Tuesday, October 18, 2016

2016 Autumn Sesshin at Boundless Way Temple: talks and a special announcement

At our most recent sesshin, in private ceremonies attended by Boundless Way Zen teachers, two of our senior dharma teachers received Denkai transmission, the first step in full transmission as a Zen teacher. On the night of October 8, I gave Denkai transmission to Robert Ryudo Tetsumu Waldinger, and on the night of October 9th, Josh Bartok gave Denkai transmission to Steve Tetsuen Wallace. 

Bob and Steve can now give the precepts and accept personal students. Steve will continue to be the co-head of practice at the Greater Boston Zen Center in Cambridge. Bob, who has been the practice leader at the Henry David Thoreau Sangha (Hank) in Newton, will now be Hank's guiding teacher. Alan Richardson, a BoWZ senior dharma teacher, will step into the role of practice leader at Hank. 

And thanks to Dharma Holder Steve Wallace, here is the link to talks from sesshin, given by Josh Bartok, David Rynick, Bob Waldinger, Steve Wallace and myself:


Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Who by fire?

I was speaking recently with a dear friend and fellow Zen practitioner who has had many serious health problems.  We talked about the inevitability of death and the natural fear of the loss of dignity through disease and helplessness at the end of life.   All of us will someday die, but we don't know how or when.  The key is to practice being here right now, whatever the condition of our current circumstances.  I mentioned the Leonard Cohen song "Who By Fire?" and a few days later, my friend sent me this video.  While watching it, I felt a bit of that transcendent joy that comes with embracing our mortality, and a renewed appreciation of how art and creativity can help us with that embrace.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Talks from Boundless Way Zen Summer Sesshin 2016

photo by David Dae An Rynick
Talks are now available, thanks to the work of Steve Wallace, from our most recent sesshin.  Our topic was the 83rd koan in the Book of Serenity, "Daowu Tends the Sick" and its connection to the recent gun violence and terrorist acts in this country and throughout the world.  There are powerful talks from three of our Guiding Teachers:  Josh Bartok, David Rynick and me, and our three Dharma Holders:  James Cordova, Diane Fitzgerald and Kate Hartland.

Here's the link:  http://www.boundlesswayzen.org/recorded.htm

Friday, July 22, 2016

You see, I'm hiding nothing from you

In Case 18 from the koan collection Entangling Vines (translated by Thomas Kirchner), the teacher, Huitang Zuxin quotes a line from Confucius to his student, the poet Shangu:  "My friends, do you think I'm hiding things from you?  In fact, I am hiding nothing from you."  And then he says, "It's just the same with the Great Matter of Zen.  Do you understand this?"  Shangu doesn't understand, but later, while walking in the mountains with his teacher, the air is full of the scent of sweet-olive blossoms, and Huitang asks, "Do you smell the fragrance of the blossoms?"  When Shangu says that he does smell them, Huitang says, "You see, I'm hiding nothing from you."  And Shangu has an awakening.

When I was new to Zen, I came to my first teacher for an individual meeting, dokusan, full of distress about something or other.  I have no memory at this point what I was bothered about, but my teacher choose to ignore all of that anyway, and asked me, "Do you hear the call of the mourning dove outside?"  That beautiful call, which sounds like someone singing, "who, who, who" had been out of my awareness until my teacher called attention to it.  And in that moment, as my ears turned to that lovely sound, there was nothing else in the universe.  Just for a moment.  But after all these years, that moment is evoked every time I hear doves calling.    Everything is like this.  Our practice is to stop and see, listen, smell, taste, touch whatever is right here with us.  This is the Great Matter of Zen.  You see, I am hiding nothing from you.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

musings on Independence Day Eve

The 12th century Chinese teacher and poet Hongzhi says,

Not entering the world, 
Not following conditions;
In the emptiness of the pot of ages there's a family tradition.
White duckweeds, breeze gentle -- evening on an autumn river;
An ancient embankment, the boat returns -- a single stretch of haze.

In this world where everything comes and goes, we can find a way to be free.  At some point in our practice, we come to know without a doubt that we are completely interdependent with everything. And just on the other side of our interdependence is the refreshing taste
of independence.  We are caught less and less in the content of our thinking.  Thoughts come and go, many of them sticky with the glue of old habits of self-criticism.  But like the gentle breeze on the water in Hongzhi's poem, we let them blow right through us, and they stop their ornery sticking.

