Monday, April 27, 2009

E-Sangha's - Coins in the Donation Box

There has been much discussion on some more trafficked blogs about the value and perils of e-sanghas. I'm not trying to swallow the whole fish here [wink] , just provide a small comment on a complex issue.

While I don't live terribly far from a brick and mortar zendo. To participate fully in a zazen session or service, including some interaction with the fine folks there, would take several hours out of a schedule already packed with responsibilities. While I believe I should try and visit there occasionally, this little corner of the blogesphere has proven very useful to my practice, and I appreciate very much all of the Dharma friends who drop by with a kind or supportive, or even critical word from time to time.

It makes me think of the delightful pa-tunk a coin makes when you throw it in the donation box (saisen bako) at a Japanese temple. A little gift of just 10 yen or so helps keep the temple going. In the same way, a few words in a comment can help someone's practice keep going.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

What Was That?

Wow. What a week this has been. I feel drained physically and emotionally. I found zen this week to be an intensely psychological trial. I guess I shouldn't be surprised by this. Perhaps I thought zen was a only "spritual" practice. But truely it is more a psychological practice as it deals with self-identity and reality so much.

Thursday morning (4/16) I drove out to Bastrop State park. It is a forest of pine trees that was some how cut off from the larger herd in a past ice age event. It is the only place to find pine in the Austin area. I needed a sprig for Jukai. I spent about an hour in park. Did some zazen under a 100ft tall tree, grabbed a couple sapling springs (with apologies) and high-tailed it to the airport. Met Brad there and drove him home.

We (wife, Brad and I) spent some time talking about Buddhist names. Apprently Brad has not done a Jukai in his lineage before, and so was a little unsure about what his naming tradition was going to be. We talked a bit about the punk tradition of a new second name al a "Johny Phlem" or "Brad Nosweat". He also explored giving my same name back, but assigning phonetically correct kanji to it to give it a new meaning. I got favorably stuck on Lauren Roach, which is more consinent using the Japanese pronunciation of "Rōren Rōchi." On the following day I did a bunch of kanji research and actually found a kanji set that had a nice message in it; something like "Bright Training, Trifling with Delusion" (朗練 弄癡). There were several other fun combo's for "Rōchi", including "smartweed spider" and "humble mountain monster". Ultimately none of these were it (more later).

Went to dinner at a very old and locally famous veggie restaurant called "Mothers" and then stopped by Cheapo Discs, a used CD place. My wife and I picked up too many good old albums. I also bought a copy of Godzilla v. Mothra on Brad's recommendation. Then, we came home.

Brad took to my schnauzer named Baker and started calling him Baker Roshi. A bit later we did Jukai in the dinning-room-now-zendo (pictures in previous blog). I was dressed very casual at first. Brad asked me to dress up a bit, so I put on some dressy jeans, button down shirt and a tie. The tie was in the way during prostrations. Brad wore his full robe regalia.

The ceremony was light hearted, but sincere. Brad has done just one Jukai before this (Nishijima Roshi wrote the rakusu and picked the name etc... but Brad did the ceremony) and has not memorized the liturgy, and has most of the words to say, so we were both working from print-outs. I had propped his sheets in a binder on a music stand near his chair, so it looked a bit formal. My wife, daughter, Baker roshi and Kiba the cat attended actually, as well as Harry, Peter, Jordan, Gwen, Jennie, Julie and Rosemary in token. A couple of times during the precepts description, my daughter asked questions to be sure what she could hold me too. I must admit, "don't become angery" and "don't discuss failures of buddhist priests and others" were a be nerve racking to commit to.

After Jukai we got in our civies and watched Godzilla. I think all of us had nodded off before it was over.

Next day (Friday) we spent most of the morning browsing CD stores downtown, including our famous Waterloo Records, and Antones. We got at the Austin Zen Center about 5:30. We did zazen, and Brad his talk (see his blog for more on that stuff). I felt quite awkward having a rakusu and not really knowing the formalities around it. Thanks, Jordon, for the advice on the chant etc... Got more from Chris at AZC. We got pizza with about 8 others in the gang there, after all was said and done.

I noticed throughout the trip that zazen in a group is much easier then at home. The time goes much quicker. I also noticed that there was a lot of "fame" stuff going on (both good and bad) and that messed with my head a bit. For the good, it was kinda cool, in effect, riding Brad's coat tails. I caught my ego strutin' a couple of times, and I think several people thought I was "someone" because I was traveling with Brad. The bad was that the spotlight was definitely on Brad for the most part. As the trip went on, I felt less and less significant. To the extent these were real feelings going on in me - it was painful. To the extent I was able to step back and observe this happening in my own head - it was intereting.

Next day we got up early to ride out to San Antonio Zen center. It was a very welcoming, small group. The Zendo is an old house by a creek that was actually raging from night-before rain. A good zazen, a good dharma talk, nice chit chat after. More ego involvement.

I'm running out of steam here so I'll defer the rest for another post.

A while back, someone commented they wanted to see a close up of the Buddha I painted for the ceremony. That's why he's up a the top, there. I thought I might work on him some more after Jukai, as there are a couple impossible aspects to the picture, but I've changed my mind. It's done.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

No Time

No time to write something long. Here's a brief update.

