Dear friends in the Dharma, dear Sangha!
As we welcome the beginning of a new decade, we all here at Furnace Mountain Zen Center want to thank you for our connection in 2019 - for your support with all the various repair and maintenance projects at the center, for your help with the permaculture garden, for your donations without which we could not continue - for coming to Furnace Mountain Zen Center to sit retreat, and most of all for your ongoing practice, on and off the cushion, wherever you live!
May we find strength in our shared practice and may our efforts ripple out into the world as wise and compassionate action.
May we all get a chance to practice together again, in this new decade on our beautiful and suffering planet.
Gratitude and love to all of you,
and the resident Furnace Mountain Zen Center community
Please read below Zen Master Dae Gak´s New Year message...
Share your Squash - End of year message from Zen Master Dae Gak, December 2019
In the great way of going beyond, no endeavor is complete
There was an amazing urgency in the early days of practicing Zen.
We were on fire, and nothing mattered but the Dharma.
There was this sense or belief in practice, of uncompromising whole-heartedness, the belief that one will live forever if one really gives up one’s opinion, situation, and condition; that if one really dies to each moment, the reward is beyond time and space.
In the beginning of spiritual practice, we hope and believe that something magical will happen, something that will forever save us from suffering, and those initial beliefs are the practice energy we rely on later.
Last night I watched the first episode of the “History of Vietnam”.
A war I was to be sent to but avoided by the skin of my teeth. The young man I was standing next to during the draft induction did go to Vietnam and was killed minutes after landing. He was my childhood friend who I continue to mourn today.
Watching the teenagers drafted and sent to Vietnam crawl in the mud and administer to their dead and wounded comrades sent chills up my spine and tears to my eyes. I tried to imagine myself holding a gun and killing someone with it and it was unimaginable, yet many of my friends and peers were forced to do just that.
In a flash and at the behest of people continents away, lives got shattered and families destroyed - all because of war and human greed, hatred and ignorance. When the US got involved in Vietnam, Napalm was used to denude the jungles, with untold consequence on innocent lives and the delicate ecosystem.
Villages and villagers destroyed by attacks. Mothers and children, young and old, killed! How could this have come about?
This wholesale violence did not begin or end with the Vietnam war.
Atrocities have been part of human history since the beginning of time. We in the USA destroyed thriving cultures of indigenous people. We enslaved people for economic gain. And we continue to oppress people with racist policies, prejudicial legislation and what appears to be a mind of chronic intolerance. We continue to resist gun control even after witnessing over and over the loss of innocent lives, and we continue our over-consumptive lifestyle as if there was no such thing as global warming.
This whole world is indeed on fire, from California to Australia - and demonstrating a lung shattering Zen shout will not change that.
Nor is sitting in a room quietly and without moving for long periods of time enough to prepare us for the vicissitudes of life or for a complete understanding of our correct human job.
Without carrying our hwadu* into every moment and every sphere of our existence, our spiritual practice runs the risk of bypassing our correct human job. If “Who am I?” does not include, “What is my correct function?” then ours remains a practice of self-interest and denial. This hwadu has to be lived – it is our correct function moment by moment.
When I first began practicing Zen I wanted to get “enlightenment”. It was my belief that if I attained the Great Awakening, I would be free from all suffering, like Avalokitesvara in the Prajna Paramita. What I found was that practice has not brought me “freedom from suffering,” but has instead allowed me to recognize that there is no suffering that is not also my suffering. As long as there is one being who suffers we all are suffering.
The world is facing potentially devastating circumstances for all life on the planet. No matter where we weigh in on the crisis, few can deny that weather patterns are changing, and that vast numbers of beings are at risk for annihilation.
A great deal of suffering if not complete extinction is imminent.
Our job in the face of unimaginable disaster is not to get over suffering, but to enter into the world and develop the skills and clarity to hold the suffering of all beings. The work of our practice is to find the wisdom and compassion that meets suffering.
Our practice does not protect us from suffering, it invites us to step into it.
It invites us to recognize the mind that creates two and then pins them against each other. Our practice invites us to hold the suffering world and not turn away.
Enlightenment is not enough.
Finding how our enlightenment functions day to day, moment by moment, for all beings can be our only direction.
There is a story about Mangong Zen Master and Kyongho Zen Master when Mangong was still a student.
Kyongho was living in a small hermitage just outside of a village. Mangong came to visit and after the initial formalities of meeting, Kyongho asked Mangong how his practice was going…”what is the state of your mind?” Mangong answered, “I have found complete freedom. I walk until someone offers me a place to rest. I fast until someone offers me food. And, I wear the same clothes until someone offers me new ones.”
Kyong Ho offered, “You indeed have found freedom from attachment.”
“How about you Master?” Mangong asked.
Kyongho said, “These days my mind is not so free to go where it pleases.” Showing Mangong seeds and pointing to a vine on a trellis he said, “I have to plant these seeds in the ground and grow squash for the winter. I plant all these seeds in the spring, and I water them and train them to climb the trellis. In the fall I harvest the squash and divide it into three piles. One pile I use to get more seeds for the next planting season, one pile I store for the winter and the third pile I take to town to share with the villagers.”
May your New Year be bright and clear, and may your heart find the boundless compassion this suffering world needs.
Plant some trees, dig in a garden, create a garden - if only in a window box.
Waste very little. Consider being less of a consumer.
Give away things you never or rarely use.
Practice not wasting food, time or money.
Eat everything you prepare.
Let go of the notion of being good. Be kind.
Listen to a friend in tears.
Forgive everyone and everything.
Share what you have, realize community.
Together, lets continually find our correct way as humans in crisis, and save all beings from suffering.
In the Dharma,
* Hwadu – Literally “word head” means the existential question that is our spiritual inquiry (e.g. “Who am I? What is Mu? What is this?”) It is the practice of asking that which cannot be answered by rational thought.