The California Vipassana Center

The California Vipassana Center (more formally known as ” Dhamma Mahavana”, or “Great Forest of Buddhist Teachings”) is a large meditation center in the wooded near Fresno, in central California. It is the place where I did my first intensive meditation retreat (in 1994), and I have sat two more there since then (in 1996 and 2003). The CVC is also the place where many of my friends have done their first (and only) meditation retreats. “To do a Vipassana” is a phrase that I hear fairly often, and it means to do a ten-day retreat at the CVC, or one of it’s affiliated meditation centers.

Meditating at the Sogen-ji Zen Temple in Japan

I just spent about a week staying and practicing Buddhism at the Sōgen-ji Rinzai Zen temple and monastery in Okayama City, Japan. Sōgen-ji is known for its long-time abbot, Shodo Harada Roshi, who many people have told me is one of the few great living Zen masters. I had heard of Shodo Harada Roshi for years before my visit, since he is the longtime teacher of my teacher Ryoshin Paul Haller (the abbot of the SF Zen Center), and of Soryu Forall (the Dharma heir of my teacher Shinzen Young). Harada Roshi also apparently has written a few books and offers yearly retreats at the One Drop Zendo on Whidbey Island in Washington State near Seattle, which some of my Zen friends have apparently attended.

Travelling To Asia For Spiritual Practice

I realize that many of my reasons for coming here to Asia for a year of travel were not conscious to me before I got here. As many of my friends know, however, the biggest conscious motivation for my journey was to experience “spiritual practice” (mostly Buddhism, but yoga/Hinduism too) in the old countries. I mean, it stands to reason that, if one wants the authentic, deep, true experience, one heads to the point of origin – amirite?

Meditating At The Bodhi Zendo Monastery In India

I just finished a refreshing five-day meditation retreat the Bodhi Zendo monastery in south India. It felt wonderful, relaxing, and peaceful to be there – Bodhi Zendo is, I think, one of the most tranquil and pleasant places I have been in my life. My time there was certainly a refreshing and quiet contrast with the chaotic overwhelm that for me has often characterized traveling in India.

Meditating At Wat Ram Poeng In Thailand

I just spent a few weeks at Wat Ram Poeng, a temple two miles southwest of Chiang Mai that features an English-language meditation program. Perhaps it is less accurate to say that Wat Ram Poeng “features an English-language meditation program”, and it is more accurate to say that they provide space for foreigners to meditate. Almost all of what I did during my time there was meditate by myself, eight to fourteen hours a day, inside the simple, clean, comfortable, and pleasant little room they provided me with. I alternated sitting meditation, mostly on the bed, with equal lengths of time doing walking meditation, slowly pacing back and forth the length of the room.

Meditating At Wat Suan Mokkh International Meditation Hermitage In Thailand

After my retreat at Wat Pah Nanachat, I rode trains for a couple days to get to Wat Suan Mokkh International Meditation Hermitage, and sit a ten day meditation retreat there. Suan Mokkh is a meditation center located on the long narrow peninsula that extends from Bangkok south to Malaysia. Similarly to Wat Pah Nanachat and Ajahn Chah, the Suan Mokkh IMH was founded by one of the more famous twentieth century Thai Buddhist masters (in this case, Buddhadasa Bikkhu) as a place for Westerners who wanted to study with him but could not understand the language at his Thai-language monastery.

Meditating At Wat Pah Nanachat Monastery in Thailand

I just finished a two week stay at Wat Pah Nanachat monastery, here in Thailand. Quoting Wikipedia, Wat Pah Nanachat (spelled วัดป่านานาชาติ in Thai, and meaning “International Forest Monastery”) is situated in a small forest in north-east Thailand about ten miles outside of the city of Ubon Rachathani. The eminent Thai meditation master Ajahn Chah established the monastery in 1975 to serve as a training community for the many Europeans, Americans, and other non-Thais who were pursuing study with him along traditional Thai Forest monastic lines at his famous Thai-Wat Nong Pah Pong monastery. Wat Pah Nanachat’s monks, novices and postulants include a wide range of nationalities, but the primary language of communication and instruction is English.

Meditating At The Dragon Mountain Zen Temple In Colorado

Six years ago, at Tassajara, I had a delightful, far-ranging, deep conversation with an SFZC alumni priest named Steve Allen. As the conversation ended, he invited me to come practice with him and his partner Angelique at their little hermitage on the side of a mountain in Crestone, Colorado. I set an intention then to go and visit them; keeping in mind my search for a Buddhist practice that resonates with my deepest intentions, I wondered if his style of Zen might match with my own.

