Newsletter: November 29, 2014

Dogen talked about “continuous practice,” but by this he didn’t mean “learning to practice all the time.” He meant that practice itself is happening continuously and universally. The whole universe, all existence, is practice.

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Below are some excerpts from our latest Newsletter, November 29, 2014, featuring Henry Shukman’s dharma teaching. Please signup for our newsletter by scrolling to the bottom of this page (see the box Subscribe below) OR scroll to the bottom of any other page on this site (see Subscribe/Connect).

Newsletter: November 29, 2014

Greetings and gratitude to all…

A number of people gathered for thanksgiving at the zendo this past Thursday, with food kindly provided by Kathryn followed by sitting.  No doubt the center and the many beings connected with it were all giving thanks for this too. The land and its beings are surely happy that the center is being used more these days, becoming a focus for wellbeing and flourishing for all beings. No matter how far spirits or beings may believe they have strayed from the Way, they never really stray at all. One blink and we find we are home.

Please join us on Sunday morning, November 30, for chanting with Sita Jamison. More about Sita and Sunday’s gathering can be found below.

Next week sees the start of the Rohatsu sesshin, a time for nourishing and supporting all beings with our practice. Please arrive in good time to settle in on Tuesday afternoon.  Our regularly occurring events will be preempted by rohatsu — so no Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday morning regular activities. Our regular schedule will resume on Monday December 8.

MESSAGE FROM HENRY

CONTINUOUS PRACTICE

Many of us come to practice, to the dojo – the “place of the way” – because our lives aren’t how we want them to be. We don’t feel the way we want, the world doesn’t behave the way we want, and somehow we aren’t acting as we want. We may want to find a way to accept this, or perhaps more commonly we want to find a way to fix it, and hope practice will help with that.

This kind of approach to practice is understandable and natural. In effect it’s utilitarian, seeing practice as a tool or instrument that can help us the way we want to be helped: we want to deal with things better, have a better life, suffer less, get more of what we want in life. All of this is surely good and positive. We sometimes talk about “my practice” – that is, practice as something “I do.” And that’s natural too.

But practice tends to work in a more paradoxical way. To chase after something, from a practice point of view, is like chasing one’s own shadow: the faster we run after it, the faster it moves away from us. In fact a practice-based approach in effect works backwards. It begins with stopping, ceasing, coming to rest in the ways things are, right now, and accepting that they are as they are. Only then can practice possibly start to deliver the changes we’d like to see.

But even then, somehow we are still only scratching the surface of practice…

Dogen talked about “continuous practice,” but by this he didn’t mean “learning to practice all the time.” He meant that practice itself is happening continuously and universally. The whole universe, all existence, is practice.

In his fascicle of this title, he chronicles a number of great Zen masters through the ages, showing how they joined and sustained one great stream of everlasting practice, and how in his view they are still doing so.

In other words, along with a utilitarian approach to practice that sees it as a tool or skill-set for personal relief or betterment (positive though that may be), there is also another way of understanding practice, that is radical and different. Here, practice is reality itself, vastly beyond our notions of the world and self and life, and our role as practitioners is to surrender our own agendas and join the greater life of practice that transcends time and space.

Or, another way to express it would be that when we see through time and space, we discover in living experience that they are truly just concepts, at which point the limitless abundance of universal practice opens up.

If everything is participating in this practice, then everything is awake and alive. In fact it’s only we ourselves, caught in the narrow band-width of our self-preoccupation and self-concern, who are not awake. Practice is our way to tease apart the strands of craving and aversion that have woven themselves into the cocoon of who we think we are, and gradually, sometimes suddenly, to break free of that web into reality – which is none other than the great wakefulness of all things, all engaged in the marvelous work and joy of “continuous practice.”

From this perspective, practice is not so much a matter of meeting our ends, but of surrendering ourselves and our agendas, allowing them to dissolve in practice. The price of entry to this “continuous practice,” to this “one bright pearl” as Gensha called it, is self-surrender. The paradox is that we may then finally find the peace of mind we were seeking from the start. So it comes not by meeting our perceived needs, but by giving them up. Practice after all was never a tool in our hands; we were a tool in its hands all along.

UPCOMING

Chanting with Sita Jamison. Our Sunday morning sit on November 30 will feature special guest, Sita Jamison. Sita will be playing the harmonium and leading us in chant.  All are welcome to celebrate this special time of Thanks Giving. Bring your voices, drums, shakers and bells!

Sita has been leading chanting in the US for the past 25 years, and also in Singapore, Ubud, Bali and India. She has performed with Krishna Das, Ram Dass and Baghavan Das. She started within the Hindu tradition of kirtan and then expanded out to all traditions to reach broader audiences. “Chanting is a devotional practice in that is makes conscious the longing in all of us to be united with the Beloved. Chanting is like dropping a vessel into a deep well and bringing up an overflowing source of nourishment. This nourishment of sound feeds the soul as water and food feed the body.”

Rohatsu: Our Rohatsu Sesshin begins Tuesday, December 2 at 6:00 pm and goes until lunch on Sunday December 7.

New Year’s Eve: This year the Rinzai group will lead a New Year’s Eve ceremony as in previous years, on Wednesday December 31st, including having someone from each group lead one of the sittings. It will go from 6 to 8 PM with tea in the dining room at 8 PM. People are welcome to bring food to share if they wish. It’s a non-alcoholic evening.   All are welcome.


COMMUNITY BULLETIN BOARD

Three Treasures Prison Project Update: Each Thursday Pancho will be in Cabin 4 from 4–6pm sorting through papers connected with his work in the State Penitentiary here in Santa Fe. He would welcome any company. If you’d like to drop in and offer some help with the filing, and at the same time find out more about what he is doing in the prison, please feel free to just go ahead and join him in Cabin 4.

WE NEED HELP!

We could really use some help in two areas: various kinds of jobs around the zen center, and new members of the zendo team. Please contact us if you might be interested in knowing more about either.

FUND-RAISING UPDATE

We have various ongoing costs in running Mountain Cloud. Please consider making a donation to help it keep flourishing. As we are a non-profit organization, any gift is tax-deductible.

Image: Lotus, by Razabar, CC0 Public Domain, from pixabay.com

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