Dave Cuomo - Nagarjuna (History of Zen pt 8)

Not from itself, not from another, not from both, nor without cause; never in any way is there any existing thing that has arisen. - Nagarjuna

Dave continues his series on the history of Zen with Nagarjuna! He’s the man whose name means nothing to people throughout history, the patron saint of emptiness, famous  for a book that thoroughly and perfectly proves the nonexistence of everything you can imagine. Dave and the sangha explore the myth and logic behind this figure, as well as what the h*** we’re supposed to do with his philosophy.

Nina Snow - On Food and Cooking

“When steaming rice regard the pot as your own head. When washing rice, know that the water is your own life.” - Dogen

Nina Snow leads us in a discussion on everyone’s favorite point of practice - food! She discusses her experience with formal oryoki meals in Zen monasteries, working in the tense stillness of Zen kitchens, and offers up a reading from Okumura on our meal chant and considering every aspect of our food and ourselves with each chop and bite. 

Miranda Javid - What Am I Doing Here??

“Zen is for people who are looking for an answer but know there isn’t going to be one.” - Miranda Javid 

As part of our ongoing “What Am I Doing Here??” series Miranda tells us her practice story, from growing up Bahá'í to sampling every Buddhism she could find, until finally landing here at ACZC. In honest and deeply personal terms she gives us an intimate look at what it means to seek out help and meaning in a time when those things don’t seem to make the sort of sense they did in previous generations. The sangha picks up the thread and discuss issues of mental illness, Zen as therapy, missing God, whether Zen naturally attracts pessimists, and just how weird it is to be alive.

Brad Warner - Satipatthana Smackdown!

“It’s like you had a door that was stuck, and everyone was trying to figure out how to open the door. Then someone comes along and opens the door and everyone asks, ‘How’d you open the door??’ And he says “Well, I think I sort of leaned against the door jam, put my hand on the right, and kind of wiggled my hips back and forth, hit it once, and then pulled.” And everyone goes, “Ah! The Way To Open The Door is: Lean against the door jam, put hand on the right…” - Brad Warner

Brad Warner respectfully compares and contrasts the relative nuances of early Buddhist and Zen teachings on meditation. The sangha discusses guided meditation in Zen, sitting with emptiness vs self control, what’s the deal with chanting, whether we should use the breath as an anchor, Zen thoughts on love, why do sit with our eyes open, and why exactly do we face a wall?

Emma Roy - The Good Sit

“It’s not about having a mind where you see the water, but you are the water. You’re not surfing the waves of life, you are the waves of life .” - Emma Roy

Is there such a thing as a “good“ sit? Emma explores the conundrum with a reading from Ken McLeod’s “Trackless Path” and a look at Tibetan Dzogchen practice (it’s the Zen of Tibetan Buddhism if we can be so bold…). Is Zen too advanced for beginners? What do we do with a “bad” sit? Is trying not to try the same thing as trying?? The big questions are here…

Emily Eslami - The Practice of Realization

"Because practice is just experience, the experience is endless. Because experience is practice, the practice has no beginning." - Dogen

How is it that practice and enlightenment are already the same thing? This is the questions Emily explores this week. Promising no answers but fully probing the limits of curiosity, she reads from Dogen’s Bendowa, Suzuki’s Zen Mind Beginner’s Mind, and the Bahiya Sutra in an attempt to understand goalless practice and whether this is what Buddha truly intended. Is it possible to hold two opposites true at the same time? What’s the deal with death? What do you mean that my boring sit is the same as the whole universe being enlightened? No simple questions, may mean no simple answers, but it also means a fascinating discussion….

Dave Cuomo - The Five Skandas

“The skandas represent an attempt to exhaust the possible paths we might take in our search for a self, something permanent or separate in the undifferentiated flux of experience.” - Red Pine

Dave presents the five skandas - Buddha’s  classic breakdown of the components of ourselves that ultimately add up to no self at all. It’s a talk about emptiness but also a talk about these quirky little selves that make up that emptiness and how to work with them to just maybe forgive and appreciate ourselves a little easier. The sangha explores the questions of racism and gender, whether everything is meaningless, the joys of a morning cup of coffee and of course, a favorite episode of Star Trek. 

