Sunday, December 30, 2018

Finding Lojong practice

At our Coming and Going Sesshin at Boundless Way Temple this year (see my previous post for more details: Coming and Going Sesshin post) we are focusing on the book "Training in Compassion" by Norman Fischer, which explores the Tibetan Buddhist practice of  Lojong from a Zen perspective.  Lojong practice derives from a text written by the Tibetan teacher Geshe Chekawa Yeshe Dorje, called The Root Text of the Seven Points of Training the Mind,  composed in the12th century, and based on an earlier text by the Indian teacher Atisha. 

This text is very important to me personally, because it provided a lift raft at a very difficult time in my life.  In 2001, I had just left my original Zen teacher, because of my heart-broken perception of his inability to abide by our Zen precepts.  I had lost my faith in Zen as a practice, but not in the Buddhist teachings, and so I did some exploration of other kinds of Buddhism.  I had already studied with other non-Zen Buddhist teachers, in the southeast Asian traditions, sometimes called "Theravada" or the Way of the Elders, and with Tibetan teachers, and had learned different approaches to Buddhism that I deeply appreciated.  But I always returned to Zen for some mysterious reason. 

In this time of confusion, I stumbled on a book about Lojong called "Buddhism with an Attitude" by Alan Wallace, and took on the slogans as a way to study my life, without the guidance of a teacher.  I immersed myself in all the translations of the text that I could find, including an earlier book by Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche called "Training the Mind."  A few months later I met my second teacher, James Ford, Roshi, and set aside Lojong for continuing with zazen and koan practice under his guidance. 

When Norman Fischer's book came out, I was delighted to find such a clear, Zen-oriented version of the Lojong practice, and for a time resumed working with the slogans.  I am thrilled to engage with them yet again during this winter period of intensive practice at the Temple.  The teachers at the Coming and Going Sesshin will be offering talks on this practice, and they will be posted on our Temple podcast.  In addition, I hope to offer some reflections on this blog during this time.  Stay tuned!

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Coming and Going Sesshin 2019

January 4 - 25, 2019

Our annual Coming and Going Sesshin is inspired by the ancient Buddhist practice of 'Ango' (peaceful dwelling place.) During the rainy season, the Buddha's early sangha gathered together for study and practice for three months.   Here at the Temple, we have hosted an intensive three-week practice period since 2013. While some of us can stay for the whole three weeks, this is not always possible. So, during the Coming and Going Sesshin, everyone is invited to find a practice and time that works for you.  You can come for a few minutes, one practice period, part of a day or a whole day, or any number of days that feels right for you.
Our invitation to the whole Boundless Way community is to use these three weeks to deepen your practice of and commitment to the Buddha Way. This might mean spending one day or many in residence here at the Temple. It might mean coming every morning or evening, or simply coming more often that you usually do. Or it could be a commitment to deepen your personal practice at home, in your local sangha or in your daily life.
During this year's Coming and Going Sesshin we will focus on the twelfth century Tibetan Buddhist teaching of Lojong. This teaching is traditionally divided into fifty-nine slogans, each one encouraging us to deepen our capacity to live our lives in alignment with the Dharma.
We'll be using Zoketzu Norman Fischer's book TRAINING IN COMPASSION: ZEN TEACHINGS ON THE PRACTICE OF LOJONG as our entry point to study and practice these rich teachings. Norman Fischer is a poet and Zen Buddhist priest who has taught for many years at the San Francisco Zen Center. His book is a wonderful guide and invitation to using these traditional practices in our daily lives and as guides on our path to awakening.
Two talks a day will be given at the Temple, one around 10:30 a.m. and one at 7:00 p.m. These talks will be recorded and available online throughout the sesshin. The talks will be posted at Coming and Going talks.  During week one (1/4 - 10) we will focus on Points One and Two. During week two (1/11 - 17) will take up Points Three, Four and Five. And during week three (1/18 - 25) we will examine Points Six and Seven.

