Monday, February 25, 2008

Margaret Harrison

As many of you know, the sangha lost a dear friend and devoted sangha member, Margaret Harrison, last Thursday. The Ordinary Mind memorial for Margaret is scheduled for 6:00 PM Sunday, March 9, following the one-day sitting, at Ordinary Mind. Please do make time in your schedule for this remembrance of Margaret's life. For those who have not had the pleasure of knowing Margaret, the short video below, provided by Katherine Jones, gives you a good sense of her luminous personality. In it she describes her experience receiving a new heart.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

An ongoing dialogue on enlightenment

Enlightenment is precisely the traffic on Mopac. No, not like the traffic on Mopac. It is none other than this. The skillful flowing together with others in complete, moment to moment awareness is your best hope for preventing suffering for yourself and others. On the freeway, your thoughts, plans, dreams and goals, your troubled childhood or big promotion do not matter one bit. The only thing that matters is the appropriate response dynamically unfolding in harmony with the free flow of movement, form, sensation, perception, emotion-thoughts, and consciousness. It is an ongoing jazz ensemble improvisation. The one who cut you off—is he right or wrong? Is she good or bad? Are you furious or amused? None of that matters. The only thing that matters is your skillful responding in slowing safely and avoiding collisions with other drivers. And your awareness is always especially necessary in meeting those who are hindered by “non-awareness.” Distractions are dangerous! Whether you are a CEO or student, tall, short, young, tired, driving a sports car or a battered pickup truck, suffering from cancer or a broken heart, alone or with three bickering kids in the back, on your way to work, to meet a lover, to pick up a few groceries—all irrelevant. In rain or ice, dark or blinding sun, the issues are the same. Blink and the laughing blonde girl next to you suffers a broken neck, reach for something under the seat and spend the rest of your days in a wheelchair: your absolute attention is required in every moment. And on a good day, the whole performance unfolds like a miraculous symphony of movement, color, sound, light, ease, and generosity. You may even be surprised by the dazzling wonder of wildflowers. But whether you are zipping along at 70 mph, peering into a foggy night, or stuck in bumper-to-bumber rush hour traffic, enlightenment is just this.

The rest of life is also this.

Flint responds:
Our habits of mind are like a magic act. When we go to see a magician we know we are being tricked, but the illusions can be so compelling and convincing we become enthralled by what we think we are seeing. It appears that the woman is actually being sawed in half, right in front of our eyes. Inexplicably, the huge 4-wheel drive pickup disappears into thin air. The plump rabbit is actually being pulled out of an empty hat and a flock of white pigeons explodes out of a silk scarf which was, only moments before, tucked neatly into a vest pocket. It is as if we can’t see these events in any other way. This is what makes them so fascinating. The problem in our everyday life is that these illusions become delusion. The tricks are so often mistaken for truth that we operate on these illusory truths as if they were real. We end up betting our lives on illusion and ignoring the truth which could, as they say, actually set us free. Sitting practice and self-study is like going backstage and having the magician show us how the illusion was created.

Every illusion can be seen through and once seen through, we are no longer fooled. The slight-of-hand is obvious and the deception illuminated. It has all been brought into the light of awareness – enlightened.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Upcoming events

Dear Sangha-

I'm delighted to let you know that the dates for the April Ordinary Mind practice intensive with Flint and Peg have been set. It will begin Friday evening April 4 and run through Sunday afternoon April 6. The cost is $75 if paid before March 10, $100 after that date. Please plan to follow the complete schedule.

The application forms for the practice intensive are now available. Please review the application and fill it out completely, even if you have filled out a similar application in the past, then return it to me. I have attached a copy to this email, but the application can also be found at:

Because we have very limited accommodations, for this intensive we do not expect local sangha members to stay here overnight. We can provide a few spaces for folks from out of town. If you are able to accommodate an out-of-town guest, please let me know.

Also, if you have any questions about the application form or about the intensive, please let me know.

When we allow ourselves simply to have this time and space, in mindfulness and curiosity, practice intensives can be enormously clarifying for our practice and our sangha. I am looking forward to this opportunity to deepen our practice together!

