Dharma Talk, June 23, 2012

Center at Westwoods

Good afternoon.

There are many different motivations that people have when they come and take up what usually is referred to as a spiritual practice. There are different motivations, different expectations, all different kinds of drivers, all different kinds of energies that bring us into the circumstance where we encounter a practice like this one. It is very interesting to sometimes reflect upon that. Being involved in doing a practice like this is a very interesting part of our development. It is part of the development of how we understand what we are as a human being, of how we understand what our relationship is to other human beings, what our relationship is to what we call ourselves, what our relationship is to “the other”. And when you read a little bit about Rinzai Zen, when you hear about Hakuin or even when reading about Rinzai himself in the Rinzai-roku (臨済錄, The recoded sayings of Master Rinzai), you will often find that it is said “do not seek”. “There is no need to seek. People run here and there, from East to West, from North of South, from the bottom of the mountain they climb to the top, from the top of the mountain they run down, just seeking, seeking, seeking…”

Hakuin has written a very famous song, so it’s a poem really, but the translation into English is usually “The Song of Zazen” (坐禅和讃, Zazen wasan). First of all, it starts out with the sentence “Shujo honrai hotoke nari ” (衆生本来仏なり), all sentient beings are from their origin Buddha. He could have stopped right here, but he goes on to speak about water and ice, bringing up the image that like water and ice are different manifestations of the same element, so it is what it means to be in the world of separation versus having the world of distinction and separation disappear.

Why are you doing this? What it is that you seeking, what are you after? Take the time to examine that, take the time to honestly and openly ask that question. What are the expectations? Ultimately, whatever those motivations, whatever the expectations are, they all are just gradually different. I know a Zen practitioner in Rōshi’s organization who took up Zen practice because he wanted to improve his Bridge game. Even starting out with such a mundane, or apparently mundane intention, has opened up a path for that person that has led him very far along, and he continues to walk this path. This is where it becomes interesting: ultimately the seeking, the looking for something is what we have to see through, is what we have to fully experience, clarify, and let go. At first we seek, probably without mind, without thinking, but through the seeking we find out that there are other aspects of our being, that there is the aspect of feeling, that there is the world of feeling, and then there is the world of intuition. We gradually learn and understand that our thinking, our mind is not what solely makes up our consciousness. It is us who give this very heavy emphasis to cognition, and we experience that when we sit down in a place like this one here; it becomes difficult not to engage in “thinking about”, in the thinking of the past, the thinking of the future. The thinking of whatever it may be makes it appear, creates it, and we become inundated solely by the activity of cognition. Connecting with the breath, connecting in unexpected ways with your body: your legs that are hurting. You feel your legs, but it is your thinking mind that tells you that your legs are “killing” you. “I can’t stand that any longer, I have to move” – thinking takes over and tries to pull the other parts along. The sensation of your legs, through thinking, turns into pain, and the more you think about it, the more you think about not wanting to be there, the more excruciating the pain becomes. Connecting with the breath is backed by our very deep feeling and intuition that thinking is not all there is.

The act of seeking, and that this what Rinzai, Hakuin, Jōshū Rōshi, and all of the teachers and patriarchs always stress: the seeking itself is an attachment to the seeking self, and it has to be let go, to disappear. Often one hears practitioners speak about “Oh, I had this wonderful experience”, experience, experience, experience…  The Rōshi once expressed it this way, he said “The true original sin of the human being, of the human condition is that one has and one only can exist with consciousness in the world of separation”. The very fact that unification breaks open and creates space and consciousness is the conundrum of the human existence. Once you start exploring that a little bit, you can come to the understanding that seeking an experience or longing for an experience is only possible in the limited confines of a state that allows for experience. Experience is only limited to that world of separation, of distinction. Rōshi says that if you meet a person who says “I have seen God”, you can be sure that person is a liar. They may have seen something, but not the real God; in unification there is nobody to be seen, nobody to see, nothing to experience, and nobody to experience anything. That might sound pretty bleak, because we love experiences, but that is one of the reasons why Zen practice points us to the experience we have every moment. That is what we have to learn and we have to get to that point, because it is an innate, it is an inborn longing for experience that we all have as human beings, but we tend to mistake those special experiences is different than the experience of every moment. What our practice asks us to do is, while we live here, in the world of separation, while we have consciousness, while we can see and smell and touch and hear and speak and chant, to make every moment of that life the same quality of these experiences that we so desperately look for.

