Teachings From Master Dogen’s Shobogenzo: “Continuous Practice”
Master Dogen says that our practice affects the entire Earth and the entire Sky in the Ten Directions. Shugen Roshi speaks about this as a responsibility that we as Bodhisattvas take up, of continuous and sustained practice.
Monastic Ordination for Yusen Taikyo Gilman and Josen Hokyu Aronson
Geoffrey Shugen Arnold, Roshi
Zen Mountain Monastery, 6/6/2021
On June 6th, the Monastery held the first double monastic ordination in our 40+ year history. Shugen Roshi officiated this shukke tokudo ceremony for Suzanne Taikyo Gilman and Hokyu JL Aronson. Tokudo marks the formal taking of monastic vows and, in our tradition, expresses a lifetime commitment to the Monastery. Taikyo was given the monastic name Yusen, meaning Courageous & Devoted River, and Hokyu was given the monastic name Josen, which Shugen Roshi translated as Humble Mystic.
How do we harmonize inner and outer and learn to understand the expression of dualities? As there will always be more for us to learn, how can we go forth knowing that at each stage of our life we are functioning within a degree of ignorance and blindness? Master Ch’ien-feng’s answer is: “With humility”. The mind of the person on the way gets transformed from samsaric hunger to the appetite of a seeker. Shugen Roshi suggests that we can delight in our hunger to know more rather than be distressed by our ignorance. This is not an egotistic process however; we should remember that our seeking must be for everyone.
Blue Cliff Record, Case 57 – Zhaozhou’s “Stupid Oaf”
In the language of the Dharma, how is “the self” a barrier, and how is it different from our true nature? The challenge when hearing an insult is to see into our own suffering——reactivity and delusion——as the stuff which are the barriers themselves. Shugen Roshi asks the question: While our basic nature is good, happy and peaceful, how do we practice when suffering seems all pervasive? How do we investigate our delusions, remembering that all beings have buddha nature?
Blue Cliff Record, Case 58 – Zhaozhou’s Can’t Explain.
As we share this earth with countless other creatures, we easily forget that we come from one primordial source. In the Dharma we can recognize that each being is a manifestation of one great body. So then, Shugen Roshi asks, why do we make it so complicated? From the perspective of our deluded views, everything is separate and apart, but even this view is the path of awakening to our true nature.
Shugen Roshi officiates the Spring Ango Jukai ceremony at Zen Mountain Monastery in which two students received the sixteen Buddhist precepts: Scrap Kyuko (“Enduring Peace”) Wren & Pat Shosen (“Sacred River”) Carnahan. Kyuko and Shosen have each been practicing as formal students and studying these moral and ethical teachings for a number of years. During the ceremony Shugen Roshi offers joyful encouragement to the recipients as they take up these vows.
Dharma Encounter at the Conclusion of the 2021 Apple Blossom Sesshin
Shugen Roshi begins with the koan in the last paragraph of Master Dogen’s fascicle “Ten Directions”. Priest Fungshan was asked by a monk: “The World Honored Ones in the ten directions are all on the one path to Nirvana. Let me ask you: where is the path?” Fungshan drew a line in the air with his staff and said: “It’s here”. Shugen Roshi asks us: What are the ten directions? Where is the path to liberation? Is it the path that we are on? Why do teachers describe the path in so many different ways? Are there different paths to liberation?
Blue Cliff Record, Case 62 – Yunmen’s “Within There is a Jewel”
Shugen Roshi reminds us that we are the creators of our lives. Our pervasive sense of being lost or broken is a creation of our mind. Out of habit we look outside of ourselves for relief. This koan tells us to “Turn the light around” and find the jewel within that shows us the path to the end of suffering.
Evoking this pithy exchange between Liu Tiemo and her teacher Guishan, Shugen Roshi asks us to reflect on how we meet these teachings. How do we turn towards what we do not understand but somehow know is true? And ultimately, how do we become serene in a world of perceived adversity?
Halfway through ango, Shugen Roshi officiated this novice monastic ordination for Jeffrey Kien Martin. Kien is currently the Monastery cook (among other responsibilities), but his involvement with the Monastery goes back two and a half decades. Now, as he takes on the robes of a novice, Kien will further explore the monastic vows and train in the role of a monastic, though it’s worth noting that one does not formally commit to those vows until full ordination, leaving the discernment process open to further clarification. Those lifetime vows are: simplicity, service, selflessness, stability, and following the path of the Buddha. See photos and find a link to the video here.
The Blue Cliff Record, Case 95 – Ch’ang Ch’ing’s “Three Poisons”
Picking up where he left off from a previous Fusatsu talk on Right Speech (“Learning How to Speak” – 4/8/21), Shugen Roshi investigates storied examples of practitioners using language to express the ordinary and the extraordinary. Master Dogen says, “Words are neither different nor not different from our fundamental nature. But if a person becomes attached to words and their everyday meaning, they can become attached to views.” We tend to use words very casually, but language has power and views can imprison.
Master Dogen, in his fascicle “The Ten Directions,” comments on the Buddha’s words on form and emptiness: “In the ten directions means I just know the essence. So does Shakyamuni Buddha. It is I form, know form, this form, all form, ten directions form, Saha Land form, Shakyamuni Buddha form.” Shugen Roshi asks the sangha during this Dharma Encounter: How do you reconcile, on one hand, the essential, absolute nature of reality and, on the other hand, our everyday dualistic world?
(Note: 3 minutes are missing at the 45 minute mark.)
The True Dharma Eye, Case 11 – Zhaozhou’s “Losing the Mind in Confusion”
In the same way that we use physical maps, mental maps help us to navigate our everyday experiences. Risking being stuck and bonded to cherished opinions, trying to force reality to fit the maps, we can remember to practice right understanding and use our skills such as humility to find ourselves.
“Shakyamuni Buddha said to the assembly, ‘In the Buddha Land of the ten directions, there is only the dharma of the One Vehicle.’ The ten directions spoken of here have taken up the Buddha Land and made it what it is. Thus, without taking it up, there can be no Buddha Land. Because it is the Buddha Land, the Buddha is its host.”
What is a Buddha Field? Where is the Buddha Land? This is not abstract, as Dogen, Vimalakirti and the Lotus Sutra attest. Shugen Roshi explains that by practicing skillfully in the midst of suffering—with our patience, generosity, awareness, morality, resolve—by taking responsibility for our life right here in each moment, the Buddha Field becomes joyfully alive. When we realize self and other as one, the Buddha Land is where we are.
Shugen Roshi begins by leading us through a Loving Kindness Metta invocation for the victims of last week’s tragedy in Atlanta and those affected beyond. He asks, how can we hold the suffering of the world, acknowledging that it is integral to life? Even in our heartbreak, we are not irrevocably broken, and even in our impossible Bodhisattva vows, it’s okay to feel overwhelmed and not up to the task of putting an end to suffering. In this, nothing is forsaken, and we are not alone.
For this first Ango Fusatsu, this special invocation was included during the service which preceded this talk, drawn from Dogen’s writings about the Ango Practice Period:
As we reflect quietly, fragrant winds drift across the fields, and the Spring deity opens her arms in all directions. At this time, the Buddha Shakyamuni calls students of the Way to gather together within the Sangha Treasure, and invoke the Earth-protecting divine beings. We express deep reverence for all guardians of the Earth – human and beyond human, sentient and insentient – and are inspired by their myriad virtues, as we dedicate offerings to beings everywhere. We pray for their protection and for the fruition of their beneficial actions.