Ever since I was a kid I always had this sense that I didn’t deserve to belong on this planet.

I never understood why, but the neighborhood kids always threw their little cheapshots at me, same with the kids in school, and even people who I thought were my friends, as well as members of my own family. Throughout my life and into my adulthood people continued to “hate” me without even knowing who I was. Many times it was a race issue, and many times it wasn’t. People just didn’t like me for some reason despite the fact that I was always nice to everyone if I wasn’t keeping to myself.

Alienating me seemed like a fashionable thing to do, and this made me incredibly sad and lonely all the time, especially being an only child with no siblings (or any relatives) to really turn to. I used to think that maybe there really was something wrong with me, that maybe I just wasn’t good enough to be considered a human, and maybe I existed separately from this very world that I apparently didn’t deserve to live in.

But that didn’t seem right, because ever since I was a kid, every time I went outside I saw myself in trees, animals, and even the sky and clouds. I felt like there was a little bit of myself in the moon and the sun. I felt like even though I didn’t have human company, I had the company of everything else. So how could I be something that existed completely separate from everything?

But later on in life, I found that the source of my sadness wasn’t that I lived a separate existence from the universe… it was that all these people, despite my attempts at wanting be a part of them, separated themselves from me. According to a Buddhist named Brad Warner, this idea of viewing yourself as separate from the rest of creation is “real” hate.

For many years I suffered from sadness and loneliness that turned into resentment and anger. I gave into that whole delusion of separateness. It wasn’t till I found Taoism and Zen when I started feeling “whole” again. It’s through those teachings that I’m finding my way back to my original self with a child-like silliness and that youthful fascination of the universe around me.

And as for all my fellow humans who live under that delusion of egotistical separation from each other, from mother nature, and from me… well, it’s just not their time to wake up yet. And for that, I should forgive and replace my indignation with compassion.

It’s a work in progress.

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The reality of an Urban Monk.

I’ve read enough stories about Taoists achieving oneness in their meditative practices, and then going outside and being able to identify themselves with the trees, the sky, the rocks, and the grass. And it’s a beautiful thing. And it happens to me too. A lot actually.

But that’s only one aspect of reality.

At my office, for two hours every day before my clinic shift starts, I meditate, recite my Taoist scripture, and practice my qigong and tai chi forms. If I’m lucky, I can do it after my clinic shift.

Now mind you, I work in the East Rogers Park neighborhood of the city of Chicago, and on the busiest street as well. So I’m right smack dab in the heart of “everything.” By “everything,” I mean that it’s nothing but traffic and construction noises, loud conversations from pedestrians passing by, sirens from ambulances, firetrucks, and police cars, and sometimes even gunshots (I heard five the other day and a couple last week). From time to time there are gangbangers congregating right outside of my storefront, and sometimes there’s even hookers and drug dealers. And when the high school lets out between 2:30p to 3:30p, I refuse to go outside because that’s when all the attempted murders happen. And it all doesn’t occur at night, nor in the alley… but in broad daylight right smack dab on my street. And it’s all committed by people under the age of 20 popping off at seemingly random people. And being a minority male myself, other minority males will want to mistake me as a rival gangbanger.

That’s my fucking reality. There aren’t any trees or grass or sparrows or flowers outside to call “me.”

I would imagine that many or most people who call themselves Taoists (or spiritualists in general) who may live in grassy-green retreat-like peaceful areas of our country may have a hard time cultivating the Tao in such a chaotic backdrop. I don’t blame them though, because hearing constant noises from police cars, ambulances, guns, and general urban ruckus could be a bit jarring for most. It still is for me.

But that’s the beauty of my practice. Working on maintaining your center amidst the chaos is fucking awesome. It’s like that feeling that Chuang Tzu mentions about perfected people… walking into fire without getting burnt, jumping into water without getting wet… is what it all feels like when I’ve successfully cultivated in the middle of the concrete jungle. I don’t do it successfully 100% of the time, but when I’m locked in, it feels incredible.

But not only that, but it might be a true challenge for people to find “Not Two” in the middle of that. It is for me. And it’s easy for me to see myself in a tree or peace of grass. But what about that drug dealer? The gangbangers outside with the teardrop tattoos, or the 13 year old hooker trying to find a john for the hour? Or that dead 19yo lying dead with a hole in his head in the middle of the McDonalds parking lot a few doors away. Aren’t they me as well?

You bet your sweet ass it is.

As an Urban Taoist Monk, you have to accept Taoism at its absolute most fundamental concept of Yin and Yang. Yin and Yang (or the Taiji symbol) represents the universe, and the universe in and of itself is reality. Trees, grass, the moon, the stars, and the sun are reality, but so are gun-toting teens, the screaming pedestrians running from the mental health facility, and young prostitutes. They’re reality too. And therefore you have to accept them as “Not Two” as well. Otherwise you’re just full of shit. Don’t even tell me how you can be one with everything in your posh and peaceful surroundings if you can’t do the same in the urban jungle.

[But just be careful here, accepting these horrible things as reality is not the same as condoning criminal behavior. In no way do I condone criminal behavior.]

So when I’m on my meditation cushion or reciting scripture or practicing my qigong, all of the above experiences is the universe, all of it is reality, and all of it is me. There has to be “Not Two” in everything that you do and see and hear and taste and feel and experience. Consistency on every level is so important to me (though many times I mess up, but hey, this blog is about my learning and evolution).

