The Urban Dharma Newsletter - June 15, 2006
In This Issue: The Zen Center of Los Angeles
1. On Being a Monk - Part 5... An Interview with Roshi Egyoku
2. The Zen Center of Los Angeles...
3. Living the Impossible Life - by Roshi Wendy Egyoku Nakao
4. Going With the Flow as Renunciation - An interview with Jeanne Dokai Dickenson
5. The Zendo:
Welcome to Urban Dharma the Newsletter... Monday ( 6/19/06) of this week I finished my interview with Roshi Wendy ‘Egyoku’ Nakao... It’s posted on iTunes under Podcast/Urban Dharma and on the Urban Dharma web site at: http://www.dharmatalks.info/ It’s over three hours long and goes into great detail about the Zen Center of Los Angeles and the life and practice of it’s current Abbot Roshi Egyoku. If you are at all curious about the ups and downs of personal practice and center life, take the time to download and listen. Many thanks to Roshi Egyoku for taking the time to record her story, she is a very special human being. -- Peace... Kusala
1. On Being a Monk - Part 5... An Interview with Roshi Egyoku
On Being a Monk - Part 5a - 6/2006 - 43min - MP3 - 9.9 MB — This is part 1 of 3... My interview with Roshi Wendy 'Egyoku' Nakao, abbot of the Zen Center of Los Angeles.
On Being a Monk - Part 5b - 6/2006 - 1hr 43min - MP3 - 19.4 MB — This is part 2 of 3... My interview with Roshi Wendy 'Egyoku' Nakao, abbot of the Zen Center of Los Angeles.
On Being a Monk - Part 5c - 6/2006 - 1hr 01min - MP3 - 14 MB — This is part 3 of 3... My interview with Roshi Wendy 'Egyoku' Nakao, abbot of the Zen Center of Los Angeles.
2. The Zen Center of Los Angeles... Has a 30-year history as a Zen training and practice center. In recent years, Zen philosophy has taken hold among mainstream society, and its principles and practices are taught in corporations, meditation groups and nonreligious devotees alike. Newly renovated and carpeted, the center area allows people to gather to hear and participate in talks. It also offers introductory classes at various levels. Newcomer classes are available, and instruction is given in zazen, the central Zen practice of sitting meditation. Check the Web site or call for specific classes, events and details - (http://www.zencenter.org/). The center also sponsors retreats throughout the year.
3. Living the Impossible Life - by Roshi Wendy Egyoku Nakao
The time of moving from one calendar year to another happens seamlessly, and yet unsettling feelings can arise around what the so-called new year might be. We are, after all, living the impossible life. We have no idea what will be from moment to moment, much less from year to year.
Recently I came across this inspiring line written by Rabbi Zalmon Schachter Shalomi, a leading figure in the movement of Jewish faith renewal: "A person who is too busy to live in the state of vulnerability vis-à-vis God has no way to enter into this dialog." The Rabbi has a gift for reading the symbolism of our day, reaching deeply into his faith tradition, and rediscovering it in the context of life today. In fact, we Zen practitioners are all engaged in this effort. How are we living Zen?
I would like to rephrase Rabbi Shalomi's line to read, "A person who is too busy to live in the state of vulnerability face-to-face with the Self has no way to enter into this dialog with the Self." Fulfilling the basic demands of our lives is a key ingredient for all of us. We are immersed in our families-taking care of our children, our partners, our parents; in our jobs and careers-spending so much time at stressful and sometimes unfulfilling work; in the long and tedious Los Angeles commute; and in trying to have a life, as we say.
In the midst of this busy life, we are Zen practitioners. It is daunting at times, and yet, we are all dedicated to realizing the Self. We have not left the world for a monastery; rather, we say the world is our monastery. But is it really? We know that Zen practice is essential for us in order to live sanely in this world. And yet, our busy lives often leave little time for Zen practice. But we dare to live this impossibile situation. This effort, however minimal it may seem to us, is not at all small in its consequences and effect. I personally deeply appreciate your effort because I glimpse its far-reaching effects. At the same time, I myself struggle with the question of how to encourage you to awaken to the Self when there seems to be so little time to give to this effort in the midst of busy lives.
