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April 2017: Working with the Self

Wednesday, April 05, 2017 11:45 PM | Nomon Tim Burnett (Administrator)

   April at Red Cedar Zen Community

Dear Sangha,

When I was about 16, I remember flipping through a book on Buddhism at a bookstore. Opening the book at random, my eyes landed on the four vows of bodhisattvas. The version of this we chant regularly in our practice now goes:

Being are numberless, I vow to save them.

Delusions are inexhaustible, I vow to end them.

Dharma gates are boundless, I vow to enter them.

Buddha's way is unsurpassable, I vow to become it.

These words really struck me. How is this even possible? To live this this degree of commitment and engagement? It was, I think, an important seed planted in my heart.

Thinking about it now, everyone who practices Buddhism is making a commitment, much like the physicians I work with in mindfulness classes do: first, do no harm. (Side note: interestingly the Latin phrase primum non nocere is not part of the oath for physicans suggested by Hippocrates.).

The Buddha is often portrayed as a physician devoted to healing sentient beings of suffering through the practice and the discipline he developed.

Once we take in the scope of this practice, some big questions emerge! How do we truly help others, much less save them? How do we truly help ourselves? How can we live deeply? 

And how can we live deeply together? There's an aspect of self that can only really relate to self. Other selves seem so foreign, weird, and troublesome. How can we merge and connect deeply and what gets in the way?

I've always loved the community-centered orientation of our way of practice. Last week, at the fifth Wednesday Sangha Conversation, one members said "You're my chosen family." And like all families we also are trouble for each other. Yet with our shared intentions expressed in these Bodhisattva vows, we have more room to turn trouble to wisdom. Employing, in whatever form, the process expressed in our Clear Communications and Ethics Policies (http://www.redcedarzen.org/ethics).

But sometimes emotions run hot, and we know from both neuroscience and painful personal experience that our wise brains can shut down. I've been thinking more and more about strong emotions. How powerful they are, moving below the surface. How dramatically they can crest into our conscious awareness. How easily we, and everyone around us, can get confused and tangled when they arise. 

Strong emotions appear when the many factors come together: their triggers in present-moment phenomena, the seeds in our deep subconscious from our history and society and beyond, and that tight conditioned impulse towards self-protection that appears so quickly.

When we're angry or defensive or fearful, what should be done? What is skillful in our own lives? What is kind, or at least respectful, of those around us? Can we at least do no harm? 

Do we believe the stories of blame and judgment that can emerge so powerfully in the mind? Can we distinguish the trigger from the deep conditioning that was just activated?

 Here's where getting to know the dance between the external (what he said) and the internal ("I'm being disrespected") can be so powerful. 

 Do we go to reaction or to curiosity? Is it really true? And even if it is, what now? Do I have any freedom here? Can I choose my response to the powerful currents in the heart-mind, or am I run by the strong emotions? If the latter is this case, maybe I'd better just hold my tongue and wait!

 It's so helpful that through practice we can become more aware of these dynamics between external and internal and gradually become wiser in our responses. This really is possible. 

 When we feel triggered and injured we can, little by little, go to curiosity instead of rage. Go to "what can I learn about the mind here?" instead of "how do I straighten these other people out so they'll give me what I want?"

 And Buddhism suggests we can go even further than this, to the deep and ultimate healing of what I call here the fundamental level. The fundamental level is the stage and also the driving force behind the play between internal and external in our lives. At this level, we start to inquire into our deeply held assumptions about who and what we are. 

 Does this fragile self really need to be defended when it feels attacked? Is it as real as it makes itself out to be in my mind? Are the many conditions that I think I need to feel okay really necessary, or can I experience an okay-ness without all that?

 I deeply hope that through our practice and the mutual support of our community we can both become more skillful in navigating the complex waters of the external and internal interplay of our lives but also, little by little, move toward this more ultimate level. 

 The Bodhisattva vision is that we can free ourselves from being so victimized by circumstances and our conditioning, so that we can serve this tangled world as powerful bodhisattvas of healing.

