Yorktown Zen http://yorktownzen.com/index.html Authentic Zen Practice in the Hudson Valley of New York Sun, 24 May 2020 15:31:38 +0000 en-US hourly 1 SitePad Your Dominant Note http://yorktownzen.com/blog/your-dominant-note.html http://yorktownzen.com/blog/your-dominant-note/#respond Sun, 24 May 2020 15:24:22 +0000 http://yorktownzen.com/blog/your-dominant-note.html


Tessin’s mentioned to the group that he was absent last week as his father passed away at the age of 94.  His mother died a year back and it was pretty apparent that his father died of loneliness.  Although Tesshin did travel back to Pittsburgh, the actual funeral service had to be broadcast via Zoom as religious institutions are closed for social distancing.  The family and friends then formed a caravan of cars from the funeral home to the cemetery.  Unfortunately, even cemeteries are enforcing social distancing – as such only next of kin were allowed in to observe the actual burial.  Again – another Zoom broadcast was necessary instead of everyone being present together.  It goes without saying that these arrangements were unsatisfactory, but it was the best which could be done.  That is the lesson of this time – we do not strive for perfection, rather we strive to be as skillful and compassionate in a chaotic time.  Tesshin reminded us that good enough is good enough.  The goal is to be kind to yourself and others!


One of the ceremonies performed during a funeral is to reflect on a person’s life and to understand what it meant.  For his father, Tesshin remarked that the major chord was his unbelievable degree of gratitude.  He always had a “thank you” and was happy for your presence.  He never missed an opportunity to express his love for his family and friends.  This is probably why the death of his long-time wife was such a blow.  Tesshin remarked that his father had the “gene to cry” and was not afraid to show his emotions.  Tesshin joked that he has inherited this gene.  He related the fact that his kids laugh at him when he gets misty eyed in movies!


Buddha was asked what is the cause of death? – BIRTH.  We are all heading in the direction of death.  So, what are we to make of this?  Death is a time to reflect on life.  We are all experiencing this now as so many people are being affected by the Covid situation.  For Tesshin, reflecting on his father, the dominant note was gratitude.  What will be your dominant note?  What will you be remembered for?  It will not be for making that next $100 or having the fanciest job in your family.  


Tesshin next asked about practice in a time of stress.  Many congregations are seeing the incidence of sadness increase while energy decreases.  What about our own practice – how do we prevent atrophy?  We must engage so that our energy does not dissipate.  Where is our practice this week, next week, and in the future?  Can practice serve as the dominant note of our life?


We always have the freedom to choose – Do you practice love, gratitude or do you practice despair and delusion?  What is your dominant note?  No time to lose!  It is said that “Time swiftly passes and opportunity is lost.”  We must concentrate our energy and get focused!   Tesshin asked what will you remember from the Covid period?  Are you walking through it blindly in a trance or are you actively engaging with it?  Generations in the future will ask “What did you do during covid 19 crisis?”  What will you answer?  Will you shrug your shoulders, or will you state that it was a time to strengthen practice and be of service to others?  Will you be able to say that you entered the crucible of practice which was nothing like it was before the crisis?  


Tesshin wrapped up by reminding everyone that the community garden is now open and is a great way to get outdoors and still be safe.  The garden is more necessary now than ever as more people are food-insecure.  Tesshin asked everyone to make an effort to pitch in.

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Confusion is Wisdom http://yorktownzen.com/blog/confusion-is-wisdom.html http://yorktownzen.com/blog/confusion-is-wisdom/#respond Sun, 10 May 2020 16:56:57 +0000 http://yorktownzen.com/blog/confusion-is-wisdom.html


Tesshin used his talk this week to look back at how enlightenment was attained by the historical Zen masters.  Dogen built a system of 1000 days of training.  When a new monk started, emphasis was placed on rules and processes.  Every waking hour had a ceremony and procedure.  There were strict procedures for eating, bathing, sleeping – even using the bathroom.  After the monk became comfortable with the rules, a process of “controlled chaos” was introduced into the monk’s life.  This was done by either intensive Zazen or koan practice.  Tesshin remarked that koan study was very helpful for him as it broke apart his normal way of being and thinking.  In Zen training, this chaos practice is much more intensive than simply learning the rules of monastic life.  The confusion and chaos are designed to break the ego’s hold on reality.


