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!
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
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.
“[To do things in the easiest way] is very convenient, but it will give 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
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.”
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 Sitting Saturday, December 12 from 1-5 pm (see schedule below.) Location: Dragonfly Yoga.
The half-day schedule is as follows:
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.