Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Intensive Practice - Newsletter Article

Program Focus: Intensive Practice
Members of the Shao Shan Temple Sangha

Sitting meditation or zazen is at the heart of Zen Buddhist practice. Shao Shan Temple offers sangha members a variety of programs to explore their meditation through intensive practice sessions. Intensive practice at the temple refers to meditating for several hours during the course of a day or for several days in a row. After one or many days of meditating in silence, one’s mind tends to become calmer and more settled. The usual mental chatter starts to slow down and it becomes possible to observe the functioning of the mind with a great deal of objectivity, compassion, and precision.
At Shao Shan there are four intensive practice programs: Zazenkai, Sesshin, Mini Summer Practice Period, and Rohatsu Sesshin. All intensive practice programs are by donation.

Zazenkai is a one-day silent retreat. The programs are held on the third Sunday of most months beginning at 9:30 am and ending at 4:00 pm with an optional discussion and tea. Practitioners alternate between sessions of zazen, lasting no longer than 40 minutes, and kinhin (walking meditation) of approximately 10 minutes duration. A vegetarian lunch is served midday, followed by a food offering walk through the temple’s expansive grounds. A Dharma talk is presented by Taihaku or Kenzan in the afternoon. At some point during the day, participants usually have the opportunity for dokusan -- a private meeting with Taihaku or Kenzan. Participants are required to make a commitment to be present for the entire day’s program. Temple guidelines require that a person have experience practicing at Shao Shan Temple prior to participating in the Zazenkai program.

Sesshin is a three-day, silent meditation retreat. Typically Sesshin begins on Friday evening at 6:30 pm with an entrance ceremony, followed by sitting and walking meditation until 8:30 pm. On Saturday the day begins at 5:30 am with sitting and walking meditation, followed by morning service, breakfast, and Study Group. The remainder of the morning is spent in sitting and walking meditation, followed by a vegetarian lunch and a food offering walk. Practitioners spend the afternoon in sitting and walking meditation until dinner at 5:00 pm. Saturday concludes with evening sitting and walking meditation. Sunday begins with morning sitting and walking mediation followed by a brief service and breakfast. The remainder of Sunday follows the Zazenkai schedule as described above. Practitioners may stay overnight at the temple or come and go each day. Unlike Zazenkai, partial participation on Friday and Saturday of Sesshin is a common practice. For the Sunday Zazenkai, participants are required to make a commitment to be present for the entire day’s program. As is the case for all intensive programs, non-sangha members who have never attended a meditation program at Shao Shan Temple should contact the temple prior to the beginning of a Sesshin to arrange for a first-time visit.

Mini Summer Practice Period
The Mini Summer Practice Period offers the opportunity to immerse oneself into temple life for six days. This retreat is scheduled in July of each year. The program begins on Tuesday evening and ends with Zazenkai closing ceremony on Sunday. Each day consists of a monastic-like schedule with four meditation periods, services, two periods of work practice, opportunities for dokusan, participation in regularly scheduled programs, and meals. There are ample breaks during the day. Though the Mini Summer Practice Period is not a silent retreat, participants are encouraged to limit conversations to necessary communication related to the tasks at hand. Practitioners may participate for the full intensive practice period or participate in select parts of the program. Overnight accommodations at the temple may be arranged. There are shower facilities available for those who stay overnight.

Rohatsu Sesshin
Rohatsu Sesshin is a time of silent, concentrated practice to commemorate Shakyamuni Buddha’s enlightenment upon seeing the morning star. Rohatsu sesshin is scheduled each year from December 1 to December 8. Rohatsu Sesshin includes sitting and walking meditation from 5:30 am to 8:30 pm, daily oryoki breakfast, work practice, daily dharma talks which tell the story of Buddha's life, food offering walks, the possibility for dokusan, and delicious garden produce meals.  There are ample breaks during the day for walking, resting, stretching, chores and personal hygiene. Silence is a major aspect of this Sesshin. On the final morning, when the weather is permitting, participants go outside for walking meditation in hopes of seeing the morning star – the star that Shakyamuni saw when he was enlightened. Rohatsu Sesshin closes with tea and discussion. Practitioners may participate for the full intensive practice period or participate in select parts of the program. Overnight accommodations at the temple may be arranged. There are shower facilities available for those who stay overnight.

