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Sensei Jonathan Kaigen Levy: Living Life as a Buddha


This is the transcript of a talk given at Center for Spiritual Living Prescott on July 2, 2023 by Sensei Jonathan Kaigen Levy, a Zazen Buddhism teacher in Prescott.

You can also experience this talk by watching the video or listening to it on our podcast, Love Spoken Here.



Thank you. Thank you. And welcome this morning. To Zen. One day. All Zen stories start with “one day”. A monk asked Master Mazu. What is Buddha? Now Mazu is a very famous, ferocious, 8th century Chinese Zen master during the Tang dynasty. A force to be reckoned with. His physical descriptions are awe inspiring. Now this monk naturally, he's already on the path. So he wasn't asking about the historical Buddha. Shakyamun, Shakyamuni Buddha? No, he wasn't asking about him. He wasn't interested in a specific person assuming a certain form in life. He was asking about the Truth. The fundamental Truth.

My name is Jonathan Kaigen. Sensei Kaigen for the last few years. That's teacher Kaigen in the Zen tradition. And I welcome you to the Center for a talk on Zen. You heard a little bit of my introduction. I'm not gonna add to that. If you have questions afterwards, you can come up and ask me and we can talk about whatever you'd like to talk about. By the way, this is traditional from Vietnamese and Thich Nhat Hanh. He has a mindfulness bell, so every once in a while in a talk, everything stops. (bell ring)

Religious practice of any kind cannot be fixed. It's not unchanging because everything in this entire universe changes. The one rule that we have is everything is in the process of changing. We are, the universe, the planet, all changing every single moment of change. Let's think about that for a second. Everything is impermanence itself. Life has no fixed form. A moment doesn't even have a fixed form. This monk was asking Mazu about what is true. What is real? At all times, in a world of change, in a world with conditions changing constantly. And in all situations. Mazu turned and answered Mind is Buddha. Mind alone, all pervading without edges or barriers is the Truth.

I'd like to dedicate my brief talk to doctor Frank E Richelieu. Some of you may know of him, for he was born in 1926, died in 2020. 3 years ago - that I didn't know. A writer and pastor of the Church of Religious Science in Redondo Beach, CA. Much of his training was from Doctor Ernest Holmes. Probably all of his training was from Doctor Holmes. He had a dynamic style that enticed me to listen to him on the radio in Los Angeles. I just picked up on this one day. And it was his style, his dynamism that captured my attention. And I whenever I could, I regularly listen to Frank Richelieu. The first Chinese Patriarch of Zen, which in China is called Chan, was Bodhi Dharma. Bodhi Dharma. Awakened Dharma. Bodhi is awakened. Buddha sat under the Bodhi tree when he had his awakening, his enlightenment. And Bodhi Dharma taught that everything that appears comes from Mind. The universe, everything. A student then asked Bodhi dharma. What do you mean by Mind? Bodhi Dharma answered. You ask. That's your mind. I answer. That's my mind. If I had no mind, how could I answer you? If you had no mind, how could you ask? That which asks is your mind. From beginning this time, whatever you do, wherever you go, that's your real mind. That's your real Buddha. To search for enlightenment beyond this Mind is impossible. Why? Because there's nothing outside. Remember, there's no edges to this Mind. There's no end barrier. Nothing. It's all Mind. This happens to be one of the most difficult things for us to ever realize and accept. Why? Because we look outside all the time. Without even realizing this, we think, oh, it's all me. This is all here. This is all. It's very hard to realize how this Mind, not our personal mind but this Mind, this universal Mind, actually contains everything. Tough to just grasp it. You can't grasp it. It slips away all the time. You think you get it and it's gone. So you go over and over it and over it. So we sit over and meditate. Meditate until this mind opens up like a Lotus blossom. Bodhidharma also told us that Buddha means miraculous awareness. The universe asks. And the universe responds. This is miraculous awareness. This is the Mind of the universe that fills heaven and earth. So where in this Mind is the self to be found? This is a question. We make a transition to this microphone. Let's turn it on and I think we're on. Thank you.

