Upcoming events at VDZS

Please join us next Monday, February 8th for a special visit and dharma talk with our friend Maia Duerr.  Maia is an anthropologist, writer, and longtime Zen practitioner. She is a student in the Soto Zen lineage of Suzuki Roshi, and has lived and practiced at the San Francisco Zen Center where she received jukai from Victoria Shosan Austin in 2008. She is currently preparing to receive entrustment as a lay Zen teacher from Shosan. In 2012, she received lay ordination from Roshi Joan Halifax as a lay Buddhist chaplain. Maia was the director of Upaya Zen Center’s Buddhist Chaplaincy Training Program from its inception in 2008 to 2014 and continues to serve on Upaya’s Engaged Buddhism faculty.

Zazen will begin as usual at 6:30pm, followed by a short service.  Maia’s talk will begin around 7:15pm, and there will be time for discussion after the lecture.

On Saturday, February 13th, we will have our monthly half-day sitting.
The half-day schedule is as follows:

1:00-1:35 zazen
1:35-1:45 kinhin (walking)
1:45-2:20 zazen
2:20-2:30 kinhin
2:30-3:05 zazen
3:05-3:15 kinhin
3:15-3:50 zazen
3:50-4:00 kinhin
4:00-4:35 zazen
4:35 Service and closing

There is no fee, and you may enter or depart at any point, preferably during the kinhin periods.

Both events will be held at Dragonfly Yoga.  Please be in touch if you have questions or concerns.

Maintaining Our Dharma Position

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I want to talk about maintaining our “Dharma Position,” a phrase from Dogen’s Genjokoan that we’ve touched on recently. What can this mean?

There can be numbers of ways to interpret it. In zazen, we practice just sitting still and settling. Dogen said that all Buddhas and ancestors discovered the importance of this, that zazen is the primary gate of ease and joy. In a simple, direct way, we already recognize that being still and actually being present with what arises there is occupying our position, and we see the need for this.

This simple practice can appear to lead us into tangled thickets. Some traditions including Zen can be interpreted to teach that somehow we have to defeat the idea of a separate self, that the goal is some kind of “merging with the infinite” and killing off the ego, or something like this. In some psychological circles, there is a threat described upon entering the wisdom road of a “pre/trans fallacy”; meaning, we can mistake reverting to a womb-like pre-consciousness for being nakedly present with what is. We can also mistake being “nakedly present with what is” with just being narcissistic or insensitive to the integrity of other creatures and the whole. We constantly find ourselves negotiating situations like this. How can we possibly “do” it all? In short, especially if we are here engaging in this practice, we realize we can’t.

In zazen, for a few minutes we release from (let’s call it) the “left-brain”’s compulsive need to adjust, fix, cope, judge, compare, strategize, and do. We draw back our projections; we turn around our light, and shine within. Our vow and our refuge prayer is the recognition that at all levels relatively speaking we are small, fallible, and fundamentally insecure. Zazen is our courageous expression of the vital basic goodness that keeps on flowering despite the vagaries and whims of our thoughts and moods, our perceived strength or weakness. It is in this way an “other power”, a devotional practice. It’s a kind of total prayer, beyond even our idea of what we think we need or want.

So Dharma Position can just be respectful presence. As Joe has been talking about recently, “emptiness” is the recognition of impermanence and inter-being; “suchness” is gently but actively occupying our own Dharma Position. What I want to touch on briefly is when we slip, and how we right ourselves, particularly interacting with others. This is often where it gets most tricky. People can sit a lot of zazen and still be pretty insensitive or unskillful in different ways. A capacity to sit still (or achieve in any realm) is no predictor of wisdom or functional compassion, and no measure with which to judge or be judged. And judgment itself can get us into trouble.

I have fallen in love with the term, “taking care of my side of the street.” Maybe this is a practical way to think about Dharma Position. A couple weeks ago, I got a couple of emails from someone who has come to zazen here and heard me share just a couple of times. We haven’t spoken; we don’t know each other. However, he informed me that for mine (and the sangha’s) benefit, he had a number of suggestions for me to incorporate not just into into my speech, but also my thoughts, my feelings, and even my personality in order for me to be by his estimation a Better Buddhist.

