Sunday, December 29, 2019

Roshi Joan Halifax on the climate crisis

Roshi Joan Halifax speaking on Dec 20, 2019 in Washington, DC. Photo: Fire Drill Fridays
I was quite inspired by this address on climate change from Roshi Joan Halifax, which I have copied below.   She states the situation clearly, and makes suggestions for action.  Thanks Roshi Joan for your clarity, compassion and chutzpah!

My name is Roshi Joan Halifax. I am a Zen Buddhist priest and Abbot of Upaya Zen Center in Santa Fe, New Mexico. I have been a social activist since the 1960’s and know first-hand the power of the people in mobilizing responsible moral and social change.

As a woman, a Buddhist, and an elder, I am standing here today in solidarity with the younger generation, people of color, indigenous peoples, and those fleeing war and the climate catastrophe, all of whom will disproportionately bear the burden of climate devastation.
I am also standing in solidarity with you, all of you. Every one of us, our children and grandchildren, no matter how great our privilege, will be affected by this unfolding climate catastrophe.
We must awaken, collectively, to the fact that the primary cause for climate change is fossil fuel dependent economic growth, primed by human greed, ignorance, and the perverse incentives of capitalism. Fossil fuels are a finite, dangerous, dirty, and destructive source of energy. For us to continue to depend on fossil fuels is life-destroying and immoral, no matter how you look at it. 
We live in an interdependent world, and cannot deny how profoundly damaging this energy source is to the individual and collective health of all species. It is absolutely necessary that we revolutionize our intertwined energy and economic systems. And we have to do this now from a space of courage, compassion, love, and wisdom.
And yet, thus far, we haven’t. Why? Fossil fuel companies are focused on making a profit, and they have bought politicians, derailed the media, lost their moral compass to cronyism, and subverted our democratic processes so that they can continue to profit, no matter the cost to the environment and humanity.
And listen carefully: there’s a reason why predatory corporate and financial elites promote a focus on individual behavior, like recycling or energy saver light bulbs, and also why they support autocratic regime change, which ends up causing gross economic and social inequality. These forces of capitalism do not want us to realize that we need fundamental systems change, including making our government enforce checks and balances on the companies profiting from polluting our earth and condemning our future. They know that thriving democracies with active citizens are a threat to them; and, hear me clearly!: We need to behave like a thriving democracy, or else!
Marching in Washington, DC: Dolores Huerta, Gloria Steinem, Heather Toney, Roshi Joan Halifax, Jane Fonda. Photo by Fire Drill Fridays, 2019.
We also have to wake up to the fact that the climate crisis is making us sicker and sicker every day.
Our air has become a toxic harbor for increasing allergens, mold, fungi, smoke, mercury (a neurotoxin for fetuses), petrochemical cancer-causing poisons, choking dust, disease bearing insects, and extreme heat.
Our water is a toxic harbor for endocrine disruptors, poisonous chemicals, microbial pollutants, including sewage and lethal algae bacterium; as well, plastics are wiping out our oceans and fisheries, sea water is contaminating our drinking water; and drought and flooding are destroying forests, farmlands, and cities.
But maybe the most insidious and least talked about area of sickness is the profound trauma and bottomless grief being experienced by millions whose lives are shattered by floods, droughts, fires, and heat waves caused by climate change.
Extreme climate heat is also linked with aggression, and connected with violent conflict and forced migration, another source of profound trauma, as well as moral injury for millions of people.
Then there is the pernicious psychological suffering experienced by those who witness the terrible degradation of life associated with our climate catastrophe, and the moral anguish experienced in response to the aggressive assaults on the dignity of those who raise their voices in protest and who are bullied and dehumanized by politicos, fake news reporters, and those who profit from this devastation.
We must ask then: who will make the change? Clearly, every one of us must! Whether faith leader or farmer, politician or policewoman, kid or grandmother, we must demonstrate in solidarity for those who are on the frontlines of climate change impacts and hold accountable the perpetrators of climate-caused suffering.
Lawyer Mariel Nanasi, President of New Energy Economy, writes: “We are at a crossroads. We either face the very real possibility of a planet on hospice, driven by an energy system that is the epitome of capitalism on steroids with extreme exploitation and racism at its core. Or a profound opportunity to shift at the very basis of our economic system that we haven’t seen since the abolition of slavery. And it’s really up to us which way we go.”
The first 200 years of capitalism were based on slavery; the second 200 on fossil fuels; and the next 200 must be based on renewables, if we are to survive. If we could abolish slavery on which our country was built, which involved the sacrifice of hundreds of thousands of lives, we can respond to the climate crisis and abolish the use of toxic fossil fuels, as well as transform the economies of injustice into economies of peace. Just as the abolition of slavery was the morally right thing to do in 1861, ending fossil fuel use, whatever the cost, is the moral imperative of our time. And we can do this!
As I said, we need to function as a thriving democracy. What happens in a thriving democracy? People VOTE. It’s the single thing that almost everyone can do regardless of station. And it’s the most important thing at this point. Clearly, we need to get this administration out of office, and people need to vote for principled candidates in next November’s election and get their friends and family to vote and help get out the vote and they need to start now! Phone banks, canvassing, financial contributions to democratic candidates in swing states.
For every voter the Republicans purge from the rolls, we need to register two new democrats.
The next thing people can do is contact their elected representatives. Flood them with calls and letters. Tell them to support the Green New Deal. The only thing that will counter corporate power is a steady and overwhelming expression of people power.
Another thing we can do is support the organizations on the front lines: the Sunrise Movement, Extinction Rebellion, Environmental Defense Fund, Environmental Law Alliance Worldwide, the League of Conservation Voters, the National Resource Defense Council, Fridays for Future.
Join, give money, volunteer. And talk to friends. Share concerns and ideas. Organize. Protest. Engage in civil disobedience. Action breeds hope. Without hope we have no future but if everyone acts, there is something to hope for.
Roshi Joan Halifax arrested on the floor of the Hart Senate Office Building as an act of civil disobedience during the eleventh Fire Drill Friday, Dec 20, 2019. Photo: Greenpeace.
And you and I must take action now, if there is to be a viable, morally grounded, and healthy future. We have to take the science seriously, and hold accountable the petrochemical, corporate, military, and political pirates who are stealing the future from our children and grandchildren.
We must take a stand now for ending the structural violence associated with our climate catastrophe.
We must rise up together, in solidarity with young people, indigenous peoples, people of color, and meet this collective crisis with moral nerve and committed, compassionate action.
And we must not cower behind walls of privilege that we erect out of fear. Fear, denial, and futility are not options at this critical time.
Rather, we must vote, act, support, and wake up now, wake others up now, and be a revolutionary force for a sane and healthy future for all beings.
Joan Jiko Halifax
December 20, 2019Washington, DC
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Grateful to Jane Fonda and Jodie Evans for making it possible for me to be a part of this extraordinary event. Thanks to Dekila Chungyalpa, David Cantor, Sydney Cooper, and Daniel Smith for reviewing, editing, and adding important insights to this talk.

