Listening and April Highlights
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de11bb77-3306-4f7e-a3ef-b2c47fbc2bdc.jpgA version of this article first appeared in the April, 2003 issue of our print newsletter,

Along the Cedar River at the very top of a tree a cardinal conducts a conversation with blue sky and bare branches. Rustling in damp decaying leaves turns out to be a robin. Quiet running river sound accompanies redwing blackbird song. Listening, we hear early spring. But mostly we’re not listening. We’re too busy with our ideas and plans. We let their sound drown out reality and limit us to the “reality” inside our heads. Sometimes only the song of a motorcycle out for its first spring ride will penetrate our fog. Are we grateful to be returned to reality by this buzz? No, we’re irritated.

This bird song season is also the season of the Buddha’s birth. We’ll be celebrating this Sunday - April 7. Come join us. Bring your little ones, too. This is a celebration for kids.

The Buddha didn’t seem to say much of anything about listening, though he said a great deal about talking. I suspect, though, that right speech includes right listening. If there’s no wholehearted listening, speaking with true understanding and respect is difficult. If we don’t put aside our stuff and just pay attention to the person in front of us, we often create suffering even though we may be trying to relieve suffering. To listen to life just as it is with the wholehearted mind of the baby Buddha is to celebrate the Buddha’s birth.

How to listen? First of all, be quiet. We don't learn anything by talking. Second, ask questions. You can discover a lot by asking about things you don't quite get. Be shameless – ask even though you worry about being “simple” or “uninformed.” Third, rephrase what you're hearing, asking the speaker to affirm or deny your perception or to clarify it.

There’s another thing, too – doing this with our heart. With the heart of an engaged listener, we will naturally want to hear and understand the other person’s point of view.

This attention makes others feel genuinely respected and honored. Often, simply being listened to lightens the heart and gives the confidence and reassurance needed to make changes that were formerly pretty frightening. Also, feeling heard decreases the fear that the listener doesn’t take us seriously and have our wellbeing at heart. 

To develop good listening skills is to develop an inquisitive, concerned heart. It’s not a heart that judges, and it’s not a heart that always agrees. We might think someone misguided, but we can still listen and acknowledge their perspective – “Ah – please tell me more about . . .” “You think perhaps that . . .” Developing listening skills is a long, difficult process with many fiascoes along the way. Be kind to the defeats and embarrassments and get up and try again the next time an opportunity arises.

This is a difficult practice. The hardest thing is to stop our mind, give up ego, and only pay attention. It's important, though. If we don't really understand another’s ideas, we can’t work with them to form our two points of view into useful action. Not seeing the fears and the desire for happiness behind their words and actions, we can’t help find constructive solutions.

We don’t listen as a strategy for changing others or because we expect some other reward. We just take care of our own practice, our hearing. We're likely to learn things we didn't even suspect by just putting aside our agendas and judgments and simply listening. We drop our leading questions and judgmental remarks. We don’t burden the other person with our point of view. Even if we disagree strongly or feel the speaker has wrong information, we save our remarks for later and continue listening. We’re not trying to prove something here – we are trying to understand.

At first, doing these things is like imitating listening. We feel stiff and our responses sound contrived to us. If we continue, it will begin to work in our lives. It will become us and we will become it. We’ll find ourselves naturally acknowledging others’ ideas and feelings without trying to change them. We’ll find ourselves taking those notions and weaving them together with our own to create something new, rather than discarding them and simply relying on our own agendas. This kind of listening is the Buddha’s life, and through this imitation of the Buddha’s life we gradually become Buddha. We grow from baby Buddha into wise, compassionate Buddha who makes wholehearted effort to be here with life just as it is.