Meditating At The Bodhi Manda Zen Center In New Mexico

Bodhi Manda monastery sits, with a bar on one side and a Catholic convent on the other, along the rural highway that runs though the villiage of Jemez Springs. The monastery is a complex of maybe seven large buildings, most of them dating back to the mid-twentieth century, back when the compound apparently served as a chill-out for misbehaving Catholic priests. The solidly constructed, venerable edifices are surrounded by a beautiful treasure trove of gardens, statues, bird feeders, ponds, creeks, and trees. When I was not hustling around being busy, it felt wonderful and peaceful to be on the grounds.

The Dream

Heading back to the city after three months of simple stillness in the monastery, I was staring out the car window at the passing gas stations and shopping malls, at all the billboards and the neon. I turned to the Zen priest driving me, and said, “It all seems like a dream.” He shot back, “What makes you think that it isn’t”?

Tassajara Zen Monastery: Learning From Kitchen Work

The group for this retreat has a little over forty monks in it, which fewer than the sixty to eighty who were here when I have been here for ninety-day retreats in the past. This means that all groups of monks (the work crews, the meal serving crews, the kitchen crew, etc) are on a smaller scale. We’ve had a number of people coming and going, which is fine, but I also find that I liked better the tighter container that I experienced in past years (i.e., where everyone who is here at all is here no less than the full three months).

Meditation Retreat Poem

In August 2005, I sat a ten day vipassana meditation intensive at the Tibetan Buddhist center Vajrapani, in the hills of Santa Cruz, with my teacher Gil Fronsdal. In the evening of the last of the ten days, all the meditators gathered by the center’s stupa (pictures above) for an acknowledgment ceremony that actually turned into something of a talent show. People sang songs and did some comedy, but mostly people recited impromtu poetry they had just composed about their days sitting in silence on the retreat. Today, I came across the poem I came up with that night, and wanted to share it here. For people who have been on sitting retreats, the experience may sound familiar.

Committing To Living In Monasteries And To Traveling To Asia

Going to university in Santa Cruz, though, I got all into psychospiritual growth – Buddhist meditation, psychology and therapy, hatha yoga, twelve step programs, communication skills and processing, Joseph Campbell and Ram Dass, holotropic breathwork, sweat lodges, encounter groups, men’s circles – and workshops, endless workshops. Exploring, deepening, and expanding the psyche felt more real and more compelling to me than making art or music. In this world, where there’s politics people, travel people, money-making people, creative people, hipster people, sports people – I found that I am a psychospirtual growth person.

Attending The Burning Man Festival and Living in a Zen Monastery: Compare and Contrast

Both of Burning Man and a Zen monastery are roller coaster rides – intensely blissful one moment, then an hour later dropped down into the depths of the pit, and then all blissful and clear again five minutes later.

Buy, at Burning Man, you have many radically new experiences every day. At the monastary, many of the days are as much like the last one as is humanly possible.

Tassajara Zen Monastery: Growing In The Garden

I am finishing this and sending it out on the twenty fourth day out of my ninety here, a couple days past one quarter done. Yes, I am often aware of every day passing while I am here. At times since I have arrived here it has seemed like the days have crawled by (especially when during meditation intensives, missing my friends my friends back in the normal world, or when I have otherwise been lacking ease). Other times, though, I have been amazed at how fast another day has flown by.

What Does It Mean To Be A Buddhist?

To me, the heart of Buddhist practice is daily sitting. I find sitting in general makes me less reactive and more aware in life. I tend to feel better about the choices that I make and how I interact with people when I am sitting regularly compared with when I am not. I also have noticed that I enjoy life, going about it more consciously and with greater choice, patience, and spaciousness, when I have been sitting.

Tassajara Zen Monastery: Doubts And Resolution

[Tassajara monastery has no internet.  I finished writing this letter in late March 2000, then I then sent it on a disk through the US postal service to my friend Rich, who emailed it out to a mailing list of friends]

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This is my first attempt at trying something new.  The temple director Leslie James gave me permission to type this letter up on one of the two computers here which are used for inventories and for composing official correspondences.  Also, the treasurer Linda Taggart graciously gave me an old disk with which to send a letter on.  So, in contrast with carefully writing everything out by hand, I am writing these words onto a keyboard – with a steep, rocky mountain rising in the big window behind the monitor.  It is familiar to me to be sitting at a computer and writing a letter, but it feels strange to be doing it here at Tassajara.

