Tuesday, June 17, 2008

June Retreat

Our 1st winter retreat for 2008 was attended by 19 participants. The richness of Dharma, simplicity of together practice, tenacity and 'try mind' of the newcomers were an inspiration to all - serving as a reminder of the incredible importance of 'beginners mind'. As Head Dharma Teacher, Christine brought a strong and settled energy to the the dharma room, supported by Tamasine in the role of Moktak Master - who gently lead the chanting and called all to practice at the appropriate time - never to early or ever late! Join us for our chanting (Kido) retreat - August 22 - 24, 2008!

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Present-time Awareness

Henepola Gunaratana (from Mindfulness in Plain English)

Mindfulness is present-time awareness. It takes place in the here and now. It is the observance of what is happenning right now, in the present moment. It stays forever in the present, perpetually on the crest of the ongoing wave of passing time.

If you are remembering your second-grade teacher, that is memory. When you then become aware that you are remembering your second-grade teacher, that is mindfulness. If you then conceptualize that process and say to yourself, "Oh, I am remembering", that is thinking.

Collage from our Prison Retreat

During our Five-Day retreat in the Malmesbury New Prison, we asked a question each day, and allowed all present to reflect upon the question before writing it down. Some notes were anonymous, others had names. Sometimes we read our own notes, other times the notes were shuffled before redistributing them. It was a random decision – not allowing anyone to hide behind anonymity, encouraging accountability and honesty. Following are but a few of the comments – drawn in no particular order:

Maybe this will sound a little impossible, but I would like to be mindful in all aspects of my life.

To hold my child for just one day, to see him smile and to just be a little happier.

I came here to find myself. As an orphan I never found love, a home or stability. Through meditation I believe, by just being silent I will find comfort and peace of mind within myself, for the future. NOTHING will stop and deny me the opportunity to live again.

I regret that I am unable to support my ageing mother whilst in prison. That when I had a perfect partner I didn’t realize it until it was to late. That I ever started to use drugs. That I am such an attention seeker!

I would really love to change all my BAD habits into GOOD ones.

I regret not telling my father that I loved him, also the mount of time that I have wasted thinking about the past and worrying about the future.

I want to seek truth – to see things as they really are.

I sincerely wish to stay focused at all times, so that when anger and frustrations arise, I can deal with them in a way that I will not offend others.

I wish to attain the Truth. I know so little about myself.

I would like to stop making other people see things only my way, and stop getting carried away in excitement. I would like to be free from my habits. I would like to stop being controlled by my thoughts and to stop watching so much T.V. and sleeping late!

I regret not trusting my instincts at times, as this is one of the many reasons that I am in prison today. I also regret having too much pride – even when it is not necessary. This has led to the loss of so many things.

I would like to look at aspects of how to deal with temptations.

I would like to change my attitudes towards other people, to accept things as they are and to get rid of ‘I’, ‘Me’, ‘My’.

I commit myself to do a minimum of 1 hour of hard practice each day, developing mindfulness and to expand my practice by making use of a list of 20-activities which I have compiled, so that I am able to take this development of mindfulness into everyday life.

5-Days of pain and discomfort. An invaluable experience which I have no intention whatsoever of wasting by stopping now. The realization that practice is my life and that life can only be lived one moment at a time.

To stop moving from A to Z without enjoying what’s in-between. In short – living for the moment, and not letting my past determine my future. To let go of my baggage and bad memories.

I want to be less judgmental and be more meticulous.

I want to stop worrying so much about what other people feel and start worrying more about how and what I feel. In short, I want to be more sensitive to my emotional needs.

I regret not being there to walk my son to school. I have not seen him since he was born.

Sitting for four days, and only today I came to the realization how important it is to keep ‘Don’t know’ mind. So, in the future I want to commit myself to keep this ‘don’t know’ frame of mind and to be able to experience that fantastic one moment of before thinking!

MAIA - What is Mindfulness?

The essential tool of MINDFULNESS is attention – not the weak, unstable reactive attention that is part of our autonomic functioning, but a strong, stable and volitional attention cultivated in such disciplines as meditation.

Active attention = mindfulness and awareness, and this is the key. Attention in this sense, is not intellectual or physical. It is energy based - the same kind of energy that powers our emotions.

