Sunday, September 18, 2011

Sex, Teachers, and Conduct

In the midst of the recent teacher scandals within the Zen community and at Integral, I encountered a post that seemed to be a good, sober reflection on the interplay of authority, awakening, and conduct, and on why discussion of teacher conduct, or misconduct, seems so confused.  I suggest it as a grounded, calm discussion that illuminates various of the relevant considerations.

Here is the link.


Sunday, September 11, 2011

A meditation on 9/11 ten years later.

In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, I had hoped that somehow, we as Americans would come to see how the terrorists had arrived at what seemed to me a skewed view of this country, and that we would come to see how much of what we had done in the world which seemed well-intentioned from our own socio-centric perspective made them feel that their own socio-centric perspective was threatened.  I hoped that as a consequence, there could be a reaching out over the violence.  But I was disappointed.

Hee Jin Kim writes of Dogen that one of his deepest, felt insights is that "Death is the ultimate companion of impermanence."  Comprehending our individual and collective responses to the 9/11 events, including the resultant intolerance and violence from all sides, requires that we remember that teaching.  It is the path through the events and the path to transcending the clash of perspectives that caused them.  Ten years later we have moved almost no distance toward bridging the gap of mutual cultural understanding that was at the root of 9/11, or the lack of individual self-understanding that is also at the root of our individual actions.  Mutual compassion can arise only when we realize our common fate as individuals and cultures, and then act to create "others" who are worthy of our understanding and compassion, rather than "others" who are the imputed source of our suffering.

I see no large solution to this lack, only the regular practice of meditative awareness, of introspection, and of manifesting in each of our lives the insight that we create the universe each moment, and the universe we create is a direct reflection of who we are in that moment.  There is the next moment.  We are free to change that universe and ourselves.  We have the responsibility to do so.  The consequences of not doing so are before our eyes today.


Sunday, September 4, 2011

Political and cultural activism and Buddhist insight

I read a piece in Tricycle today that I though links the insights of East and West.  Well worth the read.

To me, an essential felt insight of meditative practice is that the subjective, phenomenological universe I inhabit is created by me, and it therefore is as I am.  That perspective gives me large freedom and large responsibility from and for my own suffering.  It is not caused by others.

This insight is valid, and it is partial.

This author does a nice job of shifting from the perspective of the psychological suffering of the individual to the perspective of the culture in which the individual is immersed.  Just as the individual co-creates his or her universe, the culture and the individual co-create each other.  This insight necessarily gives rise to a freedom to change the culture and a responsibility for the suffering the culture causes others.

From this larger perspective, it is very difficult to see how one can be a Buddhist and refrain from being culturally and politically active.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

What should the City Center program look like? How can it serve your needs?


I attended the Buddhist Geeks conference with Diane (Musho Sensei) over the last weekend in July.  It made a big impression on me.  I came away thinking that those of us who want to make practice and the Dharma relevant to the average lay person need to ask how we can make it more available, more user-friendly to both younger and older, more available both on a personal level and through cyberspace, all without draining it of its vitality. To me, one step is to make the sangha and both its governance and operation more closely mirror our democratic values.  Another is making the practice and teaching more responsive to busy lay people and more accessible through their varying modes of learning and discourse.  (See my blog posts on this general subject at, particularly the post-Ameland set of posts.)  For me, the first step is to ask you what you want from the teacher, the sangha, and the practice center, including our web presence.  How can we make it work better you? 

The City Center has been open for five months now. We are developing a nice community.  Enough of you have visited, either in person or on line, that it seems time to reach out and ask you what you would like to see develop there.  How can the City Center serve you on your personal path? 

I have asked Bill Tokujen Marchand to invite discussion among all of you on this topic.  Please keep watch on Facebook, on my blog on The Boulder Mountain Zendo website, and in your email box.  You will be hearing more shortly. 

Thanks for your support and interest.

Michael Mugaku Zimmerman

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Uchiyama Roshi's "Opening The Hand of Thought"--book for next Tuesday

Finally, we will discuss Uchiyama Roshi's book this coming Tuesday.  I have read it several times in the past few months and find it to be a very lucid, no frills, succinct statement of the essentiality of zazen practice, and of the essence of Zen.  As a teacher who studied Western philosophy and Christianity, he is able to articulate the similarities and differences in a way that is very approachable and helps orient the Western reader.

Often in Buddhist books, there is an implicit or explicit promise that we should practice expecting some smashing insight, hold before ourselves some goal, some promise of an attainment that will get us "there", a "there" on which we project all our hopes and which is something of a terminal, an end point.  It is a seductive prospect.  But to me it is a distorting promise.  Uchiyama Roshi's teaching seems to me more realistic, more consistent with my own experience of practice.  

A strong commitment, a strong intention is necessary.  Diligent practice is necessary, discipline.  And yet we remain fully human, never free from our mind's tendency to grasp, to hold onto ideas as they arise, or our tendency to slip into inattention.  Never free from pain or pleasure.  He tells us that these are simply aspects of who we are as humans,  that we should not distain, should not try to reject them, to transcend them.  Rather, we should simply hold them in our larger self's awareness, like all other phenomena, holding them in a universal perspective.  Return to our zazen, to the very physical act of sitting, of being in this moment with our breath and body, knowing that we will surely wander off, and yet bring ourselves back again, and again, and again.  All of it is the life of the true self, and realizing that cannot help but give rise to all the phenomena that arise within each of our phenomenological universe.

I find his teaching concrete, realistic, and inspiring without holding out promises of fireworks.  Just a broader and more compassionate awareness of our larger lives, and of the deep necessity of zazen.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Uchiyama's "Opening the Hand of Thought"


I posted this as a book we would read and discuss mid August.  Some have noted that it is out of print and on Amazon, listed for about $45 used.  Clearly not within reach.

For your information, on Powell's Bookstore's website (my favorite place in all of Portland), they offer an Adobe version of the book for $15.  It can be downloaded and read on any computer or handheld that opens Adobe.  While reading on a computer may not be the world's best option, I think you will find this book well worth the effort.  (It is also available on a Kindle from Amazon for about $9, but if you don't have a Kindle the Adobe option is best.)



Friday, July 8, 2011

The next book: Uchiyama Roshi's "Opening the Hand of Thought"


Kosho Uchiyama Roshi's book, "Opening the Hand of Thought", is one that Ottmar Liebert first brought to my attention five or six years ago.  Since then I have read it several times and find Uchiyama Roshi amazingly accessible for Westerners.  Direct zazen, without elaborate levels, ranks, koan systems. or other appurtenances.  Yet cutting to the essence.  He explains the Zen practice and insight as clearly as anyone.  A man very much aware of Western rational philosophical traditions, including existentialism, he nicely bridges Eastern and Western thought, putting each in relation to the other.

Our first discussion of this book will be on August 16th.  Kosho Uchimama, "Opening the Hand of Thought: Foundations of Zen Buddhist Practice."