There are some problems here, and most of us can probably hazard theories as to what those are. While it’s not as if he didn’t potentially have something helpful to contribute, I think we can say he failed to take care of his side of the street; he didn’t maintain his position. How do I know this? Simply because it’s clear he’d spent considerable time and energy assessing my position, necessarily only from his position, and without asking any questions took it upon himself to fix me. I think every single human over the age of 5 can relate to this, having likely experienced both ends of this scenario. Haven’t we all tried to fix someone, or experienced an unwanted attempt at being fixed?

Now, we need to help each other. But maybe first, we call over and ask if help is desired. We see that if we sweep our sidewalk, and rake our drive, and clean our windows it becomes more possible for others to give rise to the idea that they might tidy up a bit as well. And if we have a car in the yard, and some chickens, well that’s good too.

Joe and I wear the most gear, we flap our gums the most, so we naturally end up with a bit of a target on our backs. In a monastery, people wear all these robes and shave their heads so personal eccentricity is minimized. Here, the robe wearers might look to some people like Futsacutsas of the Kaminstram (an old burlesque phrase): muckity mucks who know a thing or two, see. That periodically uncomfortable pressure is something that we have chosen for now to negotiate as a part of our own practice. That’s just our “karma.” With direction from my teacher, I see my own function as a robe-wearer to simply help make a place for zazen to be available – that’s the bottom line.

The robe wearers here are not scholars or experts. We aren’t psychologists or gurus. I am an artist with anarchistic leanings, Joe is a lefty Dead-head scientist, and we’re both just people who love Dogen’s presentation of zazen. Zazen is a simple practice. It’s not hard to create the space. We put out the cushions, we put up the picture of Suzuki roshi and light a candle to establish our direction, we assume our Dharma Positions, and everyone makes zazen available to everyone else. One person this way or that is not a deal breaker, me or anyone.

From a basic sort of standpoint, there’s really no problem anywhere in the whole universe. I am addressing this communication issue only because it is an expedient means to explore how we each can support zazen, and as such I feel real gratitude for it. If you are sitting here judging how me, Joe, or anyone else is sharing or expressing themselves (bowing, sitting, chanting, or speaking), the teachings are pretty clear that you are not actually supporting zazen. You are simply delaying entry into an appreciation of your own life. You are actually abandoning yourself.

Time spent judging others is pretty much wasted time; “scratching your left foot when your right foot is itching” was how my first Zen teacher used to put it. What we really want, in this room and maybe in this life, is to cultivate appreciation. Dogen described this appreciative mind of Zazen as three-fold: Joyful Heart-Mind, Parental Heart-Mind, and Magnanimous Heart-Mind. This doesn’t mean we lose our wits, or expect to gush love over everyone we meet. These both can be failures to maintain our position, to stay on our side of the street. Having healthy boundaries is maintaining our position and supporting zazen. Zazen mind is appreciation mind. Appreciation mind is a sober mind, focused on taking good care its side of the street, or say, its cushion.

We get so many opportunities to investigate ourselves practicing with other people, interacting with other people, and non-interacting with other people, as in zazen. I think a zazen-like approach to interacting with others is, first and foremost, to increase our capacity to accept ourselves. That actually could be the whole thing. If we accept ourselves completely, then we naturally will know when to avoid or extract ourselves from certain people or situations, how to interact with others, how to respect their boundaries and respect our own.

However, most of us have sustained some damage along the way, and whether through nature or nurture have some habitual tendencies that cause us to suffer unnecessarily, and to cause suffering. Circumstances can get complex, and things change. We struggle at times to accept ourselves, and others. So we need to be quite careful with each other and with ourselves, without being too precious. We need to risk a little, and we need to retreat a little, and develop a mental/emotional posture that can help us make those moves on time, with help from good friends who share this direction. We also continue to develop skills. I am working myself on doing three specific things, communication-wise: asking more questions, detaching from stories, and making simple requests.

I almost guarantee to the degree we are concerned with fixing other people, we are neglecting something in ourselves. That’s the trade off; personally, it can be quite a heavy price to pay. We can even drag people down with us, or be dragged down. Healthy families, communities, even cultures can dissolve because of the failure of individuals to maintain really quite simple, healthy boundaries. I feel good about our loose little community, because people are just being sincere and semi-consistent and supportive of each other. Integrity is being respected and supported; we get a taste of that here, and see what we can pay forward. I mostly only see people thankful for the chance to come to this relatively safe space and have a place to practice appreciation and non-judgment. I want this for you, and I want this for me. I feel really quite supported in my own practice inquiry, and request your ongoing support for the individuals that comprise the sangha, including (first and foremost) your own truest self.

