Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Sangha pictures

Dear all,

This is Yen and Shaoching's baby boy Aiden who was born on 10/5/09. Yen is one of the longest practicing members of our sangha and is one of the kindest and most modest people I have known! If you find him missing some sits these days, it is because he has been getting up thrice during the night to feed this beautiful baby! Click on the image for larger view! More pictures coming soon! Read more!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Sesshin pictures

(August 2009)

(October 2009)

Please click on the photographs for a larger view!

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Note from May Lee

Dear everyone,

May Lee who is training at Sogenji, a Rinzai Temple in Japan, sent a long letter and wrote in detail about her experiences at the monastery. Her schedule (specially during sesshins) sounds very rigorous with even less personal time than we get at our sesshin. The lines that I struck me the most were "sesshin schedule is so tight and yet it feels so liberating because one has to strip everything down to bare essentials [and take away all complications], which makes me realize how confused we are about the meaning of being 'free'... ".

She has her head shaved now which she said "it feels great not to have to bother with it at all and it also feels like it represents better how I feel". She is also doing Takahatsu (going around to ask for alms) with the "boys" -- three times a month - chanting "Ho". I hear from Nobuko that at Bukkokuji, women weren't allowed to go for Takahatsu. I have her letter and would be happy to share it with anyone who wants to get a peek into her life there!


Read more!

What am I doing here?

Dear everyone,

Nick sent this heartfelt note after October 2009 sesshin! A few words in parenthesis were added for more continuity or clarity.

At the end of this last sesshin, someone passingly said to me "You know sometimes I just wonder, what am I doing here?" I must acknowledge that this thought occurs to me from time to time...even now after many years of practice.

Excerpt: "Everyone around me seemed so still, balanced, deeply concentrated and full of compassion, and I was just screaming inside my head, trying to survive. I felt unworthy because I didn't feel grateful when we were eating food. I felt like a bad person for not being able to bow wholeheartedly. I felt bad for not being able to sit for the entire half hour without moving, and disturbing others. I felt bad for not working like everyone else after lunch and dinner because I was so tired. Everything just seemed to point out my flaws. I really started to resent being there. I couldn't help but think .. "what am I doing here?" ."

I think there are several reasons why one can feel this way, and it's very important to explore the root of these thoughts. I've come up with a few reasons that apply to me, and perhaps some of these thoughts which might be of use to others who have had a similar experience.

I remember going to my first sesshin. Back in those days, nobody told you the rules on the first night as they do now. Everything was a shock to the system. Well, it still is even though you know the rules! By the second or third day, I think I had pretty much lost all sense of propriety. I felt so different than the person I thought I was supposed to be. Everyone around me seemed so still, balanced, deeply concentrated and full of compassion, and I was just screaming inside my head, trying to survive. I felt unworthy because I didn't feel grateful when we were eating food. I felt like a bad person for not being able to bow wholeheartedly. I felt bad for not being able to sit for the entire half hour without moving, and disturbing others. I felt bad for not working like everyone else after lunch and dinner because I was so tired. Everything just seemed to point out my flaws. I really started to resent being there. I couldn't help but think .. "what am I doing here?"

It's interesting that when things don't go our way, we tend to be attracted to the opposite extreme. During that sesshin, I saw zen as something very painful and even evil, and couldn't wait to re-enter the world where I could finally be myself. This is like a crisis of identity, which is bound to happen I think at some point in our practice. It's very easy because the environment is so different at sesshin, and you really cannot help but feel inadequate. Another scenario which is just as likely is to assimilate and act the part, but not be free inside. This too will cause resentment toward practice. These are just 2 sides of the same coin. It is important not to confuse zen with being compassionate, sitting without moving, helping during lunch and dinner etc. These are very important qualities. But they are just the visible qualities of a zen mind. Now I increasingly think/believe that the real zen is inside us, and nobody can take it away! Even if one feels one is being rude, it is still there! So, one should not be discouraged if one cannot live up to the expectations [that one sets up from oneself by looking at others]. If one can be compassionate and let go of the idea that "compassion means I'm good," then that is of different quality all together. That is a free mind which is not obstructed by ideas of good and bad. It is the difference between zen and the idea of zen, which is why we probably say "if there is even a trace of this and that, of right and wrong, the mind essence will be lost in confusion." But until then, I'll try to be free to be myself and [try to] let go of expectations.

Ghosts from the past
I remember the first time I came in for a sesshin. Reciting one of the afternoon sutras truly scared me and almost sent me wanting to run home! I came from a background [Hindu-Indian] where my family didn't take time to explain the reason behind their rituals and religious customs. It was always "do this" and "do that" and the tone was always condemnatory [frowning and demanding tone which made you do things out of no joy or gratitude, but instead just out of plain compulsion, "blind faith" and fear of not accepted by society] . Nobody ever bothered to explain why we needed to do the things we were doing. Eventually, I came to equate "the path of worship [ religion and rituals]" with "the path to run away from." So imagine my surprise when I was sitting there on the cushion during sesshin , ready to embark on the great path to self understanding, and we end up reciting verses like ".. and finally we pray that when the time comes for us to die, we may have a minimum amount of sickness and suffering. After our bodies are lifeless and have been thrown away, we pray that we may be accepted in the Buddha realm where we will see countless Buddha beings whose teachings are one with the buddha dharma." It may be hard to spot, but there is a strong element of worship [ faith that Buddha realm exists? whom are we praying to?] in that verse. I couldn't help but cringe when I read this out loud. Every part of my mind and body just wanted to get up and leave. I felt so betrayed, and I couldn't figure out why. It was like this new experience which was supposed to be my salvation just ended up being the same old thing in disguise. I couldn't help but wonder, "what am I doing here"?

When this happens, one has to stop and ask yourself - is it zen that I am running away from, or an experience from the past which is causing me to misinterpret what is happening right now? This is actually what this practice is all about; this is what it probably means to have karma. Because of our life experiences, we have a tendency to see things in a prejudiced way, which is very different from the way things really are. This is what it means when we say "the moment" in zen - it is a reality which is unobstructed by past experience. It takes time because everything you have learned goes against it. I don't think we should ourselves for where one is now. This is the only place where one can be. This path has not been totally easy, but it has become my closest friend. This is true because in its simplest form, what are you really doing? You are just sitting there on a cushion with yourself! The only thing which can haunt you is what is already there within you. So it is not the practice [or elements of practice like sutras] which is the problem! Kurt always says to have faith in your true self. This itself takes a lot of time. But [I am beginning to feel] that true self is really there.

Over time, I have to come to gain a deeper understanding of why we have this element of worship in our practice. Many times, it seems quite natural now. It is simply an expression of gratitude for this moment. Nothing more, nothing less. But it takes time for that to sink in.

So, I hope this helps the person who was wondering about "what am I doing here?".

Read more!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Sitting during the week of sesshin

Dear everyone,

Sesshin starts on Tuesday (Oct 27th). If you are planning to come for 5 days, we need to arrive before 8 pm and if you are coming for the weekend on Friday, please come around 7 pm because sitting will start at 8 pm on Friday.

There will be no sitting at Kendall Park from Wednesday morning till Sunday night (Nov 1st). Sitting will resume on Monday Nov 2nd. There will be Tuesday evening sit at Masonic Centre (Princeton). There will be Sunday sitting at Cranford but not for beginners. There will be no morning or evening sits at Rutgers from Tuesday Oct 26th to Nov 2nd. And lastly, there will be a Sunday morning sit at Blairstown as usual.

Gassho! See some of you at sesshin!

Read more!

Monday, September 7, 2009

Two little girls

Dear all,

This poem was read at Sandy's ordination but this is an expression of gratitude for having wonderful Dharma friendships. The poem and the story of friendship could apply to any two people in (and as Sandy said "out" of) sangha.

Two little girls

Water was cool
Waves were gentle’n blue
When I started playing by the ocean
Soon I found you
Always asking
“What is your name again?”

Thus, two little girls started playing
by the beach.
We wet our feet
and learnt to float
in the mu-ocean

But did I not pull your ponytail
and you tramped over my sand castles….
when we didn’t find a personal & perfect wave?
We were just little girls….we must have!!

We learnt slowly ….are always learning…
to worry less about sand castles by the shore
to jump together when tides came
to root for each other
and clap as more kids joined the core!

Now sometimes when you are stressed, I feel it in my bones
When you reach mushin, relief smiles through my lips
When you plunge, I dive
When I weep, may be tears show up in your eye!

Ocean is always vast and deep
Now, it is time and there is a vow to keep
To be by the ocean
And watch all beings
big and small
very little girl minds or not…
pull each other’s hair, wet feet, clap hands and plunge into ocean!!

