Following a weekend retreat offered to the Mountains and Rivers Order sangha, renowned author and Dogen scholar Shohaku Okumura delivered this Sunday dharma discourse. He begins by talking about Opening the Hand of Thought, a beloved book by his late teacher Kosho Uchiyama, which Okumura Roshi translated into English. One story recounted in that book has now been made into a children’s book called Squabbling Squashes. (Both are available from Wisdom Publications.)
Shohaku Okumura brings to us the unique perspective of the practitioner-scholar. Born in Osaka, Japan, he studied Zen Buddhism and was ordained by Uchiyama Roshi in 1970. Having taught in the west now for 30 years, he is the founder and guiding teacher of Sanshin Zen Community, an international Buddhist sangha, based in Bloomington, Indiana. His writing and translations include Living by Vow, Realizing Genjokoan, Dogen’s Extensive Record, and many others.
From a Diamond Sutra Commentary: “Consider the tree outside the door. Although it serves as a resting place for birds, it doesn’t make an effort to call those that come, nor does it care whether those that leave return. When a person’s mind is like the trees they no longer oppose the way.”
Danica Shoan Ankele, Senior Monastic and Dharma Holder
Zen Mountain Monastery, Friday 06/25/2021
In this illuminating and imaginative talk from Summer Solstice Sesshin, dharma holder Shoan Ankele emphasizes the cultivation of natural clarity, or rather, a recognition of our natural state. The point of zazen, she suggests, is “to create a conducive container for this recognition to occur.” This natural state is our buddha nature, the factuality of non-separation with everything and everyone. To illustrate the absurdity of our confused self-orientation, Shoan spins a memorable fable with what she calls a Buddhist faux-creation myth.
Book of Serenity Case 2: “Emperor Wu Asked The Great Teacher Bodhidharma”
In this heart-warming Dharma talk, Chimyo Sensei recounts her time practicing in Japan. She speaks about the experience of truly not knowing and practicing just that. She also encourages us to stay in this state of not knowing.
Chimyo Simone Atkinson was ordained a priest in the Soto Zen Buddhist tradition in 2007. She received her monastic training at Great Tree Zen Women’s Temple in North Carolina where she also served for a number of years as Head of Training and received Dharma Transmission in 2015 from Rev. Teijo Munnich.
Rev. Chimyo completed Sotoshu International training periods (Ango) in Japan in 2010 and 2011. She also completed training periods at the Aichi Senmon Nisodo in Nagoya in 2012 and Ryumonji Monastery in Iowa in 2014. She has been serving on the board of the Soto Zen Buddhist Association since 2017 and helped to draft that organization’s standards for formal monastic practice. She is a member of the Association of Soto Zen Buddhists Jukai-e committee and an SZBA liaison to that organization’s Roadmap Committee.
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.
True Dharma Eye, case #199 – Dongshan’s Essential Path
On May 30th, we concluded our Spring 90-day ango training period with this Shuso Hossen ceremony. Shuso Hossen means “chief disciple (or, literally, ‘head seat’) dharma encounter.” It is a centuries-old tradition that empowers a Zen student to represent the teachings and help guide other students in their own cultivation. In this case, Linda Shinji Hoffman completed her training in this role by offering her first public talk to the sangha in which she presented her understanding of a koan from the collection found in the teachings of Eihei Dogen. Read more
Making a connection between Master Dogen’s “Ten Directions” fascicle and lines from a number of contemporary poets, Gikon points out that they speak about the hardships we experience while urging us to use it all for healing.
Drawing inspiration from Master Hongzhi’s teachings “Cultivating the Empty Field”, Monastic Shoan invites us to tap into our innate sense of wonder and investigate the fundamental questions: Who is this I? Who am I? What is impermanence? And so, how do we actually soften our fixations on reified reality and let go? We can begin by resting in wonder. For starters, the world is burning AND the springtime is glorious.
Bringing forth the Fire Sermon Discourse, one of the Buddha’s earliest teachings, Yunen asks us to investigate the sources of our suffering: Why do we suffer? What is this fire we live in? Is it possible that we have something to do with this suffering?
Through the teachings of Buddhist ancestors from different schools of Buddhism, monastic Shoan invokes Bodhidharma, Prajnatara and Dogen Zenji, and explores how we understand that realization is an experience—a direct pointing to the human mind—aligned with the sutras and teachings but not limited by our ideas about them.
