Tag Archives: enlightenment

A story about koans and Love and creativity

Koans pick the locks on the narratives that define our lives. When those narratives become exposed and transparent we have the freedom to move through them and outside them, to rewrite entire portions of our story. We recalibrate our sense of what we are capable of caged lionsas individuals and what is possible in this universe by taking risks, and when we stop limiting ourselves according to what we believe is possible it’s as though the universe has suddenly opened the corral and given us freedom to pursue what we love. We may not have even known or acknowledged what we love until this moment because it laid outside the realm of possibility, so we might stand at the open paddock gate for a long time, wondering where to go.

But maybe one day we have some wild idea about a project or a passion or a fear and instead of muting it immediately with the muzzle of possibility, we think, “Holy moly, do I dare break my own rules and follow that dream?” Do we take that chance and step off the ranch? If we say yes, it is at that moment that the wealth of creative energy in the universe comes to bear in us. When we make the decision to set out on the course that Love has charted, without knowing where it will lead us, suddenly it seems we become beneficiary to a vast and mysterious storehouse of resources that we never knew existed. Purpose gives us wings, problems become puzzles, and everything becomes useful.

trophiesAlthough it can be deeply rewarding to give life to something and bring it to completion, we might find that the completion of our task actually brings on a kind of disappointment, even a sense of grief despite what we may consider a great accomplishment. While we were engaged in our holy mission to find the grail we enjoyed the blessings of Heaven and weathered the curses of Hell, but we have brought the golden cup back to the paddock and now it sits coldly on a shelf somewhere, perhaps adored by others but not as much by us as when we were searching for it. It turns out that all along there were two grails, the one we sought and the one we found, and now that we possess the grail we have found, we have lost the grail we sought. Such can be the irony of getting what one wants.

And so we can say that perhaps our finest reward was not in the completion of our work, but in the struggle and search, the dirt-stained clothes and sweaty arms, and the feeling of Landscapestrain and release as we enjoyed the grace that comes with doing Love’s work. Perhaps the most valuable thing was not the grail itself, but the connection we enjoyed with the things of this life which colluded to bring us to it. And so we set out again on that dusty road of Love, the wind at our back and another grail in heart. And may we be so blessed as to never find what we are looking for.

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A Place Without Cold or Heat: A 3-Day Zen Koan Meditation Retreat

September 25 – 28, 2014 in Crozet, Virginia

Note: We have one full-time overnight bed left, but plenty of day spots!
COuntry Road BannerA student asked Dongshan, “When cold and heat come, how can we avoid them?”
Dongshan said, “Why don’t you go to the place where there is no cold or heat?”
The student asked, “What’s the place without cold or heat?”
Dongshan said, “When it’s cold, the cold kills you. When it’s hot, the heat kills you.”

I love pretty much everything about meditation retreats—the woody smell of incense, the sight of cushions and chairs neatly lined against the walls, the gossamer sound of breaths arriving from all sides of the meditation hall. I love the stillness and the silence; I love the deep sense of connection I discover there, not only with myself and my fellow retreat-goers but with the grass and the birds and the food I am eating.

I also love koans (most of the time). They are fine companions on sunny days as well as when things turn dark, because they lead me out of the realm of the expected. That’s good for me because a lot of the time I think I know everything. What is a koan? Simply put, they are stories used in the Zen tradition to open the heart and awaken the mind. The Dongshan dialogue at the top of the page will be our koan for this retreat. For a further exploration of the question of koans, check this out.

Amigo no pantsThis is a residential retreat that has been designed to be accessible to people at all levels of experience. Actually, koans are designed to be accessible to people at all levels of experience, so I suppose I can give them the credit. Koans aren’t interested in how long you’ve been meditating, whether or not you’re a good person, or if you cheated on your diet today. They have their own agenda and they will be friends with anyone (yes, even you).

It is not always easy to set aside the other areas of our lives to attend a residential retreat. We may be apprehensive about what may or may not happen while we are away. But the stillness and silence of retreat has a way of softening the boundaries between our inner life and outer life. In retreat we can’t help but transform, and the whole world transforms with us. We come home seeing with new eyes and hearing with new ears and our life responds to that.

The Details

PZI profile picA Brief Overview: We are affiliated with Pacific Zen Institute. Although this retreat incorporates many aspects of formal Zen practice, it is by no means a typical Zen retreat. In keeping with the spirit of Pacific Zen Institute’s mission to create a truly western Zen culture, the focus will be on the transformative process of koan practice itself rather than strict adherence to traditional Asian Buddhist forms.

