Learning How to be AWAKE!

Learning How to be AWAKE! 1/13/18
Every once in a while you have what is termed as an “a-ha” moment. I don’t get them really often, but I had one this morning while I was reading a book entitled, The Hidden Lamp. It’s a collection of stories or koans about Buddhist women. Here is the sentence that gave me my “a-ha” moment:

“A human birth is supposed to be an advantageous birth because only as a human being in a human body can one awaken.”

Now, I am not attached to the concept of reincarnation. I am not attached to any concept of life after death. The reason for my lack of attachment to any conceptualized idea of life after death or what happens, et cetera is that I personally just don’t know. And honestly that has been okay with me most of my life, that is until my mother passed away. She was the first person in my life that I watched take her last breath. It changed me forever, and I have not been able to let some things about that event rest. From that moment on almost three years now my biggest questions have been, why are we here?, where did she go?, and what is the point of all the suffering in the world if we just die?
Now, I am not trying to be all down and negative, although I have had my moments with these questions for sure, but I think over time I just gradually gain some acceptance of the fact that I won’t know, I can’t know….it just is. For me, that is what it’s been like so that I can continue on, survive and thrive as a human on this planet. I think I really came to a point that I am here to just do the best I can and help people whenever it’s possible. That means whether it’s mothering or grandmothering or being at work or being a good friend or a good sister. Helping people because we are all going through this together. We are all suffering in some way or another so helping each other with whatever we can is the reason. This thought and belief has gotten me through. It has helped me continue to try to grow and evolve with time.
And then there was this sentence…

“A human birth is supposed to be an advantageous birth because only as a human being in a human body can one awaken.”

Now, leave out the part about human birth and all that could be associated with that and just look at the part where it says…..CAN ONE AWAKEN. This is what got me. It dawned on me that the reason I am here, the reason I am human, the reason I am on this planet right now in time as a tiny little miniscule person in the galaxy is so that I can WAKE UP! Wake up to life, wake up to possibilities, wake up to suffering, wake up to knowing how to walk through suffering to the other side, wake up to other people’s suffering, just wake up to everything!!!
Zen Master Seung Sahn famously said, “What is it? Don’t know.” This is a koan that some Zen students study for years, even a lifetime. We meet each moment with exactly what it is, nothing more, nothing less. Being present, really present is part of being awake. When I read that sentence this morning, many of the painful moments of my life flashed before my eyes, and I had a new understanding about them. I had a sense and a feeling that they happen to help me become more awake. Each moment I have been through that has been painful, my natural instinct is to ask, WHY????? That word (why) can literally drive me insane. I want to know. I want to know now. I want all the details. I want answers. The not knowing is painful. But when I saw those moments this morning and realized that after walking through them, I am still here. I am still thriving. I am still trying my best. I am still living, taking my breaths that I am becoming awake. I am coming out of my birth fog. I am spreading my life wings and learning with everything that is. I am learning that becoming awake is life. That is the reason. For me the answer to the koan, “What is it, don’t know” is “BECOMING AWAKE!!!” Everything I go through…good, bad, indifferent is about me becoming awake. There is no other reason. We are all dying. There is no getting out of it. Learning how to live this life with love in our hearts and for others is what I think it’s all about. The more awake I become, the more love I will have in my heart for myself and for others.
Every little step I take in this life is a choice. I am human, and sometimes I make the wrong choices. Sometimes I am asleep and don’t notice I am still breathing and can make a difference today even if it’s a little one. I want to be AWAKE!. I want to make a difference. I want to leave behind the message that we are here to help one another, all sentient beings, spread love and peace, and take care of ourselves. With this knowledge, I will hopefully live fuller, be more open, and give more. Today I realized that the reason I am here is to BECOME AWAKE! Peace and Love, Everyone!


Happiness Doesn’t Exist!

Sermon given on 10/25/16

Image result for happiness and flowers

I was so honored when Rev. McKee asked me to talk to you this morning about happiness.  To be honest, I was nervous, too – especially when I decided to call my sermon, “Happiness Doesn’t Exist.”  So let me ask you…How do YOU define happiness?  Is it money?  Is it a big house or a fancy trip to exotic places?  Is it family?  Is it health and well-being?  What is it?

