MANAWA The New Zealand Zen Journal
Mountains and Rivers Order 25 years in New Zealand
Winter 2013 |
About the Mountains and Rivers Order The Mountains and Rivers Order (MRO) is a Zen Buddhist lineage dedicated to the support of authentic and engaged spiritual practice. The Order is led by Geoffrey Shugen Arnold Sensei, abbot of the Zen Center of New York City. Zen Mountain Monastery, headed by Konrad Ryushin Marchaj Sensei, is the MRO’s main house and international training centre. Training in the MRO: The Eight Gates of Zen The Buddha’s original teaching of the Four Noble Truths culminates with the Eightfold Path – far-reaching instructions on how to put an end to our suffering. These guidelines contend that in order for spiritual practice to be genuinely transformative, it must be engaged wholeheartedly, encompassing every aspect of our lives. The MRO has developed and implemented a contemporary expression of the Buddha’s Eightfold Path called the Eight Gates of Zen, which forms the training matrix at Zen Mountain Monastery and affiliated centres. The Eight Gates of Zen are zazen, the teacher-student relationship, liturgy, art practice, body practice, academic study, work practice, and the moral and ethical teachings of Buddhism. Each programme at MRO affiliate groups is centred on zazen and revolves around one or more of these gates, demonstrating their potential to transform ourselves and every aspect of our lives. Visit www.mro.org to learn more. The Mountains and Rivers Order in New Zealand MRO teachers visit New Zealand regularly to lead workshops and intensive retreats. A powerful opportunity to engage with the Zen Buddhist tradition is provided through public talks, introductory workshops, Eight Gates retreats, and silent meditation intensives known as sesshin. For more information, visit zen.org.nz or email firstname.lastname@example.org Throughout New Zealand, ZENZ members meet regularly for zazen, intensive retreats and other activities. Zen training and guidance are offered for all those interested in the practice of Zen Buddhism. There are sitting groups in Auckland, Christchurch, Nelson, Wellington and Manawatu. See the back cover of this issue for contact details for your local group.
Manawa Manawa is the journal of the Zen Institute of New Zealand. The journal is available to all members of Zenz, the Zen Society of New Zealand, and all current financial members of associated Mountains and Rivers sitting groups throughout New Zealand. Subscribe to Manawa To receive Manawa twice a year, become a member of the Zen Institute of New Zealand by sending a cheque for $20, made out to ZENZ National: ZEN INSTITUTE OF NEW ZEALAND, Inc. PO Box 30-057, Barrington Christchurch 8244 Or make a deposit into the BNZ account of 02 0842 0152 959 003 and notify ZENZ you have joined at: email@example.com MRO Director & visiting teacher: Geoffrey Shugen Arnold, Sensei Production: Geoffrey Gensei Moore, Cameron Kito Broadhurst Proofreading & editorial assistance: Vanessa Zuisei Goddard, Shea Ikusei Settimi, Helen Yoko Gunn, Rose Chiyu McGowan, Kate Myoke Adams, Richard Barrett Manawa relies on contributions from the sangha. Please send documents and digital photos as attachments to the editors at: firstname.lastname@example.org The articles and opinions expressed herein are those of the individual writers, who are solely responsible for their content. They do not necessarily reflect the opinions, teachings or views of the Zen Institute of New Zealand, Inc. (ZENZ), Zen Mountain Monastery, or the Mountains and Rivers Order. Cover: ‘Pampas’ by Linda Hansen: lindahansen.vc.net.nz/ Manawa is printed on recycled paper at Angus Donaldson Copy Service, Christchurch
Manawa Winter 2013
DHARMA WORDS To broadly benefit the world – Geoffrey Shugen Arnold, Sensei Hold your views lightly – Jody Hojin Kimmel, Osho The gift outright – Ron Hogen Green People like us can make a difference – Gwitha Kaido Nash
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FEATURES 25th anniversary feature: student reflections on practice
CORRESPONDENCE Notes from South Korea – Tom Phillpotts A letter from Holland – Jelle Kyosei Seidel Towards a history of Zen in Aotearoa – Sally McAra
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NEWS & INFORMATION Upcoming events NZ sangha news Specials for Zenz members
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25 years of Mountains and Rivers practice in New Zealand The Mountains and Rivers Order’s presence in New Zealand began in 1988 when John Daido Loori Roshi first offered sesshins in Auckland and Nelson. Roshi, at that time the abbot of Zen Mountain Monastery in upstate New York, agreed to keep returning to New Zealand on the condition that there be a commitment from the Kiwi participants. Stepping up to the challenge, in 1991 five people undertook tangaryo (all-day sitting) and became Roshi’s formal students. Between 1988 and 2013, 25 years have elapsed and the New Zealand sangha has grown, changed and matured. Since 1999 the visiting teacher has been one of Roshi’s dharma successors, Shugen Sensei. In this issue, we’ve asked MRO students to reflect on what’s taken place over their time of Zen training, and what has been the effect of practice on their own lives and on others. Articulating this isn’t easy. “The consequences move out in all directions, beyond what we can see; beyond what we can measure,” as Shugen Sensei notes in his talk. So we appreciate the willingness of those who stepped forward to say something about Zen. We hope that the dharma words and reflections in this issue offer encouragement for your practice.
Above: Daido Roshi, Kyodo and participants from the second Auckland MRO sesshin, which was held at the Franciscan Friary in Hillsborough, Auckland, 1989.
Above: Daido Roshi and the MRO sesshin participants from Nelson, 1991. Below: Participants after the 2013 sesshin with Shugen Sensei at Glentui Meadows, Canterbury.
Gassho, Gensei and Kito Editors, Manawa
To broadly benefit the world A public talk by Geoffrey Shugen Arnold, Sensei
One of the things that makes human beings human is our ability to choose. These choices – large and small – then determine the experience and course of our life. The question is, what are these choices based in? From what ground do we move? Because of our consciousness and self-awareness, we know we are alive. We also know that we will not live forever. That can create in our hearts a sense of urgency as well as anxiety. How we each respond to the reality of life and death has profound consequences, not only on our own lives, but on the influence we have on the world. An eighth century Chinese master, Tung-shan, was taking leave of his teacher, Nanyuan. Nanyuan parted with him by saying, “As you go, deeply examine the Buddhadharma, and broadly benefit the world.” Tungshan said, “I understand ‘deeply examine the Buddhadharma,’ but what is it to ‘broadly benefit the world’?” Nanyuan said, “Do not disregard a single being.” The Buddha in his lifetime made a choice which had profound consequences that include us coming together tonight. On a certain day in his twenty-ninth year, he walked through the doors of his home – leaving behind his wife, child, family and people – and went into a wilderness. He abandoned all that is normally understood as good in a human life, including wealth, love, and an important role to play within his home and community. He left because he did not find these things satisfying; he could not find satisfaction within that life. He left and began seeking an answer to the question, “How am I to live this life?” He didn’t leave to become a great teacher, or to start a world religion, or to be venerated as an enlightened being. He left for very personal reasons. He needed to know. We see the consequences of his choice and that action; how many people did that affect in his time and over the course of time? How could we measure such a thing? We see other people who come from similar places of advantage who make very different choices. We see people – and we are among them – who live in different circumstances and who make different choices, some of which are beneficial to people, and others of which can be very harmful. The consequences of those actions move out in all directions, beyond what we can see; beyond what we can measure. Given that, the question of how to live this life is, from a Buddhist perspective, paramount. What the Buddha realised is that we all have a tremendous
influence in this world. We don’t recognise it for the most part. We usually look at people who hold high positions, who wield political power, economic power or star power, as the ones with great influence. But the Buddha said that all of us make choices and conduct our lives in ways that constantly influence others; and we are, in turn, influenced by everyone around us. Those influences are unmeasurable but very real. What the Buddha wanted to understand was why it is so difficult for us to live in harmony with each other. Looking round at the non-human world, animate and inanimate, everything seems to work fairly well. Everything seems to work within a natural order, a kind of natural intelligence. When imbalance occurs, left alone balance will return. The systems are self-regulating and self-intelligent. Yet we, with our considerable intelligence, our impressive creative talents, our ability to make connections and associations to find meanings in things – we struggle greatly. The Buddha wanted to understand why this is so and, importantly, is there a way to live freely, harmoniously and peacefully. When Nanyuan says, “Deeply examine the Buddhadharma,” he’s referring to examining fundamental truths; truths that are not made of a human mind. They’re not made of constructive 3
doesn’t ignore or negate our intellectual capacities, but it recognises that those capacities are limited because they work in the realm of our perceptions; what we study normally is what we can observe and measure. Because we perceive the world with our senses, we know there is a world. We see it, we hear it, taste it, touch it, think it. If those senses were absent, the world would disappear for us. And through those senses, we experience things that are basically affirming of who we think we are. We find some things pleasurable, and we want to hold on to them and keep them close at hand. We want them to be permanently present. Those things that don’t support our identity – which threaten or challenge it, which cause pain – we feel averse to, and we want to move away from them. The Buddha said that this basic mode of being permeates every
The Buddha simply discovered them and taught about them. Nanyuan instructed his disciple to deeply study the Buddhadharma – these fundamental truths – because these are the truths by which we can live our lives, and through which our lives become liberated from suffering. But how do we thoroughly examine our life? The Buddha Way is, through and through, a path of inquiry, but it’s a different kind of study than many of us are used to. Usually when we hear “study” we think of reading, reflecting, gaining an intellectual grasp, making a connection to other things, learning from what others have understood, and adding our own understanding to that. But to “deeply examine” is different. It’s a study which
single perception that we experience. Now, some of those responses are quite easy to observe. Likewise, certain consequences of grasping and aversion can be obvious. But the greater part of it is subtle – in large part because we’re so accustomed to it. The Buddha, in his own realisation, observed, “This dharma which I have seen is subtle and difficult to see: it cannot be experienced by the senses.” The path of examination he taught is dependent on the practice of meditation, and in the Zen tradition and many of the other schools of Buddhism, that focus on meditation remains paramount. Through meditation practice we turn our attention inward, very directly, to the present moment. The Buddha said if we want to discover undivided truth, we
thoughts, philosophical thinking, or the product of personal views. They’re direct truths that are borne out in the world around us and that are accessible to all of us if we look carefully. These truths have no boundary. They’re ultimate because they reach everywhere. They are each one of us. They cannot be given to us, and they cannot be taken away. They’re true because they’re true at all times and all places: consider the fact that people who feel drawn to Buddhist teachings can read the words of the Buddha from 2500 years ago, uttered by a person from a very different time and culture, and understand them. They’re as modern as they can be. They’re perfectly relevant to us. That points to the universality of those truths. In fact they’re so timeless that you don’t have to be a Buddhist to understand them. They don’t “belong” to Buddhism.
