Friday, August 4, 2023

Hakuin's Song of Zazen paraphrased by Nyogen Senzaki

My dear friend Dosho Port, Rōshi found the following text in his garage -- an unpublished manuscript probably given to him by his first teacher Maezumi Rōshi -- a collection of translations of Hakuin Zenji's Song of Zazen, the first Zen text I fell in love with myself. It's from Nyogen Senzaki (1876-1958) a great Japanese Zen teacher who was one of the pioneers in bringing Zen to the United States in the last century.  Dosho Rōshi writes on his blog that it's not really a translation, but more of a paraphrase.  I find it inspiring and beautiful.   Here it is:

From the very beginning you are a Buddha. As there is no ice apart from water, so there is no Buddha outside our fellow-beings. People fail to perceive the truth, though it is within them, and they search afar for it. They suffer thirst, failing to see the fountain near at hand. They are in poverty, forgetting that they are heirs to boundless wealth.

You say that you are suffering. You only suffer because of your own ignorance. Light your prajna, the inner wisdom, and darkness will instantly vanish. That is what we call zazen, Mahayana Dhyana.

I can not tell you how zazen, Mahayana Dhyana, does its marvelous work for you. No other study, however sublime, surpasses it. It stands beyond comparison. You can experience it by yourself. The errors of the past will no longer harass you. Where is hell? You left it in yesterday's dream. Where is paradise? You are standing in it.

If you praise zazen, Mahayana Dhyana, you are drawing yourself next to the Buddha. If you practice zazen, Mahayana Dhyana, you are actually walking in the path of the Buddhas. When you realize that your true self is not-self then your mind will transcend all thoughts.

Thus the gate of true freedom will be opened, and you will enter the holy path rightfully. Your karma will be the emanations of Buddha's wisdom and grace. You can now come and go when ever and where ever you please, for the truth is yours, and you have nothing to do but to manifest it. Even your singing and dancing will actualize Buddha-Dharma. The whole world will be beautiful to your eyes.

In the infinite sky of Samadhi, the moon of the Tathagata's four wisdoms is shining, yet its rays of silvery light are the reflections of your true self. Now what else do you want in this world? The long sought Nirvana is yours. You live in Buddha's paradise of lotus flowers, and you are a Buddha yourself.

Wednesday, June 28, 2023

This Very Sesshin: June 2023


This past weekend we completed our June sesshin, all online on Zoom, and lasting from Friday night to Sunday mid-day, our shortest sesshin of the eleven we offer each year.  This gave a few people who were completely new to sesshin an opportunity to taste the flavor of Zen in the form of intensive practice.  In addition, many of our long-time practitioners got refreshed through practicing together.  Time seemed to be no obstacle, and also no matter.

Despite the brevity of our time together, the sesshin sangha, under the leadership of our tanto Rev. Corwyn Miyagishima, and his assistants Rev. Paul Galvin, Pierce Butler and Sabrina Miller, dove deeply into the Great Matter.  David Rōshi, Dharma Holder Alan Richardson and I looked into the kōan from the Gateless Gate, case 30:  "This very mind is Buddha."  In the story, the student Damei asks the great teacher Ma, "What is Buddha?  And Mazu answers, "This very mind is Buddha." Since one of the great discoveries we make in our study of Zen is that everything is Buddha, that is, everything is the awakened heart/mind, this short kōan gave us many pointers to knowing this for ourselves, through our actual lived experience.  

Every sesshin is named by the tanto, and this particular one was named "This Very Sesshin" by Rev. Corwyn.  Our next sesshin opportunities will be in July, August, September and October. More information can be found here:Boundless Way Zen Temple.

Friday, June 2, 2023

Comings and Goings

2005 sesshin photo at Senexet House in Connecticut

Someone sent me this photo recently.  He didn't know where or when it was taken, but I managed to identify it, from the people and the colors of the rakusus,  It was taken 18 years ago at the end of a sesshin at Senexet House, where Boundless Way folks used to meet to have our intensive meditation retreats.  Looking over the photo, I have mixed thoughts and feelings -- the first thought being: "we were all so young!"  A handful of people in the picture are still practicing with David and me in Boundless Way -- you may recognize some of those faces.  And a few more have died and many more have gone on their way to other Zen communities, or to another kind of non-Zen life.  So there is also nostalgia and some sadness.  The main teaching for me that comes from this photo is how fragile our connections are to each other, to life, and to the dharma.  Currently we have a dedicated and devoted group of practitioners in Boundless Way:  over one hundred members of the organization, and many more who come and practice together on Zoom and in person.  This morning there were nearly forty faces who showed up for dokusan, or just to practice zazen together.  How many will be with us in 20 years?  I myself, if I'm still alive, will be close to 90.  Because everything comes and goes in this delicate system of connection, I am moved to be even more grateful for who is in my life right now.  Thanks to all who are reading this, whether or not we've met or practiced together, for being here.  Many bows to you all!