Zen keeps asking the question – when everything falls apart what remains.  If all your identity is gone – what does it really mean to exist?  If there is no meaning to existence – what remains?  Zen is constant process of “peeling the onion.”  We remove layer after layer until nothing is left.  


Tesshin mentioned that many people think the old masters gained their enlightenment by careful and long study and many hours on the cushion.  While time on the cushion is important, the historical record is clear – many masters achieved enlightenment only after confronting great loss leading to deep anxiety and confusion.  This is important for us to appreciate.  In our modern western practice, we do the koan work, but then we go back to our nicely constructed life.  We keep going back and forth.  Zen, life, Zen, life.  We then wonder why we never make progress.  We dip our toes into the confusion, but then retreat to the safe place.  This is not what happened to the great masters of the past.  For them everything fell to pieces, and then, at the precipice, everything came together in a great realization.  


So, what does Covid-19 mean to us?  Is it really breaking down our comfortable place?  Is it the fire which can fuel an authentic practice?  For many of us, our closest held truths are beginning to fall apart.  People are losing jobs, businesses, loved ones, and normal social interaction.  What we thought was true is not true anymore!  When we are not living the life we have so carefully constructed for ourselves – what is left?  All we seem to be left with is confusion and anxiety.    However, the masters of old have taught us that confusion is the raw material for wisdom!!  Tesshin exhorted us to embrace this fact, and not to run away from it.  We have the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha – so we know what to do and have others to rely on.   With the three treasures, we can be fearless in the face of the confusion.  We may even be able to use this terrible situation as a gateway to a more real and fervent practice.


Tesshin wrapped up by reminding us that we should not lose fact that we are still sentient beings in a physical environment.  Specifically, we should not forget the somatic experience of our spiritual path.  The body is a “partner on the path.”  This is why our practice has always been more than sitting on the cushion.  For instance, the flower arrangement we did this week is important.  It touches all of the senses.  We see the beauty and impermanence of the flowers.  We smell the flowers.  We hear the sounds of nature when we are out collecting the flowers.  Lastly, we felt the cool spring breeze while collecting.  Tessin reminded us that being present in the moment while in the physical world is a great aid when facing the confusion and angst of a time like this.

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Daydreaming or Happiness http://yorktownzen.com/blog/daydreaming-or-happiness.html http://yorktownzen.com/blog/daydreaming-or-happiness/#respond Sun, 03 May 2020 15:30:16 +0000 http://yorktownzen.com/blog/daydreaming-or-happiness.html
Mind-full or Mindful


Tesshin started his talk this week by musing about daydreaming.  What is daydreaming and what is actually happening when our mind is wandering all over the place?  This is an important question as research shows that the average person is distracted 47-60% of the day!!  One intriguing finding is that daydreaming is very similar to real dreaming.  In essence, the brain is trying to reprocess sensory input.  One can almost think of this as defragmenting a computer hard drive.   Psychologists add that many people daydream for risk avoidance.  There are things we just don’t want to do – so we distract ourselves with fantasies and daydreams.  Lastly, another theory is that many of us have a narrative that we attach ourselves to.  We play this narrative over and over again to strengthen and stabilize it.  By doing this, many people get stuck in an endless struggle of supporting a personal story.  Needless to say, Buddhism has a lot to say about this last theory!  


In the past few decades researchers have had some success understanding what the brain is doing during daydreaming using functional MRI scanning.   When you put people in a fMRI machine there are 3 parts of the brain which light up during day dreaming – these include the Medial Prefrontal Cortex, the Parietal Lobe, and the Temporal Lobe.  The pattern of firing of these brain regions are known as the “Default Mode Network.”  


Tesshin then asked a very simple but important question.  If most people are not happy and most people spend most of their time in the default mode network – perhaps daydreaming is not the best use of our brains!  It may behoove us to change the way the brain is working!  He next asked, what parts of the brain light up in people who are happy.  The good news is there is research on this topic as well.   Tesshin noted that the Dalai Lama has sponsored fMRI research on accomplished meditators and Buddhists monks.  (It should be noted that we assume accomplished meditators are happy – otherwise there would be no purpose in us taking up this practice!) What was noteworthy was that the parts of the brain associated with the default mode network were smaller in the meditators and other regions such as the prefrontal cortex larger.  This interesting finding implies that our training actually changes the physical brain.  This means that as we train it should become easier to suppress the default mode of thinking – namely daydreaming and build the ability to bring our attention back to the present and focus.  It is nothing more mysterious than weight lifting.  In the first month of training one cannot lift up a 100 lb weight, but in a month of two of training, this becomes much easier.