have to be intimate with that ultimate truth itself, which is always – and only – here and now. The breath, which is our focus of meditation in the beginning, is the perfect doorway to enter the truth the Buddha spoke of. Our breath is always completely in the present. You can’t breathe “before” and you can’t breathe “after”. Now, we all experience occasions of being aware in the moment. Perhaps you’re listening to me right now. Or your awareness may be moving in and out: you get the first part of a sentence, but you don’t get the rest. Or maybe you haven’t heard anything – which means that you’re not hearing what I’m saying right now. And this is what normally happens in our life. Even with things that are important to us, our attention wavers. But at least in those fleeting moments we have some experience of being present. The Buddha said that that’s true and it’s important, but there’s much much more than that. Compared to our potential, we have only really experienced the present moment as a passing breeze. But it’s a beginning. What the Buddha realised in his enlightenment was a most profound experience of what we call the present -- which is not the word. In Buddhism we speak of it as “suchness”: the totality of this moment which is experienced without any mental construction. In fact it’s so complete that there’s no past and no present. It’s so unified that there’s no perceiver and nothing perceived. There’s no distance; there’s no separation. It’s interesting that in all the great religions there’s a recognition of the distress of life. As Henry David Thoreau said, “Most people lead lives of quiet desperation.” Our world religions teach that “quiet desperation” arises from distance or separation from some basic principal: whether God, grace, the earth, or truth in some manner. The Buddha also said that this is true. But he taught that the most important quality of our sense of separation is that it is an illusion. It’s not true, has never been true, and can never be true because our fundamental nature is undivided. He realised that all along the way there’s been no permanent, essential being that we can identify as “me” or “you”. When the Buddha realised that directly he was liberated from all of his suffering. This is very curious to us, because we think that it’s our identity which makes everything worthwhile. The Buddha said, “No, that’s the illusion.” He said that everything in fact works perfectly, but for that sense of separation. That’s what gums up the works. That’s why there’s human suffering. That’s why we go to war. That’s why there is inequity and injustice. Buddhist meditation is directly encountering or meeting that fundamental truth of the present moment which liberates us from the mistaken idea of separation and of a self. Now, what do we do
about the world, though? Realising that that self is empty of fixed identity, it might seem that life would appear meaningless. In actual experience, what happens is that everything becomes meaningful, but in a different kind of way: not because we have attached meaning to it, but because in itself it has virtue. The thirteenth century Zen master Eihei Dogen said, “Everything always covers the ground on which it stands. Everything completely fulfills its own virtue.” Nothing is inherently lacking. What Buddhism teaches, and what we find for ourselves, is that the human sense of insufficiency – “I am lacking. That’s why I’m unhappy, and so I need to find that thing that will fill that void” – that thought is creating my identity and leads to the pursuit of desires, whether it be through relationship or family, work etc. But when we accomplish those things, satisfaction is fleeting. As soon as you’ve climbed one mountain, you have to start seeking for the next one, because the sense of aliveness, or elation or accomplishment, or whatever we’ve been seeking, is present, but then fades. Then we have to look for the next thing to attain or acquire. The Buddha said “This is what we call samsara.” He said it never ends, and we will fail to find fulfilment through this kind of activity. Such failure is inherent in the system, because the system is based on the illusory idea that we are fundamentally insufficient and lacking. The very act of seeking something outside to find fulfilment fails, because it doesn’t have the capacity to fulfil, because we are not inherently lacking a single atom. But saying that doesn’t really change the experience that we have. Even if the Buddha were here and said it with great confidence, we might want to believe it, we may actually believe it to a degree, but on a deeper level we wouldn’t, because we’d think, “If that were true, I wouldn’t be experiencing my life this way.” And so we go looking outward again. That’s why the meditation process is so important. In a sense, it sidesteps all of what I’ve described and goes right into the heart of the matter, so that we can experience that completeness for ourselves. But in going very deep within ourselves we have to be careful that that doesn’t blind us to the rest of our lives. In other words, sometimes people are practising, and they’re so focused on the breath, they’re so intent on their concentration, that they’re ignoring things that are arising from within which are calling out to them, and which need to be examined deeply in a particular kind of way: not analytically, not therapeutically (though that can have value), but in a very direct way, through bare awareness. They’re ignoring that because they’re “being present in the moment” – except they’re not, actually. They’re calling that being present, but in fact they’re pushing what’s present in the moment away. They’ve turned their meditation into 5
what they might do at other times of their life, and the results will be the same. Do you understand? Being very present within the moment means “to not disregard a single thing”. That means everything outside of ourselves, and everything inside ourselves. Buddhism doesn’t really differentiate, it just regards all that we perceive, inner and outer, as objects: whether they’re mental objects, emotions, feelings, memories, or whether they’re what we would call tangible, concrete objects. It’s all considered phenomena. Buddhist practice, from the very start, teaches us not to disregard a single thing through being very present to the moment. And through that, we develop a capacity to be focused and concentrated and therefore powerfully aware of right here, and at the same time to have a very spacious, open awareness to everything around us – even that which we can’t see. One of the interesting things about meditation in our tradition is that when we sit, we sit with the eyes lowered but open. And we say, in our instruction, that that has practical value. It helps you to stay awake, so you don’t get sleepy; it helps you to learn how to continue your awareness when you get off your cushion (you’re not as thrown as you’d be if you’d only experienced quieting of the mind with your eyes shut); and it helps to prevent the inclination to see meditation as a retreat or an escape from life. But it also teaches us from the beginning how not to disregard a single thing. It teaches how to be very very focused with an undivided awareness on the breath, and at the same time be completely open to everything that’s happening; to be outwardly and inwardly focused simultaneously. And so to deeply examine the Buddhadharma – this life, this person, this world, time, action and consequence – and within that to broadly benefit the world; in other words to have our life be of benefit not only to ourselves but to everyone; to actually realise our influence on the world, and to participate with eyes open. Because we’re already participating. You can’t get out of that. It’s not really an option and never was. Given that, the question for Buddhists is, “What is the influence that we’re having?” When we think, speak and act out of greed, anger and ignorance, then the results of those actions will be more greed, continuing anger and a deeper ignorance. But when that fundamental sense of who we are is realised, when we’re enlightened to our original nature and liberated from the limitations of our constructed sense of self, then what happens? In realisation, all of those inner beings – our fear, anger, hesitation, lack of confidence – having been regarded and understood deeply, are liberated. Greediness becomes generosity. Anger becomes compassion. Delusion becomes enlightenment. Even to say “becomes” is too much. Too much activity. Too much of a sense of transformation from
one thing to another. It’s more akin to turning a light on in a room that has been obscured by darkness. In that illumination you see everything vividly. You understand things just as they are, just as they’ve always been. And now you can be in this room and see it in its full splendour, and not bump into anything any more. In other words your capacity to navigate this place harmoniously is now effortless. But nothing’s actually changed. People are the same; the objects are the same; the structures are the same. You’re the same, most importantly. There is no actual transformation. You haven’t become someone else, and you haven’t got rid of anything: it’s just illuminating what was difficult to see. The analogy’s imperfect because there is no switch to turn on. We are already endowed with the capacity to see clearly, but because of the way we have been conditioned to see, and because of the way our minds habitually work, we have to, in a sense, shed those obscuring conditions. Buddhist practice is how we do that. It’s a practice that is very accessible, in a sense. Anyone can do it, given a reasonably healthy body and mind and the desire to do so. Because it’s universal it can be practised by anyone, whether you’re a Buddhist or not. But it has to be practised genuinely. It has to be done in accord with the truth that one is actually seeking. And so that’s why, within the history of Buddhism, there are teachers, there are traditional ways of training, there are communities that we practice with to guide us, to aid us, to support us in our own path. The intention of that support is that we deeply examine the dharma, the world, this person, this life, and broadly benefit the world. So what we’re talking about is awakening wisdom and manifesting a compassion that’s based in the realisation of who we are, where "we" is everything in this great world. Master Dogen said, “In enlightenment, the body and mind is free of self and other.” In other words, the limited notions of who we think we are become liberated in our own case and in how we know others. In the Buddha’s own enlightenment, he realised that everyone is actually liberated. Everyone is endowed with this original nature. Even if we don’t realise this, even if we don’t practice, that doesn’t change that fact at all. And yet the consequences on how we experience life, on how we seek to benefit the world, may be very different. But these are somewhat difficult things to understand and even more difficult to experience. That is why meditation is so essential to this path. Shugen Sensei is the head of the Mountains and Rivers Order, and the abbot of the Zen Center of New York City. This talk was offered at CPIT in Christchurch in January 2013.