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Vital Compassion takes the precepts

photo by Sophia Togneri

On Saturday, December 14, Kristine Togneri, a long-time member of Boundless Way Temple, took the sixteen Bodhisattva precepts in a ceremony witnessed by the Temple community and her three children, Charles, Elise and Sophia.  Kristine had sewed her rakusu, the ceremonial garment worn as a symbol of her commitment to the path of Zen.   She had been helped by one of the Temple's sewing masters, Corwyn Miyagishima, who also provided delicious almond cookies for our post-ceremony party.  David Rōshi and I gave her the precepts and a lineage document, showing her connection to the line of ancestors traced back to Shakyamuni Buddha 2600 years ago.  And we gave her the Dharma name Vital Compassion.  She wrote and read aloud beautiful and thoughtful responses to each precept.  Congratulations Kristine!

Sunday, November 17, 2019

A New Buddha for Boundless Way Temple

photo by Chad Cook

Last night, at Boundless Way Temple, about forty people from our community, including families and children and friends,  witnessed the Eye-Opening Ceremony for our new altar Buddha.  The painted wooden statue is pictured in the center of the photo to the left, surrounded by Mike Fieleke, Sensei, me, David Rynick, Roshi and Bob Waldinger, Sensei.

The Buddha was donated by Paula Moreau, a neighbor, who had received it from her late mother, a follower of the Dalai Lama, and a collector of Buddhas.

Led by our ino (chant-leader) Corwyn Miyagishima, we chanted the Heart Sutra, and Mike Sensei and Bob Sensei recited a special Return of Merit.  Then the teachers and Rev. Paul Galvin recited the ten names of the Buddha.  Many people offered thanks to our old Buddha, and gratitude for our Boundless Way Temple and community.

Here is the ancient text recited at the ceremony by Rev. Paul Galvin, after we served the Buddha his tea and sweet water.

        The body of the Bodhisattva is the intense expression of Buddha's vows.
The world of the ten directions is immeasurably vast.
The boat of compassion is always rowed in this place.
Within the swirl of the sea of delusion
the Dharma Wheel is constantly turning.

David and I painted the eyes of the new Buddha with ink and water, the traditional way of opening the eyes of a Buddha statue and welcoming him to his new home.  Our old Buddha has sat on our altar for the last ten years, since the opening of the Temple.  He has now retired to the Temple hallway, where he greets new-comers and presides over our announcements table.  He is still smiling, but hasn't said anything, so we can only assume that he is happy in his new role.

