Saturday, May 30, 2015

coming and going we are never astray



I'm entering a period of a lot of travel and teaching.  I just returned from North Wales, England and Ireland, teaching retreats and workshops with my husband and teaching partner David Dae An Rynick, Roshi.   Later in the summer I'll be at Omega Institute teaching a Wellness course, and then a Zen retreat with David.  After that a sesshin here at the Temple with David and Josh Munen Bartok, Sensei, and then David and I travel to Finland and Denmark for more retreats.  And at the end of August, another retreat at Omega, sponsored by the Shambhala Sun Foundation,  with Sylvia Boorstein and Tsoknyi Rinpoche.  Here's a video from the Sun's website Lion's Roar.  (My detailed teaching schedule and links for registration can be found on my website:  www.melissablacker.com.)

Doing this much traveling means truly living what I'm teaching -- every moment is an opportunity for awakening, no matter where we are.  And everyone we meet is important.  So far, even with the usual glitches in travel and difficulties coping with food and sleep, it appears that reality is still comprised of one moment after another.  Clouds and sun, mountains and valleys.... as Zen Master Hakuin said, "Coming and going we are never astray."  




Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Where's the Real Stuff in Life to Cling To?

I’m Nobody! Who are you?
Are you – Nobody – too?
Then there’s a pair of us!
Don’t tell! they’d advertise – you know!
How dreary – to be – Somebody!
How public – like a Frog –  
To tell one’s name – the livelong June – 
To an admiring Bog!

Recently these words of Emily Dickinson, (1830- 1886), our most reclusive of American poets, have been going through my mind.  This was one of the earliest poems I memorized, probably in elementary school, and I'm sure that I thought she was talking about being shy.  Which was something I could relate to very easily.  But through the lens of Zen practice this poem takes on a different meaning.  

We truly are nobody.  
No matter how much we try to build a self that lasts and is unchanging and reliable, the truth is that we change from moment to moment.  The endless ego-building work of trying to be somebody is so dreary.  Like a frog wallowing in a bog, it's constricting and tight and messy.  The alternative has to be kept private, or we'll turn being nobody into being somebody (but someone advertised as nobody.)  And of course, writing about this is a form of advertising, so I'd better stop now, and let Jimmy Durante take over the real work.  As he says, fame, if you win it, comes and goes in a minute.  Where's the real stuff in life to cling to?  And guess what the answer is?

Monday, May 4, 2015

Happy Birthday Buddha!


Baby Buddha awaits his bath, while his mother Maya and the Big Buddha look on.
Yesterday Boundless Way Temple had its first annual Buddha's Birthday celebration, followed by its third annual Buddhas Over Worcester sculpture exhibit opening.  Twenty-four artists have works on display in the Temple garden that represent "awakening," which is the literal translation of "Buddha" -- the Awakened One.   Over one hundred people wandered through the garden, contemplating the sculptures.  (The show will be open from sunrise to sunset through July 11.)

The birthday celebration gave around 25 people the opportunity to celebrate the birthday of the Buddha, 2600 years ago.  This event is celebrated on different dates in different Asian countries.  In Japan, which is where our ceremony comes from, the date is April 8.  But we wanted to have the Buddha's party coincide with the opening of Buddhas over Worcester.  Just by chance, yesterday was Buddha's birthday in Nepal.  We dedicated our ceremony to all the people affected by the tragic earthquake last week.  The biggest feature, besides chanting, parading around with percussion instruments and streamers, and having a silent walk through the garden, was getting to bathe the baby Buddha with fragrant tea.  Some lucky celebrants got cookies made by Erin Barbour, who was the coordinator of the event, along with David and me.

contemplating Buddhas Over Worcester


Happy Birthday Buddha!  In heaven above and earth below,  you (along with everyone) are the world-honored one!
more contemplating


Sunday, April 26, 2015

Playing with other kinds of Buddhists


Yangsi Rinpoche

Ouypom Khuankaew
I just returned from a three day conference at the Harvard Divinity School called "Education and Buddhist Ministry:  Whither and Why?"  It was a fascinating experience to be with Buddhists and religious educators of all kinds, intent on working together to find some way to offer service to the suffering world.

