Quotes & Teachings of Christopher Kakuyo Sensei

Come as you are.

Over the years, this simple phrase and its compassionate energy have made a difference in people’s lives here in our Sangha – it is a call home to ourselves. Uchiyama Roshi teaches, it is a coming home to heaven and earth simultaneously, and it is a coming home to ourselves in the flow of Now.

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“Come as you are” is the call to come home that many of us have longed to hear. This call is found in the myriad of meanings inherent in Namu Amida Butsu. For me, Namu Amida Butsu is the call from the heart of reality to return home and come just as we are; there is no need to be embarrassed, ashamed, or afraid. It is a welcoming home, just as you are, and not as something broken that needs fixing. The reason? Because we are just as much the broken parts as we are the whole parts. Leonard Cohen understands when he sings- “it is the cracks that let the light in”. I look at it a little different, it is the cracks that free the inner luminosity of our Buddhanature. Coming home to the Way of Oneness, we see our wholeness just as we are, broken and whole simultaneously. When we learn there is no difference between the two, we can experience our inherent Oneness with heaven and earth.”

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” When we say come as you are – there is a redemption in this simple wholehearted invitation that responds to that deep-seated need we all have of being seen, heard and accepted – this is the dharma gate of our practice – the crux of my beautiful neediness – without it, I would not be walking the path of the Buddha.”

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“When we attend to ourselves and others, we take the journey into all the places we have hidden our suffering and woundedness from view and bring it as an offering to the Buddhas. This tending to one another is not so much a need for someone to go with you or of you needing to go with someone, on your spiritual journey, but it is the knowledge that someone is there, without judgment, waiting for you to return with open arms.”

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“Come as you are” is the spirit of Oneness, where inclusivity, acceptance, and love is nurtured and protected and where, as a community, we practice compassion as brothers and sisters and as equals. When we say come as you are, it is an invitation to bring all of ourselves, the light and the dark, the seen and unseen, and when we do, we realize compassion not just as an idea but as a reality.”

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“This wholeness is all we are, the wounded and broken parts of ourselves, the courageous, wise and foolish part of ourselves. They are all the same; we are one. I can hear the words of Amida Buddha: ‘I am here; I’ve got you. I don’t see you as damaged or unloveable, and I will hold you in your ALLNESS. You are not alone.’ This is what we are saying to ourselves, each other, and all of existence when we say, Namu Amida Butsu.”

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“Come as you are” is the call home many of us have longed to hear. In a genuine way, it is one of the many meanings of Namu Amida Butsu. Come just as you are; no need to be embarrassed, ashamed, or afraid.Come as you are is a welcoming home as you are right now, broken and beautiful. Namu Amida Butsu is the invitation to come home to ourselves and to all of life as it is right now; it is an invitation to come home to Oneness where we no longer see the difference between the two, the broken and unbroken parts of ourselves – we see their inherent Oneness where we can say in the words of Gyomay Kubose Sensei, “Namu Amida Butsu means the Buddha and I are one.”

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When we think we “Know” with a capital K what meditation is, what Buddhism is, what awakening is, what enlightenment is, even who we are, we cut ourselves off from what it really is. We can see life as it is when we attend to it as it is by offering the invitation to “come as you are”, namu amida butsu, to the entirety of our lives. We do this by letting go of all our “knowing” and letting life naturally manifest in our lives, unhindered by our silly meddling. “

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At the heart of what we do in our fellowship, the come as you are, namu amida butsu, comes out of this letting go of having to be good.


Come as you are is about letting go of being what you have been told to be, of not having to present yourself as good or smart, of having your shit together – It’s when we can admit that we do not have our shit together that we can begin to open ourselves up to the spontaneous unfolding of the dharma. Namu ( ordinary beings} Amida Butsu ( the unfolding of the dharma

I love this, again, from Mark Unno:

Recognizing our foibles and quirks opens a window into our karmic nature, without which we cannot realize buddhanature. Only when we acknowledge and take ownership of the full scope of our humanity can we see ourselves as truly, fully human.

