Thursday, October 4, 2018

Godless

Emmy winner Merritt Weaver in a still from "Godless"

Let me start by reassuring you that this post isn't about religion, or the lack of it in modern times.  I recently watched and deeply enjoyed the limited streaming series "Godless" on Netflix, set in the late 19th century in the American west, written and directed by Scott Frank.  And I want to warn you,  if this review leads you to watch the program, please make sure you have the stomach for viewing hundreds of extras (humans and horses) posing as blood-covered corpses, in not one, but three major massacres and a number of smaller ones thrown in.  Personally, I have an odd capacity to handle seeing violence in a work of fiction, where I know everyone is an actor and there are cameras and lots of film crew members just out of range, much better than I can watch the television news, or even football.  Luckily, I can still tell the difference between real and imagined carnage, but I expect to lose this talent any day now, as my exposure to real (filmed) violence in the actual world increases.

Two of the actors in the series, Jeff Daniels and Merritt Wever, rightly won Emmy awards for their portrayals of a ruthless killer/preacher and a fearless trouser-wearing and gun-toting widow, respectively.  A second trouser-wearing, gun-toting widow, brilliantly played by Michelle Dockery, best known for her role as Lady Mary in "Downton Abbey," was nominated but sadly didn't win.  Daniels, the comic star of movies like "Dumb and Dumber," with his rubbery face smiling broadly,  spouting cock-eyed religious philosophy, and his eyes completely dead, is beautifully cast against type as the worst kind of sociopath.  He is the character who speaks the lines about the world being godless, as he indiscriminately slaughters the vast majority of the people he encounters.  Wever and Dockery join forces against him, along with a whole crew of colorful characters, many of them women, people of color (former slaves and Indians), and poor white folks.  And (spoiler alert) even though the story is terrifyingly dark, the series closes with a number of happy endings, some of them expected to the point of cliché and some surprising. 

What kept me watching, besides the quality of the acting and writing, was the beautiful cinematography and the gorgeous music, composed by the Guatemalan composer Carlos Rafael Rivera.  The story unfolds slowly, and touches on many themes relevant to modern times: racism, sexism, the lasting effects of trauma,  and most of all, the tyranny and magnetism of insane people in power.  If you are prepared to watch a dream world filled with terror, love, redemption, and lots of horses, you'll enjoy "Godless."

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Ian White Mayer interviews me


I recently had the pleasure of being interviewed by the Zen practitioner Ian White Mayer.  You can find our discussion here:  https://ianwhitemaher.com/melissa-myozen-blacker-roshi/

Enjoy!

Monday, September 10, 2018

The wonder and mystery of Zen koan practice


Check out this latest post on Lion's Roar, guest edited by yours truly, with the super helpful assistance of Sam Littlefair, who had the idea and did most of the work.  Thanks Sam!

https://www.lionsroar.com/the-wonder-mystery-of-zen-koan-practice/

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Summer Sesshin Talks

photo by Mark Brown

The Dharma talks (teisho and encouragement talks) from our July Boundless Way Zen sesshin are now available for your listening pleasure.  Our topic was Case 13 in the Gateless Gate collection, about Hui Neng and monk Ming.  Talks were given by 9 of our Boundless Way teachers and senior students:  David Rynick, Roshi, Dharma Holders Bob Waldinger, Mike Fieleke and Laura Wallace, Senior Dharma Teachers Alan Richardson, Jean Erlbaum,  Carolyn Morley and Julie Nelson, and me.  Enjoy!

 https://www.boundlesswayzen.org/sesshin/audio/


Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Time after Time


A dear friend pointed me to this version of Cyndi Lauper's wonderful song "Time After Time" by the late Eva Cassidy.  (Thanks Anita!)  A moving performance in every way, and it speaks to my heart as loved ones in my life leave and return, return and leave. 

"If you're lost you can look and you will find me,
Time after time.
If you fall I will catch you, I'll be waiting,
Time after time."

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

A Zen priest visits the Relic of the Holy Blood

Derrick receiving the Relic of the Holy Blood, 

On the last full day that David and I were visiting the lovely Belgian medieval city of Bruges, we encountered a miracle.  Well, sort of.  I am allergic to shellfish, and after feasting on some Belgian friet (the origin of what we call french fries, although Belgians are quick to point out that they should be called Belgian fries), I had a mild reaction, probably because shrimp and clams had been fried in the same oil.   As hives began appearing around my mouth and various other parts of my sensitive body, we started to make our way back to our AirBnB for some anti-histamines, when we passed the Basilica of the Holy Blood, a Roman Catholic church that contains the Relic of the Holy Blood.  The Basilica had been closed the last time we passed by, but now it was open, and there was a big crowd going up the stairs to the second floor of the church.  We made our way up the stairs to see what was going on, and found ourselves in front of an altar, presided over by a priest, and towards the front of a line that was about to be allowed to process by the relic itself.

According to the legend, Derrick of Alsace, Count of Flanders, was a crusader.  He received the relic of the Holy Blood in 1150 from his brother-in-law, Baldwin III of Anjou, who was the King of Jerusalem.  It's a piece of cloth, stained brown, in a small crystal vial, housed in a gold and glass casket.  Derrick built the Basilica in Bruges to house the relic, and for a few hundred years, the blood became liquid every Friday.  Once a year, it's paraded around Bruges, protected by 31 righteous men.

