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Showing posts from 2016

Get Unstuck

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It's Friday morning; I have 50 midterms to grade, a book to read, two Japanese tests to study for, and a Chinese Buddhist story to translate, so that must mean it's time to write a blog!

My blog has been slowing, slowing down in the last eight months and a large part of that has been adjusting to being in America. What do I have to say about Zen practice in this country-- a country in which we have deemed Japanese monastic forms unnecessary? Then I fell head long into Serious Relationship Land and this has complicated my own understanding of my practice even more. For so long I thought that true practice meant living in a monastery, or at least, living in poverty while dedicating my life to the Way. It meant not having things, it meant being alone.

And what of those ideals now? I'm sitting on a comfy couch as I write this. I'm drinking coffee. The air conditioner is going and an air purifier is going and my partner is on a conference call. I have a refrigerator chocke…

Why Sit Zazen?

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Hello gentle readers, it's been a long time. I live in Los Angeles now, with my partner, in a beautiful apartment with lots of sunlight, and christmas lights that twinkle at night. We have a small potted palm, a basil plant, and a shelf for my tea bowls. I go to University of Southern California and study Japanese, Chinese, and East Asian history. I am a teaching assistant for about 50 undergrads. Such is life, I guess.

On Thursday nights we host zazen dinner parties for our friends, which is just people I like coming by to sit zazen and eat a meal. It is low-key and warm and non-dogmatic. Next week I will hopefully be starting a zazen group for women at my school (I want to buy zafus for this group, so if you can donate something, I would be most grateful!). Talking to the administration about this group and trying to get it started, I was struck by how many doubts I have (still!) about the importance of zazen. I have to think of a name and focus for the group, and I keep wonder…

Intentions For Dark Times

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A few months ago, after the attacks in Paris I wrote a blog post called "How I Cope When The World's Fucked Up." And lo, how little things have changed! In fact, it seems doomsday is even more neigh than ever, what with the RNC circus/ Hell's Mouth yawning open before us, spewing sulfur into the air. Two nights ago I couldn't sleep and was awake talking to my partner in bed. "Which is more horrific and evil," I asked, "Shooting an unarmed black man lying on the ground with his hands in the air who was trying to help his autistic patient, or bombing and killing 32 children in Syria?"

There is no way to answer this question, of course, because horror is not quantifiable. What do we do in this kind of political climate? How do we stay sane in the midst of overwhelming ignorance, bigotry, and rising sea levels? What do we do with the feeling that we can't actually change things? The question I am really asking, of course, is how do we become …

So You Want To Practice Zen In Japan?

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Hello everyone and thank you for participating in the great 2016 True Dharma Eye Exam Fundraiser! I believe I have raised enough money for that pesky eye exam, and possibly for new glasses as well! To be honest, I am really enjoying receiving money right now. It so rarely happens. It feels so nice I am inspired to write another blog post.

I have made many wonderful friendships and connections through my blog, and strangers continue to write me with questions. Sometimes men send me poetry or overly detailed descriptions of their heart sutra tattoos, which is lovely and endearing depending on the person. But actually the all-time most popular email I receive is people writing to ask me for recommendations on where to practice Zen in Japan. In the two years or so I have been writing this blog, I have received about ten or fifteen of these emails and responded to exactly zero. One woman asked me about practicing at Nisodo specifically, and I did respond to her because she was a Zen pries…

Okesas I Have Sewn (What's Lineage Got To Do With It?)

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I’m moving to Los Angeles in August, and this week my friend at Green Gulch asked me if I would like to start a “branching streams” sitting group with her in LA. “Branching streams” is the name of groups and centers affiliated with Shinryu Suzuki Roshi. My friend feels pretty strongly about staying within that lineage. Because I am pretty simple minded, I immediately answered, “Yes!” My brain didn’t do a lot of analysis and just went “Yay zazen! Yay people! Yay zazen together with people!” I don’t really care what lineage I am in or what lineage the people are who are sitting next to me because we are all sitting looking at the same, boring wall, not attaining the same non-thing. This is a pretty Japanese attitude of me. In training monasteries in Japan, people from dozens of lineages come together in one monastery to practice together. There’s no concept of a monastery for only one kind of lineage. 
But what does it mean to be in a certain lineage? In Japan, I was usually left out of …

In Defense Of Trying

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Today after lunch I grabbed my bag and headed out the door. "I'm going to vote," I said to my roommate. 
"Why?" she asked. 
It's a good question. I almost didn't. I had thought about this "why" question for a long time, and told my roommate that. I don't really like any of the presidential candidates, and I don't feel very informed. I also have pretty negative opinions about American democracy and imperialism that I don't think are adequately addressed through voting. 
"Well," I said. "Because fatalism feels shittier than not-fatalism." 
This is pretty much my reason for continuing to practice Buddhism as well as for continuing to not kill myself.  I was first diagnosed with depression when I was nineteen years old, when I described to my therapist that I felt like my life was a car and I was lying in the dark in the backseat with someone else driving, unable to see or control where I was going, and too tired to car…

American True Training

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Well, here I am. In America. I started a three month long work practice apprenticeship at Green Gulch Farm, in Northern California. The first time I came to Green Gulch, about three or so years ago, I said it felt like meeting my birth mother for the first time, after being put up for adoption and raised by a different parent (that would be the Japanese monastic system). In encountering American Zen, especially in Northern California where I was born and raised, there is a feeling of immediate connection, of familiarity, of desperately wanting to be loved and understood, alongside a bittersweet understanding that I am already grown up, and it's too late for my birth mother to be a real mother to me. She was not around in my difficult formative years, and I'm basically grown now. So I do feel very bittersweet about it.

Many people this week have asked me how Japanese Zen training is different than American Zen. It's the most common question people ask me. I'm getting be…

The Hardest Thing About Practice

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I haven’t posted anything in a while. I was packing up to move out of my apartment, and then I was at Toshoji for about six weeks, deep in the woods of austere, cold winter practice. There was limited internet access, and I never had time to write anything, even though there were a lot of thoughts and ideas swirling around. I’m not sure I really want to keep writing here, because I am shifting my attention to what it would mean for me to live and practice in America, and this blog seems very much like an exploration of Japanese Buddhism. Soon I will be (hopefully) attending grad school and working on other writing projects, so if there are no more posts after this for a while, that’s why. 
During my stay in Okayama, I was invited to give a small talk at an intercultural event, along with the other foreign nuns from the monastery. In the question and answer session, someone asked, “What is the hardest thing about practice for you?” One nun responded that she finds the cold the hardest p…