Recent Dharma Talks

Talks by sangha and visiting teachers. Use the page controls to see older talks or see the topical pages listed above.

  • Wednesday, June 08, 2016 8:00 PM | Talus Latona (Administrator)
  • Wednesday, May 25, 2016 8:00 PM | Talus Latona (Administrator)
  • Wednesday, May 18, 2016 8:30 PM | Talus Latona (Administrator)
  • Wednesday, April 20, 2016 8:00 PM | Talus Latona (Administrator)
  • Wednesday, April 13, 2016 8:00 PM | Talus Latona (Administrator)

    Podcast: Play in new window

    Below find Nomon Tim Burnett's talk notes. This is not a verbatim transcript of what Tim says in the recording but for reference and a quick scan we offer these notes. Listening to the talk is recommended.


    Good evening,

    A wonderful friend of the sangha, of all of the sanghas in Bellingham, was a lively and energetic woman named Joan Casey. Joan died yesterday, she was 75, of pulmonary failure. I didn't see her often but I always so enjoyed her bright spirit when I did. The last time was at a screening of the film States of Grace at the Pickford, an amazing intimate documentary about the recovery of Grace Dammann, a resident at Green Gulch Farm Zen Center and an amazing doctor and bodhisattva who survived a horrible car crash some years ago on the Golden Gate Bridge. Joan had a place in San Francisco and I think used to live in Sausalito and of course knew all kinds of Buddhist practitioners in the Zen and Dzogchen communities down there. Anyway there she was at a Buddhist event and we were milling around the lobby and somehow Joan seemed to know everyone there.

    [Early supporter of the original Dharma Hall, and of this one - heater story]

    We'll have a memorial for Joan here or maybe also at the Bellingham Shambhala center - perhaps a combined memorial. She left instructions with us on what she wanted which doesn't surprise me at all. She wanted to help and she also took care of herself and knew what she wanted, did Joan. Of course I wish I knew her better now.

    There should be a word for that melancholy feeling of wishing you'd spent more time with someone that often emerges when that person dies. When the fiction that you'll get around to seeing them more later on when you have more time comes crashing down.

    As y ou know I'm trying to understand something about compassion and connection. I love the groundedness and the wisdom emphasis of Zen but a little Norman did with his study of the Tibetan Lojong mind training slogans and his great book Training in Compassion I've been also realizing I'm low in emotional awareness and compassion. I love people a lot actually but I often don't communicate that very well and I get a little self-focused.

    So I've been studying both secular mindfulness-world application of compassion, doing trainings from groups on the cultivation of compassion inspired by Tibetan Buddhism and inspired by positive psychology and the interesting self-compassion movement. And also I've been reading Tibetan materials a little too, trying to get a sense of it. And a year ago we studied a famous Tibetan text that's all about compassion by the 9th century Indian pundit Shantideva.

    The contemplation of death is a core Buddhist practice. In the mindfulness sutta there's a long section on contemplating actual corpses in the charnal gounds and seeing how we are of the nature to die very directly. Sometimes I've given people the assignment to go walking in the graveyard - Bayview is very nice for this.

    Different branches of Buddhism have different ways of remembering that life is short and human life is a precious opportunity. To see this as a core motivator to practice, to use our time well for the benefit of all.

    The Tibetans have a set of four thoughts that turn the mind toward Dharma

    “The freedoms and opportunities of this life are extremely difficult to attain.”

    “Being impermanent, all beings must die.”

    "Virtuous and harmful actions cause their inevitable results.”

    “The nature of samsara (self-clinging) is suffering.”

    In an early Buddhist text called the Upajjhatthana Sutta - the subjects for contemplation we find the five remembrances, here's Thich Naht Hahn's version

    1. I am of the nature to grow old. There is no way to escape growing old.

    2. I am of the nature to have ill health. There is no way to escape ill health.

    3. I am of the nature to die. There is no way to escape death.

    4. All that is dear to me and everyone I love are of the nature to change. There is no way to escape being separated from them.

