Miranda Javid - Faking It

“Sometimes while sitting you might just get bored enough with worrying about whether or not you’re faking it that you finally just decide to do zazen.”

Miranda Javid brings some light to the tricky and relatable issue of feeling like an imposter in the zendo. Is it possible to fake it in zazen? Can anything or anyone ultimately be inauthentic? And what do we do when we feel that way anyway? Miranda looks into imposter syndrome as a modern phenomenon, and what our old friends Sunryu Suzuki and old Master Linji might have to say about how to being yourself when that self forgets exactly where it’s supposed to fit in. Along the way the sangha discusses what authenticity might really mean, whether goalless practice is a blank check to get it wrong, how to work with a teacher in a world of no ranks, and how to avoid giggling inappropriately while discussing “secretions” in a talk called “faking it…”

Brad Warner - Don’t View Big Fish

“The problem is that no answer that someone else will give you will every satisfy you - not to these questions. The question of who and what you really are, only you know. The only entity in the entire universe who knows what you are, is you.” - Brad Warner

Recorded live in Eindhoven, Netherlands in 2014 on the tour that inspired Brad’s latest book, Letters to a Dead Friend About Zen.

In the middle of a retreat, caught in front of an audience in a raw moment after learning he’d lost a childhood friend, Brad lays it all out in no BS terms as to what the hell we're doing here with Zen practice and just trying to be humans in a messed up and somehow still perfect universe. It's a confrontation of the search for meaning itself in a moment when that was never more relevant and there was nothing left to hold back. In the q&a our Dutch friends go straight for the meat with questions on enlightenment, the ego, whether and why we need teachers, and of course why Dogen was so concerned with those fish. 

Emma Roy - Zen and the Art of Marketing Zen

“On the infinite canvas of time and space the way the geese cast their shadow on the water without any idea of doing so, while the water reflects the geese just as naturally and unintentionally. Just so, the zen practitioner turns their own life into a work of creation which exists, as the christians might say, in the mind of god.” - DT Suzuki

“You can see how DT Suzuki presented Zen in a way that would sound really cool in 1950s America… Like Zen is the most democratic, or it’s like American transcendentalism but better and older. And you can critique it and say the proper way to understand Zen isn’t through western philosophy. But as someone who’s grown up with the history of western philosophy there’s a lot of it that makes sense to me that doesn’t make sense in translation from Sanskrit.” - Emma Roy

Emma Roy looks at the legacy of DT Suzuki and his outsized role in shaping the way we’ve come to understand Zen from its beginnings in the West up to the present day. As a Zen pioneer in the US after WW2, Suzuki was arguably the great introducer of Zen to America and the canniness with which he shaped his presentation to appeal to our native sensibilities is a story of historical sausage making and savvy marketing at its finest. Was Suzuki merely a great panderer, or was Zen really the great answer America was waiting for? Is the Zen we were sold the real thing and would we be able to understand the difference? Is there a ‘real thing’ outside of cultural and historical contexts??? As always, Emma doesn’t shy away from the big questions…

Emily Eslami - Well, This is Uncomfortable (Death by Fire, Death By Ice)

“When it is cold, let it be so cold that it kills you. When it is hot, let it be so hot that it kills you.” - Dongshan

Be honest, how much of your life is uncomfortable? If you're paying attention (and anything like us), the answer is probably a good chunk of it. So it might be a good idea to get to know that discomfort, get good at it even, or better yet, get deeply and intimately comfortable with that discomfort. Luckily Emily is on the case, taking on the famous koan of looking for the place that is neither hot nor cold. But we'll just let Emily explain because she always has that way of boiling it down to what we need to hear:

   "Are we going to go through every winter and summer without experiencing winter and summer? Are we just going to go through every winter hoping for summer, and every summer praying for winter? Or are we going to sit and be in our summers and winters?”

Brad Warner - The Busyness of Chickens

“We’re constantly in a hurry but why? Just to feed our selves. Chickens too are in a hurry when they peck for their feed, but why? Only to be eaten by humans. 

Ordinary people are always looking for excitement. But that which is measureless and unlimited won’t satisfy peoples greed. How could that which fills the whole universe ever mean satisfaction within the categories of an ordinary person?” - Kodo Sawaki

Brad Warner leads an impromptu q&a with some choice readings from the hero of no nonsense Zen, Kodo Sawaki. The sangha pitches in their deep questions such as, what is the Zen approach to suffering? What is the true self? How seriously should I take my own idiocy? Is there and objective reality? And more!

