Blue Mountain Sesshin 2016

A shining window below the green pines –
Jade palaces or vermillion towers can’t compare with it.

– Shih-t’ou

A few photos from our Blue Mountain sesshin this year. Really, words cannot describe the profundity of silence felt there – a vast spaciousness filled with the cries of nighthawks, the feathery susurrus of hummingbirds’ wings, the whisper of wind and crack of thunder. Nor can they encompass the warm embrace of sangha or the dedication and insight of our teachers. Nine bows to all who made it possible!

You Are Like the Ancestors

By Dennis Sienko

Too many of us have the problem of thinking, “Is my doubt, my spirit of inquiry, strong enough? Am I deserving enough? No way could I be like those ancient Zen ancestors, so strong and devoted. The Buddha stood on one leg for six days or six weeks or something like that. I can hardly stand on one leg for thirty seconds.”

But nothing could be further from the truth. The Buddha and all the ancestors were the same as you, and you are the same as them. After all, the Buddha left his wife and family. What would we think today of someone who left their wife and family to pursue some strange spiritual quest? Certainly, not someone deserving enlightenment.

We all have our warts. The universe loves you despite your warts. Maybe you are divorced. Maybe you are too old, and if only you would have started on this path twenty years ago. Maybe you are too young to get enlightened. Maybe your family life is not what it should be. Maybe you are too thin, too fat, too tall. Maybe you should not have kicked your grandmother’s cat when you were eight years old.

It doesn’t matter! You need to step forward and take Manjusri’s sword from the altar, and once and for all cut off the mind road.

Do you deserve enlightenment? This is not a yes or no answer, for this is not an ego-driven process. You must become totally helpless, totally alone and totally open.

Do you deserve enlightenment? Let the wind be your witness.

pine needles
Photo by Geoff Keeton

Rohatsu Sesshin at SMC

This year our Rohatsu sesshin was held at Shambhala Mountain Center, a remarkable 600-acre property by Red Feather Lakes brimming with pines, aspens, snow, trails, deer, rabbits, magpies, and wind. Participants took advantage of the rest periods and the days of silence to hike to the awe-inspiring stupa nestled in the back of the valley, circumambulating on one of the tiered walkways or doing zazen inside, beneath the gaze of an eighteen-feet-tall Buddha figure.

Our zazen together was truly profound, marked most of all by the hiss and howl of the mountain wind, which seemed unceasing until the last day, when we woke to a blanket of snow and a deep silence all across the landscape. In reverence we closed our sesshin by sharing briefly our reflections and feelings of gratitude, before making our vows and final prostrations.

Afterward, most of us went to the stupa for a short tour, pictured here. Our guide regaled us with facts about the stupa’s construction, symbolism, and history, while we gazed around in wonder. We are truly grateful for the long labors and practice of these fellow Buddhists, who made this place and this sesshin possible. Gassho!