Sunday, June 17, 2018
My teacher James Ishmael Ford, Roshi has just come out with his latest book, and it's a true treasure. Called "Introduction to Zen Koans: Learning the Language of Dragons" it is even more than what its title promises. A comprehensive introduction to Zen practice, it establishes the context for koan practice within the history of Zen and the other great practices that accompany and deepen koan study: breath and shikantaza (just sitting) practices. James is a wonderful and down-to-earth guide to Zen, and especially to the style of Zen in which I apprenticed with him, both before and after he gave me Dharma transmission. I owe him so much, and you owe it to yourself to read this wise and warm book.
Thursday, June 14, 2018
Back in the day, and I'm just talking about 1994, there were far fewer translations around of essential Zen texts. Now there are many, but I find myself returning again and again to some favorites from the last century. One that has always kept me supported in my practice is the Swiss scholar Urs App's translation of the Sayings of Yunmen.
Yunmen Wenyan is a familiar character to anyone who practices with koans. He lived in China in the 9th and 10th centuries. His most famous comment, which is the text for the first official Dharma talk from a newly transmitted teacher in my school of Zen, is "Every day is a good day."
Shambhala Publications has recently reissued a revised and updated version of App's book, which had originally been published by Kodansha International: Zen Master Yunmen; His Life and Essential Sayings. It's a beautiful production, and will, I have no doubt, be a wonderful companion to anyone who travels the Great Way.
Here is a quote from Yunmen's first talk in the Record. just to give you a taste:
"The knack of giving voice to the Dao is definitely difficult to figure out. Even if every word matches it, there still are a multitude of other ways; how much more so when I rattle on and on? So what's the point of talking to you right now?"
Tuesday, June 12, 2018
|Path to St. Elizabeth Church, Le Beguínage, |
I just returned from a trip to Europe, where I taught some retreats and workshops, and also did some sight-seeing. In the beautiful city of Bruges in Belgium we visited the Monasterium De Wijngaard, or the Beguínage, a peaceful refuge for Benedictine nuns. In former days this cluster of small free-standing rooms surrounding a small wooded park was a retreat center for non-ordained women, the Beguínes,who had left the world to be in direct contact with God.
The nuns who now live in the monastery invite everyone to pray with them four times daily, and we were lucky enough to sit with them during vespers. Just a few old women in their brown and black habits chanted in high melodic voices, absorbed in their devotions while tourists quietly came and went from the church of St. Elizabeth.
The nuns provided little flyers for the tourists, full of prayers and devotions, for use during the services. One that was unfamiliar to me, and that deeply touched me, was written by the English Christian writer Frances Nuttall (1892 - 1983) called the "Prayer of the Chalice." You can easily google the original if you're interested. I revised it for my own use and humbly offer this new, non-sectarian version below. Perhaps it will give you a flavor of the experience we had in the lovely church, in the late afternoon, listening to the sweet voices chanting their devotions.
The Empty Vessel
To the Great Light I raise my whole being,
A vessel emptied of self.
Accept this my emptiness, and so fill me with your light, your love, your life,
That these precious gifts may radiate through me
And overflow the chalice of my heart
Into the hearts of all with whom
I come into contact this day.
Revealing unto them the beauty of joy and wholeness, and the serenity of peace which nothing can destroy.
Tuesday, March 27, 2018
This past Sunday, a group of teachers from Boundless Way traveled to visit Dave O'Neal and his husband Eric for a special precepts ceremony, called "jukai" in Japanese. Dave had spent last year sewing his rakusu, the ceremonial "bib" that signifies his entry into the great way of Zen Buddhism, and had planned to take the precepts last December, but had to cancel at the last minute when he came down with a virus. And then, life turned upside down for him...he and Eric went to Colorado, and Dave had a serious stroke. As he has continued healing, some of us who have been visiting him cooked up a plan to have a private ceremony with Dave, Eric, and a good friend of theirs, the Unitarian minister Rev. Carl Scovel. Carl took this photo, which includes Josh Bartok, Roshi; Kate Hartland Sensei; Dharma Holder Rev. Bob Waldinger; Dave; Eric; me; and David Rynick, Roshi. During the ceremony, jukai candidates are asked to provide personal responses to each of the 16 Bodhisattva precepts. We were all so touched by Dave's responses, and I asked permission to share them here. Dave's responses follow each of the precepts in bold.