Wednesday, May 31, 2023

Two Sesshins: April 2023 Crying and Laughing and May 2023 Ducky Down

April Sesshin

May Sesshin

On the weekend of April 20 -- 24, 2023, we had an online only Zoom sesshin at the Temple.  Our tanto, Rev. Paul Galvin, named it the "Crying and Laughing Sesshin" after an incident that followed our selected koan: Baizhang's Wild Duck, Case 53 from the Blue Cliff Record.  In the story, Baizhang and his teacher Mazu have a dialogue about a duck, and later, Baizhang expresses his new view of reality with a fellow student, first by crying and then by laughing.  (Or, depending on the translation source, in the reverse order.)

And then in May 19 -- 22 we had our hybrid Ducky Down sesshin, named by our residential tanto, Jenny Smith, and based on a comment in our Dharma dialogue quoting a Sesame Street song, attached here for your delight:  Put the Duckie Down

The Dharma as conveyed by ducks!

Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Crest of the Wave March 2023 Sesshin

Our first fully in person sesshin (Zen meditation retreat) for quite some time ended this past Monday, and here are most of the participants in a lovely group photo taken by Dharma Holder and Temple Director Michael Herzog.  Michael was also the tanto (head seat/sesshin manager) for the weekend, along with Jenny Smith, who was the registrar and assistant tanto.  The retreat was taught by David Rynick, Rōshi, Dharma Holder Alan Richardson and myself.  We focused on a new translation of a kōan that appears in both the Blue Cliff Record collection as case 24 and the Book of Equanimity collection as case 60.  It turns on the relationship between Guishan and his Dharma heir, known as Iron Grindstone Liu.  Their friendship and connection, along with our own gratitude towards our ancestors who provided us with the forms of sesshin, permeated our silent practice throughout the weekend.  Alan gave an encouragement talk about our present moment demonstration of our inheritance as the crest of a great wave of dharma, of the teachings that have been handed down to us for the last 2600 years, and the power of this was felt by all.  If you are interested in experiencing this inherited energetic force, please consider registering for one or all of our next three sesshins.  April will be on zoom only, May will be a hybrid of in person and zoom, and June will be a 2 day zoom only sesshin.  More information is here:  Boundless Way Zen Temple.  As our home page on our website says:  Welcome Home!

Friday, March 3, 2023

Falling Here Sesshin

A few weeks ago we had our February Hybrid Sesshin, with people from far away joining the Temple sesshin residents on Zoom for a lovely weekend of serious Zen practice and play.  Our theme was a koan about Layman Pang and his famous saying, "Beautiful snowflakes!  They don't fall anywhere else!"  Back in February, we were starved for snow in Worcester, and now we've had one big storm to be followed this weekend by another.   It's deeply true that everything that happens, good, bad or neutral, is simply what is happening.  Nothing happens anywhere else!


Wednesday, March 1, 2023

Leaving the SZBA


About a month ago, I resigned from the Soto Zen Buddhist Association, a group of ordained Soto Zen priests.  My letter of resignation, which follows at the end of this post, is self-explanatory.  I noticed that as soon as I pressed send on the email, I felt an enormous sense of relief.  My ordination is in two Soto Zen lineages, and in Boundless Way Zen, we have found a way to be priests that matches my deepest sense of what it means to commit whole-heartedly to the Great Way of Zen.  Our style has drifted away from the SZBA style in many respects, especially in our training, which we feel is more strict and also more spacious than what is now expected by the SZBA.  Here is a section from the Boundless Way Zen Temple website which describes our understanding of what it means to be a Zen priest.  Please scroll down to the section called "ordination" for more details:  And here is the first paragraph of that section:

"Priests vow to manifest the life of the sangha. Ordination is a commitment not only to Zen and Buddhism, but also to our particular manifestation of the Path within the Boundless Way Zen sangha. This means taking on tasks of support and leadership that can range from shoveling snow at the Temple to being a member of the Leadership Council, from leading a sitting group to being a chaplain in the larger community. An unsui (clouds-and-water) priest may perform all the rites of the Boundless Way, including performing marriages and conducting funerals. An unsui priest may also serve in the larger community in a variety of ministerial capacities."  

I end this post with the letter that I sent explaining my resignation, written and submitted together with my teacher James Ford and one of my students, David Caruso: 

All of us who have signed below have had misgivings about our place within the Soto Zen Buddhist Association for a number of years. Beyond a nostalgic sense of identity with the historic Soto transmission and fondness for many individuals involved, we do not see an alignment with either the larger vision of the organization, nor its expectations for membership. 

Triggered by the recent suspension of a member, we began discussing our relationship with the SZBA, and why we remain members. Each of us have different feelings about it, but we come to the same basic conclusion.

Our lack of alignment stems from our perception of an expanding list of expectations starting with formation requirements which we do not expect from our students, and extending to what are considered ethical violations that seem at once both overly broad and randomly specific.   After consulting with our formal and informal dharma family, we have come to the conclusion that it is time to leave.

Please accept this as our formal resignation from membership within the Soto Zen Buddhist Association.

Rev. James Myōun Ford, Empty Moon Zen

Rev. Melissa Myōzen Blacker, Boundless Way Zen Temple

Rev. David Shunyo Caruso, Boundless Way Zen Temple