Of course you may be living a busy life and yet not afflicted with the sickness of busyness. But many people do not make this distinction. We must be careful not to use our busyness to keep our vulnerability at bay. It is possible to keep this scenario going for a very long time. And yet the Self pulls us ever to itself-sooner or later we sense a huge gap that simply must be closed. Why? Because the fact is that there is no gap between yourself and the Self to begin with. We intuitively know this fact. So in our busy lives, we find ourselves rearranging and making time to be vulnerable, so that we can enter into this conversation with the Self.
We sit. We slow ourselves down. We make time to face the walls of ourself and hear our own chatter. What is this conversation that we are having with the Self? This conversation is not our usual chatter, but our entire being manifesting as the whole universe-as Self. We listen attentively to our chattering about who we think we would like to be or should not be. We engage in this seemingly endless chatter, so much so that there is little room for awareness of Self. Who are we talking to? What are we saying? Who is talking? Listen!
The Self is always manifesting right here, now. But when we are caught up in busyness, we miss it. When we make time to sit-even from the very first instant-we have entered into the conversation. In fact, this conversation takes place in the gap! Let yourself go into the gaps, the cracks of your life. Sometimes life itself plunges us into the gap and we are forced to dialogue with Self; sometimes we artificially create a container-such as sesshin or forms of practice-and deliberately enter the dialogue. If we can really see it, the busyness of our life is an ideal gap, the ideal crack for entering into this conversation with the Self. But it is not such a simple matter, and we can easily fool ourselves.
This gap is wisdom itself. When we enter the gap, we are settling, flowing in the life of Self. Initially, because we are without our habitual boundaries, it doesn't feel comfortable. And we may quickly recreate yet another sense of who we are. Maezumi Roshi always admonished us: "not the self you think you are, but who you truly are!" We keep redesigning ourselves to satisfy our own ideas of who we are in a never-ending cycle of rebirth in the here and now. Exhausting, isn't it?
But when we persist in our effort, we find ourselves doing the impossible-living in the gaps, losing all sense of ourself. I bow to all of you who make the time and effort to live in the state of vulnerablity face-to-face with the Self, in the midst of the busy lives we live. You are living the impossible life! Happy New Year!
4. Going With the Flow as Renunciation - An interview with Jeanne Dokai Dickenson
An interview with Jeanne Dokai Dickenson by Burt Wetanson for Water Wheel on her training as a staff member at the Center.
WW: As I've watched you over the years, it's obvious that work has a central place in your life and as a vehicle of practice. Has it always been that way?
Dokai: I was brought up with and did buy into a work ethic. You only have value in what you do. You have no value if you're not doing something. I'm not talking about doing in the Zen sense where you're merged into the moment of the doing, but in the conventional sense.
WW: Idle hands are the devil's helpers.
Dokai: Yes. I've had a lot of thoughts in my adult life that if I don't perceive myself as doing something productive, I feel uneasy. I've learned in Zen that we are complete and whole just as we are. You don't need these exterior things to define you.
WW: Has that conditioning eased up?
Dokai: Oh, yes. This practice during these past few years has turned my experience of myself around. The more I get in touch with the fact that doing has everything to do with attention and concentration on the task at hand, the farther away I get from having to be valued for an extrinsic evaluation of being worthwhile. "Doing" has a completely different meaning for me now. Working on staff has been medicine for me. It has been unpremeditated. I had no idea this was happening.
WW: So when you came to the Center, you didn't think, 'This is a problem I have to work on.'
Dokai: No. When I decided to come here, I really didn't know what being on staff meant, but there was never a doubt in my mind this was a move into intense practice and training. I wanted to work closely with the teacher. Now I'm very conscious that I'm being liberated from that association of work as a way to have value. That's been astounding to me. I also have complete faith that any shifting is an unpredictable gift in the doing.
WW: What are the doings? What is the practice?
Dokai: I'm letting go of separating things out. Now I'm doing dishes. Now I'm going to work on the Water Wheel. My mind would parcel those things out, and I'd spend a lot of time getting ready to do the next item. One of the things I've let go of is having to get ready to do the next item. I'm not taking about the physical things I do, but the mental activity, ruminating to the point that you can't even do it.
