Sunday, August 8, 2021

The Wondrous Light and Dark Sesshin

The Boundless Way Temple Summer Distant Temple Bell Sesshin, four days of intensive practice on Zoom integrated with daily life at home, ended this past Monday.  We focused on the teachings of our Zen ancestor Shitou, and his work "Harmony of Relative and Absolute." Our tanto (head of practice) Michael Herzog gave our time together the name "The Wondrous Light and Dark Sesshin."  Here is the photo of our participants.  Our next sesshin will also be on Zoom, until the pandemic allows us to meet in person at Boundless Way Temple once again: Oct. 1 - 4.  For information about our retreats and any of our programs, visit our website:   Boundless Way Temple.

Monday, June 14, 2021

Shimmering Silence Sesshin

Happy Faces from the Shimmering Silence Sesshin on Zoom

Our Beginner's Mind Distant Temple Bell Sesshin ended yesterday at 12:30 pm, and the faces in the screen shot tell the tale best.  The sesshin is our shortest, one full day plus two evenings and a morning, but it went deep.  As we investigated the Buddha's silence when asked a question by a visitor, we enjoyed our own capacity for silence and stillness.  David Dae An Rynick, Roshi and I were the lead teachers, assisted by Senior Assistant Teachers Michael Herzog and Alan Richardson.  Our sesshin registrar Jenny Smith made her debut as tanto (head seat), assisted by Senior Assistant Teacher Rev. Paul Galvin, and a crack team of officers:  Adam Monty, Rev. Corwyn Miyagishima, and Assistant Teacher Pierce Butler.   People came from all over, across the US, Cypress, Denmark, Austria and Wales.  I am filled with gratitude at the opportunity the pandemic has given us all to connect and support each other's practice.  Many bows, much joy!

Sunday, May 9, 2021

Ordination of Rev. Corwyn Ryūdõ Kinzan Miyagishima


Yesterday at 3 pm, through the magic of zoom, close to 90 people witnessed the ordination of Rev. Corwyn Ryūdõ Kinzan Miyagishima, my beloved student and a dharma light to the sangha of Boundless Way Temple, Boundless Way Zen and many other dharma friends.  Pictured here are Rev. Paul Galvin, who traveled to the Temple hermitage in Worcester from his home in Vermont,  Rev. Corwyn, me, and David Rynick, Rõshi.  Also supporting the ordination on the zoom screen were Bob Waldinger, Rõshi and Mike Fieleke, Rõshi, and technical support came from sangha members Jenny Smith and Chad Cook.  If you'd like to watch the ceremony, you can find it here on Youtube.  

Now that he is ordained, Corwyn can perform marriages and lead funerals and memorial services, like any clergy person.  As an "unsui" or "clouds and waters" priest, he has taken a vow to devote his life to being of service to the sangha, and to all beings.  He is not yet a Zen teacher, but functions in countless ways to support our community.  You can read more about what it means to be a Boundless Way priest, and the distinction between teacher and priest here.

Corwyn's ordination name, Ryūdõ, means "dragon hall", and is the family name I give to all those I have the privilege to ordain.  Kinzan, his first Zen name, means "joyful mountain."

As we say in our ordination ceremony:  "The way is perfect like vast space, where there’s no lack and no excess; the person who does not realize this wanders lost in a world of confusion and hurt, while the person who realizes the way is immediately at home."

Welcome home, Ryūdõ Kinzan! 

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Full of Gold Sesshin


Our April Distant Temple Bell online sesshin (Zen retreat) finished up yesterday and here is the screen shot of most of our participants taken by our tanto (head seat) Corwyn Miyagishima.  He was joined in running the sesshin by Senior Assistant Teacher Alan Richardson as assistant tanto, along with Jenny Smith and Adam Monty as officers.  David Dae An Rynick Roshi and I were the teachers, assisted by Senior Assistant Teacher Rev. Paul Galvin and Senior Assistant Teacher Michael Herzog.  Corwyn named the retreat after a story told in one of the talks about a Tibetan Buddhist teacher who, while scattering away a big pile of gold dust, said "All the world is gold to me!"  From the evidence of the bright faces in the photo, each shining with their own light, that's easy to see.  

