Monday, April 30, 2012

Study Hall

"A diver jumping off the cliff, a mountain climber, an artist, a poet, or a musician creates a beautiful form that manifests the maturity of his or her life. But spiritual life doesn't have that same sense of performance. So creativity in religion cannot manifest in the same way. Of course you do manifest maturity because, as Dogen says, 'you cannot avoid detachment from the zazen posture'. But then, next you must be free from that manifestation. In Japanese we say gedatsu, meaning emancipation, or freedom. Moment after moment you must be free from the beautiful form you created, because the moment in which the form existed has already gone, and the next moment is coming up. Life becomes mature, constantly. You cannot stop it, not even for a moment, so you have to keep going. You must keep practicing to create this beauty again and again. This is spiritual creativity.
So, what is this zazen practice that we do? It's not doing zazen. If you believe it's doing zazen, then practice is just a task, and that task becomes a really big burden for you. That is not a true understanding of practice. Buddhist practice is to constantly create beauty. Beauty is the functioning of wisdom. That's why Dogen Zenji says that you have to abandon the usual understanding of the form of zazen and touch the heart of zazen. Otherwise you cannot maintain this kind of practice. That's why I have to explain it and why you have to understand very deeply what practice means. Then, if you understand even slightly, you should keep going. That makes your life mature" - Katagiri Roshi, Each Moment is the Universe.

Friday, April 27, 2012


I can only apologise belatedly for the failure of the posts I had set up to publish themselves on schedule during the week. I am not quite sure which step I neglected to take to make it happen; I will probably recycle most of them for my next trip.
So I am back in the city after a week where my only brush with technology was using my digital camera. I had a wonderful and somewhat relaxing time, and I think the six people from YUZ enjoyed themselves too, after a little adjustment in some cases. We had great adventures getting in - on a day when it was 97 degrees along 101 south of San Jose - and getting out, when it was 40 degrees on the north side of the road and rather wetter.
Work period is a special time at Tassajara, and I was happy to see a number of familiar faces from Aprils and Septembers past; there was a lot going on, and great energy about the place, and yesterday a real end-of-term feel, as people packed up, said goodbyes, and prepared to make way for the alumni weekend that is starting - there was an influx of other familiar faces as we set off after lunch.
Happily, I got to work with rocks, though not where I had originally thought I would. It made quite a change from being at my desk all day, and I felt physically very tired at the end of each day, which is no bad thing at all. All the group got to feel the effects of being in the mountains with few distractions and responsibilities, just focussing on the tasks in hand, and enjoying the company and the place itself.
Spring at Tassajara felt very green this year, as recent rains brought forth a profusion of flowers and leaves. I was glad that some of this comes across in the photos - this is a selection from five hundred or so that I managed to take. Okay, so maybe 22 pictures is my way of over-compensating for the lack of action this week...

An attempt at a group shot at the solar panels, which does include all of us, even if it is not a great picture

The six from Young Urban Zen descending from the solar panels

Dillon and Mike cleaning in Stone 3

Conversations in the courtyard - a cherished feature of work period

The work circle disbands

Green by the zendo

I was staying in Cabin 4, which was very sweet; this is the view across the bridge to the dorm

The dining room with added sunburst

The wisteria, which was fully blooming, frames Flag Rock

There were irises everywhere - this one by the bocce court

This one was in the lower garden

These were by the bridge

Many more columbines than there used to be - this one is below the zendo

Residents cups yesterday as the coffee-tea area was being deep cleaned

The new Torii gate, just installed on the way to the memorial site. Everyone agrees that will be much photographed.

With a few clouds in the sky, the light was a little softer midweek - this is the vew over Tassajara from the solar panels

The view in the other direction, with the retreat center in the bottom corner

This was where I spent my working week; we just had time on our last day of work to make everything look untouched.