Hold your views lightly A dharma talk by Jody Hojin Kimmel, Osho Once upon a time in the city of Shravasti lived a king. One day the king asked his servant to round up a group of blind men to introduce them to an elephant by touch, to learn what it was like. Each one felt a different part, but only one part – such as the tusk or the foot or the ear. When the blind men had each felt a part of the elephant, the king went to each of them and said, “Well, blind man, what have you seen? Have you seen the elephant? Tell me, what sort of thing is an elephant?” Each answered according to their own experience, saying, in turn, the elephant was like a pot (the one who felt the elephant’s head); a winnowing basket (the one who felt the ear); a ploughshare (the one who felt the tusk); a plough (the one who felt the trunk); a grainery (the one who felt the body); a pillar (the one who felt the foot); a mortar (the one who felt the back); a pestle (the one who felt the tail); and a brush (the one who felt the tip of the tail). – From the Pali Cannon’s Kudaka Nikaya, Udaya 68-69
to defend ourselves. Savory expletives just come shooting out: “What the??!” “I never said…” We go off. But thanks to practice, I allowed her words to come in. Soon after, I shared the letter with Shugen Sensei, and he sent me an article on unmasking micro-aggression, a very interesting piece. There are many sides to it. The article says, “Some racism is so subtle that neither victim nor perpetrator entirely understand what is going on, which may be especially toxic for people of colour... Microaggressions hold their power because they are invisible, and therefore they don’t allow us to see the way our actions and attitudes may be discriminatory.” This term first came up in the 70s. The writer breaks it down into micro-assaults, micro-insults, and micro-invalidations. When I read this article, I thought about this young Asian-American man I went to school with. People would always ask him, “Where are you from?” I would have thought, “It’s nothing, a question like this. I’m from Philly. No big deal.” But he always felt like a foreigner in his own homeland. This question, from his perspective and his karma – it was a very different thing. For him, it was a bit of an assault – very micro. We do this to each other; we have these very subtle points of view that are engrained or conditioned. It gets that refined. I called the woman who wrote the letter, and I told her, “I can’t go back all those years.” But I did take responsibility. I said, “I thank you for your letter, because I do want to understand what I’m doing with my actions.” I could say to her, “As best as I know myself, I do not want to hurt you at all, but I might have, and I take responsibility for that.” And we had a very nice conversation after that, and
Imagine being in the dark and you have one part of this creature to touch. Somebody asks you, “Have you seen the elephant?” You just have that one part that you felt. You answer in accord with your perceptions, your experience. But what is this view that you’re speaking from? Can you be sure that you’re speaking from the totality? Most often, we don’t even question. We have a little part, and we think that we’ve seen it all. At least that’s what I do. Having a little piece, I may talk like I know it all. “I’m sure.” Society encourages us to be very “sure” about things. But with just this one piece, there’s truly a deficit, a lack of information. Yet we’ll form this rigid opinion without even bringing it into inquiry. Without the real vulnerability of “not so sure”. The Buddha presses us to answer a question: do we respect the opaqueness or inexpressibility of the nature of the truth? Do we have respect for different perspectives, or do we hold our view? If so, do we hold it lightly, or do we grasp at it tenaciously? Why are views best held lightly? One reason I was working on this was that I received a letter from a woman in the sangha. She wrote that, several years ago while she was in residency, I looked at her and spoke with her in a way that was racist. She felt hurt. I watched my mind and body reactions carefully as I read her letter, because so often we may react and start 7
I hope to see her again. Another time, years ago, I was doing “office shift” at the monastery during sesshin, a week-long silent retreat. At the end of my shift, a call came in just as I was about to leave. I debated whether or not to take it. It was a long order for store products at Dharma Communications. I started to worry that I was going to be late for service in the zendo, but I stayed with the caller and finished the order. Then I hopped on my bike and was riding like the witch from The Wizard of Oz, feeling
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a very big inconsiderate action. This is why it is so critical to stop and examine, bring awareness to the situation. Practice gives us that ability to stop and to begin again. We can study and feel what is happening and take responsibility, and make these small changes. Incidentally, I wasn’t late for service! In the Aggi-Vacchagotta Sutta the Buddha cautions Vacchagotta, the wanderer, against adhering to the thicket of views – forming opinions one way or another about a variety of metaphysical topics. The Buddha tells Vacchagotta that any position he might take is “a thicket of views”, “a wilderness of views”, “a forest of views”, “a writhing of views”, “a fetter of views”. Such views are accompanied by suffering and do not lead to disenchantment, dispassion, or cessation; to calm, direct knowledge, or full awakening. Anyone can have opinions, right? They come cheap. Ask me for one – I probably have a million. It’s fun to have opinions, right? And it’s impossible not to form them. The question is whether or not it’s possible to refrain from being overly attached to them. What does this require? There must be something so important that the Buddha wants us to learn here about our views and our positions. We hear it from other teachers as well, such as the Korean master Seung Sahn. One of the books he wrote is Open Mouth Already a Mistake. He was famous for admonishing students to only keep “don’t know” mind. Suzuki Roshi, in Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, implored us to take our opinions lightly. Master Bankei in the 1600s advised “not to side with ourselves.” Nagarjuna said, “Since I affirm nothing, no one can refute my point.” In The Platform Sutra, Huineng writes about not binding our thoughts. He says, “Thoughts themselves are not binding. They are bound by someone.” In one version of the story, after the blind men feel the separate parts of the elephant, they compare notes, learn that they’re in complete disagreement, and a hot argument ensues about the appearance of the elephant. The men cannot agree with one another and they come to blows over the question of what it’s like. The Buddha told this story in response to a conflict between many teachers in different traditions living in the same vicinity. Not only did
separate from time – worried, annoyed. I saw a car pull in, and two women got out of the car at the garden. Another delay! I thought. My mind started moving: Who do they think they are? I said, “Hello! HELLOOOOO!!!” They didn’t even turn. They are totally ignoring me, I thought. I got off my bike feeling armed and ready. I got closer, and one of them turned around and signed to me, saying, “We’re deaf. You have such a beautiful garden.” Her eyes, her face, were so giving and loving. It hit me like a ton of bricks and melted away this view that I was carrying. I realized this could have become 8
they have differing views, opinions, and beliefs, but they also depended on those differences for their livelihood. It may not surprise us to hear that they lived quarrelling, arguing, disputing, and stabbing each other with verbal daggers. Does any of this sound familiar? Have you ever watched a political debate on TV? “The elephant is like this, not like that.” “The dharma is like this, not like that.” The king was so amused, so entertained by the fighting blind men, because he knew in himself this tendency to defend what belonged to him and attack what belonged to others. This is regarded by the Buddha as the root cause of the suffering that we inflict upon ourselves and others. It’s one thing to disagree with someone else, but it’s entirely different to have a disagreement become fuel to stoke our fire of greed, anger and ignorance. According to the Buddha, our differences don’t need to escalate into stabbing each other, casting daggers in our speech, and worse. It becomes profoundly unhealthy. There’s this primal aggression that kicks in once our territory has to be defended. The impulses of a self take over, and the original dispute is lost. We need to debate; it’s healthy. We need to have differences; that’s healthy. But when this impulse of the self takes over, and we start to defend ourselves, aggrandise ourselves, we’ll go after anything we see that is not in agreement with our personal view. The problem is not with the content of the idea, but with the process of how we deal with it. The solution is to be found in how we hold our beliefs. We can have beliefs. But do we hold them lightly? The key to harmony is learning how to differ in opinions without engaging in the fatal move of thinking only this is true and everything else is wrong, or I’m right so that makes you wrong. Most issues are complex, and we all have different perspectives. Our viewpoints come from a limited range of experience; we are unlikely to embrace the whole. When I was on the web the other day, reading about American politics, I noticed that anyone and everyone can be a public critic of anything on the web – even Buddhists. Some of the opinions I read by Buddhists were among the worst actually, because along with the opinion, the dharma was thrown in. It’s like a long, drawn-out shootout – an eruption of opinions. As I was working on this issue of opinions, the Faith Mind Poem presented its wisdom to me. It’s a work by the Third Ancestor, Sengcan. The first stanzas read:
Make the smallest distinction however, And heaven and earth are set apart. If you wish to see the truth, Then hold no opinions for or against anything. To set up what you like against what you dislike is the disease of the mind. When the deep meaning of things is not understood, The mind’s essential peace is disturbed to no avail. In order to seek, we first need to have an idea, or an ideal, or an image of what we’re seeking. That idea may not even be very conscious or clear, but it’s there in order for us to begin to seek. But because it’s an idea, it can’t be what’s real. That’s why Sengcan says, “Only cease to cherish opinions.” “Opinions” means our ideas, our ideals, our beliefs, as well as our personal opinions. It sounds easy, but it’s rarely as easy as it seems. This teacher is not saying that you should never have a thought in your head. He’s saying not to cherish the thoughts in your heads. What is it to “cherish”? To me, it implies a sort of emotional attachment and holding on to. When you cherish something, you place value on it because you think it’s real, or because it defines who you think you are. This cherishing of thoughts and opinions is what the false self thrives on; it’s what the false self is made of. When we realise that none of our ideas about truth are real, it’s quite a shock. If our practice works, it begins to dismantle those cherished thoughts. That’s why it’s so painful. We love our thoughts and ideas and beliefs. We cherish them, and when they start to be dismantled by a teacher or a sangha member or life itself, it’s a big blow to the system. Hopefully we don’t just stop there. What am I seeing? What’s the pain? What’s the suffering? This is why zazen and inquiry are critical, at least for those who want to understand what the Buddha meant by “right view”, the first step on the Noble Eightfold Path of freedom. Right view is seeing things as they are. It starts with that mindfulness – allowing us to see what our views, ideas, and beliefs are. Then comes the inquiry. In zazen, we begin to see that our struggles and difficulties arise very clearly. They’re not random, accidental, or mysterious. Early on in my sitting, I used to think that stuff was “coming at me” in some way. But it wasn’t random. We have to see that there’s a whole stream of conditioning, that we’re an amalgam of that conditioning and we don’t even know it. That’s what we have to work with. That’s what’s appearing. Thoughts arise because of our attachments. It’s exactly this picking and choosing, pulling towards, pushing away, holding on and rejecting – these are what create all the difficulties.
The great way is not difficult For those who have no preferences. When love and hate are both absent, Everything becomes clear and undisguised. 9
Reality is not something that you integrate into your personal view of things. Reality is life without our distorting stories, ideas and beliefs. It is perfect unity, free of reference points, with nowhere to stand and nothing to grab hold of. It has never been spoken, never been written, never been imagined. It is not hidden; it is in plain view. It’s not that there are no such things as facts, reality, or truths. It’s just that reality is more slippery,
and noting a thought that was causing me pain. I said to myself, I don’t have to have that thought. I don’t have to create that thought. It was such a revelation – I didn’t have to suffer. I didn’t have to believe that thought. Belief was the problem. I was having that thought, and then I was believing and attaching to it. My attachment was making me suffer, and when I didn’t attach, I didn’t suffer. It was really simple. The Dalai Lama brings this up – suffering is optional. Shugen Sensei wrote this, “We think that the human condition is a life of toil and confusion. It sounds so factual and unavoidable: slip into it, grit your teeth, get on with it. But is that a human condition, or is that the conditioned human? The self-created self is my view, my thoughts, my feelings, my perspectives, my rights, my wrongs, my pain, my woes, my stories. Mine, mine, mine, mine. When does it end? When love and hate are both absent, the way is clear and undisguised. When the self-created self is freed – in other words when we no longer trap our thoughts.” True awakening will not fit into the world as we imagine it, or the self you imagine yourself to be.
nuanced, and multifaceted than we’re able to capture in our net of words. And the deepest meanings elude language altogether. When you think about the deepest things that have touched you – is it in words? Not often. Alan Watts used to joke that his business was “effing the ineffable.” So let’s practice to cease from cherishing opinions and see what is before our very eyes.
I remember clearly, when I was at college in Wichita, Kansas, a monk came and offered a class in meditation. A friend asked if I wanted to go receive beginning instruction. I had no idea what that meant, but I said “sure”. Having received the instruction on sitting, I went home and started to do zazen in my room. It felt so weird. Am I doing this right? I was looking at the wall and counting. I remember, after some time, coming out of zazen
The more you talk and think about it, The further astray you wander from the truth. Stop talking and thinking And there is nothing you will not be able to know. And remember Buddha’s famous words, “If it were not possible, I wouldn’t ask you to do it.” Hojin Kimmel is a Zen priest in the Mountains and Rivers Order and the Training Coordinator at Zen Mountain Monastery. In July 2013 she is in New Zealand to lead an intensive week of zazen (sesshin), and a one-day workshop on the Zen Arts.
The gift outright by Ron Hogen Green Something we were withholding made us weak, Until we found out that it was ourselves. We were withholding from our land of living, And forthwith found salvation in surrender. – From “The Gift Outright” by Robert Frost Our perspectives are conditioned, and I’m certain that we’ll continue to encounter our conditioning as a prominent feature of how we experience this world. But sometimes in the nitty gritty moments of life, when something important is at stake, we’re able to shift our perspective, and our life changes. Two weeks ago I was in Danville, Pennsylvania, crossing the main street on the way to jury duty. Right opposite the court house a car came round the corner and nailed me – launched me through the air. I lost my shoes and the backpack I was wearing, and was thrown to the ground. Many of us have experienced this kind of abrupt, traumatic event. I was aware of it happening very quickly, and yet everything seemed to unfold in slow motion. As I was flying through the air, two thoughts came up for me: “Don’t hit your head,” and “Try not to be under the car.” And then I was on the ground. The car struck me in the posterior left hip. I lay on the street knowing I was not mortally wounded and hadn’t broken anything badly. I was definitely stunned, but I still had my plans for the day. “I really need to get up on my way, and go into the court room for jury duty.” But I couldn’t. I couldn’t move, and I went into a mild state of shock. This happened in front of several people and close to a major hospital; there were two nurses on their way to work who assessed me and took care of me. Thirty seconds before, I had been crossing the street, confident, in control, knowing where I was going – knowing what this day would be; and the next day and the next day. In a sense my life was at my beck and call. And now here I was lying on the ground, with a lot happening around me as people assessed my state. Something had to change. I realised I had to shift. I realised that I was not in control; that what I needed to do was let go; let the sequence of events happen as they would. And that’s what I did. I gave up. I surrendered. And from there the ambulance came, the board came out, they immobilised me, I was taken to the emergency room, they contacted my son – and on and on and on. Other than a remarkable bruise on my butt, and some soft tissue damage to my shoulder, it turned out I was OK.
