Julie Hosho Rose Ordination

Treetop Zen Center heartily congratulates Julie Hosho Rose, who received Tokudo from Peter Seishin Wohl in a private home ceremony earlier today,  making her an unsui, or novice priest.

Julie has been practicing Zen for over 20 years, first at Zen Mountain Monastery in Mt. Tremper, New York, then at Treetop Zen Center.

Two New Teachers Empowered

Treetop Zen Center is excited to announce that Peter Seishin Wohl will give Dharma Transmission to senior students Todd Hotai Watson and Jaime Heiku McLeod in a private midnight ceremony on Saturday, May 14th.

Dharma Transmission marks Todd and Jaime’s transition from students to fully authorized and independent Soto Zen teachers in the White Plum lineage. Todd and Jaime, who have both undertaken tokudo (novice priestly vows), will also be recognized as fully ordained Buddhist priests.

Treetop’s new teachers will make their public debut during the regularly scheduled sitting on Saturday morning, May 14th, at 9 a.m., at which time they will offer daisan to all members of the sangha for the first time.

Please join us to celebrate this momentous occasion in the life of our sangha.

Dongshan is Unwell

Book of Serenity, Case 94

When Dongshan was unwell, a monk asked, “You are ill, teacher, but is there anyone who is not ill?”

 Dongshan said, “There is.”

The monk said, “Does the one who is not ill look after you?”

Dongshan said, “I have the opportunity to look after him.”

The monk said, “How is it when you look after him?”

Dongshan said, “Then I don’t see that he has any illness.”

Last week, Peter Wohl shared some of the most basic Buddhist teachings with us, the life story of Shakyamuni Buddha and the Four Noble Truths. The Cliff’s Notes version, for those who weren’t here, is that 2,500 years ago in India, a pampered prince named Siddhartha Gautama left his palace in search of a cure for sickness, old age, and death. After years of subjecting himself to increasingly self-destructive ascetic practices, he finally turned his back on them, embracing the Middle Way, and achieved enlightenment, awakening to his true nature while meditating under the Bodhi tree.

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Stop the Fighting Across the River

I don’t know about any of you, but for me, the last several months have felt like a particularly bad time to be a human being.

It seems like every day there’s some new horror making headlines. Mass shootings, which seemed too frequent when they occurred once every couple of years, have literally become a daily occurrence in our country.

We don’t even have time to process one tragedy before the next one preempts it from our attention.

It’s bad enough when the perpetrator is a “madman,” alienated from his community and prone to dangerous self-aggrandizement, but what about all of the murders committed by police—the people who are sworn to protect and serve in our name. Unarmed people of color are dispatched with disturbing regularity and complete impunity, as much of the public shrugs and figures they were “thugs” who had it coming.

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Chiyono’s No Water, No Moon

Chiyono was a servant in a Zen convent who wanted to practice zazen. One day she approached an elderly nun and said, “I’m of humble birth. I can’t read or write and must work all the time. Is there any possibility that I could attain the way of Buddha even though I have no skills?”

The nun answered her, “This is wonderful, my dear! In Buddhism there are no distinctions between people. There is only this: each person must hold fast to the desire to awaken and cultivate a heart of great compassion. People are complete as they are. If you don’t fall into delusive thoughts, there is no Buddha and no sentient being; there is only one complete nature. If you want to know your true nature, you need to turn toward the source of your delusive thoughts. This is called zazen.”

Chiyono said, with happiness, “With this practice as my companion, I have only to go about my daily life, practicing day and night.”

After months of wholehearted practice, she went out on a full-moon night to draw some water from the well. The bottom of her old bucket, held together by bamboo strips, suddenly gave way, and the reflection of the moon vanished with the water. When she saw this she attained great realization.

Her enlightenment poem was this:

“With this and that I tried to keep the bucket together, and then the bottom fell out. Where water does not collect, the moon does not dwell.”

– From The Hidden Lamp
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Hsueh-feng’s Grain of Rice

Blue Cliff Record, Case 5

Hsueh-feng, teaching his community, said: Pick up the whole great earth in your fingers and its as big as a grain of rice. Throw it down before you. It’s like looking into a black lacquer bucket. You can’t find it anywhere. Beat the drum. Call everyone to look for it.