    5. My actions are my only true belongings. I cannot escape the consequences of my actions. My actions are the ground upon which I stand.

    And many of our Zen stories contemplate the intimacy of life and death. Here's one of many.

    This one happens to feature the great Chinese Zen master Yunmen whom we met a few weeks ago in the story about why do you put on the 9 panel robe at the sound of the bell?

    [Blue Cliff Record case 27]

    A monk asked Yunmen, "how is it when the tree withers and the leaves fall?"

    Yunmen replied, "Body exposed in the golden wind."

    How is it when the tree dies, when we die? Is it just gone? Is it just compost?

    It's open, it's exposed, it's alive in a new way, it's the golden body open and intimate with the golden wind. There is death and sadness and there is openness and intimacy.

    Joan's husband, John Watts, told said to me, "it's sad, but it's okay, her spirit is flying far and wide now."

    When people go we all wake up a little, but we don't always pay attention. And that waking up requires falling apart too.

    I was listening to a talk by Gyokuko Carlson about the death of her husband and co-abbot at the large center in Portland, Dharma Rain Zen Center. A heart attack suddenly took Kyogen Carlson in 2014.

    She said: "who are you without that voice? Without that face? Without that person? Without the mirror reflecting you back to you? We have set out on a journey, we are three weeks into this journey [it had been three weeks since Kyogen died] and this is just…I would encourage you not to be in a hurry. Don't be in a hurry to get remade. Don't be in a hurry to stop being undone. This is precious journey full of possibilities. It may be useful for you to relax around this and accept: just as you didn't choose this time to undergo this journey, you also don't get to choose what you experience along the way. You can relax about that. You can choose to turn toward it. Experience it completely." She's speaking to people who deeply loved Kyogen and were his students in all kinds of ways.  She later quoted Kyogen saying "I've thought for a long time that grief is the most underappreciated of human emotions, most people avoid looking at it

    And that appreciate of death is not just something to be endured, it's a condition that supports practice and supports compassion when we turn towards it with wisdom.

    Here's another case about death, this is maybe the most famous one:

    Blue Cliff Record case 55

    Is Joan Casey alive or dead? Of course we'd say dead. But don't be so quick. When someone dies like Gyokuko suggests don't be in a hurry to stop being undone.

    Are you alive or dead?

    1. I am of the nature to grow old. There is no way to escape growing old.

    2. I am of the nature to have ill health. There is no way to escape ill health.

    3. I am of the nature to die. There is no way to escape death.

    4. All that is dear to me and everyone I love are of the nature to change. There is no way to escape being separated from them.

    5. My actions are my only true belongings. I cannot escape the consequences of my actions. My actions are the ground upon which I stand.

    What should be our answer? How shall we live? How shall we practice? Perhaps it's time to keep studying compassion and wisdom, wisdom and compassion.


     Listen to Gyokuko Carlon's deeply touching talk to her sangha and practicing with the loss of her husband, and their teacher

      Download

  • Wednesday, March 30, 2016 9:00 PM | Talus Latona (Administrator)


    Podcast: Play in new window

    Below find Nomon Tim Burnett's talk notes. This is not a verbatim transcript of what Tim says in the recording but for reference and a quick scan we offer these notes. Listening to the talk is recommended.


    During my morning zazen today I felt very vivid and awake.

    And don't feel bad if that's not always the case for you, it's usually not that way so much for me either.

    I have a lot of faith that sleepy zazen and distracted zazen and not remembering what happened zazen are still zazen.

    And the whole notion of evaluating zazen with our subjective experience this way is a little suspect anyway. Maybe even a little arrogant. One little slice of our consciousness thinking it's the boss and knows what's going on. The little "me" saying "hmm, your zazen is not so good! Try harder!" or maybe saying "Forget it, you'll never be good at this, just space out. At least we get to hang out with some cool people if we pretend to do this zazen thing."