WW: Doing it in your mind before you actually do it can paralyze you from ever doing it.
Dokai: That's right. And what I've found is there's so much to do working with Sensei Egyoku that I don't have time to think so much. I just move from thing to thing. Working becomes a state of flow.
WW: So that's two ways that for you practice and work are woven together. How about your sitting practice? How does that flow into the process?
Dokai: For me, zazen is moving deeply into the experience of renunciation. In zazen we're reminded to let go of our thoughts, to not attach to thinking, which is very addictive. A physical addiction may be nothing compared to this compulsion to engage in thought, rumination, memory, planning and cogitation based on remembered history and what might happen in the future.
The zazen practice allows you to experience the spaciousness of no thought. There's a faith in the fact that there's something to that spaciousness. I look at myself five years ago when I joined the staff, and I don't know what happened in those five years. Something, yet nothing at all. All I can say is, suddenly, the hook is not as sticky. The work is to let go. There's nothing to get. And to keep remembering because I keep forgetting. Then when I'm sitting, I realize, "Oh, one more thing to let go."
Dokai at the program desk conferring with Mukei
WW: You mentioned that when you came to the Center, you had the idea of working closely with a teacher, and you've been working with Sensei. How has that relationship played into this learning process?
Dokai: This working on staff has meant experiencing and learning how to train with my teacher, and I'm still in that process. Watching intimately my reactions to any criticism and praise. How I react to them. When I shrink from them. How I'm greedy. How I beat myself up and feel guilty. Sensei has been an excellent teacher for me in terms of what I needed to be working on. Practicing with her has moved me a long, long way. Now I can see more clearly the particular places I go and not to go there. All the teacher can do is encourage you, listen to you, scold you, if necessary. To offer the teaching.
I feel strongly that shared leadership as a practice is a wonderful opportunity for others to experience this particular kind of training, working in this intimate way with the operations of the Center, rubbing against people and the tasks, bring to light the areas of our individual practices that need attention. We can't practice individually without others.
In a recent talk, Kodo offered the word "interfused." We are interfused with one another. We don't exist without the other person. This container, the Center, allows this working with others who have that same intention- sharing the joyous moment, recognizing and rubbing up against those prickly hard places, and working through it through practice.
We have access to a excellent teacher who's willing and devoted to working with us in this unique way, we have a place, and we have people with common aspirations. I express my gratitude for it all.
Dokai has served the Sangha as Programs Director and all-around bodhisattva for four years. She will continue to serve on the Executive Council and collaborate with Assistant Editor Burt Wetanson on the Water Wheel/Sangha Letter and continue her year-long Shuso training as a resident member.
5. The Zendo:
The zendo, literally “zen hall”or meditation hall, is the building dedicated for the practice of zazen. The zendo is maintained as a space where one can settle deeply and realize the true nature of life.
Our zendo is located at 927 S. Normandie, in the midst of noisy, inner-city Los Angeles. Sitting here, one quickly learns that although a quiet environment is helpful for beginners, quiet is not merely a matter of environment; it is also an internal way of being. As Dogen Zenji stated, “Your own heart is the practice hall.”
Zendo practice is made possible by each of us taking individual responsibility for creating the atmosphere of stillness and silence. Our conduct creates the proper atmosphere for everyone, and, in turn, the atmosphere we create supports our zazen. We undertake the discipline of the forms with this spirit.
In zendo practice, we are alone together. We respect individual practice, recognizing that the purpose of individual transformation is to share it with others. We respect group practice as an expression of our fundamental life connections. So individual practice and together practice are inseparable. The Buddhas and Bodhisattvas are also practicing together with us.
In the Zen tradition, Manjusri, the Bodhisattva of Great Wisdom, presides over the zendo. A bodhisattva is an awake (bodhi) being (sattva) who works tirelessly to awaken others. Manjusri and other Bodhisattvas are not historical persons, but rather archetypical energies which are awakened and embodied by each and every one of us. The word bodhisattva also refers to a person who vows to attain Buddhahood and tirelessly help others to attain awakening.
