A Meditation App

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I just got this ad today — the “App of the Day” in the Apple Store today.

Our Mirror of Zen app should be ready for beta-testing by January 1.

And it will be free. There will only be in-app charges for people who wish to download one (or both) of the Shambhala titles which I will record next week as audiobooks — The Mirror of Zen, by So Sahn Dae Sa, and Wanting Enlightenment is a Big Mistake, by Zen Master Seung Sahn, because, like, it would be illegal to try to give them away for free.

Everything else will be free.

Some of the good folks on the design team here at ZCR are telling me that the app might have to be a “freemium” app, at some point down the road. There are different special features which might be added on later, and the team says that it would be not only normal, but expected to charge for them, like special instructional videos. (I have no idea for certain if these “features“ will happen, and I have no specific ideas for them.)

But for basic meditation, for the meditation technology tools that are required to build a daily practice, I will not, in good conscience, be able to charge money for this.

Blog this Trip (34): Sick?

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Well, things might have been pushed a little bit too far on this trip. I notice a range of strong sensations overtaking the whole body: a sore throat and incipient cough, headache, watery eyes, some sweating, a different and unfamiliar feeling in the chest, and full-body aches creeping over. Immediately out of the plane, I am heading straight to a testing center, just to be on the safe side.

One of the features of this ongoing pandemic, which many people have noted, is the fact that, for the last two years, people were catching colds less, catching the flu less. In fact, it was pretty much nonexistent in our lives! This was chalked up to the fact of the ubiquity of mask-wearing, which is what people do in Asia whenever they feel the slightest symptom of sickness coming on. We used to laugh at this all the time in Korea. As soon as someone in the temple community experienced even the beginning of a coughing spell, or anything even remotely resembling a cold, either they or someone in the group would slap a mask on them. It always seemed so ridiculous, because masks were things that were just born in hospitals, in the West. And yet it seems that that odd cultural habit might have been the thing which caused so little influenza to occur during these many months of pandemic, and the winters have been noticeably devoid of such sicknesses.

And now, during these eight days in Norway – – where mask-wearing is not required, either inside or outside or basically anywhere – – some sort of bug can now really travel around. One woman during the tightly-packed retreat this past weekend left during the retreat when she felt these same symptoms. Apparently she tested negative for Covid that very day. But I didn’t hear any followup on whether she retested.

In any event, it seems I might have pushed a little hard. Most nights, I could not finish work before 11 or 12 midnight. There were often long consultations with students who had questions about their practice, and also several long discussions with family members back in the States who are trying to digest a recent family tragedy. On top of that, there are always documents and emails that need to be checked and responded to, regarding the Zen Center or the myriad other inquiries and requests that come across my plate every day.

Homa and Yogi took very, very excellent care of me during the stay there. So it’s not for lack of support. (In fact, at one point they remonstrated with me very strongly that I might need not to so habitually make myself available to questioners in the periods following or outside the practice events.)

It might just be that, since this wonderful “work” has no borders or edges, weekends or “off-time”, and in our ubiquitous interconnectivity through messaging apps, where people in other time zones still feel it normal (and too easy) to reach out to you, leaving a question or a problem that they wish your insight or help with, you end up burning the candle at both ends, whether you like it or not.

So, to the testing center.

But first, a steaming hot terrine of strong traditional German broth with bread dumplings. So good for the body, so “right” for the soul. It’s what my German Grandma would have given us.

Bavarian Kraftbrühe — just the way Grandma used to make it! (And that’s an Apfelschorle, not beer. Brews were amicably divorced a long, long time ago now.)

Blog this Trip (33): Arriving

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I don’t know what it is exactly, but whenever I return to Germany, from anywhere in the world, it just feels “good“. Every single time. It just feels totally and completely “right“. I have never felt that about any other country where I have lived in the world – – in the US, especially, but also in Asia or in any other country in Europe, however much I might enjoy deeply aspects of the life and “flow” there, wherever it is.

