Sunday, December 26, 2010

Merry Christmas, Zensters on Both Sides, No Sides, All Sides

The day after Christmas. So to practice we sit in the mornings and the evenings and maybe in-between. The practice of zazen informs our daily life. Going to work, eating breakfast, washing the dishes, saying hello to the people that cross our path.

If you’ve been raised in our culture, our civilization—aka, Western, the Judeo-Christian, American, whatever you want to call it—then you’ve been touched in one way or another by the story of Jesus who was born in Bethlehem and who 30-something years later was crucified in Jerusalem. It doesn’t matter if you’re an agnostic, Christian, Jew, Native American, atheist, Buddhist, something else or none of the above, the story of Jesus has entered into your thinking and understanding. It’s simply part of the language of who you are. So how do we, as practitioners of Zen, think about the story? Instead of ignoring it (or worse, mocking it) or, on the other extreme, accepting it as truth with no questions asked, my belief is that we should work to understand it. Like we work to understand all the many stories in the Buddhist and Zen traditions. The principle elements of the story of Jesus are found in so many stories of the Buddha and Zen Masters—human birth, practice, teaching, death and resurrection.

So what does it mean to be the son (or daughter) of God?

So yes we will be sitting this Tuesday, 7pm, @ 4425 Byron at the Unitarian Sanctuary. On cold nights the front door may be shut but it’s not locked. You can see the lights through the stained-glass windows. We’ll be sitting inside, ringing the bell, lighting the candle and the incense, chanting and sitting and sipping at our tea. It happens like that every time. Strange, how it’s never the same. I hope to see you guys there if you can make it.

And Merry Christmas to you all. And please, like Jesus of Nazareth taught, respond to others, especially to those in need, with wisdom and kindness.

[P.S. The painting is by Pieter van Breugel the Elder, one of my all time favorite painters. He was one of the masters during the Flemish Renaissance, and he loved to mixed the profane and the sacred, humor and wisdom into his work.]

Friday, December 17, 2010

Photographs from Rohatsu Sesshin 2010

Boddhisattvas after Rohasu

Kathy, Alice & Suki before we got started

The altar atop the new floor completed right before the bell rang

Susan Hakushi Beckett
Taking the Three Refuges & receiving her Wagessa

The Altar for the Ceremonies

Heather Kishin Ogston
Taking the Three Refuges & receiving her Wagessa

David KoMyo Novotny and Harvey Daiho Hilbert Roshi
During the KaeSanbo Ceremony for KiShin

Kathy RyoGin Sorenson
Taking the Three Refuges & receiving her Wagessa
(Her husband John Shogi is taking her photo on the other side)

John Shoji Sorenson: Jukai Ceremony
Taking the 16 Vows

John Shoji Sorenson's Rakusu
Fresh with his Buddhist name & the date of the ceremony

Order of Clear Mind Zen Lineage of Priests
Beginning bottom right, clockwise:
Bonnie Bussho Hobbs, Celia Kajo,
Harvey Daiho Hilbert Roshi, Bobby KanKin Byrd, David KoMyo Novotny

Celebration afterwards @ the Village Inn down the street

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Rohatsu Sesshin @ The Clear Mind Zen Temple in Las Cruces

The Bodhi Tree

Over the December 6th weekend I attended a sesshin at Clear Mind Zen Temple in Las Cruces. This end of the year sesshin celebrates Rohatsu, the Buddha’s Enlightenment. It’s the central stories in our practice. It goes something like this. Siddhartha Gautama, or Shakyamuni (whichever you prefer—I like Siddhartha because I read Herman Hesse’s novel when I was a teenager) had given up his life of asceticism. He had whittled down his daily intake of food to several grains of rice a day, and he must have understood that he was dying from lack of food. He didn’t want to die. That was not the point. So he had begun to eat again, to take the path we know as “the Middle Way.” His compatriots left him because they felt he had gone astray. But he didn’t turn away from his practice of zazen. Thus, he sat down under the Bo Tree (aka Bodhi Tree), a huge fig tree, and he vowed not return to the world of men until he had received Enlightenment. And so he sat and sat some more. Surely, he rose from time to time and did walking meditation beneath the huge tree with its heart shaped leaves. Surely he ate some rice and vegetables, something to keep his strength. Surely he had to go out into the woods and relieve himself. He was a man after all. But he always returned to the lotus posture of his zazen.