From a Zen perspective, happiness doesn’t exist. You can’t go buy happiness.  You can’t order happiness on Amazon and have it shipped to your house.  You can’t pick up happiness.  You can’t borrow it from someone else.  Happiness is an inside job.  It comes from within oneself, our own Buddha nature, our true self.

I have been thinking a lot about what I wanted to say to all of you about happiness, and I have thought of all the different Zen aspects that apply to this topic.  I have written this talk over many different times trying to get it just right and say just the right thing, but that is not really how I do things.  I have to do them from a feeling place.  I have to speak from my heart.  What it really boils down to for me is perspective.  When I was younger, I was a pretty angry young adult.  I felt that there was a lot of injustice in the world.  I wanted to make things right and change people.  I wanted to bang my drum and stomp my feet.  I thought if I threw enough fits, yelled the loudest, protested the most, people would change their ways.  What I really wanted was for everyone to think like I did.  I thought I was right.  I always thought I was right; that my way was the only way, and if you didn’t see it my way, well, then you were narrow-minded, close minded, or better yet, you were down right wrong.  My perspective was very messed up, and the truth is I didn’t love myself.  I didn’t think I was good enough, so I overcompensated in other areas.  I never looked outside myself.  I never put myself in someone else’s shoes.  I never thought about how it was for anybody else, what their life was like, how they grew up, what their belief systems were; that there might be more than one way to look at things.  My mind was so closed to anything else, it just didn’t matter.  The world had done me wrong.  The world was wrong.  Poor me.  I was angry and very, very unhappy.

Material things didn’t make me happy.  Money didn’t make me happy.  Happiness didn’t exist for me at least not the way I thought it should.  I wanted to make myself happy by changing my surroundings, changing people.  I was looking outside myself for happiness.  People who agreed with me might have made me somewhat happy, but nothing really changed my heart until my perspective on life and the way things are.. changed.  And believe me this did not happen overnight.  It has taken me a long time to make the decision to change and to work on myself.  Some of it has come with age, but a lot of it has come with a willingness to want to feel happy, to bring happiness to others, and to show my children happiness.  I have to be willing to change.  I had to work for it.  I didn’t wake up one morning and boom I was happy.  Bad things still happen and there is still suffering. Life keeps on going.  People die.  People get sick.  People lose jobs, people move away.  Things in life change, and there is nothing I can do about that.  I can’t change other people, but what I recognized was I don’t need to change other people.  All I need to worry about is myself.  I need to work on me.  I need to focus on how I can make myself better, because if I don’t love myself, take care of myself, learn to be happy myself, how can I help anyone else?

Thich Nhat Hanh, a famous Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk, would say that we have to water the seeds of happiness.  This means I have to work at being happy.  I have to do things that bring happiness to me and my life, and to others, but he would also say being able to enjoy happiness doesn’t require that we have zero suffering.  It just means that my perspective on how I deal with any given situation is up to me.  I am not saying that we have to smile all the time or “act” like nothing is wrong when it is.  I am saying part of having a happy life in general for me is to honor my feelings, no matter what they are, when they come up.  It’s about being present in the moment and trying to learn how not to live in the past or project about the future.  It’s about right here, right now.  It’s about learning to be awake to this very precious moment that is all I have.

Rev. McKee said in the first sermon at the beginning of the semester, “we only have to recognize the gift and see it as good and respond to it.”  Recognizing it is the key here, and it made me think of the Bible verse from John 13:34, where Simon Peter and Jesus were talking.  Jesus said, “A new command I give you:  Love one another.  As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”  Simon Peter said in response:  “Lord, where are you going?”  One could say or argue that Simon was not in the moment perhaps; that he didn’t even realize that Jesus just gave him a fabulous, awesome new commandment….to love one another.  He was worried about where he was going and completely missed the point.  He didn’t recognize the gift.

A Buddhist story along these same lines is the Flower Sermon given by the Buddha.  He said absolutely nothing in this sermon.  All he did was hold up a single flower and waited and waited and waited.  Everyone was trying to figure out why the Buddha was not saying anything….except one, Mahakasyapa.  All he did was look at the Buddha and smile.  The Buddha knew at that moment that he understood, and that he was the only one that understood.  It was about being in that particular moment fully awake and recognizing that there was nothing else but the Buddha holding up a flower.

