PEREKLITA-ALEX


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Our Body is like a strainer…

Our body is like a strainer: life flows like water through the strainer, literally passing through, each and every moment.  From the moment we are brought into this world with a physical form, until the very last breathe, our experiences exist as moments.  And these moments, these snapshots, do not last any longer than the water touching the strainer, vanishing as the water continues on its’ way.
img00164Our ego however wishes to hold onto some of the water…   It is of the illusion that it is possible to keep the water, to store it or hide some part of it away for the future, somehow….

In a sense, it can be said that we strive to hold onto our experiences within our bodies, whether good or bad, happy or traumatic.  We believe ‘twisting and contorting’ the strainer will possibly keep this water, and help us in our future.  Unfortunately, this attitude of wanting to keep our experiences, rather than see their flow as part of our life, separates between past, present and future and causes unnatural stress and discomfort within not only our physical bodies, but our spiritual and energetic bodies as well.  Our logical mind cannot accept that it is impossible to ‘keep a few snapshots’.  We must rather ‘see all the snapshots in the continuum of snapshots that are our lives’.  As Albert Einstein explained, there really is no true division between past and future, but rather a single existence.

Tao Shiatsu treatments help let go of the illusion that keeping the water will make our lives better.

The treatments keep the strainer clear, overcoming obstructions of the ego, allowing for life to move in a continuous, healthy flow.

Feeling light and energized following a treatment is due to the heart, mind and body being free to experience the flow of life as a continuum, without the discomfort of the past and worries about the future.   Similar to the freedom we all experienced as children.

Have a Tao Shiatsu treatment and return to freeing the moments as they pass through you, spilling onto  the    next      moments …

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“To Listen,” Kiku, in 2015

This year just following New Year’s Day, at the Tao Sangha Centre in Toronto, we did Kakizome, the first calligraphy of the year*. For over 2 hours, children and adults alike used brushes and ink to write aspiring word(s) they chose to help motivate themselves throughout 2015.

Near the end of the session, I prepared to write the Japanese word kiku, meaning “to listen”.  The word had actually come to me in the fall of 2014, after much contemplation.  Interestingly enough, just before starting to write, something stirred my imagination and I felt compelled to change the word… until I really looked into my heart and listened…

“It has to be kiku,” I decided and asked my friend Mogi to help me practice it… And this is where it became very interesting, because my friend proceeded to write the kanji the more basic Japanese way, 聞 く、and then he wrote it in a more traditional way, 聴. 

The composition of the second way of writing includes the characters for ear  , and fourteen  十四, hearts 心. 

Being attracted to the importance of the heart, I chose to write the Japanese character, with 14 hearts (these hearts are listed below, next to my Kakizome calligraphy).  However delving more deeply into the origins of this character I found many possible ways to explain and write this character.  Actually, the traditional Chinese way of writing “to listen” (ting) is different from the Japanese character. It includes ear 耳, and heart 心, as in the Japanese Kanji, however it differs in that it also includes king , and can be read as listening with ‘ten eyes’ and ‘one heart’, suggesting that besides using ones ears, we should use our eyes and heart, and respect the speaker as a king.  Another  way to write this character would be without the character for king, while still another explanation for the origin of this character is based on the character for virtue or toku .

In whatever way we chose to write and interpret the character(s), the importance of truly ‘listening’ should not be missed.  We should all understanding that listening is a whole body experience, a complete act involving the physical body as well as the heart (spirit). And listening should not only be focused on others.  I  strongly believe in the universe giving us great gifts all of the time, and if we are open and listening with all of our hearts, we will not let these gifts slip past!  I constantly remind myself that I have received, and every moment continue to receive these ‘gifts’, from family and friends, from my environment, from the universe.  My Kakizome reminds me to listen with empathy, to put myself in other people’s shoes and listen with benevolence.  This year’s kakizome reminds me to not just ‘hear others,’ 聞 く, but to truly listen , to others and the world around me, with undivided attention and a heart of gratitude.