For all of us
May you find the deepest and all the ocean floors,
And ride with the waves and be the ocean

May you continue to nourish the sangha
with your friendship off and on the cushion!
May you let the love of interconnected sangha hold you
when the waves seem turbulent!

My dear nestling…
May you find the sky security
Become an old ripe mango!

May moon guide your tides
and shine through you!

Read more!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

August 2009 sesshin

Dear all,

This sesshin, it was so humid that even the Indians among us were delirious, (I hear) robes stayed wet, floors were perspiring and wouldn't stay dry unless table-fans kept whirring. A trail of sweat was left everywhere you cared to notice....but the ripe mangoes and watermelon tasted great and the sound of cicadas was young and still resonates in my being. This time, some of us are so tired after sesshin, we don't want to think of next sit and can't focus when we sit and yet want to be (with) that eternal sound of crickets..again and again! And of course, the sesshin ended with beautiful ceremony of Sandy Spina becoming Kan-getsu (Cold Moon). We are waiting for photographs and video of the ceremony to get uploaded online and then will post a description the ceremony soon.

I will fill in more details after coming back from Colorado. Meanwhile, please feel free to add to this post about August sesshin.

Read more!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Blog Post from the Times

Those of you just back from the August sesshin may find these articles interesting.

Robert Wright, author of "The Evolution of God", and other things, posted an interesting account of a Vipassana retreat in the New York Times' "Happy Days" blog. You can find it here.

The same blog had a post about a Soto retreat earlier this month. You can find that article here.

-JW Read more!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Comings and goings

Dear everyone,

Cicadas are back with a roar everywhere - it is finally hot and things are changing, as always! Yen and his wife are expecting a baby in mid-October. New life! Chia-ju (Jaru) has come back to Highland Park after 7 years. Coming! Mothers of two sangha members, who might not appreciate being named, have passed away in last few months after long struggles with sickness. Imtiaz is leaving for Colorado for two years at the end of this month to join his new job. Going! Nilofer, Rumi and Gary's dear wife Joan have lost their jobs to changing economic conditions. Please keep these comings and goings in mind and send your loving-kindness to all going through these life-transitions and hope that amidst all the change, we will all find and stay with "that" which doesn't change and stays whole...moment after moment!

There will be three hour sit at Rutgers this saturday starting 7 AM as usual - see some of you there and many of you at the August sesshin.

Love and Gassho,

Read more!

Thursday, July 30, 2009

3 hr sit on saturday

Once again, there will be 3 hour informal sitting at Rutgers starting 7 AM and ending at 10 AM. You are welcome to come only for 1.5 hours starting 7 or 8:30 AM. Doors will be opened at 8:30 for 5 minutes. Ending with tea and hugs! Read more!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009



One fine day,
the conditions were ripe
the eggs were ready.
Tiny hatchlings appeared in the nest!

Sacs of pink flesh
a conspicuous beak each……
Silently gaping
in blind trust

Mother o my mumma!
Would you know
when to come
with food,
how to pass it along?

Featherless, we sit…
We squirm
in our nests.
We were born blind
to the space
that you fly in
harmony with.

We snuggle….
taking cues from
each other ….

Who knew
when to open the mouth
and let
the first audible call out…
the first ray of light in…

We didn’t ask
Couldn’t ask…
Did you hear us?

In the nest,
we just jostled…
and wrestled…
for your attention,
seeds and greens
that came.
Kept coming!

Our eyes are now opening
Wings are growing….
Unaware we remain
of our true potential
to fly effortlessly

O mai…..Universe!
Unconsciously fluttering
as we are…
Can we ask….
Will you hold us
when we try and fall?
can we dream about
soaring in the space..
delighting in the flight?

Pecking, twittering
and hugging
among all nestlings
is all there is!

Read more!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

3 hr sit on saturday

Dear all,

Everyone is invited to sit together on 18th July for 1.5 or 3 hours at Rutgers starting either at 7 AM or 8:30 AM. The doors will open for 5-7 min at 8:30 for new people to come in. As always, we should end with tea and hugs! Read more!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Sesshin in Japan

Nobuko just sent this wonderful note about her experiences at sesshin in Japan.

Kind regards to all!

Kyoto life has been going well, and in fact, will be coming to an end in just five weeks! Much has happened though, about which I wanted to share.

From April 30-May 7th, I participated in a week-long sesshin at Bukkoku-ji, ... ..the temple in Obama, Japan (Fukui Prefecture) where Michael Pope has been doing sesshins for the past year that he has been living in Taiwan. Before I left for Japan, I contacted him about the temple and about sesshin, and luckily, the May sesshin happened to fall just at the time of Golden Week, a national holiday week in Japan during which I had a few days off of school!

With the help of the Toda family, the family of the Zen monk with whom I practice almost daily at Daitoku-ji in Kyoto, I was able to telephone the temple, and make arrangements to come there for sesshin. They asked me to come in the morning, so I could get used to the temple, and have questions answered before jumping right into the sesshin. It?s a good thing I did, for I think I would have felt quite lost without the help and advice of the people living at the temple!

The temple is located on the Western coast of Japan, on the Japan sea. You can`t directly see the water, but apparently if you climb the nearby mountains (which are steep but not terribly tall, so one could do this in a couple hours) you can see the ocean.

The temple itself is a Soto temple, and differing from the major temples I am used to here in Kyoto, which I believe are partly funded by the government to keep up tourism, the temple is much smaller, humbler, but still beautiful, especially the main hall. The zendo is its own building, with the main sitting room on the second floor. In the Soto tradition, people sit facing the wall, so the room was divided with small partitions creating separate walls for each person to face. I found this interesting, and in some ways preferable (simply because it is less distracting).

I arrived at the temple around 11:00am, did the three bows to the altar which are always observed upon entering and leaving the temple, and settled in. At 11:30 was lunch, which was quite delicious with various types of foods and even a rice-bean sweet! Every meal, sesshin or not, is done sitting in seiza, usually in silence, with certain sutras chanted before breakfast and lunch. The sutras slightly differ from those we say back home; they are for the most part the same, though there were a couple I was unfamiliar with- and also one that we say at home in English was recited in Japanese. Because the people at the temple are roughly one half Japanese, and the other Westerners, the food reflected this mix. Meals are for the most part Japanese, but there were also some dishes like rosemary potatoes, Italian-style pasta salad and the like.

The actual sesshin started that night around 8pm. The first day I enjoyed myself, getting to know the people at the temple, Japanese and Westerners alike, and helping out with chores. When the actual sesshin started, it was a bit of a jolt, for I never had anticipated how being in a completely different environment would affect me. It was a bit of a culture shock, sitting with a completely different sangha (at that sesshin, there were probably around 45-50 people), most of them in robes, and a good amount of them monks. I was probably the youngest and most inexperienced person there, and the only one there at the temple for the first time. Even though I had done several sesshins at Murray Grove, in some ways it really felt like doing sesshin for the first time, all over again.

The Roshi was an 85-year-old Japanese man, who apparently had a daikensho experience in his late twenties, and has been teaching since then. Despite his age, he is certainly still very healthy and active, running the sesshin the way he did. Of course, the head monk takes care of most things, like the bell, making sure everyone gets in before sesshin and such (pretty much the way Gary does!), and in fact, I didn`t get to meet the Roshi until the second day of sesshin, during dokusan.

Dokusan was held in the afternoon, after lunch. Soon after the sit starts, a bell is rung, and people literally fly down the stairs to get in line for dokusan! It certainly shocked me a bit- in contrast with the grave silence of the sesshin, hearing people swamping down the stairs to line up behind the big bell outside of the dokusan room. Also, dokusan is held the way Kurt has told us about in teishos- the Roshi rings a bell which signals the start and end of dokusan, and most people stay in dokusan only for a minute or so. The Roshi, who has apparently become very tender-hearted in his old age, is willing to talk about anything during dokusan time, but probably because many people have been at the temple for years (and because it was quite a big sesshin!) most people went in and out pretty quickly. Also, in the Roshi`s old age, he has a hard time remembering names (and even people), so it was only by the end of the week that he understood that I was American, not Japanese, but could speak some Japanese, and had been doing zen before in America.