We go through life with assumptions of who we are and what’s happening. We set this up perfectly for ourselves, moment after moment. We do it to get what we want or avoid what we don’t want; or we do it to avoid what we want, and get what we don’t want – depending on our psychology and self-understanding. Our habitual perspectives are self-reflective and self-protective, in ways both obvious and subtle. Given that, how do we see clearly? We do Zen meditation, zazen, to be free, or at least see into the set of assumptions we have about who we are, what our life is, and how we understand what we’re doing. But to really do that completely we must look at zazen itself as an object of our conditioning. We all “know” zazen. We’ve received instruction, we’ve experienced it, and we have an internal perspective of what our relationship to zazen is; a feel of it, if you will. There is on some level an understanding of how we work it, and work with it. So, there we are, crossing the street in Danville. It is laid out. But how much of zazen do we know? How much of what we know about the bedrock of Zen – our sitting practice – arises out of projection, protection, fear or desire? The same question applies to our life as a whole. We may have a confident and clear sense of who we are – or perhaps we’re not so confident about that – and yet we’re confident of our lack of confidence. We may have a sense of what motivates us, but how much room is there for “not knowing”? We can play with the idea of it as a mystery. We can say, “I don’t know anything about zazen.” That in itself can be a way of fixing it in place. We never know how we’re going to react in 11
of the Buddha ancestors. He is pointing to the fundamental investigation that lies at the heart of awakening, and to the fundamental aspiration to practice the enlightenment of the Buddha ancestors. He points at this way of how to do this. But he invites us to question from endless perspectives – so much so that after a while we begin to understand that the point of zazen is not the thought of realisation, which after all is an idea in our head,
we cross the street, or any other activity. But if we don’t separate the world of zazen from any other worlds, then there are no other worlds. If we’re completely in zazen, there is only zazen. When that happens, the mind of zazen is the mind of intimacy. It’s the practice of being intimate. You can understand zazen in many ways, from many perspectives, including the zazen of not sitting on a meditation mat. Do we separate sitting practice from other worlds? Dogen is pushing that perspective. To me, that’s an interesting question. Do we separate being intimate and our attempt to be intimate here in the zendo, from when we’re not here? Dogen is taking up zazen – zazen samadhi, the “King of Samadhis” – as a practice, as a way of “transcending the world directly”, as a means of clarifying what zazen is, and how it differs from other approaches. He says that in doing it we activate the aspiration, practice and nirvana
but a complete devotion to the investigation of the question itself. So what is the question? I’ll take a shot and answer it: the question is zazen. Our very body and mind sitting zazen is the question. Dogen continues, “Study the world at the very moment of sitting. Is it vertical or horizontal? At the very moment of sitting, what is sitting?” He instructs us to investigate zazen in every possible way, and then he tells us how: “Sit in the body’s meditation posture; sit in the mind’s meditation posture”. I understand this to mean that the question is the investigation of zazen, and the answer is the investigation of zazen. Is there a goal? Where are we going with this practice? I’m reminded of Zen Master Bankei. His teaching was, “Realize the unborn.” That’s it. Just realize here, now. Usually when I hear this kind of pointing I get frustrated. “Realize it right now”, he’s saying. I would if I could, but I don’t know how. You’re telling me to
Rotoiti sesshin, July 2011
a given situation, no matter what happened in the past. How does that statement apply to your next breath in zazen? Is it possible that we don’t know what is coming? Dogen writes, “Know that the world of sitting practice is far different from other worlds.” If, in sitting, we separate the world of sitting practice from other worlds, his statement is true. We’re here sitting, and this is different from what we do when
realize it now, and I’m lost. But maybe I’m not lost enough. At a critical point in my practice I got Bankei’s words and I knew that, as Frost put it, something I was withholding was making me weak, and I found out it was myself. Bankei’s teaching does actually make sense. Whatever I contrive – ideas, mindmovements, a sense of enlightenment, samadhi, achievement, compassion – is let go of. Every bit of practice, Zen, thought, is allowed to be free. Nothing is withheld. What’s left? Dogen says, “To transcend the world directly, to manifest the magnificence of the Buddha ancestors’ house, this is sitting in the meditation posture. To leap over the heads of outsiders and demons and become a true person inside the Buddha ancestors’ room, this is sitting in the meditation posture. Thus Buddha ancestors practise this way without needing to do anything else.” What are we actually doing when we do zazen? Here’s one answer: we’re entering into complete openness; radical acceptance; self-and-other radical acceptance. By “radical” I mean unlimited. Nothing rejected, nothing blocked, nothing held on to, no mental reservation, no striving. Just as it is, moment to moment. There is no condensing, or creating a core, yet no denial. The sun is straight overhead, and the world is without shadow. This doesn’t mean license to do whatever jumps into our heads. I’m talking about no boundary. I’m talking about not making a wall, whereby we cease to be good neighbours to ourselves. To come forth into life, including its suffering, shadows, grief, pain and endless emotional facets. Every permutation is the invitation to radical, unlimited acceptance. The teaching from the Buddha that has been most relevant to me is this: holding on to anything is suffering. Holding on is a “no” to our inherent, awakened life. And I find this fascinating, because as I live longer everything I hold on to gets challenged and changes: my marriage, the long-term relationships I have, all possessions, my physicality, my health, everything I hold dear. You can dismiss that as a truism: “OK, everything changes.” But that’s not how I’m receiving it. To me, I’m holding on and it still changes. And holding on when it changes hurts. It really hurts. Any final perspective or conclusion that I have about anything in my life has to be let go of. And so I ask, “Where is my home?” Where, actually, is the “land of living” referred to by Frost? We chant the Heart Sutra, which says that form is emptiness and emptiness is form. That teaching is a response to Shariputra asking the question that we all face: if the basis of the Buddha’s teaching is to abide in unconditioned openness to our inherent wisdom, how do we do this? The answer is offered by Avalokiteshvara, the Great Bodhisattva of
Compassion. Please don’t miss that point. She says, “Form is emptiness, emptiness is form.” Everything, every dharma, every object, physical and mental, is simply what it is before we project, before we overlay. What do we project? Our ideas, our thoughts, our karma, our notions, our certainty, our agenda, our ignorance, our conditioning, our sense of permanence, our entire life history. Yet none of that is form. What is form before the mind seizes the form and creates out of that seizing? It is the immediate, direct experience, and it has nothing to do with “me”. Or to put it another way, all of it is me. The form is formless, unless we overlay it. We could say it’s empty, since there’s no projection even of a form, nor anyone to project. If this were all there was, and we realized this, beyond the words of it, we might be free of suffering, but no one else would. But “emptiness is form.” Every object, person, quality of sensation, quality of suffering, is present as it is, and as we encounter it we’re challenged to live as bodhisattvas. Why as bodhisattvas? Because all these forms, as they are, are myself and yourself, just as we are. Because we are this unconditioned reality that is before us. “Form is empty. Emptiness is form” is us. This is both sides, as our life, as the unity of our life. The bodhisattva way acknowledges that all forms are present as the unity of emptiness, and this unity is all forms. Experiencing this to whatever degree we can, we find salvation in surrender. There is no final attainment, no final answer, nowhere to go, no place to be – and we are home. We don’t need to be afraid any longer. Home is who and where we are. “Thus the Bodhisattva lives Prajnaparamita, with no hindrance in the mind; no hindrance, therefore no fear.” We can walk into the world, doing our best. We can sit in zazen, doing our best – whatever that is. We can do all this, because we’re home. Hogen Green is a dharma holder in the Mountains and Rivers Order. He began his Zen practice in the 1970s, and served as a monastic at Zen Mountain Monastery for many years, before returning to lay practice in 2007.
