Mondo Zen | Hollow Bones | Friends of Zen

February, 2014

Sonoma Sesshin

In January, twenty-five participants experienced Mondo Zen among the redwoods at Sonoma Mountain Zen Center in California.

Eisho Shu Jun Lailah Shima was ordained as a priest with Daju Suzanne Friedman as her witness.

Ordinary Ordination

“If you love the sacred and despise the ordinary, you are still bobbing in the ocean of delusion.” ~Linji Yixuan

Priest-ordination perhaps can’t be fully explained. My research and conversations failed to prepare me for the experience. Sensing this, I willingly stepped into the fertile mystery last month.

Ordination, in this novice’s gradual understanding, means simply to become ordinary. Or, rather, to realize and embrace our inherent ordinariness. Both “ordinary” and “ordination” stem from the Latin root meaning, “to put in order.”

To ordain, then, is to consecrate the essential order of life, this purity of consciousness expressing itself.  To be ordained is to endeavor to align our living with the true order of reality, in which ego phenomena bob about in eternal, boundaryless existence.

“Taking one step forward, buddhas and ancestors come. Taking one step backward, expose every bit of your heart.”  ~Eihei Dogen

What brings us to lay- and priest-ordination? With my heart set on freedom, I was drawn to the skillful means Jun Po’s “post-postmodern” expression of the dharma offers.

Like many others, I’ve ardently sought ordinary boundlessness, deeper than the illusion of separation. And yet, I’ve nimbly obstructed my own way, harboring a hunger to attain something, to at last merit full acceptance.

Ritually taking my seat, engaging skillful means, is a choice to stop indulging that ignorant habit, to instead compassionately regard and serve the liberation of all beings.

Last fall, on the path to ordination, I suddenly balked. Deeply shaken by my ego grasping, I vowed to attain more spiritual security before ordaining. In seeking more rigorous training, was I driven by delusions of my inherent unworthiness? Or was something vital missing in my practice?

In the midst of intensive doubt, I discovered an unknowable, great faith living me. Never faltering, my practice strengthened. Sitting with Jun Po, clouds melted. Taking the Kalama Sutra to heart, I realized that I already am right where I need to take my seat.

Stepping again toward ordination was not a rational decision, but a fiercely clear movement of this pure Heart. Life is simply exacting my wholehearted participation. Bumbling but unstinting, I give all that I am.

It was with great surprise, then, that in the wake of the ceremony in Sonoma, I tripped into a torrent of ego contractions. As if standing in the dazzling light - of Jun Po and Daju, of the lineage and my earnest vows - I cast a tremendous shadow. And found the strength to face it.

“Even if you speak of the wonder of it all,
how do you deal with each thing changing?” ~Ryokan

Alone in a terrifying void, my deft ego distorted reality, seeing evidence of utter rejection. Emotional intensity arose, hung out for a while, and fell away. Empty teachers. Pointing to Ordinary Mind, to the profound caring arising here, and the outdated ways I’ve reacted.

I was watching the illusion of separateness weave itself.  Tenderly facing the mortality of people on whom I’ve depended, I dramatized my isolation. As I openly meet sorrow and stay present, though, my reliance on external reference points eases. What remains is ordinary awareness, always free from imagined walls, always giving rise to limitless love.

Ordination is a fire illuminating and incinerating distractions from Ordinary Mind. Seeing that ordination is beyond personal and impersonal plunks me right into a living koan:  Although ego habitually fixates on lack, can I trust what purely IS to be enough? Can I trust the Bodhisattva way to emerge as me, right now?

Thinking mind can’t penetrate the koan. My practice is to be still and lean in, as my dust swirls and as it settles. And to show up relentlessly in service of the dharma, breath by breath.

Formally vowing to abide in Buddha Nature, I find I am no longer able to squander myself away in self-destructiveness.  There’s no time for that! Beings and suffering are limitless. The bodhisattva emerging will not be stopped. The ego-Me does not know how to live this, but I’m dedicated to trusting the clear way.

I had hoped to be given a storied ordination name, perhaps from one of our many wise, female Zen ancestors. Instead, I walk into my life in robes calling forth this ordinary, Pure Heart. This step adds nothing, yet requires everything.

We’re all still weaving an ongoing, ordinary - and utterly rare - ordination ceremony. In a circle of sangha-mates, I’m still walking in the ordinary footsteps of one beloved teacher to my place facing another one, as we take our seats, over and over.

May we extend radical compassion to all beings, even these perfectly imperfect selves. May we embody the dharma, each in our unique way, so that (in Donghshan’s words) our lives broadly benefit the world.

In vast love and gratitude,

Eisho Shi Jun (Lailah Shima)

Somatic realization: Listening to the Body's Wisdom

from the San Diego Spiritual Enlightenment Examiner by Fushin Eva Hermogenes

"...little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own..."

