A more or less bi-monthly letter from Spiritual Director Nomon Tim Burnett
Past Issues available at http://www.redcedarzen.org/index.php/category/news/
At the zendo the other evening we were contemplating one of the famous conversations in our wonderfully mythic Zen history: the conversation between Bodhidharma, the shadowy Indian monk credited with bringing the Zen spirit to China in the 6th century, and the emperor of China. It’s an exchange so used and over-used in Zen discourse that I was almost embarrassed to bring it up! And yet giving it a fresh look was quite wonderful.
Do you remember the story? Emperor Wu had been a great patron of early Buddhism in China and he heard that an important foreign monk was in town. The monk was summoned for an audience and asked about the real meaning, and merit, of the holy truths of Buddhism. Bodhidharma could certainly have expressed appreciation and respect for Emperor Wu, even flattered him a little, and maybe he would have received patronage or a job as abbot of a temple in the capital. But no – as an exemplar of the Zen spirit Bodhidharma couldn’t do any of those things. Instead he gave an the powerful answer: “There is no merit in this. All is empty, nothing is holy.” He brought up emptiness. He brought up release. He brought up the true nature of things from a deep perspective.
Bodhidharma is often depicted as quite a fierce character but contemplating the story this time I wonder if that cartoon-like fierceness is so true or helpful. He was a monk. Perhaps he was more clear than fierce. Perhaps like the best monks do he was practicing awareness and humility. And practicing honesty. Perhaps he just couldn’t lie to the emperor and even felt badly that he couldn’t be more reassuring.
Perhaps Bodhidharma was thinking, “I want to reassure you that you’ve done good works and that the temples you built are special and strong and will bring lasting joy and peace to China, but I can’t, I just can’t. It doesn’t work that way. It’s empty of all of that – our freedom will never come from that kind of grasping. ” Perhaps his “all is empty, nothing holy” was offered with a sad smile and a sympathetic gaze, not a fierce stare with those big eyebrows lifted.
In any event the emperor was startled – no one had talked to him that way before perhaps, and he asked, “Who are you sitting there?” A way of saying – “wow, what’s your point of view – how did you get from my point A to that point B?”
And then the zinger that is so helpful to us came back to him. And is perhaps the most wonderful jewel of our Zen tradition, handed down carefully over the centuries. A great offering to a world of grasping and suffering. Bodhidharma looked up, and again I respectfully recast his attitude from fierce and divisive to gentle and warm, he looked up and said “I don’t know.”
I really don’t know. I’m practicing awareness of the comings and goings of mind, of thoughts, of emotions. There’s nothing there that’s solid, nothing to grasp. I really can’t answer that in a real way. There’s no one sitting here who knows and no one sitting there who doesn’t know. This “no knowing” of Bodhidharma is not something clever he knew either! There’s just this moment and we’re both doing the best we can with it. And then Bodhidharma left to practice and teach quietly in the country-side and the next 1600 years of Zen carried on from there.
(Historic note for those who are into these things: Andy Fergusen has a very detailed article about the likely comings and goings of Bodhidharma and a very fascinating write up about an Indian scholar-monk named Gunabhadra who preceded him and may well deserve some of the credit as first Zen ancestor – download his article here: http://www.southmountaintours.com/pages/Bodhidharma_theory/bodhidharma_theory.html)
This “don’t know” went on to become a powerful backdrop of our school and is so helpful to us today in our information age of knowing and opining. It’s an expression of the potential of deep flexibility. It’s a felt sense of reality that we touch into in our practice. Perhaps opening to our “don’t know” mind is the true path to maturity.
Spending time with our 10-year-old son Walker is a great way for me to contemplate knowing and not-knowing. He’s all about knowing at this stage in his life. Very sure of himself and constantly telling Janet and I how it is. It’s so interesting to watch him absorb new information and reformat his knowing view of the universe. Each major shift with a real sense of “of course that’s what I knew all along.” He rarely, or maybe never, admits to not knowing something. From an adult perspective this is could be seen as arrogance but it’s really not. It’s a wonderful confidence and moving forward into his life as he matures. For a well adjusted child with lots of support perhaps a strong sense of knowing is like training wheels. They allow him to navigate in a radically uncertain world with real confidence and sureness. And of course when those training wheels start to fall off during adolescence there’s often trouble.
