A short piece on zazen

This short piece of writing is intended for those of you new to this practice.

I follow the practice of Soto Zen Buddhism. The twin pillars of this are meditation and the Precepts. The Precepts are the active aspect of practice. Meditation (zazen) is the bedrock from which everything flows. A good way into understanding this is the beginning of the Scripture of Great Wisdom, which goes,

‘When one with deepest wisdom of the heart, which is beyond discriminative thought’.

Zazen is the letting go, without judgement, of that which arises in our minds. Doing this regularly allows us to see a deeper truth to the one our minds generally conjure up. We see that when we follow these discriminatory thoughts they can drive us in ways that aren’t helpful, and form behavioural loops which are difficult to get out of. Meditation is a way to see through these repeating patterns and show that it is possible to have peace and contentment in our lives. We return to our spiritual home, a place which we had left but never quite forgot.

Priory work days

Occasionally we have work days her at the Priory. I have scheduled two of these for the next couple of months or so. The first is Saturday April 27th followed by Saturday 8th June. They will both run from 9.30 to 5.00. Please feel free to do as much as you wish between those times.There is ongoing gardening as usual as well as the preperation and glossing of the woodwork throughout the temple. This hasn’t been done for a while and a freshen up is needed. These days are a fine oppurtunity to work alonside other sangha members and practice meditation in activity. If you are interested then please let me know so that I can make sure there is work for everyone. If you don’t feel up to the work offered (for any reason) then of course there are meals to prepare which may suit. I look forward to seeing you as usual and am grateful for all the help there is.

Redecorating front room

We have just redecorated the front room at the Priory. Thanks Jafer for all your help. I have replaced the ice blue with warmer tones. Most of the walls are now in Dusted Rose with the window wall in bleached Sand. I think it has made a vast difference and hope you agree when you come to visit. As the year progresses we will be re glosssing all the woodwork which is quite damaged with chips and scrapes for example.I think giving the place a freshen up is long overdue. Any help you can manage will be greatly appreciated.

Ceremonial Instruction

INTRODUCTION

This class is designed to allow first timers, as well as those wishing to brush up their skills, some background into what ceremonial essentially is, and how that can help us in our daily practice. How can we practice meditation in daily life? If we can grasp what it is we are doing the actual practical side of it falls into place and enables us to be more adept because it is not an isolated skill.

Those elements of practice that mean we can listen more deeply and let go of those opinions which hinder our ability to follow, are studied, and we can see their importance in allowing ourselves to be less hide bound and stiff. Do we follow the form or the teaching is in evidence, and we can learn to follow more deeply the inner call.

Ceremonial is a living experience which subtly changes each time we do it. We are all part of the ceremony and are not mere observers. If we can enter fully into it then we can go deeper in our practice, and see how we can draw on that in our daily life. It is our willingness to offer that allows us all to step forward into the unknown and trust something deeper than ourselves.

Whether your job is precenting or chaplaining, you are learning to assist and follow the celebrant as well as your heart. When we are working together harmoniously it really shows letting go in practice and is a joy to experience.

SHORT MORNING SERVICE

Precenting;

Starts with two sets of three bows. Celebrant steps onto bowing seat. Start ring down as they bow. Seven steady evenly spaced hits of the signal gong, leading to the ring down. Two sets of one hit ending with one set of two hits. Repeat. As celebrant starts to rise from floor start second set. Repeat.

Watching celebrant, when they are ready, i.e. settled, strike large gong for incense offering. As they step aside and bow hit gong once more and then again as they bow on bowing seat.

Go straight into intoning Scripture of Great Wisdom , (on F ), and lead the singing. After intoning strike gong for incense offering, only striking gong again as celebrant walks onto bowing seat and makes monjin. Carry on with the scripture until you need to strike the gong for the second incense offering. There is a second asterisk, but don’t follow this but hit the gong again when the celebrant stands back on the seat and makes monjin.

At end of scripture go straight in to offertory, (on F), then Ancestral Line. The AncestraL Line is intoned on one note and shouldn’t have a discernible gap between names. Take a breath when you need one but preferably during Daiosho rather than the name.