At the end, this Return of Merit was recited by Corwyn:

                In the dharma world the Buddha body is all-pervading
Appearing everywhere yet not obstructing the myriad beings
Reaching everywhere in accord with conditions and feelings
And yet never moving from the seat of enlightenment
Thus the Buddha’s sea of merit is beyond veneration.
On this occasion of celebrating the Eye Opening of Shakyamuni Buddha
We the community of Boundless Way Temple,
have chanted together the Heart of Great Wisdom Beyond Wisdom
And reverently offered incense, flowers, candlelight, tea and sweet water.
May Shakyamuni Buddha protect the world,
Illuminating all constantly, fully manifesting bodhi mind,
Encouraging us to be timelessly joyful, peaceful,
and in harmony with all living beings.
May the community inside and outside be soothed
May our aspiration for living the Buddha Way increase,
And may awakening be accomplished with all living beings.

Following the ceremony, we had a Zen party, with delicious snacks contributed from many people, coordinated by Joanne Hart.

Friday, November 15, 2019

The Virtue of Abusive Words

Every few days a poem with a wise commentary arrives in my in-box from Ivan M. Granger, the curator of Poetry Chaikhana.   Here is one that arrived today.  The timing of the universe is excellent, as always. Please consider supporting his work with a contribution, and subscribing to his list-serve.  Information can be found here:

Below is todays' poem with Ivan's commentary:

 When I consider the virtue of abusive words (from The Shodoka)
By Hsuan Chueh of Yung Chia / Yoka Genkaku
(665 - 713)
English version by Robert Aitken

When I consider the virtue of abusive words,
I find the scandal-monger is my good teacher.
If we do not become angry at gossip,
We have no need for powerful endurance and compassion.
To be mature in Zen is to be mature in expression,
And full-moon brilliance of dhyana and prajna
Does not stagnate in emptiness.
Not only can I take hold of complete enlightenment by myself,
But all Buddha-bodies, like sands of the Ganges,
Can become awakened in exactly the same way.

Ivan M. Granger's commentary:  This opening line is meant to be humorous. I picture the Buddhist monks of China and Japan laughing as they read this short poetic discourse on "the virtue of abusive words."

But the poet is also saying something very important to the sincere spiritual aspirant.

I find the scandal-monger is my good teacher.

People who offend us, who spread rumors and lies, those we might think of as enemies or petty tyrants are sometimes our best teachers. They continuously pressure test the maturity of our practice.

It is easy to go along thinking, 'Oh, my meditation is getting so deep and I think such kind thoughts about people,' but when someone offends that carefully constructed spiritual facade, do we instantly boil over with outrage? Does it suddenly become essential that we correct their false perception of us?

No matter how offensive or cruel the other person may be acting, our reaction is about ego. Are we getting proper acknowledgment for who we are and what we have accomplished? -Which is a question only the ego asks.

The poet then says something especially interesting:

If we do not become angry at gossip,
We have no need for powerful endurance and compassion.

All of that spiritual practice we do to endure upset and hold our thoughts safely within the bounds of compassion, it is all really about making the mind spiritually acceptable in its patterns. That certainly has its importance, but it is ultimately a path of frustration. The mind that emerges from the ego-self is never tamed, it is always selfish and me-focused, always quick to anger in order to reassert itself as the center of importance.

If we truly learn to let go of all of our pretense and self-importance, however, the instinct to get upset at everything, including what is malicious, falls away. And then there is no need to work so hard at enduring offense or somehow squeezing compassion from a constricted heart. Endurance becomes natural patience with the world. And compassion is simply recognized as inherent within the universe and not the result of our own heavy effort.

To be mature in Zen is to be mature in expression

When we have truly matured in our awakening, when we have allowed the endless tensions that comprise the ego-self to fall away, along with its tendencies toward offense, then our expression becomes natural, fluid, without effort.

And full-moon brilliance of dhyana and prajna
Does not stagnate in emptiness.

Dhyana is meditation, and prajna can be translated as clarity. When we become mature in our practice and realization, we are flooded with a brilliant light that is often compared with the full moon.

When our practice is too much about effort and harsh control, there is the tendency to stagnate, to get caught up in our patterns of policing everything about our thoughts and actions. A certain amount of that approach is an important discipline, but we can't make the mistake of becoming totalitarian toward our own psychic energies. The goal is not greater or more perfect effort but, instead, to become effortless, to drop the self-important, self-focused self and, with supreme humility, settle into our true nature -- from which our inherent compassion and goodness naturally flow.

Not only can I take hold of complete enlightenment by myself,
But all Buddha-bodies, like sands of the Ganges,
Can become awakened in exactly the some way.

