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!