ACTIVE Attention is used to dismantle the wall that separates us from who/what we are. This wall consists of conditioned patterns of perception, emotional reactions, and behaviors. This wall has many components: conventional notions of success and failure, the belief that: “I am a separate and independent entity”, reactive emotional patterns, passivity, an inability to open to others, and misperceptions about the nature of being.

Dismantling these habituated, conditioned patterns, will not necessarily be a smooth or easy process – as a result of the fact that things don’t unfold in a neat, structured progression. Attention is the one principle on which we can always rely. Abiding in active attention, we meet every problem/experience we encounter in life and in practice in the same way and bring attention to that which arises in each moment with each breath.

Attention then, acts on the wall of habituated patterns in the same way that the energy of sunlight acts on a block of ice. Heat from the sun raises the level of energy in the water molecules, until they can no longer remain in the compact crystalline structure of ice. The crystal breaks up, and the ice melts into water. In the same way, ACTIVE attention penetrates habituated patterns and raises the level of energy so that these patterns have to break up. The energy locked up in these habituated patterns is released and is then used to power attention to higher levels. Step by step, moment by moment, breathing in, breathing out - ACTIVE attention increases in energy until even the sense of separation dissolves and we open to the mystery of being.

This process lies at the heart of all religions, but unfortunately through institutional settings, the vitality and immediacy of the lived experience is gradually covered over and lost.

A Catholic contemplative David Steindl-Rast, once pointed out: “dIrect experience of the mystery of being manifests in three ways: a practice that supports opening to the mystery, a celebration of the experience, and a way of life that arises out of understanding and insight.

When we are awake and present to the mystery of being, intention is determined by direct awareness that knows the situation, not by conditioned patterns and agendas. Thus, direct awareness code involves knowing and acting on the intention of the present.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

What is Zen?

Though originally from India, Zen was forged in the Chinese, Korean and Japanese cultural environment

Zen is very simple. It is about the true essence of all things, without attachments or opinions. It is not a belief system, nor is it a dogma. Zen is a system of doing. Doing what? It is a doing which imbues a rare sense of dignity- free from attachments, balanced, self-reliant and open. Zen enables us to wake up to the delusions and attachments of human existence.

Dogen Zenji, a great 13th Century Japanese Zen Master, wrote: "To learn the way of Zen is to learn about oneself. To learn about oneself is to forget oneself. To forget oneself is to perceive oneself as all things. To realize this is to cast off body and mind."

Zen means finding my True Self: Who am I? Why was I born? Why will I die? Zen points directly to our True Nature through mindfulness practice, using each moment as a tool, a teacher, enabling each and everyone to embark on this exciting journey of exploration into fully understanding the nature of self.

Zen practice requires a BIG question alongside great determination. The formal aspect of Zen training includes periods of seclusion called retreats, during which time we do prostrations, chanting, sitting Zen, walking and working Zen, as well as consulting and Kong-An interviews, meditation instruction and talks related to practice.


Dana or generosity is intrinsic to the 2500 year old Buddhist tradition. Since the time of Buddha, the teachings were considered priceless and thus offered freely. In keeping with this spirit, the teachers (resident and visiting) do not receive any payment for leading retreats even though they give generously of their time, energy and understanding. The daily accommodation tariff for retreats is set to cover expenses without profit. As the teachers receive no remuneration, they rely on the generosity of retreatants and friends who, appreciating the guidance that they receive, wish that this valuable work may continue.
There is a tendency in our culture to view giving as a personal loss or sacrifice. We sometimes give from a superior position to help those 'below' us in various ways. It is another perspective to see giving as an opportunity to cultivate the generous heart, and as a way of connecting with that which is good. In the Buddhist teachings the practice of dana is the foundation for awakening. There is no "right" amount that can be calculated in this spirit of giving. It is a response of heart, a personal choice that is entirely voluntary according to one's wishes and means.


Taking precepts is a strong statement of our intention that right now we will cut through our ambivalence in order to live with clarity and generosity. As such, the precepts are not strict moral rules but signs pointing toward how to keep just-now mind.