So you see, those people who irritate us, who offend us, even those who attack us, they should be among our most cherished teachers. They poke holes in the ego. They deflate our pretenses. They passionately remind us that we are not the psychic facades with which we wrap ourselves. They test us with an intensity missing from other teachers. They show us the pathway to selflessness and, thus, are highly charged agents of enlightenment.

(Caveat: I don't want to suggest that one should passively accept cruelty or violence or remain in the presence people caught up in toxic patterns. The point here is to recognize what in ourselves we are defending. Personal safety and basic self-value are important and should be protected. But when it is our own self-importance that feels threatened, perhaps it is an opportunity to laugh at ourselves instead.)

Praise to those who irritate us! (Grumble.)


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Thursday, October 24, 2019

Ripening Sangha Sesshin

photo by Corwyn Miyagishima

The gang from our recent sesshin at Boundless Way Temple, which our tanto (head of practice) Rev. Paul Galvin named "Ripening Sangha Sesshin."  These intensive practice periods are an important part of our Zen practice, and everyone who attended was touched and deepened by this weekend.  Our next sesshin, in December,  is now open for registration:  December sesshin  Hope to see you there!

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Happiness and Suffering Arising Together

Yarrow Flower at Boundless Way Temple, photo by Jenny Smith
A dear friend and I were recently talking about the word "dukkha" -- the First Noble Truth of the Buddha, which literally means "out of balance" like a wheel on a cart that is not on straight, and so makes the sound "duk, duk, duk" as it travels down the road.  Dukkha has most often, in the West, been translated as "suffering" and it also has the meaning of "uncomfortable."  The range of dukkha is wide -- from unbearable physical pain to a mild sense that something is wrong.  As the concept of dukkha has travelled to the West it has changed its meaning from a description of a perceived reality that is universal to a purely psychological, private phenomenon.  Only noticing our own dukkha prevents us from opening our hearts to a world  on fire -- our attempts at blocking the reality of universal suffering keep our hearts protected, but don't allow us to face the suffering that arises everywhere.  The heart of a bodhisattva, a wisdom being who is devoted to healing suffering, must learn to open to this universal sense of something being wrong, even when happiness arises in our hearts and in our personal lives.  Happiness and dukkha can exist together, and the happiness that includes dukkha has a different taste than a happiness that is carefully guarded and kept to oneself.

Today I have a cold, and the wind and rain are wild and untamed.  Children are dying on the Syrian border, and in many other places.  People are being cruel to each other in endlessly creative ways, ranging from physical violence to nasty words exchanged on Twitter.  And, and, and -- a friend sent a photo of a yarrow flower at the Temple giving a home to many different insects.  The sky changes from gray to blue, and the clouds move through the sky.  My nostrils clear, and I can breath with ease, and then my nose starts to run.  Personal, universal, grief, joy -- all moving in an out of awareness.  This is the life of a bodhisattva.  Don't ignore any part of this wild and moving life.

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Fish Mystery

When I was young I loved a series of books called "Minute Mysteries."  Each page had a set of clues, and the reader's job was to put things together to figure out what had happened.  Two famous examples go like this:

1. A father and son are in a car accident and are rushed to the hospital.  When they arrive, the doctor on call says, "I can't operate on this boy -- he's my son."  How can this be?

2.  There is a man walking down the road dressed entirely in black. There are no lights on anywhere and no moon. A car with no lights comes down the road and manages to avoid the man. How?  (The answers are at the end of this post, if you've never heard them or can't figure them out.)

This tendency of the human mind to be able to piece together disconnected elements to form a whole has been invaluable evolutionarily, for sure.  Our ancestors used it to avoid danger, track game and find useful plants.  And we use it to create valid scenarios that help us explain our lives to ourselves.  Mysteries are still popular and we admire people, who, like Sherlock Holmes or mechanical engineers, can put together clues and solve problem.  Most of the time, the stories we create are not accurate reflections of reality, and sometimes even do harm, but we can't stop making them.  We can, however, know clearly that they are stories, and find freedom in the questioning, the making of them, and in doubting them.

A few weeks ago the fish in our pond, five beautiful koi pictured in the video above taken by Adam Monty, disappeared.  The pond is on an acre of land behind the Temple surrounded by wild and lovingly cultivated gardens, open to the public during the day for silent contemplation and walking.  The fish had started to become quite tame, coming up to the edge of the pond to eat fish food out of our hands.  There were two children's bikes abandoned near the pond, and a golf ball sitting deep in the middle.  One of us had noticed a huge flock of migrating birds alighting on the pond earlier that week.  Where were the fish?  What had happened to them?  We even called the police, who were very kind and said they wouldn't report a fish theft but we should call them anytime we were concerned about people doing unwanted things in the garden.  And then three of the fish returned later that night, just for a moment, having been hiding out in their fish cave at the bottom of the pond.  It took a few weeks for them all to appear and to start swimming around again, and they are still very skittish.  They don't eat out of our hands any more, and head for the cave when they detect anyone nearby.