It is not that we are suddenly changing something that wasn’t there before, it is just we awaken, we awaken to suchness, to the true meeting of the moment, (claps). And ultimately, as far as experience goes, that is all there is, that is all that can be achieved. It is your life, moment by moment. Don’t hope for the great experience that will take all of that away, and that the state of eternal bliss will be manifest. Waking up to what happens right here and right now, without having to think about it, without having to cut it into past, present, and future, into I and Thou, into self and other: that is the great experience. Where would you seek? Where would you look? Under the bed, in the closet? I can hear the Rōshi laugh. Let the thinking go while you do Zazen, let it come back when you need it. Let the world of intuition, 直感の世界 (chokkan no sekai), open up to you, and connect to suchness. No more seeking, no seeker, no prize to be found: just living.


Summer Schedule & Events

Zendo Schedule July & August

During the months of July and August the Charles River Zen group will meet once each week. In July we will convene on Thursday evenings at 118 Main Street in Watertown from 7:30 pm – 9:00 pm. During the month of August we will meet on Tuesday evenings from 7:30 pm – 9:00 pm. The zendo is closed from July 30th  through August 3rd. The calendar on this site reflects the actual schedule. Please be sure to check before you head to the zendo in case there is a last minute change.

 June 23 Zazen-kai in Westwood

Please note that the hours for the retreat are from 9am – 5 pm.  This will be followed by an informal supper. Please respond as soon as possible if you are planning to attend.  We are in need of 10 participants in order to hold the event. Volunteers are requested to assist with transportation of cushions etc. If you are able to drive or offer someone a ride, please let us know by contacting Shuko or Dokuro at 617-800-9585.

Please sign up using the Contact form or by calling us at 617-800-9585.

Roshi’s 50th Anniversary of Teaching in America

On July 21, 2012 it will be exactly 50 years that Joshu Sasaki Roshi has been teaching the Dharma in the United States. The Rinzai-ji home temple in Los Angeles will be sponsoring a ceremony and reception in honor of this occasion. The celebration will be held at Rinzai-ji Zen Center in Los Angeles.

We hope that some of you will be able to join us in Los Angeles as we celebrate and honor Roshi’s 50th Anniversary and his 105th birthday! For those of you who may be interested in attending, please check your email for an invitation to this event. Any further questions can be directed to us through the Contact form.


Dharma Talk, Zazen-kai, March 11, 2012

Welcome to Westwoods, what a nice spot we have here. The outdoors, sunlight we have today, it’s really nice and a little breezy. It’s a place that took us all in, here, we all share the same space, we all share the same time, the same activity in what we call a zazen-kai, “meeting to do zazen”, meeting as a group to investigate and to learn how to let the self, that “I am self”, that ego, how to let it fall away, dissolve, disappear. That is the activity that we follow while we are in this formal practice. The activity of becoming less and less, and the more we do this, the easier and the more naturally the self arises, which it does inevitably anyway. Sometimes when people read about Zen practice they get stuck on ideas that are written down in books and say something like “you have to kill you ego – you have to eradicate any thought of self”. This is not even half of it, this is only one side of the medal, it is only one dimension of many because it never mentions that that ego, that “I am self” and the self, they are natural phenomena. Without self there is no no-self.

Whenever you practice, whenever you do zazen, whenever you go into that direction of becoming less and less and less, don’t forget that this is not a one-sided activity and never think of it in a two-dimensional way. The teacher who came up with these basic teachings, we all know him as Shakyamuni Buddha, the historical Buddha. From the point of view of somebody who is in the Zen tradition that person Siddhartha, he was like we are – nothing divine, just a very ordinary inquisitive human being who took the time to go through all kinds of teachings, all kinds of practices during his lifetime. What it came down to in the end was that he sat himself down under that tree and did not get up until he had penetrated to the point where everything fell away and all became clear to him. We all know the story about the eight day, in the morning when he saw the morning star suddenly he realized: all sentient beings are Buddha – this is myself, everything is not only connected, but everything is myself. That is a very powerful message, but we should not look at it in merely a two-dimensional way. There are places and times where there has to be distinction, where things are distinct, where there is subject and object – and there are places and times when no-place in no-time appears, and where there is no distinction between the subject and the surroundings. Zen practice is not a method that helps you with anything but learn how to balance, learn how to equally engage both in the activity of self-affirmation and the activity of letting the self completely go. There is no magic to it, there is no secret, and all we have to do to find out is to sit down, open our inner ear, experience that there is – no inside, no outside – and take that into our everyday lives and manifest it with everything we do.

