Tuesday, October 18, 2016

2016 Autumn Sesshin at Boundless Way Temple: talks and a special announcement

At our most recent sesshin, in private ceremonies attended by Boundless Way Zen teachers, two of our senior dharma teachers received Denkai transmission, the first step in full transmission as a Zen teacher. On the night of October 8, I gave Denkai transmission to Robert Ryudo Tetsumu Waldinger, and on the night of October 9th, Josh Bartok gave Denkai transmission to Steve Tetsuen Wallace. 

Bob and Steve can now give the precepts and accept personal students. Steve will continue to be the co-head of practice at the Greater Boston Zen Center in Cambridge. Bob, who has been the practice leader at the Henry David Thoreau Sangha (Hank) in Newton, will now be Hank's guiding teacher. Alan Richardson, a BoWZ senior dharma teacher, will step into the role of practice leader at Hank. 

And thanks to Dharma Holder Steve Wallace, here is the link to talks from sesshin, given by Josh Bartok, David Rynick, Bob Waldinger, Steve Wallace and myself:


Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Who by fire?

I was speaking recently with a dear friend and fellow Zen practitioner who has had many serious health problems.  We talked about the inevitability of death and the natural fear of the loss of dignity through disease and helplessness at the end of life.   All of us will someday die, but we don't know how or when.  The key is to practice being here right now, whatever the condition of our current circumstances.  I mentioned the Leonard Cohen song "Who By Fire?" and a few days later, my friend sent me this video.  While watching it, I felt a bit of that transcendent joy that comes with embracing our mortality, and a renewed appreciation of how art and creativity can help us with that embrace.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Talks from Boundless Way Zen Summer Sesshin 2016

photo by David Dae An Rynick
Talks are now available, thanks to the work of Steve Wallace, from our most recent sesshin.  Our topic was the 83rd koan in the Book of Serenity, "Daowu Tends the Sick" and its connection to the recent gun violence and terrorist acts in this country and throughout the world.  There are powerful talks from three of our Guiding Teachers:  Josh Bartok, David Rynick and me, and our three Dharma Holders:  James Cordova, Diane Fitzgerald and Kate Hartland.

Here's the link:  http://www.boundlesswayzen.org/recorded.htm

Friday, July 22, 2016

You see, I'm hiding nothing from you

In Case 18 from the koan collection Entangling Vines (translated by Thomas Kirchner), the teacher, Huitang Zuxin quotes a line from Confucius to his student, the poet Shangu:  "My friends, do you think I'm hiding things from you?  In fact, I am hiding nothing from you."  And then he says, "It's just the same with the Great Matter of Zen.  Do you understand this?"  Shangu doesn't understand, but later, while walking in the mountains with his teacher, the air is full of the scent of sweet-olive blossoms, and Huitang asks, "Do you smell the fragrance of the blossoms?"  When Shangu says that he does smell them, Huitang says, "You see, I'm hiding nothing from you."  And Shangu has an awakening.

When I was new to Zen, I came to my first teacher for an individual meeting, dokusan, full of distress about something or other.  I have no memory at this point what I was bothered about, but my teacher choose to ignore all of that anyway, and asked me, "Do you hear the call of the mourning dove outside?"  That beautiful call, which sounds like someone singing, "who, who, who" had been out of my awareness until my teacher called attention to it.  And in that moment, as my ears turned to that lovely sound, there was nothing else in the universe.  Just for a moment.  But after all these years, that moment is evoked every time I hear doves calling.    Everything is like this.  Our practice is to stop and see, listen, smell, taste, touch whatever is right here with us.  This is the Great Matter of Zen.  You see, I am hiding nothing from you.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

musings on Independence Day Eve

The 12th century Chinese teacher and poet Hongzhi says,

Not entering the world, 
Not following conditions;
In the emptiness of the pot of ages there's a family tradition.
White duckweeds, breeze gentle -- evening on an autumn river;
An ancient embankment, the boat returns -- a single stretch of haze.