So for 2015, here is the final wish of my motivational Kakizome calligraphy for myself, for Tao Sangha, for this year’s Earth Caravan, and for all beings:

“Let’s listen to each other and build good relationships,

Let’s listen to our environment and help the earth,

Let’s listen to the universe and receive the gifts the universe has to offer!”

“聴”(Listen)
One of the explanations of this Kanji’s origin is,
Listen with your ears (耳) and with fourteen (十四) hearts (心):

photo-99美: with a beautiful heart
新: with a new heart
広: with a wide heart
楽: with an enjoying heart
嬉: with a pleased, happy heart
面: with interest
笑: with a smiling heart
晴: with a bright heart
悲: with empathy to sadness
苦: with empathy to pain
愛: with a tender heart
労: with a kind heart
憂: with a concerned heart
謝: with a heart of gratitude

 * For more pictures from this year’s Kakizome event, please click here


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Why Nembutsu in Tao Sangha?

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There are many things that people ask me about Tao Sangha.

I would like to start with how I feel when I chant Nembutsu. Firstly, I must explain that each and every Nembutsu experience is different for me.  Many many things happen each and every day of our lives, so how could one expect Nembutsu to be the same each time?   There are a few things that remain constant however.   The fact that I have an opportunity to practice regularly, to work towards a higher unity of Ki-mind-body always brings with it a deep gratitude.  So let’s begin with Gratitude. For the purpose of more easily understanding the feelings of gratitude during Nembutsu, I would like to generalize people’s attitude towards gratitude into 3 possible types.  I have experienced each type, and through my writing here, hope to help those interested to better their practice in their effort towards leading a happier and more fulfilling life. The first type of gratitude is the most common type of all.  We all feel this when we receive something we perceive to have some value.  The key words here to focus on are, ‘perceive to have some value’.  It is actually a very selfish and subjective way of living, always observing and calculating that which we feel is beneficial only to ourselves, based on our personal notions and illusions of what we consider to be good and bad.  This type of gratitude is very unstable, since the perception of good and bad can change with the direction of the wind, leading to a roller-coaster state between happiness and unhappiness, between feeling fulfilled and full of gratitude to suddenly feeling empty and desiring more and more. The second type is simply having no gratitude at all.  Being in this state, it can be said that one is living in a kind of perpetual unhappiness, with jealousy, and even hate eating at the very core.  The reasons for this state may be attributed to the very real difficulties, traumas and turmoil faced by people in their lives. With a clear focus only on their bad luck and ‘unfair hand that life has dealt them’, the attitude of “Why should I have gratitude?” pervades every aspect of their life. The third and final type of gratitude is the constant ‘practice of gratitude’.  This type of gratitude refers to having gratitude ‘without any visible’ reasons for having gratitude.   ‘Visible reasons’ refers to the spiritual aspect of a person’s practice and the connection to life itself.  If one is in a unified state of Ki-mind-body, one does not have to look far or deeply to appreciate all that one receives from the universe every moment, from each breath of air to the sounds, smells, sights, and tastes surrounding us. Even after trying and difficult situations, the Ki of Gratitude changes everything!   In my case, for example, following an oil fire in my home, and the trauma of 2nd and 3rd degree burns to my wife’s arm and my right hand, the gratitude both my wife and I felt left us in a positive state and the healing that occurred was quick and almost miraculous. Many people wonder how anyone can feel gratitude at a time such as this, however, without going too deeply into the matter, the oil fire could have been much worse and the outcome far more devastating…  In other words, I was and am grateful to the universe for the experience and the possibility to continue my life. This 3rd and final state of gratitude I recommend to anyone wishing to live a happier life, and through Nembutsu practice, I have come to understand myself more deeply.  Each time, Nembutsu practice profoundly reveals to me the different types of gratitude that will forever exist within me, and within each and every human being.   I carry this feeling of gratitude for what i have received through Nembutsu with me always.

