Remembering Buddha

In my last talk, I spoke about zazen, self-power, and other power (in Japanese, tariki and jiriki respectively.) I specifically mentioned Dogen’s seminally crucial phrase, jijuyu zanmei, as a gateway to explore this idea, or feeling, or practice; or actually, properly speaking, this fundamental reality. Jijuyu Zanmai can be translated in many ways but it could mean something like “the practice of self-actualization”, to employ language perhaps more familiar from some other traditions.

The idea of self here is really the key, in different respects. This self (ji) is not a self as opposed to an other (ta), but rather a ji that includes ta; a ta that includes ji. And as Dogen elsewhere states, it’s a self that must be dropped off or simply forgotten to be truly and thoroughly investigated, or expressed. Dogen promoted zazen as a particularly…elegant method (of no method) for doing so.

This week I wished to expand a bit more on this topic, especially since my teacher Taigen pointed me toward a talk he himself gave, that was recorded a couple of years back. He talked about Zazen as Nembutsu Practice. I think we are both great appreciators of Shinran Shonin, the Pure Land Buddhist ancestor and slight precursor of Dogen. Like Dogen, he was an accomplished and veteran Buddhist monk when he came to his great awakening. Shinran came to a profound realization of his total ineffectiveness, true hopelessness, in the face of his own and others’ confusion, ignorance, and endless craving. As a result, he took radical refuge in the vow of the great Amida Buddha, in whose vast compassion all beings are granted solace and the promise of salvation from the otherwise impossibly grinding endurance demanded by this Saha world. We might understand this as devotion, and a great prayer for peace and grace – for self and other.

This is one perspective and a great gift we receive from the Mahayana, the Buddhist movement or development that flowered in East Asia a few centuries after the historical Buddha is supposed to have lived in India. And it is the mother tradition or soil from which the Zen, Pure Land, and many other Dharma manifestations were shaped and born.

As Taigen beautifully outlined, we can view our zazen as not different than the Pure Land practice of nembutsu, which actually means “re-mind-ing Buddha” or “re-member-ing Buddha.” For the Pure Land folks, in practice this often means the recitation of the name of the Buddha they most revere – Amida. For Nichiren sects, they praise through repetition the name of a great textual manifestation of enlightened wisdom often called the Lotus Sutra (saying nam myoho renge kyo in Japanese, or namas saddharma pundarika sutra in Sanskrit – a mantra I sometimes employ myself).

These are fine practices the founder of our tradition, Eihei Dogen, was well aware of. However, it must be said that Dogen at times pretty emphatically rejected these practices in favor of zazen, which he said was the instantaneous and complete manifestation of Buddha-Mudra with one’s whole body and mind. A mudra is often thought of as a hand gesture, but Dogen’s take is obviously much more encompassing, and I think exceedingly compelling.

Dogen’s zazen was not the zazen practiced or understood by his contemporaries, or perhaps even by some people today. Dogen’s zazen may feel or look at times like a sort of heroic effort of a personal, egoic self to come to terms with itself and the world. But Dogen deeply understood that, in effect, if that’s all zazen was, it was simply not Buddha Dharma. In other words, meditating good is not necessarily a spiritual thing.

Dogen transmitted to us an understanding of zazen, or upright sitting, as totally transcending any limitation that one might place on it: self/other, body/mind, conscious/unconscious, deluded/awakened, good/bad. I think it is safe to say he was devoted to zazen as an especially beautiful way to engage that thing that is beyond all our petty “-isms and schisms”: the habitual distinctions that drive us personally to distraction, and our living planetary home to the potential verge of quite literal destruction.

Is it possible to experience and know if our zazen is truly displaying Buddha Mudra with our whole body and mind? We ask this question, and we must ask this question. But Dogen told us that the answer is to be found in no other place than in zazen itself (which is in no way limited to simply sitting down or being still) and in this current moment (which is fundamentally beyond all our efforts at total cognition). Despite this limitlessness, his exhortations to just sit, sit, and sit, attending moment by moment without expectation, continue to echo down to us 800 years later. And those of us attracted to this practice (of no practice) keep individually discovering, over and over, that he may have been on to something.