Foolish Beings

Shinran gives us the example  I love the fact that Shinran saw himself as the most foolish being of all and called himself “Gutoku Shinran,”  Toku in gotoku  was a term used in Buddhist writings to refer to someone who outwardly had the  appearance of monk, someone who put on the airs of being a monk without an true aspiration for awakening of following the buddhist path. 

This is brutal honesty. Shinran  even referred to himself as Inwardly Foolish, Outwardly wise. How many of us realize this about ourselves but would never say even to ourselves? 

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I appreciate Shinran’s example. Dennis Horta has written Shinran demonstrates that our awareness of our inner foolishness helps us realize that we have no personal claim to wisdom or that any claim to awakening is meaningless.

Shinran knew who he was and he understood the dangers of idealizing someone or something that is not based on what is. When we over idealize something, even ourselves, with the collapse of our ideal images, which they will do by the very nature of idealizing something, we tend to only feel disdain, contempt, or hatred.


I love that Shinran is unlike the great OZ because no one had to reveal his secret, he willingly pulled back the curtain himself. Look and see!

I would like to go back to what Nuobu Haneda wrote again:

…we must become humble persons. We must know our [foolishness ] the existence of our ineradicable egoism. We must know our ignorance, the limitations of our intellects. We must become humble people who can say, “I’m {Foolish} and ignorant.

Again and again we return to this teaching – this is another teaching for the not knowing mind from Korean Zen – or to be in a state of Shunryu suzuki teaching of a beginner’s mind.

Gratitude

“How many of us say thank you for the food you need to stay alive? I forget to do that most of the time. Saying grace – a blessing on the food is part of a spiritual practice.

Saying grace is looking, thinking, touching, eating the grace of processes that make life possible – eating in mindfulness and gratitude is more meaningful than the worn-out words, “Thank you for thy bounty o lord, or bless these hands” – I always wondered why we never blessed the animals we ate.”

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“So our path is this path, what we call the Way of Oneness or the Nembutsu path; it is the path of gratitude. It is the training, the cultivation of awareness, of the boundless grace that we receive every day, that can give birth to a boundless appreciative humility, to awe and boundless gratitude that can awaken us to great compassion and the reality of the Oneness of all life – It is the path we step on when deciding to follow the Buddha and the way of the Nembutsu – we begin our training in awareness to not overlook even the least favor done to us; this is our cultivation of gratitude and one of the dharma gates to awakening.”

Coming Home

“Our journey home is less about a place or a destination and more about a way of being. The way home is so close because it is right here. For many of us, that can be the farthest of journeys because most of us are so far from being right here, right now – but that can change with one conscious, gentle breath at a time.”

Wake Up to Silence.

The first thing we can do is begin our day in silence – this doesn’t mean wordless but quiet – we can avoid any extraneous noise from our TVs, music apps, and smartphones – we can avoid the blue screen to check Facebook or news sites – it will all be there later.

When our mornings allow us, we can begin in the silence of our coffee or tea – drinking it slowly – listening for the music underneath all the noise – we can even listen for the World breathing with us, breathing us. – As Gyomay Kubose writes,:

“During quietness, you breathe together with the whole World. We breathe as one.”

The Need For Silence

“The ghettos of Facebook are many times nothing more than theaters of shadows, and if you think about it, it is the opposite of quietness; though we sit in silence scrolling page after page, it is a noisy activity of endless self-talk, comparison, and judgment. Don’t get me wrong, good things are happening on social media, but it is the everyday addictive uses that are stealing our needed silence, the quietness in which we learn and engage with ourselves and the World around us. With all the claims that social media opens us up to a broader world, it more often fails and makes the World an even lonelier and noisier place. “

Living in the Present: a Little Meditation Everyday–

The next thing you do is start using tools to bring your mind back to awareness. Most of us drive – so use the stop light as your tool for awareness, as Koyo Kubose Sensei taught us in his book Bright Dawn. For most of us, a yellow light means to drive faster – use it instead for awareness practice to slow down, breathe in, and stop.

You can take the length of light to do three treasures, breathing three deep breaths: One for the Buddha, One for the Dharma, and one for the Sangha.

