Blog archive 2012

The next moment is forever to come by Jeremy Sappington

Reflection is defined as an image thrown back, a return, an echo and as a meditation. What then is an image of one’s self as seen in the meditation on one’s life? Seems perilously close to looking at myself, looking at myself, looking at myself, the never-ending hall of mirrors. Far too much emphasis on “self” and that may be the point around which this struggle with living and dying whirls, sometimes wildly and sometimes in quiet meditation alone or with close friends.

When this reflection was moving to writing there was a desire to avoid the use of the word, “I” as that seems the hook that holds me in the fear trap. What if the “I” no longer exists then what is there to be reflected, to be known, to be lost, to be grieved? I do not want to let lose that sense of self, that big capital I, the ability to look in the mirror and see myself.

There is a myth that one can only see ghosts when their image is reflected in a mirror. Is it possible that the image seen in the mirror this morning was a ghost, an image of someone who existed a short moment ago and who is no longer who that was? Not only possible, but likely. Why then this battle to hold on to myself when it has already been lost with that pause to reflect on that image.

Stand still, time! No more aging! No more changing! No more awareness of all the moments lost that cannot be regained. No more fear of not being in the next moment to come. As N. Scott Momaday says of the moment Pat Garrett’s bullet enters Billy-the-Kid’s heart. “The next moment is forever to come.”

The tips of the branches on the Japanese Maple outside my window glow a beautiful russet in the afternoon light, the limbs of the Hemlock float on the wind in the distance, the grey bark of the Italian Plum is almost mirror like in it’s reflection of the distant sun……and for an instant the I fades from awareness, with all its hopes and fears and judgments and questions and questions and questions. And for the shortest instant Milan Kundera’s “unbearable lightness of being” is almost fully understood.


Koshin’s take on the fall dharma series

The form we adopted for the Dharma teaching series was brand new for me. The night before it started I really didn’t know how it would work out – it might sail, or it might just crash and burn into a jumbled dharma heap! Looking back now I’m very happy with this new form, and with the people who brought their lives to it.

The way I see it, the Dharma teaching series created a space in which people could study on their own and then bring their ideas first to a small group, then a larger group. It gave me a chance to discuss some Buddhist concepts with a portion of the sangha. And this form of informal discussion gives plenty of room for cross-fertilization and surprise. We got to know each other in a different way than we do sitting or working together. And we got to learn from each other.

It’s possible that discussions like this become too academic. This one never did – the participants shared their stories and thoughts and questions from their heart and experience.

I’m looking forward to keeping this kind of study in the Zen Center’s rotation. I hope you can make it to

An interview with Jodo John Candy, 2012

So Jodo–your upcoming dharma series at the Zen center is called “Self and World”. That just about says it doesn’t it? It’s pretty much the essence of Zen philosophy—what is this thing I call the self, and how does it relate to this thing I call the world?

Exactly. Nobody doubts they have a self. And nobody doubts that they have a world. Buddhism tends to look at things in terms of activities–we have the activity of self and the activity of the world. These two are always interacting–generally they take the form of interior and exterior. We act on these two activities in a way that we experience being pushed and pulled a lot–we’re kind of at their mercy. The goal of the class will be to have people be more comfortable with these two activities–the self and the world activity, to hold hands with the world.. If the self and world are two branches on the same tree, what is the tree, and what is that tree rooted in? We’ll look at that from a zen standpoint.

When you talk about the root of the tree, it sounds like you’re getting to the why–why do we practice?

Yes–zen is about getting to our fundamental condition. But we never think about what is our fundamental condition. What is the origin of the self? It must be based on something. We affirm a self but we really don’t know what it’s made of. What is its foundation? And that cannot be separated from the experience of the world .The self and the world arise together. Do they have the same foundation? Does the foundation have a disappearing modality as well as an appearing one? Zen says these are things that can be studied, but conceptual understanding is unsatisfactory. But the answer can be found in experience.

So in this class we will try and get in touch with this very fundamental activity–we know it’s underneath and we’ll just be getting closer to that. And as you get closer you get more adept at it. People generally have some intuitive sense of the source activity–many people do. It’s been covered up by operational activity—our conventional operational activities are so sophisticated they cover it up.

We’re going to be looking at this foundational activity–we’re not going to be riding the horse; we’re going to be getting off the horse and looking at it. But of course, our situation is as they say, “ Riding the ox, looking for the ox.”.

So what will the class be like? How will you help students explore these concepts of Self and World?

There will be some texts that will be the principal focus points. We’ll go through these texts which are extremely concentrated and which bring up all the issues of Zen Buddhism. The text is very complex but there’s a lot of color in it too. So I’ll do a general delivery of the text and then point out some highlights to give it some context. Then there’ll be general discussion and open questions and answers. But it will all be considered in the paradigm of looking at our own experience. It’s not an academic scholarly look–we’ll be using the text to look at an exploration of our own lives.

