April 4, 2010

Celebration + Commitment of Jakusho Kwong + Chogyam Trungpa.

Via Carolyn Rose Gimian, excerpt: “Contemplating the Parinirvana of the Vidyadhara, Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche.”

Cross posted with our friends at Dharma/Arte

On April 4th, in 1987, “Chogyam Trungpa passed into nirvana. (For those not familiar with this expression, it is the day he died.)

It is a time when his students and others affected by him all around the world pay special homage to his life and teachings. The Venerable Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche was the author of many important books on Buddhism, one of the fathers of the Practicing Lineage in North America, as well as the founder of the Shambhala community, Naropa University, and many other organizations. […]

“The anniversary of Chogyam Trungpa’s death is at once a time to venerate the past, to celebrate the continuity of the teachings in the present, and to commit myself to the preservation and propagation of dharma in the future. For me, none of this would be possible without the life and example of someone I knew, someone who spoke the dharma in my era, and who connected me to the unbroken thread of sanity that reaches back to the time of the Enlightened One who spoke the truth of suffering and the possibility of cessation to countless beings in India centuries ago.

“The places where the Buddha taught, where he was born, where he became enlightened, and where he died are worthy of pilgrimage—but it is the precious holy dharma that we can still hear, practice and embody that makes it so. When as Buddhists we chant “Buddham Saranam Gacchami, Dharmam Saranam Gacchami, Sangham Saranam Gacchami”, “I take refuge in the Buddha, I take refuge in the Dharma, I take refuge in the Sangha”—we are not vowing to take the past as refuge or security. We vow to take the past as an indelible example that we can apply in the present and carry into the future. Similarly, when we celebrate the day that a great teacher died and passed into nirvana, it is not like relatives worshipping an ancestor or expressing their nostalgia and grief for a departed loved one. This day is about appreciating the gifts we have been given in this era: the practice of meditation and the ability to understand our minds and experience through the insight gained from practice. This day is about applying those gifts, and it is about making a gift of our own practice for the benefit of others.”


Via Bill Scheffel ~ Jakusho Kwong-roshi on Chögyam Trungpa

A dharma heir of Shunryu Suzuki-roshi, Jakusho Kwong-roshi, who once went by the name Bill Kwong, founded Sonoma Mountain Zen Center in 1973. Along the way, this founding required considerable tenacity and courage, it occurred through a stream of accidents, challenges, a bout with testicular cancer and, no doubt, the obdurate blessings of Dōgen and the other Soto Zen forerunners. Kwong-roshi’s wife Shinko (who once went by the name Laura) has also been an essential part of this founding, a project done often on pennies, a large organic garden and a hard-working though joyful discipline. Roshi and Shinko raised a family of four boys in a house adjacent to the Zen Center. Equally impressive, they have simply stayed put, running the Zen Center decade after decade with a handful of residents, keeping the kitchen stocked, the garden growing, the library open and, of course, practicing in the zendo, beginning each day with 5:00 AM service and zazen.

It is well known that Zen includes this kind of hard work. Giving attention to our mundane and necessary tasks of daily life (with humor!) is an expression of love, an invoking of drala, as well as the way of Dōgen, the founder of Soto Zen, who outlined rules not only for the zendo but for the bath house and kitchen. The fulfillment of Dōgen’s transcendent common-sense advice can be seen at Sonoma Mountain even when all the machinery is idle. If the kitchen is empty that also means it is clean, since dishes are never left to be washed the next day, and every meal-taker — including Roshi and Shinko — together wash, dry and put away what was used until every bowl is stacked, every drain board spotless.

All their solutions still contain problems.
At dangerous moments on sinking ships
Suddenly we see their eyes full on us.

Though they do not entirely approve of us as we are
They are in agreement with us none the less.

Kwong-roshi is fond of citing the path of the Zen master, “One continuous mistake” (another form of solutions still containing problems). Kwong-roshi was perhaps offered a larger life-boat than the rest of us; after all, he was chosen to be a dharma-heir — that is a privilege and a motivator! Suzuki-roshi must have seen in Bill Kwong someone who wasn’t interested in wasting his life. So he tossed him that life boat-mill stone. Chögyam Trungpa appeared many times in Kwong-roshi’s like to tell him, so to speak, “You can carry it, you can float.” At seventy-two, Kwong-roshi is someone to meet if you would like to see this kind of genuineness, humor and courage at work.

Via John Pappas ~ The Real Intimacy of Zen

The intimate and personal heart of Zen beats loudly in Jakusho Kwong-roshi and he shares that earthy rumble with his students, those close to him and far away. Without a choice we feel the same momentum and impetus that drives Roshi along. Unlike the beating of war-drums or the steady march of booted feat, this beat is completely organic and immutable. The rumble of Zen doesn’t drown out the sounds around us just as the silent meditation doesn’t quiet our surroundings. It becomes a part of the cacophony of city traffic — the drone of crickets — the cries of children. Roshi’s Zen doesn’t overpower the flavor of our lives. It isn’t an escape. It is the flavor of our lives.