April Highlights


April 7: Buddha's Birthday

9:00 am


Legend says that the Buddha was born in springtime and we celebrate this joyous event in April. Let’s honor the baby Buddha and all children and celebrate the joy of new life. This is also a time to express gratitude for the Buddha’s teaching and to remember his dedication to the welfare of all beings.  It’s also a time for kids of all ages to come and experience the temple and meet the Buddha and have fun.  
Here’s the schedule of activities -

8:40-8:50  - Arrive for zazen
9:00-9:40  - Zazen
9:40-10:00 - Arrival time for those attending the celebration but who are not sitting zazen
10:00-10:30 - Birthday ceremony – children have a special part in this
10:35 - Tea, cake, and social time

April 17: Introduction to Zazen

  7:30 p.m. - 9:00 p.m.

The Zen Center offers a one-evening introduction to Zen Buddhism and zazen. This includes a talk about Zen, zazen instruction, a short period of zazen and an opportunity for questions. Donations are welcome.




 April 28: Annual Meeting


Our annual Membership and Board meeting will be held on Sunday, April 28th . The schedule is as follows –
9:00 a.m. - zazen
9:45  - dharma talk 
10:15 - Sangha Meeting, followed by Board Meeting
                                                                           12:00 - potluck lunch (bring a dish to share)
                                                                           3:00 - Adjourn

Please come,  Sangha members' ideas and thoughts are important in helping determine Zen Center’s direction. This is our center and it only works if we all participate.

If your schedule doesn’t permit attendance at zazen and dharma talk, arrive at 10:20 just for the Sangha and Board meeting. Please let us know if you plan to attend so we can make necessary arrangements.  

If you're staying for lunch, please bring a dish to pass - something that serves four to six people is best.

Hope to see you there! 



Coming in May


May 15: Introduction to Zazen

  7:30 p.m. - 9:00 p.m.

The Zen Center offers a one-evening introduction to Zen Buddhism and zazen. This includes a talk about Zen, zazen instruction, a short period of zazen and an opportunity for questions. Donations are welcome.





May 19: All Day Sitting

5:00 a.m. - 4:40 p.m.

All-day sittings are informal times of sitting together, and a chance to do a mini-retreat for a morning or spend an entire day sitting, walking, chanting and sharing food. Participants can come and go as their schedules allow. If you’re from out of town and need to stay overnight, there’s room at the center. Donations are welcome; there is no fee.


Other Sitting & Sangha Opportunities


Bloomington-Normal, Illinois group meets at 9:00 a.m. on Sunday mornings at Palms Together Yoga, 1717 R.T. Dunn Drive, Unit E in Bloomington. For more information, click here or contact them at

Des Moines - Daishin McCabe and Jisho Siebert lead half-day sittings from 1:30 to 4:30 p.m. on the first and third Saturdays of each month at Pure Land of Iowa – 8364 Hickman Road in Clive. For more information contact Daishin.

Weekly practice

9:00 a.m. Zazen
9:45 a.m. Dharma talk
10:30 - 11:15 a.m. Samu (working meditation)
11:15-11:45 a.m. Tea/Discussion

6:30 - 8:00 p.m. Monday Night Dharma

12:15 – 12:55 p.m. Zazen

6:30 – 6:50 p.m. Zazen
6:50 – 7:00 p.m. Kinhin
7:00 – 7:20 p.m. Zazen
7:20 – 7:30 p.m. Kinhin
7:30 – 8:00 p.m. Zazen

12:15 – 12:55 p.m. Zazen

6:30 – 7:10 p.m. Zazen
7:10 – 7:20 p.m Kinhin
7:20 – 8:00 p.m. Zazen

6:30 – 7:10 p.m. Zazen
7:10 – 7:20 p.m. Kinhin
7:20 – 8:00 p.m. Zazen

12:15 – 12:55 p.m. Zazen

Monthly practice

Third Wednesdays
7:30 – 9:00 p.m.  Introduction to Zazen and the Center

Second and fourth Thursdays
5:30 - 6:30 p.m. Baika

6:30 - 8:00 p.m. Dharma Study

Fourth Sunday
Sangha meeting (following dharma talk)
Click here for more information about Cedar Rapids Zen Center.
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