    We make effort in zazen regardless of our opinion or non-opinion on how we're doing, but let that effort be gentle and accepting for the most part. Don't try too hard. Don't just snooze either, zazen is a powerful and rare opportunity really. Think of the many conditions that have to come together Let's treasure and honor that. But it's a fine line, we get too excited and try too hard and what happens? We create suffering.

    Anyway this morning I felt very vivid and awake and a powerful thought appeared in my mind. "all beings want happiness and freedom from suffering" In the Tibetan Buddhist teachings on compassion this is the essential thought. This reality is the foundation for compassion and connection.

    It seems obvious, a platitude even, but if we contemplate it deeply and keep bringing it into our encounters it changes everything. Someone's misbehaving in some way, you still may not appreciate their behavior, but your response is so different if you perceive a suffering being seeking happiness before you.

    I've studied and thought about this idea a lot but somehow this was another degree of knowing and feeling it. All beings want happiness and freedom from suffering.

    I think my heart is a bit conditioned by the sad fact that our cat is dying. For 17 years our little black cat Lucca has been a spritely and spirited family member. An especially important companion to my wife Janet who is often stuck in bed. Cats are so good at resting, much better than humans. Of course she is completely alive still but her form is changing. She isn't moving around much. She stopped eating. Happily she's still drinking a bit and we hope she's not too uncomfortable as she sits there so still, breathing, and being. It's hard to not oversimplify her experience as waiting for death. But that's really what it looks like. Of course death is always on the way for all of us. But today it's so clear that we're all hanging out in death's waiting room. It's a big room, the whole universe is here, and there's a lot to do. Death has great magazines and toys and entertainments and work to do and projects and things to learn. But when your appointment arrives it's right there.

    This thought "all beings want happiness and freedom from suffering" reminds us to look around the waiting room at our fellow beings. Gets our head out of those magazines and supports us in making contact and helping. This thought reminds us to respond.

    One thing I learned I was reminded of in the training I did at Stanford on teaching compassion was the powerful thought that for the response to suffering to actually be compassion you have to feel the suffering. Actually feel it. We can call this empathy. I remember Norman telling us ages ago to think about the word "passion" in the compound of "Com-Passion" - we have to feel something. These kinds of learnings seem to take a while to sink in.

    I noticed when Lucca started her decline a few days ago and my wife was so upset that I didn't feel anything right away. My mind went to my head. Went to platitudes like "she's had a long life" "this was inevitable" "if she won't have high quality of life we should let her go" - all true but just thoughts. And little by little I've let myself start feeling the pain and sadness of loving and losing in the form of this little black cat. She's a really inquisitive and smart cat, and up until recently still did kitten type behaviors. Chasing little balls. Jumping up on the bed for pats. Being really engaged with us. And now she's not doing these behaviors anymore. And as I feel a little more of the pain I notice my interactions with Janet are softer, more helpful, more understanding. Becoming compassion and not just sympathy or pity or problem solving.

    [more layers and self-compassion: Janet coming in to complain about not being taken into account for weekend plans, and further not celebrated enough in her birthday weekend - ouch. Accept, feel, breathe. Mindfulness, common humanity, kindnesss]

    I'm going to miss this little cat too. This morning while sitting with "all beings want happiness and freedom from suffering" it wasn't that I had an image of our cat in my mind so clearly but there was an opening in my gut, an expansion in my heart.

    How do we respond to suffering? In Brussels there are now 30 families mourning a big loss. On Monday night those families weren't mourning this loss. And on Tuesday sometime mid-morning as they started to be notified that a loved one had been killed in the madness of violence they all, each in their own way, we're faced with "all beings want happiness and freedom from suffering" which appears in so many shapes and forms.