Our next sesshin will be held online June 11 -- 13.  Stay tuned for information about this and other events by joining our mailing list at Boundless Way Temple.  Happy Spring everyone!

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Oh Western Wind!

Westron wynde, when wyll thow blow

The smalle rayne downe can rayne?

Cryst yf my love were in my armys,

And I yn my bed agayne!

--Anonymous (16th centruy)

Last night the wind howled everywhere around the Temple, moving trees and downing branches.  The wind chill temperature reached down to -20 F (-30 C).  When the power went out briefly around midnight and then returned, the energy surge rang the doorbell and made all the appliances that beep make their small insistent sounds.  

My thoughts, as I tried to get back to sleep, drifted back to seeing my first Zen teacher, during a similar late winter windstorm at a sesshin, out on the porch that surrounded the zendo.  He was standing still, looking out over the forest that surrounded the little temple that we had rented for the retreat.  I went out to stand next to him, and we stayed that way for a while.  As he left, he whispered the poem that begins this writing, but in modern English:  "Oh Western Wind, when will you blow, the small rain down can rain?  Christ if my live were in my arms and I in my bed again."  

It's a poem of longing, for the western wind to blow winter away, to bring the spring rains, to return to the intimacy of the comfort of a companion and a warm bed.  I don't really know what my teacher, now long dead, was thinking, but I remember that moment vividly in my own heart, as an expression of the power of a strong wind to blow away whatever must go -- not just in the natural world, where we can feel the power of a winter wind, but also in our minds and hearts, burdened by distress and sorrow.  

Ultimately, everything must go, even this season of uncertainty that envelopes the planet.  What will come next?  For now, we trust that it will be spring soon, but beyond that, who knows?

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

The Mirror

 A friend shared a teaching with me this morning from Shams Al-Tabriz, the teacher of the 13th century Persian poet Rumi.  Shams said that people keep asking him for a mirror, to learn who they truly are.  But when he offers it and they look into it, they don't like what they see and they blame him for what appears in the mirror.  

When we practice meditation in the Zen tradition, we are instructed to look at ourselves as directly as possible.  Shams, like anyone who teaches and practices in this manner, knows how hard that can be.  My own experience tells me that when I look into my mirror, into my biography, the set of stories that I tell myself to explain who I am to myself, I can find all kinds of terrible things:  some of them done to me, some done by me. I can use these elements to judge myself and others  harshly.  On the other side, I tend to ignore all the evidence from my memories of my past when I behaved or was treated in a loving and helpful way.  

But whether we call the remembered events that constitute our personal biography horrible or wonderful, the incessant judgment of the self is a habit that leads nowhere.  Instead, the instruction, again and again, is to see through the self as some kind of permanent object, something to be judged or loved, and to see how the elements of the self are actually constructions.  True freedom, alignment with reality, comes from seeing through the self-construction, not abandoning it, but not treating it like something inscribed in stone either.   

Instead of spending our lives explaining ourselves to ourselves, perhaps we could do as Shams himself advises, "When everyone is trying to be something, be nothing."

Sunday, February 21, 2021

The Chirping Bird Sesshin.


Most of the participants from the recent joyous Distant Temple Bell sesshin (Zen retreat) held in our Boundless Way Temple zoom zendo are shown in the photo at the left.  Our co-tanto ("head seat" or retreat manager), who helped run the sesshin along with co-tanto Rev. Paul Galvin and practice leader and registrar Jenny Smith, was Corwyn Miyagishima.  It is the tanto's privilege to name the sesshin, and Corwyn called it the Chirping Bird Sesshin -- a harbinger of Spring during these cold times in New England and elsewhere in the world.   The teachers for the sesshin were Mike Fieleke, Sensei, David Rynick, Roshi and myself, and we were joined by folks from all over the United States and Europe, Our next zoom sesshin will be in April, from the 9th to the 12th.  Come join us!

