Zazenkai in real life

Yesterday afternoon I attended Zazenkai with my local Zen group. It was good to sit with the group in real life again as, since COVID-19, much of our meeting has been virtual.

Zazenkai literally means “to come together for meditation” and usually consists of a day or a half-day of Zazen (meditation) practice. This is in contrast to Sesshin (“touching the heart-mind”) a longer meditation period lasting up to a week or even longer.

Here in Canberra, I sit with the lay practice community Black Mountain Zen Group led by our teacher Jeff Ward. The group takes its name from Black Mountain, a central geographical feature of the city.

BMZG is affiliated with the Diamond Sangha tradition which was founded by Robert Aitken Roshi . BMZG is also affiliated with Jeff Shore’s Being Without Self network.

Zen (Chinese: Chan) practice is something more than just getting to gather to learn mindfulness meditation, or stress reduction techniques (although it is that too), it is rather a commitment to dig down into the great matter. Birth, death, and what the heck is really going on around here.

The Zen teacher Kobun Chino once said:

‘When you realize how rare and precious your life is, and how it’s completely your responsibility how you live it; how you manifest it; that’s such a big responsibility that naturally such a person sits down for a while. It’s not an intended action. It’s a natural action.’

Kobun Chino

And so in solitude and as a group (called a sangha) and under the guidance of our teacher, we sit down for a while. We dig down, and in, and out.

Who made the world?
Who made the swan and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper? This grasshopper I mean?
The one who has flung herself out the grass;
The one who is eating sugar out of my hand; 
Who’s moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down;
Who’s gazing around her with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face. 
Now she snaps her wings open and floats away. 
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is. 
I do know how to pay attention; how to fall down into the grass;
How to kneel down in the grass; 
How to be idle and blessed; 
How to stroll through the fields, which is what I’ve been doing all day. 
Tell me. What else should I have done? 
Doesn’t everything die at last and too soon? 
Tell me. What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?

–Mary Oliver.


Photo credit: Lasath Jayawardana

Ian Miller

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