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Vernal Equinox Retreat
March 2013 | Mountain Cloud Zen Center | Santa Fe, NM
This talk introduces Lunar Dharma, a vision of the koan way as an underground countercurrent to institutions and orthodoxies, connecting us to ancient and revivifying sources of the wisdom that grows in the dark.
subjects : incantation of the lunar dharma, countercurrents, dreaming, endarkenment
July 2013 | Vallecitos Mountain Ranch | Vallecitos, NM
These talks accompanied a week spent immersed in the Three Bodies – of form, dream, and the vastness â€” of which everything is made. We inhabit the Bodies as emptiness and the vows of all beings, friendship and forgiveness, self and soul, as mountains and as clouds-and-water.
subjects : Nirmanakaya, Sambhogakaya, Dharmakaya, Mahayana, Bodhisattva
January 12, 2012 | Cerro Gordo Temple | Santa Fe, NM
When we take up the bodhisattva way, one of our ancestors is a young woman from the Tang dynasty, Pang Lingzhao, whose name means Spirit Shining. She's the one who reminds us that we are all falling together through this world, and how we can do that with grace.
subects : Pang Lingzhao, Layman Pang, Mrs. Pang, Vimalakirti, illness, aspiration
February 2012 | Desert Rain Zen Group | Tucson, AZ
This collection of foundational dharma talks was given at a retreat in which a ceremony for sensei Tenney Nathanson was performed. Topics covered include an introduction to retreats; the foundations of koan practice; teachers, traditions, and lineage; and mindfulness and concentration practices.
subjects : Santoka, retreat, relaxation, silence, koan practice, Tenney Nathanson, Andrew Palmer, Sarah Bender, sensei, mindfulness, concentration, tathagata
February/March 2012 | Cerro Gordo Temple | Santa Fe, NM
The way we seem to be assimilating Buddhist teachings in the West is as mindfulness, which has many helpful applications. It also has some pitfalls, which become clear when we consider mindfulness in its traditional context. These talks explore mindfulness not so much as a miner's lamp practice of attention but as heart-mindfulness,
with its sense of open and loving attention, focus on unselfing, appreciation for what we can't make conscious, and constant recollection of the vastness of the present moment.
subjects : mindfulness, unselfing, heart-mind, private buddha,Yehuda Amichai, Simone Weil
March 2012 | Mountain Cloud Zen Center | Santa Fe, NM
The Lankavatara Sutra says that we project thoughts into the world and think they're real, but it's possible to drop those projections and return to our heart-mind's natural unity with the world. In 18th-century Japan, Kobayashi Issa turned these teachings into poetry, showing us how to move toward this liberating state of projectionlessness in the midst of our poignant lives. subjects : Lankavatara Sutra, koan introduction, D.T. Suzuki, Issa, dreaming, reincarnation, tathagata
November 2-4, 2012 | Mountain Cloud Zen Center | Santa Fe, NM
One of the most beautiful aspects of the origin of the koans is their deep connection to the Chinese language, especially in its earliest forms. We spent a weekend getting to know some characters that are ancestors to the koans, amazing creatures who offer us the possibility of beautiful interruptions, which break what appear to be inevitable karmic chains, returning us to the realm of the free self and the original vow.
April/May 2012 | Cerro Gordo Temple | Santa Fe, NM
Nonduality is an iron cliff of a word, so these two talks attempt to create some footholds by considering the essence of nonduality as the shimmer of things, and its activity as the way everything is flowing in and out of everything else.
subjects : nonduality, tathagatha, alaya vijnana, simultaneity, Middle Way, function, Lankavatara Sutra, Platform Sutra
August 2012 | Omega Institute | Rhinebeck, NY
These three talks were given as part of a Shambhala Foundation weekend on Embracing Change in Your Life. Do you trust your life? How is change sometimes like geology, sometimes like seasons, or weather? What's it like to actually rest in not knowing?
subjects : change, transition, Dharma, trust, life, seasons, geology
2009 - 2011 | Cerro Gordo Temple | Santa Fe, NM
Recent revelations of the moving, illuminating, maddeningly partial stories of our East Asian women ancestors are beginning to make the story of Chan and Zen more whole. These meditations on books about East Asian monastics and Japanese laywomen are filled with new metaphors and imagery, as well as practices, created by these geniuses on the margins of our tradition.
