Sitting Practice

On my commutes, I am still enjoying spending at least a part of the time reading zen books; this gives me plenty of material to fill this blog with, but also is an important part of my current personal practice.

Sometimes a phrase I read will just land in a way that stops everything. It happened the other day reading Kobun Chino’s book; he quoted Dogen, in a phrase I know well, but in a different translation to the one I am used to, that we are ‘conveyed by all myriad dharmas.’ Very apt to read on a train, conveyed by and through objects, space and time. I was looking out of the window at traffic on the freeway overpass, and the grubby land beneath, and suddenly felt totally settled and excited at the same time. I remembered a phrase that had come to me a couple of years ago, which I based a talk on, and pictured us all as vessels of enlightenment, conveyed by all myriad dharmas. This is so, I thought, unshakeably so.

Reading the Lotus Sutra recently, I was struck by how moving it was in the context of being on a train – there was not an incongruity as you might expect, between the sometimes hallucinatory language and the mundane surroundings I was reading it in; instead it almost felt like an invitation to imagine the worlds described in the sutra existing just out of sight of this urban world, just waiting to be summoned.

Since I do not get up and sit every morning in the zendo, as I did for so many years, I am happy to explore other ways that practice can manifest. Contemplative reading is one of them; so are running and riding, taking photographs, meditation with different apps, and leading my Roaming Zen hikes. Starting today, my dharma brother Zachary Smith and I are launching another venture, something we have been plotting for a while: meditation out in the city, for people to drop in during their lunch break.

Part of the inspiration for this was from a group from Young Urban Zen who tried it for a while; part also came from reading this, which features a former young monk from Tassajara who subsequently switched traditions.

A Meetup has been created, but you don’t have to join the Meetup to be able to come along. The aim is to do this every Monday lunch-time, down on the Embarcadero, on the grass by Cupid’s Span, which is between Howard and Folsom. We will bring the cushions; you bring your busy mind and give it a little rest over lunch-time. We will be there from 12:30 – 1:30; you can drop in any time.

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We did a somewhat spontaneous pilot at Wisdom 2.0 earlier in the year.

Meditation meet-up
We will be somewhere on the grass here if you are in town and can make it along.

Dogen

‘Remain solitary without dependency and drop off all of reality. Mixed together with the ten thousand forms, be clear and apparent. Eminent and vigorous on each bit of ground, be like the moon stamped on the water, flowing but not flowing. Like the wind in the sky, move but do not move. Having become thoroughly like this, when you proceed, in mean alleys do not ride on a golden horse; when turning back, wear tattered robes.’ (Extensive Record, discourse 316)

With these words I feel Dogen is channeling Hongzhi; outlining the power and energy of the adept, but also, in the marvelous images in the last sentence, counseling against arrogance and showiness in ways that are still echoed today. I hope no-one ever accuses me of riding on a golden horse.

Sharon Salzberg

‘See what motivating factor is strongest in you prior to an action, and explore it without judgement. Does it seem to have a nature that will incline the mind toward suffering, or toward the end of suffering? Toward contraction, attachment, or anger, or toward love, compassion, sympathetic joy, or equanimity? Notice that the decision to follow or not to follow an intention into action is a separate and distinct moment from perceiving the nature of the intention itself. Notice that the more fully aware you are of the nature of the motivation, the more you truly have a choice as to whether to act upon it or not.’  (Lovingkindness)

This was one of the quotes I used in my recent class. Since the distinction she makes is quite subtle, especially when read aloud, I used the example of wanting an ice cream as distinct from going to get an ice cream.

Keido Fukushima

‘We can’t anticipate the time of our death. We don’t get to make a reservation for our death as we do for a seat on the bullet train. Death can happen suddenly. So if we keep trying our best in life, responding freely to happiness and unhappiness, then when death comes we will also do our best. This is the Mahayana way of realization in everyday life.’ (Zen Bridge)

I put this post in the schedule a couple of weeks ago, but it seems even more apposite now.

Michael Stone

‘The world is vast and the body and breath are spacious when we are at ease with others and ourselves. This ease comes through committed practice, in which we learn how to open to the life of the body, the situations of others, and the moods that move through us with equanimity and creativity. Don’t get stuck. Don’t go ahead. Just stop and look at the type on this page, the quality of light in the room where you are, the sounds in the distance. This is where you enter. Each sound is a pearl, a treasure, a wave that brings you back to your body. There is nothing subtle to find. Look at the walls and the crack in the ceiling. Look at all the cracks and the fine woodwork and the realness of the real that pervades all we are doing. All this is a gift. Set forth this miraculous gift.’ (Awake in the World)

At Zen Center, a phrase that used to circulate regularly was ‘death is certain; time of death is uncertain.’ I particularly hear Blanche, while she was still alive, saying it, but I know it did not originate with her. Reading of the death of Michael Stone was hard to take in, beyond the suddenness, and the sense of the untimeliness of it. I couldn’t say that I knew him so well; we met at a conference in 2013, at Zen Center once or twice after that, and he came to stay the night on his way out of Tassajara last summer. In our exchanges I found him to be a warm person who was full of life, honest and clear (his dharma name – Shoken, ‘Sees Clearly’ – was most apt), and a wonderful mentor with whom it was easy to talk through issues and problems. Since the mahasangha is intimately woven, I was alerted to the news by Djinn in Ireland, and was later reminded that my room-mate was helping him to edit his next book. Not having much of profundity to say, I will quote again the last line above (you can see other quotes I have used on this blog here): Set forth this miraculous gift. This is what he did while he was alive.

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Michael at Deer Park monastery in 2013