Dave Cuomo - Something from Nothing (History of Zen - The situation in Ancient China)

“China seemed to notice there is now something, and that something was born out of nothing. Therefore this something we live in is also inherently nothing.”  - Dave Cuomo

We have finally wrapped up our story of Buddhism in India and head over to where the real story of Zen begins - China. But first we have to get a little background on just who China was (old) and what it was doing (dealing with chaos like everyone else) when Buddhism and Zen first made their inroads. It's a fascinating look into how one society tried to cope with the problems of civilization through philosophy and deep thinking. This is the story of a single line drawn to represent the unity of all reality, and some spoil sport quickly pointing out that one line had just cut the universe into two. It's the story of two ancient rival philosophies trying to put society back together- stodgy old Confucianism trying to get everyone to fall in line and play nice, and witty anarchic Taoism telling everyone to just stop doing... everything. It's the story of why these two rivals absolutely needed each other to make any sense and how their fractured dualistic unity was exactly the ground Zen needed to do what it's about to do.

Dave Cuomo - A Brief History of Not Knowing

Don't-know mind is before thinking. Before thinking there is no God, no Buddha, no “I” no words -  nothing. Then you and the universe become one. Some people say this is God, or universal energy, or bliss, or extinction. But these are only teaching words. Nothing-mind is before words. - Seungsahn

We know, Zen loves to talk about this "not knowing" stuff. And they sure seem to think they know a lot about it. But inspired by a koan that beautifully illustrates the idea, Dave got curious just how, when, and why this "Not Knowing" idea got stuck onto Zen. So Dave traces it all the way back to Buddha and what he said we could know, and then follows the bread crumbs up to the present day to see where Zen teachers got so confident about their own confusion. Along the way Dave tells some of his favorite stories from old Chan and even delves into his own history for some prime examples of what you think you know and what happens when you finally admit you don't. 

Emma Roy - A Time Outside of Time

“When it’s working ritual is not in the least bit boring or stupid. its emotionally exciting and intellectually fascinating. I produces ecstatic states of consciousness, provides purpose and drives commitment to action. It ends alienation and creates experiences of wonderment. I think of a spectacular concert or a dramatic protest rally for what modern ritual should be.” - David Chapman 

Emma Roy takes us on a full exploration of Zen ritual from its decidedly non supernatural intentions to it’s full ecstatic and world defining effects. Specifically she takes us on a close reading of the short well being chant, Enmei Juku Kannon Gyo, to see how it’s seaming invocation of a mythical Bodhisattva of compassion is more accurately an active awakening of our own true selves. Along the way Emma treated us to a full playlist of contemporary ecstatic sutras by the great Bodhisttvas Stevie Wonder, Joan Jett, and more as we compare rituals both mystically ancient and thoroughly modern.

Emily Eslami - The Great Mistake

“A Zen master’s life is one continuous mistake.” Dogen Zenji (sort of)

“If life is one continuous mistake, and if we all make mistakes, then what the hell is a mistake??” - Emily Eslami

Emily takes our mistakes head on with an in depth look at the concept of mistake itself, starting with Dogen's famous quote. It's pithy, it's perfectly Zen ironic, and it opens up a whole can of worms of conundrums. What exactly is the Zen master's mistake, and come to think of it, what is a mistake at all? The Zen vows tell us not to discuss past mistakes, and yet here we are engaged in what most consider a serious practice of self improvement. How do improve on what's already perfect, and how do we forgive ourselves if we can't admit our mistakes?? (Spoiler alert, turns out forgiveness doesn't make a whole lot of sense). Is it a mistake to see our lives in terms of mistakes, and wait a minute, that doesn't make any sense! Emily explores all of this in personal terms and with deep dives into Zen lore as she traces Dogen's quote to its roots. The sangha takes to the topic immediately and applies Emily's talk in real time while they see if they can wrestle with their own mistakes without making any more while they do.

Dave Cuomo - Give Up, Give In

“What’s happening in this moment has very little to do with what I want or can accomplish. It’s so far beyond what I’m capable of knowing! But If you can’t know it, if you can’t think it, if you can’t be it, you can be it… Your ignorance itself is the answer.” - Dave Cuomo

Recorded live in Nashville, TN! Asked to introduce Zen and share his own personal journey Dave goes bare bones honest with a talk about giving up and giving in to disillusionment and the liberation that comes when the bottom drops out on life and reality turns out to be nothing like what you asked for. Dave drops some history with Zen's beginnings amid the chaos of 9th century China and the worst disaster in human history and how Zen gave the only honest answer to that moment with its great promise of nothing. He goes on to tells his own story of giving up at the bottom of the barrel and the happy hopelessness you find when you finally admit to what you don't know. Along the way the sangha discusses how to help people in a world where no one wants your help, how to be angry without getting angry, and why you would never recommend Zen to a friend you want to keep.