All are welcome. For more information, including the daily schedule and the link to register for residential practice, see our announcement at Coming and Going Sesshin information.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

The Ego is Not Going to Like Me Saying This Out Loud

As David and I were driving home from a lovely Christmas with our daughter, her husband and their soon-to-be-born fetus, we heard an interview with RuPaul Andre Charles, "actor, model, singer, songwriter, television personality, author and the most successful drag queen of all time."   The show was a repeat from October 22, and the interviewer was Meghna Chakrabarti, on her PBS program "On Point." 

RuPaul was truly inspiring, as he talked openly about his traumatic childhood and his overcoming not only his trauma but even more importantly, his discovery of how to live fully in the midst of discrimination of all kinds.  He was actually kind of Zen, in his clear seeing through our human attachments to narratives, usually bestowed on us by others, that we cling to as if they were some strange sort of comfort in this crazy world. 

Talking about his abandonment by his father at an early age, and his continual recreation of the story of being left behind and left out through his childhood and early life:  "If [I] create an identity around being victimized, my ego will continue to look for situations to strengthen that identity so that I know where I stand. ...[T]he problem isn't what the world is doing to me...In fact, it sounds weird, and the ego is not going to like me saying this out loud...I sought out situations that reconfirmed the identity I created."

As a drag queen, he created his own identity, one that has liberated him to be free and enjoy his unfolding identity moment-by-moment.  And so may we all.

Sunday, December 23, 2018

The lion's golden chime

A Zen teacher friend from a different koan lineage tradition recently told me about the following koan, which I had never heard before:  "There is a golden chime attached to the lion's neck -- who can grab it?"  He told me that in his tradition, this koan provides an opportunity to explore the deeper meanings around transmission from teacher to student. 

My understanding of transmission is that when a teacher recognizes that a student is ready to take on students of their own, it's time to privately and then publicly recognize that shift in responsibility.  This is something that can never be taken back.  What the teacher recognizes in the student is a certain level of maturity, in life as well as practice, and a capacity to be with people in their suffering and show them the way to liberation.  And this liberating teaching has everything to do with awakening, the central experience of Zen. 

We awaken out of our dream of a certain kind of consensual and partial reality, and this experience helps us to remember what is most essential, beyond all of the petty traps of the ego.  It is inevitable that we fall back into the dream, but the continued devotion to zazen, the exploration of the ethical precepts, and the ongoing relationship with the transmitting teacher, allows the opening to awakening to return again and again. 

 In my tradition, there are two levels of transmission, called denkai and denbo, after which a new teacher may choose to teach wherever and however they feel is best.  Their title, at this point, is sensei.  After some years, the newly transmitted teacher may receive inka shomei from their transmitting teacher, which is a recognition of seniority.  At this point, they may be called roshi, which literally means old teacher. 

I myself received close and personal teachings, and teaching permission, from two Zen teachers.  My first teacher didn't give me transmission, but James Ford did.  And now I have given denkai and denbo transmission to three of my own students.  The first two have chosen to go on their way, but the third teacher remains a close friend and colleague.   We work together to keep awake in the face of the inevitable pulls of the dream of ego-based ideas and emotions.  In my view, this work never ends. 

So returning to the koan, what is this golden chime?  What is this little bell that sits around a lion's neck?  Who can grab it?  Is it awakening itself?  The awakening of the teacher, who is perhaps this dangerous lion, and who invites the student to grab it away for their personal use and understanding?  Can it be grabbed?  Is it anything at all?  A bell that sounds forever and never stops?  A chime that does not actually exist?  The sweet, small voice of a life free from the traps of the self?  This is not a matter to be resolved by thinking, but by exploration with another person of the Way in intimate discussion and demonstration.   Transmission of the Dharma is a living thing.  May it continue forever.

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Talks and Photo from Rohatsu Sesshin

Paul Galvin, our tanto (retreat manager), named our most recent sesshin "Present to Awakening."  Here is the link to the talks from that beautiful and deep retreat.  Thanks to everyone who made it possible!