 First, do no harm. But then, open up to this suffering world and serve as best we can with freedom and flexibility. By healing our hearts at this more fundamental level we can be so much more helpful because we don't need to be guarded anymore. We can be open and generous - come what may.

 With deep respect and joy,

Nomon Tim

 P.s. If your Bodhisattva expression includes community activism, one of the recommendations of our new Sangha committee on activism and social justice is to participate in Dignity Dialogs organized by the Community to Community organization. See new our online Sangha Bulletin Board (http://www.redcedarzen.org/bulletin-board) for details.

Sangha Events for April

April 10, 17, 24, and May 1: A Conversation About Death and Dying A short course for Buddhist practitioners on how Buddhist teachings and practice can help us accept and work with the dying and death of loved ones and ourselves. Sessions will include readings, exercises, meditations, and discussions of the emotions and ideas we have about death and dying; the needs of the dying person and how care givers can respond; the needs of care givers as they accompany a dying person; and the experience of grief and grieving and resources for the bereaved.

April 12: Buddha's Birthday - Potluck Dinner, Meditation, and Ceremony Celebrate Buddha's Birthday with a 5pm sangha potluck dinner and by building a flowered pavilion together for the baby Buddha. Then after meditation starting at 7pm we'll have a ceremonial washing of the baby Buddha together. As we process and chant a little dancing and music is in order - bring hand instruments: rattles, bells, little drums and such! Come celebrate! 
(Our apologies for the confusion with the reminders on this event. It's next week, April 12th.)

April 15:Mt. Erie Hiking Meditation Join Red Cedar Zen Community for our annual spring Circumambulation of Mt. Erie hike.  This celebration of the encouraging energy of springtime is close to the traditional date for the celebration of Buddha’s Birthday.  Our route will follow a very moderate trail for approximately 7 miles clockwise around this prominent small mountain situated near the shore of the Salish Sea. The hike begins at 10am and we will probably be done by about 2 or 3pm. A preliminary group will meet to carpool at the Red Cedar Dharma Hall in Bellingham at 9am, or you can arrive at Mt. Erie independently.

April 29 at 7pm: Guiding Teacher Stepping Down Ceremony with Zoketsu Norman Fischer Join the sangha in thanking and honoring our founding Guiding Teacher, Zoketsu Norman Fischer, in a special ceremony of "Stepping Down from the Seat". Norman will continue as the sangha's Founding Teacher returning annual to lead us in sesshin.

April 30 at 10am: Guiding Teacher Installation Ceremony with Zoketsu Norman Fischer and Nomon Tim Burnett Join the sangha in supporting Spiritual Director, Nomon Tim Burnett, in his empowerment by Zoketsu Norman Fischer to be our new Guiding Teacher.

April 30: Norman Fischer Poetry Reading Join us for a poetry reading with Norman Fischer at Village Books after the Guiding Teacher Installation ceremony. Norman will read from his new book any would be if, tanka by norman fischer.

Upcoming Retreats:

May 20-21:Awakening in Everyday Life: A Zen Studies Retreat with Nomon Tim Burnett This year's topic for our annual Zen Studies Retreat is Eihei Dogen's teachings on awakening in every day life as expressed in his famous essay Instructions for the Cook (Tenzo Kyokun). Combining the traditional and the contemporary, Nomon Tim Burnett will lead our annual Zen Studies retreat this year in Spring, instead of Fall. Far from just an academic inquiry, the weekend will involve a series of meditations and experiential exercises along with ample discussion to help us explore the text and Dogen's thought from the inside out. Our Zen Studies retreats combine meditation, lecture, discussion, private interviews with the teacher, and innovative experiential education to explore the contemporary meaning of ancient Buddhist texts.

June 16-24: Samish Island Sesshin 2017 Our annual silent Zen sesshin with Zoketsu Norman Fischer includes seven days and eight nights of silent practice of sitting and walking meditation in a beautiful church camp on the water on Samish Island in the Skagit Valley. The retreat includes dharma talks by Norman and other Northwest teachers, dokusan and practice discussion, sitting and walking meditation, and delicious vegetarian meals. This is a deep time for practice and reflection with the support of sangha and teachers.

Board Meeting minutes:

March 2017 minutes

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