Always looking for new angles on familiar subjects. The greens got pruned back the next day

I've done this shot before, but the red was very vivid yesterday

The new bridge was back at the end of the Flats, which people were very happy about

Again, looking for interesting angles, and helped by the light at the time

Friday, April 20, 2012

Study Hall

Sometimes it might seem that Katagiri Roshi is saying the same thing over and over, but then I think it is good for us to be reminded, again and again.
"Buddha is something alive, constantly moving. Digest sitting Buddha and it becomes energy for your life. That is called faith, or confidence. This energy is not a philosophical teaching - it's within you already. How can you be one with it in your life? All you can do is constantly, steadfastly, approach to this very moment. Don't attach to your idea of yourself as either form or not-form, because both are impermanent: each appears but in the next moment it disappears. If you attach to one when it appears, you create a discrepancy between yourself and the rhythm of nature. Then when it disappears, you are confused. So just be host to time and place, and then jump in. At that time you can open your heart and meet something with true heart. That experience is called enlightenment, or awakening.
If you manifest creativity in your life, you are manifesting your complete life: form and not-form come together and work together. Where? That is your time and opportunity. When time and opportunity are working within your activity, form and not-form are dissipated, melted right in the middle of total activity. That is called beauty. It is very quiet. There is nothing to say. All you can do is be present from day to day, from moment to moment" - Each Moment is the Universe.
I will add that while I will try to be present from moment to moment today, I am also very much looking forward to heading to Tassajara tomorrow; the weather is gorgeous right now, and will make it even more beautiful if it stays like this, which it is forecast to do. It couldn't be better.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Coming And Going

There is something of a lull in the ino world right now; the only ceremony I have on my radar is a service to mark Earth Day, which we will do on Saturday morning. This gives me a chance to feel a little more settled and spacious than has been the case at times recently, and also to look at some projects that have been put aside waiting for such a time. There is of course always work to do making sure the doanryo is completely filled, the talks are uploaded and the tenken report up to date if nothing else.
Nevertheless I am also aware that I will be away next week, down at the Tassajara work period with half a dozen members of YUZ, so I am hoping to ensure I don't leave any loose ends on Saturday, and my time seems pretty tightly scheduled until then. I am also starting to firm up arrangements for my trip to England, which will happen in the second half of May, and also includes this retreat for any of you who are within range of the West Country and might be interested. After that, we are starting to plan for the next YUZ retreat at Green Gulch, so I can feel how much of me is being pulled into the future, and how crowded that can make things seem. So apologies if I don't get much more written before I leave. You can stay tuned next week though; things will appear.
The weather has been considerably varied in the past week, with the unusual occurrence of a heavy thunderstorm, as well as rain, grey skies, blue skies, warm and cold. This morning the skies looked promising:

Monday, April 16, 2012

Study Hall

"We can see the functioning of the universe in all our activities - walking, standing, sitting and sleeping - not just in zazen. When you act wholeheartedly, your activity becomes very clear, calm, flexible and magnanimous. It is boundless, and simultaneously it is you. So studying the boundlessness of activity is studying the self. This is called intimacy.
How can you know the meaning of intimacy? You cannot see it objectively because intimacy is not the result of activity; intimacy blooms right in the midst of activity itself. If you try to understand intimacy intellectually, as a concept, you never know real intimacy. Delusion and enlightenment are also concepts, but the perfect supreme state of enlightenment is completely beyond concepts. You are already enlightened, but you can never conceptually know what enlightenment is because when you think of it you create a gap between yourself and enlightenment". Katagiri Roshi kicks off the week in the right way,  from Each Moment is the Universe.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Bodhisattvas In The Making

The weather in San Francisco this week has been most varied, and it was unfortunate that yesterday was the nicest day of them all, and I had no way to get outside - the morning program segued right into setting up the Buddha Hall, lunch, rehearsal and jukai. There was a two-fold bright side to being indoors, though: first that I am fond of all four of the people who were receiving the precepts, Jim, Verna, Jay and Lauren, and secondly that I was wearing for the first time (the French have a verb for just this situation, wouldn't you know) a new light-weight kimono and jubon which had freshly arrived from Liz at Zabu Zabu, and which made a huge difference to running around on a warm afternoon, contributing materially to feeling my relaxed throughout the proceedings.
Things went smoothly and happily, and I think the photos do the best job of telling the story, as usual:

Jim with Jordan

Verna with Steve

Jay with Steve

Lauren with Paul

I like this one of Paul, which reminds me of nothing so much as Bellini's Doge.