Vow, Self Power, and Other Power

Since co-founding Valley Dragon Zen Sangha in March, Taisan and I (Keizan) have alternated giving short talks on Monday nights following zazen. In the style of his teacher, he typically prepares his remarks in written form before hand, which he then more or less reads directly (and can subsequently easily post here); in the style of my teacher, I typically have a few notes, and speak mostly extemporaneously. While I have been recording our talks and hope at some point to begin posting these, in the meantime I will begin trying to at least draw up a brief summary of my remarks, so that the burden of providing content for our site is not falling on Taisan alone.

In the last few weeks, Taisan and I have been speaking directly to the role of “Vow” in our Soto way of practice. This is a subject very close to my heart, and I think to the heart of Buddha’s Way. Taisan has been reading from Shohaku Okumura-roshi’s “Living by Vow” and speaking to this. I have read from the Avatamsaka Sutra, and attempted hopefully to place Zen explicitly in a larger perspective of Mahayana understanding and historical context. This last week, I read the opening passage from Dogen’s Bendowa, or “The Wholehearted Way”, purported to be his first Dharma treatise written in Japanese.

In particular, I wished to introduce the idea of jijuyu zanmai to our sangha members unfamiliar with it, and place this idea, or rather practice, clearly within the context of Buddha’s Vow. Jijuyu zanmai is as far as I know a phrase unique at the time of this treatise to Dogen’s teaching. A phrase of profound subtlety, it has been translated in many ways, but means something along the lines of “self-actualizing samadhi” or “self-fulfilling samadhi” or perhaps as the 20th c. Zen teacher Uchiyama-roshi puts it, “the practice of the self realizing the self as the self.” In the spirit of Dogen’s love of word-play, we might adjust the grammar and say “the self realizing the Self as the self” or even “the Self realizing the self as the Self”, underscoring the Self/self distinction sometimes made in various yogic traditions. But as even this phrase indicates, ours is a totally non-dual practice and understanding, and we mustn’t get too caught up in an idea of a “self” realizing a “Self”, or vice versa.

I am a fan of the founder of the Jodo Shinshu tradition and Dogen’s contemporary, Shinran Shonin. Of course, the practice of Shin Buddhism is simply the recitation of the name of Amida Buddha, and the practice of taking refuge within this cosmic Buddha’s infinite vow of compassion to save all beings from suffering. Shinran’s primary insight was to realize that all efforts of a egoistic self to realize some transcendent Self were doomed to failure due to the utter pervasiveness of egotistical grasping in the human heart/mind. The only way to find relief from this pernicious influence of the ego is to take refuge in the Vow of that which encompasses, and resolves, everything. A thousand texts have been written on this subject, and I can’t do it justice here.

I simply wish to underscore how our zazen practice is similarly non-dualistic, and imbedded within the context of vows so vast and encompassing that they remain virtually incomprehensible to the human mind, and yet deeply stirring and meaningful to our all-too human hearts.

I was struck by a contrast in the terminology of these contemporaneous Dharma giants. Shinran in his understanding came to reject entirely the idea of jiriki, or self-power, in favor of tariki, or other power, in this case the redeeming power of Amida’s compassionate vow. Interestingly, jijuyu likewise has a contrasting principle in tajuyu. The original characters for ta- and ji- in both formulations are the same: other- vs. self-. But the ji- in Dogen’s teaching, and in our Soto practice of zazen, is not a ji- or self separate from others or the world, but a self that includes ta-, or other.

This is an extremely important point in our Soto way of practice; maybe the central point. When we sit, or chant, or bow, or walk in the zendo, there is not a self who is “meditating” in order to gain anything. We instead are simply and inexorably drawn to enact a practice of awakening beings – be that recitation of the Name or crossing our legs in zazen posture or simply praying for peace in our hearts (there obviously is no denominational limit around the longing to drop away selfness and experience connection, making one path superior to another.) As our understanding deepens, no matter what may have initially inspired the “self-powered” effort to enter onto a path of practice, and what personal energy may seem to generate what we need to spur ourselves toward uprightness on the cushion, in time we begin to realize that what really fuels our practice is totally beyond the “self” – and yet simultaneously demands or inspires expression through this very self. In a way, the true satisfaction that we experience in zazen, or wearing the robe, or recitation of scripture, or any of the other forms of practice is in simply submitting to this call, or vow – a vow that expresses itself through yet goes beyond any small idea of self.

