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No. 2 ~ 2007


This issue of Voices is devoted almost entirely to poetry and artwork done by members of the AZG, including one of our teacher-advisors, Angie Boissevain. It closes with the Dharma Gates column and a letter from our other teacher-advisor, Alan Senauke, exploring sesshin focus and guidelines.




Poems and Artwork

Poems by Judith Louise, Angie Boissevain, Michael Quam, Lynda McDevitt, Mark P., Theresa McLaren, & Suzanne M.
Artwork by Erika Makino, Mark P., & Suzanne M.

Dharma Gates are Boundless
~ Compiled with Commentary by Michael Quam

Fall 2007 Sesshin ~ Waking Up in Our Bodies
~ Hozan Alan Senauke




Poems and Artwork




Judith Louise

The Daily Journey

Each morning
I sit on the cushion,
the bell rings and I
begin, each breath
a step and a
return, starting
over again and
again.
The mind travels,
I watch it and
come back to
the breath
over and over again,
each step a return and
a new beginning.
Thirty minutes later
the bell rings and
I am in a new place, yet
still sitting, and still
returning to the breath,
still on the journey.


Winter Benediction

Out my high window
behind bare branches
two crows fly cawing
against grey sky.




Bad Karma  sculpture by Erika Makino
photo by Mark Shaffer





Angie Boissevain

Silver Lake

Out in open water
clamorous and driven,
whitecaps' agitated
deep blue folds
race in relentless wind.

I stay by the small waves
washing well-washed golden
stones beside the shore.
Here the light in the water
goes clear through.


Blue Lake

Three weeks ago
this meadow was asleep.
It's now a vivid
green of wind-washed
willows and grasses,
in every breeze a cloud
of willow dust,
and just above the last
trees on a bare mountain,
four patches of old snow
leak through the rocks.

This is how I remember it
from thirty years ago--
sounds of wind in pine
and fir magnify
the silence when it comes,
and speak what then
there were no words for,
and I still can't say.





Mad Cows  ~  sculpture by Erika Makino
photo by Mark Shaffer





Michael Quam
On the Other Side

If you shade your eyes
and look intently, you can see
on the other side a bay
and shoreline with no houses,
only marshy shallows
and forest beyond.

No doubt the water there
is cold and coppery
and green gold bass glide
just beneath the reach
of shimmering sun.
Among the reeds a great blue heron
steps carefully, then pauses,
his sharp black beak poised....

We could steal a boat,
and go there. But first,
we have to shed this skin,
and get our breathing right.





Lynda McDevitt

Afternoon stillness
Sunlight slides across the sill
Not a small matter.






Mark P.




Bubble Poem

Why am I convinced
that there is no reason
or a hint of an explanation
or even a whisper of an intention
in an eternity of instinctive acts of ambient extension
that could account for the immense avalanche of gratuitous inosculation
that wafts the wheel of origination

that no amount of mimicry
can begin to mull the murmur of this november seesawing
or whisk away the deposits lately jerked from the stays
of these disintegrating leaves of impression

but spits out forever the coinciding of events
that have not happened while they happen
and the concision of events that have




Theresa McLaren

Kinhin
(Walking Meditation—Angie)

She glides as if on air
no sound of shifting
from left to right
right to left.

The only hint
of movement is a quick
pulse of the vein in the arch
of her right ankle before a step.

Fluid as a running stream
she flows around the room.



War versus Religion

What difference between a saffron
robe and a khaki uniform,
chants of peace and chants of war?
The expectation is to be noble,
shave the head and stand in line,
for sake of the organization,
the collective organism.

The probability of enlightenment
or becoming a five-star general
is reserved for the revered few.

To smell incense or napalm,
admire the unfolding of the lotus flower
or the expanding of a mushroom cloud,
to soar through one’s own mind
or in the cockpit of an F-17
is to hold the secrets of rebirth.

Ask a novice at a monastery or a private in the military.
Both will say they are working for world peace.





Suzanne M.




the annunciate of air

but you are so beautiful she says
to the man in her dream
don't you want me to give you
what you want?

he fondles her breasts.
there are six of them.
neither of them seems to think this is odd.
she notices the man is moaning.

wasn't i just climbing a long stair,
she wonders,
a young priest in veridian robes
leading the way, my breath faster, shallower
as i climbed the marble expanses
of copper-veined titanium.

just moments ago in fact,
i walked into a room to await an audience,
a room like sandstone caves under lost oceans,
my own robes, prussian blue and gold flake,
foaming about me like breath on a winter eve,
and yet i'm here.

she looks down.
the man is now nuzzling her breasts.
she wonders why.

she remembers the endless ascent
of the sweeping steps;
something to do with her breathing,
the labor of it all,
and the slow rise to consciousness
at the head of the marble stair.