    Jeffrey Hopkins is a wonderful scholar and practitioner of Tibetan Buddhism and one of HH Dalai Lama's translators. He wrote "The Dalai Lama is fond of saying, when beginning to address a group on a lecture tour, that he feels he knows each individual just like his own brother and sister - even though he's of a different religion and was brought up in a different part of the world speaks a different language and wears different clothes. But his basic knowledge of himself provides knowledge of what all beings want." They want happiness and freedom from suffering. Few things are as universal about beings as this.

    Lately I've been enjoying studying the Zen koan literature with some of our senior students. Here's a  wonderful story that appears as case 16 of the Gateless Gate collection.

    Yunmen said, "See how vast and wide the world is! Why do you on your seven-piece robe at the sound of the bell?"

    The seven-piece robe is this garment, the okesa, that ordained people in our lineage have worn to practice for so long. It's a take on the Buddha's original robe. Putting it on means going to practice.

    Why do we go to practice at the sound of the bell? Why do we respond to the calls of the world?

    And what a world it is. Vast and wide! We now get instant updates on a small slice of the happenings of the world which gives us some idea of what the world is, but do we really know the vastness and fullness of the world?

    And how is it we meet that world not with despair but with practice. With compassion. With suffering with and loving the world. With feeling the joy of the world that somehow exists on the one hand even while there is great hatred and anger and fear on the other. Our seven-panel robe is so big it can hold it all. Suffering and joy. Compassion and hatred. The Buddha and all of the ancestors call on us to respond. Somehow. To respond.

    It's interesting how the heart seems to work. A close-to-hand personal example of suffering and change - our cat Lucca - is a bit easier to feel. And even there it's can be a practice point to open instead of closing and hardening and making the suffering abstract. A 17 year old cat is supposed to be on her way out. And yet here's this beautiful, beautiful being resting there. Sitting still, waiting for death, reminding me that I'm waiting for death too. And so are you. What will we do to help beings in this vast waiting room of death. How we will be that's helpful? We don't know when the next beautiful natural peaceful death will be, we don't know when the next suicide vest will be worn.

    The collector of this particular koan collection added commentaries and verses to each story. He reminds us in this case that we "true Zen students" can access a bigger view. A view that's wider than any view. He says we can "ride sounds and veil forms" that "if you listen with your ear, it is hard to understand. If you hear with your eye you are intimate at last." He reminds us to be deeply curious and not settle for impressions and appearances. We may see before us a difficult co-worker, a dismissive parent, or a ISIS terrorist. And yet, "all beings want happiness and freedom from suffering."

    His verse about this case is also interesting, he starts with a couplet that makes easy sense:

    With realization, all things are one family;

    Without realization, all things are disconnected.

    And then like Dogen often does in his writings, he turns this around, reality is never one side. Not always so 

    Without realization, all things are one family;

    With realization, all things are disconnected.

    The world calls on us to respond. Can we feel the world, the suffering and joy, and still be able to respond. Or do we bury our nose in the magazines in the waiting room or keep busy with some task. Norman gave me a name that's both challenging and acknowledging. Responding Gate. Sometimes the gate swings freely and all beings can pass easily, other times the gate is sticky, rusty, creaking, it doesn't want to open. I want to hide. The "I" wants to hide.

    How is it for you?

    Opening lines – the Dhammapada

    What we are today comes from our thoughts of yesterday And our present thoughts build our life of tomorrow: Our life is the creation of our mind. If a person speaks or acts with an impure mind Suffering follows, as the wheel of the cart follows the beast that pulls it.

    What we are today comes from our thoughts of yesterday And our present thoughts build our life of tomorrow: If a person speaks or acts with a pure mind Joy follows as a shadow follows the body.

    “He insulted me, he hurt me, he defeated me, he robbed me.” Those who think such thoughts will not be free from hate For hate is not conquered by hate Hate is conquered by love. This is the eternal law.

  • Saturday, March 12, 2016 4:00 PM | Talus Latona (Administrator)

    Podcast: Play in new window

    Below find Nomon Tim Burnett's talk notes. This is not a verbatim transcript of what Tim says in the recording but for reference and a quick scan we offer these notes. Listening to the talk is recommended.

