Tassajara Zen Monastery: Pondering Zen Community

The return of the light. These days, as we leave the Zendo (meditation hall) after the dinner ceremony ends, we walk into daylight. It's sometimes even warm, too – like, warm enough to wear just a long underwear shirt, or even just a t shirt, under the thick layers of our ceremonial meditation robes. The afternoons are mostly hot, dry, and bright. Mornings, a few blooming trees shower the air and ground with a swirl of pink and white pedals. Birds are singing, bugs are orbiting and swarming, green things are sprouting. There is even sometimes a hint of a warm breeze at four in the morning, as we hustle through the lamp-lit blackness to the first period morning meditation. I am enjoying it all.

Tassajara Zen Monastery: Performing The Ceremonies

Tomorrow we begin a nine day sesshin (meditation intensive), so I am sitting down here in my cozy little dorm room, with the afternoon sun warm outside my window, to finish this letter, before the wall of silence falls. Reading over my last letter, I think that when I started compiling notes to write it, I was in a place of crystalline purity, clarity, infinity, depth, vast open space – a feeling of freedom and expansiveness that had been building over the previous two months. It was like, This is IT

Tassajara Zen Monastery: Committing to Lay Ordination

These letters are funny things. They generally feel good and healthy to write – writing them seems to put a seal on my experiences here, like an epilogue to a book, a desert to a meal, a shavasana to a yoga session. Also, somehow, I can’t explain how, I usually get a clear intuition about what things to write about in them, and what not.

But, I wonder, what is it that motivates me to write : is it to connect and share myself with people, or is it to try to share (teach) something liberating uplifting and inspiring with people – and, if either, which people. Or am I writing this for myself, and, if so, is it my future self (to remind myself of what I learn and experience here), or is it for my present self (to help move the energy through as I experience things here, like a diary, or a conversation with a friend where you get something off your chest). I also wonder how much to just bluntly share what’s happening, no matter how raw and freaky it is, or how much is it better to wait until I have worked through things more and I can write in a more neatly packaged form – with an inspiring uplifting moral to the story, and maybe looking better in the process.

Tassajara Zen Monastery: Learning From Kitchen Work

The group for this retreat has a little over forty monks in it, which fewer than the sixty to eighty who were here when I have been here for ninety-day retreats in the past. This means that all groups of monks (the work crews, the meal serving crews, the kitchen crew, etc) are on a smaller scale. We’ve had a number of people coming and going, which is fine, but I also find that I liked better the tighter container that I experienced in past years (i.e., where everyone who is here at all is here no less than the full three months).

Tassajara Zen Monastery: It’s A Long Way Home

One of my favorite aesthetic experiences of my time here is watching the line of monks calmly filing up to the zendo before the first evening period starts. Different heights and shapes of monks, with our simple black robes trailing around ankles, illuminated by the warm lantern light in the clear night air, with the creek calmly and steadily burbling in the background. Especially when it is Friday or Saturday night back home, I am often moved that this is what we are doing with our evening tonight, we all have a date to come sit together and support each other in deepening and untangling.

Tassajara Zen Monastery: The Demon Dream

Yesterday, we finished our nine day sesshin (meditation intensive). I am been yet again amazed at how deep one can go with this practice.

My experience started with three days of sitting in the meditation hall with the full assembly of monks for the first couple hours in the morning and for the last forty minutes at night, but working in the kitchen in between. I found that, contrary to my expectations, I loved that practice. I cooked six gallons of rice each day, and also ripped chard, sorted beans, chopped vegetables, and washed, dried, a put away a truckload of dishes.

Tassajara Zen Monastery: Helping The Plants Grow

I hope that you enjoy this letter and are generally happy. I am mailing this out on Valentine’s Day. I wish love and a feeling of belonging to everyone who reads this. The date around which y’all may be actually reading it, the nineteenth, will be the mid-point of my current visit here at this monastery. In the air here on the first week of February was a cold snap, the coldest days since I got here. I had more resistance to getting out of my hi-tech extra-warm sleeping bag and putting my feet on the freezing cold wooden floor slats of my unheated cabin at 3:50 each morning.

Tassajara Zen Monastery: Growing In The Garden

I am finishing this and sending it out on the twenty fourth day out of my ninety here, a couple days past one quarter done. Yes, I am often aware of every day passing while I am here. At times since I have arrived here it has seemed like the days have crawled by (especially when during meditation intensives, missing my friends my friends back in the normal world, or when I have otherwise been lacking ease). Other times, though, I have been amazed at how fast another day has flown by.

Tassajara Zen Monastery: Arriving

[Tassajara monastery has no internet and I had no computer there in 1999.  I completed writing this letter by hand and then sent the pages through the US postal service to my housemate and friend Rich, who typed it in, and emailed it out to a mailing list of friends] ********************************************************************************* I finally got here. …

Bamboo In The Wind

I think that most people who pick up spiritual practice are looking for more peace and stillness; we want our movements, thinking, and speaking to be easeful, unforced, non-compulsive, and perhaps even almost effortless. A common image in Zen poetry is of bamboo swaying in the wind. One explanation for this is that bamboo swaying in the wind moves – but it moves in an unforced and easy way.