I take refuge in the Buddha, in Oneness, the awakened nature of all beings.
I take refuge in the enlightenment that surrounds us, and aspire to recognize it everywhere, in everyone, in everything, and
outside of things.
outside of things.
I take refuge in the Dharma, in Diversity, the ocean of wisdom and compassion.
I take refuge in the teachings that surround me, and, when I’m overwhelmed by them, to miss as few of them as I can.
I take refuge in the Sangha, in Harmony, the interdependence of all.
I take refuge in all beings and vow to be ready for all beings to take refuge in me.
Not knowing, thereby giving up fixed ideas about myself and the universe, I vow to cease from evil.
I vow to be grateful whenever I’m able to see greed, hatred, and ignorance arise, with the hope that in that seeing evil
Bearing witness to the joy and suffering of the world, I vow to practice good.
I vow to practice good in a way that goes unnoticed.
Honoring wholeness in myself and others, I vow to save all beings.
I vow to save all beings, and to allow myself to be saved by all beings.
1. Recognizing that I am not separate from all that is, I vow to take up the Way of Not Killing.
I vow to remember the truth of nonseparation from which non-killing naturally arises.
2. Being satisfied with what I have, I vow to take up the Way of Not Stealing.
May awareness of the lack of separation between any of us reveal the absurdity of the whole idea of taking something
3. Honoring mutuality and respecting commitment, I vow to take up the Way of Not Misusing Sex.
I vow to be aware of the misuse of sex in the most subtle ways it manifests, and in doing so, not to miss the really
4. Listening and speaking from the heart, I vow to take up the Way of Not Speaking Falsely.
I vow to strive to let my words be true and to let my silence also be true.
5. Cultivating a mind that sees clearly, I vow to take up the Way of Not Intoxicating Mind and Body.
I vow to be aware of the small and subtle ways that mind and body are subject to intoxication, and in doing so,
not to ignore the big and obvious ways.
not to ignore the big and obvious ways.
6. Unconditionally accepting what each moment has to offer, I vow to take up the Way of Not Finding Fault with Others.
I also vow to repent of whenever I’ve found fault with anyone, any time the memory of it by grace arises.
7. Meeting others on equal ground, I vow to take up the Way of Not Elevating Myself at the Expense of Others.
I vow to remember that we’re all on equal ground already, and that any thought I’ve had otherwise has been foolishness.
8. Using all the ingredients of my life, I vow to take up the Way of Not Sparing the Dharma Assets.
Conscious of the great wealth of the dharma, and the incredible good fortune to be able to hear and practice it, I vow
not to keep it to myself.
not to keep it to myself.
9. Transforming suffering into wisdom, I vow to take up the Way of Not Harboring III Will.
I vow to be inhospitable to ill will whenever I recognize it. And when I discover it’s snuck in and taken up residence,
to kindly evict it.
to kindly evict it.
10. Honoring my life as an instrument of the Great Way, I vow to take up the Way of Not Defaming the Three Treasures.
In order to take up the way of not defaming the Three Treasures, I vow to aspire to speak ill of no person or thing.
Friday, March 16, 2018
Sunday, March 11, 2018
Thursday, March 8, 2018
Some of you may be familiar with Boundless Way Zen practitioner Nat Needle, who has composed many songs about Zen and Buddhism over his long creative life as a musician and educator. Seeing Sarah Loy's photo of our Temple Buddha buried in snow this morning, I remember Nat's song "Under the Bodhi Tree" where kids wonder about "what could bother old Buddha I wonder?" Clearly not snow! Enjoy this cut from Nat's album "Dharma Moon."
