The Loveland Mondo sesshin was held in Colorado from May 11-18. Some new elements were added: a new format was used for the Mondo breakouts, Junpo Roshi and Doshin Roshi both did concurrent dokusan, and a public Mondo was done on the last day with both Roshis.
by Hui Neng Stan Koehler
Setting: Stan is sitting at his workstation. There is a large TV screen, a computer monitor hooked up to a laptop as well as a faux Tiffany lamp and a tall bamboo arrangement on his desk.
It’s about 4:30 in the afternoon. He’s working on a spreadsheet while Judge Judy is on the TV. A low conversation can be heard where a mother is explaining frantically why she is suing her son for damaging her couch. Luis, a 15 year old boy of slight build, comes running into the room in exhilaration.
L: I did it, I did it, I got it completely memorized.
S: (muting Judge Judy) the whole thing?? That’s great let’s hear it.
L: “Avalokitesvara, an Awakened Brother of great compassion, experiencing the clear deep truth of the transcendent wisdom of meditative awareness, clearly saw that all of the images, thoughts, feelings and emotional states of ego mind are empty of any permanent self-nature” (...Luis continues on to end.)
S: Very, Very good Luis, now explain it.
L: And then I can go to Target and get Grand Theft Auto IV?
S: And maybe a Blue Tooth Headset as well. So let’s start with what you mean by ego mind.
L: It’s all my thoughts and feelings, the stream of thoughts and feelings that go through my head, like a bunch of horses running.
S: And what do you mean when you say "empty of permanent self-nature"?
L: It means that it’s not real, it’s like a movie, it seems real but isn’t?
S: What isn’t real?
L: Me, my sense of me being me.
S: What’s there instead? What is that "you" that’s being "you"?
L: A steam of images, thoughts, emotions, you mentioned that one of the old school stories said that it’s like flight of bees but to me it feels like a movie. Everything seems real but when you stop the thoughts everything just slows down and stops.
S: How do you know this?
L: (Laughing) because you told me.
S: (Laughing) don’t be stupid if you want to be in Target this afternoon. Since when do you believe anything I say?
L: OK, OK, I know this because I experienced it. Besides I believe things that you tell me as soon as I experience them for myself. But again I know that my ego mind is illusionary because I experience something when the words are gone and there is just witnessing.
S: What is it that you witness?
L: The It that can’t be named. Why are you messing with me by asking me to name what can’t be named?
S: Good point. But speaking of points, how about giving me some words that point at this experience?
L: Vast, timeless, perfect, everywhere, everything, beyond any meaning, everything sacred –nothing sacred, no beginning.
S: And who are you when you experience this state of awareness?
L: I don’t know. How can I know who I am if there aren’t any words there? Didn’t I just say that the me that’s me – or who I am – is made up of thoughts; words?? I want to go to Target!!
S: Chill a second. What name do you use for this experience that can’t be named?
S: And in the Heart Sutra
S: Is it really empty
L: No it’s everything as well. It just is. You could call it
Everythingness as much as Emptiness. Everything in the work of form, all the stuff around us, is empty.
S: Very good Luis, you’re well on your way to a vast, timeless experience of videogamesness.
L: Yes, Yes, Yes, let’s go now - where are your shoes?
S: Not quite yet. What’s up with this world of form thing? Break it down so your brother could get it.
L: He can’t get it if he doesn’t experience it. The world of form is everything that has form.
S: Luis, please, don’t give me a definition by repeating the word. Go on, how does this world of form relate to the Emptiness?
L: The world of form is everything in the world, grapes, planets, ideas, everything. You use the word Matrix when you teach us stuff, but you said it’s also called Maya or Samsara by other people.
S: Yes the Indians like ‘Maya.’ It means an illusion, like a carnival or a magic show. "Samsara" is used by Buddhists. It means being lost or perpetually wandering. I like "Matrix" since everyone has seen the movie, and the movie gets across the idea of how we dream the world. So what does the Heart Sutra say about this world of form?
L: It says that it is exactly Emptiness.
S: So are all the things in existence just part of this Emptiness?
L: Not really, there is no Emptiness without Form. The Heart Sutra says. “We must remember that all manifested forms are no other than this emptiness. Emptiness is no other than all these manifested forms. Form is exactly emptiness, emptiness is exactly form.”
S: Exactly, so we have this absolute Emptiness/Everythingness that you experience, beyond any meaning, simple, eternal, ever present, everywhere. Where have you heard these words before?
L: In Catechism class when I was seven or eight.
