Tassajara Zen Monastery: Pondering Zen Community

The return of the light. These days, as we leave the Zendo (meditation hall) after the dinner ceremony ends, we walk into daylight. It's sometimes even warm, too – like, warm enough to wear just a long underwear shirt, or even just a t shirt, under the thick layers of our ceremonial meditation robes. The afternoons are mostly hot, dry, and bright. Mornings, a few blooming trees shower the air and ground with a swirl of pink and white pedals. Birds are singing, bugs are orbiting and swarming, green things are sprouting. There is even sometimes a hint of a warm breeze at four in the morning, as we hustle through the lamp-lit blackness to the first period morning meditation. I am enjoying it all.

Tassajara Zen Monastery: Performing The Ceremonies

Tomorrow we begin a nine day sesshin (meditation intensive), so I am sitting down here in my cozy little dorm room, with the afternoon sun warm outside my window, to finish this letter, before the wall of silence falls. Reading over my last letter, I think that when I started compiling notes to write it, I was in a place of crystalline purity, clarity, infinity, depth, vast open space – a feeling of freedom and expansiveness that had been building over the previous two months. It was like, This is IT

Tassajara Zen Monastery: Committing to Lay Ordination

These letters are funny things. They generally feel good and healthy to write – writing them seems to put a seal on my experiences here, like an epilogue to a book, a desert to a meal, a shavasana to a yoga session. Also, somehow, I can’t explain how, I usually get a clear intuition about what things to write about in them, and what not.

But, I wonder, what is it that motivates me to write : is it to connect and share myself with people, or is it to try to share (teach) something liberating uplifting and inspiring with people – and, if either, which people. Or am I writing this for myself, and, if so, is it my future self (to remind myself of what I learn and experience here), or is it for my present self (to help move the energy through as I experience things here, like a diary, or a conversation with a friend where you get something off your chest). I also wonder how much to just bluntly share what’s happening, no matter how raw and freaky it is, or how much is it better to wait until I have worked through things more and I can write in a more neatly packaged form – with an inspiring uplifting moral to the story, and maybe looking better in the process.

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).

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.

Book Review: “Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind”, by Shunryu Suzuki

“Zen Mind, Begnner’s Mind” is mystical and otherworldly yet also day-to-day ordinary, it is philosophical and technical yet also beautifully poetic and literary, it is challenging and demands your best yet is also gentle and patient, it is traditional yet also modern, it is serious and sincere yet also light-hearted and easy, it is simple yet also deep, it is Japanese yet also American.

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: It’s A Long Way Home

One of my favorite aesthetic experiences of my time here is watching the line of monks calmly filing up to the zendo before the first evening period starts. Different heights and shapes of monks, with our simple black robes trailing around ankles, illuminated by the warm lantern light in the clear night air, with the creek calmly and steadily burbling in the background. Especially when it is Friday or Saturday night back home, I am often moved that this is what we are doing with our evening tonight, we all have a date to come sit together and support each other in deepening and untangling.

Tassajara Zen Monastery: The Demon Dream

Yesterday, we finished our nine day sesshin (meditation intensive). I am been yet again amazed at how deep one can go with this practice.

My experience started with three days of sitting in the meditation hall with the full assembly of monks for the first couple hours in the morning and for the last forty minutes at night, but working in the kitchen in between. I found that, contrary to my expectations, I loved that practice. I cooked six gallons of rice each day, and also ripped chard, sorted beans, chopped vegetables, and washed, dried, a put away a truckload of dishes.

Tassajara Zen Monastery: Helping The Plants Grow

I hope that you enjoy this letter and are generally happy. I am mailing this out on Valentine’s Day. I wish love and a feeling of belonging to everyone who reads this. The date around which y’all may be actually reading it, the nineteenth, will be the mid-point of my current visit here at this monastery. In the air here on the first week of February was a cold snap, the coldest days since I got here. I had more resistance to getting out of my hi-tech extra-warm sleeping bag and putting my feet on the freezing cold wooden floor slats of my unheated cabin at 3:50 each morning.

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:

Mind-Expanding Classes, And Missing Meals

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.

Settling In To The Zen City Center

After three months of living there, I moved out of the San Francisco Zen Center City Center to apply to graduate schools in clinical psychology. Moving back into the building, I have come to feel friendly, or at least comfortable, with most of the other residents and long-time regular non-residential students. I’ve been living here for five months, it’s my home. The beautiful building is a powerhouse of good energy, good chi.

Moving In To The San Francisco Zen Center City Center

A few months ago, I moved into the San Francisco Zen Center City Center, a Zen temple in the Hayes Valley neighborhood of San Francisco. The daily weekday schedule began for me the next day – waking up at 4:50 am, soon to begin an hour and twenty minutes of meditation (almost all of it sitting, with a little walking meditation in the middle), followed by twenty minutes of chanting, twenty minutes of temple cleaning, and then breakfast.

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.