And the feeling begins literally when the plane enters German airspace – – I literally feel it from there. Something notices something as deep as the bones inside! And as the landscape opens up below — the neatly tidy fields, farms and churches and houses clustered together across this patchwork landscape of verdant green, the thickets of forest still standing here and there, the order, the sense of well-planned things, the calm, the deep stability, even the special quality of mists here – – somethings so profoundly deep inside goes “click“.

(By crude contrast, I feel nothing of this when arriving in America. Nada. Never. Even as a small child, and well into my college years, I felt some palpable estrangement from the place. It was like an organ being rejected by the body. I have wanted to get out for as long as I lived there, and in fact have now lived outside the States for nearly 30 full years. I have zero desire to live there ever again, whatsoever, and do not even have a legal mailing address or base for “home“ in the States, for this reason. I have zero wish ever to live there again.)

Blog this Trip (32): Leaving

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As I swiped my boarding pass at the gate, a buzzer went off. The screen flashed red, and the padlock-gate did not swing open. A red “X” appeared. “Please contact staff.” Swipe again. “Please contact staff.” The boarding crew rushed up with intensely worried faces, addressing me by name. What was happening? Had I been detected carrying contraband substances? Was there some mistake in my reservation? What’s going on?

“Mr. Muenzen!” they exclaimed in worried alarm, which only heightened this sudden flash of don’t-know travel-dread. “Mr. Muenzen! We are very sorry! [more apprehension] There has been some mistake — the flight has loaded one less meal. We are so sorry, but it has been selected that you will not be able to have a meal on this flight! My goodness, we are so sorry!” I had never encountered this before, being selected out from the line to be told such a thing. Another crew member had meanwhile circled in to offer her colleague support. “I am so terribly sorry for this terrible inconvenience! It’s terrible. I am really so sorry! I am sorry!” Their faces were filled with genuine alarm and a seeming preparedness for some difficult encounter. One of the women seemed to eagerly scan the edges of my eyes for some telling reaction. “I’m so terribly sorry!”

“Why are you sorry? I eat once a day. This actually helps me.” That seemed to shock them for some reason. “And anyway, it’s not ‘your’ fault. What have you to do with this? No problem! Please don’t worry about it.” I was only laughing at the strangeness that this was somehow “burdensome”. This speech all came out in a flash. I was laughing, and their faces brightened. “Thanks for helping my practice!”

The first woman’s eyes brightened, and they looked at each other. “Oh, just once a day?” She seemed genuinely relieved for some reason, as if I had given her some mystical teaching.

“Yeah, it’s the best. See how helpful it is? Ha ha ha!”

Her eyes grew wide. “I’m definitely going to remember you!” she exclaimed — quite loudly — as I entered the tunnel, waving over the back of my head behind me while soldiering forward into the shute.

The Buddha’s one-meal-a-day teaching on what we now call “intermittent fasting” really does save all beings from suffering. On multiple levels from moment to moment. You can count on it — he was always right. So grateful for this software!

A minute or so later, entering the doorway of the aircraft, we had to wait some minutes while someone loaded a big pack into an overhead bin down the aisle.

While waiting for the aisle to clear, I said brightly, “Guten Morgen!” to the stewardess handing out hygienic wipes. “Guten Morgen!” Perhaps detecting my inflected accent using German, she craned her neck forward to read the cover of my red passport. “Oh, Irland,” I said in German.

“Ah, ja. Eine schönes Land.” (“Oh, yes. Such a beautiful country.”)

Happy to speak and think in German again, for some reason I blurted, “Ich bin Keltisch!” (“I’m a Celt.”)

She laughed. “Ja, echt Keltisch!” (“Yes, a real Celt!”) She remained engaged, looking up with a big bright smile.

So I said, in further bad German, “Ich bin nur ein Kelten. Ich fahre jetzt zu Hause.” (“I’m just a Celt, returning home!”)

“Oh, umsteigen Sie in München für Dublin?” (“Oh, transfer in Munich to Dublin?”)

“Nein, zu mein Keltisch Heimat in Bayern. Ich wohne in Regensburg. Das war ursprünglich die Kelten, danach die Römische, und danach Sie Deutschen.” (“No, to my Celtic home in Bavaria. I live in Regensburg. It was originally peopled by the Celts. Then the Romans, and later you Germans came.“)

“Ja, ja,” she said. “Das stimmt! Die Kelten waren zu erst!” (“Yes, yes. Correct. The Celts were there first.”)