In this world where everything comes and goes, we can find a way to be free.  At some point in our practice, we come to know without a doubt that we are completely interdependent with everything. And just on the other side of our interdependence is the refreshing taste
of independence.  We are caught less and less in the content of our thinking.  Thoughts come and go, many of them sticky with the glue of old habits of self-criticism.  But like the gentle breeze on the water in Hongzhi's poem, we let them blow right through us, and they stop their ornery sticking.

Happy Independence Day!

Friday, June 24, 2016

Beginners Mind: Ukelele Version

My new Kana and my old Silvertone

I've been playing the piano and singing most of my life.  When I was 3 years old, I had a little toy piano, like Schroeder's piano in the Peanuts cartoons, and figured out how to play songs from my parent's jazz records on it, so they bought me a Wurlitzer spinet piano and got me a piano teacher.  On my own I figured out how to play chords and read jazz charts.  I was serious enough about "being a musician" to major in music and anthropology at my university. I sang in a Javanese gamelan, and later in my life I played in a bossa nova band with friends and Zen students.  And all this time I've been playing for my own pleasure.  (For 10 years in my 20's I even made a living playing for dance classes and teaching piano and voice.)  It came easy to me, so I didn't practice much.  I was never good enough to have a real career, but I love playing music.

And now, 60 years after figuring out Harry Belafonte's song "Come Back Liza" on the toy piano, I've decided to take up the ukelele.  I'm not alone in this.   There are ukelele clubs and bands springing up all over the place.  My daughter, who actually is a conservatory-trained professional musician, in the middle of making her second CD of original alt-rock songs, taught me the basics, and I fell in love with the portability and the cuteness of the instrument.  A Zen student sent me a rehabbed vintage Silvertone soprano, and yesterday I bought myself a late birthday gift of a Kana baritone.  And the strange thing is, I've been practicing the heck out them.  My fingers are developing callouses in the right places.  Things are starting to sound a little bit musical.  But I'm a rank beginner, and so the music isn't quite as satisfying to play as I'm used to when I accompany myself singing at the piano.

As a Zen student, and now a Zen teacher, I value the concept of "beginners mind" -- the quality that is so prized in Zen and in mindfulness -- the capacity to meet the moment just as it is, with freshness.  But I had forgotten that it's also quite hard to be a beginner.  Zen students who are just starting out feel lost and confused, not just fresh and mindful.  It's quite challenging to not know.  

I'm grateful to my ukeleles for reminding me that being a beginner is awkward and difficult before it feels fun.   And it's important to practice, to strum and pluck and make mistakes.  That's where the learning happens.  We Zen folks sit on the cushion and learn to face everything, what we like and what we dislike.  We show up in dokusan, our individual meetings between teacher and student, and we practice showing up just as we are.  It's all in the service of being able to live a life that has meaning, that is useful for the world.  We practice to make music, and we practice to be bodhisattvas.   As Gary Snyder says, in another context, "There is no other life."

Monday, June 20, 2016

Answer to Dorothy

From the time I was very young, I felt a strong connection to the longing in Judy Garland's voice, when, as Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz,  she begged for "a place where there isn't any trouble."  And as we know, there was just as much trouble, if not more, in the land over the rainbow.

In case 43 from the Blue Cliff Record, I hear something similar in the monk's question, "Where is the place where there is no heat and cold?"  Dongshan's challenge to the monk is to ask, "Why not go to the place where there is no heat or cold?"  When the monk asks where that place is, Dongshan says, "When its cold, cold finishes the monk.  When it is hot, heat demolishes the monk."  In other words, when we meet the heat and cold, meet the trouble, just as it is, the separate self is seen through. When we and the extreme states we are trying to avoid are recognized as completely intimate, suffering changes its nature.  The resistance to reality disappears, and we can be surprised at how much we can bear.

It's already been a week since the shootings at Pulse in Orlando, and we may find our hearts turning away, trying to avoid the pain of the reality of how humans can so easily be destroyed by other humans.  It's happening every day -- the destroying and the avoiding.   Our task is to notice when we turn away, and then practice the intimate art of meeting whatever is here.  We learn how to stay with pain when pain arises. We may find ourselves sobbing or shouting out in protest.  And then we can find a way to use our sorrow and our anger to actually do something, using our particular talents to help heal the burning world.   And we can also learn, by meeting the reality of our tears and rage, how to meet the arising of joy when it appears.