Tesshin next asked if Buddhist monks have a monopoly on happiness.  Of course, they do not!  What is it about the monk’s activity which induced brain changes and caused a sense of happiness to arise?   Tesshin noted psychological research done by Dan Segal at Harvard University on happiness.  Different people were happy doing different things, but the common thread in all people reporting happiness and fulfillment were the following …

•Sustained Effort 




Sound familiar??    Yes, we can relate the above to our work on the cushion.  When we meditate properly, we sustain an effort for a significant amount of time.  We are engaged and care about the task and, of course, we are focusing the mind.  However, Zazen is not the only place where this can occur.  Recall way back when you were playing as a child.  You may have been totally engrossed for hours in a game, or building a model, or taking care of a doll.  Another example is intensive training in a sport.  It is not unusual for marathon athletes to talk about “runner’s high.”  Lastly, artists and creative people commonly talk about “flow” or that state where they get lost in the act of creating. 


In the culture that we are now in, it is quite challenging to find this happy state.  Screen time may be sustained with concentration, but one is definitely not engaged.  Most screen time, whether it is the TV, computer, or phone is passive consumption.  It is the passivity which causes daydreaming and jumping from show to show or link to link.  Also, many times employment does not provide happiness.  Yes, we are sustaining our 8-10 hours, but multi-tasking is rife.  Many times, we are disengaged from the work due to frustration, cynicism, and resentment.  Lastly, our educational system has been critiqued as forcing too much memorization while not worrying about engaging the students.  Is it any surprise that many pupils are staring out the window daydreaming?  All of these examples show that what we need for true happiness is all three aspects in proper balance. 


Tesshin next asked, how can we reduce our daydreaming and engage the present moment in order to move towards a happier state.  How can we structure our day to emphasize engagement, concentration, and sustained effort?  Here, Tesshin was clear.  Practice forms the foundation.  It serves as the “Gym of Our Mind.”  However, the cushion is not the total answer.  It would be a waste of our time to meditate intensively but then still spend 60% of our time daydreaming.  We need to take the meditator’s mind off the cushion and move it into the rest of our life.  We need to structure our day to emphasize activates where we are engaged.  In other words, make sure we are doing things which are important to us.    This may be making food for others.  It could be spending time with our kids.  (Tesshin remarked that nobody said on their deathbed – I wish I attended that last meeting on financial projections!!)  Lastly, it may be a prized hobby.  What is important is not to make excuses for putting off these important activities.  Next, once we have prioritized the right activities to engage with, we need to give them enough time and concentration.  In other words, do NOT multitask.  Do not talk to the kids with the TV on in the background.  When talking to a close friend, put down the phone.  Direct your attention to the task you have identified as important enough to engage with your entire consciousness.  Do not flutter from thing to thing.  Concentrate!  Tesshin reminded us that our society discourages this, but in order to be truly happy this is what we must do.

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Chaos Dharma http://yorktownzen.com/blog/chaos-dharma.html http://yorktownzen.com/blog/chaos-dharma/#respond Sun, 26 Apr 2020 16:48:32 +0000 http://yorktownzen.com/blog/chaos-dharma.html
Chaos Dharma


Tesshin used his talk this week to explain Chaos/Complexity Theory and how it relates to our practice.  This set of theories started with a desire to predict and understand the weather, but it became a more generalized endeavor to build a conceptual framework to aid in general decision making.  Tesshin noted that this is the same goal of our practice – namely to act skillfully and compassionately in all situations.  As such, this framework can serve as yet another teaching tool on our path to awakening.  One common framework to understand chaos and complexity is the “Cynefin Framework

The easiest way to think of this framework is a quadrant.  On the horizontal axis we measure how much knowledge or control we have in a situation.  The further to the right we travel, the more control we have.  On the vertical axis we measure complexity.  The higher we travel; the more factors need to be considered.


