, try to focus on the fact that some things will not last forever, [shouldn”t this be: “nothing lasts forever?” JH] and that there can be an element of danger or surprise in even the most benign occasion. You can then begin to confront the many possibilities inherent in all endings and beginnings. p. 50

When an accident did occur and a [tea ceremony] cup was broken, there were certain instances in which the cup was repaired with gold. Rather than trying to restore it in a way that would cover up the fact that it had been broken, the cracks were celebrated in a bold and spirited way. The thin paths of shining gold completely encircled the ceramic cup, announcing to the world that cup was broken and repaired and vulnerable to change. And in this way, its value was even further enhanced. p. 51

I should point out to those unfamiliar with Buddhism that paying homage to any of these shrines or sculpted figures in no way constitutes the worshiping of idols. Practitioners of Zen, in particular, are quite aware that these objects are merely a particular arrangement of metal, wood, stone or plastic. Yet, like a photograph, they remind us of something that we hold particularly dear. They are extensions of the very qualities that we would like to develop within ourselves. p. 54

There is a story that many present-day Buddhist teachers love to tell, about a Zen monk who, when shivering in the freezing temperature of his small cottage, removed the carved figure of the Buddha from the altar and used it for firewood. p. 56

In Zen practice there is a formal style of taking meals known as oryoki. This is eating reduced to its most fundamental. Everything needed is held in a small, self-contained package; small bowls that fit inside one another, a few simple utensils for eating and bowl cleaning and a couple pieces of cloth are all that are needed. p. 67

Innumerable labors brought us this food,
We should know how it comes to us.
Receiving this offering, we should consider.
Whether our virtue and practice deserves it.
Desiring the natural order of mind, we should
Be free from greed, hate and delusion.
We eat to support life and to practice
The way of the Buddha. p. 68

[Commenting on the above verse.] You might try to extend this kind of focus, this type of practice, into your own daily life. See if you can make the seat in the restaurant your own place. Consider the effort that went into your meal and think of all those who made it possible. You can even set aside a small piece of tomato or a bit of dinner roll as an offering to buddhas or to your parents or to all beings who lack the nourishment and sustenance they need. In this way, you can begin to share your meal and your compassion with others. p. 68

Some Zen teachers describe the past as ash, the future as fuel and the present as fire. But the great masters such as Dogen Zenji were quick to point out that there is no separation among the three. Each thing is complete this very moment. p. 80

Most of us try to live exemplary lives; we really do try to do our best. But there”s no need for us to try to do better than our very best. Consider the simple act of washing a coffee cup, for example. When you wash the coffee cup, you do not need to do a perfect job. You do not need to try to make the cup perfect or worry about whether you yourself are prefect. You don”t measure the temperature of the water or agonize over the pH balance of the soap. You just wash the cup. If you handle the cup with care, there will be nothing separating you from the cup. There will be no daydreams or distractions, no recriminations, no ideas of self and other, no barriers between you and what you are doing. There will just be washing the cup, and your whole life will be in it. p. 126

… Zen stresses the value of your own engagement in your own experience. It teaches that the last worlds the Buddha spoke were calls to “work out your own salvation with diligence.” On the face of it, this is much more than just daunting. It is catastrophic. “Good luck,” the Buddha says, and then kicks you out of the leaking boat, leaving it to you to either sink or swim on your own. p. 136

When you see a picture of yourself as a child, you know that the child in the picture has grown into who you are; but do you realize that, in the instant the photograph was taken, the child you were had already become someone else? The camera does not stop time. It can only offer souvenirs, reference points to places traveled along the way. p. 139

George Bernard Shaw once offered the following succinct advice: Do not try to live forever. You will not succeed. Managing time is not the important thing. What you”re doing and how you”re doing it are what matter. Every event happens in its own time. p. 140

The question really revolves around what is meant by dharma. This word exemplifies what is known as truth. p. 144

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