Little Petroglyph Canyon, CA; photo by Mark P.





Dharma Gates are Boundless
Compiled with Commentary by Michael Quam

Since this issue of Voices has an emphasis on poetry and art work, I thought some words about poetry would be helpful. I frequently hear someone say, “I don’t read poetry. I just don’t get it. It doesn’t do anything for me.” It’s true that sometimes the diction of poetry is difficult and, compared to most prose, it may seem indirect, even obscure. Still, the experience of reading or hearing a poem can awaken us to a truth deeper than the ordinary order of words can reveal.

Jane Hirshfield is a marvelous poet, and she is also a skillful guide to understanding the craft and the experience of poetry. In her book Nine Gates: Entering the Mind of Poetry, she begins by saying, “Poetry’s work is the clarification and magnification of being. Each time we enter its word-woven and musical invocation, we give ourselves over to a different mode of knowing: to poetry’s knowing, and to the increase of existence it brings, unlike any other.” (p. vii) I’m tempted to continue quoting at great length, but instead I’ll just give you the last two paragraphs of the first essay, “Poetry and the Mind of Concentration:”

No matter how carefully we read or how much attention we bring to bear, a good poem can never be completely entered, completely known. If it is the harvest of true concentration, it will know more than can be said in any other way. And because it thinks by music and image, by story and passion and voice, poetry can do what other forms of thinking cannot: approximate the actual flavor of life, in which subjective and objective become one, in which conceptual mind and the inexpressible presence of things become one.

Letting this wideness of being into ourselves, as readers or as writers, while staying close to the words themselves, we begin to find in poems a way of entering both language and being on their own terms. Poetry leads us into the self, but also away from it. Transparency is part of what we seek in art, and in art’s mind of concentration that is both capacious and focused. Free to turn inward and outward, free to remain still and wondering amid the mysteries of mind and world, we arrive, for a moment, at a kind of fullness that overspills into everything. One breath taken completely; one poem, fully written, fully read—in such a moment, anything can happen. The pressed oil of words can blaze up into music, into image, into the heart and mind’s knowledge. The lit and shadowed places within us can be warmed. (pp. 31-32)

Poetry is like medicine for our culture of hyperactivity. It must be read slowly if it is to make sense, to awaken our senses, to do its artful work. Like a fine painting or a moving song, it can be, it should be, savored over and over.

Mark Pringle sent me two contributions for this column from Michael Mott’s biography of Thomas Merton, The Seven Mountains of Thomas Merton (p. 293 and pp. 252-253) The first is one of Merton’s poems called “In Silence.”

Be still
Listen to the stones of the wall
Be silent, they try
To speak your

Name.
Listen
To the living walls.
Who are you?
Who
Are you? Whose
Silence are you?

The second quote comes from a section in the book that covers Merton’s ordination as a priest in 1949. The author describes a gesture and a comment made by Merton as he is meeting with some friends who have come to Gethsemani to celebrate the occasion.

“He made the Cistercian sign for the letter O, the circle, joining his right thumb and index finger, then placed the tip of his left index finger where it made the center point. He said he had arrived at the center, a mystery from which earlier mysteries looked less mysterious.”








Autumn ~ Suzanne M.





Fall 2007 Sesshin — Waking Up in Our Bodies

Dear Members and Friends of the AZG,

I look forward to our upcoming sesshin at Rin Shin-ji, beginning on Tuesday evening, September 25 and continuing through Saturday afternoon, September 29. This sesshin begins AZG’s fall practice period, so I encourage everyone to attend as much as they can.

Translated from Japanese, sesshin means something like “to collect the heart/mind.” This is one of the traditional Zen practices we have — along with daily zazen, study, and meeting with a teacher. But as much as any of these essential practices, sesshin is a way to deepen our concentration and engage with ourselves very closely, supported by the warm energies of sangha sitting together. I clearly remember my first sesshin, and how, over the days of sitting, I could see the miraculous life that flows in all beings and things. In sesshin, this awareness is available to us all.

My main subject for this sesshin will be how to embody the practice. Zen practice is something we do with our whole body, so we have to know and honor our bodies closely. Dogen Zenji wrote, “In this life, save the body, which is the fruit of many lives.” So along with our body/mind practice of zazen, we will study ancient and modern wisdom, have a Full Moon Bodhisattva Ceremony, walk in the forest, work, eat, drink, and talk together. All of which we do with our bodies.

I hope we will have a good turnout for sesshin, and I am asking that each participant come for the opening on Tuesday evening, and attend at least two full days. If you have questions about your schedule or wish to sit some partial blocks of days, please speak with the sesshin coordinator, Ann Greenwater. Of course, lectures (in the evening except for Saturday) are open to all.

I look forward to seeing you all soon.

Hozan Alan Senauke





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