Or you can turn off the radio and become aware of your body’s sensations – become aware that there are other human beings just like you driving all the cars around. Be grateful that, for the most part, you all follow traffic laws and you will make it to work or home safely.

Next, start with a minute of silent meditation – center yourself in your breath and then return to whatever you are doing – You can use tools like an insight time to help carry a small bell in your pocket to remind you. You can use your break time – remember, just one minute, and after a while, this becomes 2 and 3 and so forth.

Life is more a gift than an accomplishment.

“In many profound ways, the earth and reality are a “gift” economy; there is what is given with no implicit return or reward in the future. The ego looks for love, but from the insight of the Buddha, we learn that love is not an object to be purchased or earned; love is the way of living” in love” with all beings.

Gyomay M. Kubose has taught:

We must find the way of love rather than being loved.”.

Cultivating Gratitude

Here is what you can do to start a primary gratitude practice. Before you leave for the day – vow to cultivate gratitude by carrying a thank you in your heart – Gyomay Sensei taught the kids at the Chicago Temple and us that we should thank our shoes. Thanking the small, seemingly insignificant things, like the beating of our hearts or our ability to breathe. Rev Yonezawa writes, “Our ability to inhale and exhale air is not in our own power. Therefore, we are always encountering the inconceivable.”

Usually, we say the word inconceivable when contemplating the vast distances of space or trying to contemplate geological time. Rarely do I think of the simple act of inhalation and exhalation in such a way.

Becoming aware of the simple things that support us, from roads, stoplights, windows, and beds to the more intimate our lives, opens us up to start to see the wondrous things that sustain us every day – from our heart beating within our breasts to the dirt beneath our feet to the warmth of the sun – we come to realize that the most insignificant things in our daily lives become wondrous.

The Grace of Other People: The Myth of Autonomy

“As we do what the Buddha instructed, “not to let even the slightest kindness go unnoticed,” we become more interconnected and resilient. If we think about it, and not even very hard, how could we live without the help of others? As one writer put it, without our friends and lovers, who are still our friends and lovers, even after all our missteps and failures?

So, the practice of gratitude dispels the delusion of the small egos of separateness, its dichotomous worldview of me vs. them. One of the core teachings of Sangha as practice is our need for each other to awaken. Most of us were born with one of the heaviest karmic burdens: we don’t need others like our great-grandparents need others to survive. The truth of the matter is that we are dependent on one another to awaken. I love these lines from Saichi’s poem.

Amida San rescues Saichi
Saich Rescues Amida San.”

The one that saves also needs saving. The Buddha and I are inter-dependent on each other for awakening. Sangha helps us to remember that we need each other.

Life is Suffering Sounds so Negative

“The Buddha was not a negative sort of guy – the opposite in fact – when he realizes that life was a disappointment and suffering, he was only acknowledging a fact – If he was a superhero, he would be called “Obvious Man” whose superhero power is stating the obvious that everyone else wants to ignore. To get out of the hole we have dug for ourselves or out of the darkness of our ignorance, we first have to acknowledge the hole we are in or how dark it really is.”

On Ritual

“When I think of ritual, I think of it as an embodied language, somewhat like dance, in which we communicate with movement and sound something from within. It also challenges us to be present in our minds and bodies. Our practice of the way is not simply focused on the one organ, the mind, but with our whole being.”

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“Each step of our ritual is to guide the person entering our sangha space from the chaotic world of samsara and slowly enfold them into a more focused, safer, and intimate space; it is in such spaces that we are more likely to take mental and emotional risks – in such spaces, we learn to open ourselves up to ourselves, to others and to the world.”

In Praise of Boredom

“According to Soren Kierkegaard, boredom is the root of all evil and this can be traced back to the very beginning of the World. The gods were bored; therefore, they created human beings.’ For many, boredom is an affliction that must be cured at all costs – but in our attempt to fix ourselves of boredom, we are entertaining ourselves into deepening alienation from ourselves and the World – the cure is worse than the affliction.