Naturally, people came up with theories.  Here are just a few:

The children stole the fish.
The birds ate the fish.
The children went into the pond to retrieve the golf ball, and scared the fish.
The birds scared the fish.
Stop making up stories about what happened to the fish!

And, my personal favorite:

The fish ate the children, and it took them a couple of weeks to digest them.

We may never know, but the solutions to the minute mysteries highlight how easily we can miss what's right in front of us.  Solution number 1:  The doctor is the boy's mother.  And number 2.  It's the middle of the day.

We human beings have this amazing capacity, which is impossible to stop without inflicting brain trauma, but without which we'd be much less human.  Facing mystery, we want explanations.    Sometimes, the questioning is everything and appreciating the creativity of the human mind without taking things too seriously, is the way of play in the fields of freedom.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Junk Store Buddha

Junk Store Buddha

Buddhas appear everywhere, and that's very much in keeping with the Mahayana concept of Buddha Fields.  Everywhere we look are Buddhas, awakened ones, and sometimes they actually look like our concept of a Buddha:  for example, this statue like the one we recently saw at a junk store in a small New England town we were passing through.  (We inquired about the purchase price but it was not for sale -- so, priceless!)

But mostly Buddhas look like every single thing -- dogs and cats and clouds and flowers and trash and birth and death.  If everything is a Buddha, how can we ever complain about our lives?  Except that we do, because thoughts and emotions and sense perceptions are also Buddhas, and a complaint is equal to a joyous liberating experience.  So, the instruction is, see everything as an example of the great awakening that fills the universe.  No exceptions!  Everything is the awakened heart!

Monday, August 19, 2019

Ten Years at Boundless Way Temple

On this date, August 19, 2009, David and I bought the building that became Boundless Way Temple the very next day.  Our first sesshin was held here that October.  After a few years, the Temple and Boundless Way organizations had grown strong enough that we were able to sell the building to the sangha, and we have been fortunate to be able to continue to live here as the guiding teachers.  Looking back at all the changes over the years, I am amazed by our survival.

Here is some inspiration from one of our Zen ancestors, Torei Zenji, who encourages us to persist in our devotion to the Great Way, no matter what may happen.


I am only a simple disciple, but I offer these respectful words:

When I look deeply
into the real form of the universe,
everything reveals the mysterious truth of the Tathagata.
This truth never fails:
in every moment and every place
things can't help but shine with this light.

Realizing this, our ancestors gave reverent care
to animals, birds, and all beings.
Realizing this, we ourselves know that our daily food,
clothing and shelter are the warm body and beating heart of the Buddha.
How can we be ungrateful to anyone or anything?
Even though someone may be a fool,
we can be compassionate.
If someone turns against us,
speaking ill of us and treating us bitterly,
it's best to bow down:
this is the Buddha appearing to us,
finding ways to free us from our own attachments—
the very ones that have made us suffer
again and again and again.

Now on each flash of thought
a lotus flower blooms,
and on each flower: a Buddha.
The light of the Tathagata
appears before us, soaking into our feet.

May we share this mind with all beings
so that we and the world together
may grow in wisdom.

Friday, August 2, 2019


wild flowers, North Wales

Today I was inspired by the lovely weather, the summer flowers, the cool breezes on a summer day.  And by this poem, sent from the website "Poetry Chaikhana" ( a regular source of inspiration in my inbox.

Searching for the Dharma

You've traveled up ten thousand steps in search of the Dharma.
So many long days in the archives, copying, copying.
The gravity of the Tang and the profundity of the Sung
make heavy baggage.
Here! I've picked you a bunch of wildflowers.
Their meaning is the same
but they're much easier to carry.

By Chan Master Hsu Yun

(1839 - 1959)

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

A perfect shimmering sound

Fado performers in Porto, Portugal

I just read a lovely blog post from the Zen teacher Jon Joseph, about the following koan.  Thanks for the pointer to this, Jon!

Wuzu said, “Why did Bodhidharma come from the West? The cypress tree in the garden!”

  At these words Yuanwu was suddenly enlightened. He went outside the cottage and saw a rooster fly to the top of a railing, beat his wings and crow loudly. He said to himself, "Isn’t this the sound?"

  Full of gratitude, Yuanwu then took incense back into Wuzu's room. He told of his discovery and wrote:

"The golden duck vanishes into the golden brocade,
with a country song the drunk comes home from the woods,
only the young beauty knows about her love affair."

  Wuzu said, “I share your joy."

     ~ Pacific Zen Miscellaneous Koans

Sometimes when I look around at this world, all I see is suffering.  I could give you the long list, but you already know it.  Some of the suffering is personal, some global, and everything can feel like a recipe for doom and despair.  How can we practice in the face of all of this?

