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.