Please read our impressions and memories of time together as a sangha at our April Sesshin, written by practitioners ☺️🙏
When we practiced in the dojo we often said that we are sitting with all beings. But for the past year, we really have. The small room of practice has been transformed. During this Retreat we were sitting in Scotland, in Canada, in London, in Germany, all together. Our computer screens have been the metaphor and actuality of interdependence, sameness and difference. One heart turns another, even although there are mountains and rivers between us. Even when there are lifetimes between us.
A plump thrush lands on a thin branch Pigeons flirt in the silver birch A squirrel scuttles across the roof
Things are germinating The greenhouse waits Letting myriad things rest
The washing machine rumbles and hums In the next room The real way circulates everywhere
Feelings of words drift and dissolve Shapeshifting kanji Myriad things
Hailstones bounce off the gravel and settle in Spike proteins fasten on to cells My muscles ache and my body remembers
Evening sun slowly turns the woods to gold Dusk softens and the candle glows Turning the light inward
Resting in myriad things
Poem by Margaret
The spring sesshin with the Glasgow zen group was a very enjoyable few days for a number of reasons but the main ones were experiencing increased awareness (sometimes), calmness and sense of connection with the sangha and others.
Taking part in simple, and often, automatic tasks such as eating breakfast or house work became infused with awareness and an appreciation for the usually missed moments of the everyday experience.
I can find it difficult to write about zen or experiences connected with it but I can say that after the 4 day sesshin the residual impact, filtering into my everyday experience, away from the cushion, the breakfast bowl and the hoover, has been profound. I feel a bit calmer, my house is much calmer and our family interactions are much more creative rather than reactive.
I realise (a lot) how many times each day in all tasks i can be absent and not completely there. I’m on the cushion but I’m on holiday, I’m out walking in the park but I’m having an argument with an old boss, I’m eating food but I’m thinking about work.
I am however a little gentler with myself and these realizations. As my thoughts come and go the volume and impact of them has been turned down (not off) and In general I feel a little softer around the edges and more connected.
All this is subject to change so for now I’d like simply to enjoy this experience and hopefully I will continue to sit regularly and consistently.
Thanks to everyone who took part and to John and Blair for all the organisation, talks and support throughout.
I loved every part of it having breakfast together was so intimate and special.
The samu and sewing group were great as well everything was so relaxed it really was great to be part of it , The discussions are also great its just so good to be able to take time out and be with with you in this way there’s nothing like it, its out of this world but not. ❤️🙏
The samu intention and attitude put an unexpected spring into some housework. I’d done this on retreat before but never at home. It was peaceful and productive. So, a winner all around. Thanks to Nick for setting us on our way so neatly.
Joining the sewing group session was a highlight of the spring sesshin. It was very interesting to see the various pieces of fabric being patiently and intricately sewn together and beginning to take shape with the group combining its collective expertise to help everyone with their work. Thank you for the warm welcome. It certainly got me interested into the sewing practice!
Elizabeth and Amer
At our spring sesshin we had eight zoom sections per day, with a break in between each, and the retreat lasted four days. We enjoyed an energetic start each morning with prostrations at 6am whilst one of us chanted the lineages, followed by dawn zazen (two sits and kinhin), and our chanting period including the Heart Sutra, Sandokai and short Enmei Jukku Kannon Gyo.
We then had our meditative Zen eating practice with a silent breakfast together (practice of sitting, compassion, receiving and giving), a simplified Oryoki including the Gyohatsu Nenju 行鉢念誦 ‘practice of the bowl’ chants.
Next we met to practice samu, the first time we had done this on zoom, and it was very popular! It was so nice to have the time with each other silently doing samu work, with a gassho and bow at the start and end.
Then we had our morning talk, with John leading two days, and myself one. John discussed vitality and feelingness, noticing the aliveness of our body and the beauty and joy of practice which comes with that, which is often overlooked when folk talk of zazen or overplay consciousness.
I looked into the Chinese kanji characters za and zen of 座禅 Zazen (Ch: Zuochan) and talked about their rich visual history, calligraphic styles and meanings beyond our usual translation of sitting meditation, relating the initial use of the word in China and the development of zazen practice to particular sutras and Dhyana practice dating back to the Buddha and before, and how ideas of the practice developed in China before the formation of the Zen schools. Looking at each kanji helped open the variety of meanings and stories there, constantly evolving and alive, and express our experience of sitting and zen practice through them.