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Robert Waldinger receives Denbo transmission

On the night of November 30, 2018, in the presence of teachers, family and friends, I gave full Dharma transmission (denbo) to Rev. Robert Ryūdō Tetsumu Waldinger.  Bob Sensei is the Guiding Teacher of the Henry David Thoreau Sangha in Newton, MA.  He is a psychiatrist who directs a psychotherapy teaching program at Massachusetts General Hospital. He also directs the 80-year-long Harvard Study of Adult Development, the longest study of adult life ever done. He lives in Newton with his wife Jennifer and is the father of two adult sons.

Bob Sensei will continue his teaching at Hank, at the Boundless Way Temple in Worcester, MA, and wherever his feet will lead him.  I am so happy to recognize Bob's profound gifts of compassion, wisdom and presence.  May all beings benefit from his teachings!

Monday, December 3, 2018

Taking the Precepts (Jukai) on Saturday

photo by Adam Monty

On Saturday, Dec. 1, David Dae An Rynick, Rōshi and I gave the Zen Bodhisattva precepts to (left to right in the photo): Todd Grant Setsushō (Intimate Understanding) Yonkman,  Mesha Yūdō (Courageous Path) Wolfspirit, Eric Sevan Jōsen (Generous River) Howard and Oldden Jikai (Healing Ocean) Fox, joined by members of the sangha, friends and family.  It was a joyous occasion...congratulations to all!

Thursday, November 29, 2018

thinking of Bernie Glassman

I only met Bernie Glassman a couple of times, and briefly got to know his second wife Sandra Jishu Holmes when we took the same mindfulness training course with Jon Kabat-Zinn.  She was a delightful and quiet person, and before her untimely death she and Bernie Roshi founded Zen Peacemakers together. 

I've been an admirer of Bernie Roshi for many years, and I'm both sad at his passing, on November 4, and inspired by his life and teachings.  He was able to bring together sincere Zen practice rooted in awakening, a sense of humor and play, and a dedication to bringing Zen into all aspects of life.  His street retreats, where Zen students got a taste of homelessness, his retreats at Auschwitz, and his work with helping real street people find right livelihood through setting up a bakery in Yonkers, NY, are a few examples of his capacity to find the awakened heart everywhere.  Here are two very different obituaries on his life and death, one from Lion's Roar, and one from the New York Times.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Sweet honey from old failures

From Eihei Dogen's "Gyobutsus Igi (Dignified Behavior of the Practice Buddha), translated by Shohaku Okamura: 


"Stepping forward is a mistake; stepping backward is also a mistake, taking one step is a mistake, taking two steps is also a mistake; therefore one mistake after another mistake. [Whatever we say is a mistake.]"

Some teachers refer to Dogen's guidance here as the teaching of "one continuous mistake."  The first time I saw a reference to it was in Shunryu Suzuki, Roshi's book "Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind."  I always felt affirmed by this teaching, since I am so often a victim of self-doubt and self-criticism -- feeling so terrible when, despite my best intentions, I realize that I have goofed in some major way with people I love and care about. 

Making mistakes is part of being human.  We can never know the consequences of our actions, even if we try really hard to be careful and respectful and kind.  There will always be something we miss, something that is hidden from us.  Sometimes we realize that we have been mistaken in our actions because we see the consequences for ourselves, and sometimes other people have to point out our mistakes.  No matter how we receive this feedback, our job as practitioners of the Way is to own our failures and perhaps, just perhaps, find a way to use this greater clarity in our future actions.  This is my practice, and sometimes it comes with great sorrow, and anger and fear.  But ultimately, it clarifies the path and the Way. 

I am also inspired by the teachings of the Spanish poet Antonio Machado, in his poem "Last Night As I Was Sleeping,"  translated by Robert Bly.  He suggests that this dream-like life, with all its difficulties and opportunities for error, is ultimately pointing us all to transcendence, to finding our way to what Machado calls God, and what I might call the Awakened Heart.  Whatever you call it, know that we are all capable of making sweet honey from our old failures.

Last night as I was sleeping,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that a spring was breaking
out in my heart.
I said: Along which secret aqueduct,
Oh water, are you coming to me,
water of a new life
that I have never drunk?

Last night as I was sleeping,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that I had a beehive
here inside my heart.
And the golden bees
were making white combs
and sweet honey
from my old failures.