Being present and awake to this moment with loving kindness toward myself and others, I believe, is the cornerstone of happiness.  When I am able to apply this to my life, with attention to this moment, I believe this is when I am the most happy.  Recognizing the absolute energy of right now is pretty huge.  Smiling to someone else and really smiling to their heart, meaning it.  Helping anyone I see that I can if they need it.  Being grateful for every.. little.. thing, my children, my family, friends, my breath, my health, a job, food, clothes.  I could go on and on.  These things may seem little to some, but I am truly, truly grateful for every one of those things.

I believe we are all one big sentient family, and if I have loving kindness at the center of my actions towards my fellow Earthlings and practice this with as much skill as I can, I believe this will bring me happiness and my family, and for others.  I believe that is the Zen of happiness….everyday life with loving kindness, filling our lives with love.  Do I do this all the time, definitely not!  But being open to the fact that I don’t have to live in negativity all the time and that I have a choice.  I can be miserable and negative all the time or I can try to be positive and uplifting.  I can open my heart and mind.  I don’t have to create opposites with my opinions. I can make amends when I do something wrong.  There is no “us” and “them”.  There is just us.  I can put it all down and just ask, “how may I help you?”

It hurts me to see all the anger, hatred, and negativity in the world today, and quite honestly I know that I cannot fix the world’s problems by any stretch, but what I can change is myself.  I can be as happy a person as I can.  I can work on myself, better myself, spread love wherever possible.  I can help my fellow family which is each one of us whenever and wherever possible.  I can always, always choose LOVE!  It’s like a ripple effect.  It starts with me and ripples out to my family, my street, my community, my country, the world.  It’s about building bridges, not tearing them down.  It’s about not creating opposites, not knee-jerk reacting to every little thing.  It’s about finding similarities.  We all want to be happy.  All of us do not want to suffer.  We are all one.  We are interdependent on this planet with everyone and everything else, and it’s up to each one of us to be LOVE.  I aspire to be this.  I want to be Love, and when I am not, I won’t give up.  I will try harder the next time because I believe happiness is on the path of love.  Imagine if we all looked at everyone, every sentient being, as a member of our family that we loved and cherished.  Just imagine that for a moment!

This summer I had the honor and privilege of seeing His Holiness, the 14th Dalai Lama, with my Great Teacher and his wife.  This was truly a bucket-list moment for me.  His message was, WE ARE ONE…we are all brothers and sisters on this rock…all sentient beings matter! His main message, of course, was love.  It takes a strong and courageous heart to love those who are not very lovable.  That is the only thing that will work in the long run. Stand taller and rise above all the stuff that only brings people down. His Holiness said it doesn’t matter what your faith is as long as love and compassion are at the core. He said you have to be determined to BE love.  “Happiness is not something ready-made.  It comes from your own actions.”

So if no one has told you today that they love you, then I will.  I love you all.  Peace, love and happiness, Everyone!!!



So on May 25th, 2016, at 6:39 p.m. my world got even fuller.  My grandbaby, Emmitt, or as he is also known as (My G-baby, my Squishy baby, Grunty Baby or “him’s the tootest!”) was born!  Words really can’t describe what it’s like to be a Grammie, but I’m going to try.  He is the perfect blend of my son, Ethan, and his momma, Ashley.   They are great parents who love that little one so much!  They are handling their new roles like champs and with a great deal of ease, maturity, and poise.  I am so proud of them.  You know, it’s such an amazing thing to have children, to know that “this little human” is a part of you, but then when you get handed your grandbaby, well, that is a whole new level of life and awesomeness!!!  It’s legacy!  It’s spectacular!  I didn’t really know what that love was until that moment.  I remember getting the text from my son saying he was here, and I could come upstairs to see him for the first time.  I literally jumped up out of my seat and yelled in the middle of the hospital lobby.  It’s surreal.  The absolute two best days of my life happened on October 24, 1993, and October 20, 2005, when MY two babies were born.  But now I get to add a third best day, May 25, 2016.  Ten pounds, 14 ounces and 23 inches of the sweetest, most precious, most cuddly, preciousness ever!  I already have my next tattoo planned!  I love you, Emmitt!