Sangha members share their experiences about Intensive Practice Programs at Shao Shan

A period of time unhooked from electronics, chores, news, noise, talking/listening, and aimless thinking.
A time to yield to a fixed schedule and activity -- to let go of that control.
A time to notice my inner processes -- thought spirals, self-centered thinking/worrying/planning.
A time to let that cognitive cloud settle so that I can experience my fears, anger, sadness, joy, love --
move from I WANT/DON’T WANT to I AM.
All in the company of folks on a similar spiritual path; an expression of and strengthening of our connection to that path and to each other. -- Judy Harden

I resist taking a whole day to be still. Ironically, ‘just being’ has become a luxury in my 'go -go' life. One Sunday a month, I bypass the noise in my head and take a luxury day at the Shao Shan “mind spa.”
The sweet smell of wood smoke and something delicious on the stove greet me in the temple parking lot. However, the real shift doesn’t start until I see the first person walk up the temple path beside me. That’s when I realize: I am not only sitting for myself, I am here for everyone else who is also making effort. The first plunge into group silence is often jarring. A surface is broken and the mundane is left behind. The air crackles with possibility. I never know what will arise in a day of stillness- that's the best part. -- Raven NK Bruce

Early on, the idea of Zazenkai intimidated me. How could my body handle a full day of sitting and walking mediation, when even one 40-minute period of zazen was painful? When I finally made the commitment to attend Zazenkai, I found it feasible, even satisfying - though my back was in agony through the afternoon sittings. I now attend whenever possible, and have since frequented parts of Sesshin. Over time my back seems to have learned to settle into a comfortable position in zazen, making a day-long retreat more enjoyable. The container created by the schedule, the meals, teas in the Little Hall, the space to stretch, and Taihaku and Kenzan’s dedication and warmth make me feel very taken care of. The Temple absorbs the energy of many people sitting, and this enhances and supports practice. -- Julie Hand

On October 22, 2017, I jotted down on my calendar, “Zazenkai – Finally glimpsed ‘the mind of God’ in me.” When I read it again recently, I had no idea what I was talking about. This was at the culmination of a year of stress and anxiety, but the next day I found the answer to my worries. Last month I ended the Zazenkai feeling totally exhausted and starting to get a headache. The next day I was filled with positive energy that lasted all week. I really don’t understand a thing about it. -- Kathleen Daye

I had not been to Zazenkai for nearly a year, due to medical issues with my legs. I attended three morning Rohatsu sessions this December with a dear sangha friend. We both agreed it was so good to come and go together. The zendo was warm, wood crackling; then the zendo was cold. Lunch was quiet with delicious soup. On the food offering walk I was grateful to be walking again. Intensives definitely deepen and enrich practice in tangible ways. -- Scott Fields

I am a relative newcomer to Shao Shan and did my first intensive practice sessions during Rohatsu Sesshin. I attended two morning sessions during the week-long retreat. Meditation practice, both at home and as a member of a sangha, has become an important part of my life. Sitting at Shao Shan to lengthen and deepen my practice feels like a natural thing to do. Meditation has become a life changer for me, and I am grateful for it. My way of “being” in the world is better because of it. I guess, in sum, the longer I sit, the longer I want to sit. -- Cathy Hartshorn

Trying to quiet the mind and meditate, especially for longer than an hour, is a very challenging exercise for me. If one could keep a log of my usual thought patterns and emotions, it would be interesting to divide it up into three groupings: 1) concerning the past; 2) concerning the future; and 3) concerning the present. Most likely, the analysis would reveal that my constantly active mind is rarely concerned with the present moment. But after attending Rohatsu Sesshin, even for only a half day, I felt I had a sense of what it’s like to experience the present moment. Thank you for the opportunity! -- Clara Bruns

I believe we are all born Buddha. Our human destiny is to use zazen in order to dissolve all accumulated thoughts, worries, and emotions into the original Big Mind. Intensive retreats allow me to go deeper and stay longer inside to safely do the work of rediscovering my full Buddha nature. With food, shelter, ritual, and caring guidance all given freely my attention has but one task. I am so thankful that Shao Shan is in my life to provide the opportunity. -- Brian Hebert

The opportunity for intensive mediation really helped me understand my meditation practice. You begin to see patterns that you might miss when you just meditate for 40 minutes a day. The Sesshin totally envelopes you. Everything from your regular life fades away and your focus is exclusively on your practice. The silence intensifies the experience even further. I used to wonder what I would do with myself during all of that time. In reality one period of sitting just blends into the next. I never gave it a second thought once I settled into the routine of Rohatsu Sesshin. -- Max Schlueter

It has been a while since I have done an intensive Sesshin retreat. The reason why I like and dislike sitting is that it allows me some possibility to empty myself of all the constructions and preconceived notions I have of the world and the self. Empty myself of myself. Hmmm, not so easy but not impossible either. At times I find it quite entertaining to notice how the mind is always moving and how it tries to seduce the body into this same distraction. To sit without moving for an hour is not so tough, to sit without moving the mind, very tough. Now and then, however, there is a taste of the vast void. Bioelectricity surging unhindered through the body, synapses being fired spontaneously and there we are.... -- Dunja Moeller

The next Zazenkai is February 18. The next Sesshin begins on February 16.