I am looking into improving the way members of the mailing list are notified of events and uodates on the website. Rather than doubling up information in emails and on the website I hope to introduce alerts which then point you to the information on the website. This will hopefully be by way of a link. A Priory member is currently researching this for me. I have been having difficulty putting out the usual monthly calender emails so hope this improves and streamlines ways of getting you the information you are looking for. I hope to use facebook in a similar way. If you wish to use this facility the user name for facebook is Reading Prior. I will then post on there when there is something new on the website. I hope this helps us to stay in touch with each other. If you are experienced in this field I am, as ever, interested in feedback.
In October the Introductory evening will be on the 10th and not the first Tuesday. This is due to the Prior arriving back from Shasta Abbey on the 3rd.
Here is a picture of the new Heavenly Canopy which was installed this week. It lies flat against the ceiling due to space issues. Being much taller than previous Priors I need a tad more space. I am looking to reduce the length of the flex of the lamp or maybe change the lightshade and hang jewels from the canopy. The next job is to complete the frieze above the altar.
Great Master Keizan who along with Great Master Dogen is one of the two main Founders of Soto Zen Buddhism, is probably best noted for two things. The first being that he is responsible for the ritualisation and passing down of most of the ceremonial practised in Soto Zen temples to this day and secondly he wrote and compiled the Denkoroku. This set of writings known also as the ‘Transmission of the Light’ are spiritual biographies of the Ancestors in our lineage from Shayamuni Buddha to Dogen’s disciple Koun Ejo. It is from Chapter 22 of this book that I would like to concentrate on here.
Chapter 22 is about Bashubanzu the 21st Ancestor. I quote from the start of the chapter.
‘One day Shyata said to Bashunbanzu, “Even though I may not seek after enlightenment, I do not act contrary to it; even though I may not be doing prostrations before the Buddha, I am not spiritually negligent; even though I may not eat just one meal a day, I am not gluttonous; even though I may not know what is enough, I am not covetous. In my heart there is nothing that I seek; I call this the Way.” When Bashunbanzu heard this, he realized the WISDOM that is free from all defilements and desires.’
So what is striving in practice? This is what I would like to explore with you here. When we first arouse the mind to practice we tend to come from the point of ‘I’. This is natural enough, it is where we are and enables us to see that there is something to look for which we currently can’t see but sense.To see that there is a problematical ‘me’ is the beginning of letting go. Yet to push towards an end product or try and conceive what it might look like is to leave the middle and reside in one of the extremes. To not see that there is work to do is similar. Here Dogens injunction to ‘think of neither good nor evil’ or ‘consider neither right nor wrong‘ is to not strive in any direction. At this stage it is worth pointing out that using the will to control our speech, thoughts and actions is not the same as striving. Don’t just let it all go without reference to the Precepts and what our innards are prompting us toward. In the chapter Keizan writes that to strive is ‘raining down flowers in a flowerless sky‘ and ‘even if contentment is what you desire, this still amounts to greed’. He also writes that being ‘habitually partial to long sits, this is being attached to the body’. So here we have the delusion of creating and adding to what is already there naturally.
So this chapter is asking us to entrust to our own ‘ORIGINAL NATURE‘ To not recognise the true original nature is to go looking without realising we are holding it in our hand. Imagine for a moment that you are clutching something precious in your hand and spend all day looking for it. Turning the house upside down, ringing your friends to see if they have it, retracing your steps over the last while and in the meantime getting tired and frustrated with the search. We then recognise we are getting no closer and in a moment of relaxed introspection intuitively open our palm and there it is looking straight back at us.
Many of our questions about practice can be like this. The habit forming mind goes scurrying around looking in all the same places, looking and seeking rather than relaxing into the true silence and letting the true nature show itself to us. When we are quiet it has a chance of making itself heard. Zazen is in accord with the true nature. To inhabit this place is to see that there is no path and no awakening that we tread or can attain, it just appears. It is not about getting everything because it is everything. In the Denkoroku Keizan ends each chapter with a short poem.
‘The wind blows across the vast sky,
making clouds expose the mountain peak;
Worldly affairs and yearnings for enlightenment
are both of no concern’.
The above quotes in italics are from translations which are copyright Shasta Abbey Press.
Changes to the meditation hall are still ongoing. I thought I would post some images of the work that has been happening. Voiles have been hung to give the side shrines a bit of enclosure yet still show what is there. The heavenly canopy is nearly finished, what you see here is close to what it will look like. A small icon of Rev. Master Jiyu has replaced the original set of seven.