Last night as I was sleeping,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that a fiery sun was giving
light inside my heart.
It was fiery because I felt
warmth as from a hearth,
and sun because it gave light
and brought tears to my eyes.

Last night as I slept,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that it was God I had
here inside my heart.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

May you be surprised

Rondanini Pietá by Michelangelo

To the left is a photo of the heads of Jesus and Mary from an unfinished marble sculpture of the Pietá that Michelangelo was working on just before he died.  The full-length sculpture is on display in its own room at the Rondanini Museum in Milan, Italy.  Unlike a finished sculpture, it holds many possibilities in its rough, chiseled surface, and moves me with its clear depiction of love and grief.

This morning I was interviewed for a documentary about mastery, by students from Harvard Extension School.  The interviewer asked me what a master is, and while I don't remember exactly what I said, it was something like this:  A master is someone who never stops learning, who is continually amazed by life, and stays open to all possibilities.  This is a quality I encourage in all my students, and in myself.  The capacity to see life as fresh and new in each moment is the hallmark of artists and Zen practitioners.  As my first Zen teacher told me once, "may you be surprised."

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

a new version of the "basic friendliness" phrases

Last night I gave a talk at Boundless Way Temple, tracing my personal history with the practice of "metta" or "basic friendliness," more commonly translated as "loving-kindness."  This practice is a part of a much longer set of instructions on cultivating basic friendliness, compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity:  the Four Heavenly Abodes.  I originally heard the phrases in English from Michelle McDonald, a Vipassana teacher, who taught a version that had a very affirmative quality.  ("May I be safe and protected from harm.")  My friend and fellow Buddhist teacher, also from the Vipassana tradition, Bob Stahl and I looked into the original Pali versions of these phrases, and found that they were more in keeping with our non-dual understanding of practice:  that it's possible to meet, or be in relationship with, whatever might be troubling us.  We changed the Pali phrase usually translated as  "May I be free from fear" into "May I be free in the midst of fear."  And then, just recently, based on the teachings of Lama Justin von Bujdoss and his Tibetan Buddhist ancestor Gampopa, I started using the word "rest."  Here is the latest version of the phrases that I've found most helpful recently:

May I find rest in my fear.
May I find rest in my mental distress.
May I find rest in my physical distress.
May I find rest and be at ease.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

The Door Itself Makes No Promises

Torii Gate at Boundless Way Temple

I was thinking this morning about the open-hearted invitation of Zen practice, at least as I understand it:  to truly know the heart-mind, without retreating into some fixed narrative or view.  It can be dangerous work, this facing everything.  The poet Adrienne Rich had some sense of this, as she writes in one of my favorite poems of all time:  "Prospective Immigrants Please Note."   I love how clear she is that entering and not entering the Great Way are both honorable options. 

Prospective Immigrants Please Note
Either you will
go through this door
or you will not go through.

If you go through
there is always the risk
of remembering your name.

Things look at you doubly
and you must look back
and let them happen.

If you do not go through
it is possible
to live worthily

to maintain your attitudes
to hold your position
to die bravely

but much will blind you,
much will evade you,
at what cost who knows?

The door itself makes no promises.
It is only a door.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Time and chance

Signpost in Freetown Christiana, Copenhagen, Denmark

A dear friend sent these words to me yesterday,  from Ecclesiastes, and I was heartened by this ancient wisdom in a dark time for me personally and for the world.  My own sorrows and troubles do not belong to me -- they are not mine alone.  They flow into the common, shared grief.  Every day, all over the world, there is great loss, and great joy, constantly intermingling.  The violence at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh this past weekend, and the loss of life and trust in that community, combines with the outpouring of support and calls to action, take their place in the powerful thrust of history and karma.  Somehow, for me at least, the clouds have lifted today and the way has become clear.  I don't begin to understand how this sort of thing happens, but I'm grateful for the abiding of the earth, the dependability of the sun and the wind and the sea, and great workings of time and chance.  I bow to them all in gratitude.

1:4 A generation goes, and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever.