Cynefin framework


Tesshin next spoke briefly about each quadrant and related it to our day to day life.  The first quadrant is the bottom right.  This is the Basic or Obvious quadrant.  This is where we feel the most comfortable as we have the most knowledge and control and the issues are simple.  This is our happy spot so we want to have most situations we fact sit here.  For instance, if you flip a light switch, you get light.  We have total predictability and the conditions are pretty simple – LIGHT/DARK.


Moving up to the top right, we get situations where we don’t know all the answers, but if we apply effort, we can gain mastery.  This is the “complicated” quadrant.  This is where personal growth occurs.  Many people on the spiritual path occupy this particular quadrant.  My life is not exactly what I wish, but if I put in enough hours on the cushion or pray hard enough – it will all begin to work out.  This is also the quadrant of the scientist and engineer.  We set out a goal, and as you get enough data or feedback, you modify evolve towards the desired end. 


Sometime we don’t have a complete control of cause and effect and it may not even be knowable.  This situation brings us to the top left quadrant, or Complex.  (not to be confused with the complicated quadrant we just covered.)  While you are in the complex situation, you have no real idea of what is going on.  This is what the researchers found out when they began to study weather patterns.  The best you can do in these situations is to build “simplifying models.”  You will probably end up having multiple models and you will have no idea which model is the most accurate when you need to predict.    The key thing, however, is that after the weather event, we do end up knowing which model was right – however previous success does not guarantee future success!  This is why we commonly see multiple weather models predict different weather conditions.  Users of the model then combine all the results in order to determine how to proceed.


Tesshin remarked that sometimes when we are in a Complex system, we have conditions where we will never find out the full cause and effect.  (e.g. try to predict the weather in a room with no windows!!)  This is the Chaos quadrant in the top right.  If complexity is challenging than Chaos is Complex squared!!  People generally do not like chaotic systems as they have little understanding and little control.  Many times, we retreat from this situation by trying to recast them into Simple or, at the worst, Complicated systems. 


Tesshin next asked why people on the spiritual path need to know about all of these quadrants and complexity?  Isn’t Zen all about simplicity.  Isn’t it all as simple and obvious as the moon shining on a still pond?  All one really needs to do is contemplate Mu for five minutes to understand that this is not the case!!  We enter the interview room to explain this and we realize how little control and understanding we really have!! 


Tesshin remarked that the main issue for us on the spiritual path is how we manage our lives.  As we move to complex or chaotic situations the ways in which we manage things must shift.  Our practice trains us in how to do that shift.  First, we learn that all models are true until they are not true.  We are always desperate to go back to a simple structure, but reality is not that way!  This is the struggle we have with Mu.  We are used to the simple This/That world.  However, that model keeps failing us.  The tighter we hold on, the further we get from the answer.  We are no longer in the simple world; we are in the world of complexity and chaos!!  Our skills in dealing with the dualistic reductionist world are not going to help anymore.  It is exactly the same with our current situation with the Covid virus.  Every solution and every model is true in some way.  Our leaders debate from the context of the Simple/Obvious realm.  “Stay Home!” or “Go Out!”  “Lock down everything!”  “Restart the Economy!”  It is all dualism!!  We are not in the simple world, but the chaotic world!!  What we are seeing is that there are many different models which will provide many different predictions.  Like the weather – we need to view them all and synthesize them into a plan.    We need to graduate from simple and embrace that life is complicated and even chaotic!!


Zen says that all dharmas are reality.  So, what are we to do?  Tesshin suggested that we cannot know every aspect of Karma, but based on our values and who we are at this very moment, we can make a stand and make a specific choice.  Making the choice lessens our burden because we understand that we are doing the best we can in a chaotic situation where endless thinking may not help.  We must not become attached to having the perfect, complete, and simple answer.  Rather, we make a decision, and then move to the next step then the next step and then the step after that.  Life moment to moment.  What are your karmic steps?  Don’t force the chaos of life into a simple YES/NO system – it will never work and will make matters even worse for you.  Live your chaotic life moment to moment.  You will do better than you think you can!