Here is an opportunity to experience joy and sorrow mixed, in the lovely version of "Over the Rainbow" by the late Hawaiian singer Israel Kamakawiwo'ole.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

The Beech Tree in the Garden

a tree branch floats through the empty sky
the tree before its removal

A monk asked Zhaozhou, "Why did Bodhidharma come from the west?"  (Or...why are things the way they are?)  Zhaozhou replied, "The cypress tree in the garden."

An old beech tree has stood at the entryway to Boundless Way Temple since this property was built in 1908, along with a companion tree on the other side of the driveway.  The tree has been dropping branches for the last couple of years -- dangerous to humans.  We had thought about trimming it down and keeping part of the trunk to carve into a statue, perhaps of Bodhidharma.  But our tree expert told us it was rotted from the inside, which happens to these trees when they get old.  (Sounds familiar!)  So, sadly, it  is getting cut down today, all the way to the ground.  A crew of ten tiny human beings (compared to the huge tree) has spent hours carefully taking pieces of the tree from the top, lowering them with a crane, and chopping them up into wood chips.

pieces too big to hold
The tree existed, and now it no longer exists.  This is the fate of all living beings.  We bow in gratitude to the 100 plus years that this tree shaded and welcomed all who came here, and all who passed by.  We will miss you!

Thursday, June 16, 2016


 In the face of the tragic shootings in Orlando, there are no words.  And yet, we have to say something.  As a member of the Soto Zen Buddhist Association, I am touched by and stand behind this statement from our president, Hozan Alan Senauke.  May it contribute to the awakening of our government to the necessity of passing effective gun control legislation.  Too many lives have already been lost.

Soto Zen Buddhist Association Statement on the Orlando Tragedy

As members of the Soto Zen Buddhist Association — along with communities and practitioners of all faiths — we stand in solidarity with those who seek to live in peace and nonviolence, and grieve for the loss of life in Orlando. In particular we extend our heartfelt compassion to Orlando’s Latino and LBGTQ communities, their friends and families.

In the Dhammapada Shakyamuni Buddha, says: “Hatred does not cease by hatred at any time. Hatred ceases by love. This is an eternal law.” While we cannot untangle the thoughts and emotions of the shooter, quite aside from political dimensions, this is a crime motivated by delusion. Our world will never be free from conflict, but we yearn for a human culture in which one person’s views will not lead to another’s death.

We reflect, too, that mass shootings in Orlando, Paris, San Bernardino, Aurora, Newtown, and throughout the world are facilitated by the ready availability of assault-style automatic weapons. These weapons, designed for military application not for sport, do not belong on our streets.
In the name of those below, and all victims of gender violence, hatred, racism, and homophobia — our sisters and brothers — we call for people and our elected leaders to wake from delusion and vow to resolve our differences with the strength of nonviolence. In this spirit we call the names of the dead in Orlando:

Stanley Almodovar III, 23 
Amanda Alvear, 25
Oscar A Aracena-Montero, 26 

Rodolfo Ayala-Ayala, 33 
Antonio Davon Brown, 29 
Darryl Roman Burt II, 29 
Angel L. Candelario-Padro, 28 
Juan Chevez-Martinez, 25 
Luis Daniel Conde, 39
Cory James Connell, 21
Tevin Eugene Crosby, 25
Deonka Deidra Drayton, 32
Simon Adrian Carrillo Fernandez, 31 

Leroy Valentin Fernandez, 25 
Mercedez Marisol Flores, 26
Peter O. Gonzalez-Cruz, 22
Juan Ramon Guerrero, 22
Paul Terrell Henry, 41
Frank Hernandez, 27
Miguel Angel Honorato, 30
Javier Jorge-Reyes, 40
Jason Benjamin Josaphat, 19
Eddie Jamoldroy Justice, 30 

Anthony Luis Laureanodisla, 25 
Christopher Andrew Leinonen, 32 
Alejandro Barrios Martinez, 21 
Brenda Lee Marquez McCool, 49 
Gilberto Ramon Silva Menendez, 25 
Kimberly Morris, 37
Akyra Monet Murray, 18

