Last night I spoke in Santa Rosa. John had invited some time ago, and It was an exhilerating and tranforming experience.
We will start at the point that Ellen showed me to my cushion on my arrival. In the front. And center. I nearly *&^% myself. That part of the evening had never occured to me and I was just taking a seat in the back. Frankly, I figured she must be mistaken, because teachers sit there. None the less, I was suprised, then amused by my suprise, to discover that it affected my zazen not at all. Though that said, there was a weird sense of community that was electric and immediate.
After we had sat and shared tea and welcomes, we rearranged the zendo somewhat to accomodate the presentation I had in mind. I introduced myself, thanked the sangha for having me, and explained the impetus behind the creation of Wind-in-Grass' zen games.
Originally WiG hadn't a regular teacher as we do today with David Weinstein guiding the group. I had no intention of anyone confusing me for a teacher, so it seemed to make sense to find create opportunities whereby the experience taught. Right away it made sense for me to just pay attention to questions that arose, or places a koan really stuck with me, isolate the questions it brought up, and then turn it into a game. (Game, I explained, was not what I named them, its just what they are called. I can give credit to JZ, who originally began calling them "Zen Games". Besides that, it has been my experience that human beings need play to grow. Not all animals play after all. Or, as Mark Twain might have said, need to.). The games then gave me the opportunity to hear what was going on for everyone else. And hearing those experiences has never failed to be the best teacher.
So I asked people to number off, then turn right and left and partner up. This was their zazen buddy. They would not reach awakening without this person. They were then asked to remove one of their two zabutons. They were asked, without speaking to accord themselves on the remaining zabuton in any manner that was comfortable. (People in chairs were asked to move the chairs until they were side by side). There would be physical contact. If this made anyone unfcomfortable, they were encouraged to notice that.
Then we sat for ten minutes. I encouraged people to notice the feel of the others' body, the rise and fall of their breath, how they shifted, how they felt, etc. The bell was rung and we gathered around. I asked the Santa Rosa group to observe the same rules that we do in SF...everyone puts something into the room- Extroverts have no monopoly on wisdom- and everyone is welcome to ask clarifying questions, but comments and responses will wait until we open up the discussion.
And around we went. Before I get into the details, I want to begin by giving my sincere gratitude to everyone who jumped in with both feet, and shared whole heartedly. It was a predictably unpredictable result.
There seemed to be some common experiences from the comments. Many people commented how much more energy they felt, how peacefully attuned. Others mentioned how quickly and quiet they mind became. Several described an increase in warmth and heat. Several other people described a feeling of peave and expansiveness that took up the entire spave. Here are my best recollections of the other comments. I cannot recall each one, but this is close:
A: told a lovely story about how the practice reminded her of hot summer nights with her husband when they were too hot to touch, so there toes would reach out and hold each other.
B: told about how calm and quiet her head got- a theme that would repeat itself in many people's experiences.
C: Noticed that she is always cold. Between having her hands held and a dog fall asleep on her lap, she said she felt warm enough for a whole week.
D: Noticed an energy in her sitting, instead of the usual evening drownsiness. An alertness. This also was a commonly experienced feeling
E: Said her Zazen felt sweet.
F: Said that she felt strong, like she was sitting with a goddess.
G: noted how time was distorted, and she could not feel it passing, then the bell rang.
H: noticed how the sounds, usually jarring, were "jarring in a good way", and how she could hear everything.
I: Noticed how he felt embraced in his sitting.
J: noticed how expensive he felt, open and warm.
H: Noticed how his instict was to move closer to the other person, and touch more. How he had instant negative feelings abouta game, but that he really liked this one.
J: Noticed his expectations were completely circumvented by his experience.
K: Said she was blown away. Just loved the game and felt the warm rush of awkening. She was just glowing.
L: Felt the warmth of the pther person pressed against him, and noticed how after a while that warmth was its own thing and he could not tell where he left off and other began. He also noticed how immediately docile and quiet his mind got.
M: noticed how his breathing began to unconsiousless sync with his neighbor.
N: Noticed only one question "who am I?"
O: Noticed the sensation of being lifted upward
P: Noticed how acute his hearing became. How he felt connected to everyone in the room.
I was asked which koan had inspired the game. I am working on the koan Ruiyan Calls Master:
The priest Ruiyan called “Master!” to himself every day and answered himself “Yes!”
Then he would say “Be aware!” and reply “Yes!”
“Don’t be deceived by others!”
It was this second to last line that lead me to ask, "What others?". And I think that is the point. At least it feels right. But, that said, if there is no other, why do we practice in a Sangha, and why does it feel right and important to practice that way?
I am also intrigued by the idea of shaking up Zena bit to see what happens. One constant about Zen is that our bodies are largely an after thought. PZI in general is excited about exploring our bodies in motion right now [see our earlier post about The Body of the Buddha one day meditation], but I noticed that even in motion, zen is atraditionally a solitary practice, at least within the confines of the cushion. What if Bodidharma had to share his cave with 20 or so others. What then?
In the end, I concluded with some thoughts. The game reminded me of a time I lived in NYC and was powerfully lonely. I found great comfort by taking the train into and out of the city during rush traffic, solely for the experience of being crushed in with people.
Most of us are familiar with the concept "no other", intellectually and by varying degrees by experience. But if there is no other, then being surrounded by a chair, a carpet and a table should offer the same power and support as practicing with a sangha of humans. But it doesn't.
I recal my introduction to practice. It came through biofeedback that I was doing to manage pain in my 20s. Over the years it migrated from lying down, and listening to tapes, to sitting up and, well, just sitting there. My girl friend asked me how long I had been meditating, to which I replied "I don't meditate". Meditaiton is, as we all know, for hippies and weirdos. Then she suggested that I find some people to sit with. I told her that it was a solitary practice, so it didn't matter, but the second I said it, I realized I was wrong, and so I followed her suggestion to find a group with which to meditate.
I ended up finding Boundless Way, in Boston, and on entering the zendo I knew, like you know your shower is hot enough, that sangha was a great treasure and somehow necessary to my awakening.
The ticket, if there is one, lies in the fact that while tables chairs and carpets are themselves perfect buddhas, all of us the same perfect buddha, their awakening relies on their chairness, tableness, and carpetness. Maybe their awakening requires being walked on, sat on or being polished. But my awakening comes by being human, and being human, it means intereacting with others. It means relationships and feelings and emotions, and only through those will I ever reach awakening.
So there I was, driving (ok speeding), up to Santa Rosa, when I was struck with total gratitude for the small office tensions, for the heartbreak of lost love, for the monotony of waiting, for the anger of betrayal, for the joy of love, for the companionship of friends, for the uncertainty not knowing what to say in the face of tragedy, for my mom who I never fail to offend or dissapoint, and all the tiny failings and relationships that teach me about being human. It seems like its because of them, and not inspite of them, than any of us are waking up to our true nature.
“A Course on Koans” is the delusion-riddled work of Chris Kufu (“Wind in the Void”) Wilson, who began practicing Zen in 1967. He regards Taizan Maezumi, Robert Aitken, and David Weinstein as his root teachers. Each of them pecked at his shell until he “completed” the never-ending koan curriculum of the Harada-Yasutani lineage.
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