June 28, 2011

Urgent Prayer Request from the Apache Nation

Near Kobun Roshi's Stupa in Taos, NM

Southwest USA
Tribal Prayer 
Friday 24 June 2011

Wallow Fire - 
Special Request from the Native Brothers
and Sisters in the SW
Please forward as you see fit
Hello everybody - as you can see on the news the Wallow fire in 
Northern Arizona is still uncontrollable and spreading.
The fire has destroyed everything in its path, over 1/2 million acres so
far, the largest fire in Arizona history. Please join us in a tribal prayer
to help the firefighters and all involved. Pray so the winds stop and the
rains start (without lightning please) We want to pray for the safety of
all. Ask for heavenly walls to protect our land and animals from fire. All
the choppers, manpower, planes, and bulldozers are not enough, they need our
help. We are one Nation as Natives and our traditional prayers to the
Creator as Natives can be pretty powerful; not only are our tribal lands at
stake (White Mountain & San CarlosApaches, possibly Zuni, and some Navajo
areas), but our non-native friends also need our help. Please let us all
connect our minds, hearts and our prayers across the miles and pray.
Wherever you are and whatever you have plan please stop for a few minutes
and raise your hands to the Creator to ask for help. If all of you can
forward this message across the Nations, we can reach many thru phone and
internet. Please start forwarding ASAP to reach as many as we can. Please if
your spiritual preference is not traditional - pray with us in however way
you talk to the Creator.
Thank you,
Dorothea Stevens, San Carlos Apache Nation

June 27, 2011

Function of the hermitage and the hermit

Gogo-an, our solitary meditation hut
On Saturday morning, we fell into discussion about the function of a hermitage and the purpose of living as a solitary in a life of prayer.  I should explain that although we are called Olympia Zen Center, we are actually a hermitage, as our temple mountain name is Ryoko-an which means, Good Pond Hermitage.  A hermitage is literally a small dwelling place of a hermit. The "an" at the end is the designator of whether a place of practice is a temple or a hermitage.  Usually when a place is called "an" it refers to a quiet, holy place, a sacred space set aside for quietness, meditation, reflection.  When a place is called "ji" as in Entsuji, it means temple, which generally refers to a place that is more like a community or cultural center where a great variety of activities take place.  A temple is usually larger than a hermitage.

We refer to Olympia Zen Center as our temple although we may as well refer to it as a hermitage.  As our practice evolves, we more and more reflect the meaning of hermitage because of the deep and holy atmosphere that is being created through our practice.  Once in awhile we have social events, but the social is not our main interest and people don't come to satisfy their social needs but rather to answer their spiritual quest.  Our interest is to provide a sacred place for respite from the turmoils of life in the fast lane, in the market place, in the hustle of corporate life.  When we come together to talk, as we do on Saturday mornings, we may engage in rich laughter and lighthearted conversation, which inevitably occurs, but the continuous peace of practice has come to permeate the atmosphere and has become a guide which reminds us of the heart/mind of Zazen in all we do.  In essence, when we come for practice at Ryoko-an, even as lay people we enter a hermitage and become monks and hermits in community with others.

For many who come to Zen practice, there is an inner calling to live a deep and meaningful life which must be nurtured.  The hermitage is the nurturing connection that stands as a balancing force against the distractions and frivolous nature of materiality.  It represents the sacred in the awakening mind so that we can sustain the heart of practice wherever we go.  We essentially carry the image of the hermitage in the heart/mind.  If we don't have that sacred space, or those who maintain it, that is, those who vow to live in practice, we can feel ourselves adrift in a callous and disheartening world.  An imbalance is created and we have no touchstone for the mind of prayer.  It's like having a city without a park.

The Sangha functions to help support us in maintaining our own practice of solitude.  We can't be truly solitary without the backbone of Sangha which balances the solitary with the togetherness of community.  Oddly, we can be truly solitary when the community knows where we are and wraps us in the mind of protection.  Solitary practice is sacred and even in that we are never alone.  If we just go off by ourselves without the Sangha knowing where we are or what we are about, we miss the true point of Sangha.  That's the same as the Sangha having a gathering and not telling us. We are always a part of the whole, never separate from It.  We continually negotiate our way between silence and sound, solitary and togetherness, hermitage and marketplace, intensity and lightheartedness.

And, in the interests of Buddha Mind and continuing practice and the presence of our hermitage into the future for generations to come:  Ask not what your hermitage can do for you, ask what you can do for your hermitage.

June 24, 2011

The Function of a Zen Center

Years ago, Joko Beck Sensei spoke these words in a Dharma talk.  They survived in someone's notebook, were retyped, and are now making their way in conversation as a reminder of the wisdom teachings of Joko Sensei who died on June 15, 2011.

The Function of a Zen Center

from a talk by Joko Beck Sensei

            What I want to talk about today is the function of a Zen Center.  In a general way we can say that it is to support practice; of course that’s true. But we have a lot of illusions about Zen Centers as we do about teachers. And one thing we tend to think is that a Zen Center is a place that should be very nice for me – in other words, it should be non-threatening (laughs).  I think a good center should be quite threatening at times! It is not the function of a center to take care of your comfort or your social life. By that I don’t mean that we should not have social events – I think they’re great – but they are not the primary function of a center.  A Zen Center’s function is not to provide people with social life. It is not necessarily supposed to make them feel good, and it’s not supposed to make them feel special.