People like us can make a difference by Gwitha Kaido Nash During the shuso hossen talk, the new chief disciple says, “I feel like a mosquito trying to bite an iron bull.” In speaking before you today, I still feel like that mosquito. But as Shunryu Suzuki says in Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, “Just begin. Then continue.” This talk is called, “People like us can make a difference.” Some of you will recognise that line. It’s the title of Pema Chodron’s introduction to her commentary on Shantideva. Her book is called No Time to Lose: a timely guide to the Way of the Bodhisattva. Shantideva’s original work is The Bodhisattva’s Way of Life, or The Way of the Bodhisattva. There is a monastic at Zen Mountain Monastery called Kaijun. For people who don’t know her, she used to live in Auckland, and then in Nelson at Riverside Community. When she met Daido in the early 1990s, she quickly decided she was going to go to Zen Mountain Monastery and be a monk. Apart from a short trip back to New Zealand a few years ago, she’s been there ever since. The day before I left the monastery last year, Kaijun asked me to come up to her room. She said she had something to give me. She always takes a friendly, motherly interest in the Kiwi students who turn up at ZMM. And as many of you know, her pension goes into an account called the Travel Fund, which helps many New Zealand students get to the States to practice. I went into Kaijun’s room, and she had a copy of the book by Pema Chodron to give me. She said, “I think you’ll enjoy this translation much better.” She’s been right. I’ve found it much more accessible than other versions, and it’s opened up Shantideva to me in a new way. Just how do people like us make a difference? How do we change our lives from ones of “quiet desperation”, as Thoreau said, to the kinds of lives that Pema Chodron outlines in No Time to Lose? One of my favourite books is by an English author called George Eliot: Middlemarch. Eliot describes a female character called Dorothea. She’s 19 at the beginning of the novel, and she wants to live a spiritually heroic life. She wants to make big changes in the world. And through the story Eliot carefully reveals a series
of circumstances which lead first of all to Dorothea’s disillusionment with this whole idea, and then to her reconciliation with the world: coming back to a feeling of contentment with her life. The book concludes with this statement: Her full nature, like that river of which Cyrus [a Persian king] broke the strength, spent itself in channels which had no great name on the earth. But the effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive: for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs. As we know, Shantideva’s Way of the Bodhisattva was composed in India over twelve centuries ago. Pema’s No Time to Lose helps us to see the relevance of that text to our lives now, in the 21st century. The first part of the original text is an extended praise to bodhicitta. Pema’s definition: “Bodhicitta, the awakened heart, refers to an intense desire to alleviate suffering. On the relative level, bodhicitta expresses itself as longing. Specifically, it’s the heart-felt yearning to free oneself from the pain of ignorance and habitual patterns in order to help others do the same.” Now, just to refer back to George Eliot’s quote – and to bring it back to my experience – the fact that things are not so ill with this person is because of the small but vast tributaries of kindness and concern that have influenced my life. Born into a dysfunctional family 62 years ago, I seemed to perceive at an early age that 14
I needed to look outside my immediate family circle to have my needs met. There happened to be a bodhisattva living right next door with a child my age, and she spent a lot of time caring for me, and providing a model of nurturing goodness. Then, as I grew, the tributaries grew bigger, and I was basically taken in by the parents of my best friend: two more bodhisattvas who had an enormous influence on my life. Of course, there were still struggles, and because of the experiences of my early life, I was set up to enter an abusive relationship at 19 – the same age as Dorothea decided to marry Edward Casaubon, an elderly, dried-up husk of a man. But then, another tributary of compassion flowed into my life in the form of a loving relationship. In the beginning it took me several years to adjust to that, because I felt so deeply unworthy. In 1990, at age 40, a further tributary of compassion appeared: Daido Roshi, whom I met at Nelson Girls’ College. At that time I appeared to the world as quite a highly functioning, kind human being, but when I met Daido and sat my first sesshin, the silence of the retreat revealed to me something that I’d hidden away, that I’d deeply repressed throughout my life: a deep well of self-loathing, craving and desperation. I couldn’t get away from it any more. That’s when I first encountered bodhicitta – “the heart-felt yearning to free myself from the pain of ignorance and habitual patterns”. The process of zazen that I learned, of seeing the thought and letting it go, provided me with a way to start working with this so-thoroughly-repressed suffering. For many years I sat with what I can fairly describe as physical and emotional anguish. But the words of Daido, “You are all whole and complete, lacking nothing,” became a cornerstone of my practice. It took me many years and much patient work from my teachers to learn to see my cravings for love, appreciation, competence – to see these “faults” as I thought of them – without being severe, judging and unkind to myself. In my zazen I used to spend many periods running through what I called “scenario mind”, where I appeared in one version or another doing something wonderful and marvellous and enlightened, and envisaging teachers and important people talking about what a wonderful, marvellous student I was. They took years to play out; and every now and then, still, up they come. But they don’t get off the blocks very often. I can’t express my gratitude to my teachers. They’ve been such helpful guides: how to work with suffering without indulging in it; how to be soft and kind with that little person, that little
craving person inside. And also to be soft and kind to the little craving person that I see inside so many of us. Pema describes bodhicitta as a sort of “mission impossible”. “On the absolute level, bodhicitta is non-dual wisdom – the vast, unbiased essence of mind.” In my everyday life, in my everyday practice halls of family, occupation and sangha, how does bodhicitta guide me there? Zazen and being awake to myself, especially in those times of discord and conflict – that’s the way. Just recently I had a minor car accident. I had delivered some friends back home from the airport and was travelling down their narrow, windy little road, and came round a corner. Someone was backing out of her driveway and turning around to drive up off the road. I came round the corner and she was accelerating out. I stopped and she crashed into me. In the instant it happened I felt calm and composed. I just thought, “It’s going to be a nuisance because it was just a few days before I was due to travel to Christchurch.” I ran through my head what I could do about it. Maybe I could borrow another car if I couldn’t get that one fixed. The other driver got out of her car and said, “I’m so sorry, that was completely my fault.” She was quite upset and I was a little bit shaken too, but I kept my cool. Then around the corner came a neighbour who’d seen me driving past the top part of the road. He yelled out, “This was your fault! You were going too fast!” Woosh! Up came all my defensiveness and anger and I really wasn’t in a state to see this very clearly. I thought, Go away. You’re just not helping. He said, “Can I help?” I said, “No, you can’t. We don’t need your kind of help.” Then for the purposes of filling in the insurance form, I had to be very clear that it was the fault of this young woman. She responded by saying that she had a witness that I was going too fast. So the challenge in a situation like that, in any opportunity like that, whether it’s good, bad, happy or sad, the challenge is to free myself from my self-absorption and separation, and not separate myself from that neighbour. And when I reflect on it, he was probably right. I wasn’t breaking the speed limit, but I think I was going too fast for that narrow road. I’d like to share with you a story. It’s called “The Eighty-Fourth Problem”: Once, a farmer went to tell the Buddha about his problems. He described his difficulties farming: how either droughts or monsoons complicated his work. He told the Buddha about his wife: how, even though he loved her, there were certain things about her he wanted to
change. Likewise with his children: yes, he loved them, but they weren’t turning out quite the way he wanted. When he was finished he asked how the Buddha could help him with his troubles. The Buddha said, “I’m sorry, but I can’t help you.” “What do you mean?” railed the farmer. “You’re supposed to be a great teacher!” The Buddha replied, “Sir, it’s like this. All human beings have eighty-three problems. It’s a fact of life. Sure, a few problems may go away now and then, but soon enough others will arise. So we’ll always have eighty-three problems.” The farmer responded indignantly, “Well then, what’s the good of all your teaching?” The Buddha replied, “Well, my teaching can’t help with the eighty-three problems, but perhaps it can help with the eighty-fourth problem.” “What’s that?” Asked the farmer. “The eighty-fourth problem is that we don’t want to have any problems.” Although we may not recognise it, we all have the deep-seated belief that if we practice long and hard enough our problems will disappear. Beneath that hidden belief lies an even deeper one: that life should be free from pain. Shantideva shows us the way. First we develop bodhicitta, the basic human wisdom that can drive away the sorrows of the world. The rest of his guide is the “how to”: atonement, commitment, awareness, vigilance, patience, heroic perseverance, enthusiasm, meditation and dedication. Shantideva urges us not to waste a moment. This life is a brief and fading window of opportunity. None of us knows what will happen next – death, illness, mental instability. Our family has been going through quite a year with my husband’s mother, last January, having a stroke. Right up to the night before the episode, she was living an independent life in her own home, and felt like it was going to go on like that for ever. Then, suddenly, everything changed. This year she’s had three times when she’s nearly died, but something is holding her here in this pretty miserable state. The last time, when she had pneumonia, and the family were gathered at the bedside, her daughter was saying to her that she was “free to go” – as Elizabeth Kubler-Ross suggests. The daughter said, “You can go now, Mum. You’ve done everything you can for us. You can go.” My mother-in-law came round and said, “Yes, but where? Where do I go?” That’s why we have to make the most of this opportunity – an opportunity which we’ve created for ourselves in this sesshin. Take it seriously. Don’t squander it. Shantideva says, “As when a flash of lightning rends the night,
and with its glare shows all the dark clouds hid, likewise, rarely through the Buddha’s power virtuous thoughts rise brief and transient in the world.” “Through the Buddha’s power” to me means what the Buddha taught as being available to each and every one of us. Everything we encounter is an opportunity to develop what Pema calls “the outrageous courage” of the bodhi heart. We each have stories we tell ourselves. For me, some of them are “I’m a bossy person”, “I have to be the one in control or I can’t manage”, “I’m very fearful”. Through the development of bodhicitta, instead of experiencing such faults as something solid, ever-lasting and unchangable, we begin to experience these states as being more like the weather. They pass. And we can look at them afresh through bodhicitta. This time last year, when Shugen Sensei asked me to be the shuso, I realised that I’d come to a place in my practice where I felt much more at ease with myself. The physical and mental anguish which I’d experienced had basically faded away. I felt much more at peace. It was almost like, “I’ve done all the hard work now. This is what I was working for. I feel much easier in my life. This is great. Thank you very much. I’ll just cruise now.” But my teacher had other plans, and I was catapulted into one of the most challenging experiences of my life. My practice – until then ostensibly a very private thing just between myself and my teacher – was on the line, exposed for everyone to see. Here was the ultimate challenge to my idea that I was at peace with myself. I was being asked to present my understanding of a koan, not only to my own teacher, but to an audience of about 150 people, including visitors to the monastery who were there for the first time. When I first walked into the monastery on the Sunday morning, surrounded by a support crew of teachers, monks and seniors, I looked around the zendo and saw all these faces. I don’t know that I’ve had another situation in my life where I’ve felt quite so intimidated. I realised that I was going to have to give my talk – present my understanding of my koan – to all these people, and not only that, but to be challenged and questioned by twenty sangha members. Then this vanguard and myself walked out of the main building, over to the abbacy where Shugen Sensei was waiting for us. As a group we did three bows to the teacher, three bows to the mountain, and three bows to the monastery. Shugen Sensei joined our vanguard and we walked back to the zendo. Somehow, in the procession, something happened. Along a forest path, with the mountain 16
looming, in past the vegetable garden, in past the monastery building… something changed, and I felt I could do this. I actually even enjoyed myself. So from the nest I’d created this time last year, I was pushed into a different place, and I feel I’ve begun the process of transforming that heart-felt yearning for freeing myself from the pain of ignorance and habitual patterns to the place where I can begin to help others to do the same. A favourite poet and cartoonist of mine is the Australian Michael Leunig. He’s written a poem called “How to Get There”: Go to the end of the path Until you get to the gate. Go through the gate and head straight out Towards the horizon. Keep going towards the horizon. Sit down and have a rest every now and then. But keep going. Just keep on with it. Keep going as far as you can. And that’s how you get there. Or, as one of the final verses of The Way of the Bodhisattva says: “And now, as long as space endures, as long as there are beings to be found, may I continue likewise to remain to drive away the sorrows of the world.” That sounds, as Pema Chodron says, a mission impossible. But with the awakening of bodhicitta and our continuing practice of zazen, people like us can make a difference – to our own lives and to the lives of others. Kaido Nash became a student of Daido Roshi in 1991, and a senior student of the Mountains and Rivers Order in 2012. She lives in Nelson with her husband, Suido.
Top and middle: Shuso entering ceremony at Zen Mountain Monastery, upstate New York. Bottom: Kaido receiving the shippei from Shugen Sensei before her first senior’s talk.
25th anniversary: Zen student reflections Reflecting on 25 years of Mountains and Rivers Order practice in New Zealand, Manawa asked for contributions on how things have changed and evolved within the lives of MRO students and within the sangha. Shugen Sensei was interested in hearing “how students have seen the sangha and MRO in NZ develop and mature, how their own lives have changed, how their own practices may have affected their families, friends, etc (i.e. non-practitioners).” Many thanks to those who took the time to consider, write and share.