This is just me talking to myself. I think this whole blog is just me talking to myself.

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This was profound to me.

Not Two is one of the fundamental concepts in my Taoist lineage Longmen Pai, and our head priest has us meditate upon this concept to set the intent before going right into our zuowang meditation sessions. Sometimes it eludes me, sometimes I experience it. But in any case, I received this e-mail from the Zen temple I go to here in Chicago, and it explains the concept of Not Two from Dogen’s standpoint, which I found so profound that I must incorporate it into my own Taoist practice. Here it is:

Not Two

Rev. Kongo Langlois, Roshi

[This text was first published in The Diamond Sword, a collection of talks by Kongo Roshi, Zen Buddhist Temple of Chicago, first edition 1987, second edition 1992, pp 37-41.]

All of you practicing zazen must have a very clear understanding of what you are doing. And even more, why you are doing it. Are you looking for something? Do you expect to get something? Why are you practicing zazen? You are dissatisfied, so you come to zazen. This is good, but why? What’s going to happen ultimately from this practice?One of the most profound statements in all of Zen literature is by Dogen Zenji (1200-1253) the founder of our Soto Zen sect, who said, “Practice and enlightenment are just one.” Dogen persistently taught that there is no separation between practice and enlightenment. Zazen equals enlightenment, and enlightenment equals zazen. Thus, if practice and enlightenment are one, then it is futile to practice in order to become enlightened. Then why do we practice?

Practice zazen just for the sake of doing it. Zazen is whole and complete within itself and does not require peeping around the corner for something else. You must understand that from the Zen point of view the body and the mind are not separate. There is no distinction between body and mind. The delusion of separateness is brought about by our sense of self. We sense ourself. We feel ourself. We smell ourself. We see ourself. We taste ourself. We think ourself. So this endless sense of self creates the illusion that there is a mind here somewhere with a body, or body with a mind. But the Heart Sutra states there is no body, no mind. And again in the Heart Sutra there is the line, “Indeed there is nothing to be attained.” So what are you doing?

Soto Zen is often referred to as Bodhidharma Zen. This is the original Zen before any sectarian split occurred. Bodhidharma (fourth century) spent nine years facing the wall, listening to the ants scream. This is how Bodhidharma Zen is characterized. You could interpret this as listening to the mind screaming. In the twentieth century there is a lot of mind screaming. It is all around us, in us. You can’t avoid it. Bodhidharma Zen is pure zazen – pure zazen practiced with faith and knowledge that indeed practice and enlightenment are not separate. Consequently, we do not practice to obtain enlightenment. If you see some distinction between practice and enlightenment, then this is your problem; this is your koan. In zazen there is nothing extra added, there is no reliance on tricks, there is no chasing enlightenment. Unless you understand that indeed zazen and realization are synonymous, you will always be like a dog chasing his tail who only needs to stop and realize that it is attached to his behind.

The koan, “What is the sound of one hand clapping?” isn’t nearly as meaningful as the problem of life and death that confronts each one of us every moment. Practice and enlightenment are one and the same. There cannot be the understanding by the mind without understanding by the body. Body must do the work. Body must do the sitting. Everyone recognizes that Dogen Zenji was a great Buddhist philosopher. He is considered by all Buddhists, regardless of denomination, as the greatest spokesman for Buddhism in Japan. But Dogen was first and foremost a teacher of zazen. When he was asked questions concerning the benefits of chanting or about chanting in general, he called this just empty wagging of tongues. Just practice zazen, just sit. He harped on this constantly. Remember even in Rinzai Zen, as important as koans are to the Rinzai person, one does not chase koans forever. You’ve got to run out of them sometime. What do you think an eighty year old Rinzai priest does – sit and look at the question, “What is the sound of one hand clapping?” or “What is mu?” or “Does a dog have Buddha Nature?” This is just the gate that is erected to show you that there is no gate. This is Mumonkan: gateless gate. This gate of Zen that you choose to pass through is erected by you as an individual. Koan study is a fancy structure that has no substance. You create the gate. You create the barrier.
Cultivate unity of body and mind!  Practice zazen:

Just look
Mind rise
Sounds rise
Breathing rises and falls
Each moment is now.

How else can you keep from vacillating between the future and the past in your life, consequently creating a living hell for yourself, unless you learn, unless you train yourself in living now? This is Zen life, no life. Not tomorrow life. Not grieving over yesterday. That is why the Zen person is always strong. All energy is concentrated now. So continue training yourself from this time on. Just sit. Just sit. Enlightenment. Just die to enlightenment. Life, death? Just die, die to all of it. Don’t look for anything; don’t expect anything. The value is in the work, in the doing itself. How cheap to engage in a spiritual practice of peeping around the corner. Just do zazen and you come to find how indeed there is no looking for enlightenment. All answers come to you. You don’t chase them. When you are chasing something, you’re always anticipating. And when you are in this state you never attain, because you are always seeking. This is the state of the perpetual beginner. Some people practice zazen for twenty years and are always beginners, because they are always peeping around the corner. They doubt the innate unity of practice and enlightenment, of body and mind. That is the problem. But Dogen Zenji was very firm on this point: cultivate unity of mind and body, and a non-separateness of practice and enlightenment. Not two.

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