The retreat will be held in a large cabin generously provided by the Our Lady of the Angels monastery in Crozet, Virginia. There are lots of trees, a large pond (with a boat!), and a porch for relaxing. There will be plenty of seated meditation, some koan-inspired activities, walks, and vegetarian food. It will be lovely!

Our Lady Pond squaredThe retreat will run from Thursday, September 25th to Sunday, September 28th. Participants are welcome to attend full-time or part-time as they wish, to stay overnight or just attend during the day(s). We will begin at 7:00pm on Thursday with meditation and a short ceremony. Participants will need to provide their own dinner the first night. The wake-up bell will be rung at 4:30am each morning and meditation will begin at 5:00am (There will be coffee!). Each block of meditation will consist of 25-minute periods of silent seated meditation punctuated by brief periods of walking meditation. There will also be some discussion/group work. We will have our regular morning meditation schedule on Sunday, followed by a closing ceremony at noon. Then you go home! (See the Retreat Schedule for more details.)

Note: If you are attending part-time, please take care to arrive and depart during breaks in the schedule so as not to disrupt meditation.

Food: Please provide your own dinner for Thursday. A vegetarian breakfast and dinner will be provided on Friday and Saturday, and breakfast on Sunday. Lunch will not be provided, so please bring your own for however many days you plan to attend (there is a refrigerator and smallish kitchen on-site, but please be aware that everyone will be sharing the space). Light snacks like fruit and nuts, and coffee and tea will also be available throughout the retreat.

Our Lady Porch SquaredAccommodations: Space is limited. Our cabin features 3 bedrooms and a loft, which altogether contain 6 single beds and 2 full-size beds available for those wishing to stay any or all nights. There are 2 full bathrooms (one on each floor). Please bring your own bed linens, blankets and towels as the monastery does not provide any (pillows are provided). Please let us know if you are a couple and would like to share one of the full beds. Sorry, there are no private rooms.

Cost: My original intention was for this retreat to be entirely free of charge. After further planning, my more realistic intention is to keep this retreat as inexpensive as possible while still covering operating costs. Any money remaining after operating costs are deducted will go directly to the Our Lady of the Angels monastery as a donation for generously providing us this space. Feel free to donate extra if you wish! No one will be turned away for lack of funds (to request a scholarship: before registering, please use the comments form at the bottom of this page to tell me how many days you would like to attend and how much you are able to pay). Please see the following fee schedule:

One day: $15.00
Two days: $30.00
Full-time (Thurs-Sun): $45.00

Work Practice: The famous Chinese Zen master Baizhang once said, “A day without work is a day without eating.” Well, that’s one way to look at it. There are a few simple jobs that need doing to keep the retreat running, but also, work practice is an excellent way to carry our meditation off the cushion and into our daily activities.

What to bring:

– Please wear comfortable clothing and bring shoes to walk in. The cabin we are staying in does have heat and air conditioning, but you may want to wear layers just in case.

– Please feel free to bring any meditation gear you would like to use (cushions, chairs, benches, etc.). The cabin has some chairs which you are welcome to use, but we are unable to provide meditation cushions.

– Bring something for the altar. It can be anything–something sacred to you, something that makes you smile, something you find particularly repulsive, whatever.

– A journal (or something to write with and on).

Silence: One of the jewels of retreat is silence. However, another one of the jewels of the Pacific Zen School is conversation and community. Please be considerate of others; if you find yourself involved in a conversation, please carry it away from the meditation hall and common areas so that others may enjoy the silence. Don’t be afraid to ask questions if you need to, but you might also notice that you don’t need to. Learning how to make mistakes is another jewel of retreat. Thanks!

bells & whistlesBells & Whistles: The leader will be timekeeper for meditation periods, lead walking meditation, ring the wake-up bell in the morning, and ring some kind of loud noisemaker to signal a 10-minute countdown for the next meditation block. Someone on the meal preparation crew will bang some kind of noisemaker to signal that breakfast or dinner is ready to eat. It’ll be fun and probably confusing at first, but you’ll get the hang of it!

I’m interested, but not sure I want to jump into a 3-day retreat with you people: Great! Come sit with us and see if you like our approach. Our group is called 16 Bodhisattvas: A Koan Small Group and we meet every other week at the JMRL library’s Central location in downtown Charlottesville, VA. We meet on Thursdays through June, after which we will be meeting on Mondays again. 6:00pm – 7:30pm. Bring a cushion or just yourself (chairs are provided). Check out our schedule of upcoming meeting dates.