Instead of running away from boredom, we should invite it, wholeheartedly, “Come as you are”, we say to boredom itself. Come teach me your lessons. Teach me about the reality of time, the shallowness of desire, and myself.”

The Grace of Our Parents

I am grateful to my mother for giving me life and everything we went through because it brought me here with you. I am thankful for who I have become because of and despite my beautiful and troubled mother. I want to close with this from Rev Gyomay Sensei:

“Our starting point is not our mother or any external things but ourselves. If we are saved (awakened) now, our whole past will be saved(awakened). Our salvation (awakening) goes backward into the past. If we find meaning in our lives now, then the whole World becomes meaningful.
Namu Amida Butsu.”

In Praise of Failure.

“Failure is integral to the path that we walk. That is why it is called Buddhist practice and not Buddhist Perfect. Think about it. We call it a practice. Inherent in practice are mistakes and failures, lots of them. Again, in the words of Dogen. “To embody the Buddha way is to make one mistake after another.” Failure is an essential part of the Buddha Way. Let’s not make it so serious. Let’s move beyond the success and failure dichotomies; let’s play – play, play is beyond failure and success – let’s play in the field of the Buddhas. Come,come and dance. “

The Myth of Amida Buddha

“What is the role of the myth of Amida Buddha in a modern context? Amida Buddha represents at its core the inherent gift of love, the gift of life, of accepting oneself as one is, of simply being you. The archetype of Amida doesn’t love you because you are good or because you have earned it because of all the good you have done. What is unique about the Pure Land tradition of Shinran is that you deserve love despite any good or bad that you do.

All our attempts to earn love, bind love to an outcome forced by will and can’t give us the peace we long for. In an absolute sense, the Amida archetype tells us that we are loved simply by the miracle of our existence. From this perspective, everything is loved – nothing you earn – nothing you are entitled to – it is an inherent natural grace.”

Parable of the Two Arrows: On Putting Down the Second Arrow.

“So, how can we put down the second arrow? The first thing is to allow ourselves to feel hurt with a need to tell a story about it – just be sad – don’t BECOME the emotion – FEEL the emotion. When we feel it, we simply honor it; we do not try to fix it, make it go away, or come up with elaborate stories of why we feel the pain or who is to blame. When we become the pain, it becomes part of our identity, and we tend to protect the suffering and hold it close, and when we do that, we are no longer free. But feeling it without trying to fix it allows it to run its course. Feelings are like clouds; they form and can fill the dark sky, a thundercloud cloud or come and go like the changing shapes of clouds on a late spring day – and fade away if we let them. “

On Awakening

“Our aspiration is for awakening, but If we decided to wait until awakened to help others, what good would that be. Our vows are the vows of ordinary human beings sparked by love; we vow to become wounded healers. Our awakening is in the vow itself.”

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“…our happiness is not outside ourselves; awakening is not awakening to something outside ourselves but to something within. In an absolute sense, everything is already awake. It’s just that each of us must awake from our dreams and stories. Together, we learn this by hearing the call of Namu Amida Butsu: Come as you are, just as you are. This is the beginning of happiness, where we no longer have to perform for acceptance and love, where our intrinsic values are felt maybe for the first time. We come together in compassionate acceptance, a safer place where we can become our beautiful naked selves.”

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Jack Kornfield acknowledges “that after such [awakening] experiences, we are faced with translation it into our imperfect lives – we are faced with the laundry.” – The key is when we can realize that the laundry is as much the practice as is the practice that opened us up to the ecstatic in the first place-
I know, I know, I have never had an ecstatic experience doing laundry but maybe it is not the laundry’s fault.

            – Maybe the laundry has been inviting us all along?  

Here is the great insight that I found in Buddhism, and it is encapsulated in this quote from Gyomay Kubose Sensei:

“Buddhist life is the most natural way of life where every little thing we do is the way.”

Spend Time With Yourself

The message of today’s talk is simple – spend quality time with yourself – with your heart-mind – meditate and reflect on those things that are important to you and begin to feel your life with your whole heart – avoid eating the Lotus Flowers and breathe into the here and now. The Buddha Way is less about believing something and more about being.”