Senior lay student Yunen brings forth the beloved Lotus Sutra and the Precepts to dive into the powerful practice of non-disparaging. Pointing to his own direct experience, Yunen highlights how talking poorly of others will often be turnaround on ourselves, by ourselves. Realizing this, we can use the ancient practices passed down through the teachings to help us grow in wisdom and compassion.
What is the method that allows us to be “brutally” honest with ourselves in zazen practice? How honest are we willing to be? Are we willing to encounter the confusion of not getting what we seek on our own terms? Asking the question: What is it that separates our deluded life from our Buddha life? Shoan quotes Huang Po, who tells us that “All Buddhas and ordinary beings are one Mind… There is no distinction between the Buddha and ordinary beings, except that ordinary beings are attached to forms and thus seek Buddhahood outside themselves.” Various traditions tell us to “practice mind essence” and “rest in unfabricated and innate naturalness.” How do we “rest” in the display right before us, while avoiding getting lost in the “quicksand of the conceptual mind” where we attempt to replicate the Buddha’s experience through our intellect, ideas and perceptions?
Perhaps all of us can relate to the experience of being alone, when we hear a branch snapping, or leaves rustling, and we find ourselves full of fear and dread. Although sometimes it is appropriate to be alert and ready, how often are we just building up nightmares in our mind? Do we have the same reaction to work or individuals we don’t like? The Buddha spoke of this experience 2500 years ago “I considered thus: if I dwell in such frightening places as woods and forest I might encounter fear and dread. And later I dwelt in such frightening places as woods and forests and while I dwelt there a wild animal would approach, or a peacock would break a twig, or the wind would rustle the leaves and I’d think is fear and dread coming? Then it occurred to me, why do I just keep waiting for fear and dread to come, what if I, in whatever state i’m in, when fear and dread come, where to subdue that fear and dread…” Using this teaching and his personal experience, Senior lay student Gikon, shows us how to step into our experience of fear as practice and realization.
Senior monastic Shoan delivers an impassioned and intimately relatable teaching on our Ango theme of the Bodhisattva path. Speaking from a place of inspiring humility she dives into the predictable stumbling blocks on our path to liberation. At the core, we are often tripped up by the anxiety of the perceived challenge, and the fear of vulnerability. But with piercing wisdom and unbounded compassion Shoan shows us that these mental afflictions can be released. Simply by allowing our experience to be, as it is, we become tender and receptive to reality. Seeing reality, our frantic attempts to protect our “self” begins to dissolve.
Senior Lay Student Yosha brings up the Buddha’s wise words to guide us: “Let not a person revive the past, or on the future build his hopes, for the past has been left behind and the future has not yet been reached”. An amazingly simple teaching, that many of us may have heard before, but how deeply have we felt this truth? Have we given reverence to this fundamental instruction? Yosha asks us, perhaps our challenge in letting go of past and future is the delight in our fantasies? The pleasurable fantasy of “fixing” the future, getting it all right. Or perhaps the sublime feeling of old memories. Yet we know, that as we cling to these mental constructions, we are separated from our lives. Recognizing these temptations we seek to uncover the root of our attachment.
Senior Lay Student Yunen discusses his development of practice through the framework of the Three Turnings of the Wheel of Dharma (hinayana, mayahana, and vajrayana) and within our current social crisis. Yunen touches on the intimate and vulnerable experience that is possibly universal to all Buddhist practitioners. The experience of coming to practice for ourselves and our own liberation, only to find that our liberation is deeply connected with all sentient beings. Yet upon this realization of interconnectedness, we find no burden but true inspiration and meaning.
In this talk, senior monastic Gokan digs into the Buddha’s first noble truth, that life is marked by suffering. In the stillness of zazen, we can directly encounter the many forms of suffering, subtle and dramatic, that our mind engages. “Are we ready to let that go?”, Gokan asks, urging us to remember that our habitual distractions will not satisfy us.
Each year the Monastery gardener, Yukon, says he makes a deal with the seed packets he’s planting to ask for their commitment: he will nurture them tirelessly, and they just have to put down good roots and then give themselves away, entirely. This is our practice too—when we sit down and make an “ancient body connection” with zazen, with our buddha nature—we ground ourselves in goodness so that we can give ourselves away entirely, for the benefit of all beings. Keeping alive our wonder and curiosity is the garden dharma, says Yukon, which we can live in any place we are.