Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Joko and Peg

Joko and Peg
Originally uploaded by Peg Syverson.

It's been wonderful to spend time with Joko, as always.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

A view from Joko's Zendo

Originally uploaded by Peg Syverson.

Here is a stunning view from the zendo of Joko's newly formed Zen Center of Prescott.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Joko's new zendo

Joko's new zendo
Originally uploaded by Peg Syverson.

Here is a peek at Joko's new Zendo, serene and lovely. The windows look out into the pine trees and boulders surrounding the house. It is light and spacious here, a wonderful place to sit. Zazen is offered Thursday evenings and Sunday mornings. Joko sees students in daisan (practice interviews) during zazen periods, and also has phone hours for students at a distance.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Visit to Joko

Dear Sangha-

Visiting with Joko is a real joy. We have been chatting about teaching and learning, about Zen practice, and about sesshins (practice intensives). She looks very well, with good color and bright eyes that show her endless interest and curiosity. She works out on the pilates machine and lifts weights with a trainer. It’s a good time to talk with her about sesshins, as they are just planning the July sesshin for Prescott. I will take pictures of the new zendo, which is absolutely gorgeous, and post them as soon as I am able to. She has just received a copy of the book On Having No Head by Douglas Harding, which she had mentioned in a talk. There is also a DVD, which he sent her. She has phone hours in the morning, and then we chat in the afternoons and evenings. She has a standing offer for any Ordinary Mind sangha members in Austin or the Brownsville group to call her for practice discussion. It is very difficult to get through during her phone hours, but if you are persistent you can manage it. If you are interested, please let me know and I will give you the contact information.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Ordinary Mind Zen-Brownsville

We are delighted to note that the Rio Grande Zen group has changed its name to Ordinary Mind Zen-Brownsville. You may visit the website here: Ordinary Mind Zen-Brownsville. We wish the group great joy in their study and practice of the ordinary mind way.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Brilliant Dharma

Perhaps you are feeling a bit terrified and despairing about the world situation, especially as reflected in the dire accounts from news media and the reports of the horrifying activities of governments worldwide. Please go right now to this link and listen to a half-hour talk by Dr. Larry Brilliant at the annual TED conference that will first terrify, then hearten and inspire you:


Please also read the followup piece on the outcome of his daring challenge to the global technological community:


Well, go! It’s OK, I’ll wait.

Then come back for a discussion about what this incredible dharma talk has to do with our simple ordinary lives, right here and right now.

Back? A brief review:

You will recall that the aptly named Dr. Brilliant first detailed how the terrifying scourge of smallpox (or any terrible contagious disease) can spread so rapidly. First there is a tiny outbreak in one place, followed by another tiny outbreak, but because of the speed of travel now, those little outbreaks quickly spread around the globe, grow larger, and soon engulf the world in catastrophic losses. He showed graphic photos of the progression of smallpox in humans. He spoke movingly about how smallpox has been declared completely eradicated in the world; he actually witnessed the last case.

How was it eradicated? It had been eliminated everywhere in the world except one place—India, with her 21 states and teeming millions of people, many of them living in poverty and lack, illiterate and out of reach of most forms of communication. Dr. Brilliant and 150,000 people went door to door to every single house in India, carrying pictures of smallpox symptoms and finding every single case. He demonstrated how many different deadly diseases could spread this way, but also how the catastrophic epidemics can be stopped. The secret, he said, is early detection and rapid response. Then the disease can be contained, until ultimately, it dies out completely.

What does this fascinating talk reveal about our practice? As it is without, so it is within. The epidemiology Dr. Brilliant described might just as easily be applied to our inner environment, and the diseases of greed, anger, and ignorance. They begin with tiny outbreaks, annoyance, a little indulgence beyond what is needed, turning a deaf ear to a problem. But because of the way our neural networks form, these outbreaks can propagate until we find ourselves in a global catastrophe of rage, lust, and massive delusion.

The terrible photos of the children with smallpox reveal that early on, the bumps are few and might be easily concealed with a hat. We can cover over our own little symptoms too, with our busyness, distractions, and efforts to look good. But as the disease spreads, it soon takes over, and the photos show in gruesome detail the inexorable progression that leaves those who survive disfigured and scarred. So too, the progression of untreated greed, anger, and ignorance leaves us horribly disfigured and scarred inside.

There is no vaccine for greed, anger, and delusion—these viruses are ubiquitous, infinitely adaptable, and affect all humans. How do we address this pandemic, within ourselves, in our closest relationships, and around the world? Brilliant has asked the world’s most advanced technologists to create a system for early detection, rapid response, and containment. And they have responded enthusiastically to this challenge.

In our practice mindfulness is our technology for early detection, rapid response, and containment of the three poisons. Just as Dr. Brilliant and his tireless team went door to door to every single house in India, we must be as tireless in our practice in addressing every single outbreak of greed, anger and delusion, moment by moment. Notice too that the effective response is not killing those afflicted with the disease, but containment.

We first observe and accurately diagnose the symptoms of our afflictions, respond with awareness, and contain the energy so that the pathological expressions of greed, anger, and ignorance can ultimately die out completely for lack of a host. Leave even one case alone, and it can spread and multiply, so to fully and wholeheartedly meet the situation we must be vigilant and persistent.

Our “team” is our sangha and teachers. The India within is too vast and teeming to be able to do it alone. We need resources: teachings and teachers and sangha to help us identify the diseases, meditation to cultivate mindfulness and support containment. As we contain these deadly contagious diseases, they lose their epidemic proportions. This is true not only within us, but it is also true beyond, even impacting global levels, which create so much suffering and despair.

So what about Dr. Brilliant? Is he a saint? No more than you or I. Does he get angry? I’m quite sure he does, when it is appropriate. But what does his anger serve? It serves life and the relief of suffering, not his egoic identifications. Does he have greed? I am quite sure he does, in the service of his aspiration to benefit all beings. Does he have ignorance? Almost certainly he has the ignorance of someone who goes ahead with the impossible realization of his aspiration.

Can we practice in our ordinary, everyday lives, with the intensity, passion, and determination of Larry Brilliant? It is only in this way that we can fully awaken to the luminous well-being of a healthy life, free of suffering for ourselves and for others.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

The teaching of emptiness by Zen master Peg

The teaching of emptiness by Zen master Peg
Originally uploaded by Peg Syverson.

Peg attains perfect stillness and silence, offering her best teaching to date, but still a 2-dimensional view that is not fully realized. Sangha members will vote on which Peg more perfectly expresses the dharma, and determine which one they will keep as a teacher. While this version is obviously less troublesome and inexpensive, it does not respond well to questions and challenges, maintaining what some think of as an "aloof and forbidding silence," with a performance some find "wooden," although others are inclined to call it "wisdom." This classic laconic "Texas-style" Zen teacher of few words (well, actually wordless) may catch on here in Austin, bringing new vitality to concepts such as "no mind" and "no self." However, it remains to be seen how this teacher can possibly "chop wood" and "carry water."

Friday, June 01, 2007

Evening Zazen reminder

Next week, evening zazen moves to its new regular time, Wednesday evening at 7:30. There are two sitting periods with walking meditation between. The first period is instructional, offering some guiding or posture adjustments intended especially to support those new to practice. The second sitting period is silent as usual. You may come for the second zazen period only if you wish; please plan to arrive at 8:00, enter quietly, and join the walking meditation. An informal tea follows the evening sittings. This is a good chance to ask any questions or connect with other members of the Ordinary Mind community of practice.