How to Work with Habitual Ways of Being?

The first thing we need to do is to observe. But to observe our habitual ways of being, we need to be aware that they exist. We want to look at our lives, where we are right now in the flow of life, and how we got here. This exercise is not about blame or shame but about awareness. We become naturalists and anthropologists in our own lives.”

On Impermanence

“Interestingly, as we cultivate and experience a deeper awareness and relationship with impermanence, something happens. We become more compassionate and moved by existence itself. We gain a deeper appreciation for everything are more aware of the flow of now and more present within it. We need impermanence for life to have real meaning, or we squander what time we have.

So, how do we cultivate a more intimate relationship with impermanence? We become willing students of her lessons; to do that, we will need to meet face to face. I love this from Alan Watts: “The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance.”

What I am learning about impermanence is that life is continual change, movement, flow, even who and what we think we are is not a thing but a process, not an island but a river, not a noun but a verb.”

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Our first step, as we contemplate conditioned existence, is to become intimate with impermanence and to allow grief to enter our experience. As Francis Weller writes: “The work of the mature person is to carry grief in one hand and gratitude in the other and to be stretched large by them. “
It means to feel the words that all things by their nature vanish. It is by experiencing the grief of impermanence that it can seep into our bones. The Buddha knew that we could finally be free by embracing impermanence and fully identifying with it. Free of all the suffering that comes from so much knowing and grasping at the illusion of permanence.

I want to share these words on Mono No Aware from the writers at the Berkeley Center of Religion and Culture.

“It boils down to this: appreciate the moment because the beauty experienced in it will never be the same. It will pass. It will end. And that is OK because as life changes, new beauty, perhaps of a different kind, will arrive. Every season the cherry blossoms die. But every year, they come back to, once again, coat the streets in their ethereal and incomparable demise.”

Beyond the Story – Introspection

To know yourself, this experiencing self, is to get beyond story, we need to become explorers and archaeologists of our own lives. Meditation is what everyone knows about Buddhism, but equally important is introspection.

Introspection is looking inward and really looking at our own stories for the first time. When we do this, we can come to realize that they are not non-fiction as we assumed, but closer to docu-dramas, we start to realize that we are more fiction than non.

This is a call for us to be introspective – introspection is nothing more than observing yourself, observing your thoughts, and observing and analyzing where those thoughts arise from to explore the stories we tell ourselves and the impact they have on our thinking and being and on our seeing and believing.

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“When we find ourselves in the narrow cell of our stories about how things are supposed, about our feelings of shame and unworthiness, we can open up our big sky mind and give them room to breathe. We can give ourselves room to be and cultivate a wider perspective so we can begin to see the stories for what they are and let them float away.”

On Equanimity

“I don’t deserve to be abandoned! I don’t deserve to be sick – I don’t deserve this or that. We get trapped in such thinking. Cultivating equanimity isn’t about saying that the painful things that happen to us are OK, but we are saying that no matter what happens to us, we will be OK.”

Kindness to Ourselves

“When directing kindness and compassion towards ourselves – there are no prerequisites, there is nothing you need to do to be worthy – it is simply loving intention, a movement toward tenderness and an aspiration that we are safe, healthy, happy, and whole.

When we can let go of the stories of all the things we need to do or be before we can receive such kindness or compassion, it is then that we begin to experience the boundlessness of the four immeasurable for ourselves and for all beings and the grace that is waiting to be received by us.”

On Receiving

“Truly receiving is something different from simply taking what is given. There is an inherent humility. There is an openness of heart, an acknowledgment of our interdependence, and an awareness of our dependence on a myriad of things. Receiving is a place of openness and courage in that it implies a vulnerability; we may ask for something in that open space and not get it. Yet, in realizing our lack of control, inability to earn love or joy, and embracing reality, those things arise naturally. Everything I receive is a gift, a gift to me, and a gift to the giver. An ever-expanding circle of giving, where ultimately there is no giver, no receiver, and no gift.”