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Give and Take http://yorktownzen.com/blog/give-and-take.html http://yorktownzen.com/blog/give-and-take/#respond Sun, 19 Apr 2020 14:47:52 +0000 http://yorktownzen.com/blog/give-and-take.html
Give and Take


Tesshin, like everyone else, is locked down at home with his family.  Last weekend Tesshin’s family gathered around the TV to watch some light hearted shows.  They settled on the musical “Little House of Horrors” which is a “spoof” science fiction story about alien plants taking over the planet.  As the show was not on the main streaming services, Tesshin decided to watch the “Director’s Cut” on Youtube.  This version started as Tesshin and his wife recalled, but near the end it started to diverge.  In the original version, the plants are defeated and everyone lives happily ever after.  However, in the director’s cut all the humans are killed and the alien plants take over the world.  Hmmmm, that is not right!!  Tesshin’s kids ended up being upset – “Hey, we thought this was going to be fun and happy!!”  


What happened here?  Clearly, the director had an original and thought-provoking idea.  Luckily, in the movie industry, ideas are tested against small focus groups of movie goers to see if the plot works.  It appears that in this case, nobody liked this particular ending.  As such, the crew had to go back and completely change the ending.  In the theatrical release, the humans “win” in a funny and light hearted way.  Tesshin found this version and the family was “relived.”


Tesshin asked the group – what are we to make of this?  In life, we try to make decisions which we think are good – but we end up being totally wrong.  The lesson is to look at what you are doing and ask – “Is this skillful?  Is this really helping?”  We need to be like the movie director – we need to take feedback and adjust course accordingly.  Tesshin then asked, who acts as our focus group.  The answer is simple – our focus group are the people around us – family, friends, co-workers, etc.


Tesshin next related this to our work in Zen.  We take refuge in Buddha, Sangha, and Dharma.  These are the tools we use to keep our practice and our lives on target.  The historical Buddha is our role model and the Dharma – which translates to “reality” – is the universe we live in and interact with.  However, it is the Sangha which is key.  It is our fellow practitioners which provide us with feedback and keep our feet firmly planted on the path.  Buddha and Dharma are not enough!  We need each other now more than ever!  Tesshin remarked that this time of the Covid infection shows how true this fact is.


Lastly, Tesshin reminded the group that our path is not one of total self-sacrifice.  We give but we also need to take.  Ours is the middle way.  If we only give, we never offer the gift of allowing the other person useful.  Tesshin stated that in this stressful time, it is OK to take time for yourself as well.  It is OK, to lean on others.  Again, this is why Sangha is so critical – it is why it is considered one of the three jewels!  So, depend on your “focus group.”  Be willing to give, but also be willing to take the offerings being generously provided all around you!

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Paradox and No Paradox http://yorktownzen.com/blog/paradox-and-no-paradox.html http://yorktownzen.com/blog/paradox-and-no-paradox/#respond Sun, 12 Apr 2020 15:12:34 +0000 http://yorktownzen.com/blog/paradox-and-no-paradox.html
Man who has nothing


Tesshin remarked that this is an important week in the calendar of many faith traditions.  For instance, Passover is a celebration of liberation.  Easter is a celebration of rebirth.  Ramadan is a commemoration of Muhammad’s first revelation.  However, this year Tesshin noted that there is a difference and a paradox.  Now we have liberation, rebirth, and revelation, but with significant restrictions.  In the Jewish Sedar, the tradition is to normally welcome everyone -but this year, we can welcome nobody!  For Easter we celebrate resurrection, but this year wherever we look we see death and body counts.  This dichotomy creates confusion and grief.  How do we deal with this paradox?


Here Tesshin was clear – through mindfulness we look at it deeply.  A good deal of our suffering comes from our inability to reconcile disparate things.  We feel that we have no control.   In the United States we are used to freedom, but now we don’t have it.  This is new for us.  It just does not jive with our culture.  We all experience a strong anxiety over loss of “agency.”  Tesshin remarked that to mitigate this anxiety, we need to look deeply and understand the fear.


Tesshin had a conversation with an associate this week which really exemplified this fear of loss of control.  Tesshin noted that this totally normal friend has turned into a “full blown prepper” in reaction to the Covid situation.  She is collecting seeds, storing food, has a “Bugout Bag” and is even considering buying property in the woods.  It is clear that she is trying to gain control of a situation where total control is unrealistic.  All Tesshin could do is listen to her extreme state of anxiety and be supportive as possible.


