Sunday, June 12, 2022

Near and Far the Same Sesshin

photo by Corwyn Miyagishima
                                                                                     Our June 2020 sesshin just concluded, celebrated by the community of participants with joyous cheers and tears.  This was an historic event for our sangha -- our first hybrid sesshin, with 12 people attending in person at the Temple and 24 more people attending on Zoom.  

Because of the pandemic, we have turned toward developing intensive meditation retreats on Zoom, and our sangha now includes students who practice from a geographic distance from the Temple as well as local folks.  In the past, far away seemed truly far away.  

Since spring of 2020, we have found a way to provide a Zen retreat experience for people everywhere in the world on-line, and our sangha has expanded because of it.  With COVID numbers finally becoming slightly lower in Worcester, we took a chance on inviting a few students experienced with in-person sesshin, and our various Temple committees:  technology, in-person safety, sesshin and communications all worked together to create a hybrid experience.    

People coming in person were all fully vaccinated and also took COVID tests the morning of sesshin, so that we could create a safe in-person experience.   This particular sesshin included attendees from California and many Northeastern states, France, Belgium, the UK and Denmark, as well as people from nearby in Massachusetts.  

We took as our topic the koan from the Gateless Gate collection:  "Ordinary Mind is the Way." and David Rynick Roshi, Dharma Holder Alan Richardson and I offered talks and individual meetings throughout the time we had together.  

We experienced a deep connection between near and far -- the ordinary barriers of time and space melted away, and so our tanto (head seat) Adam Monty, who is also the president of the Temple, named it the Near and Far the Same Sesshin.  Rev. Corwyn Miyagishima was the tanto of the online portion of the sesshin and supported people through his dharma heart and his technology skills. 

I am so grateful for everyone who created and participated in this retreat.  Our next hybrid sesshin will be in late July through early August, and the in-person component will be open to anyone who is vaccinated (and boosted) providing that COVID numbers stay the same or diminish.  And everyone is invited to join on Zoom, wherever you are in the world!

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

The Ready to Fly Sesshin


Above are many of the participants in our Spring Distant Temple Bell Sesshin, which the tanto (head seat and retreat manager) Rev. Paul Galvin named the "Ready to Fly" Sesshin.  As usual the transformations of heart were numerous, and I am so grateful for everyone who participated, especially the officers who made it all happen: Jenny Smith, Senior Assistant Teacher Michael Herzog, Rev. Corwyn Miyagishima and Erin Barbour.  Plus deep bows to my fellow teachers David Rynick, Roshi and Dharma Holder Alan Richardson.  

Our next sesshin at Boundless Way Temple will be June 10 -- 12, and will be our first ever hybrid sesshin, with a few people in residence at the Temple, and everyone else on Zoom.  We look forward to this new chapter in our sesshin journey as we slowly come through the experience of closing due to COVID in March of 2020, and our discovery of the powers of Zoom.  We're all ready to fly!

Tuesday, February 15, 2022

The Shining Grasses Sesshin

photo by Corwyn Miyagishima

The topic for our latest Boundless Way Temple sesshin, taught in our Zoom zendo by David Rynick, Roshi, Dharma Holder Alan Richardson and myself, was a story from the Record of Layman Pang.  

The Layman was sitting in his thatched cottage one day studying the sutras. "Difficult, difficult, difficult," he said; "like trying to scatter ten measures of sesame seed all over a tree." "Easy, easy, easy," Mrs. Pang said; "like touching your feet to the ground when you get out of bed." "Neither difficult nor easy," their daughter Ling Zhao said; "the teachings of the Ancestors are written on the tips of the hundred shining grasses."

Indeed, this is the world we live in, full of sorrows and joys, while all the time the teachings about the Dharma, actual reality, surround us if we train ourselves to perceive them.  A Zen sesshin is one way to immerse the heart, mind and body in this way of seeing, hearing and feeling.   At a certain point in our practice life, we can find the teachings everywhere.  Sometimes it feels difficult, sometimes it feels easy.  And sometimes we recognize that those categories point us away from what is right here, always shining and ready for us.

Special thanks to the tanto (head seat) for this sesshin, Jenny Smith, and the assistant tanto Senior Assistant Teacher Michael Herzog, plus the whole sesshin officer team:  Adam Monty, Senior Assistant Teacher Rev. Paul Galvin, Rev. Corwyn Miyagishima and Assistant Teacher Rev. Ray Demers, who gave one of the evening encouragement talks.  And deep bows to everyone who attended, pictured above.  Our next sesshin will be in April -- for more information: Boundless Way Temple.

Friday, January 28, 2022

Seeing into the nature of past and future


A big snow storm is headed our way.  The weather folks are predicting one to two feet here in Worcester, and two to three feet east of us in Boston.  The storm is supposed to start in less than twelve hours, and already the streets and the sky and the air are quiet.  There is nothing to do but empty the compost, make sure the snow blower has enough gas, and wait.  

Of course, this is a specific example of our usual condition, as human beings.  We believe we know what will happen next, but we can only make approximate guesses, and base our actions on those guesses.  A dharma friend told me today that he had stopped, pretty much, going over events that have happened in the past, and trying to predict what will happen.  Most of his energy these days is going to being present for what's happening right now.  