Brad Warner - The Real Masterpiece

“Sometimes when you no no longer see yourself as the hero of your own drama expecting victory after victory… I found that things became a lot easier when I no longer expected to win. When you understand that, you abandon your masterpiece and you sink into the real masterpiece.” - Leonard Cohen

“The silence is something we all share. And it’s not a dead silence, it's alive. We make a lot of noise in response to it, and thats ok, that's part of the game. But you can also be quiet and allow it to be.” - Brad Warner

Recording live in Helsinki back in October of '14, Brad opens with that spot on quote from our late friend Leonard Cohen, and goes on to explore the true meaning of winning, control, and the gnawing dread of deep silence we all eventually encounter at some point facing the wall. And on top of all that, Brad even busts out his guitar and treats us to a rendition of the Leonard Cohen song "1000 Kisses Deep," before going on to dissect the lyrics from a Zen perspective. Between Brad and Cohen, it's a true meeting of the Zen minds, and this one goes deep in a very personal intimate way.

Emily Eslami - It's a Miracle!

"'Here' is beyond the brain, beyond the nostrils, and beyond this district. Because it springs free from 'here' it has already arrived here and has never been here before. This place is is the place where the ineffable exists. In short the life of a Buddhist master is just drinking tea and eating meals." - Dogen

"If everything's a miracle then nothing's a miracle. But if nothing's a miracle than everything's a miracle because everything takes on this special quality." - Emily Eslami

In a wide ranging and super mundane talk Emily Eslami dives us into Dogen's Kajo - Everyday Life, where Dogen takes us there and back again to the limits of the ultimate miracles of life as found in a cup of tea. Practice is just when we're hungry we eat, when we're tired we sleep (or have some more tea...), it sounds so simple! And it is, but it's that deceptive simplicity, as we're told this simple life is a forge that spans the whole universe. Forging what you ask? Why, perfect Buddha's of course! It's a perfect Zen talk filled with all of the poetry and contradictions that are really the only way to express and encourage this sort of practice. The sangha jumps in and discusses miracles and deities in Buddhism and how to avoid that pesky trap of nihilism that loves to rear its pesky little head in discussions like this.

Emma Roy - Self Caught Jail

"When you are a beginner, of ten or twenty years, you question, 'Am I doing alright?'" - Kobun Chino

Emma Roy brings us a piece by Kobun Chino about Dogen's Advice for Sitting. Our sangha has a bit of a Zen crush on Kobun lately and in this one we can see exactly why. It's a simple piece, mostly just about zazen. But as we've seen, Kobun has a way of being deceptively simple. Embedded in simple advice and encouragement is a wealth of insight, ironies, and koan like contradictions, with mic drop poetic moments that left us alternately dumbfounded or erupting in laughter, all managing to sound warm and comforting in his hands. From there the sangha picks it up and goes personal with their own reflections on practice, opening up a free form and wide ranging discussion that becomes a verbal zazen of its own.

Dave Cuomo - Who You Calling Perfect?? (History of Zen - Buddha Nature)

“The conscious mind is where all the problems start, so we’re not really concerned with what the conscious mind understands. The point is not to teach people to be happier or more awakened or enlightened. We’re here to actively perform whatever those things actually are.” - Dave Cuomo

We finally bring our story in India to a close with one of the more perplexing and intriguing ideas to come out of early Buddhism - Buddha Nature. Somewhere in between grand God like notions and a humble healthy sense of self worth, Buddhism slipped in the idea that everything and all of us are ultimately and fundamentally perfect just as we are. It's a nice idea, probably definitely true from a certain point of view. But it brings with it a whole host of conundrums and contradictions, including most people's first reaction "what do you mean we're all perfect?? I'm pretty sure I can point out at least ten things wrong right now..." This is an ancient objection and Dave traces the problem from its simple roots in Buddha's encouragements to his monks through its more mystical later interpretations up to what it means today to look around and accept ourselves and the world just as we are. Some call that love, some call it God, we usually just call it zazen or not much at all.

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.