How Zen practice works for me at 62
Hinduism, Yogananda, Ram Dass and Alan Watts. I was for six months a devotee of Sai Baba, but thanks to Arthur again, with whom I was in contact, I turned back to Siddhartha and specifically to Zen, especially after discovering and devouring Suzuki Roshi’s Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind. I tried hard to link up with the Auckland Zen group who for several years had been hosting Leonard Cohen’s teacher, Joshu Sasaki Roshi, but every attempt at contact was met with defeat. In 1988 I learned that another Zen teacher was coming to New Zealand for the first time. John Daido Loori from Zen Mountain Monastery in upstate New York was to hold a week-long meditation retreat (a sesshin) at the Aiowera centre in the Waitakeres, West Auckland. I joined this retreat half way through and found myself sitting in a big room, surrounded by bush, with 40-50 other spiritual seekers, who after sitting meditation for many hours that day, were about to listen to a “dharma talk” by John Daido Loori. This man and his talk “hit” me like a full force gale in a way that was so amazing and real; he was inspiring! Here was a man who, it was clear to me, had grasped and understood something incredibly powerful and transformative, but more to the point, seemed to embody the very teachings he was articulating. Here was a man who was “walking
by Nick Suido Nash
I discovered Buddhism as a young student studying stage three English literature at Massey University. One of my tutors at the time was Arthur Wells; now a Zen teacher in the Diamond Sangha lineage. We were working through T.S. Elliot’s The Waste Land; “a heap of broken images where the sun beats.” At that time I definitely felt like I was crawling across some kind of psycho-spiritual wasteland, often filled with dread, fear and despair as my appreciation of “man’s inhumanity to man” grew with each new day. Arthur pointed out to me a reference Elliot makes to Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha, and I found and read this book. It was a revelation to me, and touched something deep inside that said, “YES.” My next 15 years became a spiritual odyssey spent searching for a tradition and a teacher I could respect and trust. I was after the spiritual “gold”; hot on the trail of enlightenment which I thought would save me from this vale of tears. The search involved transcendental meditation, the Beats (Jack Kerouac especially, who pointed to Gary Snyder and his Dharma Bums and an alternative lifestyle) Taoism, 18
Daido Roshi, Kyodo and Suido in Auckland, 1989
the talk” and this was the man I chose to become a student of and over the next 20 years I worked closely with him, studying, as he put it, “the way of reality.” That’s the history; a young man, a victim of his conditioning by parents, peers, society, who was fearful, lost, confused, depressed, anxious and searching for meaning, discovers a spiritual tradition and connects with a teacher he respects, is inspired by, and comes to love deeply. Twenty-five years later, how is he transformed by that experience? Currently I have been reading a wonderful biography of Leonard Cohen by Sylvie Simmons. I was struck by a passage where Leonard and his then partner, Anjani, meet with and are impressed by a young rabbi’s “extemporaneous speech about love and how to stay together as a married couple.” The rabbi talked about marriage as “an opportunity to be of service to another human being, an opportunity for the deepest human transformation because you are so deep in the presence of another human being. Which takes work, it takes mindfulness, it takes commitment. It takes discipline.” This touches for me a deep chord and strikes through to the essence of what I believe I have learned as a Zen practitioner. As a young man I had many illusions, I was drawn to Zen practice as a way of getting something (enlightenment!) and being someone special (an enlightened person!). I was keen to escape the world and my suffering. As I engaged with the work, commitment and discipline involved in Zen practice and practiced zazen, diligently growing my ability to be more mindful of my internal and external realities, I underwent what I call a merciful “disillusionment”. I realised as I went along, because I had created the opportunity to be deep in the presence of “myself” via Zen training, that what I needed to do was “let go” of my clinging and striving to be anything other than the “God Given Creature” that I am. I didn’t need to strive to be special. I was “special” when I was born and I have never essentially lost that specialness, which is really, in truth, a naturalness that I can rest in despite the layers and layers of conditioning that I have accumulated. Being able to see and let go of the conditioned self more and more over the years, has enabled me to be less demanding, controlling, self-centred
and self-preoccupied (I just double-checked with my wife!) and allows me to embrace others with compassion more easily. When I don’t, or feel I can’t, I have a practice to return to that, in an experiential way returns me to a basic sanity that clarifies my self- preoccupation and allows me to choose to open once again to my wife, children, grandchildren, colleagues, fellow practitioners, neighbours and community – to the world, in fact! When I was younger I had no way to work with my judgements, criticisms and loathing of self and other. I was incredibly self-critical and at the same time critical and blaming of others. I kept all my feelings at a distance and repressed all my fear and anger, which turned into depression. Zazen creates space for my feelings to arise and to be “heard.” I can now open to my feelings so much more, as they happen. This leaves me feeling quite raw and vulnerable at times. Right now my mother is in a kind of an old person’s post-stroke, dementia purgatory and is residing in the hospital wing of a residential-care facility. To see this most loved person go through this kind of torture is tortuous for me. My feelings range from discomfort to aversion to anger and at times an inarticulate rage at this situation. Zazen helps me practice a loving-kindness mindfulness in the face of this huge challenge for my mother and myself. Without zazen and Zen training I expect I would either be practising denial of my feelings and of my mother’s pain or I would become depressed and withdrawn. Daido Roshi used to speak a lot about Zen practice being transformative. This opportunity to reflect on how practice works for me at 62 years old has given me the opportunity to see how true this statement is. Thank you, Daido. Deep bows. 19
like food misses it; it is living, a very keen kind of living where to the best of your ability, you give the matter of living – and dying – your full attention. The more I experience and learn from life, the more the teachings ring true and I feel grateful that I was able to find this path at such a young age. One of the most precious things about the MRO is the sangha. I sensed the closeness between the more seasoned members of the sangha at that first sesshin, and they were open and welcoming to me. Now they feel like a family of the heart, walking beside me and caring deeply about what is most precious to me: to see things as they really are and to express that clear seeing through a life well-lived. Whether at a national New Zealand sesshin, in Wellington, in New York, at Mount Tremper or in the student chatroom, that sense of shared heart, of caring and inspiration, is always there within the MRO. I am so grateful to be a part of it. I must also say how grateful I am to my teacher, Geoffrey Shugen Arnold, Sensei. You have never failed me. Most importantly, you have helped me to see that I can stand on my own two feet and I do, missteps and all.
Standing on my own two feet By Rachel Furyo Stockwell It is hard to describe the effect the MRO sangha has had on my life. It began in late 1996 when I was the tender age of 21. I had an interest in Buddhism and my boyfriend (now husband) had suggested I sit with the Wellington branch of the Zen Institute of New Zealand, which I did. I had been reading The Three Pillars of Zen by Philip Kapleau Roshi, where week-long sesshin loomed large, so when I found out that Zenz would be running one at Lake Rotoiti the following January, I was keen to go – despite the reservations of a senior group member, who thought I was too green. My first encounter there with John Daido Loori Roshi, certainly showed up how green I was. When I whinged to him about my lack of progress, he asked me how long I’d been doing zazen. “Three months”, I said, and he burst out laughing. That first sesshin in January 1997 was hard going. It split me open in a way I found confusing and disturbing, but at the same time, I felt I had found something that I needed and could trust. The teachings I heard rang true. In the almost 17 years that I have continued this practice – through a university degree, a move to Australia, multiple career changes, marriage and two kids – the Eight Gates training matrix provided by the MRO has been a constant source of nourishment and support for me. My practice has got me through depression, the pain of processing childhood trauma, and it has saved my marriage more than once. To say it’s
A journey home by Navina Clemerson
Furyo on the front desk before a retreat, 2002
My family – children and husband – have always regarding my sitting as something that was good – good for me, that is. With the exception of the occasional foray, other people have not been interested in this practice. When they found me too anxious or difficult to have around, their suggestion was: “Mum/Navina, would it help if you sat?” At the moment we are all on good terms; not something to be taken for granted, and there is a feeling of tempting fate as the words come on to the page. One of our children has come back to live in our house, and we have not always had an easy time. Some of what has been taught at sesshin and with my local sangha has been a great help. To give others their space. To wait to be asked. To be quiet and let people take their time. Zen taught me to take the back step. I can’t remember when or how exactly the 20
idea came into my life, but it became almost a physical practice and it has been immensely helpful; it has helped me accept my limitations and work with them rather than against them. For instance, accepting that being deaf makes it difficult to be on a committee, and tends to make me paranoid. So – avoid committee work, find other ways of contributing. It is also a blessing to have a teacher showing the blocks and obstacles that exist in one’s mind. During the last two years, my practice has been about letting go: so many different interpretations are possible for those two words. Life becomes more interesting with a challenge of this kind. Increasingly, time spent on the cushion is easy; the resistance to sitting which got in the way for such a long time has diminished. The more sitting I do, the more Jewish I feel. The more sitting I do, the simpler life becomes. It is a home-coming, and the way home travels via Zen.
by Edward Coughlan My first response is to consider how difficult this is to answer. How have I been changed by practice, and how has my practice affected others? I ponder what my life would be if I wasn’t involved with Zen. I do notice that when I become busy and I have missed a sit then I feel it. I am less grounded, though the difference is quite subtle. It definitely feels a good thing to do zazen, regardless of anything else happening in my life. I am not sure if other people notice Zen or not Zen. I suppose because I have been linked in with Buddhism for so long it really is a part of me. I do a gratefulness practice most days. As I drive in to work I reflect on what spontaneously comes to mind to be grateful for. Often on my list is contact with the dharma – what a precious gift. That alone is amazing. I appreciate doing liturgy, especially exploring sounding the bells and being present. Really valuing my activity can carry on to work tasks. For example, if I am examining a patient, to treat the person and the surgical instruments with the same degree of reverence and “presence” as in a gassho or in the striking of a bell.
Changes by Steve Ingram The main change I’ve noticed about the MRO in New Zealand is the increase in support for our practice from the teachers and sangha at ZMM and ZCNYC, which is also mirrored here in New Zealand with sangha initiatives. The mid-year sesshins now have dharma holders or priests to lead them. The ango training periods inspire a little more every time. Christchurch and Nelson have their own zendos. The Skype mondos continue and improve; now with executive meetings added on. The local Zenz groups are becoming more and more established. “Live Words” recordings and sangha newsletters come via the internet. There are short-term travel scholarships to New York available. And New Zealand has Kaido as our new senior student. I’m sure there are a lot more changes that I haven’t got time to remember. I very much appreciate the support we receive as an affiliate group. All those positive changes are affirming when faced with the difficult backdrop of sustaining my practice as a New Zealand MRO layperson in a culture that seems intent on keeping the secular public and the spiritual private. It’s also the characteristics of the experience that seem to be slowly changing for me. From the early days of nervous, heady energy characterised by somewhat intoxicating mental concepts, to these days of a warmer, more grounded and harmonious connection to the sangha. With the MRO’s help my Zen practice can stay here and now, whether bright or dim, shining a light on the path. Much love and gratitude to all the MRO sangha. Steve.
Practising by Geoffrey Gensei Moore This sangha has been a stable, supportive community in my life, and along with my Zen teachers, it has deeply shaped what I understand Buddhist practice to be. Through the sangha, I’ve found people who were more buoyant, honest and kind because of practice. We share an interest in what the Buddha taught, and we ascribe to the subtle and underrated possibility of letting go. By the time I started getting serious about Zen, the NZ MRO sangha seemed stocked with seasoned practitioners. I remember Jinmon saying at KimiOra (2001) that the sesshins in New Zealand were now on a par with what was happening at Zen Mountain Monastery. I was certainly impressed by the atmosphere of my early intensive retreats. From then until now, so much has changed for me, and it’s impossible to separate the process of growing up from the process of growing through practising. Certainly going to my first NZ sesshin, and later residency at Zen Mountain Monastery, would rank as the two most demanding undertakings in my life so far. As a consequence, these experiences were particularly enriching. To answer the question – what have been the 21
benefits for others of my practice? – what comes to mind, first, is that I’m now more comfortable with myself and others, and more appreciative. I recognise a little bit more others’ good influence on me, and that I can be a good influence. I don’t know how I would get on without the touchstones of zazen, sangha and teachers. Family, friends, workmates and strangers can benefit from the fact that I’m more aware, content and genuine when I practice. I think having practice on my mind can open up space in a relationship, and help others to make better choices for themselves. My last thought is: I want to work on, and fulfill, the opportunity I have with my life. Studying the bodhisattva precepts, sitting zazen, seeing and letting go, are my daily practices for rediscovering that aspiration. The benefit of this is collective; but seeing clearly, and turning towards what works, remain very challenging and personal responsibilities. I’m grateful for the help and inspiration which our tradition provides.