One of the first things that Sasaki Roshi always stressed, and he put it in a metaphor; he said – and he liked to talk about Hitler and Roosevelt at that time, so you can imagine this is way back – “even Hitler and Roosevelt shook hands”. What it means is that you have to embrace both, even the good and the evil shake hands, even the opposites come together and neither side has the claim to perfection nor the possibility of being complete without each other. Completeness means that there is nothing that is left out; there is not a single moment in your lives that you should leave out. We all have that tendency, just because that is how self-consciousness works. We have the tendency to come to a point where we don’t want to be there – “no, I want to be somewhere else” – and we start thinking ourselves into those places, we start feeling ourselves back into places that we remember to have experienced having been more soothing, or sometimes just the opposite, disturbing – anywhere but where we are at the very moment. We have those feelings and those thoughts. Not leaving anything out means to bring together past, present, and future – in the very moment. When we chant here, all together, even though we have some 20 different people, we chant with one voice, we chant with the same air, the same breath, to the same beat, and that allows us to let go of that “I am”, “I am chanting”. The “I am” disappears and just the activity of chanting takes over, without the need to think we inhale just when it’s time to inhale. As soon as we start thinking, because we can’t follow the chant, off we go – we fall off, we leave the group, and we have to catch up, come back into the activity, the one action that happens at the same time.

It is an interesting approach, it is an interesting thought that many of us come here to work on our own lives, to work on ourselves, and in order to do that we have to learn to just let that go. We have to learn to let go of that habitual identification with a specific name, specific properties, opinions, the past, the hopes for the future. All of that, all of it is restrictive, it keeps us from being truly in the moment, letting happen and being fully with what is happening.

It is only a few hours we spend together here, but as I said before: don’t let even a single billionth of a second of your lives slip away – unlived, unattended, neglected. Not 80, 90 or 95 percent – give yourselves 100 percent to the tiniest fraction of your life that you can imagine. We all are very lucky, we have the time to come here, we have the means of transportation, we have this wonderful place for which we are grateful, the sun, nature. One year ago, on this day, I don’t if you remember, there was a big earthquake off the coast of Japan near Miyagi prefecture. Miyagi prefecture and the capital city of Sendai is somewhat close to us because our teacher Sasaki Roshi, he was born in Sendai, he grew up near Sendai in a farmhouse and the temple where he started his studies as a Buddhist monk at the age of 14, Zuigan-ji, is right there. 28,000 people died as the fallout of the earthquake. It is an interesting inquiry: how do we as individuals not feel for those who have died? How can we sit here and not be over in Japan and help? They are still digging out of the mud and there are still all kinds of big projects to remove the mud that was swept miles and miles over what used to be fertile farm land. How do we reconcile that?

This is what in our tradition one would probably call a koan, a koan that has no right or no wrong answer. Give it a little introspection, look at that, observe if you feel guilty, observe if you feel uninvolved, observe if your thoughts come up “Oh well, the universe works without will and desire, it just happens…, we all have to die”. Listen to yourself and once you go and you start exploring a problem like that, then you are entering into that activity of being with the moment, because there is no right answer, there is no magic answer: “this is the right thing to do”. The moment you reach out with your hand and you shake somebody’s hand completely – how in that very moment is it that all of this comes together – earthquakes, tsunamis, power plants – but also beauty, a sunny day like today, the privileges we all share.

I am telling you this because I wanted us to not be fooled into thinking that Zen practice is something that happens just here on the cushion. This is the safe lab, this is the lab section of life, where you have your protective gear on, where you can experiment without having too much to fear. Whatever we find out in the lab, we have to take out into the world, into that world that has suffering, suffering in all kinds of shapes and forms, and learn how to deal with it, how to act, how to not turn away. How do we not turn away? I remember old friends who gave me a book by the title of “Not turning away” and my friend’s inscription on the first page reads “as if we had a choice”.