Our investigation of the text will be for developing intuition and insight. And using these parameters that are perennial really throughout the history of humankind.

Self and other tends to objectify a world. This is an extremely important thing for Zen. Subject-object. Ultimately for Zen the world, the self, and their underlying reality cannot be objectified. We will explore that as profoundly as we can. If subject, object and the relating activity between all have the same foundation , what is the nature of that foundation, that source activity?

You had mentioned students can bring in questions–what kinds of questions?

All questions having to do with zen, practice, and personal experience are welcome as long as they relate to the student’s earnest self enquiry.

What texts will you be using?

The first text is a lecture by Joshu Sasaki Roshi, a living zen master who is 105 years old this April, who is the founding teacher of the Puget Sound Zen Center. We’ll also be looking at writings from the Chinese Zen masters from 1000 years ago and using a classic koan as a starting place for investigation. There will be auxillary texts and excerpts from the sutras. The readings will be interesting, beautiful, challenging , and inspiring.

How many sesshins have you done with Sasaki Roshi?

Not enough! Probably, a little more than 50 or so. My first was in the summer of 1978 at Mount Baldy.

Roshi says this practice is about putting your belly button right up against the belly button of the cosmos. And it takes some skill development to be able to do that and also gaining courage and becoming comfortable with that. But ultimately that is the greatest giver of peace.

Do you feel that you’ve gotten more adept at not just riding the horse, but getting off the horse and looking at it over the years?

Oh yes definitely. You just do it–you put your belly button forward and apply yourself with intention. and the medicine does its own work. These investigations–if they’re sincere–they’re like seeds that are planted. This is a fruit-bearing tree that will last a lifetime. It’s like discovering a spring in the hills. Before that your source of water was very erratic. Now you know where to go to get your water.

But making mistakes is inevitable. I’ve certainly had more mistakes than success.

Like what?

What mistakes have I made? All the mistakes. Being self centered , losing patience, getting angry. All the mistakes that are human. Sometimes lack of discipline, sometimes lack of gratitude, sometimes indulging, sometimes getting upset or being pushed and pulled by circumstances too much.

Who is this class for? Is it for any level of practitioner?

This is for anybody–everybody–anybody who is willing to look at how their mind works and how their heart relates.

Is this world a perfect place? The completion of all love and wisdom? Often we don’t experience it that way. But isn’t it true that most of the time this is due to our own fixation in a one sided position? How is it when no ‘I am ‘ self is affirmed, before thinking, naming and judgement? If we catch this very moment of innocence when self and world are unified, boundries and dimensions dissolve and feelings arise of joy, gratitude, peace, wonder, and love. So we will be looking closely at our inherent capacity for wisdom and love.

Gentle=the new Macho by Elizabeth Fitterer

For some people, zazen is about getting tough–about pushing yourself to sit with discomfort and just deal with it. For me, it’s mostly been about getting gentle.

Zazen is a macho sport in a lot of ways. There’s lots of dudes, lots of poker faces. When I first walked into the Zendo last year, I think I thought being macho was the only way you could play: sit longer, sit harder, sit stronger.

My three-year old son (an extremely macho man!) has this strategy when he wants to vault himself onto the couch: he runs at it as fast as he can from across the room and slams into it. Most of the time, the very momentum he has causes him to catapult up on top of the couch, and he meets his goal. This was just about the same approach I took to sitting zazen, to running, to doing many things in my life–if I just kept going at it harder, harder, the same way, I was pretty sure I’d get what I wanted. This strategy had worked for me for a long time.

But zazen is about changing strategies at a deep level. And this, somewhat miraculously, is the gift it’s given me over this last year.

As I sat, I started to listen to a deep pain I’d been having in my lower right back and my right hip. I’d been having the pain for months–maybe even years. Sometimes my right leg would just feel weird and heavy and almost numb. So what did I usually do when I felt like this? I’d go run for an hour, just to show my leg who was boss. It would hurt for a while, but then, because of adrenaline, it’d stop hurting, and I’d think–I’m fine, I’m cool. I can continue running just like I did when I was 25.

But, as I continued to sit zazen, I was forced to listen to the reality of my body in a different way and I realized–dude, my back and my hip really hurt!! I mean, they really HURT!!

I am embarrassed to say that, even after I got this message loud and clear, I continued to sit through this pain for a while like an idiot.

What was I thinking?? I don’t really know. I know a lot of it had to do with not wanting to look weak; not wanting to stand out in a crowd. As a newbie, it was really intimidating for me to sit silently in a room with other people. For a whole hour. My thoughts went something like–“these other people have it so together. And they’re working so hard. I don’t want to disrespect their sitting time by being loud and moving around and shifting positions. And I want them to think that I take this work seriously too.” I also really liked the feeling of being more relaxed–that part felt right. Maybe, I thought, the point of all this sitting is to learn to accept the pain in my life, to stay relaxed even while searing pain cuts through my back like a knife.