Erik Andersen - Zen Bacchanal

“The radical gospel of zen is that you don’t need anything to get you anywhere. The liberation is right here. Its inside everyone everywhere all the time.” - Erik Andersen

A fantastic Easter talk from Erik Andersen on the humble divinity alive in everyday places. It's a highly entertaining talk, beginning with a retelling of the greek tragedy of Bacchus who threatened the kings of Greece by getting its citizens drunk enough to find the gods already alive inside them. Erik spins the theme across mystery religions, gnostic christianity, and finally to our own Zen tradition where he makes the case that by abandoning all beliefs we can know the full liberation of Bacchus' wine fueled orgies by just sitting down and shutting up (and get to skip out on any nasty hangovers too).

Brad Warner - The Heart Sutra

“Silence is really everywhere. If you go to the noisiest place in the world there is an undercurrent of silence and the noise just sits on top of it. That’s emptiness. We are something that has grown out of emptiness. We are the manifestation of essential emptiness.” - Brad Warner

In a two part series, Brad tackles the shortest and most bedeviling text in Zen - The Heart Sutra. In part 1 he takes us through the text itself with historical background and an examination of the terms, phrases, and concepts. In part 2 he reads Dogen’s commentary on the text and goes into the practical implications for practice, including how do we practice with emptiness, what does it mean to let “every moment be your teacher,” what is God in a philosophy of emptiness, and how come no matter where else we go with our experience we always end up back here?

Emma Roy - What Did You Think This Was?

“Do you think the purpose of practice is to become a better person?” - Emma Roy

Emma takes a deep look at the necessity of goallessness in practice.  Reading from a piece about gaining ideas from Suzuki’s “Zen Mind Beginner’s Mind,” she asks the biggest conundrum in Zen. If there’s no goal, why are we doing this? It’s an encouraging talk of discouragement, a reclamation of the value of reality as its own reward, an exhortation towards an attitude of pure practice. “Do you think the purpose of practice is to become a better person?” she asks. And yet as Suzuki remind us, “When everyone understands the value of pure practice, we will have peace in the world.” 

Nina Snow - Weeping Zen

“When you’re upset, it’s never the other person (I know you’re not going to believe that).” - Charlotte Joko Beck

In a heartfelt and emotional discussion, Nina Snow explores Zen’s favorite topic to overlook - emotions. With readings from “The Hidden Lamp” and Charlotte Joko Beck, Nina explores the difference between unnecessary ego drama and real emotion. How much crying is too much? How much should we believe what we’re feeling? What’s the bridge between letting go of ego and knowing when to act? Nina takes us through all this in intimate and personal terms with an eye toward guiding us into a practice more about open exploration than answers and prescriptions.

Emily Eslami - The Passion of Dispassion

“Real happiness doesn’t come in satisfying our desires, real happiness comes in dissatisfaction itself” - Brad Warner

Emily Eslami on Craving. It's a talk about happiness, the limitations of happiness, passion, and the joy of dispassion. It's a talk about ironic contentment and what exactly were we looking for in the first place anyway? But there is always hope, and as Emily puts it, "Maybe what we deem as happiness is inadequate, maybe there’s a happiness that goes beyond happiness." Can I tell you what she means exactly? I wish. But I can tell you it's something worth exploring, listening for, and sitting with.

Brad Warner - Revealing the Magic Trick (Q&A Night)

“Having the goal of not having a goal, if you actually go into it, is totally different from any other goal you might have.” - Brad Warner

A Q&A night w/ Brad Warner! Opening with a mini lecture on vaudeville and the three stooges, Brad takes his topics from the sangha including classics such as: 

  • I feel more detached after doing zazen, am I doing it wrong?

  • Are the Transcendental Meditation people having more fun than us, and does that make us better than them?

  • What are the pros and cons of Zen practice?

  • Is there any value to sutras that promise pie in the sky rewards for praying right?

  • and to round out the vaudeville theme, a comparison of how Houdini’s idea that revealing his tricks does nothing to spoil their magic is a similar magic to the one we perform here every week

Brad Warner - The Extraordinary Thing

“You must reflect that if you were born in heaven you would cling to ceaseless bliss and not give rise to way seeking mind. This would not be conducive to practice.” - Dogen

At the request of our tenzo, Brad reads from Dogen’s Tenzo Kyokun (Instructions to the Cook) about joyful mind, nurturing mind, and magnanimous mind. He uses these as a launching pad to discuss what we mean by greatness in practice and how these extraordinary experiences are not some far off ideal but what we are already experiencing right now. The sangha discusses drug experiences, what to do with special states achieved in zazen, and the subversiveness of the word “great.”