To Avow

To Avow

One of the most ancient ceremonies in Zen Buddhism is called ryaku fusatsu.  It is the ceremony in which we recommit ourselves to the Bodhisattva vow and to the ethical precepts.  We call it the Bodhisattva Full Moon Ceremony because it is traditionally done every full moon.  Ryaku means ‘simple’ or ‘abbreviated’, because the full ceremony is very complicated and is only done rarely even in the large Japanese temples.  Fusatsu means “to continue good practice”.  The ceremony is quite beautiful, even in the abbreviated forms we use in the US, and it begins with a very important part in which we avow our actions:

All my ancient twisted karma

From beginningless greed, hate, and delusion

Born through body, speech, and mind

I now fully avow.

The word that is here translated as ‘avow’ sometimes translated as ‘repentance’, but that is a word with a lot of negative cultural overtones, and avow captures the meaning perfectly.  In feudal times, to avow meant to acknowledge a person or patron or client as ours in some relation, or to affiliate oneself with another.  It also means “to own the deeds of an agent” or to “declare as a thing one can vouch for.”

So in this chant, we are acknowledging or owning or taking responsibility for the impact of our actions on others.  Our karma is our accumulated set of habits.  The first two lines point out that our karma is indeed very old and very complicated and that our greed, or clinging, or hatred, or aversion, and our delusion, or ignorance, didn’t just begin when we were born.  These three poisons are something that just comes along with the package of being a human being.  But the next two lines don’t let us off the hook.  This karma is made manifest in the world through the actions of our body, the words we use, and even the thoughts in our head.  And we take responsibility for that, for the part of this karma that we bring into the world.

It’s not that we are begging forgiveness from God, or that we are berating ourselves as being terrible people.  Instead, we just know, as deeply as we can, and acknowledge that our body, speech, and mind affects everyone around us and we are committing ourselves to really understanding how that works in our lives and how we can influence others in a positive way.

Our meditation practice brings us some calmness, sometimes called shamatha or simple mindfulness meditation.  To be calm is good, but it’s not enough.  It’s not enough to be a calm jerk.  We need to couple shamatha with vipassana or insight into our hearts and into how karma works in our lives.

I have found that long retreats are an especially good forum for cultivating this insight.  The difficulties that arise during such retreats, and how we relate to them, can be seen as a microcosm of how we relate to all of the difficulties in our lives outside of the zendo.  By paying close attention to the nature of these difficulties and how we respond to them, we can really learn how to avow our karma and engage with the world from a more humble, more open place.

Shohaku Okumura talks about this in his wonderful book, “Living by Vow”:  We live in the reality of our life whether or not we observe the precepts.  No one can escape from this reality.  Even when we are deluded, we live in reality as deluded human beings.  Ultimately, there is no separation between reality and delusion.  In other words, reality includes delusions.  Even though we live in the reality that is beyond discrimination, we have to discriminate in our day-to-day lives.  We have to decide what is good or bad.  Without discrimination, we can do nothing.  Even as we practice the Buddha’s teachings, we have to make choices.  This is the unavoidable reality of our concrete lives.  Even when we try to manifest the reality beyond discrimination, we have to discriminate and make choices about the best way to do so.  Avowal means that although I think this is the best thing to do in this situation, I recognize that it might be a mistake.

In other words, our practice doesn’t let us off the hook.  Even as we come to see our own delusion, our own greed, our own aversion, we still have to make decisions about how to live in the world and relate to others.  We’re not going to go live in a cave by ourselves, most likely.  We have to continue to work in the world and relate to our friends and families as best we can, even knowing that we are pretty confused.  Hopefully, as we get to know ourselves better through zazen, we can make better choices, but it is essential that we grow in humility.  Action, grounded in humility, is our way.

Okumura goes on:

Our practice is not a means to get rid of delusive thoughts.  Being mindful of true reality is not a method to eliminate delusions.  In fact, when we sit in zazen, we sit squarely within the reality before the separation of delusion and enlightenment.  Delusion and enlightenment are both here.  Neither is negated or affirmed; neither is grasped.  We sit on the ground of letting go.  This is the meaning of Dogen Zenji’s expression “practice and enlightenment are one”.  There is no state to be attained other than our practice of letting go.  We practice within delusions and manifest enlightenment through sitting practice and day-to-day activities based on zazen.  These practices enable us to settle our whole existence on that ground.