Zazen, as Dogen always reminds us, is action. 

Siddharta cupped his hands in the cosmic mudra and slipped into deep meditation. I don’t know how long this went on. But it was a long time. One morning before dawn cracked open the sky he looked up into the black sky in the southeast. There he saw the Morning Star and he received complete realization, complete enlightenment, nirvana. It has many names. The universe was exactly as it is. Nothing added. The shell of his self was empty and so was full.

My heart, thus knowing, thus seeing, was released from the fermentation of sensuality, released from the fermentation of becoming, released from the fermentation of ignorance. With release, there was the knowledge, ‘Released.’ I discerned that ‘Birth is ended, the holy life fulfilled, the task done. There is nothing further for this world.’

There was nothing left for him to do. But he did not turn his back on the world of women and men. Instead, he returned as teacher. He went and found his friends who had left him and he told them about what he had become and the Four Noble Truths which concluded with the Eight-Fold Noble Path. These are our gateway toward our own realization. These are the foundation of the Buddha Way. Our practice.

So this event was what we celebrated on December 8th. Around the world others were doing similar practice this week, many much more intensive than our own, others less intensive. Ours is a Householder Zen. Our practitioners come from their families and their lives for the time they can afford and they come to sit together. We had folks from California, Las Cruces and El Paso. It was a good solid group, 10 to 14, depending when you walked in the front door. We sat three periods Friday night, 14 periods Saturday, five periods Sunday. The bell was ringing; the candles and the incense were lit. We all had a place on the floor for our zabuton and our zafu, we all had a piece of the wall to stare at. Harvey Daiho Hilbert Roshi gave us teishos on Friday night and Sunday morning--good stuff to ferment during our practice. David Komyo Novotny was the sesshin leader, and he made sure that all was quiet and he marked the time. Celia Kajo was our Ino, although she got pulled away from time to time by her life duties. I was the Tenzo, the cook, and Katia SokuShin Masuryk was my assistant. We prepared and served the meals. Truly, an honor. Luckily I had recently re-read Master Dogen’s “Instructions to the Cook.” Essentially, how to be present in the activities of being a cook, how to respect and prepare the food, how to organize the life of the kitchen and how to organize one’s own mind to make the process meaningful. On Sunday three members took their first deep steps into their practice. The ceremony is called the KaeSanbo, or taking the Refuges in the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha. They receive their Buddhist names of Zen practice and their wagessa which they had sewn. They were Susan Hakushi Beckett of Las Cruces, a student of Kajo; Heather Kishin Ogston of California and a student of KoMyo; and Kathy RyoGin Sorenson, a student of Daiho Roshi's. John Shoji Sorenson took the Jukai vows and received his rakusu which he too had made. They were beautiful ceremonies for each, and the talks of the teachers and the recipients demonstrated the power of this practice. [Note: I'll post photographs of these ceremonies in a separate post and on our Facebook page.]

We worked and we sat. That’s what Zen is--zazen and sweeping the floor. Being who you are, discovering who you are, and looking up one morning and seeing the morning star or hearing the mockingbird atop the juniper tree.

And you experience the universe as it is.
It’s been there all along.
Form is emptiness, emptiness is form.
How can that be?

May we all sit strong in the New Year, may we all receive enlightenment together.

[Note: soon I will put up some photographs I took at the sesshin, so please check back later here or on our facebook page.]

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Zen Fundamentalism: Just Sitting

This is a cool video--Master Gudo Wafu Nishijima showing us how to sit. The half-lotus, the full-lotus--it's a pleasure to watch the old man fold his legs into zazen. His discussion of the ears helped me remember my ears and my spine. And zazen, just sitting, is where we learn the first step along the Eightfold Noble Path: Right View. Indeed, Right View "is the beginning and the end of the path. It simply means to see and understand things as they are." Or as Nishijima might say, Zen is about the experience of reality.


Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Dana Paramita: The Act of Giving

We breathe in.
We breathe out.
We take from the universe.
We give to the universe.