S. Tell me about it.
L. They said God was this; simple, eternal, everywhere, not created by anything, perfect and a lot of other things.
S. Why do you think they taught you this?
L. I don’t know. None of the Bible stories had a god that was like that. He was in the world part of the time and getting mad a lot and seemed like a person. It was really confusing.
S. Was the Bible god like Foreverness?
S: Let’s go back to the Heart Sutra. What else does it say?
L: Not a lot. It’s going to repeat how the world of form is Empty: “There are no eyes, no ears, no nose, no tongue, no body, and no mind. There is no seeing, no hearing, no smelling, no tasting, no touching, and no thinking. There is no world of sight, no world of consciousness. There is no ignorance and no end to ignorance.”
S: No ignorance and no end to ignorance??
L: And “There is no aging leading to old age and death, and no end to aging leading to old age and death” It’s the Everythingness that these lines point at.
S: And how do you attain Enlightenment and experience this Everythingness?
L: (Laughing) that’s a trick question. “There is no suffering, no craving, no extinction, no path, no wisdom and no attainment. Indeed, there is nothing to be attained.” The only thing that can want to attain anything is ego mind, and ego mind is what makes the experience impossible.
S: So where do we go from here?
L: To Target to get my videogame – and some pizza.
S: Not quite that quick. Do you experience this Emptiness?
L: Sure, everyone experiences it all the time. People just block it out with words and thoughts and don’t realize it’s so. You said that people get glimpses and some get longer and deeper experiences depending on their spiritual practice.
S: And you?
L: After the first couple of times it’s been pretty easy, particularly when I get afraid. It makes a lot of difference if I’m on top of my meditation practice.
S: So why don’t you just hold yourself in Foreverness and forget about the videogame?
L: Jump back, I want my video game. I spent the last two days memorizing that sutra, missed soccer practice; half the crew thinks I’m crazy, and the other half thinks I’m a church boy. Besides that’s not the way it works. When I come out of Foreverness, I want what I want.
Maybe if I went off by myself or got locked up, or something or practiced 24/7 I could just stay in Foreverness and not want anything– but not really and what good would it be to spend my life that way. I’d be just chill but not useful for anything.
S: Yes, we call that Quietism. But what’s the issue about being useful, does anything make any real difference when you stop the words and take refuge in the Void or as you say Foreverness.
L: No, nothing makes any difference there. “Everything is sacred, nothing is sacred” But on the real, maybe some dudes just want to hold themselves in Foreverness, but I’d just as soon do stuff and get things like a new girlfriend and my video game.
S: OK, Luis we’re about to bounce but one more thing. I’ve been sharing with you and the rest of the crew about learning to be a chaplain. Which means I’ve started to pray? Some of the other students seem confused on how this works.
L: Yeah you talk all the time about being an agnostic, won’t talk about reincarnation and don’t know if any gods are really out there to pray to.
L: So what’s up?
S: Well, if you look closely at what I’m doing it’s pretty simple. First of all, I ground myself in the unknowing of Foreverness. For whatever reasons, I’m able hold myself in that awareness a lot.
I experience the suchness of things and while the unknowing goes toward agnosticism, if a mystic looks at me, like Meister Eckhart, they would say that I’m separating the personality of a god from the Godhead. Godhead is another word that points at Foreverness.
L: Meister Eckhart?
S: He’s a mystic from the Middle Ages. He was a Dominican but was pretty far out and never made sainthood
L: How can he be a Dominican? I thought the DR wasn’t even discovered until after the middle ages.
S: (Laughing) A Dominican, in this case, is a member of a religious order that was founded by St. Dominic, and you’re right the Dominican Republic didn’t appear until a few centuries later.
Another famous Dominican was St Thomas Aquinas. He was one of the guys that spent a lot of time thinking about this sort of thing, and his writing was the basis for a lot of those catechism answers.
L. I still don’t understand what’s up with all this. People are talking about God all the time; no one in our crew ever talks about god but when I’m in Foreverness, or when I try to talk about it, it seems like I’m saying religious things.
S: Yeah, I know. The problem is language, especially how the word ‘god’ is used. If you check it out, people have different pictures in their mind when they use this word; some think of Jesus, others of Jehovah, the creator god
L. And how about Thor and Hercules?
S: Setting aside kids that watch too many cartoons, it’s more like Ganesh, Krishna, Shango, Kali or a million other pictures in the world of form. But the problem isn’t the different names and personalities people have in their minds, it’s that they mix up the personality of a god with the transcendent essence that is beyond description or names.
It’s that manifestation of divinity that is simple, eternal, without beginning and all the other things that the mystics say when they are pointing to something beyond words.
(continued next column)