Tonight's practice was dedicated to Chris Wilson, who was sorely missed, but who we learned sailed through his recent surgery.
Because Chris' surgery was on his heart, we chanted, for him, the Great Prajnaparamita Heart Sutra:
Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva, Living in deep Prajnaparamita, Clearly saw all five
skandhas empty, Crossed beyond all suffering and misery. Listen, Shariputra, listen –
Form is emptiness, Emptiness is form. Form is exactly emptiness, Emptiness exactly
form. The same is true of feeling and perception. The same is true of memory and
consciousness. Listen, Shariputra, listen – All paths are marked by emptiness.
Not born, not destroyed, Not stained, not pure, Without loss, without gain.
In emptiness no form, no feeling, No perception, no memory, no consciousness.
No eye, no ear, no nose. No tongue, no body, no mind. No color, no sound, no smell.
No taste, no touch, no thought. No seeing and so on to no thinking. No ignorance, no end
of ignorance. No old age and no death. No ending of old age and death. No suffering, no
cause or end to suffering. No path, no wisdom and no gain. Since there is nothing to gain,
The bodhisattva lives in Prajnaparamita. Since there are no walls in the mind,
There is no fear. Far beyond all delusion, Nirvana is already here. All past, present and
future buddhas, Taking shelter in Prajnaparamita, Awaken to perfect enlightenment.
Therefore know the sacred and bright mantra, The mantra of Prajnaparamita,
The supreme and unsurpassed mantra, By which all suffering is healed, Is truth not
deception. The mantra in Prajnaparamita Is spoken like this:
Gate gate paragate parasangate bodhi svaha!
[We chanted because 1) we have a nice fish drum that we seldom use and 2) I cannot recall how the singing melody goes. No matter.]
So, we recited, then we opened the floor. What did people notice? Where was their attention drawn.
Several people commented on the emptiness, how that seemed lonely and perhaps frightening. There were several people who noticed the many contradictions in the sutra. They posited, "well, of course I have memories, and of course I have a nose, and of course there is feeling, but maybe, maybe that doesn't matter as much as I thought."
We talked about walls in the mind, their absence and the freedom that brings. We wrestled a little bit with the concept of skandas and how they could be empty.
In the end, of perhaps in the beggining, the discussion slowed. Its a lot to bite off for an evening. Instead, I threw in the room how we hold our hands in kinhin (walking meditation). The soto zen school, apparently, teaches right hand covering the left in a soft first. The Rinzai school, the left covers the right. In Buddhist tradition, the right is, apparently, associated with the active, the left, the passive.
So what then does that mean about our practice? Are we doing something (active), or are we not doing something (passive), when we sit?
Well, its not that easy.
A said that in her practice, she rotates. Sometimes she watches her breath, sometimes, feels her body, sometimes sits with a koan. She said she just knew when she sat down which one was right.
B said that he often finds his mind wandering off, and brings it, actively, back to center with breath counting.
C mentioned that she felt a reluctance when she went to sit, that she engaged while sitting.
Most people mentioned that it had, for them, both aspects.
Then the conversation opened up, and people talked about their practices. People shared from their experiences.
A mentioned that she has a timer next to a calendar at home, and that when she sees it, she finds joy in finding 15 minutes to sit.
B mentioned that she finds it hard to make the time in the day, and that with that comes guilt and a desire to be on the cushion.
C mentioned that he has found a desire to sit, and that recently when on a beach, found that when he had 30 minutes, there was nothing more he wanted to do.
D mentioned that sitting was at first, painful and hard, accompanies by panic attacks. And that sitting was seldom accompanied by calm or peace, but that there was something even in that that was sitting and was worth while and was worth coming back to.
E mentioned that she noticed that she strove to find peace and calm and to still her mind and that she found that her mind still wanted to go there.
F gave a nice recital about her sitting, that, counter intuitively, she found that even tired and short on time, its where she wanted to be.
There was a lot more said, and I hope the 7 who came tonight use this blog to offer some comments, anything, but it was special and wonderful and I thank you all.
Heal quickly Chris.
David Parks-Ramage, a long time PZI member and leader of a Zen/Christian group up north in Santa Rosa, started a blog on Christian koans
. I found it a really live perspective, and if you are piqued, check it out.
Also, a new small PZI group in Eugene Oregon is blogging
about their experiences. H
So, lately I have not been mediating a lot. Or have I? Frankly, its hard to tell. As I round the third week of trial preparation, the last of which has been spent sleeping 3-4 hours a night on my office floor, I am struck by how I am feeling the same blissful freedom that I associate with sesshin.
David Weinstein, Roshi, recently posted an image and motto of Hakuin's that has reverberated with me everyday while I pouted about missing the koan seminar and my weekly sangha. (Aside- so sorry about abandoning you all. I hope with moderate therapy, you are going to be ok. If you didn't miss me...then I find you ungrateful). In appreciation, I am going to violate copyright:
[Ok, the image is a freebie. Sony Bono copyright extension be damned, NO ONE gets 1,100 years of protection. Except maybe Disney and we will see about that. But I digress...]
The image is below. More b/c I cannot figure out how to embed in a blog post than any affirmative artistic decisions. Its a calligraphy from Hakuin [see post below]. In the case that you were short changed by the California public education system and cannot read Japanese scrawl, the translation is:
MEDITATION IN THE MIDST OF ACTIVITY
IS A BILLION TIMES MORE EFFECTIVE THAN
MEDITATION IN THE MIDST OF TRANQUILITY.