 For this I feel ever-more gratitude.                                                  

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Receiving the Robes of a Monk

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Exactly one week ago, in Wada Ji Temple in the countryside of Japan, I partook in a ceremony to receive the robes of a monk. It was an exciting time, and yet very natural and ‘mundane’ in a way. What surprised me most upon my return to Canada however, were the questions I faced about how I felt following the ceremony, and if I felt “any different in any way?

Before answering these questions, let me start with the story of Mazu (or Ma Tsu), a Zen Master, who as a student spent many hours doing zazen (seated meditation).  I will do my best to retell the story as I learned it.  One day, Mazu’s teacher, Master Nanyue was walking by  and observed Mazu sitting in zazen, and he called out to him,  “Why do you sit in zazen each and every day?”  Mazu  replied to his teacher, “I intend to become a buddha.”  Master Nanyue then picked up a roof tile laying on the ground, and proceeded to grind it on a rock.  “What are you doing?” asked the young monk of his teacher.  “I am trying to make a mirror,” replied the master.  “But how can you make a mirror by grinding a tile?” asked the perplexed Mazu.  The master turned to him and asked, “How can you become a buddha by doing zazen?”

At this point, here is my interpretation of this zen story, and the connection to my recent ordination.  In the story, the young student is so focused on the sitting form of zazen, that he is not mastering the essential principle.   When the form takes precedence over the most important aspect of why we do something, we need to step back and remember why we are doing it.  In the story the Master reminds his student that when we sit or do something to become enlightened, we destroy the attainment of enlightenment.  Upon hearing this, the student suddenly has a moment of satori, or enlightenment.

As human beings, it is easy to get stuck on a form, forget the true meaning of life, the true meaning of the practice, the true meaning of why we are here.  The answer exists within each and every one of us, and not in any form.

If you truly understand zazen or Nembutsu or any spiritual practice, you understand that it is not about sitting or chanting or praying, how many hours or years one practices, or any ceremonies you do for that matter.   Getting stuck on these external forms, is as if “the cart has stopped moving and we whip the cart instead of the horse”, as Master Nanyue later in the story mentions to Mazu.

When we realize and practice non-abidance (avoiding mental constructs and creating illusions in our daily lives) true wisdom appears, and we know exactly what to do when the cart stops moving.   We do not need to do anything special or be anything special in order to be responsible for the life we were given, to work for the benefit of self and others, and all our practices I hope lead us to this realization.  Since the ceremony, my wish for the world has increased, my responsibility as well.

And regarding my answer to the question of if I feel any different now?

“Make it a beautiful day.”

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Wada ji Temple in Shimane Prefecture, Japan.

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Joy and Hope for a Bright future

It has been much too long since I took the time to steadily read a book.  And by steadily I mean each and every evening before falling asleep, reading 2 or 3 chapters, quietly savoring the words on each page.  For Christmas last year I received Nelson Mandela’s autobiography Long Walk to Freedom, and reading it has truly been a kind of escape; yet an escape not in the sense of leaving something behind, but paradoxically, an escape from the illusions of our every day way of thinking and living.  It has amazingly enriched my everyday life by giving me a clearer focus and ammunition towards a stronger, even more determined practice.

Recently I led a two-day workshop at the Vancouver Aboriginal Community Policing Center Society.  It’s hard to choose the words to express everything that happened during those 2 days. I do believe, however that joy and hope for a bright future are words that summarize the workshop most succinctly. And I would very much like to share a comment from one of the participants at the workshop that indeed ties together a lot of what was experienced, including the joy and hope.

“Yesterday I attended the workshop given by Alex Pereklita. It was the most useful and enlightening seminar I have attended. I have been to many seminars seeking relief from the pain and suffering caused by Residential School; a heaviness in my heart and a darkness in my soul, that I could not get rid of…. The seminar helped me get rid of many issues i.e. shame, guilt, sorrow, sadness anger, pain, deepest despair and depression.  It not altogether resolved all of my issues but the seminar has enabled me to live in peace with my issues…. no longer struggle with…what is….The seminar has released me from my straight jacket….has set me free….Has helped me rise above the issues and to gather some flowers of happiness and joy for me.” Queenie an Ojibway Elder

We as human beings must understand that we are all one.   All the pain in this world is shared, although it may not always seem like it is shared equally, and we may not even be aware of the pain at times.   Yet I can assure you that it does exist for all human beings, and facing and accepting the pain of all beings is one of the first steps that help overcome this pain and suffering.