And we all have vestiges of those training wheels. Those moments when we feel stuck or certain. When we’d rather be right than embrace our not knowing. When we’d rather be right than happy even! We can see this play out when we catch ourself in judgment of others. They are wrong, we are right. They are making foolish choices. They are limited and don’t get it. Or the opposite kind of knowing, depending on our predilections: thinking they know and we don’t.
I’ve been having a wonderful time lately playing with “don’t mind” mind by putting myself in a position of being a beginner. I’ve been taking a West African drum class from a wonderfully precise teacher in town named Keith Doran. I don’t have a great inherent sense of time or rhythm and so I often struggle to play my parts in drum class correctly. It’s a sustained effort and one that can’t be forced either. In the middle of doing something that feels difficult there’s the challenge of relaxing into it – staying sharp and focused but not tense or rigid. Keith calls over to me sometimes “relax!” and I do my best to do that.
Several times in drum class I’ve had that powerful experience of really doubting if I can do it. That frustrating feeling of “I don’t get it!” and then staying with it, keeping on, breathing, and somehow it falls into place. Somehow the hands attached to my arms are playing the syncopated rhythm in time and in harmony with the other drummers.
Sometimes it flows well and it’s exciting and the judging, knowing mind says “hey – you’re not bad at this!” other times it’s halting and difficult and waves of embarrassment arise – a desire to apologize to Keith and the others appears – and I have to breathe and keep going. Keep going. Don’t know how to do this and yet doing it. Nothing holy, drumming, just being.
And so we can put ourselves into situations of not knowing and work and explore in this space. Perhaps coming to the zendo has some of these qualities for you too. This mind that wants to do it right and divide the world up in that way. When there’s support and practice sometimes we can have the great release of seeing through this powerful misunderstanding right into just being. Then we are really sitting with Bodhidharma.
(Check out Keith’s www.donidonidrums.com if you’re in Bellingham and interested – wonderful stuff).
Because of course this mind of knowing and dividing is the mind of suffering. And this judgment mind is in all of us. And we judge ourselves with it too. Maybe even more so in those of us seeking some kind of spiritual understanding. This mind that wants to be special or better in some way. And so when I’m feeling tight and certain and a little above it all, I hope I can practice with Bodhidharma’s “don’t know” mind and I hope you will too. It’s not easy. It’s not what we were brought up with and it’s not what our society offers much support for. It’s not acquisitive and it’s not impressive. But it’s real, and it’s love.
Samish Sesshin News
Our biggest event of the year is a 7 day / 8 night retreat with our Guiding Teacher from California, Zoketsu Norman Fischer coming right up June 15-23. There are several ways for to engage in the practice at Samish from attending the entire retreat (still spots left!), helping with logistics, driving down (perhaps with another sangha member?) to attend one of Norman’s talks, or coming to support a the formal recognition of women Zen ancestors at a special ceremony.
Samish Sesshin Attendance – Last Call
There are about 5 full time and 3 first-half spaces left and 10 or so for the 2nd half at our annual 7 day/8 night Zen retreat with Norman Fischer that runs June 15 – June 23 (half time splits on Tuesday afternoon June 19th). We will need to close registration soon as the camp has asked us for numbers and is preparing the food order. Please register as soon as possible if you would like to attend. Sign up online: http://www.redcedarzen.org/index.php/events/?ee=13
Samish Dharma Talks are open
All are welcome to come down to Samish for Zoketsu Norman Fischer’s daily Dharma Talks. Arrive at 10:30am and enter at the end of walking meditation with those in the lobby or outside. Talk begins at 10:40am and ends at about 11:30am. Daily June 16th – June 22nd.
Samish Load up and Clean Up
We haul a large amount of gear to Samish on the Friday afternoon before it starts and then dump it all back at the Hall when, exhausted, we return on Saturday afternoon. And then we return the next day with fresh energy (and fresh people) on Sunday to put it all away properly and leave the Dharma Hall in good shape. Can you help with either end?
