The Precepts: What do you mean, do ‘only’ good?

abraham lincoln4This is the sixth in a series of posts on the Zen Precepts. If you would like to start at the beginning, click here. Apologies for the rather long hiatus this turned out to be.

We’re now on the second Pure Precept: “Do only good.”

And I’m sure you’re thinking, “Wait – what do you mean only good? That sounds impossible!” Buddhism often asks the impossible of us. That’s one of its many charms, but I’ll get to that soon enough. Continue reading


The Zen Precepts: “Do no harm.”

donoharmThis is the fifth in a series of posts on the Zen precepts. If you would like to start at the beginning, click here.

So far we have looked at taking refuge in the three treasures: Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. Those are prerequisites when one receives the precepts. The actual precepts themselves begin with the Three Pure Precepts: Do no harm. Do only good. Do good for others. As I mentioned in the first post in this series, I consider the Three Pure Precepts to be the trump cards for all of the following precepts. If one sees a conflict in any of the Ten Grave Precepts, these three can be called upon to resolve any such seeming discrepancy. Continue reading


Taking refuge in … what? Sangha Edition

This post is the fourth in a series on the Zen precepts. If you want to start at the beginning, you can start here.

Sangha is a relatively new development in my Zen practice. I did not officially join a sangha until 2007 when I began attending sesshins in Atlanta with our guiding teacher Taiun Elliston, and not even officially-officially until I received Jukai in 2008. Before then I was an attendee at a series of Zen groups in the different places I lived, but I did not have a teacher. Beyond that, I did not feel a part of any community. This was, in part, a geographic issue, related to the now-standard itinerant nature of early-career academia. I did not want to make a commitment to a group or teacher not knowing how long I might be in a particular location. Continue reading


The Precepts: Taking refuge in… what? – Dharma Edition

So this is the third post in a series on the Soto Zen Precepts. If you want to start from the beginning, go here. The first component of receiving the Precepts is to take refuge in the Three Treasures: Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. I wrote a little bit last time about the overall concept of taking refuge, in case you want to take a look at that first. Continue reading


The Precepts: Taking refuge in…what?

shakyamuniBuddhaThis is the second in a series on receiving the Soto Zen Precepts. Here’s the first post.

Refuge-taking is a part of any Precepts ceremony in any Zen sangha, and indeed in pretty much any Buddhist sangha of any sort ever. In fact, just about every Buddhist ceremony I’ve ever experienced has included the Refuges, and the first of those is refuge in Buddha. It’s kind of important. It’s even in the title of our whole deal.

Oh, and they always go in this order in the refuge verses and in basically any other reference to them: Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. I committed this to memory when I realized that they naturally occur in alphabetical order. You’re welcome. Continue reading


Receiving the Precepts: How and Why?


Jukai in Atlanta, 2008

Today I’m starting a series of posts on the Zen Precepts, sometimes called the Bodhisattva Precepts. One of our sangha members recently received Jukai, the 5-Precepts ceremony, and that has gotten everybody interested and asking questions about what this means.

To get us started, let’s get an overview of what the Precepts are. The Zen Precepts have three main components: the Three Refuges, the Three Pure Precepts, and the Ten Grave Precepts. Continue reading


Retreat Practice – Spring 2015

Wagesa – received in Jukai ceremony

In Zen, a retreat is called sesshin, which means “touching the heart-mind.” Unlike daily home sitting or even our weekly sangha zazen on Mondays, sesshins offer us the opportunity to explore Zen practice more fully, more deeply, in the most tranquil and conducive atmosphere possible. It allows us to settle our minds to a degree that isn’t feasible under typical circumstances, and we get to do that together in an encouraging way.

Sesshin can be challenging, but if we hang in there, it serves as an anchor or cornerstone to our practice. If you have any interest in deepening your meditation, growing in your understanding of Zen, and meeting other like-minded friends who aspire to do the same, sesshins offer a unique opportunity to do this. There truly is no substitute for this kind of extended practice. Continue reading


Home Practice

On a recent Monday evening, a sangha member asked about daily home meditation practice, what that looks like, and how to sustain it over time. I thought maybe those who weren’t present would like to know about this as well. It’s a common and important question. I’ll tell you about my daily practice. This is not to say that you should copy exactly what I do. Establishing a daily practice means fitting it into your own life, not like cramming your foot into someone else’s shoe, as it were. Still, maybe there’s something in my experience that might be useful to you. Continue reading


Mini-Retreat on January 31!

We have a very special event coming up soon, and you’re invited. We will have a mini-retreat on January 31 from 9:00a.m. to 3:00p.m. That’s “mini” because a regular zazenkai (one-day or weekend retreat) or sesshin (longer retreat) would involve overnight stays. We’re not there yet, but a mini-retreat we can definitely do, thanks to our wonderful location at Memphis Friends Meeting. Continue reading


We are back!

For those who don’t know, we now meet at the Memphis Friends Meeting (Quaker) House every Monday, 5:45-7:15. Come join us sometime.

Our new schedule has gotten off to a fantastic start thanks to attendance at the Zen 101 orientation held on Saturday. We had 14 attendees, a few old friends from our previous location(s) and some new friends. Everybody was introduced (or re-introduced) to zazen as well as the basics of Buddha’s teachings, a little on the history of Soto Zen, and the lowdown on how our group fits into its larger organization, the Silent Thunder Order / Mokurai. Continue reading