Friday, January 02, 2009

Latest Zen News article

Zen News is the newsletter for the UK branch of the International Zen Association. I've was asked to write a third article for it - about the autumn Sesshin that took place in Norfolk in November. This is it:

Autumn Sesshin 2008 – What is true practice

The autumn sesshin at Sheringham was marked by dramatic weather outside and quietness in the dojo.

It was pitch black and the wind was howling as it buffeted the Norfolk coast when I arrived, quite late, at the youth hostel. As always, the welcome was warm. I had just stepped through the door when the metal sounded for dinner.

When we got up the next morning for zazen, it was still completely dark and the wind was still pounding on the walls. As we sat, it gently rained and the sky gradually brightened.
The roaring wind outside
A cool breeze blows through the dojo
The dojo was mostly silent. There were no kusen until the final day and, although there were many people on their first sesshin, zazen was very quiet. It was especially quiet for me as I had been having problems with my ears and I couldn’t hear properly. In the environment of a sesshin, where sound plays a very important role, this can be a problem. At one point, I missed the beginning of zazen because I couldn’t hear the wood.

In the first mondo, Jean-Pierre was asking us to consider ‘what is true practice?’. We shouldn’t see our life circumstances as an obstacle to our practice. True practice, he said, was accessing mind that moves freely.
The Godo asks us
What is true practice?
A bright moth flutters over our heads
On Saturday morning it snowed; and then rained; and then hailed. Then, while we were doing zazen, it brightened up a little. By this stage I was almost completely deaf. It made conversation a little difficult. Luckily I could still hear well enough to help Jeremy type up the mondo.
In the morning, snow
Rain, hail, blue sky
Brightness reflecting on bald heads
On Sunday morning the snow started to fall once more – not intermittently as before, but steadily and heavily, leaving a white blanket on the ground for us to cross on our journeys home.
Transcribing the mondo
‘What is true practice?’
Snowflakes fly around the old pine tree