Some years ago Sojun Roshi invited me to lead a fall practice intensive that we have come to call Aspects of Practice, which focuses on the basics of our Zen Buddhist tradition. With the partnership of senior students, we created this month-long program, which served well as a point of entry for newer students and as a kind of refresher for more experienced practitioners.
This fall’s Aspects of Practice begins on September 10, continuing through October 9, led by Karen Sundheim and other practice leaders. Details can be found elsewhere in this newsletter. But in this space, I’d like to review three essential “aspects” of our dharma practice: daily zazen, meeting with a teacher, studying the Dharma.
When Suzuki Roshi came from Japan to be the priest at Sokoji, the Soto Zen temple in San Francisco, he established a practice of daily zazen that we maintain more than sixty years later. His disciple Sojun moved to Berkeley and followed much the same practice. As we have done for fifty years, BZC is open for sitting six days a week. We strongly encourage people to come to the zendo, sit together, and share a daily practice. Taking into account members’ work and family lives, everyone cannot come to the zendo every day, but the doors are always open. Sitting side by side we sustain each other naturally, and we come to a wonderful intimacy of practice.
The Covid pandemic compelled us to create new modes of online zazen that are not our traditional body-to-body zendo practice. But Zoom has served us pretty well these last few years, even if it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. But now we are back in the zendo early mornings, afternoons, and Saturdays. I want to encourage you to resume our long-standing in-person practice. Join us. Those of us who have returned to BZC feel refreshed and encouraged again by the opportunity to sit zazen together. This is the shining heart of the Sangha treasure.
The second element of our practice is meeting with a teacher. When I came to BZC in the early 80s, there was an implicit expectation of meeting regularly with a teacher. Back then, our only teacher was Sojun, but in time, students’ maturity and understanding have deepened. Now we have a roster of practice leaders and teachers who are available as guides, as mirrors, as dharma friends or kalyanamitra. This is the Buddha treasure. A teacher as Buddha reveals that you yourself are Buddha. A practice leader or teacher doesn’t dispense wisdom or give out answers to our difficulties. She or he or they help us to stand on our own feet, to find our own inborn wisdom.
As abbot, I welcome the opportunity to meet with people—formally or informally. My dokusan signup for meeting face-to-face during morning zazen is just to the right of the zendo door. To schedule an online meeting with me, see this link: https://calendly.com/asenauke/dokusan?month=2022-08 or contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, if you scroll down the “Teachers” page on the BZC website, there are email addresses to contact all of our practice leaders: https://berkeleyzencenter.org/teachers/.
Studying the Dharma is the third treasure. In the broadest sense, zazen is our principal study. As Dogen Zenji writes in Genjokoan: “To study the buddha way is to study the self. To study the self is to forget the self. To forget the self is to be actualized by myriad things.” In zazen, we sit still and allow the myriad things—which are the ever-changing elements of our “self”—to arise and to fall away. To complement this experiential study, we immerse ourselves in the teachings of Suzuki Roshi, Sojun Roshi, and our luminous ancestors in Japan, China, and India, going back to Shakyamuni Buddha. Their words and actions illuminate our own lives. During the upcoming Aspects of Practice, we’ll explore the Buddha’s Eightfold Path, a timeless map for living found in his very first teaching.
These three dimensions of practice create a whole, each including all the others. Each of us must find the right balance for the circumstances of our life. May the journey be complete.