          A center is primarily a powerful tool to assist us in waking up.  As a sangha practicing at a center, yes, we need to support each other, but the nature of that support may not be exactly the kind of support that is often seen in an office.  You know, a girl’s boyfriend leaves her – “oh you poor thing! Why you know, when my boyfriend left me….” (laughter)  and off we go!  There is a “we’re all victims in this together” attitude which is not support. The more we practice, well, the less of that fake kind of support is what is met at a good center.

            It should be a place then that gives us support, yes, but also challenges us, and in that sense we’re all teachers of one another. Some of the most powerful teachings at a Zen Center have nothing to do with the teacher; sometimes the teaching is from another person, coming directly from that person’s experience.  To be honest, to be aware of what real practice is, and to share it with others – this is what makes a center a different kind of place to be.

            Sadly enough, Zen Centers tend to be somewhat ego-perpetuating: we want them to be bigger, better, more important that the other guy’s center, certainly! There are very subtle ego currents that can circulate in a Zen Center, as in any other organization if we are not especially careful.

            And some thoughts on the sangha:  one point is crucial – the longer people have been practicing, the less important the outward role should be. And for that reason I don’t want people who have been practicing for a long time to assume that they are always going to be monitors – sometimes, yes, of course, but the more senior the student, the more I want their influence to be felt through their practice, and through their willingness not to seem important; and to let the newer students begin to assume some of the outwardly conspicuous positions.

            The mark of senior students is to be working when no one else knows they’re there. I see people working in the Center office at odd hours; sometimes I come back from shopping and they’re working hard. That’s a sign of mature practice, getting the job done and keeping our own importance out of it. Personally, I’m trying to go that way by downplaying the tremendous importance given to the role of teacher. And I want this to apply to all of the older students.   So if you feel you are not getting to do what you usually do, GREAT! Then you have something nice to practice with.

            Another mark of a good Zen Center is that it shakes all of us up; it is not the way we want it in our pictures.  So, in our upset, what we get back to then, is the basis of practice – which is, as near as I can put it into words, to assume more and more an observer stance in our life.

            By that I mean that everything in our life will continue to take place – the problems, the emotional difficulties, the pleasant days, the ups and downs, which are what human life consists of – but it is the ability not to get caught – to enjoy what is happening when it is “good”, to have equanimity when it is “bad” and to observe it all, which is the continuing work.

            The mark of maturing practice is simply the ability, more and more and more, to notice what is going on and not be caught by it.  Easy to talk about, but probably 15 to 20 years of hard practice are needed before we are like that a good bit of the time.

            And that is not the final stage.  When there is no object, no person, no event, no thing in the world with which I identify, by which I’m caught – when there is no object and no observing self – then there is a flip into what, if you wish to give it a name, is the enlightened state.

            I have never known anyone whom I felt had accomplished that, but some persons have done well and, if you are lucky enough to encounter such a person, you sense the difference in one who is not caught by life (needing it, craving something or someone, insisting that life be a certain way) – You notice that such a person is at peace and free.

            These are the people who are a healing and beneficent influence on any life that is near them.  They don’t have to do anything – the healing comes from the way they are.  That transformation is what we want from our practice. We are more than lucky to have such an opportunity in this lifetime. Let’s take advantage of it and do our very best.

June 15, 2011

Charlotte Joko Beck

Charlotte Joko Beck died peacefully this morning, June 15, 2011, at 7:30 a.m.  She was a deeply influential American Zen teacher whose writings touched and supported hundreds and hundreds of people around the world.

She received Dharma Transmission from Taizan Maezumi Roshi and then founded the San Diego Zen Center where she served as Head Teacher from 1983 until 2006.

Her two well known books are Everyday Zen: Love and Work; and, Nothing Special: Living Zen.

This is a brief excerpt from Everyday Zen:
"Now, sometimes people say, "It's too hard."  But in fact, not practicing at all is much, much harder.  We really fool ourselves when we don't practice.  So please be very clear with yourself about what must be done to end suffering; and also that by practicing with such courage we can enable others to have no fear, no suffering.  We do it by the most intelligent, patient, persistent practice.  We never do it by our complaints, our bitterness and anger; and I don't mean to suppress them.  If they come up, notice them; you don't have to suppress them.  Then immediately go back into your breath, your body, into just sitting.  And when we do that there is not one of us who, by the end of the sesshin, will not find the rewards that real sitting gives.  Let's sit like that."

June 09, 2011

Qualities of a Spiritual Friend

In the past two weeks we've been talking about the Qualities of a Spiritual Friend.  The Buddha speaks of these after Ananda asks him about friendship.  Ananda says that he feels the importance of a spiritual friend is about fifty percent of practice and the Buddha corrects him and says, "No Ananda, it's one hundred percent."  The Buddha goes on to name those qualities which a spiritual friend practices to bring about and express connectivity.

In our discussion in the Zendo, I said that I thought these qualities are at the base of all relationships - sangha, teacher-student, parental, spousal, sibling, work, professional - and they indicate, just as the precepts do, the spiritual-ethical qualities we cultivate in the Bodhisattva path.  It's never easy to be a true friend, but it would be foolish not to try.  Perhaps the main qualities that we cultivate in this practice are the virtues of generosity, honesty, and loyalty.  And, there are other qualities that we can see that arise in our interactions.  This list is a fine subject for the journal, exploring the many depths of each quality and examining how we are doing in our spiritual expression and quality of life.

Here are the Seven Qualities of a Spiritual Friend which the Buddha expresses as most important:
A friend gives what is difficult to give.
A friend does what is difficult to do.
A friend patiently endures what is difficult to endure.
A friend reveals her or his own secrets
A friend keeps another's secrets.
A friend does not abandon another in misfortune.
A friend does not despise another because of their loss.