Eihei Dogen, the Japanese founder of our Soto tradition, and a prolific author of treatises on Zen philosophy and practice, has gotten a reputation for being inscrutable and esoteric. And its true that, in some of his writing, Dogen can be a bit of a Jazz man, riffing on bits of old mondos, poems, Sutras, folklore, and home-brewed metaphors with little or no exposition. Like the koans we wrestle with in our practice, much of Dogen’s writing is not meant to be grasped with the intellect, but with the gut. Continue reading

Up a Tree

Art by Mark Morse

Gateless Gate, Case 5

Kyogen said, “Its like a man up in a tree, hanging from a branch with his mouth; his hands can’t grasp a bough, his feet won’t reach one. Under the tree there is another man, who asks him the meaning of Bodhidharma’s coming from the west. If he doesn’t answer, he evades his duty. If he answers, he will lose his life. What should he do?

What does it mean to be up the tree like the person Kyogen is speaking about? If we respond to the question we will fall and probably die. However, if we do not speak, we ignore the questioner and fail in our responsibility to the Dharma. Does this seem like an absurd dilemma the Master has created for us? Perhaps, and yet it can be understood in such a way that it’s remarkably relevant to our lives today. Continue reading

Bodhidharma’s Mind-Pacifying

Art by Mark Morse

Gateless Gate, Case 41

Bodhidharma sat facing the wall.

The Second Patriarch stood in the snow.

He cut off his arm and presented it to Bodhidharma, crying, “My mind has no peace as yet! I beg you, master, please pacify my mind!”

“Bring your mind here and I will pacify it for you,” replied Bodhidharma.

“I have searched for my mind, and I cannot take hold of it,” said the Second Patriarch.

“Now your mind is pacified,” said Bodhidharma.

Every time I hear this case, my heart rushes out to meet Huike, the Second Ancestor of Zen in China.

Who here hasn’t been in his shoes, turbulent and troubled, at the end of our ropes, desperately searching for someone or something to finally give us peace?

Tradition tells us that Huike had already been studying Buddhism for many years before Bodhidharma came from the West. Some even considered him to be enlightened before this encounter. And maybe he was.

Yet there he stood, waist deep in the snow, begging this grumpy bulge-eyed barbarian to grant him release from his suffering mind. Continue reading

Dizang’s Not Knowing

Book of Serenity, Case 20

Fayan was going on pilgrimage.

Dizang said, “Where are you going?”

Fayan said, “Around on pilgrimage.”

Dizang said, “What is the purpose of pilgrimage?”

Fayan said: “I don’t know.”

Dizang said, “Not knowing is most intimate.”

Anyone who’s ever spent a lot of time with small children has likely played the “why” game.

When we’re kids, everything in the world is new and mysterious, and we want to know why things are the way they are. Everything we encounter is an opportunity for discovery.

“Why is the sky blue?” a child might ask.

If we paid attention in high school science, we might answer that the sky is blue because the gas molecules in the air scatter blue light from the sun more readily than they scatter red light.

“But why?”

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Turning Over the Tea Kettle at Chao Ch’ing

Blue Cliff Record, Case 48

When Minister Wang entered Chao Ch’ing, they were making tea. At the time Elder Lang was holding the kettle for Ming Chao. Lang turned the tea kettle over.

Seeing this, the Minister asked the Elder, “What’s under the tea stove?” 

Lang said, “The spirit who holds up stoves.” 

The Minister said, “If it’s the spirit who holds up stoves, why then did you turn over the tea kettle?”

Lang said, “Serve as an official for a thousand days, lose it in a single morning.”

The Minister shook out his sleeves and left.

Ming Chao said, “Elder Lang, you’ve eaten Chao Ch’ing food, but still you go beyond the river to make noise gathering charred wood.”

Lang said, “What about you, Teacher?” 

Ming Chao said, “The spirit got the advantage.””

Hsueh Tou said, “At the time I just would have kicked over the tea stove.”

As soon as I chose this koan to talk about his morning, I thought perhaps I’d made a mistake. I went online looking for other teachings on this case, to weigh my thinking on it against what others have had to say.

A talk by Koun Yamada, the author of the translation of the Gateless Gate we use here at Treetop, was the only one I could find, and after reading it, it became clear to me that he did so only because he was working his way through the entire Blue Cliff Record. Here’s what he had to say about this case: “This koan, to be quite frank, is neither very interesting nor much of an aid in our practice.”

I hope this ringing endorsement helps you keep your expectations for this talk in perspective.

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