Some of the highlights for me included meeting people from other Buddhist traditions.  I was inspired by all the varying viewpoints.  A few of my favorite moments:  Listening to Yangsi Rinpoche, who is affiliated with Maitripa College, end his presentation, the last of a panel on "What does it take to be a Buddhist minister?" with the advice that one of the criteria could be the capacity to perform miracles, like Milarepa, the great Tibetan Buddhist sage.  Rinpoche bears a striking resemblance to Jimmy Smits (see photos above and below) but I was informed (much to my relief)  that they are in fact different people.

And my heart just lit up listening to Ouypom Khuankaew, the director of the International Women's Partnership for Peace and Justice in Thailand.  Many of the presenters had been calling for a return to our "Asian Buddhist roots" which presents a problem for me personally, since both of my lineage traditions are generations removed from Asia, and firmly established in American culture at this point.  Ms Khuankaew stated at the outset of her talk that it would be a mistake to connect to the traditional Asian Buddhist teachings where, for example, a woman could never become a Buddha. She encouraged everyone to find a way to practice a modern Buddhism that included feminism and social justice.   And she got a fervent round of applause for saying this.

On the last morning, we received the devastating news about the earthquake in Kathmandu, and representatives from each Buddhist tradition offered a prayer or chant from our various traditions.
The Zen folks did a rousing version of the Kannon Sutra.   I still have many questions from the conference, but I am heartened by the good will among many kinds of Buddhists, who might disagree about what Buddhism actually is, but who came together for three days in companionship and kindness.


Rev. Daijaku Kinst at play
Rev. Koshin Paley Ellison and moi
Ven. Bikkhu Bodhi
Jimmy Smits

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Work and Play at the Temple


Yesterday we had a work/play practice day at the Temple.  Around 20 members of the sangha came from 8 in the morning until around 1 pm, enjoying the beautiful spring weather and caring for the grounds of the Temple gardens.  Much mulch was lovingly placed around the flower beds, and a new bed was dug beside the torii gate, awaiting a new maple tree donated by a member.  A work crew put up a new fence along the front of the Temple grounds, and various other projects, including cleaning up around the Buddha, were accomplished in the warmth of sunshine and community.  Many thanks to all who participated!


Thursday, April 9, 2015

Zhaozhou's Country Bumpkin


From the Blue Cliff Record, Case 57:  A monk asked Zhaozhou,  "The supreme way is not difficult, it simply dislikes choosing.  What is non-choosing?"  Zhaozhou said, "Above the heavens, beneath the heavens, I am alone and the honored one."  The monk persisted, "Isn't that still choosing?"  Zhaozhou said, "You country bumpkin!  Where is the choosing?"

This little koan has stayed with me over the past few weeks.  It's been a time of difficulties and losses, deaths of unborn babies and  beloved old friends.  Expectations have been dashed in a variety of ways.   And how is this different from my usual life?   Perhaps the succession of events has revealed more clearly than usual the impossibility of maintaining the delusion that everything is just fine.  The bareness  of the distorted thinking behind wishing things were different has been exposed over and over.  Sometimes it's just like that.

The persistence of winter at Cook's Pond, Worcester
The third Chinese ancestor, Sengcan, wrote the poem quoted by the monk in this story,  the Xinxin Ming, usually translated as "Verses on the Faith Mind."    In Boundless Way Zen we call it "The Heart of True Entrusting."   The first line, quoted here, appears in a number of stories about Zhaozhou.  Another translation is, "The Great Way is easy.  Just avoid picking and choosing."

But how do we avoid picking and choosing?   What is non-choosing?  In some respects, it really is easy.  Just stop fighting reality.  Allow everything to unfold the way it will.  Change and death are inevitable, and our limited power to control the universe is revealed to us regularly.

Today it snowed again.  I want to point out that it is April 9. Worcester continues to be the American city with the most snowfall -- another dusting added today.  How can I non-choose the weather? How can I beat my own heart?  When I surrender to what is here, something is revealed.  Do ice-covered branches represent the spring? Today, yes.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

the hall of gratuitous praise


Here is a little boost for you today if you happen to be feeling unappreciated.  When my daughter was very young, we enjoyed watching the television show Sabrina the Teenage Witch, and I've always remembered this episode, about a magical room.  In the room, there is a door which opens onto the Hall of Gratuitous Praise.  I believe everyone should have regular entry to this place -- a little ego-building on the road to seeing through the fixed nature of the self.  Enjoy!