Lauren and Jay chanting

Jim with Jordan

Verna and Jay

Verna being Verna

Steve's whisk

Friday, April 13, 2012

Harmonies Of Buddha Fields

One of the first doanryo jobs I had was as a cleaning chiden, the person who takes care of the altars so they are pristine for the morning schedule, and one of the first things I learned in that job was that altars are supposed to be symmetrical. Each altar should have a clear centre line, which typically comes down through the nose of the Buddha, Manjushri or other statue, through the incensor and kobako, and is continued through the altar furniture, on which, in most cases here,  there is detailing that makes the centre line very clear. Other elements on the altar, particularly the candle and flowers, are arranged to reflect this central symmetry, creating a harmonious whole.
Close readers of the blog will have noticed that I can be a stickler for things being in the right place, and this is more to do with my character than the job of ino; when I was tenzo I spent a lot of time tidying up trays, cutlery, and other things, keen to leave the impression that the kitchen was being taken care of. At the end of the dishwashing counter, where people would frequently leave miscellaneous items that had been through the sanitiser, I placed a sign that said,"Everything has its place, and it is not here" - not that it had much effect, though.
As a doshi, in which role you are always at the energetic centre of a room, I notice how I feel if parts of the altar are not correctly lined up, and during the service I usually endeavour to put them back in alignment. Recently I had noticed that the zendo altar did not feel right, and when I took the time to measure it, I found that the whole thing had moved a couple of inches, and was not properly centered in the space between the dividers; when I put it back, I felt much better again.
Somewhere I read, and I thought it was in a book by Eido Shimano, but I have not been able to find it again, a wonderful passage, where the teacher talks of the practice of monks taking off their shoes outside the zendo or any other place. The encouragement was to be mindful of even such commonplace actions, and the passage ended by saying, when your shoes are neatly lined up, the entire universe is functioning correctly.
As part of my musings on this, I was thinking of various translations of dukkha that we sometimes hear, beyond the basic 'suffering', and this quote from Wikipedia abundantly catches what I was wanting to articulate:
Sargeant (2009: p. 303) explains the historical roots of duḥkha and its antonym sukha:
It is perhaps amusing to note the etymology of the words sukha (pleasure, comfort, bliss) and duḥkha (misery, unhappiness, pain). The ancient Aryans who brought the Sanskrit language to India were a nomadic, horse- and cattle-breeding people who travelled in horse- or ox-drawn vehicles. Su and dus are prefixes indicating good or bad. The word kha, in later Sanskrit meaning "sky," "ether," or "space," was originally the word for "hole," particularly an axle hole of one of the Aryan's vehicles. Thus sukha … meant, originally, "having a good axle hole," while duhkha meant "having a poor axle hole," leading to discomfort.[27]
According to grammatical tradition, dukkha is derived from dus-kha "uneasy", but according to Monier-Williams more likely a Prakritized form of dus-stha "unsteady, disquieted".[28] The Sanskrit prefix 'su' is used as an emphasis suggesting wholesome, high, evolved, desirable, strong and such.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Woken Up