So how do we use our training to help ourselves and others?  From the sutras, we learn that everything we experience is “fumbetsu” or noise and distraction.  If we really understand this, then there is no real paradox in what is happening to over the past few months.  The lack of control is fallacy.  It is all “Mu” or “this and that!”  Zen teaches that all we really have is THIS moment.  Tesshin reminded us that while this sounds simple, it takes a lifetime of reflection and zazen to really manifest this understanding.  


So, does this mean we act in a callus way when we see suffering?  Do we tell a Covid patient that their suffering is fumbetsu?  Can we cure disease with Zazen?   Of course not!!  Suffering is real in this world – we only need to look at the first Noble Truth!!  The difference is that we do not attach to the suffering.  Suffering can never be the totality of existence – it is just a part.  Recall Tesshin’s point last week when he compared suffering to the crashing waves on the SURFACE of the ocean.  Our existence is the abiding equanimity of the entire deep deep ocean.  The ocean cares little for the noise on the surface!  It is the same way with suffering – it is there, but it is a small part of the totality of existence.  The waves come and go but it is the ocean which is timeless.  It is from this place of calmness we can engage others with compassion and support during this challenging time.


On a more cheerful point, Tesshin remarked that this week is also a time when we celebrate the Buddha’s birthday.  At Zen temples it is common to see a baby Buddha pointing up with one hand and sideways with the other hand.  This symbol is a reminder that in both heaven and on earth there is only this moment.  


Tesshin then sang the “happy birthday song” to the Buddha and everyone in the sangha joined in with much giggling and mirth!  😊

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Ocean of Compassion http://yorktownzen.com/blog/ocean-of-compassion.html http://yorktownzen.com/blog/ocean-of-compassion/#respond Sun, 05 Apr 2020 15:39:05 +0000 http://yorktownzen.com/blog/ocean-of-compassion.html
Ocean of Compassion


Tesshin again chanted the Heart Sutra in both English and Japanese after our meditation session.  The Heart Sutra is the core of tradition and everyone appreciated hearing these necessary words again.  In this time of stress, the Heart Sutra reminds us that how we experience challenge is primarily determined in our own minds.  If we can remove the ‘hindrances’ in our minds we can live with less fear and suffering.  In this way, our practice can serve to help ourselves and others.  


Tesshin next described a conference call of the American Hospice Association he attended this past week.  The main discussion centered around the current challenges on how to conduct funerals.  It is sad to say that there is a surge in demand due to the Covid-19 situation.  How does a society bury people and conduct ceremonies when people cannot congregate?  A funeral has many functions, but its most critical one is to bring order out of chaos.  This ordering purpose of the funeral is as old as history and all societies across the world recognize it.  This has now been taken away – so how do people find order and closure to what seems like a random bolt out of the dark?   How can our practice serve?


Tesshin mentioned that our practice is not about being happy and blissful all the time.  The Dharma teaches the cessation of pain and suffering – that is different than being happy all the time.  It is natural to have surging emotions at a time like this.  These are like the waves on the ocean.  We can choose to observe this and be with it. The cessation of the pain is realizing that the waves are not the ultimate reality of the ocean – they are only the surface.  Realizing the ocean is to realize the huge abiding body of water below the surface.  Real suffering is thinking that the surface of suffering is all there is to existence.  So, how do we serve when people are suffering and cannot find closure?  We serve by providing the understanding and strength which comes from understanding the deep ocean of equanimity and not the surface of suffering.  


So how should one practice abiding “ocean equanimity” during a time like this?  Tesshin suggested to keep things simple.  In every situation and with every person apply compassionate love to every decision you make.   Tesshin also reminded us to apply compassion to ourselves as well.  We will try and fail during this time.  We will do good, but also make a lot of mistakes.  However, if we apply compassion, we will be OK.  Compassion is what turns pain and suffering into a real human experience.  Compassion will not turn a difficult situation into a happy situation, but human compassion will make it bearable and survivable.


Tesshin closed by reminding the group that we have been training most of our lives for this moment just like this.  We make the vows to save all beings and to be available to others during this time.  This is the time to take the practice off of the cushion and out into the world which needs us now more than ever.

