Chants & Gathas

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What Do I Need?

i April 18, 2017
Many of us grew up in environments that made this question unsafe to ask, so we’ve maybe never learned to ask it at all. We might be great at tending to others’ needs, making sure everyone is fed and home safe from the bar; maybe even already assuming all responsibility for our family’s dysfunction at a far-too-young age. And then at the temple, we recite things like, “by the virtue collected through all that I have done, may the pain of every living creature be completely cleared away. May I be the doctor and the medicine,” and we see ourselves reflected here, doing the good work! Or more probably, Shantideva’s utterly gorgeous aspirations from the 8th century remind us of all the ways we are continuously falling short in our role to save the world and everybody in it, unintentionally fueling the shame that’s become so much a part of who we take ourselves to be that the mere idea of its leaving fills us with dread.
But you yourself are also every living creature. You are also worthy of everything you wish for the world. “What do I need?” It doesn’t occur to many of us to even ask this, at least not explicitly. But if we don’t, our body-minds will still ask it implicitly. And then we often find ourselves coping in harmful ways, because we’re human and we do need to cope sometimes. So without really learning to ask, “what do I need?” after a stressful day, perhaps, we pour the first of many drinks at home before we’ve even kicked off our shoes, when any number of things would have been more helpful and certainly healthier. A walk. Yoga. Messy fingerpainting on the kitchen floor with our child. A good cry. Hot bath. Zazen. Letting the shoulder of our beloved hold us up as we watch the dumbest movie ever made and laugh a little bit because that’s really what we need right now. -Koho

Still Point Interfaith Council of Engagement

i April 14, 2017
The Still Point Interfaith Council of Engagement (SPICE) was formed to share our Dharma and presence with the Southeast Michigan neighborhood. For several years, our Dharma Teachers have been making presentations and participating in the burgeoning Detroit Metro Interfaith movement. SPICE grew out of this effort. All who are interested in taking our Dharma to the street are invited to sign on. We aim to: –Share our practice at events, conferences, schools, and religious institutions. –Join in community-wide interfaith service projects –Offer field trips and seminars to Still Pointers who wish to learn more about the spiritualities of our neighbors –Open-mindedly bear witness and heal. The Still Point Interfaith Council of Engagement meets the third Wednesday of each from from 6-7PM. Please contact us for more information.

No Matter What. Summer 2014.

i September 26, 2016
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The Body Within the Body

i November 22, 2015
The Body Within the Body Prior to becoming known as the historical Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama tried his best to completely transcend the limits of the body by fasting.  It didn't work.  When he eventually began to teach, he spoke of the Four Foundations of Mindfulness, in no particular order: Awareness of feelings within feelings. Awareness of mind within mind. Awareness of the objects of mind within these objects. Awareness of the body within the body. "Within" as in not standing outside to analyze from a distance.  Feeling our feelings as they pass.  And perceiving the arising and falling away of mental objects. Etc. Why, then, does the body seem to get such short shrift among Dharma practitioners?  I believe that many of us arrive to practice wishing to be free of the wounds of trauma, a common response to which is dissociation from the body itself.  Dharma practice promises relief, and without often realizing it, we want this to mean relief from this very body as perhaps the site of so much pain.  I myself spent at least a decade trying to meditate my way into some sort of pure awareness outside of this body.  We can maybe visit this place, but no one lives there.  Emptiness is form, and the attempt to privilege one over the other makes practice incomplete and untenable, because fundamentally misguided. The Dharma speaks of three fields of practice:  body, speech, and mind.  There it is again, this body, asking to be included. Maybe a hundred years ago, the forest tradition of Buddhism was reawakened in Thailand with a few teachers and their students.  One of the great masters to emerge was Ajahn Chah, and my memory is of hearing this from a student of his:  After many years practicing, this monk was told to practice "awareness of the body within the body."  At first, he felt like a graduate student being sent back to kindergarten, but he respected his teacher enough to comply.  He would soon come to value this practice as the most advanced of the ones he had tried. I recently completed my first ultramarathon, a 31-mile footrace through mostly singletrack trail -- which is to say, I ran in the woods for seven hours.  I had done bike races as long, a number of years ago before the injuries, but what made this one special was a new joy I hadn't known.  This time, I brought my body with me and the celebration of it as well.  How lucky to be in this life while it lasts. The Buddha said "the body is a mirage."  It's ephemeral; it doesn't last.  This is not to say that it's not important, or worse, that it doesn't matter. On the Family Retreat in September, Do Myeong Kelly Henley taught yoga classes every day, as she has been doing since we started these retreats four years ago.  Although she's also been a Zen practitioner for many years now, it might be hubris to claim any role of the Dharma in the fact that she's the gold standard of yoga teachers.  We were doing some pose this year, and as always there was a sizeable gap between what she demonstrated and what I was able to pull off.  It might have been something she said -- more probably the whole tone of her teaching -- added to my own prior attempts to inhabit this body with kindness, but maybe for the first time in similar situations, I didn't find myself thinking this own body incomplete until some future time as I could replicate what she was doing.  I twisted into my own limit and was there already complete.  There truly is no other shore. Kindness toward the body within the body. Koho Vince Anila

The Cushion is Brown

i April 23, 2015
Trauma experts speak of something called the OODA loop to describe the process of decision-making. First, we Observe a situation: What is this? We then Orient ourselves to it: What is my relationship to it? Next, we Decide on a course of action, and finally we Act. We do this all the time, often seamlessly, but where it gets really tricky are situations that are both stressful and novel, where we can get stuck in orientation. We wonder why this person is attacking me instead of defending ourselves or trying to flee. We freeze when gunfire erupts. To borrow a classic Buddhist metaphor, we wonder who shot us with the arrow; wonder why; who made the arrow; take pains to understand its construction, all while bleeding out.
In the interview room at our temple, I sometimes ask people “What color is this?” as I point to a meditation mat that’s clearly brown. Rarely do people say “it’s brown,” and if they do, rarely will they stick by it. They wonder what else I may be asking them, what Zen sleight of hand is happening. Analysis in our lives is useful, of course; even necessary. But we get stuck there; get stuck in the past and future and learn to trust neither the present moment nor our relationship to it. Sometimes, though, the cushion is just brown in no uncertain terms, and it doesn’t matter who says otherwise.   --Koho