Friday, 2 November 2018

No zazen on Weds 7th Nov

Hi all... just a quick note that there will be no meeting on the evening of Weds 7th November as several folk (including myself) are away.

We'll resume as usual the following Wednesday (14th), and do remember the Zazenkai on Saturday 24th.

A line of shussos...

Really enjoyed today's newsletter from StoneWater, there were some great reflections in there from all sorts of folks. Wonderful to see images of Stephan's tokudo ceremony (monastic ordination).

(Newsletters are archived at - the most recent one isn't up there yet but I assume it will be soon... have a browse, there's some interesting stuff there!)

One of the images really stood out for me (and not just because I'm in it!) - a line of shussos! Each year, one of the senior monks or practitioners for the past five years has undertaken their shusso ango, a month-long retreat in the Lakes where they take on the role of head monk (shusso) which culminates in a dharma combat ceremony in Liverpool (see my posts from last August for reflections on my own). Here's a line-up of our shussos...

From back to front (and in the order in which we did our shusso angos) are John Suigen Kenworthy, Andy Tanzan Scott, Tony Shinro Doubleday, Alasdair Taisen Gordon-Finlayson, Keith Shingo Parr and in the front, all queued up to do the shusso ango in 2019, Karen Shoji Robbie. A wonderful sense of continuation and hopefully a mark of the sangha's robust health.

My undying gratitude to all those in the line-up, in front of and behind me, and to Keizan Sensei who has put so much energy into the sangha over the last couple of decades.

On a lighter note, I also loved this moment caught by Jenny Shoshin Best, during Keith's address at his shusso hossenshiki (head monk's dharma combat ceremony) this past August:

Thursday, 11 October 2018

Zazenkai time again!

We're pleased to announce that we're running another zazenkai - Zen practice day - on Saturday 24th November in Collingtree Village (off the M1, just outside Northampton).

The day will run from 9.30am to 4.00pm and include lunch, plenty of zazen and the usual side-order of service, interviews, dharma talk, samu, etc. We might just end up at the pub across the road for a swift half before heading home! (Has been known to happen...)

Our zazenkai days are appropriate for beginners as well as more seasoned practitioners, and everyone in between. We usually ask for £20 for the day including lunch (£15 concessions or drop me a line).

(Feel free to give more if you're feeling flush! Trying to save up for a proper hako box for service!)

Friday, 7 September 2018

Sticking to your practice...

The folks at the Mindfulness Project blog posted some useful tips today on sticking to your practice... While this is framed for people who are into secular mindfulness practice that's usually taught & supported on formal eight-week courses, much of the advice is relevant to anyone who's trying to maintain a regular meditation practice.

Amongst other tips, they suggest:
  • Seek community: Well, of course I would point that one out! We meet every week on Wednesday evenings, and all are welcome (even if you've no experience of meditation... or even haven't been for a while!).
  • Start with small commitments: It's unlikely that you'll be able to dive into four hours a day of serene zazen! They remind us that "even small amounts of practice -- 5 minute bursts, for example -- are better than no practice at all". Often it's about finding space in your day for regular practice - early morning works best for most (not me!), last thing at night for others, or some regular time during the day. Establishing a dedicated space at home for your practice has helped many, too.
Mostly, though, I liked that title of the piece which used Sharon Salzberg's exhortation to "Just start over." Just start over every time you sit, and when you're seated, just start over every time you're distracted. And more fundamentally, start over with every breath, with every moment.

Thursday, 16 August 2018

"Zazen is not Shuzen"

Last night we looked at the first of two articles by Rev Issho Fujita, currently Director of the Soto Zen International Center in San Fransisco (pictured right), which were shared by Matthew Gindin on his Blue Waters, Blue Mountains blog a few years back (but I only came across them this week!). They were originally published in Dharma Eye (vol 28: link to original).

Rev Fujita's discussion is about what constitutes 'true' zazen, as opposed to shuzen, meditation practised in order to cultivate some special state of mind. He talks about his experience with other forms of meditation and contrasts them to the zazen of Bodhidharma and Dogen.

Link to the post is:

We only looked over the first half during our tea-and-biccies post-zazen chat, and will have a crack at the second half in a few weeks. Quite what zazen, shikantaza is, can be difficult to express verbally ("just do it"!). Rev Fujita quotes the inimitable Uchiyama Roshi, who called it: "an effort to continuously aim at a correct sitting posture with flesh and bones and to totally leave everything to that." There's the challenge - just to leave it alone! It reminds me of the classic developmental psychology experiment in which children as left alone in a room with some sweeties in front of them, and are asked not to eat them... that if they manage not to eat them, they'll get more sweeties when the experimenter returns. How hard it is to leave the sweeties alone... how much harder to leave our minds alone in our seated practice.

Friday, 15 June 2018

July Zazenkai

We have a date for the next zazenkai (practice day) - Saturday 21st July. It will be held in the Collingtree Village Room, the same venue as previous zazenkai.

Zazenkai gives us a chance to focus on our practice for a longer period than is usually possible in our day-to-day lives, and to deepen our practice together. During the day, we will have service, a samu (mindful labour) period, we'll share a meal, have a talk, practice interviews will be offered... and of course we'll do lots of zazen.

Full details will be posted later - I look forward to practising together with you.

Talk: Kindness and an open heart

Weekly zazen continues - remember, we meet every Wednesday come rain or shine (unless there's a notice here that it's cancelled!). Please make a commitment to your practice and, when the circumstances of your life permit it, join us!

This week, rather than reading from a book or listening to me waffle on, we played an audio recording of a dharma talk by Keizan Sensei that he gave last month at the end of the Retreat to the City held in Liverpool. It was a nice change of pace, and we'll probably do it again, maybe once a month or so.

For those who missed it, here it is...

If you come across other talks that you think would be good to share in the group, let me know (email me the link at - doesn't have to be a StoneWater or White Plum teacher, but definitely Zen rather than other traditions (and preferably a max of 20 mins or so to allow a bit of discussion afterwards without going too late into the night!