    Side note 1: Dogen: "ensure your ears are in line with your shoulders" - benefits of a gentle rising in the sternum, chest opens, shoulders drop, more room for the neck and the heads moves back easefully. Balancing focus on posture with letting go.

    Side note 2: I thought you might enjoy hearing some of the teachings of the Science Buddha. This is from

    The neuroscience of mindfulness meditation, pullished by Yi‐Yuan Tang of Texas Tech Univesrity, Britta K. Hölzel of the University of Munich, and Michael I. Posner of the University of Oregon in the Journal Neuroscience in April 2015.

    Neural mechanisms of enhanced attention control.

    Several functional and structural MRI studies on mindfulness training have investigated neuroplasticity in brain regions supporting attention regulation. The brain region to which the effects of mindfulness training on atten- tion is most consistently linked is the ACC 11,23,38,39,73–76 . The ACC enables executive attention and control 77–79 by detecting the presence of conflicts emerging from incom- patible streams of information processing. The ACC and the fronto-insular cortex form part of a network that facilitates cognitive processing through long-range con- nections to other brain areas 11,80 . Cross-sectional studies have reported enhanced activation of regions of the ACC in experienced meditators compared to controls during focused attention meditation 76 or when mindfully antici- pating delivery of a painful stimulus 81 . Greater activation of the ventral and/or rostral ACC during the resting state following 5 days of IBMT was also found in an actively controlled, randomized, longitudinal study 23 . Although ACC activation may be enhanced in earlier stages of mindfulness meditation, it might decrease with higher levels of expertise, as demonstrated in a cross-sectionalstudy 18 . Structural MRI data suggest that mindfulness meditation might be associated with greater corticalthickness 51 and might lead to enhanced white-matter integrity in the ACC 38,39 .

    Other attention-related brain regions in which func- tional changes have been observed following mindful- ness meditation include the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (PFC), where responses were enhanced during executiveprocessing 82 , as revealed by a randomized longitudi- nal study, and parietal attention regions, which showed greater activation following an MBSR course in people with social anxiety, as demonstrated by an uncontrolled longitudinal study 83 . Furthermore, a diminished age- related decline of grey-matter volume in the putamen as well as diminished age-related decline in sustained atten- tion performance were found in a cross-sectional study of Zen meditation practitioners 34 .

    Although there is evidence that brain regions rele- vant for the regulation of attention show functional and structural changes following mindfulness meditation practice, it has not yet been determined whether these changes are actually related to the improved attentional performance. 

    [BRIEF BACKSTORY IF ANYONE THERE NOT AT PREVIOUS TALK]

    Open with "Sometimes we have to struggle" section P.11-13, skip "Creating a Ceremony" (but talk about exchange that happens in our ceremonies - jukai for example), and read "Don't Mix Levels" P.15-16

    Sometimes the exchange of gold doesn't go well.

    One problem might be that we don't notice that someone is giving us their inner gold. I co-led a mindfulness retreat with someone once where the other leader was a student in a different Buddhist lineage. He was asking me lots of questions about my training and how I came to be a teacher. At first I thought he was just curious but later I realized there was a lot of personal freight and a lot of implied compliments and even awe of me in our conversations. He was giving me gold and he was looking for me to give it back by reassuring him that he was also a good retreat teacher and a good person. One of the things I'm noticing about myself is that I don't do reassurance by default. Maybe it's part of my training in silence, maybe I'm shy, mostly I just assume everything and everyone are fine unless they tell me otherwise. It can be a bit of a blindness, sometimes I miss pretty big hints that the other person isn't fine or is offended by something I did and just trying to keep it together. Maybe I'm a bad match for our passive-aggressive Northwest culture in that way, people don't yell at your when they're mad, at least not at first. They try to be nice and let it go. Anyway I really wasn't getting it with this person. I thought everything was fine and he was just friendly and interested in me and my background. And then at the end of our retreat I made a mistake. He'd expressed a preference about how the closing of the retreat and the cleanup at the facility we were using would go some weeks earlier. I just completely forgot and got focussed on "getting it done" which is another condition that can lead to violating implied gold exchanges.  Anyway I asked my co-leader to do something he'd asked me not to do and he wasn't able to say anything or remind me of our agreement when I did. He just got angry. Really really angry. I was astounded actually. And I quickly got a little defensive - "why didn't he just ask for what he wanted? why not just remind me?" - but now I'm thinking it was because he'd given me so much gold that he was extremely vulnerable and unable to right himself. Not only did I not give it back but I acted like I didn't even have it. From his point of view I threw it in the mud and stomped on it. Very painful. And embarassing. So unskillful. So easy also to blame him for taking something personally that wasn't. This teaching on inner gold really helps me see this in a way in which I can take more responsibility.

