Friday, 13 March 2020

Arrangements for Weekly Zazen

While we won't be meeting at the Quaker House until further notice, we've decided to "Commit to Sit" together in our own homes at the same times. Sitting together as a group, in community, is a vital part of our ongoing zazen practice - and this seems to be a practical alternative while still adding the necessary social distance!

The suggestion is that where possible, we maintain our usual schedule (summarised below). We must be realistic, though, and adapt this if necessary to the changed circumstances of our sitting.

7.30 - 8.00pm   Seated meditation
8.00 - 8.10pmKin-hin (walking meditation)
8.10 - 8.40pmSeated meditation

It is always advised to have a quiet place to sit (preferably one dedicated to the purpose, even if only in the corner of a room... but that's not always possible). You might want to set up an altar - the basic elements are a 'rupa' (Buddha-figure or alternative... even just an interesting-looking rock if it has some meaning for you!), a candle, flowers and incense. Or whatever works for you.

I'll be starting by offering incense and three full bows at 7.30pm, and ending by reciting the Four Vows (three times as usual). It's not necessary, but it sets the intention for the coming practice. Here are the Vows if you want to chant them:
Sentient beings are numberless, I vow to save them all;
Desires are inexhaustible, I vow to put an end to them;
The Dharmas are boundless, I vow to master them;
The Buddha Way is unsurpassable; I vow to attain it.
(Yes, it's impossible to keep these vows...! Ask me about them some day and we can chat perhaps after Zen one evening...!)

Even if you don't usually (or often, or recently...!!) sit with us, I'd encourage you to set this time aside and do some or all of the time with us each Wednesday evening. If you've not sat before but want to take advantage of the pandemic to try it for the first time, I'd be very happy to chat with you about it. Usually, I'd spend about 20mins or so chatting face-to-face before your first sit, but as an alternative, give me a call (number below) a day or so beforehand and we can talk. If I can't take the call, leave a message and I'll call back.

I've set up a WhatsApp group for anyone who's keen to join in - send me your phone number ( or text me at 07807 753 781) and I'll add you to the group. We'll check in with each other just before the start of the session at about 7.20pm, and say thanks and goodnight at the end. Do feel free to use it to keep in touch more generally for the rest of the week.

Thursday, 12 March 2020

SWZ Northampton closure

Following discussion yesterday evening after our regular weekly zazen, we have decided to stop meeting for meditation on Wednesdays until further notice. Please keep an eye on this blog or the Facebook group for updates.

We will keep up with the practice, though! Please do join us every Wednesday from the comfort of your own home, as we 'commit to sit' at 7.30pm for the usual two 30-minute periods of zazen (or whatever you can manage in the circumstances of your own domestic situation!).

I'll update with an invitation to join a WhatsApp group to keep in touch and synchonise our Wednesday evenings, keep your eyes peeled!

(But don't touch your eyes... or nose or mouth... and wash your hands... mindfully of course!)

Thursday, 20 February 2020

Koun Franz on Keizan Zenji's "Zazen Yojinki"

Koun Franz
Why had I never come across this series of posts before? Stumbled today across six posts from Koun Franz on an important text by co-founder of the Soto Zen school, Keizan Jokin Zenji, called the Zazen Yojinki ("Notes on what to be aware of in Zazen").

The posts (and the talk it was based on) give some context to Keizan's teaching and then go on to discuss the text in detail, with some wonderful reflections from a very experienced Zen teacher and meditator. Highly recommended! Links to the posts are below:

Friday, 31 January 2020

Life continues

A quote to ponder from What Is Zen? Plain Talk for a Beginner’s Mind, by Norman Fischer and Susan Moon:
For me, the important thing about the teaching of rebirth - the part that seems true and that matters a great deal - is that life continues. That is, there is more to our lives than the little span of time between birth and death. There is more to our lives than what happens between these two key moments. And that “more” doesn’t just “exist” in the mysterious spaces before birth and after death - it is also here, right now. There is more to our life right now than we can see, than we can know or be conscious of.

Thursday, 30 January 2020

Zazenkai date settled: 7 March

So have managed to confirm with the good folks of Collingtree Village that we can hire their hall on Saturday 7 March for our next Zazenkai (practice day).

Pop that in your calendar for now - running time will be approx 9.30pm to 4.00pm. Will have some more details in the coming weeks.

Friday, 3 January 2020

No resolutions this year!

Wow, no posts from November or December last year... I think I can guess what one of my New Year's resolutions should be...

New Year's is usually seen as a time that we gird our loins and muster our discipline to make wide-ranging changes to our lives. Often we declare these boldly to each other in our NY's resolutions: "I'm going to quit smoking... and drink less... and spend more time with my family... and get that promotion at work... and exercise every day... and eat more healthily!"

I know that I've often resolved to meditate more in the New Year. But we all know what happens with NY's resolutions... a few weeks in and the odd burger/drink/cigarette or whatever has snuck in, we've done a day or two without exercise or without sitting... we've failed again. We don't mention this to our friends and colleagues and don't notice it when they stop mentioning their own successes either. Oh well, only eleven-and-a-half months until the next opportunity to make some NY's resolutions...

Some years ago, one of the teachers in Shunryu Suzuki's lineage, Jiryu Mark Rutschman-Byler, wrote a piece about failing in Zen. He'd been watching his very young child trying and failing to catch birds one afternoon and noticed that his son's failure to catch any birds didn't seem to reduce his joy in the attempt. He contrasted this with his own reactions to his failures on the cushion, slumping instead of delighting and asks whether we can actually fail at Zen?
So can we fail at the Dharma? Are we failing now?  
I say an afternoon chasing birds is an afternoon well spent. I say birds aren’t for catching; I say birds live in sky, not in boxes. I say point, and shriek, and point again. There is nothing to hold to, nothing to catch, in this world of unceasing hoppings and flittings. Much less a bird and much less a vast vow. 
So this year: no meditation resolution for me. When I sit, I will sit in delight. Or misery. Or dullness or acuity, or whatever arises there and then, but not to meet some target, not to attain some goal, not to keep some resolution.

And of course, I invite you to sit with me, with us. We meet in the centre of Northampton every Wednesday to sit and then have tea and a chat. Whether you've been before or not, you're very welcome to join us, to have the support of others practising around you (and to be that support for them!) and to delight with us in our continual failures.

Thursday, 3 October 2019

Man-flu Zazen

Composed last night while I should have been sitting in serene contemplation...!
Man-flu Zazen
Throbbing sinuses
Wheezing in-breath
Raw-rimmed nostrils
Church bells on the evening breeze
I remember Tenshin Roshi talking once about sitting when you're not feeling the best, and it's stuck with me. I'm sure he was making a more profound point that what I took away from it... but for what it's worth, here's what I've learned from sitting while sick!

The natural reaction is to think, "Oh I feel awful - I'll pick up my zazen when this Freshers' Flu is over..." But it's actually a great opportunity to sit in the middle of not being OK and to really live that. We try to rush past our experiences of suffering, but if in some sense we are our suffering, then to rush past the less pleasing parts of our lives is to not live our lives fully.

I'm not trying to glorify suffering, to make a virtue of it - even in its mildest versions (like man flu!) there's little romance or inherent morality in it. And our more serious sufferings test us like nothing else. But: this is where we stand. And we gain little (in the long term) denying our circumstances.

So my winter challenge to you: sit with the sniffles!