Load up – Friday June 15th 1pm – details here: http://www.redcedarzen.org/index.php/events/?ee=83
Clean up – Sunday June 24 11am – details here: http://www.redcedarzen.org/index.php/events/?ee=78
Women Ancestors Ceremony at Samish
Join those who have previously received the precepts and lineage of our school in working towards righting a wrong. At this special ceremony those students who have received the all-male traditional lineage paper will add a women’s ancestors document. Norman Fischer will officiate. Participation in the ceremony itself is by invitation, but support and witnessing is an invitation to all of us. Details here: http://www.redcedarzen.org/index.php/events/?ee=77
Mini Sabbatical-let for Tim in July / August
I’ve requested a break in July & August from our main weekly practice – the Wednesday night practice from 7pm – 9pm each week. This to have a little more time for family and to recharge in the summer.
Wednesday night practice will continue as always directed by our Ino, Talus Latona, who has a wonderful set of sangha members are lined up to offer student talks and Dharma Talks in my absence – so far Kate McKenna, John Wiley, and Edie Norton. And so our weekly zazen and training schedule continues as it has every week since 1991. Please come and support the zendo in July & August.
And I’m still around! A couple of summer trips aside I will still be attending Friday noon and Saturday early morning practice during this period. And when I’m at Saturday morning practice dokusan interviews will be available.
Thank you to the sangha for your support in taking a little time away.
Local and Visiting Teachers at the Zen in Bellingham program
Come down to the Dharma Hall this Saturday morning to join in sangha and have a Dharma Talk by one or our lay entrusted teachers. Yuzan Nancy Welch will speak about the benefits of meditation from a Zen and neuroscience/psychology perspective this Saturday June 2nd. Main event is 10am – noon. Or come early for zazen instruction at 9:30am.
And for the next two talks in this series I’m happy to announce that two dear Dharma friends and teachers are coming to visit with us from out of town.
David Dae En Rynick, roshi, will be giving the talk and leading the zendo on Saturday morning July 7th. David’s in the area touring around his new book This Truth Never Fails: A Zen Memoir in Four Seasons (details on the book: http://goo.gl/dt9Rw). David is one of the teachers of Boundless Way Zen in Worcester, Mass. I’ve had the great joy of staying with David and his wife Melissa Myozen Blacker, roshi, at their temple in Worcester after mindfulness teacher trainings I’ve done in their area.
And on September 1st, Anita Feng, JDPSN, of Blue Heron Zen Community in Seattle will be with us. Anita is an experienced Zen teacher and a potter – see an example of her work in the small female Buddha figure in our lobby altar. It’s had the pleasure of attending teacher meetings with Anita in Seattle and I’m so happy she can come share Dharma with us.
We’re happy about this new monthly program. A great way to get back to the zendo if it’s been a while or introduce a friend or family member to Zen. Meditation instruction is offered at 9:30am, meditation starts at 10am followed by walking meditation, Dharma talk and discussion, chanting, and tea and cookies downstairs.
June 2 – Zen in Bellingham – Nancy Welch http://www.redcedarzen.org/index.php/events/?ee=53
July 7 – Zen in Bellingham – David Rynick http://www.redcedarzen.org/index.php/events/?ee=81
Sept 1 – Zen in Bellingham – Anita Feng http://www.redcedarzen.org/index.php/events/?ee=82
Wilderness Programs – registration is open
Our wilderness / outdoor programming is expanding. This year we offer, for the 11th (12th?) year our 3-day backpacking and Dharma trip to a beautiful high meadow on the slopes of Mount Baker August 23rd – 26th. This is earlier than usual to accommodate our new more strenuous program: a 100 mile ritual backpack around Mount Rainier offered September 7 – 23. And for those unable to take the time or do such a long hike do note that all are warmly invited to attend a car-camping based weekend Sangha Campout September 21 – 23 in which we’ll welcome the Mt. Rainier hikers back and do a walk and ritual in Paradise (!).
And two single day wilderness based events on the calendar are our annual half-day sit in the Old Growth forest along Mount Baker Highway on August 18th and a new long day hike to the Nooksack Cirque on July 29th.
July 29 – Nooksack Cirque day hike http://www.redcedarzen.org/index.php/events/?ee=87
Aug 18 – Old Growth sit http://www.redcedarzen.org/index.php/events/?ee=86
Aug 23 – 26 – Mountains and River’s backpack http://www.redcedarzen.org/index.php/events/?ee=15
Sept 7 – 23 – Circumambulation of Mount Rainier http://www.redcedarzen.org/index.php/events/?ee=16
Sept 21 – 23 – Sangha Campout at Mount Rainier http://www.redcedarzen.org/index.php/events/?ee=75
Questions about any of our wilderness programs? Please contact our newly crowned Wilderness Programs Coordinator, Bob Penny at email@example.com or 360-927-5702
Mindfulness Northwest news.