There is so much I could write about, but I suppose I will focus on the things about the experience which struck me most. The biggest difference was the strictness with which the rule of silence was followed- for the entire sesshin, with the exception of chanting sutras and dokusan, I literally said one word, which was ?hai? (yes) when one of the monks told me on the first day to not walk with my arms at my side, but folded in front of me. I did enjoy that aspect of the sesshin, but it certainly gave the experience a different feel than at Murray Grove. I suppose a major factor in this is the fact that during sesshin at Soto temples, there is no mandatory work period, probably to avoid talking- instead one can use the extra time to sit, take a walk, etc. There were a few people who worked in the kitchen, but even then, apparently they worked in nearly complete silence.

Getting used to these differences was certainly a challenge. The teacher didn`t speak English, gave teishos where he often would simply recite [drone out] sutras, and even one day, decided not to give a teisho. For the first few days, it felt almost as if there was no teacher. At least this was my impression, until the third day when the translator came, to assist in dokusan and give a translation of the teisho. Upon hearing the actual meaning of the teishos he gave, I was truly touched by his profundity and depth, and was a bit ashamed of my original feelings about the whole thing.

Lastly I should mention, I had my first encounter with the keisaku stick. Before the sesshin, I didn`t really understand the etiquette about how it was done (and even, why), but by the second day I soon found out. I was having trouble staying awake in those early morning hours (wake up is at 3:50, the first sit is at 4:30) and when the jiki-jitsu noticed I was starting move about, he stopped behind me, tapped me with the stick to signal I was receiving keisaku, and then commenced to hit my shoulders with the stick. I have to say though, that for all the fear that was welling up as I watched the jiki-jitsu`s shadow move past me, listening to his footsteps, wondering if he would stop behind me or not, that it truly wasn`t that bad, and that it seems to be a Western way of thinking that labels such a thing as punishment. In Japan, the keisaku (at least the way it was explained to me) is not seen as punishment, but rather as a way to induce greater concentration, release muscle tension in the back/shoulder area, and is seen symbolically as waking up the Buddha inside. (Of course, I am sure there are times that this has been abused, but in general, I think that this is the genuine intention.) During those first couple mornings that I was having trouble staying awake, I was actually grateful after getting hit with the keisaku because it really woke me up, and I felt I was able to sit better afterwards. Also, they hit specifically on an area of muscle between the shoulder blade and the spine, so it doesn`t hurt very much. (This is unrelated to Bukkoku-ji, but during a class trip to a temple, where we went to try zazen, a bunch of my classmates said that the keisaku actually felt good!) In general there are many different opinions on the matter though, so I suppose I shall leave it at that.

I hope everyone is doing well, and enjoyed the recent picnic! I am looking forward to the August sesshin!


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Sunday, July 5, 2009

Summer Picnic Pictures

Hi everyone,

I've finally gotten around to posting the pictures from the picnic. Thanks to everyone for being so natural- not always easy with a camera in your face. Here's the link

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Friday, July 3, 2009

Successful Picnic

Before all the details for forgotten, it must be said that the last sangha picnic was a great success. People brought great food (yum yum..) in all-loving all-giving spirit of monk Hotei. .... The weather was just gorgeous - it had been raining for two weeks but except for a muted drizzle for a couple of minutes, clouds stayed away!

I'm sure I don't remember who brought what and didn't get to try everything that people contributed but there were two giant trays of Kurt's treat "Lasagna", Sandy brought delicious masoor daal with asparagus, beans and potatoes, Jacky's fruit salad with mint and paprika was a great hit - Masae's Indian recipe of spinach and potatoes was so delicious that it got Kurt enthused about making it himself! Joe and Mary's daughters made mouth watering smoothie --- I also devoured on miso soup that Rumi made on the spot and Gary's potato salad. Yen's wife made an excellent cheesecake and Gary vegan chocolate cake was hit as well. Isn't everyone hungry after reading all this?

Many people made it possible for us to try to have a disposable plastic usage free picnic. Melanie not only brought china plates and silverware, she collected them all, took them home and cleaned everyone else's plates too! Thanks to everyone for helping packing up and Rumi for organizing everything!

We got a lot of time to chat and talk with people who had come from far Alex came and brought a bear along (did you see photographs yet?)- Yusuf and Nilofer brought their beautiful daughter Yasmin who sang "Itsy bitsy spider.." We got to meet Maggie from Cranford group and some other peopl who don't get to come to Rutgers very often. And of course there was music and there were songs by Gary -- "First there is a mountain, then there is not a mountain and then there is". Some of us also enjoyed racketball and other games that Joe Smalley had brought! Kurt promised that at next picnic he would bring his poems and will ask everyone to bring atleast one story/poem or song -- so beware! Zen picnic test is coming!

If you have more details to add, please do. I am sure I have forgotten many!
Read more!

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Zazenkai, Weekend sits

Dear all,

This saturday (4th July), we will have 3 hr sit at Rutgers starting at 8AM. One can join at either 8 or 9:30 for 1.5 hours only. We will end with tea and hugs! There will be NO sitting on sunday morning at Rutgers. Also, there will be a whole day sitting (zazenkai) on July 11th. If you would like to contribute a dish for lunch or dinner....click here People have breakfast at home and after teisho we will break up and have lunch. If you would like to bring a vegetarian dish for lunch or dinner, please let Kurt know. This one day sit will be excellent introduction to sesshins for beginners and will end with a dokusan (interview with the teacher). After teisho, we will follow sesshin schedule for the rest of the day. Read more!

Friday, June 26, 2009

Zen of a Traveling Salesman

Perhaps this won’t be the most interesting or exciting of topics but I feel it could be of some potential help in someway, someday to someone who may choose to read it. Nearly a year ago I began working as a sales representative for the American branch of a Japanese company in northern New Jersey......
The position is in sales, and contrary to my prior education and experiences, it requires my efforts and attention to be focused on matters of business.

This choice of career has required quite a few changes in the way I live my life, and as much as I fight against obvious alterations that need to be applied to schedules of sleep, free time, and weekend social life, I continue to find that habits falling under a category once self-identified as “lame”, are becoming ideals that define a healthy, peaceful, and successful life.

Intertwining with my current daily experiences as a traveling salesman, is a desire to sustain the time I spend sitting on a round, medium sized, kapok filled cushion called a Zafu. This daily practice, involves a few simple preparatory actions, some necessary to optimize the experience, and others of a more optional nature based on a personal preference that they somehow aid in achieving deeper states of concentration. The necessary actions include first selecting attire that will allow free and comfortable movement of the body into place on the zafu, as well as sustained stillness for lengthy periods of time. For me this has come to include either shorts or pants never made of jean material but either cotton or even fleece, and according to the weather some loose fitting cotton material shirt. Actually, after this has been decided, there are only two more things that must be followed in preparation for sitting in sustained, concentrated stillness. These are body position, and breathing. Other than those two things, the addition of candles, incense, chimes, chanting, and prostrations can be selected freely by the individual. I don’t feel it necessary to go into body position and breathing any more than to acknowledge the necessity of choosing either a kneeling or crossed position for the legs, a straightened back that rests all torso weight on the small of the back and allows the spine to set in its natural curved position, and relaxed breath that is expired from the stomach, through the nose allowing for inhalation that is automatic, needing no attention as the stomach is relaxed post exhale.

The above paragraph can easily be identified by those familiar with this practice of concentrated breathing as zazen. As well, anyone familiar with zen meditation may also wonder why I haven’t included the zabuton (mat for resting both zafu and knees upon) as a requirement lending to an optimized experience. In fact, I feel it incorrect to have even identified the zafu as a necessary object for use in proper seated meditation as recent personal experiences have proven to be contrary.

My work week can consist of stops by plane or car in potentially any city in the eastern half of the Continental United States. Any time I travel by either air or land, I am heavily restricted as to the additional personal belongings I can bring along due to the size, and weight of the equipment I demonstrate to interested clients in representation of the company that employs me. Within a few weeks of employment I realized the impossibility of ever traveling with a zafu or zabuton . At first, a combination of the hotel bed’s sheets and comforter sufficed to provide the resting place for my knees and sit bones. After some searching on the internet I did come across what is basically a cloth encased beach ball. Since its purchase I have had no worries about the limitations of hotel accommodations, but now had a very suitable inflatable zafu that could fit in my pocket when decompressed.

A whole new world has opened up for me over these past months. It’s a world lived on gas, crossing state lines again and again, spending nights in towns I never knew existed at a rate of $40 - $50. My solitude has become the sound of the not so distant highway, pressing deep into the darkness at the end of each breath, listening to the swish of the cars and booming roll of the 18 wheelers. Sure it can be tough to get past murmurs of neighboring TV sets and cell phone conversations sometimes. But, it is always so surprising the calm perspectives that can be brought along with the breath. Simple breath. Heart breaking breath. Holy breath.

The road calls. I’m ready to answer.


