No. 2 ~ 2007
This issue of Voices is devoted almost entirely to poetry and artwork done by members of the AZG, including one of our teacher-advisors, Angie Boissevain. It closes with the Dharma Gates column and a letter from our other teacher-advisor, Alan Senauke, exploring sesshin focus and guidelines.
Poems and Artwork
Poems by Judith Louise, Angie Boissevain, Michael Quam, Lynda McDevitt, Mark P., Theresa McLaren, & Suzanne M.
Artwork by Erika Makino, Mark P., & Suzanne M.
Dharma Gates are Boundless
~ Compiled with Commentary by Michael Quam
Fall 2007 Sesshin ~ Waking Up in Our Bodies
~ Hozan Alan Senauke
Poems and Artwork
Bad Karma ~ sculpture by Erika Makino
Mad Cows ~ sculpture by
On the Other Side
If you shade your eyes
and look intently, you can see
on the other side a bay
and shoreline with no houses,
only marshy shallows
and forest beyond.
No doubt the water there
is cold and coppery
and green gold bass glide
just beneath the reach
of shimmering sun.
Among the reeds a great blue heron
steps carefully, then pauses,
his sharp black beak poised....
We could steal a boat,
and go there. But first,
we have to shed this skin,
and get our breathing right.
Sunlight slides across the sill
Not a small matter.
Why am I convinced
that there is no reason
or a hint of an explanation
or even a whisper of an intention
in an eternity of instinctive acts of ambient extension
that could account for the immense avalanche of gratuitous inosculation
that wafts the wheel of origination
that no amount of mimicry
can begin to mull the murmur of this november seesawing
or whisk away the deposits lately jerked from the stays
of these disintegrating leaves of impression
but spits out forever the coinciding of events
that have not happened while they happen
and the concision of events that have
the annunciate of air
Dharma Gates are Boundless
Compiled with Commentary by Michael Quam
Since this issue of Voices has an emphasis on poetry and art work, I thought some words about poetry would be helpful. I frequently hear someone say, “I don’t read poetry. I just don’t get it. It doesn’t do anything for me.” It’s true that sometimes the diction of poetry is difficult and, compared to most prose, it may seem indirect, even obscure. Still, the experience of reading or hearing a poem can awaken us to a truth deeper than the ordinary order of words can reveal.
Jane Hirshfield is a marvelous poet, and she is also a skillful guide to understanding the craft and the experience of poetry. In her book Nine Gates: Entering the Mind of Poetry, she begins by saying, “Poetry’s work is the clarification and magnification of being. Each time we enter its word-woven and musical invocation, we give ourselves over to a different mode of knowing: to poetry’s knowing, and to the increase of existence it brings, unlike any other.” (p. vii) I’m tempted to continue quoting at great length, but instead I’ll just give you the last two paragraphs of the first essay, “Poetry and the Mind of Concentration:”
No matter how carefully we read or how much attention we bring to bear, a good poem can never be completely entered, completely
known. If it is the harvest of
true concentration, it will know more than can be said in any other way. And because it thinks by music and image, by story and passion and voice, poetry can do
what other forms of thinking cannot: approximate the actual flavor of life, in which subjective and objective become one, in which conceptual mind and the
inexpressible presence of things become one.
Poetry is like medicine for our culture of hyperactivity. It must be read slowly if it is to make sense, to awaken our senses, to do its artful work. Like a fine painting or a moving song, it can be, it should be, savored over and over.
Mark Pringle sent me two contributions for this column from Michael Mott’s biography of Thomas Merton, The Seven Mountains of Thomas Merton (p. 293 and pp. 252-253) The first is one of Merton’s poems called “In Silence.”
The second quote comes from a section in the book that covers Merton’s ordination as a priest in 1949. The author describes a gesture and a comment made by Merton as he is meeting with some friends who have come to Gethsemani to celebrate the occasion.
“He made the Cistercian sign for the letter O, the circle, joining his right thumb and index finger, then placed the tip of his left index finger where it made the center point. He said he had arrived at the center, a mystery from which earlier mysteries looked less mysterious.”
Fall 2007 Sesshin — Waking Up in Our Bodies
Dear Members and Friends of the AZG,
I look forward to our upcoming sesshin at Rin Shin-ji, beginning on Tuesday evening, September 25 and continuing through Saturday afternoon, September 29. This sesshin begins AZG’s fall practice period, so I encourage everyone to attend as much as they can.
Translated from Japanese, sesshin means something like “to collect the heart/mind.” This is one of the traditional Zen practices we have — along with daily zazen, study, and meeting with a teacher. But as much as any of these essential practices, sesshin is a way to deepen our concentration and engage with ourselves very closely, supported by the warm energies of sangha sitting together. I clearly remember my first sesshin, and how, over the days of sitting, I could see the miraculous life that flows in all beings and things. In sesshin, this awareness is available to us all.
My main subject for this sesshin will be how to embody the practice. Zen practice is something we do with our whole body, so we have to know and honor our bodies closely. Dogen Zenji wrote, “In this life, save the body, which is the fruit of many lives.” So along with our body/mind practice of zazen, we will study ancient and modern wisdom, have a Full Moon Bodhisattva Ceremony, walk in the forest, work, eat, drink, and talk together. All of which we do with our bodies.
I hope we will have a good turnout for sesshin, and I am asking that each participant come for the opening on Tuesday evening, and attend at least two full days. If you have questions about your schedule or wish to sit some partial blocks of days, please speak with the sesshin coordinator, Ann Greenwater. Of course, lectures (in the evening except for Saturday) are open to all.
I look forward to seeing you all soon.Hozan Alan Senauke