The new non-profit I’m involved in Mindfulness Northwest offers secular classes in meditation, mindfulness, body-mind awareness, and stress reduction. We’re just announced a slate of events for Fall 2012. The classes all held in Bellingham and the retreat at Samish.
- The full 8-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) course created by Jon Kabat-Zinn and extensively researched as a great way to reduce stress and increase mindfulness, well being, and health.
Wednesdays 9:30am to noon. 9/18 – 11/17 + Sat. 10/27 retreat
- A 4-week introductory course to learn about the tools and practices of MBSR for those who can’t commit to the 8-week class. This is the one offering so far that is in the evenings as well.
Mondays 7pm – 9pm 10/1 – 10/22 + Sat. 10/27 retreat
- A 6-week professional development course for those in the healing professions (therapists of all kinds, nurses, doctors, clergy).
Tuesdays 3:30pm to 5:30pm. 9/18 – 10/23
- And a weekend mindfulness retreat to be held at Camp Samish
Friday evening Nov 9 – Sunday afternoon Nov 11.
Details and registration (forthcoming) at the Mindfulness Northwest website: www.MindfulnessNorthwest.com
Mountain Rain opens a new zendo.
Our sister sangha in Vancouver has opened a wonderful new zendo at 2016 Wall Street in Vancouver. This will allow resident priests Myoshin Kate McCandless and Shinmon Michael Newton to expand the offerings and also makes special events like a recent calligraphy workshop by Kazuaki Tanahashi much easier for them to offer. The best way to celebrate a new zendo is to go sit in it of course – see their website at http:// www.mountainrainzen.org/ for schedule and details.
Fall Week-Long Zen Sesshin with Norman Fischer
Mountain Rain Zen Community hosts Zoketsu Norman Fischer for an annual 6 day retreat at a beautiful mountainside retreat above Maple Ridge, B.C., just an hour’s from Bellingham. This year the retreat runs from Saturday afternoon November 10th through Friday afternoon November 16th. The sesshin is often smaller and more intimate than the Samish Island Sesshin. Details will be on the Mountain Rain website when available at http://www.mountainrainzen.org/
Study Retreat and Rohatsu Scheduled
Two annual Fall events on the Red Cedar Zen calendar have been scheduled and are listed on the website.
Zen Studies Retreat – On October 13th and 14th I lead our annual Zen Study Retreat. Pioneered by Norman Fischer the seminar takes up a text to study over the course of four interactive Dharma talks and discussions in a retreat context with sitting and walking meditation and silent buffet-style lunches. The Saturday morning talk will be open and part of our monthly Zen in Bellingham series.
Rohastu Sesshin – Our 3rd annual combined retreat with Seattle Soto Zen. Co-taught by me and Eko Jeff Kelley. A wondrous celebration of Buddha’s Enlightenment with an optional all-night sit and an early morning ceremony to greet the morning star of awakening and receive a rain of celestial flowers. Don’t miss it. Thursday evening December 6th through Sunday morning December 9th. Part time attendance is possible.
Zen Studies Retreat – Oct 13/14 http://www.redcedarzen.org/index.php/events/?ee=79
Rohatsu Sesshin – Dec 6 – 9 http://www.redcedarzen.org/index.php/events/?ee=80
A West Coast Zen Tour
Lastly, here’s a little Zen on the Internet for you. I really enjoyed this online slide show and journal of a tour of West Coast Zen centers by Steven Coraor. And it ‘s a wonderful thing to go on such a tour yourself! Visiting other centers is a rich and interesting experience. Take a look at Steven’s pictures and notes for a little inspiration.
Introduction to Zen Online
Another online Zen resource. Check out Rinzai Zen teacher Eshu Marti of Victoria Zen Centre’s 6 part video introduction to Zen. Very well done. I really enjoyed his great intro to Zen posture’s physical dynamics in episode 1 – we should talk more about these essential physical elements of zazen!