Zen is best expressed as nothing more than experiencing this life and this moment. Wisdom is cultivated and nurtured by simple, single-minded meditation and attention. Without levels or rank; progress or measurement; embellishments or empowerments, with no beginning and no end, shikantaza is the ultimate practice of experiencing the simple silence of now. The only sound of our striving is the movement of our breath and the beating of one heart.

Growing up with an exacting and demanding father, a traditional Chinese physician living in a largely non-Asian region in California, Kwong-roshi was subjected to rigid discipline and stoic instruction. From this demanding routine though, Kwong-roshi began to explore the release and temporary oasis of art and dive into the Zen of the Beats.

Attending school at San Jose State College, Kwong-roshi experienced two awakenings: the meeting of a kindred spirit and future wife Laura and an automobile accident that led him to move away from academia and deeper into his Zen practice. His practice at the time was constrained within the Beat stereotype of bohemian enlightenment and carefree living. Far removed from his rigid and stoic childhood and even further removed from the strict and formal Soto Zen practice that would soon define him, Kwong-roshi continued to dabble in the Beat generation’s romantic emphasis on kensho and utter ignorance of the daily, routine practice indicative of future generations of American Zen practitioners.

Kwong desired the traditional bamboo mats and rows of meditation cushions (zabutons and zafus) to line Shunryu Suzuki’s zen center, instead only finding lines of pews in a decaying building. Kwong’s own reflection was that it reminded him of a Sunday School, and when Suzuki-roshi entered the room, “I stood there thinking, this was all very square. He noticed me but I didn’t even turn my head to acknowledge him, my ego was so big. I waited for him to get to the altar but when I looked up all he was doing was arranging the flowers and I said ‘This was very square.’ ” In direct contrast to the Beat Generation, Square Zen’s emphasis on routine and ritual was considered flaky and contrived. But Suzuki-roshi’s compassionate nature and quizzical mind began to attract and convert more Beats to a square practice — a practice where freedom is achieved first through attention to form and discipline.

The flaky Zen of the monastic community was confining and relentless when compared to the fluid and unorthodox Zen of the Beat Generation. However, what constitutes flaky Zen? Is it the stoic ritual of the Zen centers and monasteries that deems a practice flaky and devoid of meaning? The empty ritual and stale incense of decaying custom serve only to confine and smother liberation and freedom? Strict adherence to form provides a false horizon for the practitioner to measure him or herself against. Like peering over a ship’s bow in hopes of catching a glimpse of a far shore, all we focus on is a weak line of clouds that provide the form and shape of mountains and valleys — an empty oasis in a silent desert.

The flaky Zen of the Beat Generation was free and unconstrained when compared to the ritual and discipline of the monastics. Wild and spontaneous, the Beats refused form and created no illusions of structure. But without strength or a framework, the parlors and cafés provided only a haze of smoke and jubilance that mimicked liberation. True liberation is not finite and attainable through spontaneous grasping. It requires a discipline of mind and body to achieve. It is the silent sitting of a practitioner that steers the boat to the other shore. Not the dancing of drunken sailors around a careening, rudderless boat.

Zen has nothing to do with the rigid practice in monasteries or the spontaneity of the Beats. Cultivating the Dharma requires great exertion, great faith and great doubt. The seeds can be planted by confusion, change and despair or by joy, freedom and stasis. Kwong-roshi’s Temple, Genjoji, which translates to “The Way of Everyday Life,” invokes Kwong’s own particular style of teaching as well as the true practice of Zen — an honest and steady exertion. Simple, rigid and strong. It is when we learn that the beating of our own hearts, calmed through practice, matches the heartbeat of both monastic discipline and Beatnik freedom that do we transcend illusion and enter into practice.

It is then that we learn real intimacy and true Zen.

In the words of Kwong-roshi:

When we cultivate our understanding and become aware of what we are doing, and actually see what is happening within ourselves and around us […] we don’t have to wait until we can sit in full lotus, or until we have been sitting for ten or twenty years, as if only then something will happen. Some of us sit cross-legged, some half-lotus, some full lotus and some Burmese style or in a chair. These are only different views of the same moon. There are people who think that one form is better than the other, but it is not true. We are truly like the moon: any amount of light makes a full halo.” (Kwong-roshi, No Beginning, No End: The Ultimate Heart of Zen)

Video: © 2010 Bill Scheffel. Visit Bill Scheffel’s page at Vimeo.com: http://vimeo.com/user3312432
Text: © 2010 Bill Scheffel (http://westernmountain.org/ and http://dralaprinciple.blogspot.com/); John Pappas (http://zendirtzendust.com/). All rights reserved.
Photos: © Bill Scheffel; All rights reserved.

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