Sunday, March 23, 2014

Guiding Teacher Changes

These are my notes on a talk I gave Sunday March 23rd at Clouds in Water Zen Center on my announcement of stepping down from the Guiding Teacher position and to propose that Sosan Theresa Flynn step up to that lead role.

I’m writing to let you know about some changes
that the teacher ryo (the teaching group) and the board of directors would like to implement. 
It’s what we would like to do,
but we need the blessing and support of the sangha to move forward.

With much tenderness and an open heart,
I would like to change my job at Clouds in Water.
I would like to step down as the Guiding Teacher and to move to being a
Senior Dharma Teacher and continue to be a member of the teacher ryo.
And I would like to allow Sosan Flynn to step up as the Guiding Teacher.
This means that I would continue to teach at Clouds as a member of the teacher ryo
But the duties of the Guiding teacher would move to Sosan.

The teacher ryo has been discussing this for some time.
Recently, we made a formal proposal to the board.
The board voted unanimously to accept our proposal.
Our organization’s by-laws state that a new guiding teacher must also be confirmed “by a two-thirds vote of voting members present at a meeting held for such purpose.”
Our voting meeting is scheduled for April 13, 10:45 am.

During my dharma talk on March 23, we had a discussion about this change,
And we will have another council to digest and discuss this
On Sunday March 30th at 10:45am – 12:15pm.

The blooming of the karma of Clouds:
There are many major changes happening right now
1.     Moving geographically
2.     Change of staffing, Change of the Guiding Teacher role and if Sosan takes that job then the Executive Director’s job needs to be filled.
3.     Amy Horne moving into full-time acupuncture practice and leaving her position as our program director 
These changes have come from a confluence of factors and change that are happening as a result of our growth as a community, outside circumstances, and a shifting in the systemic interdependency of all the parts that make up Clouds.
They are happening organically as a tectonic shifting of plates of Clouds in Water’s karma.
It is a part of our:
1.    maturation as a sangha,
2.    our role in developing new teachers
3.     and the maturation of our practice – to take personal responsibility for our spiritual life.

I think it’s important to understand the history of Clouds in Water as background for these changes.  In some ways, I view my time as Clouds in Water’s Guiding Teacher as a “healing transition” from a deeply wounded community coming after the heels of the breech with the founding teacher.  A lot has happened in the last 7 ½ years.  I think this tectonic shift is happening because that healing has transpired and the entire community is birthing something new.  Who are we now after all that has happened and been healed?  Who are we now in the 21st century and as an innovator of lay practice in America?  Moving geographically gives us a great opportunity to change and grow and start something fresh and new.
And we are ready to do this now because of our healing and growth.

We have already started many of these changes:
1.     the multiple teacher model
2.     changing practice period to “core and more”,  which is more accessible to most members.
3.     Doing programming designed primarily for householders; for example center-based intensives and ½ day meditation days.
4.     Integrating Youth Practice and family life into the over-all life of practice in this community.

Clouds in Water has had, since its founding, a 2-pronged approach.  That of being a Temple for lay practitioners and also being a teaching institution producing priests and teachers.  I believe that the new teaching model of the teacher ryo is really providing the opportunity for actually being a teaching institution.  We are allowing teachers to learn in community and to raise up the next generation of teachers both lay and priest.  We have also been giving opportunities to teach to the next layer of students in Lay Training Group.  This is the outward manifestation of the ideal of transmission.

When I started 7 ½ years ago, one of my primary objectives was to support Clouds in Water to be sustainable.  Even though it seems somewhat unusual to have a multiple teacher model and a rotating position of Guiding Teacher, I think this is a worthy experiment in the world of sustainability of leadership.  We have also been  extending this investigation to having Ryo’s or “groups” for the Ino position and the Tenzo position in an effort to curb “burn out”.

I am profoundly grateful, deeply grateful for my time as Guiding Teacher.  I could say that it has deeply transformed me.  Meeting the challenges of this position has transformed my character and my ideas of practice.  The amount of study and teaching has matured my understanding. 

I wish this depth of growth to be available for my fellow teachers at Clouds.  I want them to experience the maturation that occurs in the role of Guiding Teacher.  I hope that as a community we can allow the Guiding Teacher position to be seen as a maturation process for our teachers and that we have the acceptance, tolerance and generosity to allow people to find themselves and learn about teaching by taking this role.  This is certainly what I did.  I started the job not knowing if I could fulfill the role, and I grew into the responsibilities and the skill that is needed to take the lead position.

Sosan has been at Clouds in Water since its inception in the early 90’s.  She has played a primary role all along our history.  She was one of the first priests to be ordained.  She held the primary Temple Priest position during the transition in leadership and has been the Executive Director since then.  She had a very intensive training period with Dosho Port in the early years of Clouds in Water.  She has participated in three of Thich Nhat Hanh’s American retreats, did a month of monastic training at both Zen Mountain Monastery and Ryumonji Monastery, and many retreats at Hokyoji Monastery.  She studied intensively with Joen Snyder O’Neal and was transmitted by Joen in 2012, completing her training and becoming a transmitted Zen Teacher. 

