temple rules (not really)

Having recently disaffiliated from a number of mainstream Soto organizations, in protest of what I guess might be considered political corruption (or at least a mass failure of vision), I find myself wanting to make sure that I am functioning along relatively impeccable personal guidelines as the practical facilitator of the Valley Dragon experiment. I am consciously looking to my fellow travelers in the group to arrive at the expression of shared motivations and guidelines, when, where, and if needed.

I practiced for many years in the Kwan Um School of Zen, which derives from Korean Buddhist traditions. Without getting into a narrative about why I changed to the Japanese Soto school, let’s just say I wanted more just sitting, less distracting psycho-cultural theatrics. There turned out to be plenty of that too in Soto (another topic), but still, my interest in just sitting endures. It’s the explicit purpose and mission of Valley Dragon, so I keep spelling this out and emphasizing it, at the risk of flogging a dead horse. There are many things from both the Korean and Japanese traditions that I continue to appreciate and practice. One thing I used to think was interesting was how at the start of every Korean-style retreat, a standardized set of ‘temple rules’ used throughout their centers were read aloud by the participants. Aren’t twelve-step meetings always started by reading some rules and guidelines, and resetting a direction?

Father Thomas Keating just died. I did not know him, though I feel like I’ve been aware of him for the 30-ish years of my adult life. I learned in an obituary that one of his associates started a center here in Albuquerque fostering “contemplative prayer” — Keating’s and others’ Catholic response to the desire by mainly young Boomers for contemplative practice, i.e. meditation. Their “8 Core Principles” inspired me to tweak and reframe them with what it is we do in mind. I am not actually proposing the adoption of these as fixed principles; something in me recoils at the risk of too much structure. However, I think they do indicate a general direction, and reflect my own core principles about what it is that might best be emphasized. I like that the language feels fresh and real, rather than recycled Buddhist phrases that in many cases seem to have been lately coopted and diminished in service to certain ideological agendas. Maybe these ‘precepts’ can serve as topics for further discussion and, well, contemplation.

10 Core Principles for Places of Just Sitting

  1. Zazen (silent contemplation) is our central reference point.
  2. We see that a contemplative attitude and practice helps us to live more fully and well.
  3. The best criticism of the bad is the practice of the better. Fixed opposition tends to foster needless conflict and stagnation.
  4. We recognize that creative solutions are often found at the bottom and the edges, rather than at the top or center of groups and institutions; and that responsible hierarchies, enduring ancestral wisdom, and legal custom must be kindly and accountably respected.
  5. Free congress and open dialogue are understood to be the mechanisms of personal and social sanity.
  6. We support true author-ity, recognizing every human’s intrinsic ability and driving need to author their own life, regardless of perceived or self-identified group affiliation, capacity, or will.
  7. Life is more a process of developing better questions, rather than adhering to fixed answers.
  8. Authentic spirituality leads to our embodying our truest selves, as false selves fall away.
  9. We see that anger and resentment are destructive diseases (born from trauma) to be healed from, not flames to be fanned.
  10. We do not just think or feel ourselves into a new mode of living, but faithfully live ourselves into new ways of being.
Frederick Hammersley, Covenant, 1963, screenprint on paper