Without ignoring what is difficult, we can sit in the presence of everything that arises, and when we do this, our attention can expand from a narrow focus on our pain to a wider view, which includes every single thing.  In this space, the call of a mourning dove may open our hearts.  Or the laughter of a child at play or a singer giving everything she has to open her own mouth to reveal her wild spirit.  Or, really, any sound, or sight, or smell, taste or touch.  The world offers itself to us, and when we receive it, we share in the joy that is always present, even when things seem especially dire.  Here is a comment on this possibility by the poet Jack Gilbert.  Whether it's the sound of a triangle, a fado singer or a rooster, open your ears to hear it.  Let the heart be soothed by simple things, and know this shared joy.

Waiting And Finding, by Jack Gilbert

While he was in kindergarten, everybody wanted to play
the tom-toms when it came time for that. You had to
run in order to get there first, and he would not.
So he always had a triangle. He does not remember
how they played the tom-toms, but he sees clearly
their Chinese look. Red with dragons front and back
and gold studs around that held the drumhead tight.
If you had a triangle, you didn’t really make music.
You mostly waited while the tambourines and tom-toms
went on a long time. Until there was a signal for all
triangle people to hit them the right way. Usually once.
Then it was tom-toms and waiting some more. But what
he remembers is the sound of the triangle. A perfect,
shimmering sound that has lasted all his long life.
Fading out and coming again after a while. Getting lost
and the waiting for it to come again. Waiting meaning
without things. Meaning love sometimes dying out,
sometimes being taken away. Meaning that often he lives
silent in the middle of the world’s music. Waiting
for the best to come again. Beginning to hear the silence
as he waits. Beginning to like the silence maybe too much.

Monday, July 29, 2019

original face wash: the goat in the boat koan

photo Adam Monty

At our  recent "Original Face Sesshin" named by our tanto (head seat) Alan Richardson, we took up the story of Hui Neng, who asked Monk Ming, "What is your Original Face?"  At the end of the sesshin, our assistant tanto, Adam Monty,  mentioned the apocryphal koan "The Goat in the Boat."  When Adam returned home, he found the tube of Original Face Wash, pictured here,  in his medicine cabinet.

These two karmic occurrences inspired me to search for the elusive goat in the boat koan, and I was lucky enough to find it in our Temple library, in an obscure collection gathered together by Theodore Geisel, the sage of La Jolla.    Amazingly, it references not only the goat and the boat, but also the Original Face!  And, mysteriously, went I went back to try to find the book again it had vanished into Thin Air.  Here is the case, as I remember it, with commentaries by Boundless Way Zen teachers and senior students.

The Goat in the Boat (The One Fish Barrier Collection, Case 42)

Main Case: As the Fifth Ancestor rowed Hui Neng across the river, a goat climbed into the seat between them.  The Ancestor asked, "Don't think good; don't think evil.  At this very moment, what is the true face of the goat in the boat?"  At this moment, he presented a tube of face wash to Hui Neng, saying, "Use this all of your life.  It will never be used up."

David Rōshi said, "The student wins the prize - though he has not yet discovered the original face, he has found the face wash for this original face so that when any of us find it, we'll be able to keep it clean!!!"

Bob Sensei said, "I love this!  But it’s only for men.  Is that because women don’t collect as much dust on their original face?"

Senior Dharma Teacher Alan said, "Have you found your original face yet?  Then wash it!"

Practice Leader Adam said, "It can't be described; it can't be praised enough;
It can, however, be washed."

Monday, July 22, 2019

Boundless Way Temple Summer Sesshin 2019

Original Face Sesshin 2019 photo Corwyn Miyagishima

As we explored the question asked by Sixth Ancestor Hui Neng to Monk Ming: "What is your Original Face?" close to 40 people came and went over the week of our summer sesshin.  Pictured to the left are the folks who stayed until the very end.  What a treat to be able to practice deeply with people of the Great Way!

Friday, July 19, 2019

Drinking Deeply, Being the Water

The Sixth Ancestor's Rice Mill, ink on paper, 10.8 x 16.7 cm, Shinwa-an Collection

A few hours ago we finished our summer sesshin at Boundless Way Temple, named by our tanto (sesshin leader) "The Original Face Sesshin."  The topic was a koan about the Sixth Chinese Ancestor, Hui Neng, who threshed rice in a monastery for nine months and then was recognized by the Fifth Ancestor, Hongren, as his Dharma Heir.

We have used this koan many times, including at a previous summer sesshin, but as always, it felt new and fresh and we considered it from many angles.  One of the translations we used this year was from David Hinton, and the question that Hui Neng asks Monk Lumen (know to most of us as Monk Ming)  is translated by Hinton as:  "Don't think about right answers, don't think about wrong.  Right here in this very moment, what is the original face of Head Monk Lumen, the face that's been gazing out since the very beginning of things?"