There will be an all-day sitting before the intensive on March 9 to give you an opportunity to practice extending your zazen with a few additional sitting periods. The all-day sittings are held as an extension of the regular Sunday morning program.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Ordinary Mind and social activism

Dear Sangha-
Sunday morning we discussed this topic, and for those who were not with us, I would like to clarify the issue of social, political, and environmental activism with respect to the Ordinary Mind sangha. I am certainly in favor of each member of the sangha connecting with, supporting, and even challenging their communities in the ways that feel most appropriate. Such activity may take many different forms and may reflect very different methods and perspectives. All perspectives are welcome here.

Rebecca McIlwain, a member of the sangha, is offering a workshop intended to foster awareness and contemplation around participants' political engagement. We are providing the space and time for this workshop without officially sponsoring it, as we have done with other offerings that are congruent with the Ordinary Mind way. I think this will be a wonderful opportunity for those folks who would like to bring issues of political engagement into their meditation practice to help clarify their understanding.

We are happy to provide space and time for other groups with a contemplative focus as appropriate, without directly endorsing or sponsoring those groups. Scheduling depends on time and availability of the space. It is typical in cases such as this for a reasonable contribution to be made to Ordinary Mind in support of the sangha.

However, I want to make it clear that the role of Ordinary Mind is support and encouragement and practices for awakening in our lives right now, right here. Our methods involve zazen, inquiry groups, practice discussion, classes, and intensives. There will be no social, political, or environmental activism program officially offered by Ordinary Mind. This is an important point to understand. Certainly we are extremely sensitive to social, political, and environmental needs and the potential for healing and constructive action. And as I mentioned above, we support and encourage people to engage these issues wholeheartedly. There are many, many venues locally, nationally, and globally for such engagement. However, I feel very strongly that Ordinary Mind should not be directing such activity. It is not in our mission. What we can do, is to work with people engaged in these kinds of activities to help them find an appropriate expression and balance, avoiding burnout, anger, and polarizing, finding their own clearest and most beneficial manifestation of the dharma. We are entirely open with respect to the particular social, political, or environmental position a person may hold; we are most interested in their aspiration for a liberated life of openness, compassion, and wisdom.

I think the recently-coined term "engaged Buddhism" is a redundancy: there is no such thing as "disengaged Buddhism." We are in intimate relationships with each other, with our work, with our world, and we cannot escape engagement and activity with all of its karmic consequences. There is no privileged place to stand, outside of the whole. And so as the Dalai Lama said, we are responsible toward the whole world. Notice he did not say we are responsible for the whole world.

Again, our purpose and mission is liberation—mutual support and encouragement for waking up in this life, with all that this may mean for each person in terms of their engagement with the world. I would caution anyone who may assume that positions held by anyone in the sangha, including the teachers, somehow represent Ordinary Mind's "official" position. The Buddha taught the relinquishing of all views (not just the ones we disagree with, nor even just the ones we agree with). If you really understand what this means, the appropriate action will spontaneously emerge within each situation, each moment.

I'm taking a little time with this because it is an important issue as the sangha grows and develops. I realize that some folks have expressed an interest in forming social action groups within the sangha. This is of course perfectly fine, as long as these groups are not represented as official programs of the Ordinary Mind Zen group. They would be, rather, independent affiliations of folks with shared interests in a particular topic or issue. I am especially cautious about replicating in Ordinary Mind the social structures and apparatus that we find in so many spiritual communities which, no matter how well-intentioned, would ultimately prove a distraction from the central purpose of Ordinary Mind.

The Dharma is simple, yet incomparably profound. Our immediate, direct encounter with each other and with the reality of just this is our central teaching: this "crisis-resolving" encounter, in the context of openness, curiosity, and compassion is our method for realizing wholeness and well-being in our world. Not "the" world; our world. It is the source and functioning of true liberation. This is not like any other place or experience or path: let's not try to turn it into something familiar and reassuring.

As always, if you have any reflections or questions about this, please let me know.