Tuesday, March 6, 2018
Thursday, February 22, 2018
Recently I was sharing some of my travel experiences with a friend who also does quite a lot of traveling, even though she has a serious disease that limits her capacity to walk or climb stairs. Still, she travels the world, seeing family and friends, attending retreats and workshops. Our conversation led to exchanging stories of other friends with severe health limitations, and how frustrating it can be to cope with the endless changes that arrive every day, due to health issues and ordinary aging, but also because everything is always changing, and we both feel our aging and slowing down affects our voyaging. At one point, one of us said, "if only there was less change involved in living! We talked about the challenges of leaving home, and the longing to find a place to settle.
Being present with constant change is one of the primary practices in Zen. First, of course, we have to recognize that change is actually occurring. It's much more obvious with the big events -- health crises, the ending of relationships, elections, travel...but it's the daily small changes where we get to practice a more subtle recognition. Every moment is different from the one before, and even our sense of who we are continually shifts. Once we notice this, we may get a bit knocked off-kilter, and the root koans of "Who am I?" and "What is This?" can arise.
On Saturday, James Cordova, Sensei, David Rynick, Roshi and I taught our first "Buddhism 101" class of the winter on the subject of the Sixteen Bodhisattva precepts, which begin with the three refuges. I take refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha. One way we came to understand this taking refuge was that the Buddha is our own awakened heart, the Dharma is the way things are, and the Sangha is the group of people we practice with, both formally in meditation at the Temple, and more generally, with everyone we encounter. And these three jewels of awakening, reality and community are always available in some shape or form.
So, in the midst of constant change, I practice taking refuge. And this means that every moment is an opportunity to come home.
Sunday, February 11, 2018
Pictured at left is the doorway to El Silencio, the classroom at the Blue Spirit Resort in Guanacaste Province in Costa Rica where I just taught a week-long intensive called Mindful Living. My old friend and teaching partner, Florence Meleo-Meyer and I have been offering this stripped-down version of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program for 12 years, and my husband David Rynick comes with us to play on the beach. This year, David took the class as our assistant. We were all so touched by the dedication and sincerity of our 20 students. It's not easy to look at stressful reactive patterns and undertake the discipline of sitting still with whatever arises while residing in paradise. But we all did it, and at the end of the week we all reported feeling a little freer, more open and compassionate, and more willing to return to our busy lives with new skills. The primary skill we teach is to learn to stop, and to bear whatever is happening, whether wonderful or terrible, without running away, fighting, fixing or freezing in response. This simple instruction is not so easy to do, and the support of the community is an important ingredient. And, being on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica, we had many other assistants and community members, including howler monkeys, iguanas, butterflies, trees, flowers, the ocean, and of course, pelicans, as shown below in the video taken by David.
Friday, January 26, 2018
with the night falling we are saying thank you
we are stopping on the bridges to bow from the railings
we are running out of the glass rooms
with our mouths full of food to look at the sky
and say thank you
we are standing by the water thanking it
standing by the windows looking out
in our directions
back from a series of hospitals back from a mugging
after funerals we are saying thank you
after the news of the dead
whether or not we knew them we are saying thank you
over telephones we are saying thank you
in doorways and in the backs of cars and in elevators
remembering wars and the police at the door
and the beatings on stairs we are saying thank you
in the banks we are saying thank you
in the faces of the officials and the rich
and of all who will never change
we go on saying thank you thank you
with the animals dying around us
our lost feelings we are saying thank you
with the forests falling faster than the minutes
of our lives we are saying thank you
with the words going out like cells of a brain
with the cities growing over us
we are saying thank you faster and faster
with nobody listening we are saying thank you
we are saying thank you and waving
dark though it is
From Migration: New & Selected Poems (Copper Canyon Press, 2005). Copyright © 1988 by W. S. Merwin.
Friday, January 5, 2018
Steve Wallace, Sensei (who will receive transmission and become a sensei later tonight!) has posted all of the audio recordings from our 2018 Coming and Going sesshin online at: https://www.boundlesswayzen.org/sesshin/audio/. More talks will be added each day as our practice together unfolds.
Please come join us at the BWZ Temple in Worcester between now and January 22nd if you can. You are welcome to come for an hour or two, or to register as a resident for any number of days during our three week period of intensive group practice. Even if you can't join us physically you can still hear all the talks and discussions online. The inspiration for this year's talks comes from our newly published fourth edition of the Boundless Way Zen Liturgy Book.