I winked at her. “Die Deutschen sind die echt Ausländeren in Deutschland! Ha ha ha!” (“The Germans are the real foreigners in Germany! Ha ha ha!”)

She literally burst out in a laugh. Then she guided me to place my backpack in a more convenient overhead rack near the front. I was very happy for that.

Thank you, Buddha, for all of this, and immeasurably more.

Blog this Trip (30): Abschied

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During the days of our retreat this past weekend, we came to learn of the passing from his body of a great figure in the transmission of the Dharma to these northern lands: Koun Gordon Geist.

Though he was born and raised in America, Gordon produced the first translation of Shunryu Suzuki Roshi’s seminal book, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, into Norwegian. (They say his Norwegian is excellent.) He led the main Rinzai Zen sangha in Oslo for many years. He organized countless retreats, and invited many teachers to Norway to spread the dharma. In every cell and fiber of his being, he manifested Dharma.

Gordon was always characteristically kind and courteous to me during these years of visits to teach in Norway. He attended several of my public talks, and he always stayed to share some words together at the end. He even “lent” his beautiful Zendo for a retreat we had eight years ago. He is a great marker on the Way.

In Asian temple tradition, it is customary to honor the passing of a great nun, monk, or teacher with a visit to her or his temple. As soon as we finished the retreat, and the guests had left, I organized a small group to visit the temple where Gordon practiced, to offer a stick of incense at the altar and bow three times in recognition of gratitude for his lifetime of practice. At the end of our bows, I shouted “Tausen Tag!” (“a thousand thanks”) at his death portrait (below).

Picture taken by the staff of the Norwegian Buddhist Union. Its president, Egil Lothe, kneels at extreme right. Homa Elenii, the head of our Zen House, is second from left.

Here is an English translation of the words posted by his Sangha on social media:

Dear Zen friends and Sangha members:
Sunday, October 10., our dear elder, Koun Gordon Geist, died. He had been having health issues for a while, but it still happened unexpectedly and quickly.
Many of us got our first encounter with Zen through Koun and what he taught us has left lasting traces. His long-standing and tireless efforts for the center, both spiritually and practically, are one of the main reasons why there is a place we can practice together today. So even though he is now gone he will forever live on at Rinzai zen center, both when we chant, perform our prostrations, or sit together.
Thursday, October 21. th at noon. 18.30 the usual sitting will be replaced with a memorial in zendo. Here, there will be both a formal marking and the opportunity to commemorate Koun jointly.
He will be buried on Friday, October 22. at 14.30 in Vestre Gravlund by Borgen.
In deep gasshō, and with love.

Blog this Trip (28): Fat People!

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When I first dove deeply into serious ketogenic eating, about seven years ago, the word “ketogenic“ needed to be explained to people. You got weird looks, as if you were doing something esoteric and possibly damaging. Now, there are whole subsections in the supermarket devoted to it, and innumerable Instagram posts extolling an entire lifestyle and culture that has grown up around it.

All of the latest science points to a low-carb, high-fat, moderate-protein regimen as having the best benefits for health, stamina, and longevity. But I got involved with it from the beginning due to the spiritual power of being released from the constant sugar-cycling of a carb-rich lifestyle. Relying on one simple meal per day, and only that, has significantly softened the reactive mind, and opened up a much more consistently balanced grounding in consciousness. That physical hunger that I experience for most of the hours of the day, is not a burden, or a difficulty to be “solved”– – actually, it has become refined over these years into this spaciousness, a clarity, a thoroughly reliable stability that is impossible to put into words. It “enhances” meditation. With all the talk we see these days around the emerging science on the benefits of intermittent fasting, from the physical to the mental, is it no wonder that this is a lifestyle which was promoted by a half-naked sage who urged his followers 2,500 years ago to eat just one time per day?

But the tank must eventually be filled. So, when someone offers me that single daily eating as a fat-rich meal, I don’t see “food”.

I see love.

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