Za is more physical, containing two sitters and an altar, which morphed in the time of Buddhism to include a shelter rooftop – a space for sitting. Zen explores awareness and practice-enlightenment without being able to be pinned down. Seeing the shape of za itself as a sitting practitioner (interconnected with others and with a spaciousness through the legs, sit bones and spine) was fruitful and explored our sangha practice as well as our own dynamic grounded posture.
After the talks and discussion we sat again, then had a break from zoom for lunch and a rest, before the Quiet practice section in the early afternoon – which wasn’t totally quiet as we sewers were able to discuss stitching and the practical aspects, as well as explore more deeply the meanings of of the practice and the embodiment of the Buddha’s teachings in the piecing together and wearing of our robes.
We then had a longer zazen sit, with the walking meditation being flexible so we could walk outdoors peacefully and return to our cushions to sit together again. In the last section in the evening, after an open discussion period, we had zazen -kinhin -zazen. On the final day as dusk cooled into darkness we chanted the Fukanzazengi softly whilst sitting in zazen.
Sesshin is different. Different from everyday life, different each time you enter into it, and often very different to what you expect!
The surprise for me, in this second GZG retreat held online via Zoom, was how close we were able to feel as a group, as a Sangha, despite not being able to be physically together in the same space. The carefully woven timetable brought all the colours of different aspects of our practice together, and the whole held us securely, so that each of us could participate in as much or as little as we needed.
The backbone of it all is our regular practice: sitting Zazen, daily chanting, and the endless kindness of John’s Zen talks and discussions. Around that, the other aspects flourish. Taking breakfast together, the chants and rituals hold us in silent gratitude. Doing Samu, individually working at home whilst connected on a Zoom call, we come together in gassho at the beginning and the end, supporting each other to work with care and allow simple tasks to unfold into joyful practice. And in Quiet Practice, with some participants sewing rakusus and preparing to take precepts, a space opens for quiet reflection around our practice; an unhurried sharing.
ZA (after Blair’s talk 🙏 )
Two sitting figures A brush-stroke for a roof, thus Bodhisattvas sing
Old Mrs. Kawabata Cuts down the tall spike weeds, more in two hours Than I can get done in a day.
Out of a mountain Of grass and thistle She saved five dusty stalks Of ragged wild blue flower And puts them in my kitchen in a jar.
Nick quoting Gary Snyder before Samu
I thought the retreat was a great balance of sitting, discussion and mindful activities, such as samu and sewing, creating a real sense of shared experience. Thanks to everyone involved.
Inspired by Master Dogen’s Chapter 93 of the Shobogenzo ‘Doushin’ 道心, at the recent Zen Brush monthly calligraphy group by Zoom we were encouraged by these two well known characters dou 道 (Way/ way things are/ road/path) and shin or kokoro 心 (heart/mind/spirit/ aspiration/essence) that often come up in Buddhist writings.
Brushing them in the kaisho as well as the sousho ‘grass writing’ styles of Shodo calligraphy, we also explored their meanings, as well as their combined meaning when written together which could be variously translated as the essence of the way; the aspiration for enlightenment; the spirit to walk the path of freedom.
Dogen’s waka poem (translated by Heine) conveys this mood beautifully:
Seeking the Way Amid the deepest mountain paths The retreat I find None other than My primordial home: satori!
In chapter 93 Doushin he writes:
‘We should see the aspiration for awakening as foremost.. we must not see our mind as foremost.. should not forget the unreliability of the world and precariousness of human life’
Translation by Nishijima/Cross
It was great to see the group enjoying the flow of the brush, particularly with the movement of the sousho calligraphy, and finding balance in their own way.
Folk worked with different sized brushes, ink and papers but were all absorbed by the strokes, shapes and feeling of the kanji 🙂
The next Zen Brush group is on August 24th, for more details please visit the D+P Studio.
Last weekend a few of us met early on Sunday morning at the Riverside Museum in Glasgow to sit together and have some time to chat about the practice and about posture. It was great to physically meet and enjoy summer zazen in the delightful fresh air next to the River Clyde.
We sat for two periods of 25 minutes, with kinhin walking meditation in between – we slowly walked, a small step at a time, around the silver birch trees which was lovely.
Having been born to meet the spread of this Dharma, if we cover our body with the kasaya only once, receiving it and retaining it for just a ksana or a muhurta, that experience will surely serve as a talisman to protect us in the realization of the supreme state of bodhi.
