April 28, 2009

The Netherlands

It was a great workshop at Zen River in The Netherlands made so by the wonderful people in the Sangha and the great teacher Tenkei Coppens Roshi and his wife Tammy, who is also a priest and Assistant Abbess.  On Saturday evening we drove out to the coast passing by this sweet little house where a famous local poet lived before he died.  Here you see a bust of him leaning on the garden wall.  We also passed by this old, old church in a little hamlet called Doodstiel, which means Dead Silent.

Going out to the coast was a zigzag (no pun on Amsterdam) journey weaving through various canals.  We at last came to a parking area with a staircase that led us over the dike and into the marshy flatlands.  I was expecting to see a coast, but there is no coast to see.  The tide comes in and out and washes over these marshy areas and through the canals. 

A group of men had just come from their journey of  'mud walking' which is exactly what it says.  They have special mud walking shoes to prevent suction and their legs became caked with pitch black mud.  They appeared to be all wearing long black stockings.  The sport takes them for miles out into the waters far beyond sight of land.  They have to get back of course before the tide comes in.  It's as flat as flat can be and there really is no coast line to see, just an endless horizon. 

We joked madly about this all weekend as we were studying "Mountains are Walking" from Dogen Zenji and we were considering the importance of fierce landscapes.  The place at the coast is the fierce landscape of No. Holland.  I'll admit the silence there was incredible except for our continuous hilarity.  The starkness of it calls up a sense of longing and the wind forces you to tuck inside of yourself.  It brings out a loneliness in the heart.  The photo shows just some of us facing into the wind.  Tenkei Roshi is standing to my left.

The same people who can laugh so heartily at Zen River can be completely serious when it comes to Zen practice.  They are devoted to their training and many of them have sacrificed a great deal to train with Tenkei Roshi and to offer their lives to the Dharma.  Their training makes for a beautiful experience in the Zendo and I'm certain they have the best sounding chanting and music anywhere I've been.  It's strong and enthusiastic with clear and confident harmonies. 

 We  left Zen River and drove to No. Germany on Monday:  Fritz, Mechtild, Friederike and me.  I'm here now and we've just finished a full day celebrating my birthday every place we went.  The weather continues to be mild with the threat of rain, but no drops so far.  Not for seven weeks in a row.