I made it canary yellow. White was too White. But there it is...and yes. That rose up over and over and my not giving my attention to the moment, waiting for an excuse to find a cushion and silence all of a sudden seemed hollow and poor-me-ish. There it is. Right there. My life. And I am smack in the middle of this great opportunity to move in any direction and to enjoy the cold, litigation filled, binder building, cross examining, pinstriped all of it. Even the bad parts.
And then, it was strangely open and great, and I kept thinking, you know, this is not really different from zazen.
So, tanks Hakuin, buddy, for freeing me for even a moment. It was a great week of intensive sitting, even thought I never made a mudra.
[AND, since I have so wonderfully ripped off David, I want to plug for his event- May 15 Full day sit in Santa Rosa.]
Stay warm. I am going to get some sleep. Ok, a lot of sleep. Or, to quote Pete Stern, which I try not to, I am going to dream of s
So, a monk walks into a bar...no wait:
Kauin Ekaku: (1686–1769 or 1685–1768) was one of the most influential figures in Japanese Zen Buddhism. He revived the Rinzai school from a period of stagnation, refocusing it on its traditionally rigorous training methods integrating zazen and koan practice. All Rinzai Zen masters today trace their lineage through him, and all modern practitioners of Rinzai Zen use practices directly derived from his teachings.
Hauin had a baby once....or so they say. Today, I am going to share that story with you, as accurately as I can. As accurately as stories go.
Master Hakuin And The Baby
The great Zen Master Hakuin lived in a small hut outside a village where he was greatly respected. One day a village girl became pregnant. The father of the baby left town and she was alone and frightened. She did not know what else to do and told the entire village that Master Hakuin was the father.
All the townspeople shocked. They stopped bringing food and offerings. Instead of praising Haikuin now they blamed him.
"You are the worst of all beings," they said.
"Is that so?" replied Hakuin.
The baby was born the the village girl brought the child to Hakuin to be cared for.
"This baby is yours," she said.
"Is that so?" Hakuin said and took the baby gladly.
Hakuin cared for the baby lovingly for several years. Babies, presumably, do not make for uninterrupted zazen. Diaper cleaning is not traditionally conducing to satori. Yet Hakuin fed, clothed and cared for the child.
Then, one day, the father of the baby returned to the village to marry the mother and take back the baby. The new couple told everybody the truth about what happened.
The people were astonished. They all began to praise Master Hakuin and return to his hut with offerings.
"Is that so?" said Master Hakuin. Soon after that the couple returned for the baby. "Is that so?" Master Hakuin murmured and gave them their child lovingly.
So, I am a story teller, but not a teacher. But some stories are teacher enough.
So who are the Zen Masters in your neighborhood?
Hakuin was born in 1686. As a child, Hakuin attended a lecture by a Nichiren monk on the topic of Hell. This deeply impressed the young Hakuin, and he developed a pressing fear of hell, seeking a way to escape it. He eventually came to the conclusion that it would be necessary to become a monk.
At the age of fifteen, he obtained consent from his parents to join the monastic life, and was ordained at the local Zen temple. But when the head monk at Shoin-ji took ill, Hakuin was sent to a neighboring temple, where he served as a novice for three or four years, studying Buddhist texts. While at Daisho-ji, he read the Lotus Sutra considered by the Nichiren sect to be the king of all Buddhist sutras, but found it disappointing, saying "it consisted of nothing more than simple tales about cause and effect".
At the age of nineteen, he came across in his studies the story of Zen master Quanho who had been brutally murdered by bandits. Hakuin despaired over this story, as it showed that even a great monk could not be saved from a bloody death in this life. He figured he was screwed regarding evading hell. He gave up his goal of becoming an enlightened monk, and not wanting to return home in shame, traveled around studying literature and poetry- which frankly sounds like a good way to pass your life before going to hell. While studying with the poet-monk Bao, he saw a number of books piled out in the temple courtyard, books from every school of Buddhism. Struck by the sight of all these volumes of literature, reached out and took a book; it was a collection of Zen stories . Inspired by this, he repented and dedicated himself to the practice of Zen.
He again went traveling for two years, settling down at the Eigan-ji temple. It was here that Hakuin had his first experience of enlightenment. He locked himself away in a shrine in the temple for seven days, and eventually reached what he believed to be an intense awakening upon hearing the ringing of the temple bell.He came to conclusion that there is no cyle of rebirth However, his master refused to acknowledge this enlightenment, and Hakuin left the temple in a snit.
After leaving Eigan-ji, Hakuin met and studied with the teacher who would be most influential on his spiritual practice, Shoju- an intensely demanding teacher, who hurled insults and blows at Hakuin, in an attempt to get him to reach satori. After several more experiences of enlightenment, Hakuin left Shoju after eight months of study. Though he never saw Shoju again, and the master would die thirteen years later, Hakuin would continue to think of Shoju as his primary master.
After another several years of travel, at age 31 Hakuin returned to Shoin-ji, the temple where he had been ordained. in which he would serve as abbott for the next half-century. It was around this time that he adopted the name "Hakuin", which means "concealed in white", referring to the location of Shoin-ji temple.
At age 41, he experienced a final and total experience of enlightenment, while reading the Lotus Sutra- the same sutra that bounced him from Zen originally. He wrote of this experience, saying "suddenly I penetrated to the perfect, true, ultimate meaning of the Lotus".
He would spend the next forty years teaching at Shoin-ji, writing, and giving lectures. At first there were only a few monks there, but soon word spread, and Zen students began to come from all over the country to study with Hakuin. Eventually, an entire community of monks had built up in Hara and the surrounding areas, and Hakuin's students numbered in the hundreds. He eventually would certify over eighty disciples as successors. At the age of 83, Hakuin died in Hara, the same village in which he was born and which he had transformed into a center of Zen teaching.