Touch the Earth and December Highlights
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Touching the Earth

de11bb77-3306-4f7e-a3ef-b2c47fbc2bdc.jpgOn December 8th, we celebrate the Buddha’s awakening.  This time of ever-shorter days and gray unfriendly skies is a good time to remember Gautama sitting under a tree, seeing a bright star, and finally understanding how it all works.

The story of Gautama touching the earth during the night before his enlightenment is one of my favorites.

Perhaps you remember that Gautama left his rich and powerful family at the age of twenty-nine to become a truth-seeker.  After six years of forest dwelling and learning from various teachers, he realized he’d have to find the way on his own.  He left the forest and went to a place, now called Bodhgaya, near Varanasi.  There he sat under a tree and vowed to stay there until he understood.

On the seventh night of his sitting, the story says that Mara, the Buddhist devil, came to torment him.  Mara first tried seduction with the help of his daughters Tanha (Thirst), Arati (Aversion), and Raga (Desire).  When that failed, Mara sent armies of demons to threaten Gautama into giving up. Again, Gautama was unmoved.  Finally, Mara himself gave it a try.

“What makes you think you can do this?” he asked, “You’ve spent years trying to figure this out. It’s obvious you’re not up to it.”  Mara stood there with a nasty little smirk on his face.

Gautama was deeply shaken.  This was the first threat that had really pierced him and for a moment he didn’t know what to do.  Then he reached over his bent knee and touched the earth asking it to witness for him.  Immediately the Goddess of the Earth rose up and told Mara to be gone. Mara ran immediately.  And he didn’t return.

Just a bit later, Gautama looked up, saw the morning star and understood.  He woke up and became the Buddha – the One who is Awake.  You can sometimes see the Goddess rising from the earth just below the seated Buddha in Southeast Asian statues.

We have this problem, too, don’t we?  This problem of not knowing if we can do it, not knowing what’s real and what’s just our ideas. Touching the earth is about how we deal with the obstacles to clearly seeing and understanding reality, especially the obstacles to seeing the reality of our own strength.  Mara is about what’s happening in our heads as we cling to ideas and let them pull us around.  When we see those ideas as just ideas and put them aside, we touch reality.  We touch what this situation is really about and how it works.  The Goddess of the Earth – reality – rises up and shows us who we are.

You and I are well-acquainted with Mara.  He’s our greed, aversion, and delusion, and all our fears, insecurities, self-criticism and all the rest of it.  His daughters and his armies are the habits of thought and emotion that intoxicate and seduce us, keeping us from experiencing reality directly.

To touch the earth is to let Mara – our thoughts – know that we see them as they are – just our thoughts.  Then the Goddess – the truth of the matter - rises from the earth of reality.  Mara may not leave immediately but we can see him and not let him control us.  The Goddess - the part of our mind that sees and verifies will prevent that.

For us, Mara often doesn’t depart as quickly as he did for Gautama, but we can quietly wait him out.  We can let the churning and heat of our attraction, aversion and confusion stop.  When Mara is thoroughly gone, we can assess the problem and decide what to do. We can now see that the situation we were so angry about has a reasonable, constructive solution.  We can understand that the person who so deeply offended us was just doing their best.  We let it go, become cool and clear, and act to move forward rather than to destroy.

This is what Gautama realized when he saw the morning star.  He later preached it as the Four Noble Truths, the Middle Way, and in many other forms.  It’s just this touching of reality in the face of everything – seeing the truth beyond our self-referential ideas.  Truth lets us know that we are not alone and sustains us in wisdom and clarity.


December Highlights



December 19: 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.




New Year's Eve

Beginning at 7:30 p.m.


For a different kind of New Year’s Eve, come sit with us.  We will sit 40-minute periods of zazen interspersed with 10 minutes of kinhin from 7:30 until 10:40 in the evening,  read the Precepts at 10:40, then spend the last hour of the year eating soba (buckwheat) noodles and enjoying the end of the year.  Noodles, broth, and condiments will be provided.  

Dishes to share are welcome. 
You’re welcome to come when you can and leave when other commitments call.  Many people like to sit a period or two before spending the rest of the evening in less quiet activities.


New Year's Day

Sitting at noon, ceremony at 12:45, open house from 1:00 to 5:00 p.m.


We’ll have zazen, a short ceremony to welcome the new year, followed by an open house on New Year’s Day.  Zazen begins at 12:00 noon and is followed by the ceremony at 12:45. 

The open house begins at 1:00 and ends at 5:00.  There will be traditional Japanese New Year’s vegetarian food.  Contributed dishes are always welcome.  Other traditional New Year's vegetarian food, especially sweets, would be a great addition.  No alcohol is served.

Please come anytime.  Children are welcome at the ceremony and the open house.  Older children who aren’t bored by sitting are also invited to zazen.

Beginning on December 27, we will be cooking and preparing for the open house.  If you'd like to participate, email Zuiko.  Vegetable peeling and chopping is fine practice and you can also learn a bit of Japanese cooking in the process.  There's also lots of good talk and good times.



Other News



2018 Winter Annual Appeal


Each year around this time, we ask for your support.  Working together, we make the dharma a force for peace and clarity.  This is important – the sense of connection and stability that comes from Buddha’s practice changes us and these changes help change others and our world. If your life has become saner - more steady and clear - because of the dharma, consider donating to the continued offering of the the Buddha’s teaching in the world.

While the dharma is free, utilities, internet access, and personnel are not. Your generosity helps all beings live with peace, clarity, and sanity.

Any donation is welcome – even $1 or $5 will help.
Let’s all celebrate the season of the Buddha’s enlightenment by contributing what we can

You can contribute by clicking here .

Or - if you receive our fundraising letter in a day or two, you can mail in your contribution

To read Zuiko's fundraising thoughts, click here


Bowing deeply, we thank you.


2019 Calendar Now Available


Our annual Cedar Rapids Zen Center calendar is now available. It features a collection of our weekly quotes from this past year. And it includes dates for all-day sittings, sesshins and introduction to zazen evenings. 

We have a few copies available at the center for $15,  or you can purchase through Zazzle's print on demand service here


Coming in January

January 16: 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.


January 20: 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.

Detail from calligraphy by Daishin McCabe


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

Cedar Falls, Iowa group meets Saturday mornings at 7:20 a.m. and Tuesday evenings at 7:20 p.m. in St. Luke’s Episcopal Church at 2410 Melrose Drive. For more information, email 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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