By Norman Fischer | 12/04/2012 @ 7:38 am
Dear Everyday Zen friends,
I am writing you as another
year draws to a close. This last
month has been pretty trying and exciting, what with Hurricane Sandy battering
New York (where our children and many friends live: all are well) and the
grueling Presidential election. Once again, we have survived. There is always
suffering but we always survive. That's practice, that's the Buddha's teaching.
It inspires us, and gives us great strength and confidence.
Trying times force us to reach
deep to find our love and compassion. This has been my experience again and
again, and I feel it now more than ever, as our communities advance and mature,
new leaders and teachers emerge, and more and more people make stronger and
stronger commitments to the Dharma. I find myself often moved to tears by the
efforts people are making, and by the increase in happiness I find wherever I
go to practice - even when many of us remain challenged by the economy and our
In early 2013 I'll publish
(this time with Shambhala Press) a new book called Training in Compassion: Zen Teaching on the Practice of Lojong. It's about the importance of
compassion, and the way to systematically generate compassion through practice.
I am passionate about this topic right now, and have scheduled numerous events
around the country to visit Dharma friends and share these teachings.
Around the same time a new
poetry collection will be coming out called The Strugglers. It is, I think, my strongest poetry yet (though I
usually think this whenever a new collection comes out). It's also about
suffering and compassion. Unlike "Training in Compassion," it offers no program
and no solution- it's a long sad, and, I hope, memorable, song of the world's
suffering - and of human caring.
I am really happy to be birthing both these works and
hope you will support me by attending events when you can and letting your
friends know - and of course buying books!
That's the good news. Less
good is the fact that Everyday Zen is currently meeting a financial challenge.
As you may be aware, we have had trouble recently with our website. As our
genius webmaster Tim Burnett (the resident priest at the Red Ceder Zen
Community in Bellingham and a self-taught professional tech maven) worked
overtime to put out fires, it
became apparent that we needed more than pitchers of water. Another re-do of
the "stuff under the hood" is again necessary.
In order to do this we will need to
raise $20,000 soon.
This includes hiring an
outsider tech person to do major fixing, as supervised by Tim. Our new person
would also be hired to maintain and update the site as we go forward.
As you probably know, Everyday Zen is conceived of not so
much as a Zen group in the ordinary sense, but as a wide and various network, a
family of like-minded association.
Although the family includes several physical temples, its real home is
the website. It has been heart-warming for me in the last several years to
recognize the reach that Everyday Zen, through the website, now has. We
regularly gets notes from around the world thanking us for our offering of
talks and programs. I just had a visit from a group of Zen nuns from Korea who
listen regularly to talks on the site!
In short, the website is very
important for us, so please reach as
deeply into your pockets as you can this year to add a little extra to your
year end donation to support this crucial project. Donations can be made by check or by Paypal, and you can find instructions by following this link to the donations page .
This is from Tim:
The Everyday Zen website was last renewed in 2007 based on an early
content management system available then. Since then much has changed in the
web world and technologies have advanced. We are excited to start another
revision of the website backed on a cutting edge system called "Concrete
5" which will allow us to update and maintain the website more easily and
fix and improve many awkward corners and minor issues. In the end it will be
the same website with more than 1000 Dharma Talks, a full calendar of Everyday
Zen events, information about the many programs and initiatives of Everyday Zen.
And it will be a better website: cleaner in look and performance. Pages will
load faster. And links to specific talks and events will be shorter and more
stable. Thank you for your support in updating and improving this central piece
in our center-less practice place of Everyday Zen.
I wish you all a happy and
healthy holiday season. As always, thanks so much for your financial support
and your practice. It makes a big difference to me and to many others.
An Everyday Zen letter
By Norman Fischer | 6/16/2012 @ 9:12 am
Mid-June, 2012. Muir Beach
It’s summer at Muir Beach. Bright warm days (not the usual fog and blustery wind). I have been reading and ruminating. Two thoughts keep returning to mind.
First, the strangeness of life. I can’t seem to get used to it. How days pass by, time moving on, but to where and from where? I am often working on my calendar, planning events for a supposed future that the calendar defines. But where is that future? When is it? It seems to be right here, as I contemplate being somewhere else at a later time. I can imagine it all in my mind. And then the time comes and where am I then? Here, where I have always been. Now, in the time I’m always occupying (or is now occupying me?). And then, soon, that here and now is past, and where is the past? Did anything actually happen? The truth is I have no real evidence of the past or future except in my presence now. And in my presence now no clear sense of who the person is that’s experiencing (if that is the correct word, I think not, but I do not have a better one) these things, thinking these thoughts. Time is time; something seems to be occurring; someone seems to know this and say so.
