Welcome to BZC

Website visitors may notice that some images and files are currently not loading correctly. The Webmasters are aware of this issue. Please bear with us as we work through this particular lesson on impermanence. 

Rohatsu Sesshin – Dec 4 – 10

Two Rohatsu Ceremonies

Our Rohatu sesshin always includes two annual ceremonies: the Suzuki Roshi Memorial (this year on Monday, December 4, 4:30 p.m.) and the Buddha’s Enlightenment ceremony (this year on Saturday, December 9, approximately 11:15 a.m., following the morning lecture)

Those not in the zendo for sesshin at those times are encouraged to participate in these ceremonies via online zendo.

Through the end of the year, we have returned to masking  (N95 or KN95 mask) for all.  We continue to require vaccinations and at least one booster.

If you haven’t already and you want to attend, please send your vax and booster information to the Office Manager –  bzcofficemanager@gmail.com – AT LEAST ONE WEEK BEFORE YOU ATTEND (if sooner than that, also bring your vax card and ID with you).  You need to send it in by email, even if you have shown your card to the monitor.

IF YOU TEST POSITIVE FOR COVID within two days of being here, please notify the coordinator, Carol Paul, at caroljpaul@yahoo.com.

Abbot’s Message:

Bodaisatta Shishobo:
The Bodhisattva’s Four Embracing Dharmas

Part 1: Giving*

Several years after returning from China in 1227, Zen Master Dogen created the first Japanese Soto Zen monastery, Koshoji, in the southern reaches of Kyoto. There he found the right setting to practice, teach, write, and develop a monastic community devoted to his zazen-centered approach to Zen. But the social climate of Kamakura Japan, which saw the full flowering of new and popular forms of Buddhism, including Zen, Shin, and Nichiren schools, was marked by feudalism, political tensions, and civil strife which even played out among rival Buddhist sects.
          In May of 1243, very likely in the midst of internecine violence among Buddhists, Dogen Zenji wrote “Bodaisatta Shishobo”—”The Bodhisattva’s Four Embracing Dharmas”—the 28th fascicle of his masterwork Shobogenzo—presenting it to his community as guidance for how to respond skillfully to their difficult circumstances. At the top of their minds, no doubt, was their imminent removal from Koshoji to the wilds of Echizen Province, where Dogen founded Eiheiji—Temple of Eternal Peace—in the remaining ten years of his life. By late July 1243 they were gone from Koshoji. I can only imagine what a wrenching departure that was. I think of this today, as war burns through Israel and Gaza, playing out as a nightmare, extending decades of intergenerational trauma. There must be an alternative to cycles of hatred and violence.
          Shishobo** presents four direct methods of social interaction, four ways we can embrace each other. These four Dharmas are: Giving or Dana, Loving Speech, Beneficial Action, and what Dogen calls Identity-Action, more accessibly translated as Cooperation. These were already ancient practices in Dogen’s time. The four sangaha vatthu, variously translated as the four ways of showing favor, the foundations of social unity, or the bonds of fellowship, are found in the early Pali texts such as the Sangaha Sutta (Anguttara Nikaya—IV.32) and in the principal Mahayana sutras.
          To embrace is to encircle. I put my arms around you; you put your arms around me. This is how we turn toward each other and show our love. To embrace is to unify, to make one of two. In an embrace, the limits of body, skin, feelings, thoughts momentarily merge. Seen from the outside, two beings are briefly one, dancers together on the vast stage of life.
          Each Dharma is a practice, pointing toward compassion and embrace. Or more accurately, how we express the truth that we are not separate from each other. Because we are not separate from others, these four Dharmas move both Bodhisattvas and sentient beings toward freedom from the poisons of greed, hatred, and delusion. In the act of embrace there is no distinction between self and other, between a Bodhisattva and an ordinary being.
          But to embrace is not simply merging, a mushy and meaningless oneness. When an embrace ends, when the dance is over, we return to our individuality. But something is changed. Consider the first embracing Dharma, giving. This is a Bodhisattva’s essential practice, dana paramita. Giving one’s attention, friendship, community, material aid, spiritual teachings, community, and fearlessness. And we offer our respect, our voices, incense, flowers, light, tea, and food. Our gifts circulate, without us holding on to them possessively.
          Giving includes all the other Embracing Dharmas. Dogen begins “Shishobo” by explaining:

