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Mountains and Waters Alliance newsletter: March 12, 2018

12 Mar

We’ll begin with a few event announcements, then continue with guidance – this time, an introductory essay.

Events

Retreats in Minnesota:

May 25-28: Land care retreat – includes meditation, work as practice, dharma talks and discussions, community building.

October 26-28: Land care retreat.

To be determined: Intro to Zen retreat – a full day at the farm, or a half day in Northfield.

Silent retreats are on the calendar, not shown here.

Travel & Teaching:

April 27-29: Teaching in Columbus, Ohio.

Midsummer: I will be traveling to Colorado and could arrange to be available in Colorado, northern New Mexico, and points along the way from Minnesota.

Late September: I will be in upstate New York and could arrange to be available.

For farm events including workshops, volunteer days, and potlucks, please see the calendar.

For local Zen teaching schedule, please see the same calendar.

Guidance

We’ll begin with a few words on what Buddhist practice means, as a foundation for more later.

For me, Buddhist practice is about living as part of the earth, fully sustained and embraced in joy.

Usually we think of Buddhism as a philosophy – intellectual, disembodied – or a religion. “Religion” might actually fit, if we understand it correctly. It’s based on Latin words meaning “respect for the sacred” or “reconnecting with the gods,” and until the 1500’s religion was not separate from secular life – even in Europe.

Buddhism calls us back to the ancient or indigenous way of relating to the world and to the sacred. It asks us to let go of these ways of life and thought that have been trained into us from birth: humans as special, nature as resource, greed and hate as normal. In Buddhism, greed, hate, and the sense of separation are called the Three Poisons. They’re not natural at all, but it’s difficult to become free of them because of long training and the incessant harping of industrial civilization.

The way Life actually works is that each one of us is created by everything around us, past and present, and we in turn give life to everything else, present and future. We are a speck on the wave of Life, never lonely while in a way profoundly alone.

Knowing this is freedom. We can drop our burdens, whether those burdens are saving the planet or making a successful career. Life takes care of itself. Our job as individuals is to respond to the movement of Life in and around us. This requires dropping ingrained beliefs, which is why Buddhist practice can be arduous: before we can respond to Life we must be able to see/hear/feel it. Fortunately, even a glimpse is enlivening and energizing, and glimpses are common.

This way is joyful. Its hope is not the hope that something will change, but hope that embraces things as they are, joins with them enthusiastically, and responds in kind, with gratitude, creating resiliency without expectation.

This way is open to anyone who wants it.

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Buddhist women’s conference

30 Jul

Dear Friends,

The Sakyadhita Conference was over a month ago. Please forgive my silence. I’ve been sick, during and after the conference and also in a deep transition state. I will just write a little now.

The conference was an immersion in the varieties of Buddhist women – particularly the many kinds of nuns. Those of us in Japanese traditions, wearing black and having wide lifestyle choices, were very few. I made friends with a wide range of nuns who lived with full vows – celibacy, wearing robes all the time, living monastically, depending on gifts for food and shelter any day. Just one example: a woman from Australia, in the Tibetan lineage, who was raising money to support children in India – and wouldn’t think of taking any of the donations to support herself. She had lived at a homeless shelter, in a van, on a beach, and was currently on her mother’s couch. So she’s raising money to start a monastery so Western monastics in Australia will be able to live the full monastic life.

Meeting these women, it didn’t seem like the vows took anything from them at all – but liberated them to fully live out the Dharma, each in her own particular way. That’s probably an extreme oversimplification.

Just two women came to my workshop, titled “Asking all beings for help with climate change.” We had a lovely discussion, and after the conference was over we walked together to “the peak.” On our way up, Janet (a Hong Kong local) took us to a Buddha carved into the hillside – Amitabha. We spent an hour there, finding it difficult to leave.

At the top of the hill was an ordinary park, with a water fountain, exercise stations, grass, and a tree identification walk. Janet and Sophie returned, I continued – wanting to spend as much time as possible. My way has been to notice where I’m drawn, to have conversations with those, and to be present as fully as possible. What those conversations mean, I don’t know. I’ve said that humans are not the only conscious beings on the planet; this is how I try to work with that understanding.

I asked this tree to give fertility in my work. Thought she said yes, but I stopped again on the way back and she said let go, let go, let go; trying is the obstacle.

The tree with the great roots offered endurance.

The waterfall was full of light, life, youth. She did not give permission to share photos, except of this formation which seemed to me like the face of the spirit of the falls. I could have stayed forever.

Coming back down the hill, I went back toward the Buddha. This time I saw another figure in the rock wall: a carved dragon and phoenix. So I stopped for conversation. Something important happened here; I’m still trying to realize it. I asked if they had something to tell me; they said “We’ve been doing this forever.” (This is the dance of creation.) I asked if I could give them something, and they said no – they didn’t need a thing. And I asked if they would help me. The response felt like laughter: “You are just a speck on the waves of the universe. You are nothing.” I felt an incredible lightness, the weight of the world suddenly off my shoulders.

The Buddha was a little gentler, offering laughter. And – what is this?

I never thought I was singlehandedly trying to stop climate change, yet the words I’ve used about the Alliance have suggested that its purpose is to organize (beings of all kinds) for the healing of life on earth, including human consciousness. Suddenly I realized that I was engaged in trying to make things happen. Some of my friends immediately understood. Beth said that letting go makes one more effective.

So I got sick. It turns out it wasn’t just jet lag, it was shingles, and I’m just beginning to return to functioning while my body still hurts. During that time, I interviewed and got a position in a psychotherapy clinic – so I’ll be reactivating old skills, doing work I like, and spending about half my week doing that professional work. It feels like the right step at this time.

I’ll write a separate note about things happening on the farm, and a volunteer day this coming Saturday.

But next Sunday, August 6, I give a dharma talk at Clouds in Water Zen Center, in St. Paul. Here is information, if you’re in the area and would like to come. Look for “Sunday community service.” Address is at the bottom of the page.

Love,

Shodo

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