Luis Omar Ocasio-Capo, 20 
Geraldo A. Ortiz-Jimenez, 25 
Eric Ivan Ortiz-Rivera, 36 
Joel Rayon Paniagua, 32
Jean Carlos Mendez Perez, 35 

Enrique L. Rios, Jr., 25
Jean C. Nives Rodriguez, 27
Xavier Emmanuel Serrano Rosado, 35 

Christopher Joseph Sanfeliz, 24 
Yilmary Rodriguez Solivan, 24
Edward Sotomayor Jr., 34
Shane Evan Tomlinson, 33
Martin Benitez Torres, 33 

Jonathan Antonio Camuy Vega, 24 
Juan P. Rivera Velazquez, 37
Luis S. Vielma, 22
Franky Jimmy Dejesus Velazquez, 50 

Luis Daniel Wilson-Leon, 37
Jerald Arthur Wright, 31
Omar Mateen, 29

With palms together,
Hozan Alan Senauke President, Soto Zen Buddhist Association

To see photos and read brief stories of those who died at Pulse:
http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2016/06/12/481785763/heres-what-we-know- about-the-orlando-shooting-victims 

Friday, April 22, 2016

Buddhism 101 -- making the road by walking

Danish footpath

Last Wednesday evening we had our second class of the Buddhism 101 series.

This time we focused on the second two marks of existence, impermanence and no-self.  Through guided inquiry and contemplation, we looked into the reality of change in our lives.  When good times come, we realize they won't last.  And when bad times come, we have to remind ourselves that even these things will pass.

From this awareness of change comes the first hint of the malleability of the self itself.  Even the person we think we are changes moment to moment, breath to breath.

Suffering without the understanding of change, and how this awareness even applies to our precious self, leads to rigidity.  The path to awakening is one of fluidity.

Dharma Holder Diane Fitzgerald gifted us with this poem by Antonio Machado, translated by Willis Barnstone.  

"You walking, your footprints are the road, and nothing else; there is no road, walker, you make the road by walking.  By walking you make the road, and when you look back, you see the path that you will never step on again.  Walker, there is no road, only wind trails in the sea."

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Buddhism 101 -- The Anxious Quiver

Danish anthropology museum -- Chinese musician
Last night we had our first Buddhism 101 class, taught by the guiding teachers of Boundless Way Temple:  David Dae An Rynick, Roshi, Dharma Holders James Cordova and Diane Fitzgerald, and myself.

This particular 3-part series is about the Four Marks of Existence, and last night we explored the first mark, which is the Sanskrit word "dukkha,"  commonly translated as "suffering."  The word is onomatopoeic:  it sounds like what it is.  It refers to a wheel on a cart that's out of alignment, and so makes the sound "duk, duk, duk" as it heads on down the road.  One of the discoveries in our discussion was that suffering is almost certainly the wrong word for this constant, out-of-balance accompaniment to our life.

Some Buddhist teachers posit that there can be moments when dukkha disappears, but our contention is that it persists, as a "mark" of existence, sometimes in an extreme fashion that could be called suffering, but most often as a "the anxious quiver at the core of our being" in Ezra Bayda's wonderful words.  To be able to settle in to the granular quality of this subtle quiver is the beginning of our practice of waking up.  We meet the experience granularly by becoming as intimate to it as possible, noticing any sensations in the body that accompany it, any emotions, and any thoughts churned out by our endless internal narrator.  
And in this way, we discover the second mark of existence, anicca, which means "impermanence."  Even suffering, or the more quiet version of dukkha we might call "unsatisfactoriness" or "imbalance" has a life of its own, constantly changing, intensifying and diminishing.  This is the beginning of finding our freedom, leading to the last two marks of anatta (no-self) and nirvana (awakening in the midst of everything.)

