Auckland Zen Centre Newsletter
20 February 2013
In Buddha Nature there is no coming or going. But at the same time our Buddha Nature is not separate from flux and change. Master Mumon expresses it this way in his verse to the koan "Sei and her Soul Separate":
The moon among the clouds is ever the same;
different from each other, the mountain and the valley.
How wonderful! How blessed!
Is this one? Is this two?
With practice, we can start to see how the moon of enlightenment permeates everything, and to appreciate how all the changes we undergo, big and small, and all the journeys we take up glorious mountain peaks and through narrow valleys, are the functioning of Buddha Nature. Ceremonies marking the various important rites of passage in our lives can help us to appreciate this. Since not everyone who comes to sit at the Centre may be aware of the different ceremonies that I, as a Zen priest, can conduct for Centre members at times of transition, I’ll mention here five major ones.
MARRIAGE At weddings I usually say that a priest can’t join two people together -- karma does that. But what a wedding ceremony can do is share and make public what has up until then been a private matter, and acknowledge that two people who are deeply committed to each other become an entity that is more than the sum of its parts. Although I occasionally did perform weddings in the USA after I was ordained (and assisted with many more before that), I have not been asked to do any in New Zealand. However, just so we are ready if a member did ask, we are currently going through the required registration process with the Department of Internal Affairs so I can solemnise marriages. The Centre is at the same time applying for me to be registered to conduct civil unions, as I am also happy to perform weddings for same-sex couples (if one or both are members). The most important part of the Centre’s wedding ceremony is the couple taking the sixteen precepts together and vowing to help each other to keep them. A marriage can be a wonderful place of spiritual training, often directly supportive and sometimes providing the sand in the oyster that gives rise to the pearl!
BIRTH Parents may request a Baby Welcoming Ceremony to mark the arrival of a new sentient being into the family. The ceremony is usually held at home in the presence of friends and family, and again consists mainly of the parents receiving the precepts on behalf of the child, since the parents’ actions will be a major influence on the child’s spiritual development.
ILLNESS Sometimes when someone has a close family member who is gravely ill, he or she will chant for that person, or if ill themselves will request that some chanting be done at the Centre. As well as some of the chants we do regularly, we also include the powerful Bhaisajyaguru (Buddha of Healing) chant in the service. Anyone who wonders about the efficacy of chanting and prayer might find it helpful to read Larry Dossey’s Healing Words or other books. Roshi Kapleau wrote, “Mind is unlimited. Chanting when performed egolessly has the power to penetrate visible and invisible worlds.”
MISCARRIAGE, ABORTION, OR STILLBIRTH Sometimes death strikes when life has hardly coalesced, and this can be particularly painful for a number of reasons, one being that the pain of the loss is often not fully recognised or even acknowledged. Taking part in a Water Baby Ceremony, even if it is years after the death of a foetus or newborn, can provide a way to mourn and heal. The ceremony was developed by a number of American Zen teachers, all women, based on Japanese practices. I've offered the ceremony once since I returned to New Zealand, but plan to offer it again this year as a couple of people have expressed interest. It is not a public ceremony; that is, there are no observers. All participants are there to remember a personal loss, and a slow and gentle approach is taken. Before the ceremony proper, participants sew small garments for a number of Jizo Bodhisattva figures. Jizo, or Kshitagarbha Bodhisattva in Sanskrit (pictured at left), is in Japanese culture a much-loved protector of aborted foetuses, small children, travelers, and all beings wandering in the Six Worlds.
While zazen confronts the Great Matter of Birth-and-Death directly, inviting us to cut through everything with the diamond sword "that cuts in one," ceremonies allow us to reflect on the nature of a particular transformation -- the union of two people, a birth, healing, dissolution, or a death -- each unique and unrepeatable. "How wonderful! How blessed!"
Note: The many dates mentioned below can also be found on the Centre Calendar.
Is your practice stalled or flagging? Would you like a chance to review the basics, ask questions about your practice, or learn exercises to make sitting postures more comfortable? The Day of Renewal workshop is open to anyone who has been to an Introductory Workhop, and includes a review of instructions for breath-practice, rounds of guided sitting, exercises, explanation of some aspects of zendo ritual, and discussion of how to work with some common pitfalls, plus a Q & A. A vegetarian lunch is included and you can book online by following the link above.
On Sunday, 24 February, Richard von Sturmer will begin guiding us through the Six Realms of Unenlightened Existence with a Study Group on the Hell and Hungry Ghost Realms. The format for the morning will be similar to the Sunday format we have used in the past: two short rounds of zazen, kinhin, chanting, and then the study group, but with the difference that we will sit in chairs in the main space for the talk and discussion. Richard will introduce us to some of the basics, and then there will be time for questions and discussion of these two realms. Subsequent study groups on the remaining Realms (Animal Realm, Human Realm, Fighting Demon Realm, and Heavenly Realm) will be offered by Richard and Sensei on 24 March and 28 April.
