Other MRO Teachings

What’s Underneath the Mask?

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Patrick Yunen Kelly, Senior Lay Student

Zen Mountain Monastery (Via Zoom), 09/24/2020

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.

Dukkha

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Bear Gokan Bonebakker, Senior Monastic

Zen Mountain Monastery, 8/22/2020

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.

Garden Dharma

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YukonMichael Yukon Grody, Senor Monastic

Zen Mountain Monastery, 8/20/2020

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.

Vast Is The Robe of Liberation

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Gwitha Kaido Nash

Gwitha Kaido Nash, Senior Lay Practitioner

Delivered to Zen Mountain Monastery from New Zealand, via Zoom, 8/19/2020

How the Buddhadharma came to Aotearoa/New Zealand is part of Kaido’s story. Another important aspect is how this now 32-year old sangha reflects its own place and time. The sangha made a collective decision to incorporate the cultural restoration of the Mauri people, the native New Zealanders, within their own practice and liturgy along with what has been transmitted from the Mountains and Rivers Order of Zen Buddhism. With contemporary writings and relationships, Kaido finds the spiritual teachers of Maori ancestry speaking of this “formless field of benefaction” as the welcoming nurturance and integrity in which we and all creatures are completely enveloped.

For a moving reflection on the development of our Kiwi sangha over the years, watch this short film made for the 30th anniversary, celebrated in 2018.

Read more

The Labor of Love

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Prabu Gikon Vasan, Senior Lay Practitioner

Zen Mountain Monastery, 8/16/2020

Unconditional love is the kind that leads dharma teacher angel Kyodo williams to declare her aspiration, “To love those who want me to be invisible.” Along with James Baldwin’s instructions to his nephew on radical acceptance and teachings from the Pali canon on the Three Poisons, Gikon poses the questions: what would it be like to receive this kind of love? As we live into this time of deep division based on our nation’s history of injustice and our collective failure to reckon with that, we can take up this practice wholeheartedly, as the labor of love.

Entering the Flow

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Danica Shoan Ankele, Senor Monastic

Zen Mountain Monastery, 7/25/2020

“All dharmas are ultimately liberated, they have no abode. We should realize that although they are liberated, without any bonds, all dharmas are abiding in their own state,” Dogen writes in the Mountains and Rivers Sutra. Shoan speaks eloquently about the reality that this profound statement evokes, noting the ways that the river’s constant flow is mirrored in the swift passage of time, the changing of the seasons, and life’s intractable uncertainty.  Our suffering, she explains, is a result of our determination to remain on the bank of the river, observing and judging what passes by. She encourages us to “dive in!”, recognizing that we, like the river, are in a constant state of free movement and remarkable transformation.

Effort and Intention

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Bear Gokan Bonebakker, Senior Monastic

Zen Mountain Monastery, 7/23/2020

“If no wind blows, nothing stirs,” says Shantideva: effort, virya, is needed if our practice is to progress. Here, senior monastic Gokan reflects on how we learn to bring forth joyful effort in periods of intensive practice, even when we feel pulled by rest, comfort, dullness, or discouragement.  By cultivating faith, he suggests, we can persist with enthusiasm even when the benefits of practice are difficult to see.

The Five Remembrances

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Susan Seien Wilder, Senior Lay Practitioner

Zen Mountain Monastery, 7/22/2020

In the teaching of the Five Remembrances, the Buddha urges us to recall that we are subject to old age, illness, death, and loss, and that our only power to shift our karmic experience is through our actions. Speaking from her home via Zoom, senior lay practitioner Seien Wilder takes up this great matter, reminding us that the truth of impermanence, however painful or frightening it may at first seem, is ultimately the root of our liberation.

The Ocean, the Wave, and the Goddess

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Danica Shoan Ankele, Senor Monastic

Zen Mountain Monastery, 6/24/2020

“Vast ocean of dazzling light, marked by the waves of birth and death.” Shoan uses this powerful line from the memorial service liturgy to speak about how we can trust our connection to the whole, although we appear to manifest as separate beings. Because it is difficult to see our wave-selves as completely one with the ocean, sometimes it is skillful to address enlightened mind as if it is outside of ourselves. Shoan speaks of the importance of this devotional attitude, highlighting the invocations of the sacred feminine already present in our daily liturgy.

Knowing How To Be Satisfied

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Bear Gokan Bonebakker, Senior Monastic

Zen Mountain Monastery, 6/24/2020

In this talk, Gokan investigates the Buddha’s teachings on “knowing how to be satisfied,” taking up these instructions as guidance in letting go of the self-critical voice. He cites Maezumi Roshi’s commentary: “If we know how to be satisfied with ourselves exactly as we are right now, that’s all there is to know.” The solitude of zazen gives up this opportunity to offer ourselves complete acceptance, which is not different, Gokan suggests, from letting go.