The second thought I keep coming back to has to do with religion. I like to spend time reading religious thinkers of ages gone by. I have been reading Dogen closely for more than 40 years. And other Buddhist and Zen texts. And Jewish and Christian texts as well. Just today I have been reading Augustine’s Confessions (again) and the inspired poems of G.M. Hopkins (again, again). And I wonder: what were these people thinking? Augustine wrote in the fourth/fifth centuries, and when you remove the “thees” and “thous” of the archaic translation, he seems quite contemporary in his self-consciousness and verbal dazzle. He prattles on and on with tremendous urgency, talking to God as if God were present, pleading, explaining, speculating, wondering, but always full of faith that Who he is addressing is listening with a kind of transcendent loving interest. Hopkins writes of the Christ he is meeting everywhere, in hawks and marshes, in clouds and seascapes, as though this Person were the most palpable, actual, thing in the world. But is there any way that we or I can feel what Augustine or Hopkins (or Dogen, Nagarjuna, Zhaozho etc) was intimately meaning when they were saying what they were saying? I think not. No way being a person then could feel like being a person now. A whole universe of conceptual and historical frameworks has shifted, appearing and disappearing, since then, and to read their words as if we understood what they meant, to dismiss or validate them, to project our contemporary prejudice onto them - would be hopelessly myopic And yet something in their speaking speaks directly to me. Religion is so odd in this way. How many learned books have been written about Augustin or Hopkins? How many interpretations and re-interpretations? And Augustine and Hopkins are themselves already reacting personally to primary religious teachings as they felt them in their time. Commentators decide what this or that religious teaching supposedly means, and what this or that religious thinker of this or that historical period is supposedly saying, but the truth is they don’t know. No one does. Any more than any of us knows what is really going on in any average day of our lives! I have always found it comforting and very helpful to contemplate religious texts. Although I never know what they mean, I find something that helps me to live. My ruminations are illuminated.
Meanwhile, days slip by and the world goes on in its stunning confusion. In past letters I have expressed my dismay over the state of the world (and my latest poetry book “Conflict” is all about this). But for some reason lately, and especially today, (maybe it’s the sunshine) I feel quite hopeful. More than hopeful: I feel certain that despite everything, it’s okay. We have of course much to do, internally and externally (if there ‘s any difference between these two). No end to that, ever. And yet I feel confident. The world’s rightness is here already.
March 6, 2012
By Norman Fischer | 3/06/2012 @ 19:34 pm
Lately i have been thinking about the past, the long long past. Each
life comes out of it, and, at the end, each life returns to it. When
you forget this - when you think your life is just your own little life -
you can feel very lonely and lost. But when you remember it, your
life takes on a great weight and a great meaning. You do what you do
not only for your life but for the lives that have gone before and for the
lives that will come. This means we all live in deep time.
Japan, where the Soto Zen practice is really warn and intense and full, practice is mostly for the past. Temples are established to honor the
ancestors - Buddhist ancestors as well as parents and grandparents. And
are preserved for hundreds of years. I remember a Kurosawa movie (the
one with Richard Gere in it, about survivors of Hiroshima as old
people, remembering that horror). There's a scene in the film - anyway
as I remember it - in which two old ladies are sitting in a very small
temple in the middle of a grassy field. Wind is blowing the grasses. The women are chanting the Heart Sutra. One of the most beautiful
moments in cinema I have ever seen. As if the power of the past - as it
lives in the present - were depicted directly.
In the West, where we have so little sense of the power and
importance of tradition, we are practicing for ourselves and for now.
That's good. Probably it's no good to practice for the past and only
for the past. But also it's no good to practice for now and only for
now. What now? Is there any such thing as now?
The older I get the more I appreciate my parents, my grandparents,
and the many generations that have gone before. And the more I
appreciate my teachers, and their teachers, and the teachers who have
gone before. The Dharma is a precious thing. It's not for us - we
experience it for a minute, and then we pass it on to others who will
experience it for a minute and pass it on. It's the passing on, in
time, through time, as time (the Dharma may be nothing other than time)
that really counts. That counts now, as we live this life with its full
By Norman Fischer | 12/16/2011 @ 20:09 pm
The more I look into my intentions about something the less I seem to know what my intentions actually are. What do I intend? What do I want? What do I believe? I often think I know but as I investigate more deeply I invariably see contradictions. I want to be happy, yes, but also something in me insists on my unhappiness. I want to be good, yes, but something in me seems always to want to be less than good, or to question and undermine the good that's in me.