Zen Ragamuffin

Zen Ragamuffin: 3/19/15
A ragamuffin is usually described as being a small child, usually female, who is dirty and wears torn clothing. I am not a ragamuffin in that sense, but after watching the movie, Ragamuffin, the story of Rich Mullins, I feel that I have found a new direction in a ragamuffin way. Rich Mullins was a Christian singer/songwriter who was a sad, lost man trying to find his own truth. He ultimately found it in his music and helping others. He was just himself. He didn’t care what other people thought about him or how he dressed, what he said or whether it was a typical Christian answer to typical Christian questions. He answered from his heart and a lot of the times it was a very profound answer that was real. He smoked cigarettes and drank.  He wore old t-shirts with jeans that had holes.  He always wanted the approval of his father and finally got some peace with his father just a short time before he was in a car crash that took his precious life at the age of 41. He was just a peaceful, loving guy with a lot of inner turmoil. He had a lot to say and he said it through his music that moved people all over the world. People could relate to him so much because he seemed to speak to that part of the human condition that doesn’t feel good enough about themselves.  He became famous, but that is not what he wanted and that is not where he found his happiness, his true spirit. He found it within himself, through accepting the circumstances he had with his father, his music and the choices he had made.

I can relate so much to Rich Mullins in a lot of ways. I have always had some sort of calling. I have always been a seeker. The thing is I didn’t know how to just be myself and say what I needed to say without fear; fear of rejection, fear of condemnation, fear that I wouldn’t be liked or that I would be judged or that I would be wrong about what I say and not know how to defend what I had said in the first place. I have done this for most of my life.

In the past, if I said what I wanted it usually wasn’t very skillful. I never used to think about what I said. I would just blurt it out and not think about the consequences or who it might hurt. I didn’t have any thought of what it might do to someone else. I just thought I was “right” so then I must say it, but what I know now is that I was using this as a way to hide who I really was and I also didn’t know who I was. I knew that I hurt inside and that I was lost. I didn’t fit in anywhere and I felt very different. There was definitely something missing in my spirit, but I didn’t know what it was. I wanted more always. I wanted to be accepted, but I also wanted to be different from everything I saw around me. There was an ache inside, a sadness, but a drive to figure it out. That’s what I have been doing for the last 25 plus years. One thing I know more than anything else about myself is that I was supposed to be a momma. My boys are the one true thing in my life. They are me, and I am them. I couldn’t breathe without them. I don’t know what I did before them. But I also knew there was something more about me that I had to find out.

The part of my spirit that had been missing was a sense of who I was besides being a mom to my two boys. All of that changed when I found Buddhism back in the 90’s. I knew when I evolved into Buddhism that I found my true self-calling. I just didn’t know what that looked like and all the studying I did or meditating I did didn’t seem to answer the questions either. They made me feel better, but the more I studied, the more I meditated and hung around with like-minded people the more I questioned. I wanted to do something, but I didn’t know what the force was that was pushing me forward and I still had so much to learn. I had many more trials to go through, relationships, parent problems, personal traumas to deal with, but once I got through a lot of that stuff, I still had a hole to fill. That’s when I found seminary or seminary found me.

I have been in Zen seminary now for a year and a half. I have studied hard, read tons of stuff, meditated more than I ever had before and with a new mental attitude toward it all, but what would I do with it? I knew I wanted to be monastic. One of the things I thought I wanted more than anything was to live in a cave somewhere in India or Tibet and meditate until I die, but being a mom and having responsibilities didn’t seem to push me in that direction.  Part  of me longed to be alone, to just have quiet, to sort things out….what things I am not sure. I just knew that there was not enough time, space or quiet that could help me figure that out. Then my Great Teacher said something to me one day that made me rethink things. He said something like, what good could I do people if I was stuck in some cave or monastery in some far-off land? I honestly didn’t know and nobody had really asked me that before. I just knew that what he said made sense. I wanted to help people. I wanted to teach people, but what could I teach them? I wasn’t good enough. I didn’t like anything I really had to say, but I had so much to say. I didn’t feel good about my art, but I had so many drawings and paintings in my head. I had so much to write but I never wrote. I was just frozen, just stuck. I didn’t feel good enough to do anything with anything I was learning or building. The closer I came to ordination, the less worthy I felt with each passing day. I just wanted to do something.