Meet Adam Coutts

Meet Adam Gyokuzan Coutts   Daily meditation practice since 1989 Teaching meditation since 2002 Lived for four years in Buddhist monasteries Deep experience in a wide range of Eastern and Western psychospiritual growth lineages I am in my eighteenth year of helping seekers to open and deepen their concentration and mindfulness practices. I bring a…

Mindful Driving

The technique that I have found most useful for meditation while driving is to simply be present and focused on the sense impressions of the act of driving – to see what is going on around us, to keep our ears open for the sounds of traffic, and to be aware of the bodily feeling of sitting in a car seat holding a steering wheel. We can developing an all-round awareness of what is to our sides and behind us as well as in front, inside our cars and outside, repeatedly releasing wandering thoughts so as to bring ourselves back to the richness of the present moment.

Meditating at the Sogen-ji Zen Temple in Japan

I just spent about a week staying and practicing Buddhism at the Sōgen-ji Rinzai Zen temple and monastery in Okayama City, Japan. Sōgen-ji is known for its long-time abbot, Shodo Harada Roshi, who many people have told me is one of the few great living Zen masters. I had heard of Shodo Harada Roshi for years before my visit, since he is the longtime teacher of my teacher Ryoshin Paul Haller (the abbot of the SF Zen Center), and of Soryu Forall (the Dharma heir of my teacher Shinzen Young). Harada Roshi also apparently has written a few books and offers yearly retreats at the One Drop Zendo on Whidbey Island in Washington State near Seattle, which some of my Zen friends have apparently attended.

Meditating At Wat Suan Mokkh International Meditation Hermitage In Thailand

After my retreat at Wat Pah Nanachat, I rode trains for a couple days to get to Wat Suan Mokkh International Meditation Hermitage, and sit a ten day meditation retreat there. Suan Mokkh is a meditation center located on the long narrow peninsula that extends from Bangkok south to Malaysia. Similarly to Wat Pah Nanachat and Ajahn Chah, the Suan Mokkh IMH was founded by one of the more famous twentieth century Thai Buddhist masters (in this case, Buddhadasa Bikkhu) as a place for Westerners who wanted to study with him but could not understand the language at his Thai-language monastery.

Meditating At The Dragon Mountain Zen Temple In Colorado

Six years ago, at Tassajara, I had a delightful, far-ranging, deep conversation with an SFZC alumni priest named Steve Allen. As the conversation ended, he invited me to come practice with him and his partner Angelique at their little hermitage on the side of a mountain in Crestone, Colorado. I set an intention then to go and visit them; keeping in mind my search for a Buddhist practice that resonates with my deepest intentions, I wondered if his style of Zen might match with my own.

Meditating At The Bodhi Manda Zen Center In New Mexico

Bodhi Manda monastery sits, with a bar on one side and a Catholic convent on the other, along the rural highway that runs though the villiage of Jemez Springs. The monastery is a complex of maybe seven large buildings, most of them dating back to the mid-twentieth century, back when the compound apparently served as a chill-out for misbehaving Catholic priests. The solidly constructed, venerable edifices are surrounded by a beautiful treasure trove of gardens, statues, bird feeders, ponds, creeks, and trees. When I was not hustling around being busy, it felt wonderful and peaceful to be on the grounds.

Hooking Up

  I have read that there is scientific-evolutionary-biological evidence that homo sapiens were not meant to be completely monogamous. For example, they’ve found that only a small percentage of sperm actually are able to impregnate an egg; the function of more than half of sperm is actually to destroy any other males’ seed that may…

Committing To Living In Monasteries And To Traveling To Asia

Going to university in Santa Cruz, though, I got all into psychospiritual growth – Buddhist meditation, psychology and therapy, hatha yoga, twelve step programs, communication skills and processing, Joseph Campbell and Ram Dass, holotropic breathwork, sweat lodges, encounter groups, men’s circles – and workshops, endless workshops. Exploring, deepening, and expanding the psyche felt more real and more compelling to me than making art or music. In this world, where there’s politics people, travel people, money-making people, creative people, hipster people, sports people – I found that I am a psychospirtual growth person.

Attending The Burning Man Festival and Living in a Zen Monastery: Compare and Contrast

Both of Burning Man and a Zen monastery are roller coaster rides – intensely blissful one moment, then an hour later dropped down into the depths of the pit, and then all blissful and clear again five minutes later.

Buy, at Burning Man, you have many radically new experiences every day. At the monastary, many of the days are as much like the last one as is humanly possible.

What Does It Mean To Be A Buddhist?

To me, the heart of Buddhist practice is daily sitting. I find sitting in general makes me less reactive and more aware in life. I tend to feel better about the choices that I make and how I interact with people when I am sitting regularly compared with when I am not. I also have noticed that I enjoy life, going about it more consciously and with greater choice, patience, and spaciousness, when I have been sitting.

Mind-Expanding Classes, And Missing Meals

I took a class about “the flow of awareness”. We discussed being conscious of what goes through our minds, both what we are perceiving and what interpretations we are giving to our experience. Then I attended a class on the difference between effortless, “enlightened” non-karmic action done with the awareness that the universe is interconnected, one the one hand, and karmic action done willfully, individually, with a goal in mind, in a compulsive, striving manner, on the other.

Seven Week Retreat at Green Gulch Zen Center

I am writing you from the Green Gulch organic farm/Green Dragon Zen Temple, a Buddhist practice center half an hour North of San Francisco, in Marin County. It is one of the three campuses of the San Francisco Zen Center, along with City Center in San Francisco city and Tassajara in the Ventana Wilderness of Monterrey County. We wake up at 4:30 AM six days a week to the sound of a traditional Zen wake-up bell being rung as it goes up and down the hallways. We have until 4:50 to get into the Zendo and sit on our cushions, and I use that time to dress, use the bathroom, and do yoga.