You can hear how dumb all those thoughts are, right?? After sitting for a while, I began to hear just how dumb they were too. Nobody was looking at me while I sat in the Zendo. Nobody’s practice was going to be undermined if I got up and got a chair. Shouldn’t I have a wiser strategy for dealing with pain than, say, my 3 year old son??

So one day, finally, I started trying to help myself. I went through all the props the Zendo had to offer, but nothing offered relief for long. Not the kneely bench. Not multiple cushions. Not even the cool psychedelic stool in the library.

Then I had a flash of insight–my big blue yoga ball!! The ball that I had used while I was in labor with my kids!! I knew immediately this was the answer. This was the way for me to sit without pain.

I had some worries about taking a yoga ball into the Zendo. It would look ridiculous. Would I fall off it?? Would it roll around while I was up bowing and doing kinhin?? I’D look ridiculous. Would everyone think I was being disrespectful bringing that clowny-looking thing into the serious-looking Zendo??

Thankfully, by that time, the Zendo had become such a friendly place to me that I was comfortable enough to look ridiculous in front of everybody there. I knew Koshin well enough that I just flat out asked him if I could bring the ball in. Thankfully he said yes.

It’s many months later now, and the yoga ball has helped me through the worst of my pain. I have not yet fallen off the ball. The ball has not yet crashed disastrously into the Buddha, knocking over candles and setting the Zendo on fire. Through working intensely with several healers on the island, I’ve made some major changes: I’ve learned to stand differently, to sit differently, to walk differently, to SLEEP differently, to suck it up and wear ugly orthotic sneakers all the time, to stop running. All this is not about avoiding pain–on the contrary, it’s about actually feeling the pain and working with it as opposed to denying it.

I wanted so badly to be macho. And I think I have been macho in my own, busted-up-spine kind of way. I continued to sit; to find a way to do zazen that worked for me. I’ve learned to feel what I’m feeling and take appropriate action to deal with it.

Yesterday I realized just how far I’ve come with this “feeling what I’m feeling” thing. And the weird thing is, it not only helps me–it helps other people as well. Yesterday morning I was on a great walk in the sun, really enjoying my music and getting into the zone, but my right ankle hurt. So instead of keeping going like I would have done a year ago, ignoring that pain and causing further injury, I stopped, got down on one knee and retied my shoe. I was feeling stressed out yesterday night about making a fancy dinner for the kids and doing a ton of dishes, so instead of pushing through the dinner like I would have done a year ago and making everybody cranky, I fed the kids canned soup and peanut butter sandwiches instead, and we all went to bed with smiles on our faces. And when I felt like something I said might have offended a friend yesterday, I spoke up immediately and said I was sorry, instead of shutting my mouth in embarrassment like I would have a year ago, and then we both laughed about it instead of carrying weird feelings around all day.

Pretty macho huh?

The story of David Smith’s Kudus House by Elizabeth Fitterer

What’s it feel like to meditate in a house that’s intricately carved out of teak, is over a century old, and saw countless processions of pilgrims in its other life as a home in Indonesia? If you come to the all-day sit on Saturday July 9, you’ll find out–David Smith and Suzanne Anderson have generously allowed us to use their Kudus house for this event.

This building is a one-of-a kind structure. Kudus is the only city in Java with an Arabic name (Kudus means “holy”–for more information on Kudus, see this link). The mosque in Kudus dates back to at least the 16th century. It was said that 7 pilgrimages to the Kudus mosque was equivalent to one pilgrimage to Mecca, so the street on which the mosque was located, Jalan Menara (Tower Street), saw a fair amount of travelers over the years.

The Kudus house was built right on Jalan Menara for a wealthy family in the late 1800s or early 1900s. It is said to have been built from one piece of teak, and is covered with intricate carvings–the Kudus house was the price of about 200 average houses in Java at the time it was built.

David Smith bought the house in Java from the grandson of the original owners, then oversaw 2 years of reconstruction in Java by 9 carvers and 3 carpenters (including the addition of a wrap-around porch). After the house had been painstakingly restored, it was then dismantled and shipped to Vashon Island, where the 3 Javanese carpenters worked over a period of years to reassemble it.

We are so honored to have this sacred space in which to sit! Thank you David and Suzanne.

Koshin’s pick for national poetry month

For National Poetry Month in April, we thought we’d share some poems that are meaningful to us. First up is Koshin’s pick, “The Bed by the Window” by Robinson Jeffers.

The Bed by the Window

I chose the bed downstairs by the sea-window for a good death-bed
When we built the house; it is ready waiting,
Unused unless by some guest in a twelvemonth, who hardly suspects
Its latter purpose. I often regard it,
With neither dislike nor desire; rather with both, so equalled
That they kill each other and a chrystalline interest
Remains alone. We are safe to finish what we have to finish;
And then it will sound rather like music
When the patient daemon behind the screen of sea-rock and sky
Thumps with his staff, and calls thrice: “Come, Jeffers.”