These discussions of the Six Realms will form part of our preparation for Great Jukai, which is scheduled for July this year. A visual exhibit of the Six Realms is a traditional part of the Great Jukai celebration, and we are hoping that you will take part in creating this exhibit. Each Realm will have an exhibit coordinator, and Sangha members are asked to contribute images or small figures which represent to them the experience of a particular realm.
We invite you to contribute images on the day of the talk, or, if you prefer, within the next week or two. To get you started, Richard points out that there are at least three ways we can think about these realms: 1) as actual locations in Buddhist cosmology, 2) as places here on earth where hellish or heavenly events take place, or 3) as states of mind that each of us passes through each day. Images or figures may reflect any of these meanings.
Besides attending the study group, you may wish to learn more about the Six Realms through an interactive tool available at http://www.buddhanet.net/wheel2.htm
If you have images, artwork, or ideas that you would like to contribute, you may bring them to the Centre, or you may contact your Realm Coordinator as follows:
A Sangha Walk is planned for 24 February, leaving from the zendo after the Sunday Six Realms study group. We will go to one of the Hillsborough Bays, and the tides should be favorable for either walking or swimming, so bring sunhat, swimsuit, walking shoes, and your own lunch--or lunch to share with others if you wish. If you are not attending the talk, you can meet us at the zendo at about 10:45. In case of rain, we will go instead to the Pah Homestead Arts Centre (http://tsbbankwallaceartscentre.org.nz/) on Monte Cecilia, and if the weather forecast is uncertain, we will decide on the day. Any questions on the day, contact Sally on 021 023 77475.
We are excited to announce that we are currently installing a lock-box system whereby people will be able to gain access to the Zen Centre my means of a combination code. With this code, you will be able to let yourself into the Centre at any time that you would like to sit...during lunch-hour, after work, or on a day off. Instructions will be given to any Centre member who would like to do some extra sitting.
Tuesday evening, 12 March, will see the opening of the first Working Sesshin we have offered in some years. During a Working Sesshin participants maintain their normal work schedule during the day but commit to attending sittings at the Centre each morning and evening. Past participants have found that this type of sesshin provides an excellent way to practice integrating the fruits of sitting into one’s daily routine.
The working sesshin will begin with the regular Tuesday 7:00 pm sitting. (That evening is also the opening of the Autumn Term Intensive, see below.) Thereafter we will have formal sittings Wednesday through Friday from 6:00 to 7:15 am each morning and from 7:00 to 9:00 pm each evening. We end on Saturday with an all-day sitting for which people may sign up separately if they wish. This will leave Sunday free as a rest day. A silent breakfast will follow each morning sitting, and a light supper will be available to which participants may help themselves (in silence) before each evening sitting. You should plan to provide your own lunch (main meal) at work.
Applications for the Working Sesshin are due on Tuesday, 5 March (one week in advance of the start date). The sesshin will be charged at the special rate of $80 for Members ($100 for others). Sleeping at the Centre is an option for a limited number of people.
Great Jukai, coming in July, is a traditional time to receive a rakusu and Dharma name. If you are a formal student of Sensei and would like to receive a rakusu in July, now is the time to start sewing! Kits are available from the Centre for purchase.
The rakusu is the bib-like garment you see worn by some members of the Centre. It is sewn in patches, like a monk's robe, and represents the wearer's commitment to the Buddha Way and connection to the lineage of teachers represented by Sensei. The person who wishes to receive the rakusu sews the garment by hand, taking refuge in Buddha, Dharma, or Sangha with each stitch. Sensei then inscribes the rakusu with a Buddhist name she selects in consultation with the student, and presents it to the student in a private ceremony.
If anyone is already sewing a rakusu and has any questions about the sewing or the pattern, feel free to email email@example.com to set up a consultation time with Kathryn (February only).
Our autumn Term Intensive begins in March. This is a great opportunity to explore ways to bring the Dharma into your daily life, with the help of a supportive group. To read Sensei's notes about TI or to sign up, visit the Term Intensive page of the website.
All are invited to gather for a screening of The Matrix on Friday evening, 22 March at Sangha member Rebecca Oliver's house, 24 Mt Albert Road, Mt Albert. Plan to arrive by 7:00 pm, and bring snacks to share. (If you are coming from work and need dinner, you'll need to bring your own.) Note that there is no parking available in front of house, but plenty on near-by side streets. You can call Rebecca with any questions on 021 823 373.