 

Half Day Sit, Saturday, Jan. 9

Half Day Sit this Saturday, Jan. 9, 2016 from 1-5 pm (see schedule below.) Location: Dragonfly Yoga.

The half-day schedule is as follows:
1:00-1:35 zazen
1:35-1:45 kinhin (walking)
1:45-2:20 zazen
2:20-2:30 kinhin
2:30-3:05 zazen
3:05-3:15 kinhin
3:15-3:50 zazen
3:50-4:00 kinhin
4:00-4:35 zazen
4:35 Service and closing

There is no fee, and you may enter or depart at any point, preferably during the kinhin periods.

 

A half day of sitting is a wonderful opportunity to put aside our daily concerns for a brief period and settle more deeply into the silent space of zazen (just sitting). Please wear loose fitting comfortable clothing, preferably in dark solid colors. Shoulders and legs should be covered. Watches are discouraged, and cell phones should be silent, preferably turned off and left outside the practice space with shoes, purses, and water bottles, etc. (there are cubbies and safe places for such things.)

It can seem daunting to sit a few periods if you only tend to sit more briefly, but with collective energy and the freedom to adjust your posture as needed, it is fully doable for just about anyone. The benefits are immediately felt.

 

Please be in touch if you have questions or concerns.

Join VDZS New Year’s Eve!

Chinatown-Chinese-New-Year-Celebration-2012-Garden-Bridge-dragon.jpg

Perhaps the usual parties and/or TV count down on the couch don’t seem so appealing this year. Come join us for zazen and a bit of chanting to ring in the New Year in peace and community.
We will have unbroken zazen from 9 pm to 11:45. People can come, go, stand or sit as required. From 11:45 to midnight we will recite the Enmei Juku Kannon Gyo, a prayer for peace. At 12, we will ring a bell 108 times to literally ring in the New Year.

Please join us. Everyone is welcome. It’s just sitting in silence – certainly people you know desire this too, so feel free to bring a friend.

Bring snacks or beverages to be shared following bells!

Location:
Dragonfly Yoga Studio
Albuquerque, NM

Rev. Brian Taylor talk

Recently Rev. Brian Taylor gave a talk at VDZS, in which he discussed his experiences as an Episcopal minister and student of Zen. While we don’t have a transcription of his talk, he’s provided an outline of a recent class he taught online, along with links to his discussions there. Thanks Brian!

The Empty Way – Contemplative Christianity and Zen Buddhism

Talks given by The Rev. Brian C. Taylor

Fall 2015

The teachings and practice of both of the Contemplative Christian and Zen Buddhist traditions offer a particular way of being: an openness to life as it is, compassion towards others, and freedom from anxiety-producing habits of mind. Both emphasize present-moment awareness through silent sitting as the primary path that leads to this way of being.

Themes of these talks include self-emptying and impermanence; faith and grace seen freshly through Buddhist “other-power-practice”; interconnectedness that leads to compassion and justice; and that ephemeral, unnamable reality which some call “God”, and others “the absolute” or “Buddha-nature.”

The talks were originally given for an online course, which included the book Zen Gifts to Christians (Continuum/Bloomsbury Publishing, 2004) by Robert Kennedy, a Jesuit priest, Zen roshi, theologian, and psychotherapist.

The talks are available on Brian Taylor’s website.

Respect for Things

“[To do things in the easiest way] is very convenient, but it will givmason-haspray_300e us a lazy feeling. Of course this kind of laziness is part of our culture, and it eventually causes us to fight with each other. Instead of respecting things, we want them for ourselves, and if it is difficult to use them, we want to conquer them. This kind of idea does not accord with the spirit of practice.”

Shunryu Suzuki, “Respect for Things” from Not Always So

 

In this talk, Suzuki roshi emphasizes an attitude of respect for the particular things that constitute our life. Chairs, shutters, tools, even our bodies. The point of zazen is not to be a perfect sitter, but to gradually refine our capacity to engage an active caring posture toward our actual life, in the world. At first this capacity might be quite small. Maybe we can only pay respectful attention for a millisecond. Since we are actually only living our lives moment by moment, I think this is still pretty good.