Our practice is not a means to an end.  We’re not going to put an end to our delusions.  Instead, our practice becomes a foundation for our lives, a continuous reminder that we are, basically, confused human beings who can often make a mess of things, but that when we are grounded in practice, we can infuse our daily activities with this spirit of humility, awareness, and letting go.

–Taisan Joe Galewsky

Living by vow

Lately I have been reading this wonderful book by Shohaku Okumura, “Living by vow: A practical introduction to eight essential zen chants and texts”.  Shohaku trained with the great Japanese Soto Zen teacher Kosho Uchiyama Roshi at Antaiji Temple in Kyoto, and one of Uchiyama Roshi’s most important teachings is encapsulated in the title of the book. On the subject of living by vow, Shohaku writes, “. . . part of the definition of a bodhisattva is a person who lives by vow instead of living by karma. Karma means habit, preferences, or a ready-made system of values. As we grow up, we learn a system of values from the culture around us, which we use to evaluate the world and choose our actions. This is karma, and living by karma. In contrast, a bodhisattva lives by vow. Vow is like a magnet or compass that shows us the direction toward the Buddha.”

How do we decide on the right course of action in our lives? What guides us in our daily lives? For most of us, before we come to a spiritual practice like Zen, the foundation of our decision-making maybe comes from our family history, or our personal preferences, which are probably conditioned by our family history, or just by force of habit. This is living a life of what Buddhists call karma.

The word karma has sort of a bad reputation in our society because both because it is misunderstood and because it is used in different ways in different Asian traditions. In Zen, especially as we have come to understand it here in the west, karma doesn’t really have anything to do with past lives or with any sort of spiritual determinism. It’s really very concrete and specific. Our karma is the set of our accumulated habits. This is not just the things we usually think of as habits, like drinking coffee or smoking cigarettes. We also have many habits of mind. Often these are things that got established in our families, the ways we related to our parents and our siblings. Maybe we are drawn to a partner who reminds us, consciously or unconsciously, of one of our parents, or we find that we are playing out unresolved issues from our childhood over and over again in our adult relationships. This is karma, and for many of us, it is the material we work through in psychotherapy. Until we come to grips with our karma, most of us tend to be tossed around by these habits and maybe we don’t even understand why our lives aren’t working out the way we want them to.

Once we make our way to a meditation practice, we begin to see the power of living by vow, although we may not think of it in those terms. As Uchiyama Roshi explains, the practice of zazen is fundamentally a practice of vow and repentance. When we sit, we make a vow to simply be present and not respond to the karmic life that unfolds in front of us. As we see after sitting for even a few seconds, though, it’s actually an impossible vow. The structure of our minds is such that it’s really impossible to remain completely present. When we find that our minds have wandered, we simply and gently bring our attention back to our breath and our posture. This is repentance. It’s not some sort of dramatic beating ourselves up, like “Oh I’m such a terrible person! Please forgive me!” It’s just the recognition that we have, for the moment, missed the mark, and we recommit ourselves to this vow to simply be present.

Once we begin to break the karmic chains, once we are no longer so tossed around by our habits, what replaces them as our guideline for action in the world? Our vows. When we formally become Buddhists in the ceremony of jukai, we take the Bodhisattva vows and the precepts, which form a good basis for ethical and sane decision making.

Beings are numberless: I vow to save them

Delusions are inexhaustible: I vow to end them

Dharma gates are boundless: I vow to enter them

Buddha’s way is unsurpassable: I vow to become it

The precepts are sometimes worded as a vow, sometimes not, and they can be worded in either positive or negative ways, but at their simplest they are:

(1) I vow not to kill

(2) I vow not to take that which is not given

(3) I vow not to misuse sexuality

(4) I vow not to lie.

(5) I vow not to intoxicate mind or body of self or others.

(6) I vow not to slander

(7) I vow not to praise self at the expense of others

(8) I vow not to be possessive

(9) I vow not to harbor ill-will.

(10) I vow not to abuse the Three Treasures of Buddha, Dharma and Sangha.

If the word vow seems to grandiose, maybe the word we can use is “intention”. Maybe that’s a bit more realistic. For some people, the idea of a vow entails a requirement that one may never fail, and then, if we do fail, we may feel disillusioned and disappointed in ourselves and maybe even give up. So don’t set yourself up for that, don’t be too dramatic about it. Shohaku writes, “A life led by vow is a life animated or inspired by vow, not one that is watched, scolded, or consoled by vow. The simple phrase living by vow emphasizes that the person and the vow are one thing. Our life itself is a vow.”

