We are drawing close to the start of the next Practice Term in mid-February. Over the past several years as we have continued to develop our approach to practice term, I’ve noticed how these periods have been a support to people trying to give life to their Dharma aspirations. There is a transition from being interested in meditation and doing it on a casual basis to embedding it as a foundation for how we live. The various practice term offerings can help you lean into the process.
One of the most direct ways to explore this transition is the Term Student program. Fundamentally speaking, we can’t bargain our way into the Dharma. With the bargaining mind there is always part of us that is left outside keeping watch. Practicing as a term student can allow us to set the weighing and managing aside for a period and concentrate wholeheartedly on study and practice. When we commit to a certain form of practice for a set time, all the questions have a way of finding their way forward instead of just becoming excuses not to proceed, whether that proceeding has to do with Buddhist practice or otherwise.
The nice thing about being a term student is that it is long enough to facilitate a digestion of our commitments, but not so long that we feel like giving up. Also, you don’t have to decide that this is the best, or only, practice. You don’t have to decide anything at all, other than you want to explore this path more deeply. There is a great freedom in this kind of approach, and this freedom is the key to being spiritually alive.
Please take some time to look over the various classes, retreats and programs offered during this upcoming term and consider joining some or all of them. As I have said many times, I’m not trying to encourage you to fill your life up with more things to do. If practice is just another thing to do, we can’t find the truth in it. This is an opportunity to enact something you are called to. Listen carefully!
Sunday, February 15 marks the opening of our Spring Practice Term, a 90-day period of more rigorous engagement with dharma practice and teachings. This term, the study topic will be the Diamond Sutra (see the Sutra Study Class article below for more information.) A ceremony marking the death and passing into final nirvana, or Parinirvana, of Shakyamuni Buddha will officially open the term. The ceremony will begin at 10:00 a.m., with zazen beforehand from 9:00 a.m.
As in the past, there will be several different opportunities to engage the Practice Term formally with the community. Term students make commitments related to zazen practice, temple attendance, temple upkeep, dharma study, meeting with the teacher, and retreat participation. This term, term student meetings will occur from 12:30 to 3:00 Sunday afternoons on February 15, February 29, and March 29. As before, term students are expected to attend weekly Thursday meetings as well. There is also the option to make individual practice commitments without participating formally as a term student.
More information, including a full calendar and sign-up sheets, are available here and at the temple. Those who would like to participate in the term student program should meet with Ejo prior to the 15th to discuss practice commitments and bring completed applications to the Term Opening Ceremony.
Series of six Tuesdays 2/15 - 3/31
It is said that meditation and ethics are "One Thusness". While these two aspects of Buddhist practice seem to speak to different issues, they are both simply the brightness of an awakened mind. To study the Buddha way through meditation naturally leads to ethical inquiry and, in our tradition, the Sixteen Bodhisattva Precepts are the gateway. In this class, we will encounter the teachings of these precepts and explore how they can enliven each of us and our communities. No registration is necessary and drop-ins are welcome.
Sutra Study Class
Series of ten Thursdays 2/19 - 5/14
Registration is required. Please see information and registration material here.
The Diamond Sutra is one of the most important texts in the vast collection of the Perfection of Wisdom Sutras. It is so sharp it enters deeply without effort to the deep recesses of our mind. Its teaching is so clear that it can be difficult to see! While this sutra is known as a profound explanation of Buddha Wisdom, as we gain a closer relationship with its teachings, it reveals the deep fountain of compassion that animates the bodhisattva path. This class will emphasize discussion and include weekly homework and readings.
At year’s end I received a death poem in the mail. It was Kyogen’s, Abbot of Dharma Rain Zen Center in Portland. He had died on Thursday, September 18th.
I was driving up I-5 when I got a call from my good friend Getsushin telling me that something unbelievable had happened: "Kyogen is dead”... that he had died suddenly from an apparent heart attack that morning while looking at the new meditation hall they were building. Less than 24 hours before she had sat with him in Sanzen.
Unbelievable. In an instant the world turned upside down. The great matter of birth and death that we recite and study had arrived.
Kyogen’s importance in Portland and Eugene cannot be overstated. He helped start the Eugene Zendo many years ago, driving down monthly to help build the small sangha that Ejo eventually arrived to lead.
The unbelievable nature of this new reality continued that night as we gathered at the hospital in the Cardiac wing to see him laid out in his white robes and sit quietly in the room with him, thinking how good and alive he looked.