February 2011 | Amado, AZ
First, in the midst of the storms of life, we take shelter in an ancient shrine that we make of our meditation in the presence of each other. There we let things get very simple so we can welcome the Noble Guest, in whatever form that comes. Second, what if sudden enlightenment is really readiness for awakening? And what if the Way isn't about transforming sorrow into happiness, but the young sorrow of disappointment into the mature sorrow of poignancy? Here are some newer, perhaps warmer, ways of looking at our tradition.
subjects : Noble Guest, shelter, retreat, Baizhang, interpermeation, sangha, practice, unself, Iris Murdoch
April - July 2011 | Cerro Gordo Temple | Santa Fe, NM
The Sutra that Vimalakirti Spoke is a two-thousand-year-old sacred text that is startlingly strange. Vimalakirti is a bodhisattva lying on his sickbed and isn't the whole point of enlightenment to elevate someone beyond the limitations and sorrows of ordinary life? But Vimalakirti doesn't seem to want to be elevated; he says, "I am sick because the whole world is sick." The implications of his explanation, which is also an expression of love and a vow, reverberate throughout the text. In a series of talks given in 2011, we take up this story of a deeply awake householder who explored the very agonies and beauties of human life we're still talking about today. This is a somewhat unorthodox vision of the Vimalakirti sutra, focusing on its radical allegiance to life and to healing the human heart. Vimalakirti & The Awakened Heart (2016) is an excellent accompaniment for these recorded talks
(PDF transcriptions not available)
May 2011 | Mountain Cloud Zen Center | Santa Fe, NM
These talks are about sleeping, dreaming, and waking. Winter seems like a good time to slip between the light and the dark, different states of consciousness, and our individual dreams and the great dream of the world. Here are practices and poetries to get you started. In addition, we've included a pdf booklet called Practices of the Night : Mahayana Arts of Sleeping & Dreaming. (PDFs for individual talks are not available yet.)
July 5 - 8, 2011 | Sangre de Cristo Center | Tesuque, NM
During this retreat three wildfires raged in the Sangre de Cristo mountains around us. We took up a koan about the great conflagration that ends every aeon in buddhist cosmology, and we paid attention to what it was like to sit, right there, in the hazy light of the kalpa-ending fire. We practiced ‘neither for nor against,’ something about which the desert rocks bathed in that light had something to say. photo credit : Michael Wilding
October 6, 2011 | Cerro Gordo Temple | Santa Fe, NM
What happens if we think of our lives not as a matter of living and then dying but as one whole and continuous thing called living-dying? What if it's a matter of walking on the earth and then taking one more step, onto the sky – different and yet not? What happens to our experiences of time and grief, death and eternity?
December 2011 | San Geronimo Lodge | Taos, NM
We named our winter retreats in honor of the light that lit up Shakyamuni's eye under the bodhi tree, and their theme was always awakening. At this last Morning Star retreat we talked about the different seasons of awakening, each with its own wisdom; the bare ground and the earth household upon it; gratitude as the taste of awakening; and finding in the dark the old gate of home
January - May 2010 | Cerro Gordo Temple | Santa Fe, NM
The self can feel like a fragmentary conglomeration of body, soul, spirit, heart, and mind : at best, a conversation; at worst, conflict. But each part has its own wisdom, and together this constellation of viewpoints can provide strength and the creativity to navigate difficult times. These talks explore some foundational buddhist philosophy and psychology in a fresh and accessible way, including a kindly rehabilitation of the much-maligned but essential self. Koan Card accompaniment is below the audio recordings. There is a PDF for Self & Soul IV, although there is no audio file.