–Taisan Joe Galewsky

Finding your place

As many of you know, I am a climate scientist at the University of New Mexico.  Every year, I spend a couple of weeks working at our field site in the northern Chilean Andes, at a place called the Chajnantor Plateau, located at an altitude of about 17,000 feet, where we are studying changes in Earth’s hydrological cycle.  It’s an extraordinary place, one of the very driest places on Earth’s surface, and it’s home to several astronomical observatories.  We’ve been working there for several years now, and we are starting to see the fruits of spending some extended time really focusing on getting to know this one place.

This time, in addition to doing our own work, we got to spend some time working with some of the many other scientists who work in the area.  For several years, we have been interacting with the cosmologists who have observatories on the Plateau, and we got to spend some more time with them this year.  They are studying the first 300,000 years after the big bang, trying to find evidence for a process called inflation, which is a hypothesized exponential expansion of the early universe.  They study this by looking for tiny ripples in what is called the cosmic microwave background, these echos of the Big Bang that they are measuring from the Chajnantor Plateau.

We also spent some time with some anthropologists who are studying pre-Hispanic irrigation practices in that part of the Chilean Atacama desert.  We saw some old ruins from the Atacaman people and some slightly younger ruins from when the Incas invaded.  It was extraordinary to see this sweep of history that occurred all before the arrival of Europeans.  You could see the individual adobe bricks from the Incan structures and we walked along the Inca Road that connected Cuzco all the way to Santiago.

Our own work is helping us to understand the ongoing changes in climate that are affecting our planet, but we also were looking at features from the last ice age, 21,000 years ago, when this region had large glaciers on it, and from the Miocene epoch, about 20 million years ago, when that part of the Andes was beginning to be tectonically uplifted.

It was remarkable to me that just by hanging out in this one place, we could learn about literally most of the history of the universe!  For some time, I have been feeling there would be real benefit in focusing on one particular place and really getting to know it across the broad expanse of time, and it felt like a validation of that as many threads of our work have started to come together.

During this time, I thought a lot about our Zen practice and often thought of a quote from Dogen’s Genjo Koan:  When you find your place where you are, practice occurs, actualizing the fundamental point.  When you find your way at this moment, practice occurs, actualizing the fundamental point.  This is one of those great quotes from Dogen that summarizes the entirety of the practice in just a few words.  What he’s saying is that when we orient ourselves in space and time, when we really get to know a place, whether it’s a mountain or a watershed, a yoga studio or a zendo, or even just our zabuton or our own minds, when we really know that place right at this point and right at this time, that is the manifestation of our practice.  When we sit in zazen, we watch our thoughts and moods and different shades of feeling and study them in detail, just like we might get to know the ancient pathways of the Incas or the subtle ripples in the cosmic background radiation.  We really get to know them, and through that, we find this sense of place right where we are.

Most of the time, most of us are not connected to that sense of place in our own lives, in our own hearts.  Before we come to practice, we are tossed around on the turbulent seas of our own desires and our unseen and unknown impulses.  Simply put, we don’t know ourselves.  Eventually, if we’re lucky, a friend might suggest to us that a meditation practice might be helpful.  By this time, we may be desperate for some relief so we give it a try.  Bit by bit, over time, we start to map out the different pathways and ripples of our hearts.  We start to become known to ourselves, at least a little bit.  And with that knowledge comes the kind of orientation that Dogen speaks of, and we start to find some stability in our lives.  These are the real fruits of our practice.

This sense of place must also be at the heart of any Buddhist response to the world’s ecological crisis.  No one speaks more eloquently of this link than the great poet Gary Snyder.  In 1974, he wrote:  “[There can be] no transformation without our feet on the ground. Stewardship means, for most of us, [to] find your place on the planet, dig in, and take responsibility from there—the tiresome but tangible work of school boards, county supervisors, local foresters—local politics. Even while holding in mind the largest scale of potential change. Get a sense of workable territory, learn about it, and start acting point by point.”