Zazen and Parkinson’s disease Helen Yoko Gunn Interview by Rose Chiyu McGowan Yoko was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2006, four years after she started practising zazen. For a time the deterioration in her condition was noticeable. Yoko’s hands in the zazen mudra shaking against the cloth of her robe was audible during sitting practice. For months now I haven’t heard that sound and Yoko’s vitality is amazing. Yoko’s regular contribution to the zendo of gardening, cleaning windows and bathrooms and making delicious morning-tea loaves for the mondo days has never waned. I come across people in my job of community support worker who are suffering the terrible effects of Parkinson’s disease and the side effects of medication. I wanted to know what it is that supports Yoko’s well being. I asked first how she received the diagnosis.
Yoko: I accepted it. I’ve always thought other people get things, why not me? Its just the luck of the draw, really. I haven’t at any stage felt “poor old me”, and I don’t want to read books about it.The prognosis is rather depressing. I don’t want to imagine what might happen in the future. Whatever happens will happen and I’ll take it as it comes. When did you notice symptoms? It started with a slight tremor in the left hand. That’s when I went to the doctor and was diagnosed. It did deteriorate. It was getting worse. I experienced that shuffling that people get and there was a time when I couldn’t hold anything in my left hand, or pick up anything like a saucepan. It was too difficult. I couldn’t push into the ball of my left foot. I might think it or will it, but it was quite strange – there was no connection between the mind and the body. The mind would say to do this, but there was nothing, just a nothing and that’s disconcerting really. Do you take medication? Yes, I have started. For a while I didn’t because I thought mind-over-matter sort of thing. When I was first diagnosed I tried it, but I didn’t like it so I gave it up. It just became a nuisance because I’ve never been someone who takes things. But it was becoming a bit of a problem so I started taking medication again two years ago. It’s not a strong medication that I take, but it is effective. Did having Parkinson’s change your lifestyle? No, not really. My husband, Keith, and I live a simple lifestyle on a steep hillside, so walking, gardening etc keep me fit. I also do some yoga every day and we dance too, which is fun. I was already committed to my zazen practice.
by Susanna Topp As a young Fine Arts student I was fortunate to encounter Zen. In searching to explore the sacred in art, I chanced upon Daido Roshi and his wonderful Zen photography retreats. I can see now, eighteen years after that original initiation, that Zen training is the most important and radical stream of cultural influence I have encountered. I lived a year in residency at the Monastery some fourteen years ago. That experience generated a transformation that has continued to radiate a powerful influence. The year was not an easy one: it was a “rodeo” as Shugen Sensei has said. For the longest time I had no resonance at all when hearing other practitioners say that they “loved zazen”. Oh how I wanted to be able to speak those words, but honestly, that was an utterly alien world to me. Now, many years of practice has granted me the capacity to encounter zazen deeply. It functions to alleviate my petty-mindedness, and to swing open a vista in which all matters can appear in their natural arrangement. Zazen has also deeply shaped my approach as a yoga teacher. From all that has happened, I am now magnetised back to the gift of residential training. I know that my return to Zen Mountain Monastery will shake the wheels off any smug comfort zone I’m currently identified with, but I trust the wisdom of this tradition right down to my bones. I can see that my association with it heals and makes me strong. And so I’ve grown to trust even confusion as something workable. 22
In what way has zazen been helpful to your experience of Parkinson’s? Since I was first introduced to zazen I have felt strongly motivated to practice. I very seldom miss, and I sit three times a day. Zazen has been enormously beneficial to my experience of my life. I do not practice in order to relieve Parkinson’s symptoms, but it certainly does have that effect. My left leg can feel quite wooden at times and have a bothersome tremor. Sometimes this feels overwhelmingly unpleasant but if I just sit and observe, the sensations will release and once I finish sitting I feel fine again. I find that zazen enables me to “let go” – to let go of my conception of myself. It is incredibly freeing. It is freeing my mind and thus my body, because when I don’t cling on to what seems so concrete, the blockages dissolve. I know however that I have a long way to go and still have many conditioned responses to what I perceive is my life. But although these frequently trip me up, I mostly accept this and have faith in just walking along the path, step by step.
anticipation has at times been quite different to the grittiness of the experience – for instance, physical pain and stiffness from working all day in the garden. What has stopped the experience of residency being just like everyday life, is the constant reminders from teachers, sangha, and the teachings, to practice these daily challenges. The schedule, tiredness, and lack of space are all challenges, but they seem to be taken up as a challenge together by the sangha, rather than individuals collapsing into feeling sorry for ourselves. In New Zealand sesshin occurs twice a year. In comparison, residency offers the huge richness of monthly sesshins. In the residential context, even the non-sesshin weeks can at times take on some of the quality of sesshin. This energy and clarity, whether it is experienced in a sesshin or other parts of the schedule, is what makes it possible to meet daily challenges rather than continually turning away from them. The challenges include cultural differences, distance from friends and family back in New Zealand, difficulty staying in touch with the time difference, at times feeling physically isolated in a countryside area without our own car... the list could go on! More internally focused challenges (and these particularly come up on the cushion) include anxiety, tension, exhaustion, sleepiness, comparisons, feeling inexperienced in practice, and self-doubt. The frustrating and supporting thing about these challenges, is that they seem to change constantly... though while writing this, we debated how much these challenges do change, and particularly if exhaustion is the one thing that is permanent! Belonging has come up as an issue for both of us re-entering residency. Feeling a sense of belonging
Life at the monastery by Selina Clare and Michael Apathy New Zealand MRO students Taikyu Apathy and Selina Clare are currently in residence at Zen Mountain Monastery in upstate New York. In this letter they reflect on their experience over the past few months. Both Selina and I had been in residency prior to this current six month period, however we had not done this as a couple. A number of things come to mind about this. We’ve noticed significantly more harmony and less discord between us. As we discussed with another couple, there has been an adjustment to quality rather than quantity of time spent together. We’ve noticed that, due to practice, we have been less reactive with each other, and therefore are able to explore our differences more fruitfully. As well as the practice itself, the frame of the monastery, and trusting each other to practice and stay engaged with each other, has contributed to this difference. Pre-residency idealisation and 23
DaeBong Sunim received Dharma transmission from well-known Korean Zen Master Seung Sahn. The Winter and Summer intensive training periods at Mu Sang sa are called ‘Kyol Che’, which means ‘tight dharma’. They run for ninety days with the same schedule seven days a week. There was about 8 hours of sitting each day. The wake up was at 3am, much earlier than I am used to for retreats. The day’s schedule was much like a sesshin in the MRO, but with longer breaks, allowing me plenty of time to catch up on sleep. Every morning began with 108 bows in the Zen hall. I thought it would be pretty tough, and it was, especially on my legs. For the remainder of the first day I had some difficulty getting up and down stairs, but the morning bowing was getting easier by the second day. After a few days I relaxed into it more and tried to just feel the rhythm. Even though I was moving quite vigorously, the bowing form is so tightly defined that it did allow me to see my mind wandering off. In the morning and evening before sitting there was chanting in the Buddha Hall for about forty minutes. The chanting had a simple, modal, rising and falling melody. It took a very attentive ear at first to follow, but the melody became familiar after a week. We chanted the Heart Sutra in Korean and English. Some local Koreans attended the chanting sessions. Once I was more accustomed to the melodies, I felt mildly refreshed after each chanting session. The Buddha hall was lavishly decorated, amazingly ornate and colourful. There was a large painting of the numerous ‘Dharma Gods’. These are gods that existed in Korean culture before Buddhism arrived and were incorporated into the Korean Buddhist teachings. The formal meditation practice was similar to what I had experienced before. There was walking meditation between sitting periods. If one felt too much pain during sitting one could change posture or even stand up until the pain receded. There were never any words of encouragement or admonishment in the Zen hall. Unlike most Korean temples, lay practitioners at Mu Sang sa do meditation together with the monastics. The only instrument used in the Zen hall was a bamboo stick about 60cm long which was split down the middle and made a sharp cracking sound when struck against the palm. The Zen hall was beautiful inside, with a curved, wooden ceiling like a drooping tent. The morning and midday meals were taken formally. The Korean traditional formalized eating ritual is similar to, but simpler than, Japanese oryoki. They have very large eating bowls, so I found it easy to take too much food and be the last one to finish eating. I had one interview during the week. In it the teacher asked me “Who are you?”, and “Where did you come from when you were born?” He asked me
in the Kiwi sangha, we have had to establish (or re-establish) belonging with the US sangha. The question of “who am I?” comes up in lots of ways here, which has included the ways in which we rank and compare ourselves to others, in terms of seniority, capability to practice, etc. Teachers, seniors, and fellow students have been open in acknowledging the power of comparisons, rank, and status. It has felt very helpful that this is not disavowed, but something that is OK to be working through. Sangha members have asked us how much this place has changed. In a nutshell, at the moment, it seems like not that much fundamentally has changed. From discussions with others and our own experiences, it seems like the teachers and seniors have more trust in the students. We are both students of Shugen Sensei, who is less available than in the past when he was based at the monastery (though he’s still often present, travelling to the monastery specifically to offer dokusan to his students, for which we are very grateful). Overall the teachers, seniors, and teachings feel a little softer than in the past. Here ends this letter from the monastery. We’ve written about what was “on top” at one point in residency, which is of course partial and will probably be different in a day, week or a month. Our gratitude to the Kiwi sangha for helping us to get here and for maintaining your own practice. We both look forward to seeing you all again. Love, Selina and Taikyu.
Correspondence: Notes from South Korea By Tom Phillpotts In March 2012 I came to South Korea to teach English for a year. By late August, when the rice fields began turning yellow, I took the train from my home city of Jeonju to spend a week at Mu Sang sa (‘sa’ is Korean for temple), located at the base of Gyeryong Mountain and surrounded by a forest of native pines. During the week a powerful typhoon caused damage in the surrounding area. Yet I was relieved to have missed the extremely hot weather which had preceded it. With no air conditioning and high humidity, even in the relatively mild heat I was often sweating profusely. Mu Sang sa was founded in 2000. It’s one of only a handful of temples in Korea where English is spoken. The resident teachers, DaeBong Sunim and DaeJin Sunim, are both American immigrants to Korea.
Tom Phillpotts, Mu Sang sa
to read two koans aloud dealing with the questions he had asked. He said that in their school they teach “Don’t know mind”. He instructed me to respond to these thorny questions simply by hitting the floor with my palm. This technique was used to stop the thinking mind and return me to just being, to not knowing. The approach seemed strange to me, but I tried to stay open. I felt the teacher made a fairly clear illustration of arresting the thinking mind. Overall the retreat felt quite relaxed, when compared to what I am used to in the MRO. The precautions were softer, allowing people to take breaks when too exhausted. At the end of the week I took a beautiful scenic walk to the top of the small mountain behind the temple. Tom Phillpotts returned to NZ in early July this year.