Tassajara Zen Monastery: Trying To Do Without Caffeine

[Tassajara monastery has no internet and I had no computer there in 2000.  I completed writing this letter by hand and then sent the pages through the US postal service to my housemate and friend Rich, who typed it in, and emailed it out to a mailing list of friends]

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I realize that this letter may come right on the heels of my last, but it can’t be helped.  When you have a song in your heart, you have to sing out.  I don’t really currently have a song in my heart, but I do want to write another letter, so here it is.  I think that, perhaps, once I finished writing one letter, I thought of a whole bunch of other topics to address in a second one ….

Tassajara Zen Monastery: Back For Another Three Months

[Tassajara monastery has no internet and I had no computer there in 2000.  I completed writing this letter by hand and then sent the pages through the US postal service to my housemate and friend Rich, who typed it in, and emailed it out to a mailing list of friends]

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Like last year, I am existing this winter at the Tassajara Zen Monastery, a complex of about ten large buildings and seventy smaller ones in the Ventana wilderness, twenty-five miles from Big Sur.

Tassajara Zen Monastery: Almost Done With Ninety Day Retreat

[Tassajara monastery has no internet and I had no computer there in 1999.  I completed writing this letter by hand and then sent the pages through the US postal service to my housemate and friend Rich, who typed it in, and emailed it out to a mailing list of friends]

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Starting now, emailing me is the best way to write to me, please don’t write me any more snail mail down here (and, for those of you who never got off your lazy ass to contact me to begin with and didn’t plan on doing so now, please ignore this directive).

Tassajara Zen Monastery: Warmer Days

[Tassajara monastery has no internet and I had no computer there in 1999.  I completed writing this letter by hand and then sent the pages through the US postal service to my housemate and friend Rich, who typed it in, and emailed it out to a mailing list of friends]

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I wrote most of my last letter after being here about three weeks. I imagine that this letter will be sent out sometime after eight weeks here. Time is clearly passing.  The hours of sunlight of each day are getting longer, the weather is getting warmer.  Sometimes. during the day, I am even hot, which would have been shocking during the frozen month of January. My first week here dragged forever, but now it is another day before I know it (similarly to how, in running, the first time I run a new route it seems to last for weeks, but after running the route fifty times, it goes from starting out to finishing up without much in between).

Tassajara Zen Monastery: Getting More Settled

[Tassajara monastery has no internet and I had no computer there in 1999.  I completed writing this letter by hand and then sent the pages through the US postal service to my housemate and friend Rich, who typed it in, and emailed it out to a mailing list of friends]

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I wrote my last letter when I had been here about nine days; I am writing this one after twenty-three. The main change has been that I feel more settled about and committed to being here than I did then.

Tassajara Zen Monastery: Arriving

[Tassajara monastery has no internet and I had no computer there in 1999.  I completed writing this letter by hand and then sent the pages through the US postal service to my housemate and friend Rich, who typed it in, and emailed it out to a mailing list of friends]

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I finally got here.  “Yo, wassup” from Tassajara Zen Monastery.

Please do not reply to this e-mail, as I probably won’t see any replies until April; these words is being typed in by my housemate, who got a letter from me snail-mail. If you want to say “yo, wassup” to me, please send a letter to:

Seven Week Retreat at Green Gulch Zen Center

I am writing you from the Green Gulch organic farm/Green Dragon Zen Temple, a Buddhist practice center half an hour North of San Francisco, in Marin County. It is one of the three campuses of the San Francisco Zen Center, along with City Center in San Francisco city and Tassajara in the Ventana Wilderness of Monterrey County. We wake up at 4:30 AM six days a week to the sound of a traditional Zen wake-up bell being rung as it goes up and down the hallways. We have until 4:50 to get into the Zendo and sit on our cushions, and I use that time to dress, use the bathroom, and do yoga.

Meditation Retreat at The California Vipassana Center

Two weeks ago I returned from a ten-day meditation retreat that I did over New Year’s, from December 29th 1994 to January 8th 1995. Going there was like being a monk for two weeks. or like being in a non-violent prison. The schedule was to wake up at four am, sit in meditation for two hours, eat and rest, sit for three hours, eat lunch at eleven am, rest, sit meditation for four hours, eat fruit, sit for an hour, watch a video-tape discourse on Buddhist teaching and on the theory of meditation starring the head teacher guy from Burma, sit another half hour, optionally ask any questions we had for the assistant teachers (Americans), and then go to sleep, usually at around 9:15 pm.