The next day, the sadness broadened as the last Shosan with Kyogen was held with the Sangha, his chair empty but for a large picture of him, were he would normally sit, which was draped with his mala and the other ritual objects that he would normally carry.
Students, disciples, sangha members all asked their final question of him, many crying, waiting in the silence for an internal response from the deceased. Later, a formal funeral was held with the sad, beautiful repeating of a dirge-like chant, alternating with some intensely wild and unusual Taiko drumming and another viewing of Kyogen, again laid out in white robes, in a white coffin which people circumnavigated to say their last goodbyes.
At some point, the side doors of the room seemed to suddenly swing open to the outdoors and the procession moved into the light and around to the back where the crematorium was ready. More chanting was held outside and inside the building as the coffin went into the fires.
Then a final poetic and mysterious moment occurred as some of us from Eugene headed back to our cars for the drive home and noticed a strange pattern on the sidewalk of wispy, moving shadows. Looking up I saw the stack of the crematorium with the sun shining behind it and realized I was looking at Kyogen being transformed into dancing strands of shadow smoke being projected onto the sidewalk.
Another funeral took place 49 days later. Remembrances, tributes, music, paper lotus petals, and more tears.
There is a tradition in Zen of writing your death poem while you are alive and Dharma Rain Center in Portland had done just that on one New Year’s Day. Then, this poem arrived that he had written one New Year’s Day and I thought it was perfect:
A moment ago
So much undone,
Now, all is as it should be -
Thank you, Kyogen, for everything you helped us start in Eugene.
As Ejo mentioned in the thank-you letter he sent earlier, we want to share with you the final amount raised in the year-end campaign: an awesome $22,543 plus a $1,200 pledge! Nine bows of gratitude to everyone who contributed.
Practice Positions Available
Kyogen would like to train someone for the chiden position, which is responsible for altar care, helping to preparing for ceremonies, and cleaning incense ash. He is also looking for someone to take responsibility for the tea & coffee kitchen and setup on Sunday morning. Please contact Kyogen at email@example.com
We will begin holding Jukai once a year as part of the spring sesshin. There will be a series of Tuesday evening classes on the precepts open to everyone as well as a sewing and study group leading up to Jukai for those participating. Please feel free to ask anyone with a rakusu what Jukai is about! It would be good for them to get the question and you to get the answer.
There will be a sewing group getting underway late January for people preparing for Jukai. If you have spoken with Ejo about receiving the precepts, please contact Anyu, the sewing teacher, to let her know you will be participating. You may email Anyu at firstname.lastname@example.org If you are interested in Jukai but have not yet spoken with Ejo, please do so directly.
The University of Oregon will host the 2nd Annual Symposium on Mindfulness in Science and Society, exploring research on mindfulness at UO and beyond. On February 9th at 7 pm in the EMU Ballroom, pioneering neuroscientist Richard J. Davidson will deliver a keynote address entitled “Change Your Brain by Transforming Your Mind: Neuroscientific Studies of Meditation.” Founder of the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds at the Waisman Center, University of Wisconsin-Madison and named by Time magazine as one of the world’s most influential people, Davidson is best known for his groundbreaking work in studying emotion and the brain. His bestselling book, The Emotional Life of Your Brain, was chosen as this year’s Undergraduate Studies Common Reading: a book given to all first-year students as a way of sparking conversation while introducing them to the UO’s rich community of researchers and scholars.
Davidson’s lecture is part of the UO’s Second Annual Symposium on Mindfulness in Science and Society: a research gathering highlighting the impact of mindfulness practices on personal well-being and society. Organized by faculty across campus, including Cris Niell, assistant professor in the Institute of Neuroscience, Michael Posner (National Medal of Science winner and emeritus professor of psychology), and assistant professor of psychology Heidemarie Laurent, the symposium explores the brain science of meditation and related practices. The symposium will be held from 1-5 pm in the Giustina Ballroom of the Ford Alumni Center. Clifford Saron, UC Davis research scientist and director of the Shamatha Project — the most extensive scientific study of the effects of long term meditation ever conducted — will begin the afternoon’s program. A reception will follow.
In conjunction with the Symposium, a Mindfulness Showcase will be held on February 10th from 10-5 pm in the EMU’s Gumwood Room. In consecutive workshops participants will have an opportunity to further explore mindfulness research on the UO campus, and to experience mindfulness practices in yoga, education, cognitive psychology and other arenas.
All events are free and open to the public. For more information, call 541-346-1211 or see commonreading.uoregon.edu. For sign language interpreting or other disability-related accommodations, call before February 2nd. Davidson’s lecture will be ASL interpreted.