Saturday, June 27, 2009

the great unlearning

by Shim Kwang,

zen, the great unlearning
all your answers questioned

sometimes I wonder, what is happening to me?
is it happening to others?
great frustration, great confusion, great doubt

then I stop - me? what am I?
who is asking these questions?
who wants to know?
who or what is it that is aware of this "I"?

a torrent of thoughts appears
return to the breath, one says
watch, witness, observe, says another

sun’s rays beam through an open window
a cat asleep on the sofa
birds chirping in the trees

Is this it? KATZ!!!

Zen Retreat

by Kevin,

This retreat was a practical learning experience for me. I learned about the effects of emotional pain, how emotional storms rage in the mind and how they can lead to potentially insane actions. I learned however that these storms pass. I learned to deal with the storm, by firstly acknowledging it, and then by bringing my attention to my breath.

I learned that the mind can only fully concentrate on one thing at a time. During an emotional storm my full concentration is on the endless circulating thoughts, thoughts about difficult or unpleasant past experiences or thoughts anticipating future difficulties. As each bad thought arises I experience emotional pain, and the emotional pain builds up. These thoughts, if not seen and arrested, can drive us almost mad. I learned however that if the mind comes to its senses, by fully focusing on a sense object, the circulating thoughts are quietened and the storm starts to abate.

I learned that when sitting meditating on the cushion, the most powerful sense tool we have is the breath. I found that the mind can be calmed by concentrating fully on the sense experience of breath Feeling the air going in, feeling the lungs expanding, and at the top of the breath, ONE, then releasing, feeling the air escaping, feeling the lungs relaxing, and then at the bottom of the breath TWO, and then on. Outside, at end of the sitting I notice that the storm has passed.

But what did the storm teach me? Well three things, firstly that they pass, secondly that they are the result of my mind concentrating on something unpleasant , and thirdly that the mind can be stilled by shifting its awareness fully into the sense world, or to use the popular expressing “ coming to my senses “, and this is most simply done by following the breath, in and out.

On the way home from the retreat, my mind once again started to drift towards a difficult family situation, my mind started to dwell on it and once again I started to go down the emotional hole. At this stage I remembered another important everyday practice which is “don’t dwell in the drama”. But how do we stop dwelling in it? Again, come to the senses, follow the breath!
So, what is Zen practice, both formal and informal? What is a Zen life all about? For me, the object of a Zen life is simply to awaken to life as it is, as it is without a story. Zen practice is that set of tools I use to pluck me out of mind and to bring my awareness back to now, to awaken me to the present moment as it is without a story.

During this retreat four of us took Precepts. Thomasz took his first five. Johannes and Kevin took their next five, leading them into their lives as a “Dharma Teacher in Training”, and Ron took his next six as a “Senior Dharma Teacher”.

Since taking my next five Precepts, life has turned into a Kong-An, continuous Kong-An work in progress. And as with trying to solve a Kong-An, I keep finding out NOT THAT, and the Kong-An gets presented again.

This was a very strong retreat. Fifteen of us walked out after the four days of formal practice. May life bless us all with the lessons we need, may we be awake enough to see them, and may we learn to keep coming to our senses.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Zen retreat June 2009

by Jane,

My head is clear of muddled thoughts, my heart is light … one week after the 4 day Zen retreat … and this is what I notice, but am learning not to hold on to!! the acceptance of what is, and knowing that this is changing all the time.

4 days in Robertson at the Dharma centre – welcoming the silence, feeling at home with the smells of incense, delicious food cooking, rosemary and lavender from the garden, the comfort of the rituals and the discipline, the discomfort of my knees after the first day of sitting, the calms and the storms that flow through the mind, the love and compassion, the pain of thoughts.

My “mind” goes over and over the answer to a koan and then I think “This is it”, I have the correct answer – but no! and back to the cushion, keep it simple.

My love and thanks to Heila Soen Sa Nim and Rodney and all the members of the Sangha, and all sentient beings.

taking precepts, by 'Shim Kwang'

One minute of zazen,
 one inch Buddha.
Like a lightning flash,
 thoughts just
 come and go.
Look once 
into the ground of mind 
and nothing else
 has ever been.
Manzan Dohaku (1635-1714)
The June 2009 retreat holds a special place in my heart. It started out like many others, but ended very differently.

The retreat was very well attended; with a superb head Dharma teacher and his running commentaries; outstanding moktak masters; evening chant solo’s and exquisite food.

On Sunday we had the precepts ceremony, where Ron took on the Senior Dharma teacher precepts, Kevin and Johannes took on the Dharma teacher-in-training precepts. And six years after joining, I eventually also took a big step in my life and took the five precepts.

What made the precepts ceremony more meaningful was the fact that a few outside people and loved ones joined us. The ceremony itself was also very moving, and while sitting there, a sudden realisation took place: I was no longer doing this for myself; I was doing this for everyone else. What a responsibility! What a daunting task! What did I get myself into!