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Thursday, June 25, 2009

Details for the 2009 Summer Picnic

Dear all,

As you know, our sangha’s yearly summer picnic is scheduled for this Saturday, June 27th! It will start following the Saturday sit--around 1:00. For details.....

The Rutgers Zendo is quite cold and we are using heaters to keep it warm. Please bring your sweaters and jackets to keep yourself comfortable if you want!

For the picnic to proceed smoothly after the Saturday sit:

1. Please bring food item (along with ice cooler if you have) to the building located our zendo with you.

2. The front door to the building (Lucy Stone Hall) will be opened at 9AM and 10:40AM for the people who come in and store things in the kitchen.
To keep food and/or drink cool, please put them in any coolers placed in the kitchen.

3. For the people who bring dishes, please make sure to bring the serving spoons. Please keep in mind that some members in the group are vegan -- Please let Kriti know which items are vegan so that she will label them as vegan.

4. Please bring either lawn chairs or mats to spread on the grass for sitting. If it rains, it might be wet on the grassy ground - there are a few benches there that will be used for putting food. If some people can bring foldable tables, that will be helpful.

5. Please bring Tupperware and/or ziplocks to take left over food.

6. The bathrooms are not available in the area immediately close to the picnic spot. (Of course, you can use the bathrooms in the building where the zendo is located.)

7. Don't forget your camera, musical instruments, poetry, and/or stories to share!

** The directions and map for the picnic venue are on this blog.

We look forward to seeing many of you on Saturday.


Rumi Bauer

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Monday, June 22, 2009

Map: picnic area

To see a maps of the picnic area (between Road 3 and Postal Plaza) and directions from the sitting venue in livingston campus....please click on read more.

There is another map showing directions from the sitting venue to the picnic venue in a previous post.


Read more!

Picnic & an article

Dear all,

Many of us have been trying to eat vegetarian diets after having started sitting! However, there is much more to healthy and mindful eating than eating veggie burgers and beans. Here is a NYtimes article that might interest some of you. ....And are you coming to the picnic? Please RSVP even if you can't bring anything along.... Please let Rumi know soon. We are still looking for a few more people to bring various items listed in the previous blog and Rumi's email to the sangha.


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Thursday, June 18, 2009

2-2.5 hr Rutgers sit

Here is a plan for this saturday (June 20th, 2009):

Some people want to start sitting at 6:30 AM and sit for 2.5 hours till 9 AM. But if you can join only at 7 AM, please do come around 7 AM (if possible when you hear the bell ring) and you can still sit for 2 hours. We will take a 10 minute break at 8 AM and then resume till 9AM. We can't have a traditional 3 hour informal sit at Rutgers because of some official class that needs to take place at that venue. However, some of us still wanted to sit on saturday. Read more!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Picnic: RSVP & more

Dear sangha,

Rumi has been drafted to chair the organization of this year's annual sangha gathering on 27th June after saturday sit (Thanks so much Rumi). See a video of Gary singing at last year's picnic and please bring your family, friends (and dates ;)) and introduce them to our warm sangha.

Please bring blankets/chairs to sit on and musical instruments, poems, stories, songs and food to share. If you're planning to attend, organize or help prepare a dish, it would be helpful if you let the us know (Rumi at rumi.bauer@yahoo.com). For a wish list of things we usually need for picnic, venue, parking & more, please click here.....

As you all probably know, a Sangha family and friends get together is being planned for Saturday, June 27th,2009. Immediately following the Saturday sit we will move our sangha party out onto the field close to Lucy Stone Hall (the venue of sitting) and then spend the afternoon eating potluck vegetarian snacks and foods and enjoying music and poetry and songs of our group members. Please bring your favorite instrument, song, poem or group activity suggestions along. Sharon and Gary have already volunteered to bring their drums and guitar (Haven't they? If not, they are drafted too!).

The venue is same as last year -- a grove of oaks across the road from 25 Postal Plaza (Rutgers Post Office). Here are directions to reach there from our Rutgers sitting venue. There is parking for 8-10 cars right next to the venue and some people can easily walk from the sitting venue to the picnic venue. In the event of rain, we will set up everything in the Lucy Stone Hall in rooms next to where we sit at Rutgers.

Please email Rumi (rumi.bauer@yahoo.com) if you know you, your friends and family are coming and include whatever you will be volunteering could do or bring. You can always decide to come at the last minute, but if you know for certain that you will be coming, it will help us organize better. It would really be a great way to introduce your family to our sangha!!!

As regards the food, here is a partial list of what will be needed in the way of food items and also other forms of volunteer support:

1. 5-6 vegetarian casserole type dishes (finger foods are also good). Anyone who wishes to make a dish is encouraged to volunteer. Please bring serving spoons along!

2. 3-4 people to make rice
3. 3-4 people to bring salads (and salad dressing) (Fruit salads, sprouts, rice noodle salads...anything ).
4. 3-4 desserts... so if you're one of those people and don't want to cook, this is another possibility.
5. Other volunteers who don't plan to cook could bring items such as dinner rolls, paper goods (paper plates, cups, napkins) plastic forks, spoons, knives, paper tablecloths, plastic garbage bags. We expect around 50 people. Last year Melanie brought china plates and cleaned then later at her house! How wonderful was that!
6. 2-3 people for drinks and filtered water
7. Some coolers (3-4) containing ice to keep drinks and food cold.
8. You might think about bringing a blanket, mats or lawn chair to sit on and, of course, your camera if you'd like to take pictures and videos.

Let's all look forward to a great sangha party!

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Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Taido & the Tibetans

Greetings to all!
Back on March 15th, a delegation of monks from the Drepung Gomang Monastery in southern India began a week-long stay in the Bucks County, PA area. Their tour and itinerary were, as usual, being lovingly managed by my dear friend and dharma brother Greg Schultz (Samdup Gomang) whom some of you may have met at my house following the Dalai Lama's Rutgers appearance....

The Tibetans' week began with a welcoming ceremony at Sacred Paths Community, an inter-faith congregation located in Plumsteadville, PA. Greg asked me to attend and I was, of course, pleased to do so. There was a traditional exchange of kottas, a sort of scarf given as a welcome, followed by some wonderful chanting by the monks and a brief talk, through a translator, by Geshe Lozang Samdup, the leader of the delegation. All of which was followed by that most American of religious traditions, refreshments. It was, for me, a delightful morning spent with old friends and new and an honor to somehow represent our Zen tradition.

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Monday, June 1, 2009

May 2009 sesshin

Picture from May 2009 sesshin
Some of us are back again from 7 or 5 days of pain in the legs and tiredness... coming and going! If eyes were open, one could see people sat in deep concentration, faces twisted or calm, crying or smiling! Ok, yes sometimes wriggling or snoring too .. But as always, we were all laughing and hugging at the end. Hearts were lighter, warmer and clearer. Joseph Binensztok and John Wagner from Blairstown group had their first sesshin ever.......and don't you notice a victorious smile on their faces, specially Joe in his blue T-shirt in the center! Incidentally, Joe sat right next two Joes - Joseph Smalley and Joseph Schneider. So it was Joe after Joe after Joe sitting in sesshin together - 31 Joes in all!!

One highlight of the sesshin this time was that we made our own version of daikon (big radish) pickle. It didn't have the sugar and artificial colors and flavors of daikon bought from asian stores. Some people just loved it but some didn't! :( it did wash our bowls very well! Here's the recipe -- boil the daikon in salted water such that it is still crisp and crunchy and store it in water containing lime and salt. Longer the storage time, more the acetic acid pickled flavor in the daikon!

And was it just me or there were just tons of little creatures crawling on everyone's hands and legs after kinhin? Every now and then, I would feel the tickle and pricks and a tiny dot sized red, black and yellow beings would show up or I'd need to Mu them out!

During early teishoes, Kurt talked about a book on Pali canon by Bhikkhu Bodhi -- most moving of them was the description of how when a monk inquires about the role of the sangha and friendship and companionship of awake people in following the path, Buddha said," This company is not half the path , but the entire path". Alex and Gary were a team keeping the zendo and dining hall running smoothly. Imtiaz and Karen were sorely missed after 5 days because people kept forgetting to switch the rice cookers on at the right times. Sandy made excellent dessert and at the end of sesshin, John Wieczorik silently washed the dessert bowls in the kitchen when everyone was busy hugging and chatting!

As always, please add to this your experience of the sesshin whenever you like! Add comments or add text to the post!


