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!

Cultivating a Relationship with the Precepts

From a talk given by Cathy Wright on Nov. 22, 2015

The Ten Grave Precepts are a practice and a lifestyle. Becoming aware of them, exploring them, and upholding them puts into practice what we experience for ourselves in meditation. As we stay consistent with our practice, we answer these precepts from a different layer of silence. How we settle our minds, or don’t settle our minds, on the zafu gets reflected in how we engage with our friends, our family, and those that we conflict with. The Ten Grave Precepts are a lens to look through when dealing with the world.

Making It Personal

“In taking up Zen Buddhism, we find that the life of the Buddha is our own life. Not only Shakyamuni’s life, but the lives of all the succeeding teachers in our lineage are our own lives. As Wu-men Hui-k’ai has said, in true Zen practice our very eyebrows are tangled with those of our ancestral teachers, and we see with their eyes and hear with their ears. This is not because we copy them, or change to be like them. I might explain Wu-men’s words by saying that in finding our own true nature, we find the true nature of all things, which the old teachers showed so clearly in their words and actions. But the authentic experience of identity is intimate beyond explanation. And it is not only with old teachers that we find complete intimacy. The Chinese thrush sings in my heart and gray clouds gather in the empty sky of my mind. All things are my teacher.

“On the Zen path, we seek for ourselves the experience of Shakyamuni. However, we do not owe fundamental allegiance to him, but to ourselves and to our environment. If it could be shown that Shakyamuni never lived, the myth of his life would be our guide. In fact it is better to acknowledge at the outset that myths and religious archetypes guide us, just as they do every religious person. The myth of the Buddha is my own myth.

“Thus, it is essential at the beginning of practice to acknowledge that the path is personal and intimate. It is no good to examine it from a distance as if it were someone else’s. You must walk it for yourself. In this spirit, you invest yourself in your practice, confident of your heritage, and train earnestly side by side with your sisters and brothers. It is this engagement that brings peace and realization.”

– Robert Aitken, Taking the Path of Zen