    And yet the exchange of gold is like that I think. Not always obvious. As as the giver or the receiver we can become very vulnerable. It's risky giving and receiving gold.

    He's a positive gold story. A woman came to Bellingham for graduate school about 10 years ago and started practice with us. To be honest I don't remember that much about her presence in the sangha then but it was it turns out it was a very important time for her. And it's clear she gave and received some inner gold. Sporadically over the years since she's kept in touch with me on the email. A little update about publishing a book. That she's found a sangha where she lives now. That she's starting to study the precepts. It's all very nice. A few times she's been in the area and we tried to get together but it didn't quite work out. This made me a little nervous. Was I letting down my side? But then finally she was back in the area again and we did meet. Right as I read this little book on inner gold. "oh," I thought to myself, "she's ready for her gold back. Now I see that I've had some of her gold all these years and she's just been keeping tabs on it's whereabouts." We had a very pleasant meeting, no fireworks really but nice, connected for not having seen each other in all those years. A little later she sent me a note about how meaningful the meeting was for her, that this surprised her. I'm glad I could gracefully just show up and give her her gold back with good cheer in a relaxed way.

    Of course the exchange of gold gets mixed up in intimate realtionships too. Here's what Robert Johnson says about gold in love and marriage. Read p. 16 "Love and marriage."

    I've had the honor to try to support people recently after difficult break ups. Honor and challenge. There are some big debts and surpluses in the gold department there. It seems like the most painful might be that one partner understands the situation as having given the other an incredible amount of gold, a vast horde, having given their entire heart, and the other just didn't notice, or didn't see it that way or did see it but it wasn't gold to them. It was something more ordinary, matter of fact, not special in any way. The gold is missed or cheapened. And there's so much suffering. And both will have a burden from the imbalanced exchange for a long time it feels like.

    Robert Johnson feels there's an inherent spiritual dimension to this no matter what. He uses God language, see what he has to say " Gold is Close to God" JUST P. 19 (skip godparent part) and "God is Out of his box" p. 26 - read whole thing. ((And draw parallel to "container" and on authority.)

    Johnson's advice for learning how to be more skillful with this. "Making the Exchange Conscious" p. 23 and "Take Inwardly What is Inward" p. 28-29 and onto "Reclaiming our Projections" p. 30.

    I hope these ideas are useful to you, and to us as a sangha. May this gold exchange we call Red Cedar Zen be one in which we are willing to hold each other's gold, and always willing and ready to give it back. May we see the urge towards hero worship on the one hand or dismissal on the other hand as a projection of our heart, of something just under the surface that we are almost ready to learn. And when we receive a difficult projection, may be be gracious and patient about it, knowing it arises from suffering and misunderstanding. Know that there is always gold there somewhere. Our sangha's Clear Communication process is a good guide I think for responding to feeling hurt in our exchanges.

    And so any of us whom I've held your gold badly or disrepectfully I apologize. I'm always trying to learn and I'm grateful when you are courageous and clear with me. I will try to do the same for you.

    Thank you for listening.


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