Archive for September, 2009

More from Reb’s retreat

September 28, 2009

Here are some more thoughts from the notes I wrote after Reb’s retreat last month.

In the early mornings, up at 5.30, meditating by 6, we sit in silence and suddenly Reb’s voice is there. Clearly and slowly, in his soft American voice he says (as closely as I can remember it)

 “The early morning breeze has secrets to tell
Silent and still.
You have to say what you really want
Silent and still.
Beings are moving back and forth at the threshold where the two worlds meet
The door is round and open
Silent and still.”

The early morning rooks and blackbirds are starting up. All 60 or so of us keep sitting, silent and still? Not really – rampaging through thoughts all too often, still being horrified by all that pride, but sometimes silent and still.

The mornings are easy. There are only a few half-hour sits with the morning service (I cross my fingers in all the religious bits), the work period outside weeding and digging under the trees, and then Reb’s long talk and question session. It’s the afternoons that are tough. From 2 p.m. until 5.30 there is relentless sitting and kinhin with no break. I make it through every day, missing only one 10 minute kinhin to get a fast cup of tea and go to the loo. Lots of people miss several of the half hours I notice. Ah there comes the pride. I am so much better than them. I don’t miss any. And yet the funniest thing is happening. Now that I am noticing and labelling the pride it seems to lose its power. Oh – there it is in a new form – and whatever it is seems to fizzle out as I stare at it.

Last year I was SO annoyed by the people who walked too fast or too slowly in the kinhin, or didn’t start walking quickly again when the end bell sounded. This time I am not annoyed at all. They still do the same thing but I laugh at myself for feeling superior and thus getting into all that ridiculous anger. It’s only slow walking! And the same is true with the people who clatter their plates when Reb has told us to eat silently.

I move a little more slowly too. I am always rushing everywhere and realise that that too is a kind of pride – I can do everything faster than you can so there! So I enjoy going more slowly (still probably rushing quite a lot) and feeling all the people around me as all those beings we can love – whether we like or dislike them – and how can I really like or dislike people when we are all in silence and all working hard without looking at each other.

“When our minds dwell in delusion we are turned by the Dharma flower: when our minds dwell in enlightenment we turn the Dharma flower” says Reb, “Fully appreciating this teaching is the Dharma flower turning the Dharma flower.” Ah – so this is the point of the retreat “Dharma Flower turning Dharma Flower”

This flower is in fact the entire universe, he says, so when we are deluded the universe turns us and vice versa. I am confused by this. It feels to me as though I am always struggling to control the universe – isn’t that a deluded me trying to turn it? Yet I know enough just to wait and see how these difficult idea clarify as we go along.

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Reb’s Retreat

September 21, 2009

I promised to report back from my recent retreat so here goes.

The retreat was Reb Anderson’s annual week long Zen retreat at Gaia House in south Devon. I was there last year, and previously went on other retreats of his elsewhere. This year, unlike last, I arrived early to make sure of getting a gardening job. Isn’t that pathetic! I am used to retreats (e.g. at John’s in Wales) where no choice is given in anything, which is a relief from normal life, but if there’s going to be choice then I’m going to choose, and I was glad I did; getting outside and doing physical work for an hour a day makes the sitting much easier. In his talk the first evening Reb asked “Who is proud?” I slowly put up my hand, as did a few others. “No, he said “I want a more whole-hearted, or whole-bodied, response” So I jumped to my feet. Pride is not something I have thought about much or thought I had any problem with but somehow something clicked, and for the rest of the retreat I saw my own pride everywhere. The topic for the retreat was “Dharma Flower turning Dharma Flower”, a saying from Dogen’s commentary on the Lotus Sutra. In his daily lectures Reb shared with us his love of the Lotus Sutra. “You must love it” he insisted “You don’t need to like it, you may dislike it, but you can still love it”. When he added that the same is true for the Bible and the Koran there were a few sharp intakes of breath (mine as loud as any) but I think he would say the same about everything – indeed he did say that last year – you can love all beings while liking some and disliking others. After all, we are doing this practice for the sake of all beings – not just sentient beings, people and animals and so on, but all thoughts, images, objects – everything that we turn into a thing. So we heard stories and parables and were introduced to all sorts of difficult ideas about vehicles, flowers that are the whole universe and just sitting that is Buddhas meeting Buddhas face to face. Perhaps most memorable was the parable of the burning house from Chapter 3 of the Lotus Sutra. A man owns a huge, expensive but decaying mansion and inside are all his many children, playing with their precious toys. When the mansion catches fire there is only one tiny gate out. The man knows that he could lift all his many children and carry them but they would never all fit through the tiny gate together. So instead he lures them out with promises of even better toys – carriages pulled by deer, goats and oxen. Or in Reb’s version they are lured with fantastic computers that never crash. This burning house is our lives of delusion. We are all living in the burning house but too preoccupied with our email, jobs, troubles, toys, relationships and other things to notice that it is on fire.

I have been acutely aware of living in the burning house ever since …

More to come ….