So, fellow Zen people, fellow humans, friends, thank you for taking time out of your lives to come here and to share it with us. What we have been reminded of all the time, and what Joshu Roshi always stresses: no matter where you are, no matter what you do, even the slightest, smallest possible amount of time of your lives – don’t let it pass by without having been lived 100 percent. Roshi is 105 years old on April 8, and he has shown us how to do that, but nobody can do it for us, nobody can do it for you but yourself. Let us live that, let’s live the plus, let’s live the minus, let’s not leave anything, anybody, any time, any place out – learn to embrace everything without discrimination.


Dharma Talk, January 2012

Good evening. I would like to give tonight’s talk in relationship to the my last talk which I have given recently, regarding rules, regarding corrections, regarding all the restrictions that appear to be present in formal Zen practice.

Here are the questions that come to mind:
What is this all about? Why? Why do we need all these restrictions and why is discipline necessary in this kind of practice, in this kind of endeavor?

These are all very good questions, especially taking into consideration that we are looking for freedom. Everyone who arrives at this practice comes from their own personal circumstances and background, comes with certain experiences in their past and in the present. In many cases some of these experiences could be described as burdens. For each of us there is something that brings us to this practice – certain hopes, certain expectations, certain intentions that we bring – and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. Many of us are looking for something that helps us to alleviate, that helps us to get over the pain and unsatisfactoriness, something that helps us not to remain stuck in it. It is very important that we do not approach the pain and suffering in the way that Western medicine does, merely as symptoms and treat it symptomatically. We need to get to the root of this pain and suffering, not just cover up the symptoms or the experience of it.

When you look at culture, modern electronic culture especially, the culture of entertainment, a lot of it is geared towards distraction from that what irks every living being. Every being that has a mind of its own, which has self-consciousness, has the question about death, life, about change, about loss. Many of us here arrive in this situation joining this practice because we have such a question to answer, because we have such a burden to attend to or we have the intuition that there is more to it to answer these questions. Just to distract oneself from the questions appearing will not do. Compartmentalizing and hiding the questions in a closet, trying to sweep them under the carpet will only keep them hidden for so long. Some people take the initiative to look deeper, to explore and refine their inquiry.

One way to do that it is Zen practice. It is important to always keep in mind that Zen practice (and Zen practice in the way we conduct it) is just one of many ways to approach these deep questions. However, when we find our home in this practice and decide to follow it through, there are certain developmental steps and stages that we go through. The formal practice aspect is very important, especially in the beginning, in the first – maybe let’s say the first 75 years – of practice it is very important that there is some kind of discipline. After 75 years one can relax a little bit more.

Let us return to the question why discipline is necessary when we are looking to free ourselves, when we are looking to alleviate pain and suffering. Being exposed to these rules, instead of being able to just let go, we find ourselves more tied down: more restrictions, more rules, more corrections than ever before. “Don’t move!” and all kinds of sharp, incisive, abrasive corrections are made. We have to learn to discipline this at first undisciplined self, we need to learn not to give in to every whish, not to give in to every little desire or the hope that things will change and get better.

When I first came to practice at Mt. Baldy Zen Center in California, the first seichu I bought myself a bag of potato chips, because I am very fond of potato chips. I deliberately restricted myself to having one chip a day, at night before going to bed. Minutes before there was to be absolute silence (except the snoring) and before the lights would be turned off, exhausted or not, I opened the bag and ate a single chip. It was a feast, it was a feast and it was an even greater lesson to learn not to give in to just taking one more. This restriction and discipline is essential to the stripping of all the layers of self-centeredness. It helps us correct and realign our point of view, it helps us to get to the point where we truly can let go of all the restrictions of which we are not aware. Until then we don’t realize the restrictions, our self-made rules and all the burdens that come with the “I am this”, “I am that” kind of self. Relinquishing this “I am self”, becoming free of that kind of fixated self allows us let a new self arise and opens up the possibility for a new and completely fresh experience of what it means to be in the moment, what it means to have a “self”, what it means to be able to give birth to a new self in the moment when you stick that chip in your mouth.

