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Zen Blog

Best of the Haiku Challenge (September 2022)

Dragonflies are elusive creatures. Difficult to follow as they veer in unpredictable directions, they can appear out of nowhere. . . and vanish just as easily. Their wings are delicate, even fragile, but their bodies are covered with hard plates reminiscent of armor. Dragonflies have been known to cross oceans in their migrations, and they have journeyed over vast expanses of geological time as well. The earliest fossils of dragonfly-like insects are 325 million years old. The winning and honorable mention poems for this month’s haiku challenge...

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Lessons from a (Mostly) Good Dog: #5: Dance

“Feel like dancing… Dance cause we are free . . .” —Bob Marley, “Rainbow Country” “He began to get an inkling that the point was to be dancing in your brain all of the time . . .” —Jim Harrison, The Man Who Gave Up His Name You might think this rather odd advice to come from my dog, Brooklyn. After all, let’s be honest: She herself doesn’t even really dance. Well, unless I’m dancing with her, that is—which I admittedly do sometimes. I pick her up in my arms and we waltz around the kitchen to old-school hip-hop or Jamaican ska or random mambo be...

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Losing My Religion

Before I changed my mind about rituals, the 5:00 a.m. chanting at our retreats always felt like a pointless chore—except the final sutra. That “sutra,” though, wasn’t really one at all, but a long poem called the Hsin Hsin Ming, or Inscription on the Mind of Faith, attributed to Chien-chih Seng-ts’an (Jianzhi Sengcan), the third Great Ancestor of Chinese Zen. And in the poem, the author, whoever he might be, describes the way our world appears when we view it through the eyes of awakening: One thing, all things; move . . . and intermingle, with...

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Searching for the Sacred


From a very early age, documentary photographer and National Geographic explorer Chris Rainier has been driven to understand the sacred. He has traveled to all seven continents, camera in tow, capturing natural beauty, from the peaks of the Himalayas to the sands of the Sahara Desert. With wonder in his voice, he tells me, “I’m always in search of the answer to the questions that we all eventually ask: Why are we here? And what is this all about?” Rainier’s career began in the early 1980s, when he worked as noted landscape photographer Ansel Ad...

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How I Became a Buddhist Jew (And Why That’s Different from Being a Jewish Buddhist)

Over the years, the Jewish High Holidays have waxed and waned in significance for me. They were probably most profound when I was a child, when they were unavoidable due to familial obligation. They loomed before me forebodingly for weeks. But the foreboding was not arising from fear of divine judgment. It was simply anticipation of excruciating boredom. By now, as a longtime Zen practitioner, I have spent so many hours sitting silently and staring at a blank wall that a High Holiday service seems quite lively by comparison, especially if I hav...

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A New Weekly Series on Epigraphy Explores the Lives of Ancient Buddhist Women

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A group of Buddhist scholars with interests in epigraphy—the study and interpretation of ancient inscriptions—are meeting weekly for an informal series of talks titled “Buddhist Epigraphy and Women’s History.” The sessions began in September and are held over Zoom nearly every Friday from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m Eastern, with the final session scheduled for February of 2023. Each week, one of 15 scholars shares an aspect of their epigraphical research as it relates to women’s history. The series was organized by Stephanie Balkwill, assistant professor ...

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How a Zen Practitioner and Chaplain Thinks about the Conflict Between No-self and Psychoanalysis 

When we spoke late this summer, Howard Ruan was just wrapping up their CPE (Clinical Pastoral Education) residency at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. They say that their first unit, also at Rush, was so profoundly life-changing that they annoyed the people around them by asserting that everyone should do CPE. “I had never worked that intimately in a group setting, and with that amount of attention to the relational dynamics in a group. I’d never been challenged to show up in such unflinchingly honest conversations about my fears and ...

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Ten Teachings by Thich Nhat Hanh in Honor of His Continuation Day

“I am a continuation like the rain is a continuation of the cloud.” —Thich Nhat Hanh Thich Nhat Hanh—the beloved Vietnamese monk, peace activist, and poet—was born on October 11, 1926 in central Vietnam. And as many know, the Zen master peacefully passed away earlier this year on January 22 at his root temple, Tu Hieu Temple, in Hue, Vietnam.  While we can identify the dates of his birth and death, Nhat Hanh often taught his students that people, and all things, do not truly die. Rather, they continue. In his book No Death, No Fear, Nhat Hanh e...

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