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The Great Equalizer http://yorktownzen.com/blog/the-great-equalizer.html http://yorktownzen.com/blog/the-great-equalizer/#respond Sun, 29 Mar 2020 16:32:28 +0000 http://yorktownzen.com/blog/the-great-equalizer.html
Power of Zazen


Tesshin started his talk by chanting the Heart Sutra for our group. 


He then opened his talk by likening this period to an intensive training period.  We are trapped at home socially isolating ourselves – what better opportunity to deepen our practice.  He reminded us about all the online training which has recently become available.  


Tesshin is a member of the Soto Teacher’s Association.  The group has been meeting during the Covid situation in order to explore how Zen can be of service to the wider community.  One thing was clear during all these meetings – the teachers were calm and centered.  Were they worried – yes!  Were they harried with all the responsibilities thrust on them – yes!  However, the teachers always manifested the Dharma – namely meeting every moment in life with honesty, skillful means, and compassion.  In this regard, they are truly teaching the Dharma and acting as a role model for all of us.


Tesshin next stated that Covid-19 is something which affects everyone regardless of their gender, race, wealth, etc.  All the things which normally separate us is not relevant when fighting this threat.  He reminded us that this has always been the message of the Dharma.  We are all the same thing!  We all seek the same thing.  It is ironic that it takes something like the Covid virus to remind us of this very simple truth.  However, the realization of this fact makes Tesshin optimistic that there will be some long term good which comes out of this situation.  


Tesshin next challenged the group.  Can we ramp up our practice intensity during this time?  For some it may be Zazen and for others – especially first responders and medical staff – it is acting on the vow to save all beings.  In normal life, we negotiate with ourselves constantly around how intense we want to practice and how much we can “get away with.”  We may do a ‘quick sit’ before crashing on the couch to watch some TV.  Is this good enough?  Today’s situation ‘amps’ everything up – but can we direct this nervous energy skillfully into practice?


Tesshin next discussed a bit about his meetings with local clergy in our area.  How do different traditions deal with suffering?  Many look externally to salvation – which is totally legitimate – but Zen does not share in this tradition.  What can we do?  It was once said that a child compared Buddhism to other traditions by stating …


“…many times, instead of pointing the finger, point the thumb.”


Yes, this is it – we look internally to our center instead of pointing to something outside of us.  This is a core tenant of the Dharma – you are already complete and perfect – there is no reason to look outside of you.  Once you remember this, you begin to manifest your true nature and then you can actually be of service to others.


Tesshin wrapped up by speaking of the meditation list which Wendy is compiling.  This list contains all the meditation centers in the US offering Zazen through teleconferencing technology.  When this list is ready, we will post it on the website.


He also reminded everyone that he is available if anyone is having trouble getting through this period of extraordinary challenges.  If you need to talk to him privately please send an email to yorktownzen@gmail.com simply stating that you wish to connect and he will get in touch with you.  


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Adaptation http://yorktownzen.com/blog/adaptation.html http://yorktownzen.com/blog/adaptation/#respond Sun, 22 Mar 2020 15:10:35 +0000 http://yorktownzen.com/blog/adaptation.html


We held our normal Saturday meditation session via teleconference.  Students either used the Zoom application or dialed into the conference bridge with their phone.  (Reach out to yorktownzen@gmail.com for details)  Although it is not a good as being present with everyone, hearing the normal sounds of the zendo including coughs, rustles, and phone beeps on the conference line brought a certain comfort that we are still all connected in some way.  


After the Zazen session, we were treated to Tesshin chanting the Heart Sutra for us.  The Heart Sutra reminds us of the core teaching of Zen – namely that everything we experience is “empty” of an independent nature.  It reminds us that no matter what is going on, we are all linked in the shared reality of NOW.


Tesshin asked the group if the situation we currently find ourselves in is really so new.  If we reflect for a bit, we realize that this is not so novel after all.  The history of humanity has been one seismic shift after another.  Humans have always used their ingenuity to survive and grow.  This is our history.  Our culture is the result of how we have reacted to crises of the past.  It is our responsibility to choose wisely now for ourselves and for future generations.  


Tesshin next talked about the technologies we have today in order to cope.  

The Zafu or mediation cushion!!    This tech has been with us for over 3000 years and its longevity is proof that it works.  By increasing our consciousness, we can deeply explore and understand “what is.”   No matter what happens in the world, the cushion is always available to you.