Nina Snow - Happy

"As long as we view happiness within the duality of fortune and misfortune, and in terms of our ever changing emotions, we’ll be divided within ourselves." - Kosho Uchiyama

Nina tackles the ever tricky subject of happiness with a reading from “The Zen Teachings of Homeless Kodo” - “What is Happiness?” Is happiness the point? Can we transcend the duality of emotion? And what would we call THAT emotional state if not happiness??

Orlando K. - Rogue Idealism

“Its the empty space of meditation that’s beneficial - the silence, the stillness… It’s the stuff that it doesn’t give you, the stuff that it takes away, that makes it meaningful“ - Orlando K.

Bringing back the “What Am I Doing Here??” series, our own Orlando K. regales us with the story of how he got here and what he’s doing to possibly help us answer the question of what any of us are doing here. Orlando goes all in and talks about experiences of death and impermanence, aesthetic and philosophy, debate and silence, and tackles the great questions of “what is a hero, what is justice, what is right and wrong, whats the difference between actions and intention?” 

Brad Warner - Matter and the Immaterial

“The experiential side of reality and the material side of reality are not two different things, they are two different manifestations of the same thing. If you sit enough, there is this tendency of both of them to drop away and you stop seeing the distinction.“ - Brad Warner

In a loose and wide ranging Q&A style discussion, Brad takes on some big questions and gets deep with the sangha. With topics ranging from how to deal with anger, to what the heck does “form is emptiness, emptiness is form” mean, to practical tips on zazen posture. we delve into the heart of what zazen and being human are all about. Is finding our Buddha nature as simple as feeling the sensation in our joints? And speaking of joints and sensation, what do we do if zazen won’t stop hurting? It’s a talk about what’s so damn special about being human, what happens when you sit yourself into stillness, and practical tips on how to let your body take you there. Plus a reading from Kobun Chino on koans at the end just for good measure!

Emma Roy - Lay Practice

“The role of a lay practitioner is to not have a lot of answers but to be very serious about your questions.” - Emma Roy

Emma Roy celebrates the lay community. While so much has been written about the wise monks and teachers who have defined Buddhism, Emma points out that this is not the vast majority of practitioners, and takes a moment to reflect on the path of being a student as its own ambition. It’s a talk about hierarchy, asking questions, not knowing, and an exploration of practice as an achievement in and of itself.

Emily Eslami - “The Practice of Impossible Things”

“I sit and I sit and I sit, and the effects of it are in my life but I’m not quite sure what the aim is… I might be doing nothing at all and I might be doing everything.” - Emily Eslami

Emily takes on the impossible in her “Intro to Zen” talk. How exactly is anyone supposed to introduce this wild, inexpressible, unattainable practice we do day after day, moment by moment? Reading from Dogen’s Zazen Shin, she takes a deep dive into the classic koan about trying to sit to become a Buddha, described as just as simple as trying to polish a tile to make a mirror. But here we will let Emily speak for herself in a demonstrative moment where she manages to express the inexpressible totality of what exactly Zen practice is:
“There are so many things in our life that are impossible to achieve; being the perfect Buddhist, being the perfect partner, being a well rounded human who cooks and cleans, has a productive work life, an amazing social life, and exercises four times a week. All that stuff we put pressure on ourselves to do, its impossible! So I think its really nice that this is a practice of sitting and doing an impossible thing, and letting go of the need to achieve anything. Maybe that’s the point of letting go, that we do achieve something. Maybe we do get what we want. But we can’t trick it! We can’t pretend we don’t have a goal to get what we want. We just have to accept that what we’re doing is impossible and we don’t have a goal and yet maybe by doing that, maybe the tile is already a mirror”

Brad Warner - Secretions of the Mind (Q&A)

“Thoughts are secretions of the brain… Happiness, or a better standard of living, or a prosperous society are concepts; just secretions of the brain. We are living upside down if we find the meaning of our lives solely in fulfilling desires that are based only on secretions.” - Kosho Uchiyama

Brad prompts a Q&A night w/ a reading from “Deepest Practice, Deepest Wisdom” by Kosho Uchiyama, including Brad’s favorite quote about the nature of thought. Not surprisingly the conversation becomes an in depth exploration of thought. Which thoughts are useful? What do we do with work and creativity? Is it ok to bring a notepad to zazen? Is watching your thoughts without attachment the same as thoughtless samadhi? Brad and the sangha tackle all these questions and more!