-Mary Oliver, from "The Journey"

For some of us, it's a big surprise when we realize how physical Enlightenment is. Yet, unconsciously or consciously, don't we discern others' level of awareness by their physical presentation? Don't we judge them by their appearance, actions, words and deeds, all external? Don't we expect our spiritual leaders to practice what they preach, to embody the realizations they claim?

If we expect that of them, they also expect it of us. To quote poet-drummer Neil Peart:

"Those who wish to be
Must put aside the alienation
Get on with the fascination
The real relation
The underlying theme..."

- "The Limelight" by Rush

It's time to step up as followers, students and seekers. Time to stop looking for "Enlightenment" and projecting it onto leaders, teachers, and those of us who were silly enough to fanatically pledge our lives in exchange for something that's already within us - infinite, vast, timeless, imperturbable, clear, deep non-dual awareness, located in our heart-mind center.

Enlightenment is not "out there," on some blissful plane, in some utterly detached and disinterested state of practice-induced (or drug-induced, or sex-induced) ecstasy. These states are gorgeous rewards, states resulting from Dhyana - balanced, one-pointed concentration - states which come and go (oh, impermance!) The moment we identify ourselves with the effects of our meditation, with the samadhi, or blissful state, we've lost touch with this essential truth:

(continued next column)


March 17-23, 2014 - Integral Mondo Zen Sesshin led by Doshin Roshi at Venwoude International, Netherlands.

May 10-17, 2014 - 7-Day Integral Mondo Zen Sesshin led by Doshin Roshi in Loveland, Colorado

June 14-21, 2014 - 7-Day Silent Zen Sesshin led by Jun Po Roshi at Dai Bosatsu Zendo, New York.

July 14-20 - 7-Day Mondo Zen Sesshin at Creighton Retreat Center in Griswold, Iowa. 

September 13-20, 2014 - 7-Day Mondo Zen Teacher Training led by Jun Po Roshi in Loveland, Colorado.

October 18-24, 2014 - 6-Day Silent Zen Sesshin led by Doshin Roshi in Sonoma, California

October 20-26, 2014 - 7-Day Mondo Zen Teacher Training led by Jun Po Roshi at Venwoude International in the Netherlands

Visit the Retreat Calendar on the website for more information.

Special Donations and Thanks

Thanks to five donors who gave specifically to a financial assistance fund to help others attend sesshins, we have been able to offer partial financial aid to seven people in the past twelve months.

Thanks go to Gary and Laura Zaremba, Joe Mohrhauser, Kensho Len Silverston, and one other anonymous donor.

Please consider a donation to help others attend sesshin in these hard economic times.  You can earmark as scholarship or financial aid, paid on the Support Us page of the website.

...Somatic Realization (cont)

Pure awareness is embodied. This very place is the lotus paradise. This very body is the Buddha!  ~Hollow Bones Sutra Book.

How literal does it get? Listen.

If you are lucky enough to stew in the intersubjective, non-dual container of a week-long silent meditation, such as we do on Mondo Zen retreats, observe the body from the depths of this silence.

Notice any pain or contraction. Listen. What is it saying? Why is it here? What is the message in the pain or the contraction of the body? Did you, the controlling identity, get the message?

And what will it take to keep listening and doing the right thing? Clue: it starts with a "p", ends with an "e", and has a "ractic" in between.

Now, are you going to listen to the body, or are you going to keep imposing neuroses, habits, toxins, and other sources of illness and pain upon it? Are you going to keep taking affronts, or are you going to handle them with all the skill you can muster from this deep, clear-hearted place?

Are you going to keep pushing it past the body's limits, to "prove" to some other aspect of your psyche, internal or external, that you've got things handled? Because in the end, who has the veto power? You guessed it. If the body quits in protest to being unheard, everybody loses.

Mothers (and all who begin life in the womb) know the power of contraction. Mothers who have given birth using breathing techniques understand the relationship between contractions, breathing, and birth.

It's not just a one-time thing for a baby, however. Contraction is the mechanism by which birth occurs. Birth of a baby, birth of a realization, birth of a disassociated or reactive self. Every contraction, a new arrival.

The Guest House

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.

Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

-- Rumi, translated by Coleman Barks

May you have the opportunity to sit in deep, silent, motionless meditation, to become aware of every contraction and its result, to deepen your wisdom and compassion for yourself and all those around you, and to realize your own true Buddha nature.

Blessings, too, for sangha - our awakening community - which provides reflection and discernment, to help us see who we're kidding when we think we've finally "gotten it."

"As within, so without. As above, so below..."

- Hermes Trismegistus

May self-healing bring the world-healing so desperately needed.


Sonoma Poetry

I experienced
Angst so nakedly so that
You could see yourself.

~ Fushin Eva Hermogenes


I am the wind, thinking.
You are me and I am you.
You are beautiful.
And when I see you I remember that I am alive.

~ Byron Amerson


Listen, wind blowing...
Twig falls
on the tin roof.
Here I am.

~ Byron Amerson

Mondo Zen's Mission from our Sutra Book

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