Getting Stuck in the Past-

“The answer to “Why me? is ultimately an unknowable question. Maybe it is the first “koan” we are ever given. In my own experience, I have spent so much time in the past that I missed so much of what was in front of me. The flow of now carried me along regardless, and I discovered that when we get stuck in the past, we become nothing more than spectators looking backward. Our lives are so much more than that. At the heart of every living thing is its innate suchness, an inherent beingness that can only be found in the flow of now; ultimately, everything else is either a wake or an illusion. I want to be clear and say that I am not saying that we can’t learn from the past – we can, and it can be an important teacher, but when that becomes our only teacher, that is fraught with difficulties, it is easy to get lost, get stuck in so many stories and half that are not our own – we need to be fully aware of the limitation of the past.”

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Living in the past is a heavy burden that can keep us stuck. Our aspiration, our deepest yearning is to be carried by the flow of life, but we are afraid to let go. It is exhausting because when we get stuck, we are resisting the flow of life, we are standing in the middle of a stream walking against the current of time. No matter how hard you try, the flow of now, the flow of life is pushing you along with it – let go – let the flow carry you.

The Buddha taught that all his teachings were about freedom – liberation.

Do you want to be free? How many times did I choose not to be free?

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We fix ourselves firmly in the past – or because our dissatisfaction with the flow of the present or our unwillingness to change in the flow of the present we firmly place ourselves in the future, where everything is controllable, and the outcomes can be as expected – or tomorrow when my will power will be so much greater than it is today, as Gyomay Kubose Sensei teaches:

“Many people get attached to the past or to the future and neglect the important present. We must live the best “now” with full responsibility.”

On Anger

“When we care for our anger, attend to it, we say Namu Amida Butsu, come as you are. Attending anger does not mean feeding the anger or indulging in it but inviting it and you to sit in the “gap” between stimulus and response: I hear you, I see you, I am you, and you are me; what are you trying to tell me? Seeing our anger as a teacher can help us face the true source or what needs healing.”

“If a Buddha is not upset when he should be upset, that is also a violation of the precepts; when he needs to be angry, he must be angry; that is a characteristic of the Mahayana way of observing precepts” Shunryu Suzuki

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Now, when it comes to our anger, it is rarely the anger of a Buddha. At the same time, when we feel the rise of protective anger – when enough is enough, and we must speak out, we need to be vigilant and not let the righteousness of our anger blind us – to the suffering of others. I think this is one of the ways that anger is not a Buddha’s anger.

Another way our anger is not like a Buddha’s is that we still have not connected our anger to our grief. What does a Buddha’s anger look like? Here is something that I found.

A Buddha’s Anger ( Fudo Myoo)
is fierce but not violent; assertive,
is not blinded by “righteousness”,
is not fickle but determined, unbowed.
is protective, awake, wise, and focused
on liberating all beings from suffering delusion and stupidity.

Dharma as Refuge

“When my mind falls into well-worn paths of self -hate, shame, greed, fear or anger, I can return to the teachings of the Buddha as my refuge as a refuge from the ranting and ravings of my small ego self and all of its KNOWING – I can sit with my heart-mind, sit still with my breath and with what the Buddha has taught me, I can chant namu amida butsu and know that I am accepted just as I am – no conditions – and from this refuge of the teachings and compassionate activity I can rise above those habitual paths of thinking into a clear, calm space of not knowing – and find a natural boundlessness.”

Buddhist Prayers

“So prayers, whether Secularist or the Devotionalist, work on us from the inside more than they ever could from the outside – what direction you perceive it coming from is ultimately irrelevant. We may pray for an outcome, but the outcome is less important than the prayer itself – it is enough. By letting go of outcomes, we are free to let our hearts sing of our aspirations and our deepest wishes. By doing this, we get out of the way as Dogen teaches us in this line, “To know the self is to forget the self and be awakened by everything –”

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I have a more expansive definition of prayer: prayer is everything and anything that leads us to awaken – it takes prayer out of the closet and makes it the act of washing dishes, brushing your teeth, playing with a child, watching the sunset, wiping away a tear, making dinner, hugging a friend, asking forgiveness, giving mercy, accepting grace.