This is a fundamental question in Zen, and you may want to play with it yourself, as we played with it for the past week.  Who are you before all of the constructions of personality and history arose in you, blocking your view of what has been here forever, and will continue with no end?   In this very moment, who are you?  The answer to this question endlessly deepens.  May you find your way to what Lumen discovered, in Hinton's translation:  "Here today I've taken a drink, and it's like the water itself knows how warm or cold the drink is."

Friday, July 12, 2019

International Precepts Ceremony at the Temple

photo Mike Herzog

A happy day in June at Boundless Way Temple -- the 16 Bodhisattva Precepts were give to 6 students of the Way by David Rynick,  Rōshi, Mike Fieleke,  Sensei, Robert Waldinger, Sensei and me.  During this semi-annual celebration, students who have been studying the precepts and sewing rakusus (the bib-like garments that represent the Buddha's robe) are given Japanese Dharma names, welcomed into the Boundless Way Zen lineage with documents that trace our ancestors back to Shakyamuni Buddha, and have a chance to speak briefly about their understanding of the precepts.  This spring we had our first international attendee, who Zoomed in on a laptop from Denmark.  (Thanks to Corwyn Miyagishima and Mike Herzog for helping with the modern tech side of this ancient ceremony!)

Pictured in the photo, from left to right,  are:  Craig Dreeszen, me, Mike Sensei, Hannah Hamad, Lone Fjorback (on laptop), David Rōshi, Bob Sensei, Susan LaMar, Marsha Gershon and Chad Cook.  Congratulations to all!

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Affection and Appreciation

Jizo of West Boylston

I just received the following text from my beloved colleague Mike Fieleke, Sensei.  It's from Joan Halifax, Roshi, and beautifully describes the stages of the student-teacher relationship.  In my experience, as a student and as a teacher, all three of these stages are equally important.  Thanks Mike Sensei and Roshi Joan!

"On considering a student's relationship with a teacher: I have often said that a student's relationship with her or his teacher can go through three phases. The first phase is the phase of idealization. Here the student's enlightenment is projected onto the teacher. The second phase is demonization – the student withdraws the projection of the ideal from the teacher, and projects her or his negative complexes onto the teacher. That’s usually when the student abandons the teacher. But, if possible, the negative projection is finally withdrawn and normalization begins to unfold, the third phase, where there’s a relationship that’s based on the realization of differences in capacity, and where there is affection and appreciation. In this phase, a phase associated with maturation, there’s intimacy, transparency, and love in the relationship. I have learned that it is truly beneficial for a student to understand this process in order to enter into a more realistic and less deluded and reactive relationship with her or his teacher."

Monday, June 17, 2019

returning to the new life

Years ago, when I was teaching mindfulness in the inner city in Worcester,  I heard a beautiful  Brazilian song called Começar de Novo.   It turned out that this was a favorite song of many of my Spanish-speaking women students -- somehow it reflected the difficulties of their lives and the new hope that meditation was giving them.

I often take heart in this song, especially when I wake up in the morning feeling haunted by ghosts of the past, with their endless stories of failure and judgment.  Começar de novo -- I can start a new life!  Not someday, but right now, in this moment...

The song was written by Ivan Lins and Vitor Martins, and a couple of us translated it into English and sang it together in our final class.  Here is a beautiful rendition by Ivan Lins with the amazing Portuguese singer Simone.  Below are the lyrics in Portuguese, followed by our English version -- a singable if not literal translation.

Começar de novo
E contar comigo
Vai valer a pena
Ter amanhecido

Ter me rebelado
Ter me debatido
Ter me machucado
Ter sobrevivido

Ter virado a mesa
Ter me conhecido
Ter virado o barco
Ter me socorrido

Começar de novo
E contar comigo
Vai valer a pena
Ter amanhecido

Sem as tuas garras
Sempre tão seguras
Sem o teu fantasma
Sem tua moldura

Sem tuas escoras
Sem o teu domínio
Sem tuas esporas
Sem o teu fascínio

Começar de novo
E contar comigo
Vai valer a pena
Ter amanhecido

Sem as tuas garras
Sempre tão seguras
Sem o teu fantasma
Sem tua moldura

Sem tuas escoras
Sem o teu domínio
Sem tuas esporas
Sem o teu fascínio

Começar de novo
E contar comigo
Vai valer a pena
Já ter te esquecido

I can start a new life
Knowing that it's worth it
Counting on myself now
Waking with the sunrise

Here am I, revealed now
After all the searching
After all the hurting
Here am I surviving

Now I've turned the tables
I know where I'm going
Like a boat that's sailing
Safe into the harbor

