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.
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.
Shinzen Young is one of my two top Buddhist teachers (along with the inimitable Gil Fronsdal). It was Shinzen’s vision of the Buddha Way that first got me interested in Buddhism in 1989 (!), and his teachings are still, to this day, the most compelling and resonant vision of the Dharma for me out of all that I have encountered.
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.
It is a kind of balance that is a saint’s glory. He rides the drifts like an escaped ski. His course is a caress of the hill. His track is a drawing of the snow in a moment of its particular arrangement with wind and rock.
I took a class about “the flow of awareness”. We discussed being conscious of what goes through our minds, both what we are perceiving and what interpretations we are giving to our experience. Then I attended a class on the difference between effortless, “enlightened” non-karmic action done with the awareness that the universe is interconnected, one the one hand, and karmic action done willfully, individually, with a goal in mind, in a compulsive, striving manner, on the other.