And even though it is the self that tastes, even though it is the self that benefits from the nutrition, that experiences it, it is a different self that arises spontaneously. A self that arises spontaneously is at the same time a self that has just awakened. Arising and awakening, disappearing and dying – all of that is very important in this practice, and it can also give you a hint what awakened means. In order to be awake there needs to be a self, but it needs to be a self that has freshly arisen and that freely exists and without any resistance disappears.

Comings and comings, goings and goings: kiwame kitari, kiwame sarubeshi. Even Kozen Daito says that in his last admonition: look at the comings, look at the goings. Then the key is that even the one who looks disappears and comings are just comings, goings are just goings. It is counter intuitive, against our logical sense that restriction would lead to freedom, but as I have said many times before: true freedom is the freedom to be even free from one’s own little self, to be free from any kind of judgment, any kind of burden, any kind of expectation. It is okay to be strict with yourself, but only if we are not attached to strictness. Being strict is the preparation for truly letting go; however, as soon as that strictness, as soon as that discipline solidifies and becomes like a congealed hardened behavior, then it is not of its own dynamic nature anymore, then it is just another type of fixation.

So – I suppose we have a few more years to go before we reach 75 years of practice when we can relax a little bit. Every period of zazen, every period of kinhin, every chanting, every sarei, every morning getting up, brushing your teeth, washing your face, having your coffee, relieving yourself, going to work,  meeting strangers, getting tired after that, all of these activities are the opportunities for that letting go and for that letting arise, letting awaken a self that is not tied to any of these moments.


May 6, 2012 afternoon Zazen-kai (座禅会)

Please join us for our second retreat of 2012 which will be held at our Watertown Square location on Sunday, May 6  from 1 pm – 5 pm.

The afternoon will include a Dharma talk and the opportunity to engage in different aspects of formal Zen meditation practice. These include seated meditation (Zazen), walking meditation (Kinhin), and chanting. Formal tea (Sarei) will be served. Please join us!


The cost for the afternoon is $40/$35 for members.  Please make checks payable to Charles River Zen. Arrangements can be made for a sliding fee.

Transportation & Arrival

You can see the directions, multiple ways to get to Watertown Square, and parking information on the Location page. Please arrive by 12:45 pm.

Sign up & Questions

To sign-up or to ask questions please use the Contact Form or telephone Shukō or Dokurō at 617-800-9585.
Instruction is available for those who are new to this practice or who would like a refresher.

What to bring

If you have a favorite cushion, feel free to bring it along. Loose fitting clothing or robes are suitable. The room is air-conditioned, but if the weather is nice we will open the windows and let the fresh air in.


March Retreat Report

Our first retreat at the Center at Westwoods was well attended with 17 participants. The weather was mild and outside walking meditation (kinhin) made this an even nicer experience. The Center is a great place with lots of natural light, fresh air, and also close to the city.

Shuko and Myoki served as the Jikijitsu and Joko, the time keepers, Jodo and Taigen helped out as the Shoji and Shoshoji, our tea servers. In a concerted effort we transported 20 sets of cushions, the mokugyo and gongs, a full setup for the butsudan (altar), tea cups, sutra books, food and much more from various locations to the center. A big thank you to everyone who made space in their vehicle to take some of the equipment and to those who shared their ride with other participants.

[lightbox style=”modern” image_path=”×1024.jpg” popup=”/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/511-575×1024.jpg” link_to_page=”” target=”” description=”The meditation hall at The Center at Westwoods” size=”portrait_thumb”]

We will be back at Westwood in June with a longer retreat. For April and May we are planning a similar four to five hour retreat at the Watertown location where we have the weekly sittings. We won’t have the great outdoors like in Westwood, but it will nonetheless allow for some extended sitting, chanting, and all the formal aspects of Zen practice.

Building a sangha that sustains the practice opportunities is an important development of a Zen community. We are grateful for all who participated and contributed to this effort. One day we will be able to raise enough funds to establish our own place for daily practice and longer retreats, which is Charles River Zen’s goal. If you have ideas or can make a contribution to this important work, please let us know.

