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.

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.