Go straight into short offertory and three homages. This is followed by six bows as before and three gratitude bows. Wait for celebrant to be ready then as he starts to bow hit gong, then as he steps back and bows strike gong and once again. Celebrant goes straight to Founders Shrine alone. After Founders Ceremony celebrant starts to leave room stopping to bow to Precentor,(and chaplain, if there is one), you return bow, celebrant leaves. You lead bows in all directions to finish off. 3 Strikes of signal gong , bowing left, right and centre.

Chaplaining;

Start by standing below the bowing seat to the left, holding an unlit stick of incense or lit candle, (ask the celebrant what they would like). During the bows stay still without joining in bows.

When the large gong is struck go up on your toes holding the incense or candle out with stretched arms making a circling motion away and back to your body. When you are back off of your toes side step to the right twice then proceed up the side of the bowing seat with arms outstretched, keeping behind the celebrant. When you reach the altar go up on your toes as before and hand the incense/candle to the celebrant. Having done so side step, bow then return to starting place, go up on toes again. Then do your six bows in situ. Stay in place to assist celebrant i.e. give them chair if needed for Ancestral Line etc.

Assistant chaplain;

Do same as chaplain except on other side. When crossing over chaplain goes in front of Assistant chaplain.

EVENING SERVICE

Precenting;

The differences for precenting evening service are that the incense offering comes first. 3 bows follow and the scripture is spoken. All else is the same. There is no Founders ceremony following the ceremony.

Chaplaining;

No difference essentially, to Short morning service.

FESTIVALS

Precenting;

The main things to concentrate on for Festivals is leading singing which few present maybe familiar with and also singing (or speaking ) the offertory alone.

Gongs etc. are the same as in other ceremonies. Incense offering first, then a longish gap before secong gong when celebrant side steps. Depending on Festival, numbers of bows can differ but usually 3. There are tings to indicate when circumambulation starts.

You will asked well in advance if you can and wish to do it. Therefore can rehearse well before hand. There is always a rehearsal before we start so any last minute questions can be gone over then.

Chaplaining;

The essentials are the same as other ceremonies. The main differences are that the chaplain will also help with the food offering, and put a pure leaf in their mouth for this part.

Assistant chaplain;

if there is an assistant chaplain, they will assist also with food offering and mirror the chaplain.

VESPERS

To sing vespers the main thing to know is that it is sung slightly slower than for the morning. Not funereal but slightly slower. At the end the Makura Om gets less loud and sort of fades away at the end.

OFFERING INCENSE FOR MEDITATION

The same as for ceremonial. Stand to side of centre of altar when offering candle/incense. Return to starting point. No need to go up on toes as it is not a ceremony and you won’t be handing to celebrant.

This class is designed to allow first timers, as well as those wishing to brush up their skills, some background into what ceremonial essentially is, and how that can help us in our daily practice. How can we practice meditation in daily life? If we can grasp what it is we are doing the actual practical side of it falls into place and enables us to be more adept because it is not an isolated skill.

Those elements of practice that mean we can listen more deeply and let go of those opinions which hinder our ability to follow, are studied, and we can see their importance in allowing ourselves to be less hide bound and stiff. Do we follow the form or the teaching is in evidence, and we can learn to follow more deeply the inner call.

Ceremonial is a living experience which subtly changes each time we do it. We are all part of the ceremony and are not mere observers. If we can enter fully into it then we can go deeper in our practice, and see how we can draw on that in our daily life. It is our willingness to offer that allows us all to step forward into the unknown and trust something deeper than ourselves.

Whether your job is precenting or chaplaining, you are learning to assist and follow the celebrant as well as your heart. When we are working together harmoniously it really shows letting go in practice and is a joy to experience.

SHORT MORNING SERVICE

Precenting;

Starts with two sets of three bows. Celebrant steps onto bowing seat. Start ring down as they bow. Seven steady evenly spaced hits of the signal gong, leading to the ring down. Two sets of one hit ending with one set of two hits. Repeat. As celebrant starts to rise from floor start second set. Repeat.

Watching celebrant, when they are ready, i.e. settled, strike large gong for incense offering. As they step aside and bow hit gong once more and then again as they bow on bowing seat.

