April 11, 2006
By Norman Fischer | 4/11/2006 @ 9:09 am
Message that went out in the Everyday Zen Founder's Letter, mailed April, 2006:
April 1, 2006
Muir Beach, CA
In the last month or two several events have reminded me of the centrality of dialog and expression in our practice. Expressing the Dharma is generally important in Zen ("Speak! Speak!" Master Linji is constantly challenging his students), but it is even more important to us at Everyday Zen. And by "expression" I do not mean mere expertise in using Zen words and concepts (like every other human discipline, Zen at its worst can be reduced to a rhetorical mode). I mean deep and honest human communication.
In February a group of women in the Bay Area Everyday Zen sangha organized a weekend retreat combining sitting practice with periods of conversation. From the reports I have heard, the retreat was powerful. In the intimate atmosphere that meditating together creates, the women were able to say important things to one another, strengthening their collective wisdom and their friendship. I am sure that this unusual retreat will be a model for others to come. (Note that our annual Zen retreat at Samish Island near Bellingham will be done differently this year: half a silent Zen sesshin, and half a "community practice event," with discussion, informal classes, and time for personal contact. See dates inside and check the website for further details).
As many of you know, I have been doing public retreats for some time that feature conversation in the context of sitting. I have found that when sitting practice precedes a conversation, people speak more thoughtfully, less aggressively, and from a deeper place in the heart. This is the style of practice we use for the Company Time retreats at Green Gulch, for the meetings of our Lawyer's Group and our annual Lawyer's retreats at Spirit Rock Meditation Center in Woodacre (this year in late April: see website and schedule inside), and for other events as well.
In March I participated in a five day meeting in Washington D.C., at the Library of Congress. The meeting was organized by our old friend David Levy (who, with Marc Lesser and I, originated the Company Time retreats) who holds a temporary chair at the Library. David brought together academics from many fields related to business, technology, and art to discuss ways to humanize postmodern work, with all its technology-driven craziness. Each of our sessions began with meditation practice, and very quickly our discussions became personal, harmonious, and creative. On the final day we practiced zazen in the Reading Room of the Library, probably the first time that has ever happened. Afterward, we had a dialog with Library staffers. David, who is a computer scientist, has a passion to infuse the workplace with contemplative values, and I have no doubt this meeting was just one step among many to come toward that end. As we left the meeting, participants were united in the sense that intimate human conversation is in itself healing and productive.
Later in March I did another in my series of one day public events at Zen Hospice Project on Grief and Bereavement. Fifty or so people generally gather for a full day of sitting and focused discussion on how to live with grief, illness, and pain. I never fail to leave these days with a strong feeling that I have been touched and expanded by my encounters with so many people who have been able, in the space the retreat provides, to find some healing through expressing themselves fully.
There is almost no end to the possible applications of this practice of mindful conversation. It is a simple but powerful tool for transformation.
Thanks to your participation and to your generosity (both with money, and with many volunteer hours by some loyal and very kind people) we have been able to develop and share this crucial practice. The benefit extends not only to Zen students but to all people in all walks of life. So — once again, as always — I want to thank you for your help and support. As I observe other organizations and what they accomplish, I continue to be amazed by how much we do with such simple means.
April 11, 2006
By Norman Fischer | 4/11/2006 @ 9:04 am
From a talk given at Spirit Rock Meditation Center, an an interfaith retreat, April, 2006:
...there are many levels of reading Torah. That is of course true of any text but more true of Torah. One could do justice to many texts by reading only on the level of "plain meaning." While it's always possible something might be overlooked by this approach, probably not much will be. With Torah though to read only on the level of plain meaning is to drastically misread the text. Traditionally it's said there are four levels on which Torah must be read: Pashat, Remez, Drosh, and Sod. Pashat is "plain meaning," simply what the text is saying plainly on the surface, the narrative, the plot, the facts; Remez is a mystical level, bringing our heart of practice to bear on the text, finding in it the meaning that uniquely flows from our own experience and life journey, going generally elsewise from the plain meaning, sometimes even opposed to it; Drosh is a reading that includes various textual operations that might enhance and alter the plain meaning: word play, etymology, references or allusions to other parts of the text, rabbinic legends, apocryphal material; Sod is another mystical level of reading Torah, but this one is a more traditional mysticism, perhaps coming from kaballah or other secret traditions that have derived new strategies of meaning hidden to all but the initiated.
The four letters standing for these four levels are P, R, D, S, which in Hebrew spells Pardes, Paradise. The Torah, finally, is said to be beyond the Torah, a text beyond the text, the letters fly off the page and into space. In the end, the whole world, inside and out, is Torah, is, when all the levels of meaning are finally brought together, Paradise.
Here is a poem of mine called Pardes:
The trees bear fruit, the book
Like water brimming in the pitcher's
Poured out steady till no drop remains
By a firm hand, a strong arm
The book bears them on through the storm
Tree tops twisting, stripped debris shattered
In the violent nights
Though the fruit's sweet lingers on the tongue
That's the plain meaning
Beyond that and embedded in it
Like seeds in a winter earth
(Officially only a thick layer
Atop a hard dark mystery below
Exactly as deep as the plow turns)
The fingers of connection reach forth
Like hairy roots laterally
Entangling other letters, heterodox meanings, bits and strands
(The third level now)
Of lives, songs, opinions, certainties
Wild stories, rewordings, revisions
Attempts to harmonize or humanize
Upheaval, sickness, fierce mistaken force
The worm in the infinite, how sky
Reflects the turmoil of the sea
The soul's own sequential poisoning
In its reversing desire to crawl out
Of its own skin, like the famous snake
That spoke for it in the orchard
That had no hands to reach out, to hold
Then the inner turning
The quiet of snow falling on grass and leaf
With a hush beyond speculation and thought
A meaning pressed only into breathing
Or illuminated by the speechless waters
That suck underground
Into the capillary spaces that open beneath the feet
In the winding uncharted journey of footsteps
From one point of darkness to the next