Watching Our Own Practice
Happy Summer Ango! Ango is about watching our practice carefully in order to keep ourselves on the Buddha’s path of letting go of ideas and meeting reality just as it is. We do this continuously, wherever we are, whatever we’re doing. As you may have already noticed, it’s often more entertaining to watch others’ practice, criticize it, and get into arguments, so we sometimes need a reminder.
The Buddha watched his practice rather than censuring and opposing. In the early literature, his disparagement of others is rare. If you read the Pali Canon closely, you can find some really nasty remarks, but you have to search. Even when he was unable to help the sangha at Kosambi settle their quarrels, he didn’t berate them. He simply left and went to be alone in the forest for awhile.
This last detail reminds me of how exhausting it is to be part of a rigid disagreement. It tires our bodies and our spirits to hold tightly to a view, defending it against all comers. After such encounters we often need to go off into the forest and be alone to regain our balance and sew our shredded spirits back together. And all that effort really comes to nothing. Only animosity and rigidness is created. And perhaps some destruction. There is no progress toward the wellbeing of the world.
How to deal with this? How to avoid all the expense of energy and effort for nothing and get on with taking care of our world? The Buddha’s advice is to watch our own practice. Rather than trying to herd everyone else in the direction we think they should go, let’s clearly define our own practice and do it wholeheartedly. We follow the compass of the dharma. When we look in the direction it points in, we see respect for all beings ― people, rocks, trees, birds, cat poop ― everything is of equal importance. We are pointed toward throwing away our biases and meeting each other and this world as just this happening in this moment. We also see the teaching of the equality of all things in their boundless diversity. We are part of a vast, subtle functioning, each part quite different and each equally important in its difference. Because of our differences we are able to function together to create the wellbeing of the world. We are one functioning.
Following the Buddha’s compass, we shape our lives into the Buddha’s practice. Others’ lives often look different and we’re tempted to criticize and manipulate. The dharma points out that we find peace and strength and we stop harming when we don’t seek happiness by manipulating the world in the service of our comfort and our plans. We simply take care of our own practice.
Perhaps you’re wondering how we can really help the world if we just mind our own business. Let’s look for a moment at people who have done just that. Rosa Parks helped create a seismic shift in our society by quietly asserting her dignity and refusing to give up her seat. There was no belligerence, just her practice of quiet sitting. Thomas Merton, who was an influential force for human rights and peace, was a Trappist monk in Kentucky. His practice was writing letters to friends pointing out the damage our government was doing in propping up Latin American dictators and pursuing the Vietnam War. Behind those letters, and the books he authored, there was the steadfast practice of a man who meditated, prayed, and did his utmost to live a life that created wellbeing. His life and writings influenced many in my generation. He is writing to you right now. Nelson Mandela’s practice was prison. Those years of quietly accepting the reality of his life, being kind and open to all, and living according to Jesus’s compass were what made him able to lead his country to equality and democracy. People listened because they saw his heart of warmth and acceptance. Shakyamuni Buddha embodied the dharma of equality, respect, and dignity for all by ordaining all who came no matter their gender, caste, or previous lifestyle. He founded a sangha grounded in equality of all and in free and open discussion and decisionmaking. Though he was criticized for these things, he didn’t argue. He continued his practice. His ideas are still having a huge impact on our world.
So – these are the acts we follow. Can we get our acts together and do it? I think so. Someone has to ― why not you and me? This is one of the dharma gates of peace and joy. Watching our practice is letting go of ideas and acting with wisdom and openness as we work in the world toward ending racism, developing a sustainable society, and just being with family and friends. Watching our own practice gives us peace and joy because we’re not constantly looking around and judging and fighting, and our spirits are less tattered. Watching our practice gives others peace and joy and that creates change in their spirits and in the world itself. This is working for the wellbeing of the world.
Our second summer ango began on May 15 and we have ten people formally participating. Most folks are sitting a bit more zazen. Often we put zazen on the back burner in the busyness of daily life, so ango is a fine time to pay attention to it. A couple of participants are doing work practice. Work is a major component of monastic practice, and the practice of paying attention and working wholeheartedly is excellent practice. Others are vowing to read dharma, work on daily life awareness, or attend Center zazen or talks.
If you didn’t sign up, you can either do it now or you can join us informally by picking some aspect of practice that you want to strengthen and work on it for the next three months. We welcome everyone in whatever form they want to participate.
June 12: Work Day
1:00 pm - 4:00 pm CST
Work day is a chance to do the Buddha’s practice of work and to take care of the center at the same time. We develop friendship and community by working together with others who follow the path, making our practice and theirs stronger. And we can enjoy ourselves. We do lots of different things, both outside and inside. There is always something for everyone, no matter what your skills are. You can also develop your own project if you see something that needs to be done. Just bring your enthusiasm and attention. Come, add your effort and have a good time. Even an hour or two is a great help. Let us know if you plan to come by emailing us.