February 2010 | Desert Rain Retreat | Tucson, AZ
At the start of a life with koans, we're in relationship with a Secret Lover, that whispered commentary on things that's always with us. Over time our allegiance shifts and we're more often slipping between the roles of Guest and Host, offering and receiving with others, with the vastness itself.
subjects : Linji, Layman Pang, Fayan, sorrow, guest, host, secret lover
January 2009 | Cerro Gordo Temple | Santa Fe, NM
In January 2009 we celebrated Barack Obama's first inauguration with a ceremony and some conversation about what the time felt like, with its striking combination of elation and sobriety, and about the time we were coming out of, with the pain of its wars and the discouragements of public life.
February 2009 | Cerro Gordo Temple | Santa Fe, NM
Here's a quick taste of koan meditation, from back in the days when it was still important to talk about what koans aren't (riddles, contests, judgments, words on a page) as well as what they are : thrilling companions who call for our warmth and curiosity, and offer us the world.
subjects : koans, meditation, fetchability, intimacy
Spring and thoughts turn to the deep joy of intimacy with the world, the beauties of our heritage and community, accomplished hearts, the happiness under both delight and sorrow, the stillness under quiet and noise… and poems for the vernal equinox.
subjects : Dahui, Li Qingzhao, Vernal Equinox, poems, happiness
February 2009 | Cerro Gordo Temple | Santa Fe, NM
In the midst of a battle in ancient India rises this dialogue between a warrior and a god about how to live a good human life, especially in the most difficult times. These talks look at the Gita's views on acting wholeheartedly without attachment to outcome, and on making every act an act of worship.
subjects : Mahabharata, Arjuna, Krishna, Gandhi, outcomes, renunciation, Daodejing
April 29-30, 2009 | Cerro Gordo Temple | Santa Fe, NM
Spring is here and all around us – maybe inside us, too – is this cracking and burgeoning and chirping and general carrying on. At least in the northern hemisphere, the world is stirring into longer, warmer days, and it all just ... happens. So much life, so much toil and play, all of a sudden. People gaze upon this and give it names like weiwuwei, effortless action, and then they invent whole philosophies out of it. For those of us of the human tribe, what does effortless action look like? Here are two talks that have a look at that.
April 2009 | Wet Mountain Sangha | Pueblo, CO
Enlightenment … delusion … aspiration … will … resistance … kensho : A series of honest and intimate conversations during a one-day retreat, exploring the phenomenology of awakening and revealing our hopes, fears, and questions we don't always have the chance to talk about together.
July - August 2009 | Cerro Gordo Temple | Santa Fe, NM
While we can fall into hell in an instant, we can also fall into heaven. Classical Buddhism identified four states of mind that tend towards heaven : equanimity, compassion, lovingkindness, and sympathetic joy. These are the Brahma Viharas, the noble abodes.
October 14-18, 2009 | Springs Mountain Sangha | Colorado Springs, CO
The koans are full of bodies — walking bodies, sitting bodies, dreaming bodies — and each koan is a body itself. How big is the koan body, and where are you located in it? As bounded, embodied beings, how do we live in the boundless realms, traditionally called lovingkindness, compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity? How do we embodied beings sanctify each other, supporting each other’s wholeness, and holiness?
January 2008 | Cerro Gordo Temple | Santa Fe, NM
A thousand years ago, the whole of the koan way was summed up in a brief series of intriguing questions and answers : What is Zen? Snow in a silver bowl â€¦ What is the Way? The clear-eyed person falls into a well … What is the blown-hair sword? Each branch of coral holds up the light of the moon.
March 26, 2008 | Cerro Gordo Temple | Santa Fe, NM
Every moment has a luminous tab in it somewhere, which we can pull to immediately become intimate with it. We have koans for the moments when that isn’t obvious — portable luminous tabs to bring to any moment.
May-June 2008 | Cerro Gordo Temple | Santa Fe, NM
One of the streams that flowed into Chan and the koans was the mythology of pre-Buddhist, pre-Confucian China. Here are some notes on ancient Chinese ideas of meditation and awakening, based on Stephen Karcher's work on the Yijing (Book of Change). (image - Stephen Karcher)
July 3, 2008 | Cerro Gordo Temple | Santa Fe, NM
A fire rages, and the poet Robinson Jeffers speaks in his words and his life to how we hold terror and beauty, life and death, at such a time â€” and in the ordinary moments of our lives.