5 The sun rises and the sun goes down, and hurries to the place where it rises.

6 The wind blows to the south, and goes around to the north; round and round goes the wind, and on its circuits the wind returns.

7 All streams run to the sea, but the sea is not full; to the place where the streams flow, there they continue to flow.

 9:11 Again I saw that under the sun the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor favor to the skillful; but time and chance happen to them all.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Resting in the Difficult


I just had the great pleasure of teaching a weekend retreat sponsored by Lion's Roar magazine at the Garrison Institute in New York, called "Facing Life's Difficulties" with Patricia Mushim Ikeda and Lama Justin von Bujdoss.   I was inspired by my fellow teachers and all the participants, and in particular by Lama Justin's instructions from his lineage ancestor Gampopa, who lived in  the 12th century in Tibet.

All of us struggle at some point with difficulties, stress, painful emotions, suffering, the unwanted, grief, and more.  I usually invite people to practice with these states, using words like "meeting,"  "facing," "being with," or "being free in the midst of."  Lama Justin quoted Gampopa as suggesting the word "resting."  I don't know what this translates from Tibetan, but when I heard "resting" as a guidance,  my heart settled quickly.

For me, these days, challenges come from everywhere:  in the global situation, personally, and everything in between.  To find rest in the middle of all of it aligns intimately with my understanding of what Dharma practice has to offer.  We are taught from a young age to "avoid" and "transform" -- the two other words Gampopa uses, which I usually talk about as "flight" or "turning away" and "fight" or "fixing." Although they may sound negative, both of these tried and true coping mechanisms can be used positively.    If I am in physical, emotional or cognitive pain I can first try to ignore it, to turn away from it.  Maybe I can imagine a place where I am safe, some resource of protection, or I can play music, take a walk, phone a friend.   Avoiding only works for a short time, but it can be effective, and we all know how to do it.   Transforming, or fighting and fixing, is also effective in dealing with distress.  Although it can be a little more work, the effects appear to last longer than avoiding.  We can take medication, make a plan to change something, organize to help others and ourselves.

But resting in the distress is something else altogether.  From the great practice of sitting upright in the middle of whatever comes during our meditation practice, we learn to intimately encounter what is right here, whether we like it or not.  As Eihei Dogen teaches us, "flowers fall though we love them; weeds grow though we hate them.  This is just how it is."  Being with what is, resting in the middle of our distress, allows a softening and transforming that is not easy to do, but that has effects that can last a lifetime. 

Resting, right here, right now, no matter what is happening.  Please enjoy this gift from Lama Justin and Gampopa.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

A Good View

From "The Record of Empty Hall" Case 67: Iron Grindstone Liú’s Upside Down (translated by Dosho Port, Rōshi)

Raised: Zǐhú asked Iron Grindstone Liú, “For a long time, I’ve been favorably inclined to ‘Iron Grindstone Liú.’ Is there someone for whom this [name] would be suitable or not?”

Grindstone said, “I won’t go there.”

Hú said, “Turn left, turn right.”

Grindstone said, “Venerable, is there someone who would go upside down?”

Hú then hit her.

[Xūtáng’s] alternate saying for Iron Grindstone Liú: “Not knowing, rely on meeting an outsider.”

Hakuin said, “Where the darkness and the light do not reach, there
is a good view.”

Sometimes in our lives everything is simply confusing -- there is no way
out using the rational mind. Iron Grinder and her friend Hú live in the
world where ordinary and empty exist completely entwined, so that there
is no way to live without the other side. In times of darkness, we dwell
in the darkness. In times of clarity we dwell in clarity. But the way is
beyond these opposites, as Hakuin kindly points out. Through sincere
practice, we can find our good view beyond dualistic ideas of
left and right, dark and light, this and that. Everything that is
happening may seem upside down, but really, when we see clearly,
it is just right. Words can't do it, so sometimes the only response
is a hit. Or a warm smile of recognition and the direct meeting
that is possible between people of the Way.

Thursday, October 4, 2018


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:


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!

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!

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,
"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?"


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.

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.

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.

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.


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: 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.