Emma Roy - A Thicker Brain?

"Mental wellness depends on more than what’s in our heads. Our minds are intrinsically tied up with our bodies and the context in which we are embedded. We hope for a science of meditation that makes us more not less mindful of how our brains fit into this bigger picture."

Emma Roy returns with more cold hard science on the professed benefits of meditation and then drops the ever pertinent question, "yes, but is this the point?" With some of the science pointing out that many people develop only the positive or negative results they are told they will achieve, we are left with the question, "what actually is the benefit we're after?" If we say it's nothing, is that all we'll get? But if we say it's something, are we just making placebos? Join us for a deep dive into the true meaning of benefit and what sort of benefits we might find when we sit past the point of looking for the point.

Dave Cuomo - The Precepts: 16 Ways to Stop Being Rational

“The irony of sitting with what a horrible person you can be, is how much better a person that can help you become.” - Dave Cuomo

Somewhere in between a rule and a riddle lies the Zen vows. Dave traces their origin from poor Buddha who was just trying to keep the peace with his unruly monks by giving them a few rules (ok, more like a few hundred…), up to the modern Zen version that starts each vow with the caveat that nothing about the self or the universe is comprehensible, and by the way these rules are impossible, so let's promise to uphold them and pay very close attention to what happens. Dave gives a thorough reading of various translations and understandings of each precept, and then reads from Kobun Chino's talks on the subject, where he makes the case that rather than be seen as rules, they are a constant opportunity to work out the relationship between your self and the universe. Naturally, Dave also breaks his precepts in the talk itself by freely discussing his own past mistakes, and the sangha talks about why it can be so liberating to get things wrong and let people down. 

Erik Andersen - Instant Zen

“Blaming is attributing the cause of something to one individual when the truth is that we’re all just one big mess of causation. Is it really that person’s fault or is it their parents’ fault? Is it their grandparents’ fault, is it the universe’s fault? Really it’s your fault for even having the concept of a fault.” - Erik Andersen

Following up on our history of the debate between gradual and sudden enlightenment, Erik follows our sudden victors forward in time to see what this sudden enlightenment really means for us in practice. With readings from Foyan's 'Instant Zen,' and Erik's favorite Buddhist story of Bahia of the Bark Cloth where Buddha finally takes the time to show a man that he is already instantly enlightened just moments before he gets killed by a cow (so... a happy ending?). But what does it mean to be suddenly enlightened? It means you are perfect and everything is fine. Or as Yunmen put it:

“Why do you wander around looking for answers? What do you think you’re missing? You’re fine. If you can’t take responsibility for yourself, whatever else you’re taught will be a lie. If you see some old teacher about to open their mouth, you should tell them to shut up. But instead you act like flies on manure struggling for a bite of shit.”

We swear, as always, it's just a Zen way of saying "I love you."

Dave Cuomo - Shantideva in the Streets, Nagarjuna in the Sheets (History of Zen)

“When you’re wondering ‘what am I supposed to be doing?’ or ‘what should I do with this feeling ?’ or ‘am I doing this right?’ remember that these are ancient questions that were never solidly answered. So when I’m sitting and wondering ‘am I doing this right?’, I realize I must be, because thats what they’ve been doing for thousands of years, and at least I’m on the right question.” - Dave Cuomo

It’s the Great Debate Between Sudden and Gradual Enlightenment! It's the never ending questions of "What should I do with this [problematic event/thought/feeling ]? Do we make it better, or do we let it go? Not just idol musings, these were full on national debates held across Asia 1300 years ago with lives, careers, and scriptures on the line. We catch up with Nagarjuna, whose perfectly clear and pure teachings don't seem capable of staying true the moment he's died. We meet Shantideva who was mostly famous for "eating, shitting, and sleeping," until one day he decides to fly up into the air and deliver a perfect poem outlining the path to full Bodhisattvahood (that he also thoroughly disproves before his butt touches back down to Earth). And alas, poor Mohoyen who tied himself in knots trying to argue for the inexpressable only too find all his words burned in the end and an emperor not so politely telling him it's time to flee. It's the great question of the gradual vs the sudden path - am I already fundamentally perfect, or could I use a little work? (spoiler alert: yes)

Emma Roy - When Good Zazen Goes Bad

“What are we after that’s different than other types of inquiry? It’s an open question, but I know that these negative experiences are a hundred percent part of it” - Emma Roy

There’s a lot of talk about how great zazen is, but is it always good for you? It's been mentioned here and there that at some point anyone who engages in this practice can expect it to get, let's just say... difficult - that somewhere beyond the sunshine, roses, or boredom can be darker experiences some schools ominously call the “dark night of the soul.” But what are these experiences actually, why do they happen, and are they a blessing in disguise? Or does this mean meditation is harmful and should be avoided at all cost?? Luckily we have Emma to bring us science on the matter, cold hard data, studies, and first hand reports of those who've gone through it. The sangha is on hand to tell their own stories of madness, darkness,  disillusionment, and probe that darkness to see if there's light on the other side. Not a talk to be missed!

Jared Wynn - War & Peace

“it’s always first and foremost internal.” - Nina Snow

In a wide ranging discussion Jared shares his own missteps and anecdotes while looking for guidance everywhere from the Pali Canon to see how Buddha dealt with his conflicts (dark twist spoiler - he kills someone!), to our old friend Sunryu Suzuki and his recommendations toward skillful means, to Musashi - Japan's greatest sword fighter and warrior poet, who has a list of recommendations that the sangha decides are... let's just say challenging.

Dave Cuomo - Seeing the World From a Casket

“To let go while digging is is the trick.” - Dave Cuomo

Dave leads the sangha in a special memorial day discussion on Kodo Sawaki’s “Seeing the World from a Casket.” It’s an exploration of who we are when our defining struggles are no longer struggles and the clarity of viewing life from the other side.

Emily Eslami - How to Ride an Ox

“When you realize the meaning of life of shitting and eating, you will realize the deep meaning of raising an ox.” - Dogen

Emily Eslami on Kakuan Shien's Ten Bulls, or the Ox Herding pictures you may have heard them called. It's a path of no path, the great Zen rodeo, the straight road to enlightenment that turns out to be a spiral, or a circle, or a flat infinite plain? It's hard to say, but Emily leads the group in a great talk on a beautiful illustration of practice. The Ten Bulls are borrowed from our Rinzai siblings, which means there's a refreshing focus on practice with some hint of a progression, deepening, and maturing as we go on. But Emily warns us not to be fooled because that progress and maturing is as like to be happening now in the space of a moment as it is over the course of a lifetime. It's story of learning to ride the great ox, finding your way home, and finding out everywhere you go is home. 

Brad Warner - A Clean Slate

Brad offers to give a talk on Hogan’s Heroes, and instead we ask him these Zen questions!

What’s so bad about “Mindfulness”

Is love a natural phenomenon?

Where do we go when we fantasize

The Hare Krishnas say “no one cam create a vacuum in the mind.” Is this true?

What’s the deal with Nishijima’s theories on zazen, the nervous system, and “the balanced state?

Is a state of thoughtlessness attainable?

And, finally, is Hogan’s Heroes based on true stories (spoiler: somewhat yes!) 

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.