At the end of the retreat, in our typical circle talk, everyone had very insightful comments and a great sense of togetherness prevailed.

The retreat left me inspired and excited to go back to the world and practice – and patiently await the next retreat encounter.

Lastly I would like to thank Heila Soen Sa Nim and Rodney for their teaching, time and patience!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Easter Retreat

by Sangha member Ryan,

A small group of old students and first-time retreatants gathered for
our Easter retreat. It was intimate enough to allow for
Moktak training and "improvisation". Ronel was the Maestro, with Gerry and Ryan as the Moktak stooges. Ronel's teaching pearls were inspiring, but hard to reach: "you gotta loosen that grip", "it's not a baseball bat"...

The role of Moktak master was rotated throughout the retreat, and extra attention was required for remembering where we were sitting, let alone where our minds were.

Future retreatants will surely benefit from our training, and should know that the following people selflessly offered their ears to the cause: Dairin, Theo, Rebecca, Ronel, Christine.

Thank you to Heila Soen Sa Nim and Rodney for their teaching!

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Shuzen Sensei Retreat

by Sangha member, Ryan

We had a full house in March with Shuzen Sensei, assisted by Jinshin, leading a Zen retreat in Roberston. The form was quite familiar to those accustomed to the Korean style of Zen: sitting, chanting, noble silence...

After we'd all had some time to quiet our minds, Shuzen conducted a workshop dealing with the I-System. For a change, we were asked to open our mouths on retreat! The workshop was a fusion of Western psychology and the Eastern Wisdom. It was an insightful experience that shed some light on the mechanisms of our delusion and causes of our suffering.

Shuzen's sense of humour shone bright and undermined each of our attempts to take our Identity System too seriously!

His way of being was the core of his teaching.
We look forward to Being Here with him again.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Yoga-Zen retreat - feedback

by sangha member Johannes de Villiers,

(click here for retreat pictures)

Zen students are often exasperated when they hear of the mystic acrobatics the uninitiated ascribe to them: "Do you guys levitate while on retreat?" one is sometimes asked. "Can you hover above your body?" "Does meditation make you feel a floaty feeling as if you are dangling from a cosmic cord?"

Fortunately, after a weekend recent retreat, some of our members can answer these questions in the positive. A group of retreatants at the Robertson Dharma Centre spent a large part of Saturday and some of the next morning contorting themselves into yogi-esque postures and worked themselves into a state of blissful semi-weightlessness. One member – retreat co-leader and yoga teacher Brett Wearne – gave a yoga demonstration at the foot of the dharma room altar during which he flew his legs around in a series of hand-stands, did splits while standing on his head and elicited gasps with a few more circus-style maneuvers.

The Yoga and Meditation retreat combined a slightly less formal style of zen practice (five sittings a day and informal meals) with an array of yogic arts (two daily sessions of yoga exercise – mats, straps, blocks and all). The usual morning bows were changed for a session of pranajama breath work. And although not a new chant, retreatants were encouraged to share the merit of their practice through a dedication at the start and finish of each yoga session.

Brett, a sangha member of many years and currently physiotherapist and yoga teacher in Canada, took time off from a South African visit to guide retreatants through the asanas and give handy lectures on the physiology of yoga.

All yoga starts as meditation, our teachers reminded the aspiring yogi's, and as retreatants gasped and sighed on their mediation mats, it was easy to recognise that it is indeed easier to be mindful of your body while you are knotted like a cook sister, and that it is hard to lose track of your breath when you are doing the "bellows breath". Soon we were striving to move with the focused mind of zazen, and to sit with the fluidity of yoga. Moving practice. Breathing practice. It’s all one thing.

Monday, January 26, 2009

SHUZEN SENSEI – visiting teacher

Tuesday 3 March 7:00 pm
Novalis Ubuntu Centre, 39 Rosmead Ave, Wynberg (Donation R50)

Thu 5 March (6:00 pm) to Sun 8 March (2:00pm)
Robertson Dharma Centre

(For further information and cost, call 023-626 3515 or email

Shuzen Sensei is a Soto priest who has been practicing Buddhism for more than 25 years. He is the founder and Resident Teacher of Soji Zen Centre in Pennsylvania, USA and his teaching brings together elements of Japanese Soto and Rinzai traditions.

Shuzen Sensei teaches meditation practice and koan study (Zen questions) to cultivate clarity and mindfulness in both beginners and experienced students of Zen Buddhism. He holds a degree in applied human development and uses creative methods to synthesize Western psychology and Zen.

Shuzen Sensei also focuses on the relationship between Zen and the martial arts, holding black belts in Iaido (traditional samurai swordsmanship) and Kendo (Japanese fencing). He founded two Japanese swordsmanship schools in Albany and Salt Lake City