Where is this self to be found? I have a self. You have a self. All God's children have selves. But where is this self? Where? Where does it reside? Where can it be found? We can search and search and serve. Where's my self? You can't find the self. It doesn't really exist. It's an illusion that we create, that has been created overtime and that we continually recreate. From the moment we encounter the Buddha Dharma, Dharma Teachings, Buddha’s, teachings. From the moment we encounter them, the Buddha’s teaching, the moment we begin doing meditation which we call zazen, sitting. Za Zen. The moment we start we are instructed, don't look outside of yourself. Don't look outside for what you're seeking. You won't find it. And we know that this is true. We believe in it. We continually seek and reach outside even though we know it to be an illusion. It's just a habit, so we have these habits that connect us constantly to the outside. Take us away from Self. And I'm not talking about self, I'm talking about Self. Everywhere, OK. We may think we can find serenity, clarity, meaning outside, beyond somewhere. But this place doesn't really exist. It's a dream that we have that we keep. Everything that appears is this Mind. But if it encompasses everything. the entire universe, how can it be seen? That which is seen is Mind. So this is where we get into some very difficult conceptual …don't even pay attention to it. It'll just confuse you. Everything that you see is Mind. Everything that you experience is Mind. But you can't see Mind. You can just see the thing outside and sometimes then, we believe that those are Mind. So how can it be seen? Because it is seen. Zen masters, long term meditators, I'm talking 10, 20 years, have breakthroughs. And they see it. How can it be seen? You can't see it normally in an ordinary setting. It must be realized. Made real,but it's not real. It's an illusion. So there's the trap. OK, we're looking for something that's not even real outside. And that's our trap. And how do we get out of that trap? So we say Mind is Buddha. Awake. Awakened. Creates a problem for us.

This is why realizing It. Or I Am? So I Am is Mind. I Am is It? And that's an obligation that we all have to ourselves. And it arises in us from within. It arose in me through cancer. It opened that door, that gate for me. Up until then it was closed and the cancer just blasted it open for me. So please, having received the gift of this time, this place, this life, meet your obligation to Self. If you still have doubts about your own personal responsibility, this obligation that you have to discover this Self, consider the costs of not pursuing it. The costs of confusion, delusion, jealousy, anger. In this world. All of these are delusions. Because none of them have a place or even exist in Mind, as Buddha or Self. So what do we do? What do we do? We take the posture of Buddha on our meditation cushions. And understand that there is one who knows Mind is Buddha. Is awakening to the truth. Chinese Taoists and Taoists were mentioned this morning as a religion, Tao teaches that there is a continuity that moves through everything in the entire universe. It touches and connects all, everything in the universe. You, you, me, this building, everything that we are and see is connected. One. One of the names that Taoists give to this continuity, this connection is the golden thread. It's a great image, right? This beautiful golden because gold, incredibly valuable, beautiful, gleaming right. Thread because like a fine thread, you're trying to strengthen and and weave it through and engage with it. And focus on this thread. If you focus too hard, it breaks. If you don't focus hard enough, it just floats away. The Taoist believe that if you align yourself with the golden thread, you will become a fully realized being. A Buddha. You will be conscious of and connected to all and everything in the universe. There's also a golden thread that runs through the Buddhist teachings. Our understanding of Mind now every time I say Mind, it's capitalized Mind not small. Every time the path of Zen involves having a direct intuition. Not knowledge, but a direct experience of Mind.. Mind once realized is like air. Mind once realized is like air. That's an image. That's all it is. It's an image. It's like air. It gradually acquires force when you set it in motion. While its pure nature remains unchanged. We talked in the beginning. Everything's changing, constantly, turning over and changing, becoming. Now we're saying once realized. This Mind is unchanging.

In 1926, Ernest Holmes wrote the Science of Mind. He said physical form is created by a universal mind that manifests everything. And it's possible to direct this universal power by controlling one's thoughts. Buddhism is very similar to this and there's a few little tweaks, but we're talking about the same thing in Buddhism. It's the same universal Mind. A belief in an outcome will create that outcome. Good creates good. Evil creates evil. Holmes stressed focusing on the good. Buddhist stress focusing on the good. He called his method the golden thread of truth. So how much more similarity can we find? I mean, we have it in Taoism, we have it in Science of Mind. We have it in Zen Buddhism. This golden thread that we just weave. Mindfulness bell. And so it is.

Nancy Kelly:

Thank you Sensei. Let's take some of that into prayer. There are things that we know. We know truth when we see it. We know heart. We know love, and we know that all of this emanates from the Source. The closer that we can be to the true Self with the capital S. The more knowledge that we have of the Mind with the capital M. We are grateful for this path that we have put our feet on. That we may find that expansion. That peaceful, joyous place. Where all that can be known is known. And all is in its perfect divine right place. We know these truths to be self-evident. And we strive on a daily basis that we may seek to connect to Source, to one another, to the knowledge of ourself and that inner sense of Mind. We know these things to be true, and we are grateful as we continue our path and we continue to walk. We are thankful for those wisdom keepers that come to our platform and share their knowledge with us that we too might grow and be the best definition, our highest form. That good does produce good. We know that this is good. I claim it as good. And I release it into the law, knowing that it is already done. And we anchored this together by saying and so it is.

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