Mondo Zen | Hollow Bones | Friends of Zen

June, 2013

Loveland Sesshin

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.


A Conversation

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?

L:  Foreverness
S:  And in the Heart Sutra
L:  Emptiness
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?
L.  No
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.
S:  Precisely
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)



June 15-22, 2013 - 7-day  Silent Sesshin at Dai Bosatsu in New York State led by Jun Po Roshi.  

July 15-21, 2013 - 6-Day Mondo Zen Sesshin led by Jun Po Roshi in Griswold, Iowa.

September 14-20 - 6-Day Silent Sesshin led by Jun Po Roshi at Sonoma Mountain Zen Center in California.

November 9-16 - 7-Day Mondo Zen Teacher Training in Loveland, Colorado, led by Doshin Roshi. 
Pre-requisite:  You are required to have attended a regular Mondo retreat. See the website regarding exceptions.

December 1-7 - 6-day Rohatsu silent sesshin at Norbertine Center, Green Bay, Wisconsin, led by Jun Po Roshi.

January 18-24, 2014 - 6-Day Mondo Zen Sesshin at Sonoma Mountain Zen Center led by Junpo Roshi in Sonoma, California.

March 15-21, 2014 - 6-Day Mondo Zen Sesshin at Pendle Hill in Pennsylvania led by Doshin Roshi.

March 17-23, 2014 - 6-Day Mondo Zen Sesshin led by Jun Po Roshi at Venwoude International, Netherlands. 

Visit the Retreat Calendar on the website for more information.

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A Matter of Life and Death 
A Reflection

by Justin Davis

In January 2013, I did a one week meditation retreat at the Sonoma Mountain Zen Center with Jun Po Roshi and the Hollow Bones Zen Order.

During the retreat, we worked our Mondo Zen Koan’s to gain insight into the true nature of Self. As such, I began to understand the root causes of many destructive emotions.

This has helped me to work with them by reframing their destruction as rooted in love. In seeing that underneath anger is fear and sadness, I am liberated to see my own inner light. I can see that I am not an angry person but afraid when life is falling apart. I am not only irritable, I am sad when my life isn’t going well.

Deeper than this fear, sadness and anger, I can now see that there is deep caring inside of me that is their foundation. I become sad, fearful, or angry only because I intensely care about life. I care what happens to me and what happens to others. I care how I treat people and how I am treated by them.

These realizations were so useful for me that I began sharing them in my clinical practice, where I work in primary care and pain management as a Physician Assistant.

I have found that my patients, the majority of whom have never practiced meditation and don’t know about Zen Buddhism, find deep resonance with these teachings.

They intuitively get that their anger and psychological pain is a result of deep caring about themselves and their life. Being able to share these teachings has led to great psychological healings for my patients, which I am grateful to be a part of.

This work is not only about healing ourselves, it is about healing the world. It truly is as our teacher says a "matter of life and death."

May all beings be happy.
May all beings be free.
May all beings be loved and cared for, and fully resourced to live their greatness.

A Conversation (cont'd.) 

That nameless quality is why Lao Tzu starts the Tao Te Ching with “The Tao that can be spoken if is not the true Tao."  I also suspect that it’s the reason that Jehovah makes a point about not having a name and Jewish writers often put a hyphen in the middle of the word "god."

L:  So we call this the Void
S:  Or Emptiness
L:  Or Foreverness

S:  Or any other word that points to awareness beyond words and works for the person using it.

L:  But what about the other part of god, like when my mom prayed to the Virgin when my little brother got sick – and afterwards he got better?  Does the Blessed Virgin really exist?

S:  Maybe, but I don’t know

L:  What do you mean maybe?  Jr. got well and came home from the hospital.

S:  Just what I said, I don’t know.  I haven’t experienced the Virgin Mary in the same way I experience you sitting here

L:  Like you experience Foreverness?

S:  Foreverness is more real than you sitting here.  Isn’t it more real to you than anything?

L:  Yes; but my mother experienced the Virgin and so did my Aunt. Doesn’t that make Mary real?  Would you pray to her to help my little brother?

S:  It makes her real for your mother and aunt, and, of course, I would pray to the Virgin to help Jr. get well.

L:  How does that work if you don’t believe she is real?

S:  I didn’t say that I didn’t believe that she is real.  I said I didn’t know.  That’s very different. When you look around in the world of form, the 10,000 worlds, not needing to know makes you open to a lot of possibilities, like string theory, multiple dimensions or the existence of large vortexes of intelligent energy that interact with

A lot of people call and experience these energies as gods.  I separate the Godhead, that manifestation of what is experienced without personality from the various personalities that are called gods.

These personalities may or may not exist, but if they do exist, like your ego mind and everything else in the world of form, they are fundamentally empty. 

However, if I’m with people that believe in the existence of one of these gods, I see no reason not to merge with the intention of the people praying and ask the deity to help them.  People don’t like to admit it, but most people do a lot of things without knowing what is real and what isn’t.

L:  So you think it’s possible that Jehovah or Jesus could exist?

S:  Sure, but remember, whatever form they take, and the Bible, the Koran and the Vedas to begin with, definitely gives them very specific personalities, my experience is that these forms are fundamentally empty.
L:  So you’re not really an agnostic when you are dealing with the Godhead and not the personalities of gods. 

S:  No, that’s not accurate; I still ground myself in experience, not faith. I don’t have faith in the ultimate ground of being or the Everythingess, it’s experienced.  And that experience includes a profound unknowing, even as to whom I am.  It just is.

L:  Speaking of unknowing when do I get my video game?

S:  (Laughing) Why don’t you just drop into Foreverness, and then you won’t be concerned with the video game.  In that eternal, vast, awareness where nothing makes any difference your attachment to the video game will cease, and you will become enlightened.

L:  (Putting on his shoe and handing Stan his –slightly annoyed)  Because I’m here right now, and right now I want entertainment and excitement not vast transcendent peace or Enlightenment or some army of angels telling me what’s up.  I want my video game.

S:  (Putting on his shoes) and the pizza?

L:  Especially the pizza.  So let’s go, and also, not now, but tomorrow I want you to keep your promise to explain why the Emptiness manifests the world of form.  What’s the purpose of life?

S:  (Getting up and putting on his jacket) for me to explain that, you’ll need to memorize “Little Gidding” and clean the refrigerator.

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