On Tuesday I had noticed that I was feeling pretty tetchy as the day wore on, and it continued into the morning yesterday. I paid attention to what was causing it, and came up with a few factors: apart from a couple of situations in my life that have some uncertainty in them now, which perhaps contributed a little to my unease, it mainly seemed to be due to the Wake Up event. Not the event itself, even though I knew I was going to be onstage representing Zen Center, and having to speak in front of a crowd of people. This made me a little nervous, but generally I had the sense that that part of it would go fine. It was more that people were asking me a lot of questions about details around the event, and not only did I not know the answers, as it was going to be something entirely new for us, but I realised I hadn't had given myself the time or the space to think about those kinds of questions, which made me feel incompetent, something I do not like to be perceived as. When Rosalie stepped in to say she would take care of some of those details, I immediately felt a lot better.
I also had an important meeting with Christina at the end of yesterday afternoon, which went well; I put my robes on and went straight to the zendo, just as Roger and Farnoosh had guided the ten or so visiting monks, nuns and lay followers to seats in the zendo. I felt happy to have a chance to sit with them all, and since the theme was meditation in the city in the 21st century, I was listening to the usual sounds of the zendo with an ear to that topic.
In the end, I think the event was everything we all hoped it would be: the group sang songs as we settled down in the dining room, setting a lovely tone for the evening. Members of the audience were singing along, so it was clear that other people practising in that tradition had come along. I was delighted to see at least a dozen familiar faces from Young Urban Zen, and felt very supported by their presence; the dining room was full once the panel started.
I ended up being asked to speak first on the panel, and felt that I, and Tim when he spoke, held up our end perfectly well. The two young monastics who shared on behalf of the Wake Up group, Brother Phap Chieu (aka Brother Shiny), and Sister Bội Nghiêm (True Pearl) offered very refreshing perspectives on mindfulness practices. The feeling I got from being up on the stage for that part, and the question and answer session that followed was of real heart opening, and we all agreed that it was wonderful to be sharing the dharma with each other on an occasion like this. I remember the same feeling when I spent a few weeks at Great Vow, that the opportunity to practise with sincere practitioners who do things slightly differently is a wonderful tonic that also allows you to look at your own practice anew. They offered another song at the end which served to wrap things up beautifully, and Christina suggested we end with the Pali Refuges, which, as we often note, is the closest thing we have to a song in our regular practice. I came away feeling completely grateful and uplifted, transported from where I had been a day before, and that is still in me, I am glad to say. Reactions from people today have been universally positive for the whole event, so of course we say, 'we really should do this more often'.
Being on the panel, it was not so easy to take photographs, but here are a few from before and after.

I went up on the roof before the event, and the beautiful sky helped ground me and prepare me for what I was going to say

The two communites mingled after the event

Lucy and Sister Bội Nghiêm

Lucy translated the inscription on the big bell in the Buddha Hall as we showed them around afterwards

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Wake Up

Last night's Young Urban Zen felt really sweet: several of us noticed how settled the zazen felt, very quiet and still even with more than thirty people in the space. Afterwards Eli gave a short but most thought-provoking mini way-seeking mind talk. I often notice that people start getting fidgety if they are just sitting and listening, so after some fifteen minutes of questions, I decided to try something that has been requested before, which is to split the group along gender lines. We didn't have a particular topic lined up, so I just suggested that in each group everyone took a turn to say a few words about why they had come along this evening, or, if they were regulars, what kept them coming back.
There were maybe twenty guys in the main room, and when it was my turn to speak, after half of them had already said their piece, I talked of noticing how my body was responding to the things that had been said. Many different ideas had been brought forward, but I felt so glad to be hearing of people's desire for practice and community, and happy to be a part of this offering. Unfortunately we didn't get time at the end to hear what the women had been talking about, but there seemed to be some warm feelings fostered as well.

Time for a not-unrelated naked plug: tomorrow night we are hosting monks, nuns and lay-people from the Thich Nhat Hanh lineage as part of their 2012 west coast Wake Up Tour, which is focused on bringing mindfulness to the 18-35 age group.They have posted some excerpts of their recent events here and here.We have been encouraging YUZ attendees to come along, and I invite any other reader within striking distance of San Francisco to come and support this event tomorrow evening from 7:30. The theme for the evening is meditation in the city in the 21st century. You don't have to be in that age group, but it helps.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Study Hall

It's nice to dive into Each Moment is the Universe again after a couple of weeks away from study:
"Dogen constantly emphasizes that practice is shikan. Shikan is just wholeheartedness; it is experience, so practice is experience.
Practice as experience is based on the manifestation of reality. Manifestation means the relationship between subject and object. We manifest subject and object in many ways through the six consciousnesses of sight, sound, smell, taste, touch and thought. So we can manifest practice with our mind. But practicing just with the mind is not good enough; we also have to practice with our body.
For example, if you are cooking, and you use a vegetable, if you think, 'This is a vegetable', it immediately becomes an object, something that is separate from you, and you see the vegetable in the ordinary way. But you can take a different attitude toward the vegetable. Before you consciously label the vegetable, you can touch and handle the vegetable as something more than a vegetable - Buddha - and face the vegetable in terms of timelessness with no label.  This is really the attitude we should take. This is wisdom. Then cooking is practice based on manifesting reality.
This is a very difficult practice, but with wisdom you can face the real vegetable, which is not something separate from you. Then even though your dualistic consciousness says, 'Oh, that is a vegetable', wisdom keeps you straight. So calm your dualistic consciousness and just face the vegetable. Place the vegetable right in the middle of timelessness. When you place your object, the vegetable, in the middle of timelessness, then your subject, you, is also placed in the middle of timelessness. At that time, all things come back to nothingness, emptiness, and you wake up.
But practically speaking, you cannot ignore the fact that you and the vegetable exist in everyday life. So how should you deal with a vegetable? First place the vegetable in timelessness, where carrots, cabbage and potatoes all exist with no discrimination. Then come back to everyday time, where you cannot cut a carrot the same way you cut a potato, because a carrot is a being with its own characteristics. Recognize that a carrot is a carrot and deal with your carrot without confusing it with potatoes, water, or the pan. When you deal with a carrot like this, you manifest yourself as a cook and the carrot as a particular being, but at the same time, both you and the carrot are manifested as Buddha".