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Thursday, May 21, 2009

May announcements

Dear everyone,

Sesshin starts on Sunday (May 24th). If you are planning to come for 7 days, we need to arrive before 8 pm and if you are coming for 5 days on Tuesday, please come around 7 pm because sitting will start at 8 pm on Tuesday. If this is your first sesshin, you could also read this. For details about regular weekly sits during the sesshin week and the final picnic date .....

There will be no sitting at Kendall Park (Monday mornings (May 25th and June 1st), Thursday evening and Friday morning) during this week.

There will be Tuesday evening sit at the regular Vincentian centre venue -- this is the last time we can sit at Vincentian centre - so come to say goodbye to it if you are not at sesshin. After Tuesday (May 26th), we will likely sit at Masonic Temple but Kurt hasn't made a final decision.

There will be no sitting at Cranford on May 24th and May 30th.

There will be no morning or evening sits at Rutgers during the entire week.

Ans lastly, there will be Sunday morning sits at Blairstown as usual.

Picnic date: It is not 4th July but 27th June! More details to come soon!

Gassho! See some of you at sesshin!

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Sunday, May 17, 2009

Early Buddhist caves

Dear all,

I came across a few fascinating articles on Buddhist monasteries that were housed in man-made caves in the western ghats of India. Most of them are located in the vicinity of the hill station city of Lonavala, "- a name that is a derivation from Lenauli (place of many caves - Lena meaning cave)", around 100 km from Mumbai (Bombay).

Most of the structural stone architecture in these caves has been very well preserved over the years and the caves seem habitable even today. This image is of a main meditation hall within a cave that is more than 2000 years old! There are more than 1000 such caves in the western ghats that were built at different periods over many centuries.
"A single Early Buddhist monastery in the Deccan region of western India might consist of several hundred separate caves which were often decorated with sculpture and finished in plaster that is carved and painted. Individual caves fell into two basic types: the cailya or chapel for congregational worship and the vihara or residential hall." "The earliest rock-cut garbhagriha, similar to free-standing ones later, had an inner circular chamber with pillars to create a circumambulatory path (pradakshina) around the stupa and an outer rectangular hall for the congregation of the devotees."

Quite possibly, work on some of these caves began during the reign of the Indian monarch, Ashoka, who embraced Buddhism and was prominent in spreading it to different parts on India and the world. Most of these caves are not as well known as the ones at Ajanta and Ellora but have beautiful intricate carvings adorning their walls. You can look at images of these caves and read a lot more about their history in the links below. Interestingly, one set of caves, called Kanheri, are located inside what today forms the national park of Mumbai.

Eary Buddhist caves of the Western Deccan

Karla and Bhaja caves

Bedse caves

Indian rock cut architecture

Kanheri caves

Hope you enjoy the grandeur of these residences for sanghas!
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Saturday, May 16, 2009

Bring to sesshin

To everyone coming to sesshin for the first time,

There are no formal instructions answering "What should I bring to sesshin?" and "How can I prepare for my first sesshin?" Big Joe recently asked some of us what should he know before coming to sesshin. He also asked, "Should I sleep more?" (May be he meant because I'm going to be sleep deprived during sesshin?). Well....even though we do get up (much) earlier... it is actually not true that sesshin deprives us of sleep. If we add up 6 hours of sleep at night (10:30 PM- 4:30 AM, see full schedule at the bottom of this page) and three half an hour long naps after each meal, we get atleast 7.5 hours everyday. When we come to sesshin for the first few times, we can even longer naps after meals because no one minds if we need to head straight to our dorm rooms! The truth is, however, as we keep going to more and more sesshins and the need to sleep goes down as the days pass. Some of you might have seen May's post two months ago -- in an email to me she had said, "it is much easier to get up at 3 during sesshins than outside of sesshins". It helps to not come to sesshin totally wiped out but we don't really need to sleep more before sesshin! :)

Bring along: In terms of what we do need to bring, here is what I can think of: Change of clothes (we try to choose modest non-distracting clothing), a pair of slip on sandals or slippers, personal items such as toothbrush and soaps etc, alarm clock to get up at the right times after breaks. Murray Grove management gives plenty of sheets and towels.

Our group might be the one to offer the cheapest sesshins in the country! The cost (including meals and stay) is $20 per day for college students, $30 per day for students who have graduated recently and might not have full time jobs or financial difficulties and $40 per day for people with full-time jobs. By the way, if you are in financial crunch but want to come to sesshin, please discuss it with Kurt.

Food: We prepare delicious fresh meals every day - so we don't need to worry about bringing any food items from home. We eat from what are called 'Oryoki bowls' (with chopsticks if you like; pictured on top). It might seem weird at first but it is rather beautiful and simple way to eat meals. Usually Gary explains the meal rituals to newcomers. Tea is officially served only twice a day but
You can bring your favorite herbal tea bags if you like -- there are some common flavors available. There is also some instant coffee and honey around!

Room: We share room with one other person of the same gender in the dorms and the bathrooms are common.

What to do when not sitting or sleeping: Help in the kitchen if you like (there is always something that needs to be done) or take a walk! Kurt has often said that it is not a good idea to bring books or music. There are some trails in the woods surrounding the Murray Grove area and you could bring sneakers to walk in the evenings.

Also, it is good to know that the area can get quite a high density of Deer-ticks that can carry the bug that causes Lyme disease. So please cover your body when you walk outside and check yourself for ticks if you have stayed out for long. No one in our group has gotten sick from this before -- but it is good to know!

So, if May 2009 is your first sesshin - welcome to the adventurous journey ..one breath at a time!

If anyone else would like to add to the list fo things to bring -- please do!

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Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Princeton venue

Dear all,

Vincentian Centre, the venue of our princeton sits will be closing for public use end of this month and Brian Tucker has been working hard to find alternative venue for meditating in the Princeton area for all of us. The venue for next week's sit (May 12th) in Princeton Area will be the Red barn behind Kingston Wellness centre (4591 Route 27, Kingston, NJ 08528). On May 19th, we will try sitting at Masonic Temple. For details and directions....

For May 19th : Central Jersey Masonic Center, 345 River Road (Route 605). Princeton, NJ 08540


From North East Jersey, NJ Turnpike, New Brunswick -

New Jersey Turnpike, Exit 9, North onto Rt. 18. Immediately get into the 2nd to the left lane and exit onto Rt. 1 South. Travel Rt. 1 South for 11.5 miles (after about 9 miles, you will be at the top of a hill at a light with a McDonald’s and Burger King – from that light, you will travel another 2 miles, 3 lights). Make a Right onto Raymond Road. Go 1 mile on Raymond until it dead-ends at the first light. Make a Left at light onto Rt. 27 South. Go 3 lights (through the town of Kingston). At the 3rd light, make a Right onto River Road, Rt. 605 (you cannot make a left). Go exactly 1 mile. The Masonic Center is on the Right.

From South Jersey, Philadelphia, Trenton –

Interstate 295 North; exit onto Rt. 1 North. Take Route 1 North, about 5 miles, to Harrison Street. Use the jug-handle to cross Route 1 and thereby, make a Left onto Harrison Street. At the 3rd light (1.4 miles), make a Right onto Rt. 27 North, Nassau Street. At 2nd light (1.9 miles) (after you see Carnegie Lake on your right), make a Left onto River Road, Rt. 605 (you cannot make a right). Go exactly 1 mile. The Masonic Center is on the Right.

From Northwest Jersey, Route 287, Somerville, Morristown -

Interstate 287 South, Exit Rt. 206 South (Somerville), Continue on Rt. 206 South through Hillsborough, until you reach the light for Route 518 (just past Montgomery Shopping Center). Make a Left onto Rt. 518 East. Go ½ mile and make a Right onto Route 605 (River Road). Go 1 mile on River Road. The Masonic Center is on the Left.

From West Jersey, Lambertville, New Hope -

Take Rt. 518 East out of Lambertville. After crossing Rt. 206, Go ½ mile and make a Right onto Route 605 (River Road). Go 1 mile on River Road. The Masonic Center is on the Left.

Also, there will be no three hour sit at Rutgers this week because the venue will be used by Rutgers English department.

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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Relevant Teisho

Dear all,

Here is full text of a teisho from March 2009 sesshin that Sandy has transcribed recently and relates perfectly to the discussion in the previous post on NY times article.

Excerpts from the teisho: "If I have had Satori, the Dai (Great) Kensho experience, isn’t it the case that I should go through life without any problems anymore? I’m always supposed to know the answer. I’m always supposed to be calm. I’m never supposed to be distressed if somebody hurts my feelings.....

