Our Zen retreats are appropriate for anyone who’s interested in meditation and going beyond basic mindfulness (nothing wrong with that, of course) to understanding what’s behind it, around it, what moves us to seek essential peace, knowing what Zen calls our “true nature.” We all have to start somewhere, and we gradually realize that the difficulties we encounter will wear away.
Our teacher gets us started, encourages us, offers thought-provoking talks, and then leaves us in the zendo to meet one on one in the dokusan (interview) room. He’ll meet you wherever you’re at, and help you over the bumps and apparent barriers. If sitting on a cushion on the floor for 20 – 25 minutes at a time is too hard on the joints, you’re welcome to use a chair. Over the years, he’s gotten easier on us, so we generally sit only two periods at a time, each period followed by walking meditation, slowly around the zendo or depending on the weather, outside on the veranda.
Typical schedule: meet at 6:30 a.m., sit/walk two periods, breakfast, meet again in the zendo or in the library, nicknamed the dharma den, for a talk. Tea break, more sitting, begin personal interviews. Lunch is followed by a work period and/or siesta. Meet again at 3, more sitting and usually another talk, up until supper around 6. After clean-up, one or two more periods, and finish the day. Some enjoy more sitting into the night.
There are some devotional aspects to our practice as well: chanting sutras, one or two at a time (we have translations; one is from the original Pali, spoken in India around the time of the Buddha; the others are in a specialized form of Japanese); bowing, and twice a day, three “full bows,” or prostrations, in which you just toss away any ego stiffness and get down; silence unless there is a real need to speak (usually in the kitchen). Living with other people in general silence has a quality of dance to it. Our teacher does encourage us to take walks away from the house to talk, aspiring to get beyond chitchat. All of these customs, habits, whatever (he doesn’t like to call them “rules”) are a matter of feeling our way. And that reminds me: Zen is essentially oriented toward our deepest yearning, so it isn’t a discipline that is designed to cramp us or tamp us down.
Our teacher trained as a young man at Zen monasteries in Japan; had to leave to care for his mother, so looked around for contemplative Christian groups (this was in France), and wound up practicing with a Greek Orthodox priest; and more recently, he has studied with a Tibetan roshi. His teaching is firmly grounded in Buddhism, going back to the earliest days and then Zen’s flourishing in the Tang Dynasty, and forward to the lay-oriented group he’s affiliated with now, Sanbo Zen. Very open-minded and interested in all traditions. His talks allow us to follow what he’s interested in, so we feel we’re on a path together.