The act of giving is Dana, the first Paramita, the first Perfection. Dana we discover is really a two-way street, receiving and giving, breathing in and breathing out.

I write this note to ask you all during this time of giving to remember our Zen Community, Both Sides / No Sides here straddled on the U.S./Mexico Border. We’ve been fortunate to have the use of the sanctuary at the El Paso Unitarian Community for our Tuesday evening services. For this opportunity we pay $100 a month. So far we’ve been able to pay each month, but for a few months we’ve had to wait a couple of weeks to gather enough funds for our payment. And to be honest our payments have fallen on the shoulders of several of our members who are with us every week. We have no reserves, and we will have expenses beyond the use of the UU sanctuary. I ask each of you to give as you are able. If you cannot attend our services and wish to give, please send a check to John Byrd @ 701 Texas Avenue, El Paso, TX 79901. On the memorandum line note that the check is to the Both Sides / No Sides Zen Community. John is our treasurer and keeps exact records of receipts and payments.

And oh yes, we will be sitting this Tuesday, the 14th, at 7pm @ 4425 Byron. And by the way, there are Six Paramitas, or Perfections—

Dana Paramita: Generosity, giving of oneself.
Sila Paramita: virtue, morality, discipline, proper conduct
Kshanti Paramita—patience, tolerance, acceptance
Virya Paramita—diligence, effort
Dhyana Paramita—concentration, contemplation
Prajna Paramita—wisdom, insight

Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Human Brain: So Who Are We?

"Jill Bolte Taylor got a research opportunity few brain scientists would wish for: She had a massive stroke, and watched as her brain functions -- motion, speech, self-awareness -- shut down one by one. An astonishing story."

Note: I thought this post was already up on the Both Sides /  No Sides blog but when I went and looked for it, I couldn't find. That's because it was on my personal blog. I was looking for this interview for a practitioner who is studying with me--indeed, a person who has had an experience similar to Ms. Taylor's--and so I thought I'd add it here for future reference. Mike LaTorra, aka Gozen, a Zen priest and abbott at the Las Cruces Zen Center  sent the link out on his list way back in April 2008. The video went viral for a while and I've thought about it much since. I have some differences with with some of the conclusion, but that's cool. Her talk is most important. At the link, you can read and copy the text of her talk, but I highly recommend that you watch the 18 minute video. It's a most remarkable lecture--scientific very interesting, witty and wise.  
  / Bobby Kankin

Ms. Taylor, a neuroanatomist at Harvard, experienced a stroke on the left side of her brain, and because of her expertise she was able to witness the separation of her right and left brain lobes and to understand precisely how they each see the world. The talk is eight-plus years after the stroke, the time it took for her to fully recover. She became, in her words, in those few hours before help arrived like a new born baby in a woman's body. She had no language, no skills, no baggage of her 37 years on the planet. Yet, it was euphoria, a leap into what she called nirvana. And she realized during the experience that was soon to be dead. Luckily for us, this last transition didn't happen. She awoke finally in a hospital, startled to be alive. Her talk brings up incredible questions for me as a citizen of all the different communities where I hang my hat, for my work as a poet and writer and for my practice as a Zen Buddhist, those nagging spiritual or religious (I hate both those words, so much baggage) interests I carry around in my heart.

She says toward the end of her talk--

So who are we? We are the life force power of the universe, with manual dexterity and two cognitive minds. And we have the power to choose, moment by moment, who and how we want to be in the world. Right here right now, I can step into the consciousness of my right hemisphere where we are -- I am -- the life force power of the universe, and the life force power of the 50 trillion beautiful molecular geniuses that make up my form. At one with all that is. Or I can choose to step into the consciousness of my left hemisphere. where I become a single individual, a solid, separate from the flow, separate from you. I am Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor, intellectual, neuroanatomist. These are the “we” inside of me.

Coincidentally, about the time I first watched this video Lee and I were on a roadtrip back and forth to Dallas and were listening to an audible telling of War and Peace (those 1300 miles weren't nearly enough for that huge book). Tolstoi describes Prince Andrei Bolkonsky, who when almost fatally wounded on the battlefield having an almost identical experience as the one Ms. Taylor describes.

Thank you, Jill Bolte Taylor.
And Peace.