Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Going alone to meet the teacher

Dokusan is a brief opportunity for connection and dialogue between a Zen student and teacher.  The word "dokusan" is Japanese for "going alone to see the teacher."  There can be quite a bit of formality in the tradition -- the student enters the room, bows, takes a seat, and the meeting begins.  I once heard a story about Soen Nakagawa Roshi leaving a pumpkin on his dokusan seat, and then hiding behind a screen to watch his surprised students enter, bow and react.  Here is a version of this venerable tradition, taken at our recent sesshin.

Monday, March 12, 2012

The Joyful Leap

Here's an article I wrote for the May 2012 issue of Shambhala Sun magazine:

In the first episode of the television show Heroes, a young man has a recurring dream of leaping off a tall building and flying instead of falling. One day, he decides to jump for real. As he drops through the air like a stone, he is caught in the arms of his older brother, who, it turns out, actually can fly.
When we stop clinging to the known and allow our dreams to become instruments of change, we learn to practice meditation in action at the deepest level. In these moments, we must risk taking a joyful leap with no guarantee of being caught as we fall.
In Zen practice, we call it stepping off of the hundred-foot pole—living fully without clinging to anything, whether it’s an idea of enlightenment or something familiar and comforting from our old life that is holding us back. Students often speak to me of the great fear that arises even contemplating taking a leap into not-knowing from the cliff top of their old life.
Recently I left a steady job as a meditation teacher at a medical school to live as a resident teacher at a Zen temple. In the heady airspace of the new life, I find myself moving through states of joy, sorrow, fear, irritation, and exhilaration.
What comforting arms rise to meet me as I fall? The surprise of the continually changing display of meeting each moment: a glimpse of the temple garden, the smell of the incense in the zendo, a smile from a sangha friend.
(warning sign on a stone tower on the island of Anglesey in Wales)
All we can rely on, after the joyful leap, is the reassuring discovery of what truly sustains us. I am still in freefall but sometimes I feel the comforting arms of “just this.”