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?)

Read more!

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.
Read more!

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.

Read more!

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.


Read more!

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!