Jukai happened. No Pics (pooh).
Had a great time visiting 3 Texas Zen Centers and 2 Book Signings with Brad.

More later?!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Rakusu is complete! Jukai anticipated tomorrow.

I finally finished the darned thing. Not much to say. Just pics of the finished rakusu and the impromptu zendo I assembled in my dinning room. Note the cabinet with "tokens" from several well-wishers that are too far flung to attend in person (thanks Harry, Jordan, Peter, Gwen, Julie, Jennie and Rosemary).

The image of Buddha I did myself. I will work on it a bit more after the ceremony.

It has certainly an interesting journey to get to this point. Thanks to all who helped me get here.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Attachements & Rakusu Progress & Dangerous Ideas

Things are different this morning re: my father-in-law. My wife checked in, and has decided to cajole him into seeing a doctor and *then* going down to pick him up. So as of today, things are still on course for Jukai etc....

Dangerous Ideas
When it looked like it was going to have to be called off, I was really upset about losing Jukai next week and maybe even my chance to visit w/ Brad. All of this upset was just an idea, but it really affected me. Definite duhka. My wife read my face, as wives do, and wanted to know what was up. I told her about my upset and she became miserable for me too. All this misery from something that wasn't here and wasn't now. Misery over the idea of not being able to do something. I could have acted better, I'm sure, but at least I saw this play out. Is it really always good to share ideas, even if they are "real?" If I had turned more to what was really before me, it was nothing. No pain and anguish. Just me standing with my wife in a room.

So, yeah, all that desire for things to go as I had been planning them was massive attachment, of the not-helpful sort. I also saw that pretty quick and was able to turn the internal storm a bit. I saw that I was faced with a stream of karma, of cause-effect, that was not matching my idea, so I better just face the new, real, reality and take a next step.

Rakusu Progress
My rakusu is coming along. Sewing the lines in the en is really the hardest part, I think. I'm nearly done, and so finally understanding the best way to finish off a thread and start a new one. So much balancing going on. Focus or distraction, long thread or short, fast motion or slow. Patience with crazy thread knots has been a challenge. And don't tell anyone, but I don't think I've said "I take refuge in the Buddha" with exactly every stitch. Pics follow. In the last one you can see the mid line stitches in the en. Learning the blind stitch took some research, but I finally got it.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Grief and Pain for Promised Joy?

I'm feeling a bit like Burn's "mousie".
My wife just got a call from her dad saying he's been very sick and hasn't eaten for a week and could she come down (Austin to Houston) and spend a couple days with him. The tone and circumstance and recent history make it feel like this may be his last legs, so we are driving to Houston tomorrow to bring him up for who knows what outcome and for how long.

Though I don't know what's really going to happen, I'm having to start planning contingencies for hosting Brad for his Texas Tour next week, and driving him to San Antonio and Houston and Dallas, and finding other accommodations for him for his Austin stay, and likely having to postpone my Jukai.

That shoe hasn't fallen, but I see it's shadow hanging over me.

But Mousie, thou are no thy-lane,
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best laid schemes o' Mice an' Men,
Gang aft agley,
An' lea'e us nought but grief an' pain,
For promis'd joy!

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Rakusu Progress

The top picture is from this morning. All tan and chou attahced. Just on seam left to finish on the left.
The bottom picture is an earlier shot (kinda outa focus) of the tan and chou joined in pairs.

I think I will have the main field of my rakusu finished tomorrow.

I'm probably only 1/3 done with the whole thing. So much to sew and so little time.

It sure ain't perfect, but it sure represents my practice...faultering steps along the way, not 100% beautiful, full of sincere mistakes, generally in the right direction. All very symbolic. To think I'll have to wear this around my neck for years to come!

I still haven't selected the cloth for the writing panel. I wonder if I should go for some pristine silk or cotton, or settle for a panel of old yellow pillow case, coffee dyed to beige.

Naked Sitting - Yikes

"Turn your head to the wall my darlings, while the gentlemen trot by. " [vague memory of "beyond the fringe" with Dudley Moore, Peter Cook, et. al.]

So I was on a biz trip last week. Brought my zafu and got some good sitting done. Not as much as at home, but much more than the last trip I took. There was a handy configuration of mirrors in the sink area, so I decided to give my zazen posture a look-see. And, blush, blush, I did this au-natural. Thankfully the mirror did not break, and I was able to identify a big mistake in my sitting.

What I had thought was a straight spine, was really over-doing it. The above picture sort of demonstrates the same issue in a standing position. The left image is "natural" the right is forced. I have been pushing my chest out, and pooching my butt too far back. My posture looked sway-back. When I relaxed just a bit, to what felt on the inside like the beginning of a slouch, my back looked normal. It also turns out that the sway-back posture I had was exposing my left leg artery/nerve (?) to more constriction. With a more natural posture, my leg stays way more awake (I'm a half-lotus'er)

So I recommend at least one session of nude sitting with mirrors to everyone who has a habitual leg sleeping, or back strain after a while. Try different things like puffing out your chest, tilting your hips forward and back. See what actually straightens your spine and how it may differ from what feels like a straighter spine. Calibrate your sense to a the position of a natural relaxed, but still straight and upright spine. The "middle way" of sitting.