This summer has seen an unprecedented number of Zen Centre members participating in retreats large and small, attesting to the continued growth and deepening of practice at our Centre. Early January saw our largest 7-day sesshin yet with 24 participants at Bella Rakha. It was great to feel the energy in the zendo that comes from such a large group working together to unify the mind. The support of a strong group allows each participant to work with a commitment and consistency that is difficult to find on one’s own. At the same time, the large number of participants brought with it all kinds of logistical challenges...After we had completely filled up Peter McQ’s truck with food and kitchen equipment, many boxes still remained on the zendo floor hoping for a ride out to the venue the following day. (Happily everything and everyone did arrive on time.) With too many people to fit in the room that normally functions as our zendo at Bella Rakha, several participants had to sit in the adjoining “sub-zendo” and cushions needed to be shifted back and forth to allow for kinhin. There were barely enough plates, forks, etc., to meet our needs, and our Breakfast Cook could frequently be seen rummaging through the kitchen and the fridge early in the morning to find a bowl in which to serve Sensei’s breakfast. Fortunately, our kind hosts at Bella Rakha are open to doing some purchasing, so things will not be quite so tight in July.
At the other end of the spectrum, the summer has also seen many people striking off on their own for solo retreats. Sitting alone offers the potential for more flexibility in setting up one’s schedule and fewer distractions of all sorts. However, since it does take a certain level of self-discipline, it is generally advisable to begin with a group retreat. The lack of contact with the teacher in dokusan can also be a disadvantage of a solo retreat, but, if you are ready, it can be an important challenge to work through difficulties on your own--and at some point it can even be helpful when your sole relationship is with the practice and all thoughts about dokusan are removed.
This January, another Centre member and I spent a week at Dharmagaia, one of several retreat centres in the Coromandel that offer facilities for individual retreatants. We each had our own wee cabin, as well as use of the meditation hall. Our practice there was supported by the beautiful gardens and grounds of the Centre as well as by the chance to hike the many trails of the adjacent Mana Retreat Centre, which cover an area of breathtaking beauty.
Here at home, one member often spends Thursdays in solo retreat at the Centre, while a second has recently committed to doing the same on Mondays, a day when I am often sitting as well. To be able to find a day a week to “just sit”-- observing what teacher Alan Wallace calls a "contemplative sabbath"-- can have wonderful effects on the rest of your week. Indeed, one of the most important aspects of any retreat is that we come out “bearing gifts:" a more open heart, increased self-acceptance, and more immediate responsiveness to others are some of the possibilities.
We are currently in the process of making the zendo available to members at any time (via a lock-box system, see above), so it will soon be easier for people to plan a retreat, or just an occasional time-out. Note also that our next one-day sitting is scheduled for Saturday 16 March; a one-day sitting makes a great first retreat. The Centre will also be open on the Easter weekend for people to do informal sitting or retreat.
Retreats can be challenging; as we sit with our minds hour after hour or day after day, plumbing the depths of our psyche, a whole slew of emotions, from bliss to despair, can arise. As Sensei often reminds us in dokusan, sesshin is a series of ups and downs. This work of retreat, however, gives us an opportunity unlike any other that I know to really see what is there: to begin to understand what our obstacles are, to learn how to work with them, and to glimpse the open space beyond.
Summer 2013 post-sesshin photo, Bella Rakha
We could use one or two volunteers to help with hoovering at the Zendo about once a week. Most of our cleaning volunteers work before or after a sitting that they regularly attend. If you would be able to help, please email firstname.lastname@example.org Many thanks for the ongoing efforts of our current cleaning team--the Centre has never looked better!
Centre member Conny Krebs sends the following notice:
I am in the process of building a tiny house on wheels (more information can be found here at http://www.tumbleweedhouses.com/ ). Construction is scheduled to be finished in April or May. I am looking for a space to park the tiny home and folks that would like a tiny-home dweller as renter in their backyard.
Founded in 1996, Amitabha Hospice is a multi-cultural Buddhist organisation and registered charity dedicated to giving support and care based on the principles of compassion, love, respect and responsibility. We are committed to serving all people equally without bias and with deep respect for each individual’s social, cultural and religious affiliations. We are based in Avondale but our confidential and free-of-charge service is offered to all of Auckland.
Our reliable service provides relief for the family and helps people to stay in their own home, enjoying the highest quality of remaining life. Our volunteers offer free assistance by being:
Also note: On 12 May, Christina Murphy of Amitabha Hospice will visit the Zen Centre to speak about their programs and opportunities for service. Details to follow closer to the date.