Many people imagine enlightenment this way, but it’s quite false. Such people have a distorted view of awakened mind. When people come to our meditation hall for the first time, they imagine that Zen is all about bliss. They might suppose that they’re going to sit down on the cushion and be freed from their suffering. Perhaps they’re even going to be in a state of godlike happiness. Many people think of meditation this way. You’re supposed to be serene and happy and calm and safe and so on. Nothing will ever bother you again.

There’s a wonderful poem by a Chinese Zen master whose name was Shih-t’ou. The poem he wrote was called “An Inquiry into Matching Halves.” The “matching halves” are the two parts of ourselves. In the poem Shih-t’ou says that even if you have had Dai Kensho, that’s not complete enlightenment. Isn’t that interesting? He says that even if you have seen the Source face to face, that’s not complete enlightenment yet. Complete enlightenment is that radiant, boundless awareness plus the pain in your legs, your disappointments, your broken dreams. When those two aspects are completely integrated, that’s complete awakening."

“If you could just come into the zendo and sit down on the cushion and bliss out, zazen would be a drug.” It wouldn’t be helping you to live a better life. It wouldn’t be making you more aware. You might as well smoke opium. Somehow we have to work through our problems, not escape or “transcend” them. Read more!

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Excellent article

Dear everyone,

Kurt has recommended this article as an example of how Zen can be practiced incorrectly. He said that "The point of the article", as he understood it, "is that people can use Zen and the teaching of no-self to run away from their life and problems instead of dealing with them. They try to live up to an idealized image of superhuman perfection.This is one of the reasons that Bodhidharma (i.e., Mahayana) emphasized True Nature, rather than no-self. It's crucial for people to inhabit their personal lives in a healthy way. Even after Dai Kensho (great awakening, satori), people must continue to confront and work through their karmic obstacles. Working through can be hard, but the result is always a richer, happier life."..... Also, this article is clearly not right about one thing. While comparing Zen with psychoanalysis, it suggests that Zen is only concerned with awareness of the present moment but not so much with the authority of the unconscious mind. Zen is quite concerned with the unconscious.

(In my own practice with Kurt, I don't think he has encouraged only trying to sit in deep mushin (blankness) forever except when we are just beginning with breath or Mu koan)-- I have encountered many pains, fears and attachments and episodes of abandonment and he hasn't ever said "Forget emotions or past". Instead he has always said, "Face this completely. Work through this. This is rice." Eventually, sometimes after days and sometimes after months, I have felt at ease and very often heart has been full of love and "forgiveness". Infact he gave a teisho very recently (Feb 14th, 2009), that dealt with issues of no-self vs. true-self. The audio quality isn't great for some reason.

I guess, the article might seem a bit disconcerting at first. Initially, I liked to look at Zen teachers as mostly at ease with themselves, their past and present; genuinely caring and compassionate - and many of them are.
But I have also found many teachers who are frequently put on pedestal can't/don't live upto the expectations of themselves and their students . It still doesn't mean that the zen path is not genuine and enlightenment is not real. Here someone is teaching from his "failure" of not being able to go beyond no-self for a long time.

Also, it has not been easy to find out what is natural and what is my "true self" saying but I see that for me it has been important and extremely "helpful" to keep going back to cushion even when the process seems confusing and frustrating;
We probably could use some integration with psychotherapy which many teachers around the U.S. seem to be doing consciously and subconsciously but we would keep going - won't we?)

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Thursday, April 23, 2009

Field day & long sits

There will be 3 hour sit at Rutgers on Saturday starting 7AM and 2.5 hr sit on sunday at Rutgers starting 6:30 AM. You can join only for 1.5 hours on either day starting 7 AM. All day saturday is Agricultural field day (aka. Rutgers/NJ folk festival) highlighting local craftsmen, musicians, pets/wildlife shows. Some of us will go and Mu with the cows and neigh with the horses there. Join us after Sat sit if you like. It is very lively and together with spring and doodling dogs, it is just perfect. Usually, this field day falls on 5 hour saturday sit and we miss a lot of it, but this year, we could spend more time. You can bring your own guitar if you like. To see photographs, click here and here.
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Friday, April 10, 2009

Gempo Roshi

I was lucky enough to find a book called The Art of Twentieth-Century Zen: Paintings and Calligraphy by Japanese Masters, by Audrey Yoshiko Seo and Stephen Addiss. It is a wonderful book with many beautiful images and interesting anecdotes. I was most excited to discover that 15 pages are dedicated to life and art of Yamamoto Gempo Roshi, or the teacher of our beloved elder and the first teacher of Kurt, Takabayashi Genki Roshi. I was inspired to summarize some of his life, as presented in the book.

(Photograph courtsey Sweet and Williams of Zen Paintings)

It was really something that Gempo Roshi survived into his mid-90s. According to some accounts, he was abandoned by his family as a baby at a hot springs and left to die; the family was so destitute. A good Samaritan took pity on the baby and rescued him. Afterwards he was adopted into a household, which was without children of their own. His father was very severe and beat him badly, but his mother was tender and loving.

Unfortunately though, she died when Gempo was 11 years old. Grief stricken and without loving support, Gempo became a delinquent and started to associate with hooligans. They would drink, smoke, and carouse. Fearing that his son would soon be a hopeless case, his father arranged for his marriage at a young age. Shortly after this, Gempo began to lose his vision and doctors explained that he would eventually go blind. The young man was seriously troubled by this news and certainly felt alienation due to the circumstances of his life. With this spirit, he began to take a series of long (1,000 miles long) pilgrimages to Shinto and Buddhist holy sites throughout Japan with the hope of generating the compassion of kami and regaining his vision. On his seventh such pilgrimage at the age of 23, a temple priest encouraged Gempo to become a priest. Gempo asked, "My eyes are close to blind, I can't read; how can I become a priest?" The elder replied, "The eyes you received from your parents are part of the uncertainty of life, and someday you may not be able to see. However, the eyes of the mind cannot be blinded. Your inner eyes are not yet open, but if someday they are opened, you will see. If you cannot read, maybe you will not become a sutra-reading priest...but if you can give up your life, you can become a true monk." A year later, he split from his wife to become a monk.

For a few years he trained in several different monasteries, practicing zazen and the other activities of life. In his free time, he began to learn to read and write characters, but discovered that his most useful skill was cooking. He wrote, "I knew how to cook everything...My body was weak, I had no education, but we all must do our share of work. Everyone does their respective job; a person who can cook, cooks; a person who can write, writes. Everyone has a strong point and does that work. Everywhere I went, I cooked. My eyes were bad, but I cooked." For many years, he deepened his practice with his teacher Shoun until news arrived that the temple that the revered Hakuin Eishu had established, Ryutaku-ji, was in need of a resident priest. Gempo was recommended by consultants to take up the job, but his teacher told him that it was not a good idea. Ryutaku-ji had fallen into disrepair; Shoun explained, "The temple is rough and the monuments are overturned. Hakuin is not there." Gempo retorted, "The temple is rough and the monuments are overturned. Because Hakuin is not there, I will go." At this, his teacher softened his stance.

Gempo became very busy restoring Ryutaku-ji and teaching monks at several temples. He also began to develop a love for calligraphy. In 1923 when Gempo was 58 years old, he left Japan for his first trip abroad. "He traveled alone without an interpreter and as a result experienced a few mishaps. In Honolulu he was arrested as a beggar and taken to the police station, and when he crossed the United States by train, because he could not communicate to order food, he simply fasted for three days. A flier summarizing the ideals of the Ku Klux Klan, which someone handed him, also made little impact. Gempo carried a letter of introduction with him...He did not learn any English for the trip, only learning to sign his name, "G. Yamamoto," in order to endorse checks given to him as payments for talks during his travels". Two years later, the half blind, Japanese speaking man went alone to India. Several years after that, he traveled to China alone with the goal of improving relations between the two nations on the eve of war. During the Sino-Japanese war and then World War II, Gempo did his best to promote peace in the public sphere. Locally, he spent much time making sandals for victims of bombing raids. During the worst of the fighting, Ryutaku-ji was filled with refugees who needed shelter. According to Kurt, it was during this time that Genki Roshi was adopted into Gempo's temple, having been orphaned as a result of the war.

At 82 years old in the year of 1951, Gempo retired from Ryutaku-ji and turned the temple over to his dharma heir, Nakagawa Soen (an internationalist who taught many of the first American Zen teachers). During his final years, Gempo loved to do calligraphy for local parishoners. "Because of his lack of education and poor vision, Gempo never took for granted his ability to do calligrahy. Not only did he use it to help and inspire others, he also never demanded fine materials. If there was no good paper around, he was just as happy to write on newspaper, or on any small scrap of paper available, taking just as much care with each character." In The Three Pillars of Zen (1966) by Philip Kapleau, the final anecdote in Gempo's life is alluded to when the author talks about the importance of work practice (samu). "Almost blind and no longer able to teach or work about the monastery, he decided it was time to die, so he stopped eating. When asked by his monks why he refused his food, he replied that he had outlived his usefulness and was only a bother to everybody. They told him: 'If you die now [January] when it is so cold, everybody will be uncomfortable at your funeral and you will be an even greater nuisance, so please eat!' He thereupon resumed eating, but when it became warm he again stopped, and not long after quietly toppled over and died."