We got in line, and when it was our turn, put some euros in the donation box, bowed to the priest, and placed our hands on the transparent box housing the relic.  Although I am not a Christian, my eyes filled with tears.  Perhaps it was the saturated feeling of hundreds of years of worshippers, devoted to a belief in miracles and the spiritual guidance of a man who died two millennia ago.  I don't want to explain it away, but I was touched deeply.

David and I sat with the other worshippers, meditating in front of lit candles.  When a couple of them got put out accidentally, we stood to relight them.  And then we walked back out to the square to continue on our journey around the city.  My hives were gone.  Perhaps I had been healed by the Holy Blood?  Or by sitting quietly in a beautiful and silent devotional space?  Or by the miraculous human body that detected a problem and made its own anti-histamines?  David informed me that they had already started to fade by the time we entered the church.   I only know that I had a rare opportunity to experience something holy. 

As we teach in Zen, everything is holy.  Everything demonstrates the wondrous Dharma, the teachings, reality.  Everything shines with its own light.  There are no exceptions.  The green bottle glistening in the sun, discarded by someone passing in a car on Pleasant Street this morning; the flowers in the garden; the noise of the traffic.  Pay attention -- the Holy Blood is right here, now...please don't miss it!

Monday, June 18, 2018

Don't be deceived by others

Beach in Costa Rica

This morning I was reminded by a student of this lovely koan case from the Gateless Gate collection by Wumen, number 12.  It was a special favorite of my first Zen teacher, and I have come to love it as well.  This wonderful teacher, Ruiyan, calls out to himself and answers himself.  Who is calling, and who is responding? 

Every day Zen Master Ruiyan called to himself:
“Master!” and answered,
“Yes!” then he would say,
“Be aware!” and answer,
“Yes!”
"Don't be deceived by others!"
"No! No!"

Each human being is complex and made up of so many parts.  Not one of us resembles anyone else who has ever existed in the universe.  And yet, we find commonality in the patterns of response we have to life coming forward.  Ruiyan reminds us that we can be humble about everything, including being a Zen teacher.  Who is the master to whom he calls out?  And every one of us, no matter where we are on the path, needs to remember to be aware.  Being deceived by others is the follow-up:  who are those others?  Could they be all of the voices of praise and blame we are subjected to on a daily basis?  The folks who adore us and the folks who are so irritated that even hearing our voice is grating?  And even more, perhaps, the internalized voices of judgment that arise endlessly.  Don't be deceived, Ruiyan tells himself, and us, in words that echo through the centuries.  Every voice of judgment is caught up in right and wrong.  Going beyond this, there is only what is arising right now in this moment -- which may, of course, be thoughts of right or wrong!  Everything shines with the light of Dharma.  We can be comforted by this teaching, and go on our way doing the best we can in every moment.  Are you aware?  Don't be deceived by others!


Sunday, June 17, 2018

The Language of Dragons


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

Urs App and Yunmen


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?"

Indeed!

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

The Empty Vessel

Path to St. Elizabeth Church, Le Beguínage,
Bruges, Belgium

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

Dave O'Neal's Precepts Responses

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.
Refuges

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.
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.


Vows
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
may cease.
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.


Precepts
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
not given.
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
obvious ways.
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.
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.
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.
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

covered with snow

photo by David Rynick

One of our Boundless Way Zen miscellaneous koans:

A thousand mountains are covered with snow.

Why is this one peak not white?

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Red Scarf Buddha


Snow falls and uniqueness transforms into oneness.

Snow melts and reveals everything just as it is.

Just when it seems that change only brings suffering,

A gesture of comfort is revealed on a cold winter day.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

What could bother old Buddha I wonder?




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

Both Sides Now


A friend recently sent me an interview with Joni Mitchell from 5 years ago.  (thanks Joanne!)  It's so inspiring to see a woman at 70 who is uncompromising in her sense of herself.  She talks about how much she loves life, and, with a laugh,  how sometimes she gets sad, frustrated and angry, too.  One of her most famous songs, and a particular favorite of mine, is called "Both Sides Now,"  in which she sings about the impossibility of knowing anything (clouds, love, life).  The heart of my practice is reflected in these lyrics, which I first heard as a  teenager, listening alone in my bedroom on my vinyl album playing on my little portable record player.  Life is so complex, challenging and wonderful.  How can we ever know it or anything completely?  Here is a version of that song done when Mitchell was in her 50's, on the amazing album called "Both Sides Now." 

Thursday, February 22, 2018

some thoughts on coming home


Anne Morrow Lindbergh, in her book of published journal entries called "Hour of Gold, Hour of Lead (1929-1932)" wrote:  “Is there anything as horrible as starting on a trip?  Once you’re off, that’s all right, but the last moments are earthquake and convulsion, and the feeling that you are a snail being pulled off your rock.”  That was my own experience for a long time, but the extreme nature of earthquake and convulsion has lessened quite a bit in the last few years.

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

Back from the Beach





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

Gratitude in the darkness

A friend (thanks Annee!) recently reminded me of the following poem by the former U. S. Poet Laureate, ecology activist and Zen student W. S. Merwin, published in 1988.  In these difficult times, even when things don't go our way, our practice teaches us how amazing it is simply to be alive.  From that view, a bow of thanks may be enough to remind us of what is truly important.



Thanks

Listen
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

Coming and Going Sesshin Talks


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.