We treat the zendo with the utmost mindfulness and respect. The zendo atmosphere comes directly from our attitude. One's attitude should always be that of kindness and generosity (sila), concentration and focus (samadhi), and awareness and attention (prajna). Sila, samadhi, and prajna are the three pillars of practice.
We use precise, traditional procedures in the zendo which have been found to support and strengthen zazen practice. The basic forms have been handed down through the tradition and are found in most zendos.
We ask everyone who practices here to learn these procedures in the spirit of fostering the most supportive environment for zazen. In these pages, procedures and useful information about the Normandie Mountain Zendo are set forth.
These Zendo Precautions were inscribed on a redwood slab by our founding abbot Maezumi Roshi in 1968, the year following the zendo opening. He straightforwardly sets forth the purpose of practice and how to practice.
Many times throughout the years, the redwood slab was retrieved from the Center’s dumpster. Maezumi Roshi himself expressed his reservations about his English. Today, the carving hangs in the Zendo entrance as instruction and inspiration for us all.
Those who wish to realize and actualize the Buddha’s Way are welcome.
Otherwise you better keep out.
Let us be harmonious like milk dissolved in water.
Temporarily, there are the relationships of guests to master and juniors to seniors;
however, eventually all of us will be Buddhas forever.
We should maintain the Buddha-Mind, moment after moment.
Let us not waste time. Time flies swiftly and nothing is dependable.
Reflect upon the transciency of our lives.
Do not blame or criticize others. Do not imitate the falsehood of others,
but nourish your own virtue. Correct errors and do not hate them.
Pertaining to the zendo, necessary matters will be discussed with the Master.
When the decorum of the guests and master relationship gets out of order,
absolute and relative functions will not be actualized.
No talking is allowed in the zendo. No strong scent such as perfume is allowed.
Do not walk in the Zendo with your hands at your side.
Be at home and be comfortable. Let us be respectful to ourselves and others,
as well as to the Buddha.
Our zazen is the zazen of Buddhas.
Transcending both enlightenment and delusion; let us be aware of this very fact.
Let us be selfless and be ourselves and accomplish the Great Four Vows together.
Maha Prajna Paramita
Taizan Hakuyu (Maezumi)
The Basic Guidelines for Zendo Practice:
Familiarizing yourself with the following will help you be more at ease in the Zendo. We appreciate that there is much to learn and practice in the forms themselves. Please be patient with yourself and accept corrections in the spirit of creating harmony in practice.
Zendo Procedures as Practice
Zendo procedures are aimed at a quiet and orderly atmosphere. Orderliness helps us to minimize distractions and friction and promotes harmony and mindfulness so that we can practice well together. In the zendo, orderliness also eliminates the constant mental activity of decision making and allows us to simply settle in the moment.
If you are a newcomer, these procedures may seem intimidating. Practice with these feelings by not giving in to them, but rather raise your aspiration to practice and transcend all hesitation. Over time, you will naturally embody these practices and be at home and comfortable in the zendo.
From time to time, you will be reminded, instructed, and corrected. This is not a matter of right and wrong, for you will find variations on these basic forms in any zendo. Rather, the repetition of the procedures helps us maintain Buddha mind from moment to moment.
Silence. When we enter the zendo, we maintain Great Silence. We are silent in and around the zendo, especially during zazen and sesshin. There is no unnecessary talking in the zendo at any time.
Dress neatly, modestly, and discreetly. Clean, loose-fitting, subdued-colored clothing, such as long skirts or long pants, is appropriate. Zazen robes are encouraged for those who sit regularly. The black color is passed down to us from the Japanese Zen tradition, but any quiet color will do. Do not wear jeans, shorts or short skirts, noisy jewelry, hats, tank-tops, T-shirts with messages, strong perfumes or cologne. Your dress should in no way call attention to itself or disturb the spirit of silence and harmony in the zendo. Turn off wrist-watch alarms, pagers, pda’s and cell phones, or leave them in your car.
Move quietly and with attentiveness. When walking in the zendo, our hands are in are placed against the upper abdomen with the left hand in a fist, the right hand covering the left with fingers extended (shashu). Walk softly; do not walk with hands in pockets or hanging at your side.