Soen Roshi wrote a beautiful poem in commemoration of Gempo’s life:

Born deep in Kumanao Province
poling a raft and digging tree roots
he was almost blind
but through a mysterious unfolding
his true eye was opened.

Later in the week, there will hopefully be some images on this site of more of his beautiful brush paintings. We are waiting for permission from Shambhala.

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3 hr sit tomorrow

Dear everyone,

Hope to see some of you at Rutgers tomorrow. We will sit from 7-10 AM like last time.


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Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Vimala Thakar (1923-2009)

Vimala means 'stainless'.

Most people have never heard of her -- She was an Indian follower and teacher of the way. According to her, she started teaching meditation around the world after meeting and at the pleading of Jiddu Krishnamurthy. Krishnamurthy was an iconoclast and had a strong dislike for religion, hierarchy and organizations but apparently she was the only person he asked to teach and "set [people] on fire".

"She was a small woman with big warm eyes but she sat with mountain like stillness". People who met Vimala Ma said things like "The most powerful woman I've ever met." Not that such a claim has a meaning or needs to be true for someone to inspire us, but a magazine article had once said, "She is the most awakened woman alive".

Today I learnt that she passed away on March 11th of this year. Although they didn't actively pursue the path for very long, both my parents had attended meditation camps that she led. My mother felt deeply connected to her especially during my birth and I have met her multiple times during my childhood - each meeting left deep impressions. I don't really know why but it feels my relationship with her was even deeper than reasons I can come up with - at the very least she had a huge role in bringing me to the cushion. The photograph above is how she looked when I last met her in 1997. I had just started meditating at the time with another group.

She traveled around the world in 70s and 80s to lead meditation groups and you can find information about her in many languages. I wanted to share links to some insightful and inspiring articles in English about this extraordinary woman, who had always wanted to stay away from publicity:

1. 16 hours a day in a cave: Heroic and yet natural inclination to meditate for long hours
2. An interview and her portrait (On inner conflicts of practitioners, importance of sangha)
3. Spirituality and Social Action (From "Can enlightenment save the world")
4. Talks and book extracts

We will recite Heart Sutra to honor and celebrate her life at this Saturday sit.

. Read more!

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Nobuko's training continues in Japan

Here is a message that Nobuko sent recently, along with permission to pass it to the blog! It has been edited just at a couple of places. The third post in a row about people getting experience of monastery settings -- excitement, pressure cooker environment, sake, amusement....everything!

I had the most wonderful morning here! The monk that I met yesterday met me today at the Daisen-in, a temple in Daitoku-ji. Once I got there, he showed me the first room with the shrine, which he said we would come into first and then bow. Then he led me into the next room, which had sliding doors which he left open to the outside. He didn't really give me instruction, which was fine, he just sat me down on the tatami mat with his bell (like the one you use at sesshin) and his wooden clappers (and his stylish green cell phone to keep time). He said that his style was like this- which was full lotus. We didn't use zafus or zabutans. We just sat down on the tatami mat like that. So we sat for a period of 30 minutes, then stretched, then another 30 minutes. After about an hour he asked me a few questions. He asked me how long I'd been doing zazen for, which I said about two years, then he asked me about what I wanted to do, what my goals were. I was a little bit confused at first, then I just said I didn't really have any. Even if I did, I wouldn't have been able to explain it in Japanese anyway. So he said that was fine, and we continued to sit for a bit. I think this monk is the head monk's son, that's what my host-mother told me yesterday.

After three sits, about four monks dressed in full robes came in. The teacher there told me to get up and come to the shrine room, where he had me sit down. The monks stood outside. The monk lit some things on the shrine, then handed me a sutra book, which had all of the original chinese characters, with the Japanese pronunciation written on the side, which he thought was fine for me to read. We then recited the Heart Sutra together, which was unlike anything I'd ever experienced before. My teacher led, his voice drawn out and deep (like how enka singers sing, the traditional Japanese singing). Then the other four monks joined in. They pronounced everything very differently than even I thought was correct, but the experience was just amazing. At that point I kept thinking, am I really here? Is this really happening? But I didn't want to get too wrapped up in my head so I just kept going, and chanting the sutra which thankfully I already knew pretty well.

After the sutra he said I should come outside for tea, but then when I sat by the other monks, he told me to come somewhere inside instead. A woman came out and said, it's cold, no? And led me inside. I was led into a warm living room-kitchen area, with two little children, the young woman who led me there and an older woman. This was the monk's family who also lived at the temple. They gave me a sweet snack, a sort of sweet made of rice cake with sweet bean, and they made me traditional tea (the kind used for tea ceremony, with the whisk and everything) and as the young girl took the bowl, turned it twice, I followed suit. It wasn't official tea ceremony but I figured they did something of the sort, since it was a tea bowl and the kind of tea used for ceremony. Then the family kindly asked me questions and chatted, and I told them what I was doing there and such. It was really a wonderful experience, and when the older woman asked if I was homesick, she said any time I felt homesick I could come there to their house. I'll be going there anyway though, for zazen everyday at 7:30. That's what the monk said I could do. The two young children were his children, and very very cute. When I left the young girl who was ten years old made me an origami flower. I said "arigatou gozaimashita, mata ashita ne" which means thank you very much, and I'll see you tomorrow!

I'm really having a good experience so far. You know it's funny, I haven't experienced the euphoric shock that I think comes when studying abroad, maybe it's because I've been in Japan before. Even when going around the temple three days ago, I thought it was weird that I wasn't overwhelmed like I was three years ago, the first time I set foot in a real Buddhist temple in Japan. I felt rather at home, and maybe like the Japanese feel when they pass it, like it's normal but still beautiful. Anyway I will still try to enjoy it to the fullest, and do my best to do so naturally! Though I feel, perhaps I already am.

I'm so glad that I can practice here! The practice I got at home (in U.S) though is invaluable, and indeed I get the feeling that some American practitioners are much more serious than the Japanese ones. Though the monk asked me if we use "keisaku" and I told him we didn't, not anymore, I think that the American mindset is much more... stern in some ways. It depends on the sect. My host mother knows the monks pretty well- that's because she owns a liquor store around the corner- when she told the monk her name he said, "oh, Konaka-san!" And after talking to them she said to me, "all monk know me, I friendly with all monk because they drink much much sake!" Apparently they live well here in Daitoku-ji because it's funded by the government and they don't have to pay taxes. Also the tourism is high as well, this morning when I left there were already a lot of people around. But at any rate though, the monk has been so kind to me, as well as his family, so I really can't be grateful enough!


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Monday, March 30, 2009

Zen Training at a Monastery

Hello all!

It's so nice to read about the Sangha happenings and practice! I miss you all! For those who don't know me, I started my Zen practice with Cold Mountain Sangha in early 2006. It wasn't until after my first sesshin in March 2007 that I was hooked on Zen. Then after the June sesshin last year with the Sangha, I realized that I had to focus on my Zen training. So I applied for a one-year residency at Zen Mountain Monastery and have been here for the past eight months. Kriti asked me to share some of experiences training at a monastery, which I am more than happy to do so!

We just completed our first 30 days of our Spring Ango (literal meaning is "Peaceful Dwelling"), a 90-day intensive training period, where we intensify our practice with more sitting, earlier wake-up, scheduled body practice (yoga or movement led by a senior monastic), art practice, and oryoki breakfast during the training week. Every Ango here also has a theme, this ango's theme is Dogen's Genjokoan, which we have a one-week intensive on in May and our art practice is also based on lines from the Genjokoan.

For this ango we also have a Shuso (head monk), who leads the Sangha and is the model for practice during these 90-days. At the end of the 90-days she will undergo shuso hossen, which is a ceremonial rite-of-passage where she will become a senior and give her first dharma talk and do a dharma combat, which is like a public dokusan. The Shuso's dharma combat is when the Sangha can test the Shuso's understanding of the dharma.