Another spiritual friend said something similar to me later in the day.  She understands that what has passed has gone, and the energy it takes to keep the specifics of the past in memory is a waste of precious brain resources.  "Forget it all,"  she said.  

The past is a palace of memories, and the future is a cloudy region of fantasy.  Right here, in this moment, the air is cold and quiet.  The compost is emptied and the gas can is full.  One moment at a time, life unfolds.  We can meet it with surprise and wonder.  Happy snow day!

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

And Yet


The Japanese poet Kobayashi Issa (1763-1827) wrote the following poem after his two year old daughter died:

tsuyu no yo wa 

tsuyu no yo nagara 

sari nagara

This world of dew

is a world of dew.

And yet ... and yet ....

Later, commenting on this poem, he wrote, "I knew that it was no use to cry, that water once flown past the bridge does not return and scattered blossoms are gone beyond recall. Yet try as I would, I could not, simply cut the binding cord of human love."  

Last week I lost a dear friend, who died after a full life at the age of 98.  I was lucky enough to be able to be with her the day before she died, holding her hand, breathing with her and quietly singing old jazz standards that both she and my mother and I had loved.  She and my mother had been best friends, and when my mother died 35 years ago, she became a second mother to me.  The two women had been pregnant at the same time, and both gave birth to daughters:  me and my oldest friend.  We four were all together when my mother died, and here we were again, only the three of us,  as one of us again passed from this world to whatever lies beyond.   As she lay dying, she kept saying, "I've been here a long time!" 

So many parts of this experience reflect the teachings of Zen.  We were facing impermanence and death and loss, and at the same time crying together and feeling our love for each other.  This world of dew, where everything vanishes like dew on a leaf in the morning sun, is indeed a world of dew.  There's no arguing with impermanence.  As much as we'd like it to be different, everything comes and goes.  So my friend was once alive, and now she is no longer on the planet in bodily form.  

Issa's "and yet...and yet" is the other side of this logical understanding.  We cannot "cut the binding cord of human love."  Our hearts break regularly.  As the recently deceased songwriter Stephen Sondheim sings "Sometimes people leave you, halfway through the wood."  It's just the way it is.  And yet...and yet.  

I miss my friend, and will continue to heal from her passing as time goes on, and her death recedes further and further into the past.  But she lives on in my heart, as do all my other loved ones who have left me in various ways.  Impermanence goes hand in hand with love and connection.  It's a mystery -- the great paradox of living a life in Zen -- facing into whatever arises and being as present as possible.  

Monday, December 6, 2021

Great Dreams Sesshin


The Boundless Way Temple sangha just completed the last online sesshin of 2021, the Rohatsu Distant Temple Bell Sesshin.  Our tanto, or "head seat" Rev. Corwyn MIyagishima, who organized and was the main support for the students taking the retreat, gave it the name "Great Dreams."  Rev. Corwyn in turn was supported by a wonderful team of "officers" who lead sesshin, doing timing for sitting and  and walking meditation, helping the teachers meet with students individually, and leading chanting and yoga.  My grateful thanks goes to them all:  Senior Assistant Teachers Rev. Paul Galvin, Jean Erlbaum, Michael Herzog,  Dharma Holder Alan Richardson and Jenny Smith, who was also the registrar.  

Zen communities everywhere traditionally hold a sesshin (Japanese for "to touch the heart-mind") every December.  This retreat honors the awakening experience of our original teacher, Shakyamuni Buddha, 2600 years ago, as he sat through the night and saw the morning star at daybreak.  (Rohatsu, in Japanese, means December 8, the traditional date on which this moment of clear understanding is celebrated as "Bodhi Day." ) 

We took up a Zen teaching story, or koan, in the Gateless Gate collection: Case number 25, about a dream that a teacher named Yangshan had in which he went to the heavenly realm of the future Buddha, Maitreya, and was asked to give a talk.  The collector of the Gateless Gate, Wumen, wrote a poem about Yangshan's experience, which contains the line, "he dreamed a dream within a dream."  Dreams of all kinds were mentioned in Dharma talks given by the four Guiding Teachers of Boundless Way Zen, Bob Waldinger, Sensei, Mike Fieleke Sensei, David Rynick, Roshi and myself, along with encouragement talks from Alan, Michael Herzog, and Rev. Corwyn.  

In this time, full of uncertainty in the face of the world situation and the ongoing pandemic, it can indeed feel like we are living in a dream.  Shakyamuni Buddha woke up from his own dream, and our practice together, now on zoom, and in the future in person (perhaps with an online component) is designed to help us awaken.  Join us when we come together again in February for another zoom sesshin.  Registration information will be found soon at Boundless Way Temple.

Friday, December 3, 2021

Mindfulness and Music

I recently received a recording of a piece of music composed and created by Dylan Galloghly, a musician from Australia.  In 2008, Dylan attended a training I taught in Adelaide, Australia for people who wanted to learn how to teach Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy.  One of the hallmarks of modern mindfulness as taught by Jon Kabat-Zinn, with whom I worked for twenty years at the Center for Mindfulness at the University of Massachusetts Medical School,   is the use of guided meditations.  In Zen practice we sit in silence, but in modern mindfulness practice we listen to a teacher guide and instruct us during the meditation period.  Dylan recorded me leading a basic breath meditation practice, and wove in various sounds to create the following piece of music, which Dylan gave me permission to share:  making music from mindfulness