In order to take the five precepts, you must have participated in at least four days of retreat with the guiding teacher. If you would you like more information on the precepts, please refer to our separate pamphlet which is available from the centres.
The five precepts are:

  • I vow to abstain from taking life.
  • I vow to abstain from taking things not given.
  • I vow to abstain from misconduct done in lust.
  • I vow to abstain from lying.
  • I vow to abstain from intoxicants, taken to induce heedlessness.

The 4 Vows

monks practising zazen At the start and end of daily practice we recite the following 4 vows: Sentient beings are numberless, we vow to save them all
Delusions are endless, we vow to cut through them all
The teachings are infinite, we vow to learn them all
The Buddha's way is inconceivable, we vow to attain it


Heila teaching

Kong-an practise (Jap. Koan) is one unique teaching tool that the Rinzai tradition of Zen uses. Kong-an practice is an ancient form of question and answer. The actual word means public record. So these are the public records of past Zen Masters. The answers are based in the reality that is beyond time and space, likes and dislikes. Kong-an practice is also known as "looking into words," or using words to cut off all thinking. In a private interview your teacher will ask you a question that cannot be answered by rational thought. To use such a kong-an as a teaching tool you must perceive what it is pointing at. It is like a finger pointing at the moon. You don't examine the finger, the point is, do you see the moon or not? Because the teacher has already worked with the Kong-an, a special kind of relationship is able to develop in which the Kong-an is the bridge, whilst the result of the practitioner's practice is that which crosses over the bridge.

Form and ritual play a vital role in Zen practice. They help us to deepen our spirit and to extend its vigor to our daily lives. Applying our practice of mindfulness to ritual and form is an opening for the experience of forgetting the self as the words or the action become one with you, and there is nothing else. Wearing our robes in the Dharma room, eating a meal in traditional temple style during a retreat or bowing to the sangha at the end of a meditation session can all become powerful tools for awakening when viewed in this light.


Bowing practise or prostrations are an extension of formal practice and yet another way to cut off all attachment to thinking and "just do it". Prostrations could be likened to the 'emergency measure' for clearing the mind. They are a very powerful technique for seeing the karma of a situation because both the body and the mind are involved. Apart from being an energetic and dynamic form of meditation, prostrations also bring great health benefits.
Bows are a gesture of humility. We do not bow to another, but rather in the face of the 'other'. On the Buddhist altar is a figure of Buddha, this is the other. Bowing acknowledges the other, but not as something separate. The bow, and prostration come from the most profound depths of our aliveness.


Chanting meditation means keeping a not-moving mind and perceiving the sound of your own voice. Perceiving your voice means perceiving your true self or true nature. Then you and the sound are never separate, which means that you and the whole universe are never separate. With regular chanting, our sense of being centered gets stronger and stronger. For many people chanting meditation is not easy: much confused thinking, many likes, many dislikes and so on. However chanting helps our minds to become clear and enables the practice to penetrate through to those more literal parts of our personality. Those parts that are like a crust that has hardened! In clear mind, there is no like or dislike, only the sound of the voice.


Dharma room

Sitting meditation or zazen forms an important part of Zen practice. Zen means meditation and meditation means keeping a not-moving mind from moment to moment. It is very simple. When we meditate, we are using certain techniques to control our body, breathing and mind so that we can cut off all attachment to thinking and realize true nature. Many people think that in order to do this, we must be sitting rigidly on the floor with both legs tightly crossed in a half- or full-lotus position, completely unmoving. But true meditation is not just dependent on how you keep your body: from moment to moment how do you keep your mind? How do you keep a not-moving mind in every situation? Thus, true meditation means mind-sitting. Keeping a not-moving mind in any situation or condition is the true meaning of meditation.

Traditionally, in China, Japan and Korea, only monks did Zen practice. But Zen has come to the west and lay people practice Zen here. This has changed the character of Zen. Sitting Zen all the time is not possible for lay people. Our teaching is about Zen in everyday life. Everyday-life Zen means learning mind sitting. Mind-sitting means not-moving mind. How do you keep a not-moving mind? Put down your opinion, condition and situation moment-to-moment. When you are doing something, just do it. This is everyday Zen, There are various forms of meditation. Each technique has a certain effect on the mind. The suitable style of meditation for you is best discussed with a teacher.