Monday, April 11, 2016

The Daffodils

The Daffodils

After spring snow has melted
some are bent and broken down
some are blooming oblivious
to the weight of the past
open to the present good luck
of being able to show up fully to the day
and some are budding,  yet to be born
all equally daffodils
greeting life just as they are

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Boundless Way Spring Sesshin talks

Thanks to Steve Wallace, the talks given at our Boundless Way Zen Spring Sesshin are now available to listen to at:

Spring Sesshin 2016


Tuesday, February 23, 2016


Doorways -- Italy
The Chinese Master Yunmen once asked his student Dongshan, "Why do you wander about, now west of the river, now south of the lake?"  Yunmen was asking about a common type of human wandering, familiar to anyone who has ever watched his or her own mind for even a few minutes.  We are endlessly addicted to chasing after thoughts, moving backwards and forwards into the past and into the future, never being fully where we actually are.

Many things have been occurring recently in my life that are unsettling.  Strange weather, friends getting seriously ill, people dying.  None of this is unusual, and in many ways I am lucky, spared from great disasters.  But still, I notice my mind wandering, to the past in regret and to the future in worry.   Moments of settling into this present moment are so precious, but not permanent.  I find myself longing to be settled physically, emotionally and cognitively, to be at home in this ever-changing world.

And perhaps this is the whole point of Zen practice:  to be comfortable in the wandering itself; to be at home in every place.

Yunmen's words caused Dongshan to have a great awakening.  This is what he said to his teacher:  "Someday I'll go where there's no one around and build myself a hut.  I'll store no rice and plant no vegetables but will receive worthy friends coming and going from all directions.  Pulling out their pegs and yanking out their wedges, snatching away their grubby hats and ripping off their smelly robes.  I'll make them clean and free, I'll make them people with nothing to do."

Yunmen responded, "You're no larger than a coconut, yet how big your mouth is!"

Dongshan is talking about my own job description!  Here at the Temple we gather, gradually becoming people with nothing to do.  And then, off we go again!  Every moment is a doorway to the Great Matter.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

On Eagles Wings

My husband's father, George Rynick, died this morning.  He had a complex and varied life, but he never lost his faith in a love that held him no matter what he did or what was done to him.  What I might call the Dharma, the lawful love that fills the universe, he saw as embodied in a personal and ever compassionate God.  He requested that his favorite song, "On Eagle's Wings" be sung at his funeral.  Here is a version by Josh Groban:


May you be carried on eagle's wings, George, and find your rest at last.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Inside Out Review

Inside Out just won the Golden Globe for Best Animated Film.  You can read the review I wrote last fall for Shambhala Sun here:


Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Talks on Linji from the Boundless Way Zen Coming and Going Sesshin

Thanks to Steve Wallace, audio recordings from our 2016 Coming and Going sesshin are now available online at:

Please come join us at the BWZ Temple in Worcester between now and January 23rd if you can.  Even if you can't join us physically you can still hear all the talks and discussions online. More talks are added each day as we proceed.  The inspiration for this year's talks comes from the Record of Master Linji.


Sunday, January 3, 2016

Coming and Going Sesshin 2016

Calligraphy for Ango (Peaceful Dwelling Place)

As 2016 begins, so does Boundless Way Temple's annual Coming and Going Sesshin, sponsored by Boundless Way Zen.  For 3 weeks, the Temple will be open from 6 am to 9 pm every day, and you may literally come and go, joining us in sitting and walking meditation, liturgy, meals, care-taking, individual meetings with teachers and dharma talks and discussions.   No registration is necessary for daytime attendance.  If you want to stay overnight, please register at this link:   http://boundlesswayzen.org/cags/registration

The schedule is:

 Opening ceremony on January 3rd at 7:30 p.m.
From January 4 -- 22:
o 6:00 AM – 8:00 AM Early morning practice period
Includes dokusan (individual meetings with a teacher or senior student)
o 10:00 AM – 12:30 PM Late morning practice period:
Includes sutra service, teisho (dharma talk by a teacher or senior student) and dharma dialogue
o 2:30 PM – 5:30 PM Afternoon practice period
Includes dokusan
o 7:00 PM – 9:00 PM Evening practice period
Includes teisho, dharma dialogue and dokusan
 Shuso Hossen ceremony for Bob Waldinger on January 22 at 7:30 PM

Hope to see you at Boundless Way Temple, 1030 Pleasant Street, Worcester, MA 01602