Blog

Zen on the Move

As most if not all of our current members know by now, the Zen Center of Denver temple building is currently under contract to be sold, and our move-out date, August 31, is quickly approaching.

The sale may, of course, come as some surprise to the many friends of the Center who are not currently members. For those, please know that the decision was not lightly taken. It was the result of many months of sangha meetings, careful examination, debate and soul-searching. The decision has many facets, but we trust now that moving will open up new practice opportunities and lead to a more sustainable outlook.

We are pleased to report that the building sale is moving along smoothly, and we owe a deep-seated bow of gratitude to those people who have helped in this complex process. Temple items are being inventoried, boxes are being packed and various other items are either being sold or given to charity. Although we will be saddened to be leaving this wonderful practice space, we are also certain it is possible to bring our love for Zen into a new practice space.

In that regard, we have identified two new temporary practice sites. The first, the Mayu Sanctuary, is located at 1804 S. Pearl Street and has a welcoming practice atmosphere. Karin Sensei and Peggy Sensei will be holding dokusan at Mayu on Tuesday evenings and Friday mornings. We can also go out for coffee across the street on Friday morning after the sitting. The second new practice space is the Rocky Mountain Miracle Center, located at 1939 S Monroe St, off Buchtel Ave. between University and Colorado Blvds. The RMMC has a beautiful large room for us to hold our Sunday morning sittings. Ken Sensei will be holding dokusan at RMMC on Wednesday mornings and Thursday evenings. In addition, we may have Sunday brunch every so often at a vegan restaurant (Native Foods) near RMMC.

In the meantime, we still have a lot of work to do at our current location. There is an upcoming zazenkai this Sunday, July 19. We also have a few more workdays scheduled this month and next. Then on August 23, we will have our last Sunday together at the temple, in which we will be holding a combined Jukai/farewell ceremony.

Finally, we will very soon be sending out a survey regarding sesshin. We will most likely have an early December Rohatsu sesshin, and so far two locations – the Franciscan Retreat Center in Colorado Springs and Shambhala Mountain Center at Red Feather Lake – appear able to accommodate us. Both are located in beautiful settings, and due to the higher cost of room and board, the ZCD will be subsidizing part of the cost of attendance. However, participants will need to commit to attendance earlier than usual so we can reserve the space.

We will be doing our best to keep everyone informed during this period of transition. Please feel free to communicate your questions or concerns to us. We realize the transition will be challenging, but it is also an opportunity to re-energize our practice, bring new life to our sangha and introduce new people to Zen.

Samu

From a talk given by George Mathews on June 14, 2015

Samu has at least two purposes. First, samu is a training opportunity in two ceremonies of attention that we stress at this temple during sesshin. The tea ceremony, of course, that we just enjoyed is part of the daily sesshin schedule morning and evening. Oryoki, which we will exercise at today’s noon meal, is a formal dining ritual that we engage for morning and noon meals during sesshin. Becoming acquainted with these ceremonies during samu makes them more familiar and frankly less stressful during sesshin.

SenseiCutterBeside this instructional objective of samu, we have the prescribed function of samu. Samu is work practice. Samu is Zen practice expressed through work. Robert Aitken wrote: “Without samu, Zen Buddhism would be a cult, isolated from daily life. Samu is the extension of sutra services to the garden, the extension of meditation to its function. This is Bodhisattva practice within the temple setting – and for lay students samu is also Bodhisattva work in the world.” John Daido Loori designates work practice as one of the Eight Gates of Zen. …

Work as a critical element of Zen practice began with the institutionalization of Zen/Ch’an monasticism under Baizhang Huaihai in 8th century China. Some of you likely know his famous saying: “A day of no work – a day of no eating.” An anecdote goes that his monks took away his work tools when Baizhang was very old. They thought they were favoring his age and frailty to spare his labor in the garden. However, he refused to eat until they returned his tools. “A day of no work – a day of no eating.”

There is another story of the importance of work in Zen practice that is not quite as well known. This one also centers on a master Baizhang, but this is Baizhang Weizheng, who actually was the successor to the other Baizhang’s monastery (hence the same name). This Baizhang Weizheng said to his monks, “If you clear a new rice paddy for me, I’ll explain to you the Great Principle.” (Now there’s a hook!) After clearing the new rice paddy, the monks returned and asked the master to explain the Great Principle. The master held out his two hands.

Every job is clearing a new rice paddy. And for every job we ask you to clear your minds and be attentive to your work. Just as you are instructed to pay attention to each breath in your zazen, we ask you to pay equivalent attention to your work during samu. Your minds will stray, will be diverted. When you notice this, return to your work. Just doing. Just working. Where does the Great Principle reside? Don’t worry about completing a task. We are here to just work, not to just finish.

From time to time the densho will ring three strikes. Pause in what you are doing. Focus with a few deep breaths. Where does that Great Principle reside?

Blue Mountain Sesshin, June 2015

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By Cathy Wright

This year, the Blue Mountain sesshin coincided with the birth of summer. Every insect, bug, bird, flower, and long days of daylight filled me to the brim with awe and wonder. Due to the longer rounds of sitting and longer rounds of kinhin, nature just burst into the forefront of every activity and drew me into its arms.

This mountain sesshin comes once a year and holds seventeen students. The zendo uses solar batteries to run two ceiling fans, a refrigerator in the kitchen, and a few light bulbs. For nine years I have been a part of this mountain zazen.

This year the teishos were delivered by both Peggy Sensei and Karin Sensei, and came from the reading “Affirming Faith in Mind.” I was the tanto this year, and was able to step back and witness the harmony of samu necessary to pull a silent sesshin along day after day.

With all the hummingbirds darting around, flowers popping their heads up from the forest floor, and tall trees to give shade by day, the silent zazen was deep and rich with gratitude to be alive, to have a practice, and to be a part of the mystery of everyday existence.

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The beautiful Blue mountain retreat center
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A tree house / dorm room
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The view from the dokusan tent