Dogen Zenji, Kesa Kudoku chapter of Shobogenzo (Nishijima/Cross translation)
Some of us recently began meeting monthly on Zoom to practice our zen sewing. Our small friendly group started on Sunday afternoon, with two sewing periods. These were interspersed with time in the middle for the Takkesage chant, a brief chat about Master Dogen’s Kesa Kudoku (Merit of the Kasaya/ Okesa) and a break for a cuppa.
The sewing periods are peaceful times of practice where we can carefully attend to whatever task we are working on, and still ask for help when we need it. Michael and Margaret were on hand to give detailed advice, with Margaret expertly guiding us in the warp and weft of the fabric 🙂
Most of us are just beginning our sewing projects, either a rakusu (5 row robe worn over the neck), or seven row okesa (worn over the shoulder) and also zagu sitting mat which is often used for prostrations. Some of us have sewn okesa before whilst others including myself have sewn a rakusu or two but are now preparing for the okesa. And some of us are at the exciting stage of getting ready to sew their first rakusu, with the plan to receive Jukaie precepts after completing their sewing.
Each stitch, each moment of sincere, committed action, one cause in many from which the completed okesa emerges. It can be said that the work of sewing the okesa is never finished. The stitches of the okesa are the actions of our Buddhist life, dedicated to all beings. At the end of that life, the okesa of a lifetime of actions are unfolded and spread out.
Michael Kendo Tait
We have been enjoying chatting online (using Slack) about fabrics and stitching and what equipment is best to use, but it was really nice to have some time together to help each other and discuss in more details about the practice. It is a friendly and easygoing group with practitioners from Glasgow and other places further afield – wherever you are you are welcome to join us 🙂
禅 Zen or Chan, was developed as a new kanji (Chinese character) to translate Dhyana after Buddhism came into China, but brings in different elements into the character, such as the altar shape on the left, and the shapes on the right which have multiple meanings.
So it doesn’t exactly match Dhyana, the Sanskrit for meditation or awareness. You could view the kanji visuals as meaning: mind-heart in one place, tranquil; or, zen practice is an instant gateway to enlightenment. Depending on how much you look into it! This is a mysterious and graceful character to embrace, much like the Zen practice itself there is no single way to pin it down conceptually.
The first video is of two styles, the faster sosho and the older reisho, very varied!
In the Tensho style video – this style was originally carved before being adapted for the brush, so is a more linear style – I practiced this quite slowly and meditatively keeping a soft focus, and starting and ending with gassho 🙂
Our first online Shakyo 写経 practice event saw us come together from Scotland, and elsewhere such as the rest of the UK and Canada, forming a lovely group of sutra tracing and copying practitioners.
Beginning with an introduction about the history of shakyo and the development of it from Tang dynasty China to modern day Japan, with descriptions of experiences and process in Japanese Buddhist temples such as Zen and Hossou schools, and then we discussed the meditative as well as practical techniques, demos and tips to prepare us.
We also talked about the Boundless Life Ten Phrase Kannon Sutra 延命十句観音経 and its connections to other sutras, looked at particular kanji characters and phrases, and how the sutra has been popular and cherished over the centuries as one that aids wellbeing in times of sickness or difficulty.
After our tea, we lit the incense, rang the bell, chanted and began quietly tracing or copying, working from the short but meaningful and energetic sutra, assisted by worksheets with the kanji and meanings. Some people simply used pens with plain paper whilst others had brush pens or shakyo brush with suzuri inkwell and Japanese paper. It was great to see the the sutras of everyone, here are some examples.
It was a peaceful and meditative atmosphere and one where we could practice with care, feeling and attentiveness working on each stroke bringing each character and letter to life. We connected with our senses, felt grounded and connected with the sutra.
We wrote our wish in the traditional manner (in Japanese and English) in the allotted space as well as the date and our name, passing the merits beyond our group, and then we completed our practice with a short chant and some time to briefly chat together about our experience.
Thanks to all the participants for their wholehearted practice.
The Odaimoku お題目 chant – repeating the title of the Lotus Sutra Namumyohourengekyou 南無妙法蓮華経 – is principally associated with the Nichiren-shu school but was originally part of a Tendai chant, the school in which Dogen Zenji grew up with.
Here I am walking in a quiet Glasgow park whilst chanting, at a fairly slow pace so I’m not too much out of breath! We have been chanting it in our Chanting Group recently online.
The Boundless Life Ten Line Kannon Sutra is chanted at various times such as by monks at Takuhatsu ritual begging while they walk in all weathers. It has a lot of energy and you can try it walking, or running slowly.