Another critical part along the path to a bright future is community, culture, compassion.  And as human beings, we should not think that it is only up to individual communities to worry about losing their culture.

When a culture and way of life is lost, it is a loss for all of humanity, because these are what give us joy and hope, these are what help ground us, and ultimately help ease the pain and suffering that accompany us along our path.  Without these, we can say we are like a ship without sails.

We all have a long walk to freedom.

Through practice, practice, and more practice. We all need to practice to be better human beings, more compassionate, more loving more caring. We all need to practice to accept ourselves completely, all the positive and all the negative, together. Only then can we stand on our 2 feet and make an honest choice about what direction to go in.  Only then can we be more and more determined to work towards making this world a better place for all.

And when all human beings are living equally, respecting each others cultures and traditions, treating all life as spirit and not material, then we will all have true freedom.

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Dharma Talk : The Sound of One Hand Clapping

Recently following Nembutsu Chanting at the Tao Sangha Healing Centre, I gave a Dharma talk regarding a Zen koan that has been with me for over 25 years:  “What is the sound of one hand clapping?”   The following is an excerpt from the talk and my book to be published soon, with a chapter devoted to the pursuit of Zen and enlightenment, and the relation to Tao Sangha.

The Sound of One Hand

What is the sound of one hand clapping?  This Zen koan or paradoxical riddle, composed by the Japanese Zen Master Hakuin, has been the source of many interpretations with even Bart Simpson adding to the list of possible answers (proceeding to close and open his hand quickly, thus creating a slight clapping sound at best).  Since the age of 16 when I first read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, I have been knowingly following the patterns and parables, paradoxes and possibilities that Zen offers.  Yet I believe that my true interest started at a much, much younger age.  Suffice it to say, this particular koan puzzled me greatly from very early on, and even when I had secretly read the ‘accepted answers’ students had given their teachers after sometimes 3 years of meditation on the koan, my ‘acceptable answer’ has only recently come to being, due in a big part to the teachings of Tao Sangha and my teacher, Ryokyu Endo.

There first needs to be an understanding that no one can read an ‘accepted answer’ and totally understand;  the true answer lies in the effort and determination one puts towards meditation, as in my case, Buddhist Nembutsu, and more specifically, the recital of the Heart Sutra.  For it is in the Heart Sutra that one recites phrases over and over with the Japanese word MU, or ‘nothingness’.   Phrases, for example, such as “having no form, no sensation, no thought, no eye, no ear, no nose, no tongue, no body, no mind, no color, no sound, no smell, no taste, no touch, no object,” etc. repeatedly use MU because MU refers to the questions that arise and cannot be easily answered when one speaks of  such ‘nothingness’.    Naturally all this nothingness leads us down the path towards Emptiness or KU.  

Trusting our scientific, logical side, we generally first examine the situation in a dualistic manner.   For example, when we look at a cup without tea in it, our eyes see the cup and the ‘nothingness’ inside.  Our mind  easily interprets this ‘nothingness’ as emptiness.  We see a cup, and we see it is empty.  But if the cup is moved, does the same emptiness follow?   And if the cup is emptied, or taken away, what happens to the emptiness? Where does it go?  Or what if there were no cup to begin with?

Similarly, the hand, open, with fingers pointing forward: does it exist on its own?  Is it just surrounded by an empty, ‘silent’ space?  With a dualistic view of your hand, the big picture is lost to separately viewing the subject and the object, one hand and the space surrounding it, just as with the cup and emptiness inside of it.  Dualistic thinking prevents us from seeing the world as one, and creates a separation between all things, including ourselves from other beings.  We do this because it’s an easier way of not having to deal with the problems of others and our society.  On the other hand, no pun intended, if we can acknowledge that emptiness cannot exist without the cup, and the cup without emptiness, we can then continue to accept that we exist because others exists.  The sound of one hand clapping does not exist without the other hand!  And we begin to understand the oneness of subject and object, we begin to feel responsible for other’s happiness, because our own happiness is linked to theirs, and we feel responsible for the future of our world!!!  

