How could my friends be so, so wrong..?

The new ‘semester’ of Sutra A started yesterday, and due to an influx of new students from last year’s uncharacteristically huge and enthusiastic Level 3 class the rest of us* had to sit through the introductory lecture on sutra study, once again. Let’s see if I can sum it up for you without referring to the lecture recording: What is a sutra? How the Diamond Sutra was discovered. How important it is. That it is a Mahayana sutra, not a Theravada sutra. Who translated it into Chinese. Components of a sutra. Why each of these is important. How each of these relates to the Diamond Sutra. Finally, Q. & A.

Sound’s pretty okay…right? But not if you have to sit through it for the tenth time. Or probably even more times. And you have a head cold. And you are falling asleep at the table. And you’re dreaming every time you close your eyes by mistake.

So after class a friend says, ‘Susan, you look so much happier!’ And I, puzzled, think ‘Happier than what?’ Another chimes in ‘Yes, you do.’ And I just look at them–puzzled–and say ‘Sorry, you’re wrong. I have a cold and I’m dead tired and want to get home. And I just had to sit through that boring lecture yet again.’ So later, when rested up, I’m thinking, ‘What the hell was going on there? Why would they think I’m “happy” if all I wanted was for the hour to end and for me to get out of there as fast as possible?’ I looked in the mirror… Hair style? (I was rinsing it a slightly lighter color.) Clothing color? Retin-A application kicking in? (Yes, I did have that tight, smooth, almost pore-less appearance I get after about 2 weeks in.) I looked healthy! But I was sick! Didn’t they notice the nose blowing and repressed coughing?

Anyway, I’ve decided that I’ve been sick long enough. I’m going to do some outdoor work over at the monastery today. No more class for me until Saturday, and I don’t think I will attend the first lecture of Sutra B. Because…you figure it out.

*Shifu calls us the ‘old students’ (!!)

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2016 Blessing

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It’s that time again, boys & girls…

…time for Zen 7. I’m not so scared this time since I know about what to expect. Looking forward to total lack of talking & eye-contact with anyone for one solid week! Only possible problem: can’t fold that black robe. Well, I bet there will be a “class” or we’ll be able to see the instructional video. To sleep in a quiet room in 72 degree heat…such luxury. It means no stuffy nose at night. We sleep from 10:30 to 4:30, which is about my usual hour. And this time I remembered to bring my hair drier and a heavy coat & scarf. Will it rain? I have my umbrella!
I always wonder why participants torment their legs into full lotus for the whole time. Does that bring them closer to enlightenment? We’re on benches! You can put your legs down for a period or two. We’re in the USA!

P.S. This is interesting: my computer knows it’s Dec 24th, but WordPress seems to think it’s the 25th, so Merry Christmas to all!

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Merry Christmas to all!

Yes, I’m taking a day off Buddhism to share my favorite recipe. Watch out…you’ll be cutting hunks off it all day if you’re not mindful.

Christian Brothers Cake
(Bake in a Bundt pan.)

Preheat the oven to 350 deg.
One box of yellow or white cake mix
1 small box of Jello or Royal Instant Vanilla Pudding mix.
4 beaten eggs
1 teaspoon nutmeg
3/4 C cream sherry
3/4 C vegetable oil (Crisco or Wesson)

Whip it all up with a mixer. Bake for 45-50 min. until firm on top.
Turn out onto a plate. Sift powdered sugar over the top. Serve with coffee. Your guests will never know how easy this was to make.

….and to all a good night!

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In the Wake of Redecoration

I’m repainting a room in the house to match a newly purchased rug. In the process, I’m weeding our library of books no longer relevant to our lives and establishing some sort of order. True, I have an Amazon-book-addict in the other room, but…

Anyway, I came across a book of teishos by Eido Shimano, and reviewed what I had seen on the ‘net years ago. Shimano was a sex addict and psychopath, and he, Sherry Chayat and all his disciples were disqualified by his order as Zen teachers because of his repeated, unrepentant behavior. As a result, I’m removing the link to The Zen Studies Society (Chayat is Abbess there.) If you’re interested the ZSS you can find it easy enough, but I can’t link it on a site called Good Clean Zen. This letter might be of interest.

In my Books section I link A Rare and Precious Thing by John Kain. I highly recommend it. I have been blessed so many times over the years with extraordinary teachers, and I remember each of them with fondness.

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“Thanksgiving Day, 2015”

A passer-by comments to the old gardener
“It must be hard to do that in this wind.”
She, sweeping leaves, replies
“The property I care for is even bigger than this-
And when I come to the end of it,
It seems that the wind blows the borders away
Red and yellow, red and yellow
Such wealth of leaves is always being provided!”

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Joseph Goldstein’s “On Dhamma”

When you begin studying Buddhism, it’s easy to get mired in terms and lists. And because your teacher has curriculum to think about, and wants to cover particular sutras on some kind of schedule, the way he’ll do it is plan the lesson, present to the class and take questions. This slows things down considerably. There are always suggestions for practice, but at our temple there’s only so much time–a couple of hours a week, less the time taken for meditation. Then, if you’re lucky, you come across insight meditation teacher Joseph Goldstein’s Abiding in Mindfulness, Vol. 3 ‘On Dhamma’. This is a series of discourses (very well-planned and written out, presented before a congregation) on the teachings of Buddha in the Satipatthana Sutra. Technically, the cd recordings are excellent and Mr. Goldstein’s voice is clear and soft without being soporific.

Things that you’ve encountered before-the Four Foundations of Mindfulness, the Four Noble Truths, the Eightfold Path-these Mr. Goldstein opens up in a very detailed way, and continually draws us back to how they operate in the mind and how they can be instituted in daily life practice. For example, he presents three lectures just on “right view”. There’s no Q.&A. These are forty-five or fifty minute lectures. He uses extensive examples from his own experience and doesn’t lose sight of the ultimate goal of Buddhism: nirvana. This is a college level course in vipassyana meditation. Listening repeatedly and putting the instructions into action can potentially get you going in the right direction and make you a more peaceful person in the process.

Joseph Goldstein is one of several Western teachers of refined understanding bringing the sutras to life for native English speakers.

Quotation: “What is sudden awakening? It is the recognition and direct experience of the mind’s empty, aware nature. This empty aware nature of mind is always and already present. It’s already here. Kensi Rinpoche, the great ZoChen master said ‘Mind has no form, no color and no substance. This is its empty aspect. Yet mind can know things and perceive in an infinite variety of phenomena. This its clear aspect. The inseparability of these two aspects, emptiness and clarity, is the primordial, continuous nature of mind.’ So this is sudden awakening. It’s awakening to the empty, aware nature. But just as in the Theravada tradition, here too there can be subtle attachments of mind that are difficult to see. So we may think we are open, have recognized this empty aware nature but really there is a subtle attachment going on. So it becomes an interesting place to investigate. We can see how states of bliss or clarity or non-thought; we’re sitting in this place (…) and can take that to be the unborn, unconstructed nature of mind (…)There can be subtle identification with awareness itself.We reify awareness in some way; it’s like we make a home of awareness, then have our sense of self settle right in [and say to ourselves] ‘This awareness is me.’Now, different teachers in the Zen and Tibetan traditions also point this out, because the truth is the same. One Tibetan teacher, Tchaichongo Rinpoche, he just had one little teaching that when I read it, it almost  jumped off the page…He said ‘The failure to recognize the true nature of mind occurs because the lucid or aware aspect of mind obscures its empty aspect.'”

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