In this article I would like to contemplate silence and how it can be accessed and inhabited as a refuge. Finding this well of silence helps us not to get dragged around in the mind and gives the space that is needed to act from a position that is not fixed and divided.
External disturbance is tricky in that it can easily convince us that all our troubles are caused by outside forces. This can lead to a form of vicarious living where we move from our internal lives to living outside of ourselves and become involved in others business where we have no place. This can lead to assuming positions and strategies which focus on the external to the detriment of our internal processing. We can learn to ‘live in the world as if in the sky, as the lotus is not wetted by the water that surrounds it’. By identifying with worldy concerns and thereby constantly rebuilding a permament self which fails to recognise impermamance, we can fall into the constant cycle of suffering. To empathise with anothers or our own suffering is not the same as taking it on. It seems to me it is more compassionate and helpful to occupy another space. A silent space.
To be aware of the silent space is to see how we can let everything pass in and through. The empty form. Silence is indeed big enough to allow everything in, we just don’t need to repel anything, just don’t hold on. There seems to be a logic for example in dealing with distraction by building a wall and not letting it in. Mara’s arrows bounce off of the shield and don’t penetrate. This kind of logic unfortunately doesn’t go far enough and only achieves a short term gain. Sit within the distraction and watch it going through leads to a transformation which flowers into something much more wonderful.
Whether it is distraction, anger, frustration or one of the many tempters we can find, it can be hard to see beyond it. This can lead to us easily buying into what it has to sell. The mind is a very good salesman trained in all the tricks to convince us we need to act on such emotions. It becomes very noisy and insistent. It asks us to identify with anger for example, that we can’t live without it. At this point it important to remember and realise that there is nothing to hold onto. Here lies freedom from enslavement to the senses. My getting angry and opinionated about a particular situation doesn’t get anywhere near to resolving it at anything other than a surface level. Remembering that all is both beginningless and endless. We may appear to achieve a short term gain, a sense of relief for example, yet in our heart we know this has the wrong feeling, which leads to sense of being ill at ease. It doesn’t lead to the cessation of suffering.
What disturbs does come from within. We are only hurt because there is something still unresolved which can be hurt. By living within the silence we can see beyond the immediate sensory sensation. Silence is all encompassing and holds our delicate emotions in cupped hands. ‘As vast as space itself’ noise gets lost in the vastness of silence. Silence has no boundaries. no inside or out, no limit. To hear the silence we need to be still. There doesn’t have to be an absence of noise to know silence, it soaks it all up. So to know silence anywhere is vital. It can become our constant environment where seperation and division fall away. How do we find it? Let it go.
At the next steering group meeting on the 19th August I am going to bring up the notion of introducing afternoon group meetings. At first as an extra event, but then maybe to replace one of the evening sessions, most likely Friday. Due to a couple of changes in peoples lives it is likely that Friday evenings will be very low in attendance, maybe to point of zero. To enable more people to attend, afternoons may be a better option, with regard to travel and being more available to come. After all many of you are now retired and possibly the old way of doing things has in some ways run its course. If you have any feedback on this that I can feed into the meeting that would be most useful. Nothing will happen until I get back from Shasta in October.
An early reminder of the annual Alton Retreat this Autumn. It will be from the 27th to the 29th October. Details to follow.
Some of you will already know that Irene is leaving Britain to return to Germany for good. Since her fathers death her mother needs more care so Irene and her husband Hugh are moving to be close to her. She will be popping back over to Reading over the next few months to finalise the move but to all intents and purposes she is leaving on the 3rd August.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank Irene for all the dedication and hard work she has put into the Priory over the last twenty years. I have only been here a short time but the effects of her application are obvious and manifold.
May we all send her on her way with all our best wishes and thanks. In the Autumn, probably October, I will be hosting a farewell gathering for Irene here at the Priory. I will post details in good time so that those of you who would wish to come can organise your diaries.
For the second part of September I will be away visiting Shasta Abbey for the Conclave. This is the five yearly meeting where OBC rules are ratified. I will be flying out on Monday 11th September and returning Monday 2nd October. This will be my first visit tio Shasta and appreciate the chance to do so.
During this time I am hoping that the normal group meetings can continue in my absence. We will be organising this at the next Steering group. If you are interested and able to help with this I sure it will be appreciated. Upon my return and dependent on jet lag it may take a few days before I am up and running and properly around.