I kept thinking that maybe I was supposed to open a Zen center and teach meditation and teach the Dharma, but how? I don’t have money to buy a place or even the cushions to sit on. And besides I wasn’t good enough to give a talk, teach anyone, and even if I did have the balls to teach something, someone would just question it and I wouldn’t have a good enough answer. I was never more stuck and unsure in my whole life. Then I ordained…..

The first time I would get angry after my ordination or say shit or damn or get frustrated with my little one or have an argument with my partner, I would feel more and more unworthy. How could I be a Zen priest who couldn’t control her own emotions? I wasn’t worthy. I didn’t fit here either. What was my direction? How could I help someone else if I couldn’t help myself?

So one night I was talking to my Great Teacher, and he told me about the movie, Ragamuffin, the story of Rich Mullins. I thought to myself, what could this possibly have to do with me? The answer is everything!!!! I truly think this movie has helped to set me free. What this movie is about is learning how to be free, be myself just like this..HOW TO BE ME…JUST ME…..JUST ME!!! REGARDLESS!!!!  Being me just the way I am is Zen, Zen in the moment, whatever that looks like.
So I am sitting here listening to some of the best damn music ever…kirtan by Krishna Das, smoking my e-cig and finally writing about what is going on, saying it freely without too much worry.  I still have doubts, but I am working on it slowly but surely, and it starts right now.  I have a whole lot to say, and I am going to say it regardless. It doesn’t matter if people don’t like it. It doesn’t matter if people don’t understand it. It just is. This is what it means to me to be a Zen Ragamuffin. Being myself, with all my flaws, just being my hippie momma-vegan-eclectic-Zen priest self, making mistakes, saying things that matter to me but taking other people’s feeling into consideration the best way I know how and just helping all the humans and non-humans to the best of my ability with love. I don’t know if what I have to say will ever help someone or not.  If it does, that’s awesome!  If it doesn’t, that’s cool, too.  But from now on, I am going to put it out there.  I am going to at least have the courage to try so that I don’t look back when I am taking my last breath and say I sure wish I had tried.  That’s a Zen Ragamuffin!

Only Love and Peace

The Zen Ragamuffin

Rev. Jachong Charama

My blog…

So why am I blogging? Really, I am not totally sure yet, but I think I need to say stuff. I have a lot of ideas about what I am “supposed” to say and how my blog should look, but really it’s about stepping off the edge and diving in, being vulnerable and letting others in. It’s about saying what’s on my mind and saying it not for approval, but because it’s part of my creative nature. It’s about helping and sharing.  It’s not about if someone likes it or not, because quite frankly there is a lot I have to say that a lot of people probably won’t like, but I can’t write for them. I have to get out what I want my legacy to be, my fingerprint on this life, what my children will someday look at and say to themselves, “Wow! my mom was pretty kick-ass.” My grandbabies will hopefully say, “I wish I could have met her” or “Can I hang a piece of her art in my room, Dad? What? She made jewelry, too, and she was vegan?  That is way cool.”

Yeah, I am vegan. I could write an entire book on my food journey, but I won’t because how way boring is that? Let’s just say I WILL write about veganism and animals…that’s just who I am.

I am also a Zen Buddhist in seminary studying to be a priest. That’s a huge part of my life and my journey.

I am an artist. I make stuff. I paint. I decorate. I do murals. I create. I love to create all sorts of things, and I guess this blog is just another outlet for creativity.

But most importantly, I am a mother. This is one of the main reasons I was put on this plane of existence was to be a mother. Talk about a book!!! Well, my two boys are the most important, awesome two boys a mother could ever have. I will write about them all the time.

I like to say things bluntly and to the point. I don’t like to sugar-coat anything. Say it like it is. Why waste time with anything less? Life is too short for guessing games.

Really I want to blog about stuff that may possibly help someone, too…help them to think outside the box, outside the matrix.  I want to use the matrix to educate about the matrix….stay tuned.  I want to empower people. I want to show them that they can do things that they don’t think they can do.  I want to share my life in the hopes that it could give hope, encourage, and give determination to those who need it.

So if any of the things I write about bring up emotion in you or give you something to talk about, great.  If you want to talk about any of it with me, that is cool, too.  I would be happy to chat.  I want what I say to create dialog.  This is me diving in.