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Buddha's Birthday

As long as the sun is shining, as it did today, with none of the chilly north winds that have blown in this past week, Buddha's Birthday is a colourful and fun affair. It's still hard to impress on the assembly that the essential part of circumambulation is the ambulating part, and it took a few of us acting as traffic cops to keep people moving up and down the stairs in the park, but the chanting was strong, and I think everyone got to pour sweet tea over the baby Buddha as we went around. This year we put the altar at the garden gate, where it had been in years gone by, and it looked great, as did the flower house. Easy pickings for a photographer, and I expect to see some shots on Facebook soon as well - Kate showed me the pictures she had taken at lunchtime, but also said she was going to the beach as it was such a nice day...

Rosalie was the doshi today.

Baby Buddha is in the shade under the flower house.

There is some circumambulation going on here.

No-one seemed to be in a hurry to go back to Zen Center

Friday, April 6, 2012


Kate came to find me in the courtyard at lunch, to ask if I would take a photo of the flower house being made ready for tomorrow's ceremony so she could post it to Facebook. I was happy to tell her I had already done so, as I was thinking of putting a post together on the subject.
People often come to me to say they really appreciate how much effort goes in to putting on a ceremony. Buddha's Birthday is one of the most notable in that respect, as the following photos hopefully demonstrate. You can click here to see the finished effect, or wait for a post on this year's ceremony.

A view from the roof of the flower house being worked on, and herbs and petals being gathered for the procession

Mark and Nadine helping with the flower house, each in their own way

Balloons were being blown up in the dining room

Konin and Takken working on the parasols

Daigan collected ceremonial objects in my office

Rocks and Fault Lines

It has been a fine interim week, not least because I have taken some time off, and slept an almost unprecedented amount. Today is going to be quite full as I will be setting up Buddha's Birthday which we do tomorrow - a rare conjunction with a Full Moon Ceremony as well - and taking care of some administrative stuff which I am happy to have the head space to do right now.
I haven't even mentioned the comings and goings of the week: a number of the practice period residents left after sesshin, and people have been coming up from Tassajara after their practice period finished; as so often happens, there is a feeling of flux and energy around the building.
It is always invidious to ask someone who has just been through three months of intensive monastic training, "So, how was it?" The question is hard enough to answer for a seven-day sesshin, such are the ebbs and flows of experience. This morning at breakfast with Nada, Heather and Marcia, it felt much nicer talking about specifics; somehow we got onto earthquakes and the fault lines that run close to Tassajara, and from there, a short hop to the subject of rocks, which got me reminiscing, and also thinking ahead, as I am due to go down there in a couple of weeks to work on a rock project as part of the work period, along with a small group from Young Urban Zen (they may or may not get roped into the rock part, mostly they are going to experience the place). It actually took me a while to remember some of the rock work I had done down there, then I thought of this rock, which looks pretty innocuous in photos. In fact, after I had noticed a corner of it in the creek below the courtyard cabins and decided it was worth bringing out, it took a team of seven or eight people to haul it up on the rock stretcher. I don't know if they all thought it was worth the effort, but I certainly did, partly because it is like a miniature version of the rock at Suzuki Roshi's memorial site. At the breakfast table we marveled at how much effort it must have taken to get that one up the hill.

The 'small' version

The memorial site rock