Happy Independence Day!

Friday, June 24, 2016

Beginners Mind: Ukelele Version

My new Kana and my old Silvertone

I've been playing the piano and singing most of my life.  When I was 3 years old, I had a little toy piano, like Schroeder's piano in the Peanuts cartoons, and figured out how to play songs from my parent's jazz records on it, so they bought me a Wurlitzer spinet piano and got me a piano teacher.  On my own I figured out how to play chords and read jazz charts.  I was serious enough about "being a musician" to major in music and anthropology at my university. I sang in a Javanese gamelan, and later in my life I played in a bossa nova band with friends and Zen students.  And all this time I've been playing for my own pleasure.  (For 10 years in my 20's I even made a living playing for dance classes and teaching piano and voice.)  It came easy to me, so I didn't practice much.  I was never good enough to have a real career, but I love playing music.

And now, 60 years after figuring out Harry Belafonte's song "Come Back Liza" on the toy piano, I've decided to take up the ukelele.  I'm not alone in this.   There are ukelele clubs and bands springing up all over the place.  My daughter, who actually is a conservatory-trained professional musician, in the middle of making her second CD of original alt-rock songs, taught me the basics, and I fell in love with the portability and the cuteness of the instrument.  A Zen student sent me a rehabbed vintage Silvertone soprano, and yesterday I bought myself a late birthday gift of a Kana baritone.  And the strange thing is, I've been practicing the heck out them.  My fingers are developing callouses in the right places.  Things are starting to sound a little bit musical.  But I'm a rank beginner, and so the music isn't quite as satisfying to play as I'm used to when I accompany myself singing at the piano.

As a Zen student, and now a Zen teacher, I value the concept of "beginners mind" -- the quality that is so prized in Zen and in mindfulness -- the capacity to meet the moment just as it is, with freshness.  But I had forgotten that it's also quite hard to be a beginner.  Zen students who are just starting out feel lost and confused, not just fresh and mindful.  It's quite challenging to not know.  

I'm grateful to my ukeleles for reminding me that being a beginner is awkward and difficult before it feels fun.   And it's important to practice, to strum and pluck and make mistakes.  That's where the learning happens.  We Zen folks sit on the cushion and learn to face everything, what we like and what we dislike.  We show up in dokusan, our individual meetings between teacher and student, and we practice showing up just as we are.  It's all in the service of being able to live a life that has meaning, that is useful for the world.  We practice to make music, and we practice to be bodhisattvas.   As Gary Snyder says, in another context, "There is no other life."

Monday, June 20, 2016

Answer to Dorothy

From the time I was very young, I felt a strong connection to the longing in Judy Garland's voice, when, as Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz,  she begged for "a place where there isn't any trouble."  And as we know, there was just as much trouble, if not more, in the land over the rainbow.

In case 43 from the Blue Cliff Record, I hear something similar in the monk's question, "Where is the place where there is no heat and cold?"  Dongshan's challenge to the monk is to ask, "Why not go to the place where there is no heat or cold?"  When the monk asks where that place is, Dongshan says, "When its cold, cold finishes the monk.  When it is hot, heat demolishes the monk."  In other words, when we meet the heat and cold, meet the trouble, just as it is, the separate self is seen through. When we and the extreme states we are trying to avoid are recognized as completely intimate, suffering changes its nature.  The resistance to reality disappears, and we can be surprised at how much we can bear.

It's already been a week since the shootings at Pulse in Orlando, and we may find our hearts turning away, trying to avoid the pain of the reality of how humans can so easily be destroyed by other humans.  It's happening every day -- the destroying and the avoiding.   Our task is to notice when we turn away, and then practice the intimate art of meeting whatever is here.  We learn how to stay with pain when pain arises. We may find ourselves sobbing or shouting out in protest.  And then we can find a way to use our sorrow and our anger to actually do something, using our particular talents to help heal the burning world.   And we can also learn, by meeting the reality of our tears and rage, how to meet the arising of joy when it appears.

Here is an opportunity to experience joy and sorrow mixed, in the lovely version of "Over the Rainbow" by the late Hawaiian singer Israel Kamakawiwo'ole.