Now, we can confidently proceed to understand Emptiness as that which it truly is, ANY form.  It is that which can be projected to create any form.  This means that depending on your consciousness, the objective world can be changed into any form.   Meaning  we can all change our future and the world through our conscious mind!

And so we come back to MU; it is no longer ‘nothingness’.  It transcends towards infinite possibilities.   It is, infinity itself!

This leads to a huge freedom from the constant suffering that plagues us trying to qualify and quantify everything into neat little boxes to make our own little world perfect.  And once this freedom arrives at our door, effortlessly gracing our every breath, the great potential of our heart opens for a brighter future.  It is here that we can find some relief from the sights and smells, tastes and other sensations that confuse our mind and stimulate our judgement.  

This is what I have discovered after many years of study, as part of the explanation about Emptiness that Tao Sangha offers.


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New Tao Sangha Healing Centre in Toronto & New Blog,

As the people crowded into the Tao Sangha Toronto Centre last Saturday evening for the party, my mind became as blank as a sheet freshly washed & pressed …

Overwhelming is a hard word to use, however the feelings that I still cannot explain clearly even now are tied to that evening.   After so many years of imagining, then planning and designing (even without a physical building), and then finally purchasing and constructing a centre, my wish here is to convey the deep joy I felt, watching so many people enjoying themselves at the Centre that night.  Maybe you can say that my mind relaxed too much at one point, as my body shuffled from room to room, person to person.  There were moments where it was as if my body had gone into some higher of state of happiness where I was no longer hungry, nor thirsty, not tired… not anything in particular; only a piece of the grand happiness of everyone present.

Suffice it to say, I have no doubt that a smile will come to my face whenever i think of all the happy faces & congratulations pouring in that evening.

Thus, with great appreciation and care, I would like to start this new blog by thanking everyone who was there and also who has been there, supporting the ‘dream’ of the New Tao Sangha Healing Centre in Toronto.  And special thanks also must be given to people who have given not only their time & energy, but also supported the Centre financially. Okay, so let’s begin…  And then this is where I struggle:  where to start this list, and also with who?

After some contemplation,  i begin with something my brother, the architect who  worked tirelessly on the design, said to me one day recently: “You know, Dad would be proud of us, for working together & realizing this Centre.”

So I begin here:  thank you father, thank you mother, thank you Dmytriy P and Karen M, and all the staff at DK Studio for the design, thank you to Jeremiah D and Gord B & Mike M for your amazing donations & hard work, to Tom & Florianne for huge support and work done, Himanshu S, to Karin R for constant support, Anne D from Montreal for wonderful painting skills, Mostafa A & David for lots of work & dump runs & tools, Bob W, for cleanups, Raynald L. for carpentry skills, Karen K for continuing to raise funds, Rian S, Greg & Yufuko, Ted K, Mike G & Dmytro G, Lee S, Rian S,  Yoshi for finishing work, Lee and Tomomi from Vancouver, Kyoko and Kevin for photography & video work, Vicky & Bernice, Hashimoto family, Bohdan and Andrew for the facade, Renatto and Tommy, Ziggy and the framing gang, Walter and the HVAC boys, Fred W & Rudy & Eddie for the plumbing, Barbara the mechanical Eng, Victor the structural Eng, all our neighbours, all the people working now at the centre as instructors, as well as ALL the Sangha members from Toronto and Montreal and Vancouver and Madison, that came to clean and set up and volunteer at the opening!

There is also my family, my children and wife, that i give deep thanks to for their endless support and understanding.

Finally I would like to thank Endo Sensei and the Universal Spirit of great wisdom and light, Amida Buddha.

Sincerely,

Alex

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