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!

Dave Cuomo - Wait, what exactly is Mahayana Buddhism? (History of Zen pt 5)

“Rule of life: Never believe in anything because someone will just come along and prove you wrong.” - Dave Cuomo

Dave continues his series on the history of Zen with pt 5 - Mahayana Buddhism. He wades into the murky history to try to find the historical roots of the Mahayana, and what if anything, set it and its followers apart from early Buddhism. Dave and the sangha also reflect on the ways the arguments and differences that caused this split in the first place are still very much alive and relevant today in the different approaches of modern Buddhist schools.

Brad Warner - Playing with the Soul & Taking The Big Dump

In a special selection from the vault, a talk by Brad Warner from Lammi, Finland where he reads and discusses his classic article "Enlightenment and Cat Poop," about letting go and taking the Big Dump. It's a talk about what is real, what is important, and in a teaching of no self, what the heck are we supposed to do with these persistent persnickety personalities of ours? Our Finnish friends push Brad to go deep and answer the big questions such as, what keeps us clenching our buttholes in the first place, what's the problem with being clever, what fundamentally are we, when is it a good idea to take a break from zazen, what should we do if we find things we don't like about ourselves in zazen, and how do we balance good and evil?

Nina Snow - Greed & Generosity

“If I am willing to sow my seeds anywhere without worrying about the outcome, I might be gratified by unexpected beneficial results.” - Misha Shungen Merrill

Nina Snow leads the sangha in a roundtable discussion on the nature of greed, exploring it’s roots in fear and attachment, and the generosity inherent in letting go.

Emma Roy - The Big Bummers of Buddhism

“Giving up hope in changing the three characteristics is getting on the side of reality.” - Emma Roy

Emma Roy discusses “The Three Characteristics,” the three hallmarks of Buddhism that everyone wishes were not true - suffering, impermanence, and no self. Why do these have to be true and why do we have such a hard time accepting that they are? 

Emma Roy - Not Being Special

“People say the ultimate destiny of consciousness is to be liberated. Is that What we’re up to? Because I like the idea that it’s not.” - Emma Roy

Emma reads “On (Not) Being Special” by Ken McCleod to ask the questions of whether any of us are special, whether zazen does anything special, whether we are all destined for enlightenment, and ultimately what is a good use of a human life or a Monday night (or the 40 minutes it takes to listen to a podcast…). The sangha jumps all the way in and discusses why being art necessarily breeds misery, why they don’t want to be special, why they wouldn’t recommend Zen to anyone, but can’t stop doing it if they tried, and ultimately lament that enlightenment never did anyone’s dishes. All in all, it is a prime example of a good use of a monday night and a fantastic way to spend your 40 minutes to listen.

Emily Eslami - Not to be Achieved by Wanting (Unnecessary Roughness)

“‘But this is not to be achieved by wanting,’ is the saddest sentence in the whole thing, the crux of everything. That should be written on my gravestone. It’s all the pain, all the sorrow, all the despair, and the lamentation. We can’t wish things to be true. We can’t will things into being.” - Emily Eslami

Emily wraps up her series on the three marks of existence with Buddhism's favorite least favorite topic - The Truth of Suffering. She leads the sangha in an acknowledgement of all the large and small ways we experience suffering on a daily basis and then goes into the ways we exacerbate that and compound the problem with the classic parable of the second arrow. Drawing on both straightforward teachings of classical Buddhism and the more open ended Zen approach she explores the ways that suffering is both an inherent product of life and also far more avoidable than we might think.

Brad Warner - Q&A January 21st

The answer to your questions are all here! Brad takes questions from the internet and audience including classics such as:

“What are the Four Noble Truths, Eightfold path, and the Precepts?”

“Is the precept about being generous with the dharma the same thing as the Christian idea of good works?”

“What role can Zen play in the context of the Western world?”

“What’s the deal with the Heart Sutra, and what is that untranslated nonsense we chant at the end?”

“What we do when our zazen stops feeling ‘saucy?’ Is there such a things faking it in zazen?”

“Does attaining enlightenment in a dream count as attaining enlightenment?”

And “Why don’t we ever talk about all those lists of fundamental teachings that Buddha and the Theravadans say are so important?”

Answers to all this and more!

Brad Warner - The Wisdom That Knows at a Glance

“Because our intuition exists,  then experience exists out of that. But sometimes we get mixed up and forget that whats going on here is more intuition than experience.” - Brad Warner

Brad & the sangha tackle some deep Dogen w/ “The Eternal Mirror,” Dogen’s chapter on prajna and intuitive wisdom. The sangha discusses why intuition is so hard to listen to when it’s so close at hand, whether Zen is really for everybody, and what exactly is the distinction between matter and reality?