Go straight into intoning Scripture of Great Wisdom , (on F ), and lead the singing. After intoning strike gong for incense offering, only striking gong again as celebrant walks onto bowing seat and makes monjin. Carry on with the scripture until you need to strike the gong for the second incense offering. There is a second asterisk, but don’t follow this but hit the gong again when the celebrant stands back on the seat and makes monjin.

At end of scripture go straight in to offertory, (on F), then Ancestral Line. The AncestraL Line is intoned on one note and shouldn’t have a discernible gap between names. Take a breath when you need one but preferably during Daiosho rather than the name.

Go straight into short offertory and three homages. This is followed by six bows as before and three gratitude bows. Wait for celebrant to be ready then as he starts to bow hit gong, then as he steps back and bows strike gong and once again. Celebrant goes straight to Founders Shrine alone. After Founders Ceremony celebrant starts to leave room stopping to bow to Precentor,(and chaplain, if there is one), you return bow, celebrant leaves. You lead bows in all directions to finish off. 3 Strikes of signal gong , bowing left, right and centre.

Chaplaining;

Start by standing below the bowing seat to the left, holding an unlit stick of incense or lit candle, (ask the celebrant what they would like). During the bows stay still without joining in bows.

When the large gong is struck go up on your toes holding the incense or candle out with stretched arms making a circling motion away and back to your body. When you are back off of your toes side step to the right twice then proceed up the side of the bowing seat with arms outstretched, keeping behind the celebrant. When you reach the altar go up on your toes as before and hand the incense/candle to the celebrant. Having done so side step, bow then return to starting place, go up on toes again. Then do your six bows in situ. Stay in place to assist celebrant i.e. give them chair if needed for Ancestral Line etc.

Assistant chaplain;

Do same as chaplain except on other side. When crossing over chaplain goes in front of Assistant chaplain.

EVENING SERVICE

Precenting;

The differences for precenting evening service are that the incense offering comes first. 3 bows follow and the scripture is spoken. All else is the same. There is no Founders ceremony following the ceremony.

Chaplaining;

No difference essentially, to Short morning service.

FESTIVALS

Precenting;

The main things to concentrate on for Festivals is leading singing which few present maybe familiar with and also singing (or speaking ) the offertory alone.

Gongs etc. are the same as in other ceremonies. Incense offering first, then a longish gap before secong gong when celebrant side steps. Depending on Festival, numbers of bows can differ but usually 3. There are tings to indicate when circumambulation starts.

You will asked well in advance if you can and wish to do it. Therefore can rehearse well before hand. There is always a rehearsal before we start so any last minute questions can be gone over then.

Chaplaining;

The essentials are the same as other ceremonies. The main differences are that the chaplain will also help with the food offering, and put a pure leaf in their mouth for this part.

Assistant chaplain;

if there is an assistant chaplain, they will assist also with food offering and mirror the chaplain.

VESPERS

To sing vespers the main thing to know is that it is sung slightly slower than for the morning. Not funereal but slightly slower. At the end the Makura Om gets less loud and sort of fades away at the end.

OFFERING INCENSE FOR MEDITATION

The same as for ceremonial. Stand to side of centre of altar when offering candle/incense. Return to starting point. No need to go up on toes as it is not a ceremony and you won’t be handing to celebrant.

Retreat Hut

The weather is warming up and the garden is coming into blossom and flower. So this seems a good time to remind you of the retreat hut we have here at the Priory. Available for short and long retreats. As you can see it is quite sizeable and has electricity.  I can tailor the retreat to your needs and where you are in your practice in consultation with you. It is only available for single person use. Contact Rev. Gareth to discuss it over.

Parinirvana woodcut research help

I am currently trying to research this woodcut of the Buddha’s Parinirvana which we have at the Priory. It was found in an envelope dated 1996. It doesn’t look like it has been out of the envelope much in the last 23 years and has subsequently received some acid damage from the envelope. If you were around then do you remember seeing it and can you remember anything about it. It is about 3’9” long by 2′. I am currently getting help with the translation so am piecing it together. Any help would be appreciated. If you read or speak Japanese can you decipher it. So far I have Tofuku-ji temple the numbers 8 and 4 as well as Parinirvana and a character that says figure or portrait. Also we have Edo period year 15 (1758?) as well as the name of the artist (to be confirmed) and his age. It seems to have been donated around the early 20Century. There is also possibly an emperors name in the vertical writing. If you can help with this in any way I would appreciate it.