We use a variety of furniture for zazen and are always searching for new items. Zazen is not meant to be torturous. Please find the item that allows you to sit with stability and comfort. You may use a round cushion (zafu), a square cushion (gomden), a low or tall bench, a stool, a chair, et cetera. In all cases, the basics of zazen posture apply: back upright to allow for proper breathing and hands in the zazen mudra.
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The han. The han is a hanging wooden block that is struck with a mallet by the timekeeper to announce the time for zazen. It is struck in three rounds, each one ending with a run of accelerated hits. The han is struck seven minutes before zazen begins. This is the signal to be in the zendo. We request that everyone be in the zendo five minutes before zazen begins, or by the end of the second round of the han. The han is not struck at dawn.
In the Zendo:
Entering the Zendo building
Upon entering the zendo building, remove your shoes and neatly store them in the shoe rack. If you have a purse or other belongings, ask a monitor where to store them. Slip-on shoes or sandals are recommended for your convenience. Shoes are not worn in the Zendo, Dharma Hall, or Buddha Hall and you will be asked to remove them before entering. Socks are permissible.
Entering the zendo and finding a seat
After you have stored your shoes, take a cushion, bench, or chair, and carry it with both hands into the zendo. Upon stepping into the zendo, place your feet together and put your palms together so that your fingertips are at the height of your nose, and bow. This gesture of the palms together is called “gassho,” and it is an expression of the fundamental unity of all life. When you are carrying a cushion or bench, simply bow from the waist.
When you have found a seat, place your cushion on the rectangular black mat (zabuton). Place your cushion at the near edge of the mat when sitting facing the wall; at the far edge when sitting facing the assembly. Stand, gassho and bow to your sitting place, then turn, gassho and bow away from your seat. When someone is seated facing you, they will return your bow. Once seated, return the gassho and bow of those who arrive at seats in front of and beside you.
You may sit in any vacant seat. Seats for the timekeeper, monitors, teacher’s attendant, and abbot are reserved.
Facing towards the wall or the floor
Generally, we face the floor during the first period of dawn zazen, the last period at night during sesshin, and the first period on the Day of Reflection when we read the precepts together. An announcement is made when there is a variation.
Starting a Zazen period
Once seated, settle into the zazen posture. Three hits on the bell indicate the start of a period of zazen. Sit quietly. If you need to move, you may do so quietly and quickly. Please do not leave (or enter) the zendo once zazen has begun, unless there is an emergency.
Should you arrive late, please take a seat in the entryway (gaitan). You may enter the zendo after the next round of walking zazen.
Gatha of Atonement
At the start of the first zazen period of the morning, the Head Monitor will announce the Gatha (verse) of Atonement. Place your hands in gassho and chant with all your heart, in unison with everyone, three times through. Copies of the gatha are available in the front entrance.
From time to time, a monitor will announce a posture check. When your posture is adjusted, let your body remember the adjustment. In order to maintain the adjusted posture, do not bow to the monitor after being adjusted.
Offering of the waking stick (kyosaku). During some periods of zazen, a monitor will walk around the zendo and offer the waking stick, a long stick flattened at one end. The stick symbolizes Manjusri’s sword, which cuts through delusion and wakes us up. It is used to encourage wakefulness and also releases tension in the shoulders or back and helps to counteract sleepiness.
When you hear the monitor approach your seat, place your hands in gassho if you wish to request the stick. The monitor will come to you and bow, at which time you do a slight bow with the hands in gassho. If you are wearing a rakusu (Buddha’s robe), please first remove it, fold it, and hold it in your hands in gassho. Bend slightly to expose your right shoulder. You will receive the stick first on the right trapezius muscle, then on the left. When necessary, the monitor will rearrange your position. Do not move while being struck. If your middle back is hurting, you may signal to be struck on those muscles. After two hits, bow again with the monitor and resume zazen.
The monitor may adjust your posture at this point. Let yourself be adjusted and continue zazen.