Jesse Gassho refuge squarish cropped (2)

Who’s running this thing anyhow?: My name is Jesse Cardin. I have been working with koans for 8 years under the guidance of John Tarrant, Roshi (Director of Pacific Zen Institute). I’m the practice leader for the Charlottesville-based koan meditation group 16 Bodhisattvas and the author of the It’s Alive! blog. I’m particularly interested in how koans use the circumstances of each individual’s life to facilitate awakening and how koans can be adapted for use in mental health and substance abuse recovery.

Retreat Daily Schedule

Thursday 
5:00–7:00pm – Arrive/set up
7:00 – Meet in zendo: meditation and opening ceremony
9:00 – Close the day…Sleep!

Friday/Saturday 
5:00am – Wake up
5:30–8:00 – Meditation
8:00—10:00 – BREAKFAST / free time
10:00—12pm – Meditation/Group work or movement
12:00—2:00 – LUNCH / free time
2:00—5:00 – Meditation
5:30 – 7:00 – DINNER / free time
7:00 – 9:00 – Meditation/dharma talk/discussion
9:00 – Close day

Sunday
5:00am – Wake up
5:30–8:00 — Meditation
8:00—9:30 – BREAKFAST / free time
9:30—12pm – Meditation
12:00 – Closing ceremony
12:00 – 2:00pm – Load out

 

Ready to Register?

Click the Donate button below to be magically transported to our secure PayPal payment site. Enter the appropriate amount for the number of days you wish to attend and follow the instructions to check out. We will email you as soon as possible after your payment is processed to confirm your registration details. (Don’t have a PayPal account? That’s cool, just click on the link on the lower-left corner of the payment screen, under “Don’t have a PayPal account?”)

One day: $15.00
Two days: $30.00
Full-time (Thurs-Sun): $45.00

Donate Button with Credit Cards

 

Have Some Questions?

Please feel free to contact me with any questions, comments or concerns via the comments web form below and I will respond as promptly as possible.

 

16 Bodhisattvas: the name and the spirit behind it

Our name comes from a great old koan:

 In the old days there were sixteen bodhisattvas. They all got into the bath together and realized the cause of water. They called out, “This subtle touch reveals the light that is in everything. We have reached the place where the sons and daughters of the Buddha live.”

Who used all the hot water?
Who used all the hot water?

The name 16 Bodhisattvas reflects a sense of being submerged in this life together; it’s an acknowledgment of the way that we find awakening not only through our own personal practice, but also through our connection to others. When we move, ripples flow outward in all directions and when the wind rustles through the trees, something in us rustles, too. It’s good to have company: we support each other, we irritate each other, and we teach each other. We can’t really ever know which we’re doing at any given time, so the best thing might be to just dive in with an open heart. We don’t get enlightened on our own–even the uneven sidewalks and crunchy autumn leaves play their part–and even if we did awaken in isolation there would be no one with whom to share the luminous life we’d found.

A word about bodhisattvas: bodhisattva is an old Sanksrit word that, from what I understand, appears to mean something pretty vague like “enlightenment person.” A kind of rough mythology is that bodhisattvas are those who have taken up the path of awakening for the benefit of all beings (formally, there are vows and ceremonies and some accoutrements that go along with this status). In a looser way, perhaps anyone who seeks enlightenment for any reason is a bodhisattva. Certainly, any increase in the enlightenment quota of this world is a good thing, so maybe even seeking our own liberation is a boon to others.

Does a flea have buddha nature?
Does a flea have buddha nature?

Surely there are many interesting ways to look at the bodhisattva concept that are far more scholarly or accurate than mine, but I like to think that anyone who attempts even 1 second of meditation is officially a bodhisattva. From the first moment we try this practice, we have already moved in the direction of freedom, and that is enough. In fact, let’s break it down even further to suggest that even those people who are not intentionally seeking some experience of spiritual freedom, and even further those who seem to be causing more harm in the world than good–perhaps they are bodhisattvas as well. Perhaps our connections to them carry the light of awakening no less than our connections to friends and family, to the bright red cardinal in the snow, and that squirmy feeling in our guts.

So even if you’ve never meditated, or if you’ve done it a lot but have somehow managed to do it wrong all this time…if you’ve read this far, you might be a bodhisattva and anyway I welcome you to our group. Although I value the time I spend practicing at home, there is an undeniable something special about sitting with others and having conversation. That something special is what I would like this group to be about.

So that being said, there’s a nice hot bath waiting for you. You’re already in it, but you can always decide to notice it.

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Go on! Kick off those shoes.