Sunday, February 12, 2017

Self-remembering and Self-forgetting

Buddha, Yale University Art Museum, photo by Melissa Blacker

I was recently asked to write a blog post for the Centre for Mindfulness in North Wales, UK.  Here is a link to the post:

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Coming and Going Sesshin talks

Our Coming and Going Sesshin has started, and talks are available for listening so that, even if you are far away, you can participate.  Steve Wallace has provided the following link and information:

Audio recordings from our 2017 Coming and Going sesshin are now available online at:

More talks are added each day as we proceed.  The inspiration for this year's talks comes from the book Zen Mind Beginner's Mind by Shunryu Suzuki, Roshi.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Community Voices for Peace

Mona Ives (Islamic Society), Laurie Ross (Clark University), Rev. Daniel Gregoire (UU Society of Grafton and Upton), Rabbi Valerie Cohen (Temple Emmanuel Sinai, me, Predrag Cicovacki (Holy Cross), Frank Kartheiser (Worcester Interfaith), Michael True and Paul Ropp (Center for Nonviolent Solutions)
Last night I was part of an event called "Community Voices for Peace" at the First Unitarian Church in Worcester, co-sponsored by the Islamic Society of Worcester and The Center for Nonviolent Solutions.  Here's a version of what I said:

I recently received a card from a friend with a poem by the Utah poet Jody Richards:

In a torn world,
may we know new hope
and be transformed –
winter into spring,
hurt into whole,
strife into peace.

As a Zen Buddhist teacher and priest, my vow is to save all beings from suffering.  We say in Zen that the world is full of suffering, and that suffering comes in all shapes and sizes, and it’s unavoidable.  And we also say that human beings are naturally prone to what we call the three poisons:  anger and ill-will, greed and delusive certainty.  That’s the bad news.
The good news is that human beings are capable of great love, wisdom and balance.  And we can realize these wonderful qualities through the practice of opening and embracing what is difficult – as Jody Richards says, we can transform hurt into whole, strife into peace – and that this is as natural as winter turning into spring. 
The key to this process of transformation is acceptance and connection.  We can embrace our fear, anger and sadness, and then watch how the simple act of being willing to allow ourselves to have these feelings allows them to change on their own – and shows us a path of action that comes from love, wisdom and balance rather than anger, greed and delusion. 
I continue to be encouraged, even in these difficult times, by an experience I had while driving into Boston many years ago, when there were tolls on the Mass Turnpike.  This is real news, not fake – I actually experienced it myself!  I drove through  the toll that would take me to route 128, and encountered a complete standstill.  Hundreds of cars stuck, unable to move – classic gridlock, with honking and swearing and frustration.  I was headed in to teach a meditation class, and I figured that I could try living what I taught.  I turned off the car, and began to meditate.  At one point I looked up, and saw someone watching me.  We smiled at each other, and then started laughing.  Someone in another car saw us and started laughing too.  And so it went, from one car to another, until everyone around was laughing – so hard that tears were pouring from our eyes.  And then, the miracle of transformation happened – one person waved to another to let a car go by, and then another and another.  In just a few moments, we were all headed where we wanted to go. 
Don’t turn away from people you don’t agree with – people who seem greedy, angry and deluded.  Stay present with what is true for you, and then look around.  Make connections.  Find a way, even in this time of great darkness, to stay connected with yourself and with others, and then, with all of your being, work actively and positively for peace and justice. 

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:

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.