 

The Leaf Man

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Prabu Gikon Vasan, Senior Lay Practitioner

Zen Mountain Monastery, 6/7/2020

Our minds project shape and meaning on all things in the world, and also offer ways to understand how our bodies manifest in the world: how our senses give us entry but also obscure. It is our work to dismantle the thoughts which cause restriction, harm ourselves and others, and to do so in reliance on the Buddha’s teachings can ground us in how we manifest the antidote to suffering and offer it to others in our lives.

The Wonder of Presence

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Bear Gokan Bonebakker, Senior Monastic

Zen Mountain Monastery, 05/29/2020

Delving into the opening lines of Hongzhi’s Cultivating the Empty Field, senior monastic Bear Gokan Bonebakker reflects on how we purify, cure, grind down, or brush away our habits and attachments. He reminds us that practice will not turn us into a different person – the imperative instead is to meet the whole of ourselves directly, to come to know our own mind and body intimately and lovingly.

Not Holding to Fixed Views

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Frank FallonFrank Kyosho Fallon, Lay Senior

Zen Mountain Monastery, 05/27/2020

In this talk, Frank Kyosho Fallon, a senior student in the MRO, examines the suffering caused by the mind of self-righteousness. Invoking the final lines of the Metta Sutta, “By not holding to fixed views, the pure-hearted one, having clarity of vision, being freed from all sense desires, is not born again into this world”, Kyosho offers practical guidance in practicing harmony by trusting “the basic peace that doesn’t rely on winning an argument”.

Prajna Paramita: Mother of All Buddhas

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Michelle Seigei Spark, Lay Senior

Zen Mountain Monastery, 05/10/2020

What is it to recognize every being as having been at one time your mother? Senior lay student Seigei explores the practice of gratitude and wonder from the perspective of the interdependence of all beings. Awakening to kindness and deep compassion through a small shift in perspective, we can also recognize that we give birth to goodness and compassion all the time through our own thoughts, words and actions.

Practicing When it’s Difficult

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Shoan

Danica Shoan Ankele, Senior Monastic

Zen Mountain Monastery, 04/24/2020

How can we create space when everything feels tight and solid, and when emotional reactions have their sway? Senior monastic Shoan brings poetry and practical spiritual practices to help us shift. Following a 18th century Zen master, we can “clarify the way that the illusory mind melts” in zazen and contemplation. And we can cultivate openness by calling to mind gratitude—even for the smallest thing—to express and nourish this intimate, caring mind.

Mindfulness and Grief for the World

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Bear Gokan Bonebakker, Senior Monastic

Zen Mountain Monastery, 04/22/2020

“It’s important how we practice.” With these simple words, senior monastic Gokan urges us to carefully consider what it is we are cultivating as we practice. We need not blame ourselves for our thoughts and emotions, particularly within our grief and uncertainty, and the imperative is to meet them gently and diligently. Offering a powerful reflection on the new life emerging continuously emerging around us, we’re encouraged to look and feel the deep comfort we are always offered there.

Lost and Found

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Robert Rakusan Ricci, Senior Monastic

Zen Mountain Monastery, 03/25/2020

What does it mean to be lost? With the help of Master Kakuan, Leonard Cohen, and some of his own poetry, Rakusan speaks of the spiritual search, eloquently describing the literal and metaphorical wandering which often precedes insigh, and invoking Daido Roshi’s first encounter with the monastery building forty years ago. Being completely lost, he notes, can be a “joyful predicament,” a deep not-knowing in which we are truly at home.

Be Careful What You Ask For

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Yukon

Michael Yukon Grody, Senior Monastic

Zen Center of New York City, 03/01/2020

Senior Monastic Yukon makes us a gift of his perspective on practice after 37 years, focused on the skillful means we employ to maintain our practice. Be careful what you ask for, he says: This is a constant practice of releasing what we cling to, and we cling to everything. Practice dismantles both hopes for the future and thoughts about the past, and to have peace we have to open up to the gifts of the Four Noble Truths, the Eightfold Path, and all that helps us release the anxiety of not knowing who we are.

Great Faith, Great Doubt

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Patrick Yunen Kelly, Senior Lay Student

Zen Center of New York City, 02/09/2020

Senior Lay Student Yunen invokes Mother Teresa’s struggles with the crisis of faith and the last words of Jesus, “My God, why have you forsaken me?” to explore Great Faith and Great Doubt in Zen practice. The encounter with darkness in spiritual life is not a problem that requires a solution, he says, for where there is emptiness and darkness, there is just emptiness and darkness. There is no need to turn away or disconnect: you do not need to be saved.

The Great Way Is Not Difficult

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Bear Gokan Bonebakker, Senior Monastic

Zen Mountain Monastery, 02/09/2020

“The Great Way is not difficult for those who have no preferences,” is the opening line from the Faith Mind poem taken up by senior monastic Gokan. Exploring how picking and choosing hinders our practice, often masking our underlying fear of discomfort, he emphasizes the importance of learning to tolerate the very discomfort we fear. In turning towards a difficulty we can just let it be, and recognize our fears as nothing but ideas about ourselves that are an impediment to living in the Way. The real question becomes, Who are we when our minds are quiet?