“That’s why I talk about watersheds,” he explains in an interview in Shambhala Sun from 1996. “Symbolically and literally they’re the mandalas of our lives. They provide the very idea of the watershed’s social enlargement, and quietly present an entry into the spiritual realm that nobody has to think of or recognize as being spiritual.  The watershed is our only local Buddha mandala, one that gives us all, human and non-human, a territory to interact in. That is the beginning of dharma citizenship: not membership in a social or national sphere, but in a larger community citizenship. In other words, a sangha; a local dharma community. All of that is in there, like Dogen when he says, ‘When you find your place, practice begins.’ There are several levels of meaning in what Dogen says. There’s the literal meaning, as in when you settle down somewhere. This means finding the right teaching, the right temple, the right village. Then you can get serious about your practice.  Underneath, there’s another level of implication: you have to understand that there are such things as places. That’s where Americans have yet to get to. They don’t understand that there are places. So I quote Dogen and people say, ‘What do you mean, you have to find your place? Anywhere is okay for dharma practice because it’s spiritual.’ Well, yes, but not just any place. It has to be a place that you’ve found yourself. It’s never abstract, always concrete.”

So this brings us back to our practice of zazen.  To find our place where we are, we come back to the zendo over and over again, week after week, year after year, and we just keep coming back to the breath over and over and over again.  In doing this, we get to know the landscape of our hearts in intimate detail.  Over time, we find this sense of place right in our own lives, wherever we are and whatever we are doing.  And that is actualizing the fundamental point.


–Taisan Joe Galewsky

Visiting Teacher Zoketsu Norman Fischer talk, Mon 7/7 6:30pm

norman-fischer1On the heels of a visit from our other guiding teacher, auspiciously this week we host Rev. Zoketsu Norman Fischer. Rev. Zoketsu is the former long-time abbot of San Francisco Zen Center and a respected poet and author. Zoketsu is the founder and senior Dharma teacher of the Everyday Zen Foundation, a network of sanghas with chapters in Canada, the United States and Mexico. He is the author of many books poetry, non-fiction, and Buddhist teaching, including Training in Compassion: Zen Teachings on the Practice of Lojong, Opening to You: Zen-Inspired Translations of the Psalms, and Questions/Places/Voices/Seasons.

Zazen starts at 6:30, followed by a short service and Norman’s talk. Please join us!

Visiting Teacher Taigen Dan Leighton talk, Mon 6/30/14

Following on the heels of a wonderful seminar on Saturday, Taigen will be giving a public talk Monday night, June 30, following zazen which begins at 6:30 pm. Please join us!

taigenTaigen Dan Leighton is founder and Senior Dharma Teacher of Ancient Dragon Zen Gate in Chicago, and a guiding teacher of Valley Dragon Zen Sangha in Albuquerque. He is a direct heir in the lineage of Shunryu Suzuki, the founder of San Francisco Zen Center and Tassajara Zen Monastery. Taigen is the author of many books, including a translation of Dogen’s Eihei Koroku, Cultivating the Empty Field, Faces of Compassion, and Zen Questions: Zazen, Dogen, and the Spirit of Creative Inquiry.”


Qiyuan Gives Birth

Master Shiche asked his student, the nun Qiyuan Xinggang, “Buddha nature is not illusory.  What was it like when you were gestating the spiritual embryo?”

She replied, “It felt solidified, deep and solitary.”

“When you gave birth to the embryo, what was it like?”

“It was like being completely stripped bare.”

“When you met with the Buddha, what was it like?”

“I took advantage of the opportunity to meet the Buddha face to face.”

Shiche said, “Good!  Good!  You will be a model for those in the future!”


Qiyuan Xinggang (1597–1654) can be considered the matriarch of seventeenth-century women Chan masters, not only because she was the one of the first to set foot on the stage in that century but also because she left seven women Dharma successors, one of whom wrote a relatively detailed biographical study of her.  This is a wonderful and very unusual awakening story because the imagery used here, that of gestation and birth, are not typical of the more male-oriented traditional stories.  Those stories often entail a spirit of confrontation or warriorship, the path of the solitary hero.

The spiritual embryo is a traditional Taoist image, and I think anyone who has done any length of meditation understands that feeling of nurturing something within us.  You can call it a spiritual embryo, maybe you can call it Buddha nature, but when we sit zazen we can feel that we are nurturing something very tender within our hearts.