In my opinion, allowing Sosan to continue her maturation process by taking on this role is a wonderful expression of our community’s commitment to transmission and our commitment to developing our teachers from within. Our teachers will benefit from the deep personal growth and leadership training that the Guiding Teacher role provides.

As for me, this is a wonderful opportunity for me to go forward with some new and continue some old endeavors.  I will have more time to study, to write about the dharma and to make books.  I will continue to support students who want me as their teacher and to finish the transmission of our senior teachers.   I think this letting go and allowing something new to happen is a very natural stepping stone for me as my teaching has matured. 

It seems like these changes are a natural organic progression of what Clouds is all about and is leading us to manifest true transmission, generation to generation.

Thank you, in deep bows,

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Talk for Carl Myosen's memorial

From Reb Anderson’s Chapter on “Do not kill” in “Being Upright”:

Life does not change into death.
death does not change into life.
life is just life; death is just death
Life and death are not before and after
In reality, death vividly and peacefully coexists with the fullest expression of life
the ancient buddhas realized that the principle of life cannot be destroyed.

Dogen zenji says:
“Life is the manifesting of the whole works.  Death is the manifestion of the whole works. Zenki, total dynamic functioning means that everything, life and death are workings of the whole, and the whole is working through everything. Filling up the great empty sky, upright mind is always bits and pieces.”

All life and each life are manifesting the whole universe and are the working of the whole universe.  Life cannot be hindered anywhere.
When you don’t understand this, you may feel threatened by death
And this fear will permeate all our actions.
But in understanding interdependent origination and the total dynamic functioning of life,
In this very moment, we realize that we do not have to be threatening by death and all the pieces of the universe are working together harmoniously.  This understanding actualizes our true life of freedom.
This is the central mystery of our practice.

Katagiri roshi, our root teacher, says that being with death there are three points to remember:
1.     suffering,
2.     togetherness,
3.      and one mind.

There is suffering. One of the kinds of suffering is being parted from those we love.  Death is a very dramatic loss.  Even though we know it happens, will happen, when it does happen it is hard to accept. 

Right at this moment, all over the world, thousands of people are dying.  We can imagine all the situations.  This is truth.  Right in this breath, living and dying are appearing over and over again endlessly, together with us.  Right in this breath is togetherness. – Katagiri roshi.

Carl, you have brought us face to face with something very fundamental- we can call it the ultimate dimension.  It is beyond the capacity of our perception or consciousness to comprehend or know, and yet somehow we do know it.   Your death brings us to a taste of this knowing-right it the middle of our grief, there is this taste.

From Thich Nhat Hanh:

           No coming, no going,
No after, no before,
I hold you close to me,
I release you to be so free:
Because I am in you,
And you are in me;
Because I am in you,
And you are in me.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Entrusting yourself to the Waves.

One of my favorite Ryokan poems:

To find the dharma
Drift east and west,
Come and go,
Entrusting yourself to the waves.

Entrustment – to put into the care of and protecting someone or something.  That is from the dictionary.  Is there, in Buddhism, someone or something to entrust yourself with?  Well, certainly it is not a someone.  There is no centralized intelligence that is watching over us as there is in many theistic religions.  But there is, in Buddhism, something we can trust in – Zenki, the total dynamic functioning of the universe.  If we understand that we are a cog in a large system, or that we are a knot in a large network of interdependence, then we can let go and trust.  There is something, a network of systemic working, that is holding us up.  We are, indeed, supported by something that we cannot see.  This is entrusting ourselves to the waves of life itself.

Usually we think, in a mistaken idea, that the “dharma” is something outside of our ordinary lives.  It is something that is outside of drifting east and west,  outside of coming and going.  We think we have to transcend our karma, or transcend our historic self and enter into a place that is beyond history.  This place is sometimes called the vermillion towers in Dogen’s work or in the Lotus sutra, the magic city.

What I love about this poem, is the simplicity in which Ryokan merges the dichotomy of the historic dimension and the transcendent dimension.  He says the waves are none other than the water.  Coming and going is non other than stillness.  We can entrust ourselves to life itself.  We can as Katagiri Roshi used to say, “Just Live!” or understand the process of coming and going as “life-ing”.  The universal transcendent energy is completely merged with each wave.

So trust really means learning how to let go and become one with the whole system.  Trusting that the machine of life, or of our family, or of our sangha, is working in peace and harmony.
And yet,
There is still the deep belief in cause and effect.  It does matter what we do.  Letting go or entrustment is not simply a matter of passivity.  I am battling here with the two sides that I want to bring together.  I don’t think Americans or maybe all humans are that comfortable with non-doing and trust.  Part of my practice is very much, moment-to-moment, allowing myself to be soft, open, flow, and not too aggressive or controlling.  On the other hand, I try to understand that the seeds of the activity that I plant will change the course of the waves.  It is sometimes called the razor’s edge.  When to act, and when to let go.  In the Koan literature, this is described as putting down and uplifting, or letting go and gathering in and many other similar phrases.

Freedom in our practice is that we are free to do either side without hesitation.  We do not think that one side is superior and the other side is inferior.  And we can go with the flow of our lives, sometimes going east, sometimes west, sometimes not-doing anything, sometimes acting.  Entrusting ourselves to the waves.