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!