In the realm of emptiness size doesn’t matter. The whole universe fits easily into a grain of rice. That also means that even a tiny glimpse of emptiness can have huge effects. I came to think of this again when contemplating a small meteorite stone sitting amidst the massive blocks of granite that make up ancient Inca walls in Cusco, Peru. Those big rocks fit together so perfectly that they do not leave any gap. Yet it is said that such a little stone is indispensable – without it, the whole wall would fall apart. The world is so full nowadays and often feels disjointed.Read More →

The Ancient Way is the Way of the Ancients, the path of all Buddhas and Ancestors. They paved the Way, so that we can follow. This means that, essentially, we are followers of the Way. The Ancient Way gives us direction on how to navigate our life and not lose sight of what deserves our highest priority. And we are not the first ones to tread this path – even Shakyamuni Buddha himself is said to have been preceded by other Buddhas, stretching back in time beyond anyone’s memory. This can give us the faith to continue even when the going gets tough, as thereRead More →

When I first turned to Buddhist practice, family members and friends had a hard time understanding. My dad even assured me that he had checked our genealogical line as far back as he could – which was about five hundred years – and had found out that our family had been devout Catholics all along. According to him, I was the first one to change religion. Perhaps that was not completely true: somewhere deep in my heart still lives the boy who attended mass and went to communion, and when returning to St. John’s cathedral in my home town of Den Bosch every few years,Read More →

For most of us, family is a matter of great concern. Obviously, without our father and mother having come together, we wouldn’t be here in the first place. And then, of course, you may have brothers and sisters, uncles and aunties, cousins, nephews and nieces in ever-widening circles. We are all members of a certain bloodline that goes back to the very origins of humankind. And even if, for whatever reason, you yourself have no children, there is no need to worry too much about human procreation. UNICEF estimates that an average of 353,000 babies are born each day around the world (while 151,600 peopleRead More →

  Last week somebody asked me, out of the blue, “What happens when you die?” And I surprised her as well as myself by saying, “Oh, just more of the same!” And now I wonder, could that be true? It seems to be the last thing one would expect. Shouldn’t there at least be some kind of change? Some of us believe that after death we’re finished and gone, while others hope to live forever after. Buddhism teaches rebirth but in Zen the focus is usually more on the transmigrations within this lifetime. And the classic answer to what happens after death is that weRead More →

It is a paradox, but most of us need a teacher to help us not to rely on anyone else. Of course, ultimately I can rely only on myself – I am the one who is responsible for my life. But who is that one? Do I really know myself? We usually respond to situations by relying (often unconsciously) on highly conditioned habitual patterns that have developed over time, either to please ourselves and others or to rebel against them in order to defend our comfort zone. And this is what so often gets us into trouble. If I really knew who I am, myRead More →

“If you want to master this path, first you need the faculty of great faith.”* It is so obvious and yet it can’t be mentioned often enough. We need a lot of faith if we want to master this path, simply because at this point we don’t really know what this path entails and where it will eventually bring us. We are asked to go beyond what we know and to dare to question our own views, particularly about ourselves. And this is perhaps the hardest bit. We often see ourselves as the number-one experts on our lives, even if this expertise doesn’t bring usRead More →

Fusatsu is an atonement ceremony we celebrate at Zen River every month on the occasion of the full moon. And it always has a strong effect on me. The ceremony is an open invitation to enter the world that the Avatamsaka sutra describes in such great detail, connecting us intimately with deeper layers of reality than we are usually aware of. And the strong physical setting, developed over the ages by great masters, especially helps us to give up fixed ideas about space and time. Usually we divide time into past, present and future, yet these aspects of time are connected in ways we can’tRead More →

Traveling has always been part of my life. My mother said that I already talked about leaving home from a very young age. And I count myself lucky that Buddhism is such a mobile religion: it seems to have enjoyed migrating from one country to another throughout the ages. In our modern times this is perhaps even more evident. At a VESAK conference in Vietnam that I attended two years ago, there were several thousand participants and they came from no fewer than one hundred different countries. In the good old days, Kanzeon Sangha was a travelling circus without a fixed location, and Zen River’sRead More →

Buddhism is still young in the West and I often think of us as bodhisattva pioneers. Most of us started practice relatively late in life, well beyond the time when learning quickly by heart and body was easy. So there is a lot of catching up to do. This can sometimes feel overwhelming because not only are we pioneers, Buddhist practice itself is in a pioneering phase. To train the mind and to free oneself from deeply ingrained personal, social and cultural conditioning in order to appreciate this life to the full, has always been challenging. But perhaps it is even more challenging for us today. Not only are weRead More →