June 13: Guest talk by Gyokei Yokoyama
9:45 am CST – after zazen
Gyōkei completed his training at Eiheiji, one of the head temples of Sōtō Zen, in 2000 before graduating from Sophia University in Tokyo, where he majored in intercultural communication and was involved in the interfaith community.
He worked as a paralegal translator for a few years in Tokyo. While serving as a pastor in his hometown, he taught English to children from kindergarten to high school level. He also worked for a Japanese Brazilian and Peruvian community during the recession in 2008 and advocated for the city program for their children with linguistic challenges as a city councilor.
He was associate pastor of Iwoji temple from 2006 to 2011 and pastor from 2011 to 2013. Currently, he serves the Long Beach Buddhist Church and Montebello Sozenji Buddhist Temple as a teacher while serving the Sōtō Zen North America Office.
June 16: Introduction to Zazen - on Zoom
7:30 - 9:00 pm CST
Do you or a friend want to begin participating in the Center? Or perhaps you’re just interested in Buddhism and what we do here. Come to our introductory evening! It features zazen instruction and a short period of zazen, along with some information about Buddhism and the Zen tradition, and an opportunity for questions. Everyone is welcome, whether you’ve been practicing or you’re just curious. Email us for the link, and we’ll send it along.
June 20: All-day Sitting - on Zoom
5:00 am-4:40 pm CST
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. A typical all-day sitting schedule is available here.
July 16 – 18: Sesshin – on Zoom
7:00 pm on Friday – 5:15 pm on Sunday CST
A sesshin is a silent zazen retreat, a chance to sink more deeply into Zen practice. The daily schedule includes zazen, sutra chanting (service), a dharma talk, and work. A typical sesshin schedule is available here.
Please register by July 10 if you plan to attend. There is no fee, but donations are welcome. Please go here to donate.
July 21: Introduction to Zazen – on Zoom
7:30-9:00 pm CST
An introduction to zazen, Zen Buddhism, and the Center. Donations are welcome; there’s no fee.
Want a bit of a refresher on zazen and kinhin? Our international organization’s web site, sotozen.net, has some good instructions here. There's also a bit about sitting in a chair. And there's a video here.
There are also lots of other interesting things on the Sotozen website, including videos, dharma talks, and recipes.
Donate Your Used Books
You may be wishing to say goodbye to some of your books but not wanting to put them in the recycle bin. We can help! Bring those books to the Center and we’ll sell them to Half-Price Books. They will find new homes and we’ll get some funds. If you have dharma books, we can give those to newcomers or to the prison libraries.
We’re live-streaming our Sunday activities over Zoom. If you’d like to join us, please send in a request. You can participate either with a video or an audio-only link.
9:00 – 9:40 a.m. CST– Zazen
9:45 – 10:15 a.m. CST – Dharma talk
10:15 a.m. CST – Check-in and discussion (bring your tea)
If you aren’t able to connect by Zoom, you can still connect. Please sit with us at the regular time anyway. If you’d like, you can receive a summary of the dharma talk later in the day. You can get on the list by clicking here. Dharma talks will be posted on the web site during the following week, usually on Tuesday.
6:30 - 8:00 p.m. CST - Dharma Study
If you’re interested in joining, please contact us.
7:30 – 9:00 p.m. CST - Introduction to Zazen and the Center
Second & Fourth Fridays
3:00 – 4:00 p.m. CST - Baika
Sangha meeting (following dharma talk)
Zuiko is sitting our regular weekday schedule. Please sit with her wherever you are. Zazen is definitely good for connecting with reality in a sane way.
Sunday, 9:00 – 9:40 a.m. CST
Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday, 12:15 – 12:55 p.m. CST
Sunday, 9:00 – 9:40 a.m. CST
Tell Us About Your Experience
Post something on the blog page on the website. This is a place where people can exchange their adventures in practicing in a pandemic and support each other’s practice. If you’d like to be part of that, send us a request and we’ll send the link. We’d love to hear your thoughts.
Work in the Dirt
Things are growing rapidly out in the yard and there’s always weeding and pruning to do. If you’d like a little fresh air, soil, and sunshine practice, email us and arrange a time to come over. Zuiko will show you where the tools are and what to do. There are projects for all abilities. Kids are welcome.
Other Sitting & Sangha Opportunities
Bloomington-Normal, Illinois Group
The group isn’t meeting at the moment but you can connect with them at email@example.com.
Daishin McCabe and Jisho Siebert lead half-day sittings and other events online for the moment. For more information, contact Daishin.
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