The retreat also offered the great opportunity for those who can’t attend the weekday evening sittings to reconnect with the group. We were pleased to welcome back a number of our friends who had been unable to join us since we had to discontinue our Sunday schedule. Everyone is looking forward to the next announcement for the series of retreats we are planning and which will be published shortly.


March 11, 2012 Retreat: Zazen-kai

The first retreat of 2012 will be held at The Center at Westwoods, in Westwood, Massachusetts on March 11  from 12 pm – 4 pm. This is our first time at The Center, which offers a peaceful and natural setting for retreats.

The afternoon will include a Dharma talk and the opportunity to engage in different aspects of formal Zen meditation practice. These include seated meditation (Zazen), walking meditation (Kinhin), and chanting. Formal tea (Sarei) will be served and an afternoon snack will be available. Please join us!


The cost for the afternoon is $40/$35 for members.  Please make checks payable to Houn-an, Dharma Cloud Hermitage. Arrangements can be made for a sliding fee.

Transportation & Arrival

If you can offer a ride or you need one, please let us know so we can arrange for car pooling.
Please arrive by 11:45 am.

Sign up & Questions

To sign-up or to ask questions please use the Contact Form or telephone Shukō or Dokurō at 617-800-9585.
Instruction is available for those who are new to this form or who would like a refresher.

What to bring

If you have a favorite cushion, feel free to bring it along. Loose fitting clothing or robes are suitable. There will be outside walking meditation weather permitting.


Dharma Talk, December 2011

Good evening.

Tonight I would like to speak briefly about a few aspects of formal Zen practice. Most of this talk has evolved from a discussion that followed the last Dai-sesshin, which the vice-abbess Shuko and I attended. The aspect of formal Zen practice I would like to speak about tonight is the form and the rules.

Well, here we go, there is the word “rules”. It often seems that in Dai-sesshin or when we come here in the evening, that there are certain rules that we are expected to follow. In the very strict formal set up of a Dai-sesshin these rules are enforced by the Jikijitsu staff in the Zendo, they are enforced by the Densu in the dining hall, directing the Handaikan, the servers, telling them what to do when they are not following the preset protocol. In the same way the Joko from the Jikijitsu staff corrects participants even during the meals. The word “rule” and correction seem to go hand-in-hand, and I remember that early in my training senior monks sometimes complained that “you don’t make enough corrections”.

What the vice-abbess and I discussed was, of course, that formal Zen practice is not about “rules”. It became evident to us that there is a very apparent lack of understanding in a good portion of the ordained Sangha as well as in many Zen students in general, a lack of insight why these rules were put in place and with what intention. What I would like you to begin to see is not the rule itself but the intent that stands behind it. Much of this goes back to a teaching that I have spoken about in the past that I received from my first Zen teacher Genro Seiun in Austria. Genro taught his students three principles that he always stressed:

Number one: “don’t leave traces”; number two: “don’t waste anything,” and number three “create harmony where harmony is lacking, maintain harmony where harmony is manifest.” Even these three principles can be further reduced – to a fundamental intention of formal Zen practice.

We have to ask ourselves “Why?” What is the intention that we wear the same robes when we go to retreat? Why is it that we all get up at the same time? Why is it that we all go to the same meal, at the same time, eat the same food, get up from the sitting platform when there is a clap, sit down when there is the strike of the bell, and why we don’t move during Zazen – we try to be very, very quiet during the meditation period. We also chant together the same words – why all of that?

The first thought that comes to mind may be that this is what spiritual boot camp is like, and to a certain degree there is some truth to that. It is a boot camp in the sense that your ego is sent to boot camp. Many of these rules and setups are there to make your ego brush against them, to create friction, so that we can actually identify this I-am-self and begin learn about it. Of course the ultimate goal is to transcend this I-am-self, that we no longer give in to every desire that this I-am-self tells us. Not moving is to not unconditionally affirm the urge to move which the I-am-self creates over time. When there is an itch, we learn to not unconditionally raise our hand and scratch: this is a manifestation of not unconditionally affirming.