Thursday, February 11, 2021

Buddhas Everywhere

As Hakuin Zenji sings in his Song of Zazen:  "All beings by nature are Buddhas, as ice by nature is water." Training the perceptual mind to see everything as an example of the awakened heart takes some work:  we have to let many of our old rigidly held patterns around differentiation, especially our certainty about right and wrong, you and me, this and that,  life and death, Buddha and not-Buddha, become looser.   

While there are indeed different qualities to  everything we encounter, and it's vitally important not to ignore differentiation, there is another view which can provide some delight to the discouraged heart in difficult times.  A friend recently told me that she had realized, in mourning a beloved parent, that even though on one level her parent was definitely dead, on another level they weren't.  She said to me, "there is no life and death!"  Her parent is definitely gone from any ordinary way of perceiving a person, but she realized that everyone she meets, alive or dead, is like this.  Her parent was once a baby, once a child, ultimately old and ill.  All of these versions of her parent were true.  And this perception applies to living people, too.  She had discovered the truth of the teachings for herself.  In the Mahayana (Great Vehicle) teachings the historical Buddha, who died 2600 years ago, is still alive, and takes an infinite variety of forms, populating the Buddha fields, which can be perceived everywhere.  

My two-year-old grandson is learning about Buddhas -- he got a plushy toy version for his birthday.  This is a Buddha who needs kisses and also has to brush his teeth.  He needs to be greeted with a cheerful, "hi Buddha!"  For many months he has been seeing Buddha statues, as well as Christian statues like the one pictured above, as different versions of Buddha.  He sees Buddhas everywhere.  As his process of ego-development and learning about differentiation continues to develop, I wonder if he will retain this freshness, and say "hi Buddha" everywhere he goes, to every religious statue he encounters.  Whatever happens to him, and to my grieving friend, they inspire me to remember to see all beings as Buddha and to see Buddhas everywhere.   

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Masked and Unmasked

Priest and friend, masked and unmasked

 It's been a long time since I posted anything beyond news of events at the Temple.  Something about the times we've been living through have left me "taking the backward step" as Dogen says, rather than reaching out to people through this blog.  But I've made a new commitment, and, in the way of all such plans, while I am fairly sure that this post will happen, I can only hope and trust that I'll continue to post more regularly.

The photo above is from a billboard in front of our local Roman Catholic church, about a national giving campaign.   I love the look on the face of our old friend white Jesus, happily unmasked and looking over the shoulder of one of his priests.  There's something about the two of them that points us all to finding a way to our common ground as human beings in the middle of a pandemic.  I've been practicing with my reactivity to people who don't wear masks, figuring that, on some level, they don't believe in the pandemic.  While the emotional-cognitive reaction I have is based on delusion, since I don't really know why people out in public aren't wearing masks (did they forget? are they having trouble breathing?  are they angels, bodhisattvas or saints appearing among us to show us the way?) it provides an opportunity to look deeply into my own tendency to create reality out of a partial understanding of what's happening at any time, anywhere.  

Zen teachings point us to the opportunity to meet everything as fully as we possibly can, to engage directly with the world we perceive and to be suspicious of the conclusions we draw.  The guideline is to be curious about everything.  I will probably never know why the people I meet during my daily walk are masked or unmasked, but I do know that they are probably human beings like me, struggling to figure out how to live in a challenging world.  This allows a more spacious internal experience, and I am then free to greet them sincerely, with a hidden, masked smile, as another companion on the path.  

Saturday, February 6, 2021

Zoom Jukai


Back in December, Boundless Way Temple held its first Zoom jukai ceremony.  In Japanese, the word "jukai" means "taking the precepts."  In Boundless Way Zen, people deepen their commitment to the Zen path by asking for permission to take the precepts from a GuidingTeacher, and then study them either with a teacher or in a precepts class, sew a rakusu (the bib-like garment that is a miniature version of the Buddha's robe), and then participate in a jukai ceremony.  Because of Covid restrictions, the physical Temple has been closed, but we have a thriving community online.  Six students were prepared to participate, and they are pictured in the photo above, along with the four Guiding Teachers of Boundless Way Zen.  The ceremony was as meaningful and touching as it is in person.  For more information about taking the precepts in Boundless Way, you can go to this link: