Each year in May, White Plum Asanga teachers around the world commemorate the passing of our founder, Hakuyū Taizan Maezumi, Roshi, (February 24, 1931–May 15, 1995). Because of the global coronavirus pandemic, however, this year’s memorial service was held informally via Zoom on May 15. The service was recorded, and I am able to share the video with you now. As you will see, Maezumi Roshi‘s surviving Dharma heirs each shared their reminiscences, including my teacher Susan Myoyu Andersen, Roshi. The event revealed to me (and I’m sure it will to you too), just how important it is to perpetuate the Dharma through our unceasing practice and dedication. It is a moving testimonial about the power that each of us has to promote a saner, happier world.
To watch the video, please use the link and password below.
It’s hard to imagine how Zen might live on beyond my lifetime if it were to be deprived of its ancient affinity with the natural world. So much of Zen’s heritage is an attempt to convey an essentially wordless experience in naturalistic metaphors and poetry, language that reaches for the truth through an acute awareness and appreciation of the seasons, plants, trees, birds, fish, flowers, waters, and wind.
But the more I read about our current climate crisis, the more I am convinced that the historically comfortable relationship we have had with nature is in grave danger. Many experts believe that we are fast approaching an unavoidable period of catastrophic environmental change for which we are politically and socially unprepared—and that is to say nothing of the lack of spiritual preparation that must necessarily precede any substantive change of course.
In saying this, I don’t wish to create a sense of despair about the future of our planet or to dismiss the good that many of us do by recycling, by not wasting resources, by simply appreciating what we have. Again, however, many credible experts believe that those efforts, positive as they are, will not be enough to avert an environmental disaster—so I am concerned about what more might be done. Of course, I am no environmental expert, and I have no way of knowing what the future holds. What I do know, however, is that we are alive right now, and, “like fish in little water,” we can make sure we live like we appreciate that fact, especially as a manifestation of the universal interdependence that supports all life on the planet. That is, I hope I might urge you to consider, with some level-headed urgency, your relationship to the natural world and what you think our collective role in protecting it ought to be. When I say “urgency,” I mean a kind of deeply spiritual determination to “practice the Way as though saving your head from fire.” Today, some environmental activists might suggest, as global warming is now reaching
truly unsurvivable levels in southern Asia and the mideast, that that “fire” may be more literal than metaphorical.
To help begin reflection and discussion on the climate emergency and how other Buddhists are shaping the “eco-dharma” movement in response, I hope you might sample at least one or two of a long list of resources that I have compiled. I do not claim that the list is all-inclusive or that all items are perfectly valid, but they are all reasonably well-informed and intelligently expressed. You’ll find this list at https://greatwave.org/eco-dharma-and-climate-crisis-resources/. If you know of other resources that really ought to be added to the list, please add them in a comment to this post.
Then, beginning with the August 2019 Gate of Sweet Nectar sesshin (August 7 – 13), I will be providing important context for a series of eco-dharma events that are currently being planned by Kevin Muzo Holohan, myself, and others. Using teisho, mindful walking outdoors, book discussions, and other activities, I hope to bring more focus on the spiritual crisis that lies like the greater mass of an iceberg below the surface of our current environmental woes. If there is any way that you can attend this retreat, I hope you will register very soon.
While most of our future eco-dharma events are expected to be scheduled for 2020, the first one will take place next month (August), and I hope you will participate. It is a beach sweep, organized in conjunction with the Adopt-A-Beach program of the Alliance for the Great Lakes. Our beach sweep will
take place near the spectacular Nordhouse Dunes Wilderness Area, just north of Ludington, on Sunday, August 11, from 9:00 – 11:00 AM. To register for this event, please visit http://greatlakesadopt.org/Secure/Event/15490. (Note, if you have already registered for the August sesshin, during which this beach sweep takes place, you will still need to register separately for the sweep. This helps the Alliance for the Great Lakes maintain its database of Adopt-A-Beach events.)
Many of you know that the first of the Four Bodhisattva Vows is “Sentient beings are numberless; I vow to save them.” This vow should never be allowed to dissipate into mere rhetoric, “dead words.” We live in a time when the mahasangha must produce the miraculous salvation it has promised to fulfill. Please practice diligently so that that possibility becomes an actuality.
Finally, thank you for reading this long post. I hope you will respond by posting your thoughts in a comment below.
For those of you in, or near, Grand Rapids, I will be giving dokusan tomorrow evening during the regular zazen period, 5:30-6:30 PM, at Kyoseikan Dojo (located at the northwest corner of US-131 and Hall St., in Suite B-148). Dokusan is the private interview tradition by which Zen students get individual questions answered and work through practice issues or obstacles with a teacher. It is an indispensable part of Zen practice.
Note that, because I will be in Grand Rapids tomorrow, the regularly scheduled Wednesday evening zazen at Myogenji in Ludington is canceled.
I wanted to write one more time to those of you who participated in the Zen Fundamentals course this spring to let you know that Great Wave will now be sponsoring a new affiliate sitting group at Kyoseikan Dojo in Grand Rapids.
Postulant priest Kevin Muzo Holohan will provide informal leadership for this new group. Meetings will take place on Wednesdays, from 5:30 – 6:45 PM, starting on June 19.
Another delightful outcome of the Zen Fundamentals course is that our Cadillac, Michigan, participants have begun to arrange for a half-day Introduction to Zen workshop, tentatively scheduled to take place on July 7, from 1:00 – 5:00 PM, at the First Congregational Church in Cadillac. Here too we are hoping that an affiliate sitting group will take shape and continue meeting on a weekly basis.
Volunteer efforts to create and sustain affiliate sitting groups like those at Kyoseikan and in Cadillac go a long way toward helping Great Wave Zen Sangha fulfill its mission to perpetuate the Buddha-dharma. I’m grateful to all of you for helping to make these things possible.
Of course, it is also important for all of us to sustain the organization through regular dana. Dana is the first of the six Buddhist paramitas (or “perfections”), a practice of generosity, or giving, that helps us see through our self-clinging. When dana is directed toward a Zen center such as Great Wave Zen Sangha, then the sangha has the means to offer practice opportunities to everyone who wants them, including those who cannot afford even nominal workshop, retreat, or course fees.
Dana also helps us support our practice by enabling us to purchase necessary office supplies such as paper, printer cartridges, staples, folders, and so on.
And dana is, of course, what enables us to purchase cushions and other meditation and practice supplies that we need to support our practice. I hope, therefore, that those of you who are chartering and participating in new sitting groups in Grand Rapids and Cadillac will consider becoming members of Great Wave Zen Sangha.
Great Wave currently allows for different membership levels—two are most applicable here: for those of you who have requested (or wish to) that I be your teacher, pledging dana at the “Practicing Members” level is appropriate (and allows for significant discounts on retreat and workshop fees); for others who hope to be coming to one of the new affiliate sitting groups, the appropriate membership level would be “Affiliate Member.”
If you are a student, or are on disability income, or otherwise find regular dana financially difficult, you may want to opt to become a member of GWZS at the “Friendship” level. (Note: No one will be turned away from GWZS practice opportunities because of a lack of ability to pay.)
This is just a gentle reminder that our June 9, 2019 Fragrant Grasses Zazenkai is fast approaching. We hope, therefore, that you will complete our Event Registration Form by no later than tomorrow, June 6. Your timely registration and payment allow us to plan a menu and make other arrangements.
One day Chōsa went for a walk. When he retuned to the gate, the head monk said, “Oshō, where have you been strolling?” Chōsa said, “I have come from walking in the hills,” The head monk said, “Where have you been?” Chōsa said, “First I went following the fragrant grasses, and now I have returned in pursuit of the falling blossoms,” The head monk said, “You are full of the spring.” Chōsa said, “Better than the autumn dews falling on the lotus leaves.”
—Case 36, Blue Cliff Record (Sekida, trans.)
To practice Zen is to return to your true home. It is also to appreciate your life, just as it is.
We hope, therefore, that you will follow in Zen master Chōsa’s footsteps and join us at Kyoseikan Dojo in Grand Rapids, Michigan, for the Fragrant Grasses Zazenkai. This retreat will take place on Sunday, June 9, 2019, from 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM. Practitioners of all levels of experience are encouraged to attend this day that will be rich with opportunities for meditation, scripture recitation, teisho, and dokusan with Gendo Roshi. A vegetarian lunch will be included.
To participate, please complete our Event Registration Form by no later than June 5. Your timely registration and payment allow us to plan a menu and make other arrangements.
If you’re like me, you are probably both numbed and shocked by world events—from the breakdown of civility in our culture to the UN’s recent prediction of the extinction of one million plants and animals in the next twenty years. On a more personal level, you may, like most Americans, feel overworked and stressed out. These are uncertain, volatile times.
It was under similar conditions that Zen grew to ascendency in ancient China. It presented a life-path originally formulated by Shakyamuni Buddha, a way of being at peace in an unstable world. It is a path that does not depend on escapism or denial but penetrates into the enduring root, or the source, of reality. Serenity with engagement, peace of mind within daily life—this is what the Zen tradition offers, and it is why I’m appealing to you to register today for Great Wave’s brand new Zen Fundamentals course.
The Zen Fundamentals course will take place at Kyoseikan Dojo, in Grand Rapids, Michigan, on four consecutive Sundays, starting May 12, 2019. (Details can be found here.) I and a senior student will provide instruction in breathing meditation, Buddhist scripture and ceremony, Zen ethical precepts, and the student-teacher relationship. Discussion, refreshments, print materials, and a class certificate will be offered. Once you have completed the course, you’ll be in a position to go deep with Zen practice and to settle for yourself the “great matter of life and death.”
Seating for the Zen Fundamentals course is becoming increasingly limited, so please complete the Event Registration Form as soon as possible, preferably today or tomorrow.
I look forward to practicing the Way of Reality with all of you.
A dragon howls in a dark cave; the whole universe quiets. A tiger roars at the edge of a cliff; the cold valley becomes warm. Kaa!”
This is what you have been hearing all along, even if you don’t realize it. You hear it when the wind blows through the trees or when you set a spoon down on the table. But to hear it right, you have to become a dragon or a tiger.
How do you do that? How do you become a dragon or a tiger? It’s all well and good to answer, “Let go!” or “Sit!” or “Practice zazen!” But if you sit in zazen that is just the cave; if you let go, that is just the edge of a cliff. Where is the dragon, where the tiger? How do you hear the howl at the center of the universe, the roar beyond life and death?
Sometimes, as I take a step when walking in kinhin, I disappear. But the stepping is still there. Seated in zazen, the cushion is all by itself, but breathing still happens. If you want to penetrate into this, you will have to be alone. I do not mean that you need to be solitary. To be alone means to apprise yourself of your immaculate nature. To apprise yourself of your immaculate nature, leave off dragons and tigers entirely. Do not make something up about sun-warmed valleys or the quiet of interstellar space.
Just go on toward it and, without howling or roaring, tell me: what is the sound of your whole life?
It is at this time of the year when the Zen tradition commemorates the enlightenment, 2500 years ago, of Shakyamuni Buddha. It was at that moment that he is said to have uttered the words, “Wonder of wonders! I and all beings on Earth together attain enlightenment!”
In the aftermath of his awakening, the Buddha questioned whether he should even try to tell others how they too could awaken. The path he had taken to emancipation had been difficult. But he soon decided that there would always be someone who was willing to do what has to be done to realize the truth of this life. And so he began what would become a 50-year teaching career.
What will be your special connection to this story? How will you realize, and then actualize, your Buddha-nature? These are questions you can spend a lifetime exploring, and the best way to do that is by entering into a traditional retreat environment where each of us strives to awaken just as Shakyamuni Buddha did 2500 years ago. I invite you, therefore, to attend the upcoming 2018 RohatsuZazenkai and to share in the spirit of gratitude for the Buddha’s extraordinary example.
You can find more information about this retreat and a link to the registration form by navigating to our events calendar.