From Mountains & Rivers: Zen Dharma and Practice

· Beyond Fear of Differences, Dharma Discourses, Mountains & RIvers: Zen Dharma and Practice journal, Sangha News, Teachings

This excerpt, Manifesting Buddha by Geoffrey Shugen Arnold, is from the new journal Mountains & Rivers: Zen Dharma and Practice and explores how Buddhist practice manifests in our daily lives as illustrated by the Ten Guiding Values of the Beyond Fear of Differences. The journal features original contributions of dharma teachings and more from MRO dharma teachers, sangha artists and practitioners.

By Geoffrey Shugen Arnold, Roshi

When the Buddha first started teaching he gave us the First Noble Truth: life is dukkha. Within each and every thing lies the seed of disappointment and dissatisfaction due to its impermanence and our clinging. This profound teaching is also directing our attention to this very time and place where we find ourselves standing; you start where you are. And this very time and place is our specific circumstance nested within our entire world, the social, economic, political, geographical, historical world in which we live.

The teachings—timeless and universal—can only be heard as they take shape in a particular time and place. Formlessness, emptiness can only be studied as it appears in form. The Buddha was constantly drawing on social norms, and religious and cultural beliefs. He talked about the caste system, different strata of society and social structures, various spiritual communities and their beliefs, rules of good leadership, all toward the purpose of liberation. He wasn’t trying to disrupt society, but rather, was trying to disrupt samsara, our wandering through life without clear understanding and selfless compassion. Liberation from samsara is what he devoted his whole life to, and when delusion is enlightened, society is illuminated.

We are practicing and living buddhadharma in our time and place, this time of our country, our world, this time of our earth. Our practice is to study and realize and manifest Buddha mind, which means to practice and realize the mind ground and manifest loving-kindness, compassion, and Prajnaparamita—wisdom beyond wisdom, the great mantra, the unsurpassable mantra—as a living reality. As was true for the Buddha, we have inherited our time and place, our social and cultural systems. The world we live in, and the world from which these teachings are presented, is where they’re heard, reflected upon, practiced and realized.


When the Buddha’s aunt, Mahapajapati, who raised him as her own son asked the Buddha to be ordained, he turned her away because she had the body of a woman. When Ananda appealed to him, skillfully showing how the basis of his rejection—inequality—had no basis within the Dharma where all things are realized as empty, the Buddha opened the door to ordaining women. And yet, patriarchy and gender inequalities were still encoded in Buddhism as passed down through the generations to here and now. Various forms of racism also exist within all Buddhist communities, East and West. Sitting here, we need to attend to these forms of delusion, attachment and suffering that we practice in the midst of and are carriers of. Particularly, those of us in the dominant group as whites need to attend to racism, and those of us in the dominant group as males need to attend to patriarchy, and in every characteristic that dominance uses its power to cause harm. We all have a special responsibility to examine this within ourselves as practitioners dedicated to studying the Way.  

The Beyond Fear of Differences group has been engaged in this work for a number of  years, and has established Ten Values relating directly to dissolving our oppressive legacies within ourselves, our sangha and our world. I encourage each of us to examine them from the point of view of the teachings so they become more clear and compelling for all of us. When we study this way, we gain power and understanding, confidence and conviction, and our practice is infused with urgency.

Whether this inspires you, confuses you, or brings out indifference or resistance, that’s starting right where you are. That is a place from which you can step forward, and it’s also just this moment, and it’s already passed. Everyone brings their full self into practice. The challenge is to be open, receptive and inquiring. When we follow along with our habitual views and tendencies, we don’t open any new roads. Where there’s friction there’s a threshold, an opening, a path to insight.


The vows I make each day, to liberate myself from all aspects of dukkha, require that I study this karmic self—which for me is inseparable from my whiteness, my maleness, my able-bodiedness. So when I experience my own resistance and apathy, lethargy and defensiveness, those are signs that the illusion of self still remains. In those moments I’m being challenged, and challenging myself, to go beyond my present understanding and actualization. In doing this I’m working to strengthen indispensable qualities—patience, my ability to be uncomfortable, honesty, humility—which is what the Ten Values are pointing to. These qualities are the qualities of a compassionate life. To truly live a liberated life, a wholesome, life-affirming life, we will be challenged in ways we never imagined. What more important thing could we do with this life?


1. TRUST: Cultivating and earning confidence that we are working toward our mutual well-being and liberation

2. EQUITY: To create outcomes that are just, we recognize that different treatment—including reparations—is sometimes required because of historical oppression and our varying positions in contemporary society.

3. COURAGE: The ability to step forward, be vulnerable, tolerate discomfort, and hold space for new ideas.

4. ACCOUNTABILITY: Members of the sangha— teachers, seniors, monastics, Board, students, Councils, practitioners—are mutually responsible for upholding these values and for communicating with each other.

5. HUMILITY: Recognition of the depth of our own conditioning and the vastness of the path.

6. REVERENCE: A deep respect for each other’s humanity and identities, and the transformative power of the buddhadharma.

7. GENEROSITY: The willingness to embrace all our experiences of sangha with openness and appreciation and the willingness to give and take feedback on the impact of our actions as part of our dharma training.

8. WHOLE PERSON FRAMEWORK: In our study toward liberation of the self, we recognize that because our social identities are not experienced in isolation, they cannot be examined in isolation.

9. CULTURAL FLUENCY: Knowing that we live in a white supremacist culture and knowing that our views are conditioned by power and privilege, we commit to our ongoing learning and understanding of each other’s cultural and ethnic identities.

10. AUTHENTICITY: Truly being connected with our emotions, expressions, and experience.

Excerpted from Mountains & Rivers: Zen Dharma and Practice which features original dharma teachings and more from MRO dharma teachers, sangha artists and practitioners. A treasury of wisdom and creativity drawn from the wellsprings of intensive practice, intended for practitioners who are looking for genuine, compassionate dharma teachings and inspiration for living, you can find out more here.

Geoffrey Shugen Arnold, Roshi is the Head of the Mountains Rivers Order and the abbot of Zen Mountain Monastery and the Zen Center of New York City. His teaching on Zen, social justice and environmental stewardship have appeared in various Buddhist journals, and his collection of Zen memorial poems, O, Beautiful End was published in 2012. Listen to more of Shugen Roshi’s teachings here.

NextSpring Ango 2020