With the help of good teachers and practice guidelines, I began investigating a different sort of quality in my own zazen practice a few years back. I noticed persistent patterns of physical and mental tension manifesting in my life, and I saw it in my zazen. I noticed that I could sit still, but I felt a bit wooden. Part of my solution to this was to practice being “lighter” in my attention. In essence, I began to be more gentle with my own thoughts and feelings. I was gentler toward them, more respectful, and I approached “stillness” or “no thinking” with a lighter touch. I wouldn’t expect to keep focused on it, but rather I hoped to just brush past it occasionally. It’s hard to describe; it is an intuitive thing.

We had a guest speaker last year, Beatte Stolte, and she described after many years of very serious Zen discipline (maybe too serious?), she had basically given up “zazen” altogether, and she was delving into

Taming-ox-550x440

Riding the Tamed Ox

Tibetan teachings. My paraphrasing (which is only that, and unfairly succinct) is that she considered it something a waste of time/energy to sit still if you don’t naturally feel “still.” I can’t agree with her in this, at least not completely. I think practicing stillness can help, in various ways both concrete and subtle. I can wholeheartedly agree with the impulse to be a lot more natural and gentle with ourselves and with zazen. I agree with her that we need to gently and patiently “tame the ox.” Or as in the book The Little Prince, tame the fox.

The fox actually wanted to be tamed, but only as an act of love. Not in a game of domination. That is not a truly lasting or nourishing sort of relationship. As Suzuki roshi points out, we have to be aware of our human and culture propensity to control through domination – imposing our will. This can be quite subtle. Subtle or obvious, this is not the “spirit of our practice.”fox

Roshi points here to how change begins within our own hearts and minds. This is why we are drawn to practice. I fully believe that everyone coming to zazen already understands all of these teachings, and that part that understands drags you to zazen in order to express it with one’s whole body and heart/mind. This turns the self-improvement angle a bit upside down, but this is what our tradition says. This is what distinguishes Dogen’s approach, which is only the Zen approach, which is only Things As It Is. Water is wet; fire heats. Eyes horizontal; nose vertical.

Roshi describes how Zen teaches that we should see a 16-foot Golden Buddha in a blade of grass – meaning sacredness in mundane things. He says maybe this is easy for some people, but it’s not for him. In that recognition, rather than just get bummed out, he finds energy to practice. So we have both sides – recognition of our fundamental, active wisdom, contrasted with the impediments to actualizing that in our life. Turning toward zazen, we respectfully turn toward this dilemma. We could call this turning itself a prayer for the betterment of this culture roshi speaks of, where lazy mindedness gives rise to greed, and a sort of spiritual laxity, leading directly to conflict and abuse. The deeply personal is indeed profoundly political. We can vote with our attention, moment to moment. I know for myself, I feel deeply supported by zazen in this work.

Half Day Sit 12/12/15

Half Day Sitting Saturday, December 12 from 1-5 pm (see schedule below.) Location: Dragonfly Yoga.

The half-day schedule is as follows:
1:00-1:35 zazen
1:35-1:45 kinhin
1:45-2:20 zazen
2:20-2:30 kinhin
2:30-3:05 zazen
3:05-3:15 kinhin
3:15-3:50 zazen
3:50-4:00 kinhin
4:00-4:35 zazen
4:35 Service and closing

There is no fee, and you may enter or depart at any point during the kinhin periods.

A half day sitting is a wonderful opportunity to put aside our daily concerns for a brief period and settle more deeply into the silent space of zazen. Please wear loose fitting comfortable clothing, preferably in dark solid colors. Shoulders and legs should be covered. Watches are discouraged, and cell phones should be silent, preferably left outside the practice space with shoes, purses, and water bottles, etc.

It can seem daunting to sit a few periods if you only tend to sit more briefly, but with collective energy and the freedom to adjust your posture as needed, it is fully doable for just about anyone. The benefits are immediately felt.

Please be in touch if you have questions or concerns.

It’s alright.

We recently had a half-day sitting, and looking for a reading to share to inspire our practice , I reached for Not Always So, the more recent of the two collections of Shunryu Suzuki’s talks. The other is of course the seminal Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind. I have come to in some ways prefer Not Always So. ZMBM was collected and published while Suzuki was still alive. If you’ve read Richard Baker’s introduction, maybe you’ve noticed that it tends to really idealize the “zen master,” imputing to such a person a virtual omniscience and ultimate spiritual authority. The flavor of the rest of the book catches hints of this kind of idealization. I think the later book is just a little more down to earth. It sounds maybe a little more like his own voice, that you can even hear now online in this archive.