THE ZENDO PATHWAYS
As a rule of thumb for any zendo, do not cross in front of the altar. However, in our zendo, the stairs in the back are not suitable for those carrying chairs, those with physical difficulties, et cetera. So you may, with much respect, cross in front of the altar to get to your seat. When doing so, put your feet together at the place where you are directly in line with Manjusri and the Abbot’s seat, do a standing bow, then continue on. One should also do a standing bow when passing in front of monitor seats. During walking meditation, these bows are not done.
Walk closely along the rows of seats (tan) and do not straddle the aisles.
In 1967 ZCLA purchased the zendo building. Built in 1920, the house was converted from a private residence into the zendo. This adaptation accounts for its many peculiarities. The daisan room was formerly a dentist’s office. Maezumi Roshi told us of finding many teeth during the remodel.
In the early years, Maezumi Roshi also lived in the building. ZCLA’s honorary founder Kuroda Roshi stayed in the upstairs rooms during visits. In 1979, upon the passing of Kuroda Roshi, the founder’s room was established upstairs.
Until 1997, all activities such as services, talks, formal eating, etc. were held in the zendo. Over the years, many members have contributed to its upkeep.
THE ZENDO ALTAR:
Manjusri Bodhisattva, is the manifestation of prajna wisdom and maintains a constant and continuous presence in the zendo. Manjusri holds a two-edged sword which cuts through delusion (“kills delusion”) and gives rise to wisdom (“gives life”). In his left hand, Manjusri holds a scroll of sutras. The statue of Manjusri on our altar, riding on a lion, was sculpted by Yoshitaku Kuroda, the youngest brother of Maezumi Roshi.
Certain items on the altar are placed in direct line with Manjusri, and all other items in symmetry on either side of the altar. This is a general rule for altar arrangements.
In direct line with Manjusri, you will find a cup filled with water, symbolizing the water wisdom of the lineage. Next in line is the incense bowl, originally part of the Founder’s Room. The bronze pieces were all gifts of the Kuroda Family, the founding family of ZCLA.
On either side of the altar, a tall candle on the right symbolizes the light of wisdom and, on the left, a vase of flowers symbolizes impermanence or transiency. The verse in a frame requests protection while we ourselves walk the path to Buddhahood. Manjusri’s sword, the kyosaku or waking stick, is placed on one side of the altar, when it is not being used. Manjusri is flanked by greenery.
The brown mat (haishiki) in front of the altar is used by the abbot for bowing.
It is our practice to always approach the altar with utmost respect. It is important to remember, however, that we are not bowing to something outside of ourselves, but rather to our own essential nature. To bow to Manjusri is to bow as Manjusri; to bow to Buddha is to know oneself as Buddha. We are not revering something outside of ourselves, but rather we are acknowledging that our very life is the Buddha’s life. However remote this may seem to us, by bowing we open ourselves to the possibility of this realization.
There are several key positions that see to the smooth functioning of the zendo. These training positions are rotated among all the members of the Center. They are a way of serving other’s practice and also an opportunity to practice wakefulness moment-by-moment. One also learns how to use the temple bells and gongs. Each of these positions has at their foundation maintaining the harmony and smooth functioning of the zendo.
Timekeeper (jikido): The timekeeper is in charge of the room and sitting schedule overall. Responsibilities include opening and closing the building, preparing the altar, straightening zabutons, announcing the start of zazen by hitting the han, and timing periods of zazen and kinhin. All time signals are announced with sound.
Monitors: The monitors sit in the four corners of the zendo, with the head monitor to the left of the Abbot. When there is a head trainee, that person sits to the right of the Abbot. The monitors sit facing the floor and have the primary responsibility of ensuring that zendo atmosphere is maintained. They help others find seats, correct posture, offer the kyosaku, and generally are aware of anyone in the zendo who might need help at any time. This is a position of awareness and caring for others. When you have questions about what to do or, if you need to leave the zendo, ask a monitor.
Teacher’s Attendant (Jisha): The teacher’s attendant attends Sensei and assistant teachers by offering incense, preparing Sensei’s seat, setting up the daisan room, and running the daisan line. All questions about daisan and interview should be directed to the attendant.
Doan: The doan signals chanting of vows and the three bows. The timekeeper may also fulfill this function.
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