Zen Center of New York City, Fire Lotus Temple, 08/08/2021
From the Teachings of Master Hongzhao
Hojin Sensei discusses Master Hongzhao’s poetic instructions on zazen practice. Whether we are new to Zazen or seasoned practitioners the question is the same: how to keep returning to the mind of zazen, resting, like the ocean, accepting all that flows.
Zen Mountain Monastery, New York, Tuesday Evening 07/20/2021
From the Teachings of Yogini Machig Labdrőn
Hojin Sensei offers us the teachings of Machig Labdrőn, a Tibetan Buddhist yogini who lived and taught during the 11th-century. We are reminded that we can experience life as sweet, bitter or both. Machig Labdrőn encourages us to examine our blind spots in order to realize that the obstacles in our path are just a product of our confusion and hardening views. We should remain in the examination of what is happening now.
Hojin Sensei introduces us to the Buddha’s Brahma Net Sutra in which he confirms that the Precepts are the heart of our humanity. How do we cultivate practice as a Bodhisattva, one who dedicates their life to release suffering? How can we go through our lives with a stable mind so as to be able to see right from wrong and not be sidetracked by our emotions?
As we celebrate the Buddha’s Birthday today, Hojin Sensei offers a teaching from Zen Master Bankei: “What I teach everyone, in these talks of mine, is the unborn buddha mind of unlimited wisdom. Nothing else. Everyone is endowed with this buddha mind, only they don’t know it.” Sensei looks at the subtle ways “the unborn buddha mind” manifests in and through all of us and she reminds us that we are all living Buddhas.
We may find ourselves asking who is Jizo Bodhisattva? How do they relate to my life, in this moment?
Hojin Sensei offers us direct insight into these questions, touching the heart of our Ango practice, and offering it our hearts. A heart to heart transmission. By pulling together ancient teachings and contemporary poets Hojin shows that we are Jizo Bodhisattva. When we let our Bodhicitta swell into our awareness we manifest as Jizo Bodhisattva. Here in this moment! We offer our compassion to our family, our friends, animals and even inanimate “objects”. We experience kindness from complete strangers, and are inspired to step forward. Know this truth, and walk unhindered in any realm of existence for the sake of all beings.
“Creativity is our birthright,” Daido Roshi wrote in the Zen of Creativity. In this talk, Hojin Sensei speaks about the essential practice of creative expression as a gate of freedom, a path of insight, and a way of encountering reality as it truly is. She invokes the many ways of expressing the dharma that have been passed down to us – the Buddha touching the earth or holding up a flower, Zen masters shouting, pointing, or uttering apparent nonsense – as performance art: a way of displaying the truth beautifully with body, mind, and speech. Artistic expression at its most powerful shocks us into recognizing what we already know – and it is that very recognition which allows us to live more fully, encountering the familiar world with greater freshness and curiosity.
“Who are you?” asked the caterpillar. “I don’t know,” replied Alice.
Aren’t we all a little like Alice, especially in this looking glass time? One moment we feel larger, the next moment we can feel quite small. It’s all so uncertain, but certainty is what we crave, and at times what others expect of us. Spiritual inquiry, through zazen and other practices, provide us with opportunities to become intimate with and work through our discomfort with uncertainty, our resistance to change. This tale from Lewis Carroll, also appears in the Mountains and Rivers Order’s in-house koan collection, “Koans on the Way of Reality.” As Hojin Sensei makes clear, the wisdom of the caterpillar is our own inner voice, challenging us to wake up to our life, to wake up to the Way.
We each create the entire world in every moment; every thought, word and action goes into the stream. The majesty of creation gives us everything we need; so how might humility and reverence be qualities of being we might want to cultivate, and aspire to? Awe, wonder and a little fear help us wake up to the vastness of the path, offers Hojin Sensei, and help nourish our continuous good practice of discovery within the precepts.
Hojin Sensei remembers the life and teaching of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. Still with so much to teach us, he can be with us now in our ways of life, our actions and our speech. What did he see within himself that led him down a path of compassion and love, interdependence and nonviolence? Dr. King said, “I felt an inescapable urge to serve society, a responsibility which I could not escape,” which Hojin Sensei sees in this the mind of the bodhisattva who that feels there is no other way, who sees the immense suffering of people and is led to do something in response. Dr. King’s words remind us, “We are all tied together in a single garment of destiny.”
Please note: the audio near the end of this podcast is of variable quality.
The path of ceaseless practice is always proceeding and is not different from enlightenment. Hojin Sensei takes up the teachings of Gyoji, from Dogen’s Shobogenzo, noting that awakening is not a goal-oriented activity. She says, There is an end-point or destination, no “final clarification.” There is just an end of ignorance of our own true nature and the beginning of what it is to live. There may be an end of not knowing who we are, but this is also a beginning, and at its heart is ceaseless peace, wisdom and benevolence.
On Sunday, January 12, Hojin Sensei officiated a winter Jukai ceremony at Fire Lotus Temple in which three students received the sixteen Buddhist precepts. As part of the ceremony Hojin Sensei offered teachings on the moral and ethical teachings of Zen Buddhism, and the particular challenges we face in living with, and through, these vows.
After a week of training, including hand sewing a rakusu and receiving the ancestral lineage charts, the three new Jukai students received the following dharma names: Jean Ann Oji Wertz (“Compassionate, Loving Response”); David Genwa Nelson (“Eye of Harmony”); Simon Sekku Harrison (“Touching Sky-like Nature”).
Hojin Sensei examines the nature of inquiry, exploring how diligent practice arises from the basic questions about who we are and the nature of dharma, or reality, itself. With a lyric from Bob Dylan, “A question in our nerves is lit,” she delves into the deep inquiry that requires asking what we sincerely care about, where nothing can be assumed to be true. Faith and insight evolves as a direct result of our own whole-hearted inquiry.
“Who are you?” said the caterpillar to Alice. Using Alice in Wonderland, Hojin Sensei teaches us that inquiry is one of the best means we can use to lessen our rigidity, the hardness of our conditioning, and turn it into curiosity. Practice invites us to step outside of the assumed reality, relaxing our fixed perceptions, even as we encounter the discomfort of change, so we can encounter the fluidity of life where “Even mountains are moving.” With inquiry we begin to see and know the non-separation at the ground of being, the interdependence of all life.
“Taking care is the energetic cherishing of what we regard as good,” says Hojin Sensei in her introduction to the ceremony of Fusatsu, or Renewal of Vows. To live a life of taking care requires that we recognize that there is no time to waste, and then bringing an ethical orientation from the Buddhist precepts to every activity of our lives.
From Master Hongzhi’s “Cultivating the Empty Field.”
Hojin Sensei delves into Hongzhi’s poetic dharma instructions for awakening, still fresh. This practice of inquiry reveals how we come to be, creating ‘self’ and all the places where we become dis-embodied. We can learn to move freely within the wholeness and illumination which is our awakening at heart, undivided, revealing to ourselves the ebb and flow of all phenomena.
Within our connections to each other we sometimes falter. This very human endeavor to be of benefit is also where we find our reluctance, the great “no way” of the Great Way. This is the place where we actually can awaken great compassion, arising even when we’re struggling—or find ourselves in what feels like a hot hell realm—there is wisdom and light within our aspiration that we might not find in any other situation.