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Buddhadharma : Summer 2006
buddhadharma| 13 |summer 2006 first thoughts a trip down the raBBit hole Renshin Bunce, a Zen priest and resident at the San Francisco Zen Center, ventures into the strange new territory of Tibetan Buddhism during a visit to Gampo Abbey in Nova Scotia, Canada. It was not at all like being at Zen Center. At Gampo Abbey, the shrine room where we meditated was bright with light from all the windows, and when I looked up I had a view of the ocean. There was bright red everywhere, including the red zabutons and zafus we sat on. Everyone chanted vigorously to the protectors of life instead of doing the soft sutra chanting I was used to. It was like Alice gone down the rabbit hole ... I was lost. After four and a half years of practicing at City Center, I had been looking for a place to go. I was restless. I had been working as tenzo, head of kitchen, for a year, and I felt I needed to study more and to just sit for long periods. Mostly, my practice felt compacted, and I needed to open it up, to refresh it. Rev. Ryumon Baldoquín sug- gested that I go to the forty-nine-day Yarne retreat at Gampo Abbey and sit with Ani Pema Chödrön, who would be teaching during that time. She also informed me that since I was an ordained monas- tic, the retreat would be given as dana, a gift of generosity. I accepted the gift and fell down the rabbit hole. My practice was smashed open immediately, meaning I was completely lost. Not knowing how to do things put me back in a place of discovery with my practice – or “beginner’s mind,” as we call it at the San Francisco Zen Center. I was disori- ented by the loud clackers and the bright lights during meditation, but I was able to sit knowing that I had asked for this disruption of practice. I had asked to be shaken in a way that would bring me some kind of renewal of vows. Although I was assigned a buddy to help me learn the ways of the sangha, I was grateful to have Rev. Ryumon, someone ordained in the Suzuki Roshi lineage, to show me a few things that would help me navigate these foreign customs. We had sitting practice four and a half hours each day, and two hours of chanting. Sometimes we ate in a modified kind of oryoki. Ani Pema would come and teach from Trungpa Rinpoche’s Training the Mind. She radiated the warmth and kindness of a true bodhisattva as she taught us the mind training slogans in relationship to the nature of reality. At week five, Tim Olmstead, who studied with Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche in Nepal, came and touched me with the essence of what he had been taught about love. Olmstead said that Tulku Urgyen taught that we must have “compassion for those who have not realized their buddhanature, devotion for those who have, and a genuine affec- tion for all beings. The common denominator is love. This is the essence of the Buddha’s teachings.” I liked that he used the word “love.” We don’t hear that often enough when talking about the Buddha’s teachings. And that is what I felt at Gampo Abbey. I felt genuine love, warmth, and kindness. In the Abbey community there is great emphasis on being caring to one another in order to live a harmoni- ous life. This sense of love as the foundation of Buddha’s teachings is what I walked away with. And now I’ve walked back home to City Center, where I’m making an effort to maintain the love and harmony I experienced at Gampo Abbey. By going and returning, I feel I am maintaining a con- nection between Zen Center and Gampo Abbey that was established long ago between Trungpa Rinpoche and Suzuki Roshi. And even though I am clear that in my black robes, I am a Zen stu- dent at Zen Center, I will always be grateful for all of that bright red. From sangha-E!, thE ElECtroniC nEwslEttEr oF thE san FranCisCo ZEn CEntEr (marCh 2006). a mindful letter U.S. Congressman Brian Baird has a change of heart during a retreat with Thich Nhat Hanh for members of Congress and finds afterward that he responds differently to an angry constituent. Having studied and intermittently practiced mind- fulness for a number of years, I was looking for- ward to a retreat with Thich Nhat Hanh arranged for members of Congress in 2003. A week or so before the retreat, I received an angry and accusatory letter from a constituent who was upset about a particular vote I had taken on an environmental issue. Members of Congress are constantly receiving these types of letters; how- ever, this one came from a longtime friend and supporter. The essence of the letter was that based illusTraTions by mike holmes