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Suzuki and Lama Anagorika Govinda

This kind of idealization poses all kinds of problems for students and teachers of Zen, historically perhaps, and certainly recently; at least it has in this country. I can’t speak for anywhere else. I have been contemplating this issue of “spiritual authority”. One necessarily has to if you enter the gate of Zen study. It’s a central theme of the Zen tradition: both the value of tradition and simple, natural hierarchy, and the utter non-fixity and relativity of such roles in our human lives.

So, I found a passage to inspire our zazen, but I think it also really poetically addresses the authority question, too. Just by way of a little more background for my remarks, I will point out that I am of that generation called “X.” I feel like we have certain kinds of patterned  collective “authority issues.” But then, so do the so-called Baby Boomers, Millennials, and the rest. We see the collective and personal effects of these things. We see it in politics, we see it in our workplaces and homes, and we see it in our so-called spiritual organizations and traditions. I think it’s good for us to look at these things directly sometimes, with care and patience. No one has all the answers.

So due to the complex circumstances and habit energies of my life, I have ended up sometimes sitting upfront here in the robes, at the direction of my teacher helping to facilitate zazen for people. This could imply a certain kind of mastery, attainment, or knowledge; for us, in this way, that is really not the point. Maybe the opposite of the point. At times, people can be drawn to abuse this kind of implied authoritative position, in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. Certain traditions could seem to invite these problems more than others. In any case, it is incumbent on each of us to learn to hold our own Dharma position, our own healthy psychological uprightness; that we practice good boundaries and respectful communication. For myself, I want a safe place to come and face the wall, on my own with others, on their own. Since I want this for me, I also want this for others. I know we all here share this value.

So talking about one of our old teaching stories, Suzuki roshi says, “The Sun-faced Buddha is good; the Moon-faced Buddha is good. Whatever it is, that is good — all things are Buddha. And there is no Buddha, even. When you do not understand Buddha, you will be concerned if I say there is no Buddha: “You are a priest, so how can you say there is no Buddha? Why do you chant? Why do you bow to Buddha?” There is no Buddha so we bow to Buddha. If you bow to Buddha because there is Buddha, that is not a true understanding of Buddha. Sun-faced Buddha, Moon-faced Buddha — no problem…even though I die, it is alright with me, and it is alright with you. And if it is not alright, you are not a Zen student. It is quite alright. That is Buddha.”

In a fundamental way, everything is in this paragraph. Good times and bad, sickness and health, life and death, cultivation and the source, interdependence and independence. I especially like how he just cuts through this issue of “heavenly authority.” We bow to Buddha, we sit like Buddha, because there is no Buddha – which is to say, an external deity or spiritual force in some other time or place that supersedes or remains aloof from our own heart-mind, apprehending things as it is. Or if there is such a thing, that is not what we are attending in our practice.

In another famous story of a Zen exchange, a teacher once said, “I don’t say there is no Zen; just that there are no teachers of Zen.” Depending on where we’re at, this can be challenging to hear; I think it can also come as a great relief. We have to come to our own terms with our own lives, but we don’t do it alone. Co-creative guidance is available. We practice our way in community – whether it is this community or that, seen or unseen. This is quite evident already in zazen. We come together, face the wall and face ourselves. We then turn around, and smile at each other. At one level, it is a perfect metaphor. But we don’t content ourselves with metaphors. We dive in, and literally embody it. We affirm our trust that coming together, attending to our breathing in and breathing out, our inner and outer posture, is in itself inherently a good and healing activity. And, in a deeply basic way, that it’s alright.

 

 

Events to Wrap Up November, 2015

UPCOMING VDZS EVENTS

two events to announce for the remainder of the month of November:

1) We will host a Half Day Sitting Saturday, November 21 from 1-5 pm (see schedule below.) Location: Dragonfly Yoga. See details here.

brian taylor2) Monday, Nov. 30, after our usual zazen and service, Rev. Brian Taylor will be giving a talk about his long-term inquiry into Christian-Zen dialogue. Rev. Taylor was Rector at St. Michael’s Episcopal Church in Albuquerque for two decades. Retired, he now spends most of his time in Chicago where he practices with Rev. Taigen Leighton at Ancient Dragon Zen Gate.