September 27, 2008 | Springs Mountain Sangha | Colorado Springs, CO
Here are two talks, shared with Sarah Bender, Roshi, about turning the ghosts of our beloved and not-so-beloved departed into ancestors, ancestors who begin blessing us immediately by reminding us that we live in many more worlds than the tangible one. It's the season for setting the ancestors free that they might come back to us, bringing continuous blessings, unexpected blessings, from their perspectives on the mountaintops, under the river, in the sky, right next to us on the sofa.
October 2008 | Cerro Gordo Temple | Santa Fe, NM
When I was a child I was deeply affected by A Pilgrim’s Progress, a Christian story of the spiritual journey rich in images of the emotional landscape like the Slough of Despond. I’ve always wanted to tease out of the koans a similar landscape of pilgrimage, and here are two talks that were an early run at that. We begin in the Red Dust, an ancient Chinese name for the world of our ordinary lives, take off for a sojourn Deep in the Mountains, and return eventually to Sitting by the Charcoal Fire. For some of us, life in the Red Dust presents questions the Red Dust can’t answer, so we look for gates that open into wild and solitary mountain paths. Eventually, though, we return, transformed, to a Red Dust world transformed by our transformation. The raging conflagration of the Buddha’s Fire Sermon has become the steady, warming glow of the Charcoal Fire, a good place to unthaw our toes and listen to stories.
October - November 2008 | Cerro Gordo Temple, Santa Fe, NM | Pacific Zen Institute, Santa Rosa, CA
Looking at dharma gates, the ancestors, the Great Mysterious at the heart of things, and more, from the perspective of Yunmen’s “In the whole world, in the midst of the cosmos, there is a treasure, hidden in your body. Holding a lantern, it goes toward the buddha hall. It brings the great triple gate and puts it on the lantern.”
December 16, 2007 | California Open Source | Guerneville, CA
2004 - 2006
Being Accompanied / Accompanying
January 29-31, 2004 | Just Past Full Retreat | Mountain Cloud Zen Center | Santa Fe, NM
Antonio Machado wrote a lovely poem called “Caminante,” which begins : Traveler, it is your footsteps, / the road — nothing more; / traveler, there is / no road, you make the road by walking … The poem gave rise to conversations about being accompanied on that journey, and about how to be a good companion to yr fellow caminantes.
Springs Mountain Sangha, Colorado Springs, CO | April 9, 2005, April 28, 2006
The old folks talked about how we all unfold sutra scrolls from our toes as we walk and our mouths as we speak, waving from the bright green tips of our new growth and falling out the tops of eggs as we peck them open. It's spring, the season of unfoldings both delicate and flamboyant — a good time for two talks inspired by artists. The first is an exhortation inspired by an old-style preacher and painter, Hakuin Ekaku of eighteenth century Japan — whose, um, directness I seem to have been channeling a bit that night; the second is a meditation on how koans are like the paintings of Johannes Vermeer, seventeenth century Dutch master of the pervading light. Hakuin would probably be pleased that his Prescription for the Penetrating-One's-Nature-and-Becoming-a-Buddha Pill was passed around during a retreat, while Vermeer might be surprised to find his oil and canvas evocations of peace enlisted to show how we work with koans, and koans work with us.
2004 - 2005 | Springs Mountain Sangha, Colorado Springs, CO and Mountain Cloud Zen Center, Santa Fe, NM
A bouquet of talks on the Heart Sutra, the distillation of the vast Prajna Paramita literature of the Mahayana. That's Prajna Paramita herself, the mother of buddhas, above. Because the Heart Sutra is a distillation, it's dense, nothing extra, bracing. Turns out when you pour in the stories and associations that surround it, the potion becomes sweeter and more complex. The first talk is the most straightforward introduction to the text, and after that, well, it wanders where it wanders - being the heart of the world and all.