A letter from Holland by Jelle Kyosei Seidel On the internet there are no distances. “My name is Kyosei,” I emailed the retreat registrar. “My koan is travelling through New Zealand.” What to do on a family trip to a far away country? Since the Seidels live in the North Island and my wife couldn’t come, I decided to look for tourism and Zen on the South Island. To my surprise, I found the New Zealand branch of the MRO quite easily. Maezumi Roshi spread the Dharma all over the Western world; my teacher, Tenkei Roshi, is a Dharma cousin of Shugen Sensei. It is not overly easy – not having a background
with the group – to join an MRO-sesshin. Precautions were presented, interviews announced and lighter programmes suggested. Is this tourist really able to sit still for six days, keep his mouth shut and make no eye contact other except with the teacher? (My interpretation of the message behind this.) I thought I was, since I’ve practice Zen in a comparable school since 1995 and had received Jukai in 2002. Zen River is the residential centre I visit regularly. Zen is family too, I noticed right away on January 13, although I knew nobody. Geoff and Monica picked me up at my Christchurch hotel and brought me to Waipara Park. We are Buddha family, sharing the intention of seeing things differently, being less selfish and caring for the world, admitting we are all works-in-progress. The weekend retreat “Dreaming the dream” was very interesting. How does this sangha see its future? what to do in the short and the long term? You really spoke your mind, and Shugen Sensei mainly listened. Your situation reminds me of the time Genpo Roshi – Dharma brother of Daido Roshi – visited Europe on a regular basis, leading the only real sesshins being held. In the last ten years teachers finished their education in the US, became senseis and erected centres in Holland. Students don’t have to go to the US as the only possibility for residential training any more. I’m sure this will happen in New Zealand too. MRO sesshins are stricter than Zen River sesshins. We have precautions and we have to live up to them too, don’t get me wrong, but really keeping them is more up to the practitioner, I feel. No senior or junior monitors are openly active on that part. No raised voices when something goes wrong. No public explanations, for instance, of why it is important to accept your assignment to a job with a bow and no further ado. In Holland we are politely invited not to talk, read, write, text or phone, but if you do, that’s in the end your own responsibility. The main thing: don’t disturb others. To my surprise I found the MRO strictness stimulating. I know everything we do in a sesshin – not to mention in normal life – can be practising Zen. There’s no escape, but for me it’s good to be constantly reminded of that. The MRO expresses this even in the names of sesshin activities: caretaking practice for samu (work), even rest practice for rest. Everything is practice; it all belongs together. Liturgy was quite slow in my experience. It seems that you chant every syllable with the same heavy emphasis, 25
the Zen Society of New Zealand in the early 1980s. Over time, this society became an umbrella group for individuals who had leanings towards one or another Zen teacher overseas, and there were sitting groups in Auckland, Wellington and Nelson. In 1989, the society affiliated to the MRO, but in the meantime, the weekly sittings and the newsletter had helped create a sense of community for a range of individuals drawn to Zen practice. Names that appear in the newsletter through the 1980s and 90s include many who will be well known to members of the MRO, such as Jim Langabeer and Mary Mold. Beyond the MRO, many other names appear in Manawa, including Ted Smith (who edited some of the early newsletters and researched a short history article in 1982), Bhikshu Ham Wol (now known as Stacy, a T’ai Chi teacher in East Auckland), Mike Radford (a former monk who trained at Mt Baldy with Sasaki), Arthur Wells, Mary Grodd (now Mary Jaksch), both now teachers in the Diamond Sangha. Richard and Amala (known before her ordination as Charlotte) were involved with the Zen Society of NZ during the 1980s, and they edited Manawa for several years, contributing many articles. I’m particularly interested to hear from people who were interested in Zen in New Zealand in the early days (especially the 1970s or earlier). Prior to Sasaki’s visits, I have no information about any Zen groups, and would like to learn of anything relating to the early days of Zen in New Zealand – even if it is just a group of people who informally gathered to discuss a Zen book that they had read. I’m also interested to hear about any Chinese Ch’an and Korean Son meditation teachers and any groups formed in relation to their visits, e.g. Master Mun Chee, who is mentioned in one or two earlier Manawas. More broadly, please contact me if you have any recollection or story that deserves to be recorded in a short history of Zen in Aotearoa, including stories about what brought you to Zen and something about the sitting groups you may have been involved with. As well as writing the article, I would like to create a small archive, so even if you’re uncertain of how relevant your memories are, I would be interested to hear from you.
as if to say: important, important, important! In April I went to Zen River for the first time since New Zealand. Tenkei Roshi talked about the little islands you can create for yourself in a sesshin, to be out of it for a short while. Nirvana! This is what I try all the time, I realized. In New Zealand there was less chance. Comparing is fun, but in the end it’s no use. Each lineage has its own merits. I’m happy with Zen River, and at the same time it was great to see what the strength of other sanghas and teachers is. Shugen Sensei impressed me with his kind sternness and his frank way of speaking. New Zealand is in a way very close to Holland, notwithstanding flights of more than twenty hours. There’s a lot of family, so five weeks of travelling was not very long. To me, New Zealand felt like home. Thanks for your hospitality, Jelle Kyosei Seidel
A history of Zen in Aotearoa In 2014, the Auckland Zen Centre (AZC) is celebrating its tenth anniversary. It was established in 2004 by Sensei Amala Wrightson and her husband, Richard von Sturmer, who trained for over a decade at the Rochester Zen Centre in upstate New York. As part of its celebrations, the AZC is planning a publication. This will include an article outlining the history of the various Zen groups in New Zealand, in order to provide historical context. One of Amala’s students, Sally, is working on this article and would like to hear from you if you have any recollections or stories that you consider of interest for this history. Sally writes: I have been reading back through the archives of Manawa, which date back to 1981 (the first two issues were called Tuatara, with the name change from issue 3 onwards). And I’ve been tracking down and talking with a range of people. Below is a short summary of what I’ve learned so far; I welcome corrections and additional information. The first Zen teacher to come to New Zealand to teach was Kyozan Joshu Sasaki, who came several times in the 1970s and 80s. A few other Zen and Ch’an teachers visited at least once, and as all MRO students will be aware, from the late 1980s, John Daido Loori Roshi and then Geoffrey Shugen Arnold Sensei have been making annual trips to New Zealand. The Denkyo-ji society was formed in the 1970s in association with Sasaki’s visits, and this was renamed
Please contact Sally at email@example.com or 09 8155033, or by mail to Sally McAra, 6/21a Malvern Rd, Mt Albert, Auckland 1022, preferably before 30 August 2013. Sally has a background of researching and publishing about Buddhism in Australia and New Zealand, including a book (Land of Beautiful Vision: Making a Buddhist Sacred Place in New Zealand, University of Hawai’i Press, 2007) and several journal articles.
Upcoming events For the latest details on these retreats, please visit www.zen.org.nz or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Meditation retreats with Ron Hogen Green October-November 2013 Ron Hogen Green is a Dharma Holder in the Mountains and Rivers Order. He has spent many years training both as a Zen monastic and as a lay practitioner. He currently lives in Pennsylvania, where he works as a pharmacist. Hogen Green in Christchurch (events TBC) October 21-23 Wangapeka sesshin, near Nelson (held over Labour Weekend) October 24-28 – registration at 5pm Thursday; retreat ends midday Monday Otaki retreat, north of Wellington November 1–3 Auckland retreat November 8–10
Events and retreats with Shugen Sensei January 2014 Shugen Sensei is the head of the Mountains and Rivers Order of Zen Buddhism, and the abbot of the Zen Center of New York City. Public Talk on Zen Buddhism, Wellington Tuesday evening, January 7 (TBC) Introduction to Zen practice workshop, Wellington Wednesday morning, January 8 (TBC) Public Talk, Christchurch Wednesday evening, January 8 Introduction to Zen practice workshop, Christchurch Thursday January 9, 9am-12pm at the Opawa Zendo Weekend retreat, Canterbury Glentui Meadows, near Oxford, January 10-12 Sesshin – Intensive training retreat, Canterbury Glentui Meadows, near Oxford, January 13-19
Right: At the Zenz AGM in January 2013, it was suggested that a statue of Mahapajapati be bought for the Kiwi MRO sangha. Mahapajapati was the first woman to successfully petition the Buddha for ordination. In June, the beautiful statue arrived at the Nelson Zendo in the backpack of a young woman named Sarah, who had been living in the same village in Indonesia as Nyoman Yuliani, the carver of this statue. Nyoman fulfills orders for Buddhist statues for Dharma Communications.
evenings. We now start at 7.30pm. In January our public talk in Parnell and Introduction to Zen workshop with Shugen Sensei at the Nyima Tashi Centre were well advertised and well attended and gave some fresh life to events in Auckland. It was the first time in ten years that Shugen Sensei had visited Auckland. However, we have not had much continuation of interest leading on from it. In the first half of the year following sesshin, a number of zazenkais/mondos have been held at Nyima Tashi or kindly hosted by Dana Rotberg in her house on the North Shore. In April we said goodbye to Selina Clare and Taikyu Apathy, who left to go for a period of longterm residency at Zen Mountain Monastery, where they are now working in the garden and graphics areas respectively. Auckland sangha is preparing for the weekend retreat that Hogen will lead here in November. The retreat may be held at Kawaipurapura, a spiritual retreat centre in the bush in Albany.
Report by Gwitha Kaido Nash Houn Snadden has produced a very impressive “han” out of elm. It will be used at the Nelson zendo and at sesshins. The mallet is domed to strike cleanly.
Report by Rachel Furyo Stockwell & Ingrid Sage ZENZ Wellington shifted to its new location at Cat on the Mat Pilates on Adelaide Road, Berhampore in January this year. The new venue and earlier sitting time (7pm) has brought in several more people, including Simon Cosgrove, who has done a lot of design work for Hojin’s art workshop this July. For the start of our autumn ango, five of us did a sangha walk up to the Wind Turbine on Brooklyn Hill. Our spring and autumn retreats held at Strathean (near Otaki) with the Manawatu Sangha have gone well, with attendance averaging eight. Strathean will also be the venue for our next retreat, to be led by Hogen from 1-3 November. We so far have 18 people registered for Hojin’s “The Question Mark” workshop in July, and look forward to a visit from Shugen Sensei in January 2014.
Houn wrote a poem to commemorate the gift: I wish I could have done more A block of elm A mallet A tiny tilt at immortality A knock, a bok To echo through time. Will it survive Or just disintegrate? “There is a crack, A crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”
Report by Colin Taisui Markwell Sitting continues each Monday night at Peter Jolly’s place. We have also continued to take part in the on-line mondos from Foxton Beach.
(You may be able to see the crack in the photo.)
Report by Geoffrey Gensei Moore The Christchurch sangha continues to sit Sunday and Tuesday evenings, and Friday morning each week. Since last spring, the turnout of people for “beginner instruction” has been good, and Tuesday nights have also been well attended. We look forward to hosting Dharma Holder Hogen Green during his first visit to New Zealand in October.
The Nelson group have become acutely aware of our ageing demographic and have recently run beginner workshops to encourage new participants.
Report by Cameron Kito Broadhurst The Auckland Sangha sits at the Nyima Tashi centre in Ponsonby, central Auckland on Monday 28
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