There are other aspects in the formal practice which do not have to do with giving up one’s perceived free will, one’s own being different, one’s own constant self-affirmation. There are actions that actively bring together subject and object, that bring together the group and allow individuality to dissolve in a different way. For example Gassho, hands palm-to-palm, the bringing together of the left and the right hand, and completely becoming one with that action. At that moment, not just as the individual who becomes one with the action, but as a group – we all act at the same time, share the same moment and activity. We bow together, simultaneously, at the same time, during Kinhin we walk in step. All of these activities are there to broaden, to widen the understanding of what the self is, to experience that through the group practice. In the end, when you go and you see the Zen master in Sanzen, and you manage to manifest zero, after the manifestation of no-self, the Koan that you might be given is “How do you recognize everything? How do you recognize flower? How do you recognize mountain?” Of course the intellectual, the wordy answer would be “This is myself .” Letting that I-am-self fall away is the intention and formal practice and rules offer the opportunities for us to be exposed to the working of that I-am-self, to notice it and to really, truly experience what its limits are. By actively pursuing that in the formal practice we get closer and closer to the point where we actually transcend those limits and manifest true self: True self that does not leave anything out, that embraces everything. The formal practice with its “rules” is meant to promote just that.

During the meals we don’t scrape our bowl with the spoon, not just because there is a rule that says “Don’t scrape your bowl with your spoon.” Well, if you can scrape quietly so that nobody can hear it, it’s perfectly okay. The intention behind that rule, or a correction made to that effect would be something like “Don’t draw any unnecessary attention to that I-am-self, let it fall away.” And of course meals – meals are a place where we go and we fulfill the needs of a self, of an individual organism: we sustain the existence of a separate entity that requires nutrition, requires food. This inherently self-centered activity and need makes it even more important at a formal meal to fully understand the intention and to try to manifest that “not being unconditionally attached to the I-am-self.” Corrections in the formal context are meant to remind us of that, however, when the one making the correction doesn’t have the right understanding, when the one hearing the correction doesn’t have the right understanding, then it merely turns into a two-dimensional, flat process that is to no benefit to either party.

Therefore let’s always keep in mind that when we practice here together, that formal practice is meant to manifest the activity of shrinking, of becoming less. In sitting we try to manifest smaller, smaller, smaller, smallest possible; less I-am, less I-am, less I-am, until the I-am completely disappears. Ultimately this will enable us, when it is time to get up, to follow the activity of bigger, bigger, bigger, bigger, until the ultimate expansion has been reached. While we sit, when this I-am-self disappears, we can experience that very activity in our breathing: going from the ultimately large to the ultimately small, back to the ultimately large, back and forth – without will and desire, without the need of the manifestation of that limited I-am-self.

Let’s keep this always in mind as the true intention for any rule, for any formality that we have when we practice together. Once we mature in our practice enough to do that, there will be no doubt, no fear, no hesitation, and we’ll be able to give ourselves fully to the manifestation of the present moment.



2011 Contributors & Donors

After leaving the 75 Sparks Street center Charles River Zen needed to find a new home. We wanted to thank all of the sangha for their help with packing and moving out, storing the 60 cartons of books from the library, offering transportation, helping hands and so much more. Thank you all (in alphabetical order):

Adam Bright
Chris Scarpino
Daniela Gadamska
David Karp
Denise Patnod
Eigetsu Theodora Francis
Ginny Toner
Hendrik Lenferink
Hōgen Sevn McAuley
Jamie Murdock
Jōdo Franco DeAngelis
Kristina Hogg
Matt Mattinen
Mike Siegel
Myōki Monica McTighe
Paul Leischer
Peter A. Crawley
Ryan Weber
Shūkō Marlene Rubin
Taigen Amos Worth
Trey Schutrumpf


Your generous donations to Charles River Zen allow us to run the programs we offer and sustain our presence. We are very thankful for your donations and your support.
Aiko Beth Goldring
David Karp
Monica McTighe
Mike Siegel
Hendrik Lenferink
Peter A. Crawley
Cambridge Buddhist Association


Formal Practice

Sitting for extended time with a group of Zen students deepens our experience and understanding of how this universe comes into existence and how it disappears. Formal practice allows us to let go within a safe environment, among equals. In absolute silence and stillness a different dynamic unveils itself, allowing us to contemplate existential questions.

Zen practice is not an escape.  To the contrary it encourages us to engage fully in our daily activities wherever we are. Zen practice teaches us be more open, authentic, and passionate in our relationships and to act wholeheartedly and without hesitation.


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