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8/29/99--Messages from Bloomington, Indiana, from Shohaku Okumura-sensei and Taigen Dan Leighton attending the Kalachakra Initiation for World Peace and working on a new translation with Jisho Carey Warner (my neighbor who has a zendo here in Sebastopol and who is an excellent editor I work with. I also get help from Taigen.)
We had a fruitful translation workshop in Bloomington. Jisho-san and Taigen-san worked very hard and I think we did a good job. We feel we are making a good book.--Shohaku Okumura
The following newspaper article was a sidelight to my past 2 weeks working to edit a new book of Japanese commentaries on Tenzokyokun, to be called, "Nothing is Hidden" (though MUCH was cut).--Taigen Dan Leighton
P.S. Here's the newspaper's website original.
And, here's the text:
Zen retreat center may be established in Bloomington
Early last week, the Rev. Taigen Dan Leighton of the San Francisco Zen Center opened an e-mail message from a friend who mentioned that he would be incommunicado, at least by e-mail, for the next two weeks because he would be in Bloomington, Indiana, attending the Kalachakra Initiation for World Peace.
Leighton chuckled to himself. A basic tenet of Buddhism and most Eastern religious thought is the concept of interconnectedness between and among all things, but that still leaves room for coincidence and surprise.
Leighton shot back a message immediately. "I'm in Bloomington right now!" the California-based Soto Zen practitioner wrote.
And for entirely different reasons than the grand and revered Kalachakra teaching that the Dalai Lama of Tibet has only performed three other times in North America.
Not too far from the Tibetan Cultural Center and the site of the Kalachakra, a group of prominent Zen Buddhist practitioners and scholars have been laboring, day and night, over translations of modern Japanese scholarship focusing on ancient Zen texts.
Some of the Zen participants have been disappointed to be so close and yet not able to participate in the Tibetan Buddhist teaching that they value and respect, says John R. McRae, the associate professor of East Asian Buddhism at Indiana University who assembled the group.
That is not to say that the Zen practitioners haven't reveled in their own meditation or the intellectual rigors of sizing up and translating the scholarly Japanese appraisals of ancient Zen writings and practices.
McRae quotes the Rev. Jisho Warner of Stone Creek Zendo in California in an attempt to describe the difference between the Tibetan Buddhist practice and the essence of Soto Zen. "They're Catholics and we're Quakers," is the analogy she uses.
The Kalachakra involves a spectacular and colorful ceremony, sometimes requiring intense visualization among participants and replete with costumes, chanting, horns, bells and other stimuli. In comparison, Soto Zen is the embodiment of simplicity. There are teachings and rituals and various disciplines involved, but possibly nowhere in the Buddhist world is "just sitting" more emphasized.
Simplistically, sitting, or meditation, is seen by some Buddhist practitioners as a means to an end, which might be a state of peace, identification with the words and deeds of a teacher or prophet or some other form of enlightenment. In a Soto Zen workshop, particularly as guided by the Rev. Shohaku Okumura, participants might "just sit" for as many as 14 hours in a single day.
"In Soto Zen, sitting is allowing the innate enlightenment of the mind to develop," explains McRae.
"Soto Zen is not a spiritual practice to get to some state of mind. It's about experiencing the openness and awareness that is present always," elaborates Leighton.
Okumura is the director of the Soto Zen Education Center in San Francisco and founder of the Sanshin Zen Community, to which many Soto Zen practitioners look for guidance. Born and trained in Japan, he was sent to the United States by his own teacher to educate and enlighten the growing segment of Western civilization that sincerely looks to embrace Buddhist thought but lacks the availability of good Japanese teachers.
The lineage of teachers is extremely important in Buddhism. The Rev. Okumura, or Shohaku-sensei, as he also is called, follows the teachings of his own teacher back through a line that reaches to the 13th century Zen master Dogen.
For most of the last three weeks, Okumura and his colleagues have focused on essays concerning one of Dogen's central writings, called, "Instructions for the Cook." It is both a literal work and an allegorical essay on the practice of mindfulness and application of spiritual beliefs in every day activities.
Okumura has also engaged in preliminary talks with McRae and members of the Zen Center of Bloomington about the possibility of Bloomington as a site for a Sanshin Zen Community that would bring under one roof a resident center, a retreat center and an outreach program from which to practice community service.
Obviously, the cost of launching such an enterprise would be significantly lower in Bloomington in San Francisco. And, as McRae points out, "We have at IU better faculty resources who research and teach different aspects of Chinese religions than any university in North America or Europe."
McRae was drawn to IU because of those resources, which fall under the Department of Religious Studies and the East Asian Language and Culture Dept. "I don't know if there's been a ranking lately, but three years ago, IU's Department of Religious Studies was ranked number one in the country for undergrad studies," McRae says. "Our chairman, Bob Orsi, is very interested in Buddhist and Asian religions in America."
The interest in Eastern religion is hardly relegated to the IU campus. At last count, there were at least four separate groups, just in Bloomington, involved in Tibetan Buddhist study and practice.
Mike Leonard can be reached at 331-4368 or by e-mail at <firstname.lastname@example.org>.
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