“We now see that the only way that we could love ourselves is by loving others, and the only way that we could truly love others is to love ourselves. The difference between self-love and love of others is very small, once we really understand.” – Norman Fischer
Zoketsu Norman Fischer is a poet and Zen Buddhist priest. For many years he has taught at the San Francisco Zen Center, the oldest and largest of the new Buddhist organizations in the West, where he served as Co-abbot from 1995-2000. He is presently a Senior Dharma Teacher there as well as the founder and spiritual director of the Everyday Zen Foundation, an organization dedicated to adapting Zen Buddhist teachings to Western culture.
A person of unusually wide-ranging interests, his Zen teaching is known for its eclecticism, openness, warmth, and common sense, and for his willingness to let go of everything, including Zen. His chief interests in addition to poetry and traditional Zen and Buddhist teachings, are the adaptation of Zen meditation and understanding to the worlds of business, law, conflict resolution, interreligious dialog (he works especially with Jewish meditation and Catholic intermonastic dialog), care of the dying (he has for many years been a teacher with and is emeritus chair of the board of the Zen Hospice Project), the world of technology, and anything else he can think of.
Norman has been particularly interested in the application of Zen to issues of Western culture and everyday life in the world. His Zen essays on topics ranging from racism to monasticism to romance appear frequently in “Tricycle,” “Shambhala Sun” and “Buddhadharma” and have been included in every issue so far of the annual “Best Buddhist Writing.” In addition to his regular work at Zen Center, and with Everyday Zen, he has taught extensively, with his old friend Rabbi Alan Lew, on the relationship between Buddhist and Jewish practice (work which has been discussed in Judith Linzer’s book “Dharma and Torah”). He teaches Buddhist principles to business people, Buddhist compassion-in-action to lawyers and conflict resolvers, and poetry writing and appreciation to children and adults. He’s led workshops at Esalen Institute in California, the Open Center in New York City, and Hollyhock Farm, in British Columbia, as well as at Zen Center, and teaches Zen regularly at Spirit Rock Meditation Center in California, as well as in Canada, Mexico, and Europe. He’s participated with His Holiness the Dalai Lama in conferences on Buddhist Christian dialog and non-violence.
This doesn’t work by thought and will. It doesn’t disregard thought and will, but thought and will are not the engine that makes this go. The engine that makes this go is taking a step back and trusting the body, trusting the breath, trusting the heart. We’re living our lives madly trying to hold onto everything, and it looks like it might work for awhile but in the end it always fails, and it never was working, and the way to be happy, the way to be loving, the way to be free is to really be willing to let go of everything on every occasion or at least to make that effort.
So the practice really works with sitting down, returning awareness to the body, returning awareness to the breath. It usually involves sitting up straight and opening up the body and lifting the body so that the breath can be unrestrained. And then returning the mind to the present moment of being alive, which is anchored in the breath, in the body.
Then, of course, other things happen. You have thoughts, you have feelings. You might have a pain, an ache, visions, memories, reflections. All these things arise, but instead of applying yourself to them and getting entangled in them, you just bear witness to it, let it go, come back to the breathing and the body, and what happens is you release a whole lot of stuff in yourself. A whole new process comes into being that would not have been there if you were always fixing and choosing and doing and making. This way you’re allowing something to take place within your heart.