Giving or Offering means not being greedy. Not to be greedy means not to covet. Not to covet commonly means not to flatter. Even if we rule the four continents, in order to offer teachings of the true Way we must simply and unfailingly not be greedy. It is like offering treasures we are about to discard to those we do not know. We give flowers blooming on the distant mountains to the Tathagata, and offer treasures accumulated in past lives to living beings. Whether our gifts are Dharma or material objects, each gift is truly endowed with the virtue of Offering or dana. 

Giving begins with the recognition that there is nothing but giving in the whole universe. The universe and all beings are continuously giving. This is our spiritual understanding. And yet each of us must still do our part and cultivate the practice of giving. I give myself to practice and practice offers itself to enlightenment and peace. But in this world peace often implies its shadow side, war. The taste of tears, corrosive doubt, and decay fall within the circle of my own body and mind. War is here, right where I get fooled by self-attachment and privilege. True giving means giving up one’s small self. It means not hiding. It also means giving fearlessness by showing others that I am willing to face my own failure and despair as a natural part of being completely alive.
          We offer gifts and guidance in many forms. At the heart of these teachings is the understanding that peace is connection. On a simple level, material goods are given. On a higher level, teaching is shared. And on the highest level there is just connection, the endless society of being, the vast assembly of Bodhisattvas. In Lewis Hyde’s wonderful book The Gift he describes dinner in a restaurant in the south of France:

The patrons sit at a long communal table, and each finds before his plate a modest bottle of wine. Before the meal begins, a man will pour his wine not into his own glass but into his neighbor’s. And his neighbor will return the gesture, filling the first man’s empty glass. In an economic sense nothing has happened. No one has any more wine than he did to begin with. But society has appeared where there was none before.

The gift itself is only a gift so long as it remains in circulation. A monk or nun carries an empty bowl from house to house, or sits in the zendo with oriyoki bowls laid out on the tan. The bowl is emptiness, yet in this material world food is offered so that one may live. Emptiness and form embrace and dance. Having eaten, the monk transforms food into action and practice, which is offered again to nourish all beings.
          Giving is not an abstract thing. It occurs in the world itself. Dogen writes:

To provide a boat or to build a bridge is offering as the practice of dana-paramita. When we carefully learn the meaning of giving, both receiving our body and giving up our body are offering. Earning our livelihood and managing our business are, from the outset, nothing other than giving. Entrusting flowers to the wind, and entrusting birds to the season may also be meritorious. 

In all our worldly actions we should consider what others need and what we can give without nourishing our own self-centeredness. This is always a difficult practice. Dogen says bluntly, “The mind of a living being is difficult to change.”  This is true for others . . . and for ourselves.

—Hozan Alan Senauke


*In the next BZC newsletter, I will write about the three remaining Embracing Dharmas: Kind Speech, Beneficial Action, and Cooperation.

**A long essay, “The Bodhisattva’s Embrace,” and a full translation of “Bodaisatta Shishobo” can be found in my book The Bodhisattva’s Embrace: Dispatches from Engaged Buddhism’s Front Lines. Also, Kaz Tanahashi’s translation of “Shishobo” as “The Bodhisattva’s Four Methods of Guidance” can be found in his Dogen collection Moon in a Dewdrop.


IN-PERSON ZAZEN IN GENERALIf you are interested in attending in person zazen, please send your vax and booster information to the Office Manager –  bzcofficemanager@gmail.com – AT LEAST ONE WEEK BEFORE YOU ATTEND (if sooner than that, also bring your vax card and ID with you).  You need to send it in by email, even if you have shown your card to the monitor.

IF YOU TEST POSITIVE FOR COVID within two days of being here, please notify the coordinator, Carol Paul, at caroljpaul@yahoo.com.