I can start a new life
Knowing that it's worth it
Counting on myself now
Waking with the sunrise

Safe from all your wounding
Safe for now, for always
You no longer haunt me
Now your spell is broken

Now your words can't hurt me
You cannot control me
I have left my prison
You no longer own me

I can start a new life
Knowing that it's worth it
Counting on myself now
See, I have forgotten you

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Exposed to Fire

Broken Glass, North Wales

An important part of the Zen Way is learning to meet difficulties without reactively running away from the pain or rushing to find a fix for the situation.  Facing what is present requires a great deal of courage, and an ever increasing capacity to stay with challenges until they either transform, on their own, into something else, or until a path of transformation is revealed.  In my own experience this transformation and/or revelation is subtle and may not necessarily feel like it's heading in a positive direction.  But things have a way of revealing their essence if we can stay present to what is here, now.  

Along these lines, I was very encouraged by the following quote from a Sufi teacher, H. I. Khan, from an article by my mindfulness mentor and friend Saki Santorelli.  The purpose of transforming suffering by learning to bear it is a part of the bodhisattva path.  As we realize our bodhisattva nature, we discover that we are a part of everything else in the entire universe.  And so, anything we do to facilitate our own healing helps to heal the world.The transformation of suffering is not for our own self-improvement, but a necessary part of realizing our bodhisattva nature -- that we are all connected and that our own healing is ultimately a part of healing others and the entire world.

….”There have been hearts that have been exposed to fire for a long, long time, and there comes a sulphury water from them, purifying and healing; for it has gone through fire, it has gone through suffering, and therefore, it heals those who suffer.  There are hearts with many different qualities, like water with different chemical substances: those who have suffered, those to whom life has taught patience, those who have contemplated. They all represent one or other kind of the water that heals, and so do their personalities. People who have deep appreciation of any kind, of suffering, of agony, of love, of hate, of solitude, of association, of success, of failure, all have a particular quality, a quality that has special use for others.  And when a person realizes this, he will come to the conclusion that whatever has been their life’s destiny, his heart has prepared a chemical substance through sorrow and pain, through joy or through pleasure, a chemical substance that is intended for a certain purpose, for the use of humanity, and that he can only give it out if he can keep his heart awakened and open. “ 

-- Khan, H.I.:  The Heart Quality In Sufi Teachings,Volume VIII

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Radiant World Spring Sesshin

This past weekend we had our Boundless Way Zen Temple Spring Sesshin, taught by David Rynick, Roshi, Michael Fieleke, Sensei and myself.  Our tanto, Alan Richardson, named it the Radiant World sesshin, following the theme of awakening being available everywhere.  Indeed, it is so!

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Great Vehicle Heart Connections

Two Tibetan monks and two nuns visited Boundless Way Temple on Sunday, and joined us whole-heartedly in our regular Zen practice. They are on a 2 week visit to Worcester State University, and decided to drop in to our regular Sunday night practice period, which included chanting, sitting and walking meditation, and a Dharma talk by Dharma teacher Rev. Paul Galvin.  During the Dharma dialogue following Paul's talk, they participated along with the rest of the sangha, and we all enjoyed laughter and insightful comments and stories from a number of participants, including the Tibetans of course.  And at the end, they insisted on a photo -- ordained folks on the floor, with the rest of the sangha standing behind, grouped around the Buddha altar.  Just before the photo was taken, one of the monks shouted "Mahayana!" a reference to what connects us.  Zen and Tibetan Buddhism are both part of the Mahayana, or "great vehicle" tradition in Buddhism.  Sharing the practice and feeling our heart connection was simply delightful!

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

On Not Having a Headache

water spout gargoyle, Italy

After a couple of weeks of enduring various bouts of illness, including bronchitis caused by a virus that kept moving from one part of the body to another (lungs, sinus, throat) I am noticing the absence of sickness as a most subtle joy.  This feeling is physical, emotional and mental.  It arises as a softness and ease in navigating the world. 

When I'm sick, I often resign myself to feeling tired and miserable forever.  This attitude, while admittedly negative and fairly depressing,  has the positive effect of eliminating the anxiety that comes with wondering when and if I will ever feel good again. 

I've been lucky in my life so far -- my various chronic conditions have very mild or absent symptoms, and it's only when I'm struck down by a bacterial infection, headache or virus that I get to experience what many people know intimately on a daily basis.  I'm reminded, in this tender presence of the absence of illness, of the Vietnamese Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hanh's description of the return of health as "the feeling of not having a headache."  When we are suffering, we forget what the absence of suffering feels like.  It's so subtle...and so sweet.  I'm planning to enjoy it until it changes once again into something challenging.  The memory of illness acts as a reminder to have empathy for everyone who struggles with ill health, while knowing that at some point I will once again join this noble company of suffering myself.