Internet – This is relatively new for humanity.  We are finding that during this crisis, we can still be together and continue to practice.  Tesshin noted that many Zen centers have opened their “virtual doors” to anyone who wishes to practice.  This is a great opportunity to hear from famous teachers and practice with groups too far away to practice with in person.   Current list of Virtual Practice Centers can be found here


Tesshin next asked what will be the nature of our adaptation?  In a way, this is a great opportunity for Buddhism to live up to its vow of “saving all beings.”  Tesshin challenged us with some questions …

•In times of crisis, how do you adapt mindfulness and make it useful to others?  

•What does practice look like with empathy, compassion, and endurance.  

•What does it look like for a Buddhist to adapt?  What things do we keep doing and what things do we change?

•Can we be a role model for others?  

•What message do we give the world, and does this message help us to evolve as a species?  

•Can we deepen practice globally?    

•What does it really mean to save all sentient beings when it becomes real and not just a vow we recite?  



Tesshin wrapped up by stating that in this time of need, our mantra should become ….

“World, come sit with us!”  


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Strength of Community http://yorktownzen.com/blog/strength-of-community.html http://yorktownzen.com/blog/strength-of-community/#respond Sun, 15 Mar 2020 17:09:13 +0000 http://yorktownzen.com/blog/strength-of-community.html


This is the first week Yorktown Zen has been holding virtual Zazenkai (sitting sessions) through the Zoom teleconferencing.  Overall things went well and was great that we can continue to practice as a group.  Tesshin is looking to host a Tuesday and Thursday evening sit along with our normal program each Saturday morning.  If you are interested in participating, please drop an email to yorktownzen@gmail.com and we will make sure you get all the notifications.


Tessin opened his talk this week about his experience attending a workshop on depression and suicide prevention in the clergy.  One would normally not expect clergy to be prone to depression, but it is this exact perception which makes them particularly vulnerable.  Tesshin asked, who helps the helpers?  The talk concentrated on the cause of depression – namely a lack of hope.  In stressful times, many faith traditions look to god for strength and encouragement.  This is total valid and is why faith is such a powerful aspect of what it means to be human.  


Tesshin next asked what Zen could offer in times like this.  We do not specifically invoke grace of god – although there is a rich tradition of invoking the spirit of Bodhisattvas when attempting to manifest compassion in the world.  Tesshin stated that Zen always comes back to understanding our true nature and that there is no duality between the good and the bad.  Our path is life – right here and right now – and the total honesty of experiencing it.  Experiencing life means that there will be negative aspects.  As an example, he recounted that one of the greatest teachers of Zen in the west, Maezumi Roshi, struggled with alcoholism his whole life.  What are we to make of this?  Zen would say that Maezumi was a person and a great teacher who happened to have an issue with alcoholism.  We cannot get wrapped up in delusions of perfection – it is the message we are after – not the picture of a perfect teacher.  Again, this is why Tessin commonly states that he is the least important person in the Zendo!


Tesshin continued stating that depression arises through isolation.  The particular situation with Covid-19 will increase our isolation, and thus depression.  Our tradition, however, reminds us that we are never really alone.  We are all a part of suchness, and as such, isolation is a delusion.  Tesshin gave the example of when he was alone on the top of a mountain in his temple.  At first, he became depressed because he was all alone day after day after day.  One night he had the sudden realization that he was one with all of nature, the animals, the plants, even the stars in the sky.  To feel that you are alone is to separate yourself from reality – this is the biggest delusion of them all.


Tesshin concluded that in addition to faith in the Dharma, a community needs to depend on each other.    One of the topics in the workshop asked participants to list three people you could call in your life if events got so crazy that you felt overwhelmed.  Tesshin asked all of us to pause and give that some thought.  (Tesshin reminded that group that he is available at any time if anyone needs someone to talk to.)  The community needs to support each other.  Beyond the scriptures and wise teachers, it is the community helping each other which makes faith communities uniquely equipped to survive and thrive during difficult times.  This is why in Buddhism, the Sangha is considered one of the “Three Jewels.”  Tesshin reminded us to reach out to other members of the group – just to check up on them and make sure they are ok – not just physically, but mentally and spiritually as well.

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