it all bodes for bodhi day

BCBS_stupa3

Tomorrow we commemorate the enlightenment of the historic Buddha.  I would have loved to have been at Rohatsu this year because it is one way to deepen my practice and share in the power of community.  But that wasn’t to be and, in many ways, it turned out for the best.  I had the good fortune to spend last week at the Barre Center for Buddhist Studies (BCBS) on a week-long retreat on the Abhidhamma taught by Buddhist scholar Andrew Olendzki.  While there I also had the terrific opportunity to meet resident scholar Mu Soeng whose book, The Heart of the Universe: Exploring the Heart Sutra, is a worthwhile read for its interesting translation of the Prajnaparamitta.

There were many things to love about BCBS as a venue.  Private rooms are definitely a plus.  There aren’t many but for a small retreat (about 20 people) there were ample.  The farmhouse and surrounding forest evoke the deep silence that fosters deep practice.  Of course, it’s a study center so we can be forgiven for the occasional wildness; I think someone had two servings of the carrot cake!

View as I exit the dorm

View as I exit the dorm

The course itself was a challenge for me and not just because I haven’t actually dug into the Abhidhamma in any detail.  My classmates were an astonishing lot.  A sales manager, a health fund manager, a teacher, an executive of an IT firm, a couple of mindfulness program teachers, and a few folks from areas of Buddhist practice that intimidate me.  Never mind.  They all intimidated me.  And they filled me with envy for their facility with Pali, the suttas, and all manner of questioning the structure and form of the canon.  It made me wonder if my years in Zen has been a total waste with regard to actually understanding anything about Buddhism.

As I wandered the book-ladened rooms of BCBS, I reflected on the seeming inaccessibility of the Mahayana sutras and equally seeming accessibility of the Pali Canon.  In part, it may be the way in which each is conveyed and taught; in part it may be that my own experience of Zen is one of unrelenting practice with little to ground it beyond studying the Heart Sutra and dharma talks on Dogen.  There’s no question that the current love affair with Neuro-Buddhism has put a definite cramp in actually learning and practicing Buddhism but that’s a matter for a different post.

The next day it snowed

The next day it snowed

Waking up to the real nature of one’s own practice is important.  After all, that is the intent of all those hours cultivating the mindfulness muscle.  Reflecting on my own path, it seems I’ve delightfully flowed with traditions whose teachers (authors) and sanghas were welcoming and able to convey the ways of practice that were helpful at the time of contact.  That’s quite typical.  We gravitate to the sources of warmth and comfort which take away – or promise to take away – our suffering.  And to be honest, I’ve rarely resonated with teachers outside the Zen tradition.

Then I met jhana teacher Leigh Brasington who was at the same retreat and in our chats about the different yanas and what they demand of us, he called himself a “suttayana-ist.”  I liked that.  It pretty much sums up the totality of Buddhism.  Then again, when you read (yes, you must) Bhikkhu Sujato’s History of Mindfulness, you may wonder which sutta are we yana-ing after!

Well, I have no answers.  Not for me and definitively not for you.  I do know that I am hungry for a bit of scholarship that, like my defunct septic bed, is not buried in collapsed layers of impenetrable metaphors.  It’s hard not to feel that way immersed in rooms like these.  But that may just be another delusion that will set back my potential for enlightenment.  But that should not stop you.  Have a rousing awakening tomorrow!

Library off the classroom

Library off the classroom

Main library

Main library

Sat in left chair after breakfast each morning

Sat in left chair after breakfast each morning

My view at every morning's sitting

My view at every morning’s sitting

Dhamma Hall

Dhamma Hall

BCBS_books3 BCBS_books2 BCBS_books1

good enough for me & abhi d

I’m off today for the wilds of Barre MA and the Barre Center for Buddhist Studies.  It’s been a lifelong dream to sit and study the dharma/dhamma.  Somehow, life always had other things for me to study and in the last few months I’ve made a commitment to play hard ball with its demands.  So, I’m off!  Headed down the highway to my favourite breakfast stop and then to Burlington VT to lunch with a dear friend.  And then to land in a community of contemplation and study.

This week of learning about and through the Abhidhamma is going to be a challenge.  There are many dreams and delusions that will get in the way of sinking into the teachings.  Being mostly self-taught, I’m hoping it won’t be too much of an ego-thrashing.  But maybe I’ll get lucky and it will be!  Good enough for me.

As I typically do before I go on long trips, I update my will, make sure every knows where it is, and where the password list for all my computer accounts is stored too.  I take a moment to tell everyone I love them and that yes, I expect the dishes to be done before I get back.  This time, I’m also thanking Frank for holding down the fort over the septic tank (yes it has to be replaced and the “designer” is coming on Monday morning).  I also let people know they are in my will.  Really.

I’m telling you that too: you are in my will – the one I carry around in my back pocket and pull out which says: May you receive all you need to be safe and well.  May you receive all the blessings you need and fully deserve – whether you think so or not.  May you receive clear messages that you are precious and loved and valued.

Be nice to each other and I’ll see you on the other side!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

For some reason, I was humming Me & Bobby McGee as I wrote this post so I bequeath it to you.  I’m a Janis fan but this is nice rendition.