For each training period, the residents and monastics all receive new service positions. I'm currently the AM jikido (timekeeper) which means that during the training week I have to make sure the tea and coffee service is ready by 4.15am, offer incense at the main altar, do the wake-up bell at 4.25, open up all the altars and hit the han at 4.50 to signal that the Zendo is closed, everyone should be sitting and doing zazen by then. During the sitting periods I signal the start and end of the periods and offer incense before each period, make sure the kyosaku stick is ready and watch the time for kinhin. Throughout the morning I make sure the tea and coffee service is stocked and clean. For ango sesshin, everything is moved up 30 minutes earler because wake-up is at 3.55am, not to mention there's also a lot more coffee making!

Training as AM jikido has been such an amazing experience so far. I get to serve the Sangha and have seen that the only way I could serve in the most efficient and effective way possible is by letting go of the self. The service tasks are timed quite tightly so that I have to move swifty, which I've been reminded of several times by the monitor. Once I almost missed canton, when the teacher walks by everyone's seat before the first morning period, because I took too long to close everything down in the dining hall. I've noticed that all of my concentration is required at whatever it is that I am doing so that I can do it swiftly and smoothly. So after I do whatever I have to do to get myself ready for the day my attention is solely focused on the jikido tasks to be carried out.

I enjoy sitting before our morning zazen so when I found out that I was AM jikido this training period I wondered what I was going to do. When I saw the idea of getting up at 2.30am to allow me to sit before morning zazen, I heard myself say to myself, "You've got to be kidding." But I felt like I couldn't just turn away from this opportunity (I don't know what else to call it!) so I set my alarm for 2.30am. I was quite tired by the end of the first week, maybe even a little delirious, but now I find that it's no big deal to wake up at 2.30 or at 2.00 during sesshin. And at that time of the day, it seems like it is neither night nor day. What is time in the end? And also, who said we needed 8 hours of sleep anyway??

This post has gotten quite long, but if anyone would like to know more about life at the monastery I'd be more than happy to share! Be well!

lots of love,

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Michael Pope's message from Taiwan

This post is just a bit edited version of Mike's (Tall comfortable Mike, if that's how you know him) original heartwarming message posted as a comment. Mike, please post directly as an author after accepting your invitation to be an author (it was resent today).

My name is michael and currently i am living in taiwan. i am running back and forth to Japan every three months for sesshin in japan. i am here in taiwan studying mandarin and such. last summer i lived in a Japanese temple called Bukkokuji. it is on the side of a mountain. i ve heard that most temples traditionally have been built on the sides of mountains. the town is called obama and it is on the west coast of japan. there is also a temple down the street from it called Hoshinji. last sesshin you could hear people yelling mu during our zazen period all the way from the other temple. i thought that was the sweetest and most inspiring thing. you really feel "in it", everyone is working hard.

dokusan is quite a challenge there. one time, i said to the teacher during dokusan "watashiwa gyogen". that means my name is gyogen (my dharma name there) in japanese. i think he went on and on in japanese about how much he loves his teacher because he kept pointing at him, smiling and holding his heart....finally i told him i don't speak a lick of japanese. he just laughed and said...continue, continue! ...so i did.

i am going back to japan in 4 weeks for next sesshin. possibly when i am finished here in taiwan with my studies i will go live in a different temple in japan south of kyoto... but i'll see how that all goes.

Text from an earlier email sent in 2008 (photo of his Takahatsu robes):

i did takahatsu (begging for alms) here. we do it about every 5 days or so. it was painful because we walk in these rice straw shoes. it rained all day! we walk around yelling HO! until we get to a door where we chant (and ask for alms). it is rather interesting. it's like some very old tradition juxtaposed to the modern world. this is the main way the temple is still supported along with donation and bukkokuji's small farms. i hope you enjoy the picture of my takahatsu outfit. i was getting ready to go out. we also have to wear a big hat. then we carry a bowl, small bell, and little papers we give to people..it is a blessing of sorts. we go out all day chanting and yelling!

do you know that most of these monks are not vegetarians. i was very surprised. they eat whatever is given to them. one day someone donated a sausage and pepperoni pizza! i ate a piece thinking it was surely vegetarian...

the sitting schedule changes depending on the weather. if it rains, then we sit 6 hours in a day. if no rain we sit 4 hours. we chant 2 times a day. we have to work in the fields if the weather is nice. the teacher's name is roshi sama. he is quite old...maybe 85. the temple is pretty laid back and people are very humble. i feel like a total beginner again.

From another mail:
i was lucky enough here to be assigned ringing the giant bell and chanting at 11 am. it is like a whole little thing that i do of chanting and bowing and ringing... i was a little nervous at first because everyone can hear you and i have to do it really loud! the bell must weigh 200 punds or more. i felt honored to do it.

Good Luck Mikey! You are missed here -- please post some pictures when you compose create new blog. It is very easy to upload pictures and also videos using the icons on the right side of the create post page! And please write more and often!

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Thursday, March 26, 2009

Inviting new posts

Dear all,

Please feel free ask difficult questions, to write about your practice, give suggestions or write about experiences at sesshin anonymously. To write an anonymous post, you could either ask one of the authors to post it on your behalf or send an email to daibosa@gmail.com from an email account that does not mention your name and somehow convince the reader of the email that you are a longtime member of the sangha who has been to sesshins and you will be invited to become an anonymous author.

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Monday, March 23, 2009

March 2009 Sesshin

Some of us just got back from Spring sesshin! It wasn't a home run with 32 people like last sesshin, but it was wonderful - 2o people (at most times) and it took much lesser time to clean up the zendo and kitchen!

Kudos to Justin! It was his first sesshin -- and boy did he get transformed!! Many people thought he will just quit -- he had only sat for a week at Rutgers before jumping into sesshin but by the end, he "was home"! He loved food and thought it was excellent that, in words from a teisho at this sesshin, "we held each other up" so beautifully!

It was a party in the kitchen, as always --- Many thanks to Brian for endless shredding of carrots and beets, Nobuko for cutting (and eating ;)) pickled daikon, Mike Shawe for squeezing a million limes, Sandy for the rich dessert, Ashish for mixing that thick potato puree, Karen for ricing us up, Imtiaz for delicious eggplant and sambhar, Ilusha and Yvette for initiating laughter when most of us would suppress our giggles! Brian, Jeff, Mark, Alex, Nick and Rachel were doing dishes -- meal after meal. And Rodica ..she is the master mincer - she cuts veggies so beautifully that they seem like tiny jewels!

Gary donned his cold mountain sangha cap at the beginning of sesshin and remained in that spirit throughout - tirelessly drumming mukogyo (wooden fish, a fish is always awake) . Jacky and Alex kept the zendo warm and inviting. The altar looks amazing everyday - but especially when the earthern lamps are lit on the last evening. Alex has made them on Bob's turning wheel and painted these lamps himself. I think they beat everything ever sold in Indian markets during Diwali time! Ofcourse, no one did only one thing and we were all butting our heads and noses into everything!

At one point while announcing Kinhin, Kurt said, "It is time to go limping around in a big circle!" Kudos to all of us -- bunch of limpers! Thanks to everyone for holding each other up and to Kurt for guiding us along ....and making delicious Lasagna (we had rice based one too) on the way!

Some COLD news!

Jacky and some of us were wondering why exactly are we "cold" mountain sangha? We hug at the smallest excuse and seem to be very warm people, cold sounds a bit heartless! Here is a little poem by Hsu Yun, the great Chinese master who could sit for seven days at a stretch that, according to Kurt, explains the cold! Chia-ju (pronounced Jaru) later pointed out the word 'Han' in Han Shan (Cold Mountain) can be translated as both 'cold' and 'humble or poor'. Its beautiful ..isn't it?

Ilusha is leaving for Seattle soon and he is going to try to meet -- guess whom -- our dharma aunt! She is wonderful -- or sounds wonderful. Check this article for all most of us know about her!

Mike Pope has been going to sesshins in Japan and has promised to write a post soon but we heard a snippet in a teisho -- during winter sesshins, there is not heat in Japanese temples. He has taken bath is freezing cold waters! Mike, hope you are deep in mushin when you do that!

Nobuko is leaving for Japan tomorrow for 4 months! There is a wild "Rutgers gang" that sits almost every morning and evening - setting up cushions at rutgers zendo or driving around New Jersey on sundays. She has been an integral part of that "lets do it" spirit and she knows she will be missed! Keep in touch, Nob!

Rodica is inspired to try out sprout based salads and many other people over the years have wanted to atleast keep a recipe handy! So in the next post, there will be recipe for basic sprout making! But it won't turn out so well without help of so many people who chip in to chop, chop and chop!

And last but not the least --

make it known that you would like to edit this post-- to add or correct things!

Gassho and hugs!

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