So it turns out my intentions, goals, beliefs, are much less reliable than I thought they were. Like everyone else, my intentions, goals, beliefs are both conscious and unconscious. And I am unconscious about my unconscious (which is why they call it UNconscious). So who knows what my intentions really are?
Here is where some sense of disciplined spiritual commitment comes into play. In a way spiritual commitments can be said to be non-intentional. Zazen practice isn't something I intend and do because I intend it; I do it because that's what I do, it is a commitment, it is a life. Whether I intend it or not.
Intentions, desires, good new year's resolutions come and go. Presence is more than this - even when my intentions and desires come and go I remain present. I am my life - which is somehow more than my goals, intentions, desires, and plans - my life that's conscious. And unconscious.
June 2, 2011
By Norman Fischer | 6/02/2011 @ 15:38 pm
my pal lama surya das has just come out with a great new book, buddha
standard time (bst). from harper one publishers. i think it came out a
few days ago. he sent me an advanced copy and i am enjoying it a lot.
"buddha standard time," what a great idea!
it reminds me of the koan of
yunyan and daowu we all love so much:"there's one who's not busy." that is, in the midst of our busyness and
rushing around here and there taking care of our friends and staying in
touch and informed, there's also someone else, in us, who isn't busy,
who takes it all in stride, calmly and with enjoyment.
but the question
is, how would we live like that? good idea, but how? well we sit.
but sometimes that isn't quite enough. helps for sure. but more is
needed. we have to be able to find buddha standard time any time, any
well surya's book tells you how. i really admire surya - he's a
very very well trained tibetan buddhist practitioner/teacher. spent
years in france studying with all the late great masters of the previous
generation, has real soul and traditional chops. and yet is very very
good at explaining and updating these traditions (and adding to them -
this books uses a lot of stuff, other religions, psychology etc). he's a
funny lively writer (and person too) and is always very readable. like
me, he writes quickly and easily, so his stuff reads like that. so get
this book and practice being in time but not being pushed around by
it. who doesn't need this!
May 31, 2011
By Norman Fischer | 5/31/2011 @ 15:10 pm
Late May, 2011. Vancouver, Canada
Dear Everyday Zen friends,
I'm writing this a few days after President Obama's speech on the Middle East. The commentators and experts are now making expert comments on the meaning and implications of what the President has said. They are chattering and then others are chattering about what they have been chattering about - this is our "national conversation." Which I always find so very very odd. First there are the intimate facts of what is going on, then there are the social reverberations of those facts, and then there is the always-distorted reporting of these facts (which are always vague and dubious to begin with, and resistant to journalism: one reason why I am a poet); finally comes the interpretation, the chattering. Which has its own life.
And this is how the world goes!
Poor President Obama. He is a smart, sophisticated, and heart-felt person, and I have no doubt he understand this process all too well. He knows that he can only say something within the realm of permissible Presidential discourse, as such discourse has been created by past presidents and our current political moment. If he ever said what he actually thought and felt, shock waves would roll round the world. Stock markets would fall and governments would collapse.
I am always struck by the huge gap between what is actually so and what responsible officials can say in public. Wouldn't it be nice if leaders could actually say how they see things and what they actually feel? It would be strange and wonderful if there was honesty and soulful concern expressed in public discourse instead of posturing and hot air! I think we would all become different people in a world in which such a thing were possible. We would feel more connected to ourselves and we would be happier and more hopeful, even in bad situations. As it stands now, we are all in the thrall of some weird spell. We have the feeling that the world is not as it is daily described; and yet since everyone, including the most astute among us, agrees the descriptions make sense, they must! But they don't.
If our leaders, who are prisoners of their roles, can't do this, maybe we can. Why not take the risk and come out of our own public postures (we are generally public to ourselves) and be more honest and more heart felt in our expression to one another? In order to do this we first must be in touch with ourselves: this is why we sit. And then, getting up from our meditation cushion, we must have the courage to speak with real connection and honesty about what is on our minds. Usually if we do this, what we have to say comes out of kindness, because we don't want to be hurt, and we don't want to hurt anyone else.
This, at any rate, is what we have been trying to practice in all the Everday Zen venues, from our local Zen sangas up and down the Pacific Coast, to our work with the Metta Institute, the Center for Understanding in Conflict, Company Time retreats, Makor Or Jewish Meditation Center, and the Lawyers' Working Group. Being honest with ourselves means being honest about our pain. Speaking to others out of that honesty, realizing that they are the same as us, is always healing.
Lets keep doing this together!
Thanks, as always, for your support and your efforts in practice. As we continue, we will eventually help create a world in which justice and peacefulness prevail. Little by little, day by day.