Shugen Roshi takes up the aspiration of enlightenment in The Awakening of Faith teachings, emphasizing that Buddha nature is not simply the potential for or seed of enlightenment – it is completely present in all beings at every moment. Based on this truth, we can aspire to clarity without becoming attached to attainment and deeply trust ourselves at the same time as we examine our actions and beliefs. Speaking of the Portland protests and the Wall of Moms, Roshi concludes this talk with appreciation for the profound teachings on vulnerability, power and integrity emerging from that movement.
The Aspiration for Enlightenment through the Perfection of Faith
Geoffrey Shugen Arnold, Roshi
Zen Mountain Monastery, 7/24/2020
In this talk and the one that follows it, Shugen Roshi takes up a teaching from the Awakening of Faith, a Mahayana text composed in China, which identifies three means by which a bodhisattva cultivates the aspiration for enlightenment: faith, understanding, and insight. Focusing on the first of these three qualities, Shugen Roshi emphasizes the power of the uniquely human quality that is faith, which he characterizes as a spiritual leap that puts us in a more rich and nourishing relationship with whatever it is we have faith in. Although self-doubt and insecurity may never vanish completely, the active practice of faith strengthens our ability to trust ourselves, trust the dharma, and practice with simplicity, straightforwardness, and compassion.
Each morning, Zen practitioners around the world chant the Verse of the Kesa:
Vast is the robe of liberation
A formless field of benefaction
I wear the Tathagatha’s teaching
Saving all sentient beings.
Referencing the words of Master Dogen, Shugen Roshi addresses this verse and its implications for all Mahayana Buddhists. As he says in the talk, we are all fully capable of engaging this path, just as we are, using just what is available to us in our own time and place.
The Blue Cliff Record, Case 52: “Zhaozhou let’s asses cross, let’s horses cross”
A monk asked Zhaozhou, “For a long time I’ve heard of the stone bridge of Zhaozhou, but now that I’ve come here I just see a simple log bridge.” Zhaozhou said, “You just see the log bridge; you don’t see the stone bridge.” The monk said, “What is the stone bridge?” Zhaozhou said, “It lets asses cross, it lets horses cross.”
This talk explores a poem on meditation by Yikui, a 17th century nun who succeeded Xinggang as abbess of Crouching Lion Convent. “In moments of leisure,” Yikui writes from her hermitage, “I sit upright in the shade of the pine tree.” Shugen Roshi speaks about the great effort, profound faith, and tireless determination out of which this leisure is born, urging us to take up our practice, to “enter the scars of the burning,” with the urgency of the blazing, red hot-stove which Yikui evokes.
What is the closeness that calls on all of our strength and effort? Love—particularly where there are divisions and discord—the closeness that brings us to the heart of being. Drawing on this ancient koan and the teachings of activist leaders angel Kyodo williams and Martin Luther King Jr., Shugen Roshi dismantles our “knowing” of what to do with the true arriving at “not-knowing” that heals, repairs and changes our world.
The moral and ethical vows of a practicing Buddhist are given and received in this ceremony of Jukai. Join the sangha in hearing these teachings as Sarah Taisho Sands receives the Bodhisattva precepts and the dharma name, Taisho, “Illumination Body.”
Following a week of sesshin practice at the Monastery during a time of great upheaval across America, Shugen Roshi reflects on the power of mind to create separation and to repair. Great harm, perpetuated and reinforced by those in positions of power, calls for great recognition, reflection and atonement. Where we each find ourselves begins the journey of taking responsibility for that harm and suffering, to put an end to all suffering, and live our vows in the world.
“Immediately, change your life.” Shugen Roshi continues to explore the life and teachings of Xinggang, a renowned 17th century Rinzai zen nun. What is “changing your life?” We often think we are here to change ourselves, trade in unwanted aspects for preferred ones. But, as Roshi reminds us, “All the way to heaven is heaven itself” – nothing is ever lacking.
This floating life a changeable dream, yet we bitterly toil away; The entire day full of busyness, as our karma grinds us down. If only you can make a clean sweep of the cave of ignorance, Nothing will remain but a life full of leisurely freedom and ease!
So begins the poem written by Xinggang, a 17th century nun in the Rinzai tradition who was able to fulfill her lifelong aspiration to become ordained after the deaths of her husband and parents. Shugen Roshi relates her poem on practicing true freedom of mind to a teaching from Trungpa Rinpoche on independence and developing faith in the dharma through meeting hardship with compassion and courage.
We affect others in all that we do. Drawing on Dogen’s allusion to compassion and effort that is “continuous and sustained,” Dogen says, “It forms the circle of the way and is never cut off.” In this talk on the first of the Four Immeasurables, Shugen Roshi looks into the compassion and wisdom within our intention: “May all beings be free from suffering and know the root of suffering.”
At some time in meditation practice, Mara the evil one will come and try to dissuade you. Mara has endless means for shaking up our faith and resolve, appearing inside our own minds. Our habitual responses, as well as our cultural certainties, are not helpful when the very foundations of our understanding of hierarchies, and the order of things, is in dynamic flux and change.
A Question and Answer session between Shugen Roshi and students on the earth, community, commitment and the dharma of interdependence and solitude at this challenging time of social distancing, isolation and uncertainty.
“All beings are Buddha nature,” and yet we still have grapple with the ups and downs, and a bodhisattva must even at times fall into the hell realms in order to help other beings. Each of us has to encounter and engage our own suffering in order to manifest our enlightened nature, bringing into awareness our own limitlessness. In this second of two talks on Zhaozhou’s Dog, Shugen Roshi takes us further into practicing the limitless capacity of Buddha nature within the limits of the phenomenal world.
In part one of this classic koan, Shugen Roshi uses the Buddha’s famous chariot simile to lay out how we construct ideas of things in our minds—sankharas, or reactive formations—which give a sense of solidity to all we encounter. Although no thing has intrinsic solidity or permanence, our “impulsive consciousness” is fueling our suffering if we neglect mindfulness. On the path of awakening, Shugen says, “We can’t realize our buddha nature apart from our karmic impulses, but we also can’t be driven around by them. That middle path is alive and takes our full attention.”
The Diamond Net Presents: A Conversation About Honoring Death
First the podcast, an abridged version of a longer conversation you can find at the bottom of this page.
There’s a saying about modern religious practice in Japan. “When there’s a birth, go to the Shinto temple for a blessing. When there’s a marriage, go to a church for the ceremony. When there’s a death, call a Zen priest.”
The True Dharma Eye: Master Dogen’s Three Hundred Koans (Shinji Shobogenzo), Case 124
Zen Mountain Monastery, 4/12/2020
The thought that we can escape from the ebb and flow of reality as the sign of being a “skilled practitioner” is to not yet see the true nature of reality itself. In this timely exploration, Shugen Roshi invites us to explore our present situations as the very stuff from which realization emerges. With tender attentiveness, we can navigate through even our most negative experiences, and our grief. Even when we feel caught—by global forces beyond our control or emotional responses closer to home—there is a journey of discovery that leads towards open water.
Simplicity in practice of the precepts cuts against the nature of our drive to accumulate—pleasures, things, habits—which we build upon in our minds. The activity of this time, even with the slowing down and great not knowing we presently live in, calls on us in this Renewal Of Vows talk to slow down and explore simplicity itself.
The challenging unknowns faced by ancient Zen teachers were often not different than our own times, with catastrophic epidemics, political upheaval and uncertainties. Facing the epicenter of the pandemic in NYC, Shugen Roshi turns to this koan that looks beyond the superficial and into our great capacity—our human gifts—for living deeply and fully into the present reality.