News Roundup

Here is a round up of some the events that have been happening recently.On the first weekend of the New Year BBC Berkshire asked me to appear on two of their programmes. On the Saturday I took part in a morning programe where a reporter travelled around chosen venues which are linked with clues. I was happy to take part in this although it was a bit more hi – energy than my daily routine normally demands of me.

On the Sunday I was interviewed on their Faith programme about New Year Resolutuions. Although not a conversation or debate I was followed as part of the same section by a Humanist. I would like to thank BBC Berkshire for their continued interest in the Priory, as I have appeared quite regularly over the past two years.

The New Year Retreat went very well, with 4 people staying over for the retreat + one other for one night. This meant there was a good turnout for the New Year Ceremony with others coming for the evening. As well as those dropping in for a day it made for a very good way to make the transition from one year to the next.I have recently become the group monk for both Milton Keynes and London Groups. I hope and intend to visit them regularly from now on and part of the this wish is to make the Priory a sort of hub for the South again as it once was. I look forward very much to linking up with these two groups and supporting them in their practice the best way I can.

Look out for more weekend drop in retreats this year as they are proving popular. I am currently looking into finding ways of increasing the provision of staying over here a more viable option.

Friday afternoons are proving to be one of the most popular group events we do here. When possible I am putting on 1/2 Day Retreats on these days approximately once a month. They will be from 1.30 to 5.00. Look out for these on the calender.

Best wishes to you all as 2019 truly gets under way. The Priory doors are always open to those who truly seek to practice and explore the Way.

 

Seasons greetings

Seasons greetings to you all. Thank you for your support over the past year and for visiting the website. With best wishes for the season and for your continuing practice which brings untold benefits to all beings. I hope you and yours have an enjoyable Festive period.

The donkey in the well

One day a farmer’s donkey fell into the well. It began crying out, crying out for help. The farmer tried all he coulkd to work out how to retrieve the poor animal. He finally thought that as the animal was old, and the well needed covering up as it was dry he would kill two birds with one stone.

He went to get get help from his neighbours and they all started shovelling in earth to bury the donkey and fill the well.

What happened next surprised everyone. As the earth was shovelled in and started to cover the the beast, it calmy just shook the earth from it’s back and stepped on to the growing pile. As the farmers shovelled and the pile grew the donkey kept shaking off the dirt and stood atop the mound of earth. Eventually of course the earth and therefore the resiliant donkey rose to the top and easily stepped out of the well and trotted off.

There are two things here. First, unintentional consequences. The farmer wasn’t exactly acting in the best interest of the donkey. He misunderstood the role of cause and effect in the sense that he thought to solve his problem he couldn’t see beyond an action that came from a fixed point. The point being a sense of the permanent self.

The other thing here is that although starting out, so to speak, from a false position, asthe scene plays out we can adjust and learn. In other words see what is happening and then shovel with the intention of releasing the donkey.

One of the joys of training and being in training is to see how quickly we can see where something has gone off. ‘Normally’ when clashes happen or differences of opinion come up we can carry these around and stew for a long time. A very long time. In practicing we come to a much quicker realisation of where we are and can shift and move to be in line sooner. The joy is in not carrying the suffering but knowing to, and knowing how, to put it down.

The other element of the story is to see that whatever life throws at us we can literally shake it off and rise above it. We can feel weighed down and covered over by our emotions and feelings. It can all seem too much and in doing so fail to see that we are allowing outside conditions to drive us. The donkey was wise and saw that here was an opportunity. The intention behind the shovelling is immaterial to us turning our life around. The act of doing harm has an effect, but it doesn’t have to drive us.

The story doesn’t indicate at what point, if at all, the people saw what was happening and then joined in more positvely, let’s hope that’s case. Even so it still shows that one can work with those who are making life difficult, and when doing so the way appears.

When seen through the eye of compassion the donkey’s response was to see what it needed to do and not get bogged down in anxiety, or revengeful feelings. This shows us that the direct route is simpler and clearer. Compassion for the farmer, compassion for the situation and compassion for oneself.

When one finds oneself in a seemingly impossible position where there is no obvious way out and the world is then burying you alive, think of the donkey.