I like the teacher’s opening statement that Buddha nature is not illusory.  In other words, it’s not just an idea.  We really do have this very grounded, very sane, wakeful quality within us.  And then he asks the student – what’s that like for you?  What is it to nurture that part of yourself?  And her answer is very personal: solidified, deep, and solitary.  This is a practice we have to do ourselves, and while we have the support of good spiritual friends, ultimately we must go deeply within ourselves, and the practice of nurturing this quality within our hearts is indeed solitary.  We can talk about it with others, but ultimately it’s our own path and our own experience.

The image of childbirth as a metaphor for awakening is beautiful and Qiyuan’s response is certainly accurate: it is like being completely stripped bare.  When my wife was in labor with our daughter, not quite a year ago, I was completely awed by the totality of her effort.  For those who have experienced it, either as a mother or as a father present and witnessing the woman’s effort, you know what I mean.  In Zen, we talk a lot about making a wholehearted effort.  Dogen talks about our practice as “total engagement with upright sitting.”  A woman in labor is truly totally engaged.  The way I thought about it was that Jessica was “all in”.  All her chips were on the table.  There was truly nothing left out, nothing held back in her effort.  It was extremely humbling.

What is it to be stripped bare in our spiritual life?  Is that something we can do through our own effort, or is it something that just happens to us?  Can we do a spiritual practice half-heartedly?  Can we live half-heartedly?  Certainly, Qiyuan is pointing toward a particular quality of effort that we should make in our lives.  Are you up for that?

The teacher then shifts the question: “When you met the Buddha, what was that like?”.  In other words, when you have made this effort and really come face to face with this ground of reality, what is that for you?  How do you do that?  And Qiyuang tells her teacher that she met the Buddha face-to-face.

Our tradition places a particular emphasis on the face-to-face meeting with the teacher, sort of in the same way that we are taught to meet our experience directly in zazen.  The transmission of the dharma from generation to generation is often described in terms of face-to-face transmission, or warm hand-to-warm hand transmission.  It’s a very intimate meeting between teacher and student.

Continuing with this metaphor of the spiritual life as childbirth, and how we may meet that difficulty or challenge face-to-face.  What’s that like?  Is there some fear there?   Some excitement?  But ultimately here the question is: can you meet that face-to-face, and what does it mean to meet face-to-face anyway?  It also reminds me of that profound moment when you first see your baby.  Did you meet her face-to-face?  This is the direct experience of meeting your own heart.

The teacher then congratulates the student, and I don’t think he’s being snarky or ironic: Good!  This kind of effort and willingness to meet one’s own experience is exactly what will inspire future generations of students.  When you’ve had that kind of intense experience, and especially if you were able to meet it head on and not try to swerve around it, it changes you.  You become a different person, and others will see that in you.  You can see the change as a woman becomes a mother, or as a man becomes a father, and you can see it in a person of practice who has met their experience directly, over and over again.  That’s what we are practicing here.

–Taisan Joe Galewsky

Taigen Dan Leighton Visit to ABQ!

Zen master Dogen’s Mountains and Waters Sutra: “Ancient Keys to Current Crises”

Sat. June 28, 2014 9:30-4:30

Chicago-based Zen teacher and renowned Dogen scholar/translator Rev. Taigen Dan Leighton, PhD will lead an all-day seminar on the teachings of Eihei Dogen (the founder of Zen in Japan.) Concentrating on Dogen’s epic Mountains and Waters Sutra, we will investigateits vast perspectives and poignant applicability to many of the ecological, psychological, and spiritual issues we face today, individually and collectively. The day will be interspersed with discussion and periods of zazen (silent meditation.)

Taigen is founder and Senior Dharma Teacher of Ancient Dragon Zen Gate in Chicago, and a guiding teacher of Valley Dragon Zen Sangha in Albuquerque. He is a direct heir in the lineage of Shunryu Suzuki, the founder of San Francisco Zen Center and Tassajara Zen Monastery. Taigen is the author of many books, including a translation of Dogen’s Eihei Koroku, Cultivating the Empty Field, Faces of Compassion, and Zen Questions: Zazen, Dogen, and the Spirit of Creative Inquiry.

Location: Dragonfly Yoga, 1301 Rio Grande Blvd NW, ABQ.

contact for reservations.

Suggested fee: $55.00; sliding scale available (no one turned away!) Discounted pre-registration: $45