Posted in Tibetan Buddhism, Zen Buddhism

Spirit Rock Retreat 2008, Day 5

8:35 AM

I’ve had a realization: my arthritis in my spine is too painful for me to sit still in the pre-dawn cold. I will not be able to do the outdoor sunrise Prajna Paramita practice. I choose to avoid the pain, accepting that it is my choice to do so.

Last night while we were meditating on the hillside, some deer walked past us on the road. Talk about meditation causing a reversal in the universe!

9:40 AM
Notes from Lama Tsultrim‘s talk and Q&A

Lineages of Buddhism: 3 yanas
Hinayana does not equal Theravadan
(Check out “Journey to India” by a French woman.)
In India, Buddha is still considered an incarnation of Vishnu.

Tripitika –
Sutra: teachings
[An illegible word, because I can’t read my own writing]: Code of ethic for monastics
Abby dharma: philosophy

Early on, meetings of Buddhist leaders took place about every 100 years. By the 3rd meeting or so, Mahayana and Theravada spilt off. Theravadan was considered the “true” Buddhism. Others saw a priest caste developing & questioned the authority of the arhats. Theravadan moved into Southeast Asia (Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Thailand, and Burma). The rest started as forest monks in SE India, but later moved into Northwest and central India, & into monasteries. The became Mahayana & moved into China, Korea, Japan, Tibet, Pakistan, & Afghanistan.

Prajna Paramita started as a feminine presence in Mahayana, but wasn’t embodied. In the tantric period, female teachers appeared. Mandalas started to be used. Yab yum figures represent sacred sexuality. Working with the body, speech mind. It’s about the stuff of this world. During this period, Buddhism went to Tibet.

“Caste” actually means color. Darker skinned people were in India, perhaps from Africa, and had been matri-focal. They got pushed into lower classes during the Aryan invasion. The women of that caste continued to teach tantra, especially during the “tantric period.”

The “M” sound is associated with the feminine in many cultures, including India; hence “mum” (pronounced “moan”) for Prajna Paramita.

There is a channel between your eyes and heart. Light coming through the eyes activates something in the heart. If you experience eye strain [during meditation], relax the muscles behind the eyes, or imagine seeing all around, 360 degrees.

“Only a Buddhist could get tied up in grasping at emptiness!” – Debra

The purpose of working with deities: imitation through identification, like a child imitates its mother. How does it feel to have four arms, be golden yellow, be made of light, and be emanating wisdom?

Female mantras turn to the left, or counterclockwise. Male mantras turn to the right.

12:00 PM
Notes from Lama Tsultrim’s Q&A, continued.

Purpose of the perineum muscle hold in Prajna Paramita meditation: closes a gate to prevent energy leakage. (Personally, I find it helps me focus on the fact that I’m female – a fact I rarely consciously think about outside sex and flirting.) It keeps the presence in the body. It can create a feeling of bliss, which is our true nature. Bliss is our birthright, circulating in our subtle body. It’s not something we have to get from outside or someone else.

Keep your gaze stable in Prajna Paramita practice, it helps to avoid thinking. Ideally, don’t blink – but don’t try not to blink! Remove glasses.

Keep your mouth open during Prajna Paramita practice – just to a relaxed, natural degree. Very important!

[Prajna Paramita’s matra: Om gate gate paragate parasamgate bodhi svaha.]
Om – actually aom or aum. The syllable that contains everything.
Gate – gone
Paragate – gone beyond
Parasamgate – gone completely beyond
Bodhi – awakening
Svaha – so be it

A flower – a bee wouldn’t call it a flower, nor would a dog. Every being has a different experience of that flower, so there is no absolute flower. At what point does its flowerness manifest such that we call it a flower? Emptiness! Yet it takes the form of flower at some point. Both form & emptiness are contained within it.

Not clinging is not the same as not connected. Real relaxation is very connecting. We don’t have the tension & holding in between, or the feeling of what we’re not getting.

Sophia is a wisdom goddess, like Prajna Paramita. Mother Mary is more like Tara – embodiment of compassion. Sophia & Prajna Paramita deal with inner knowing; unmediated knowing that doesn’t go through the priest or lama. Her teachings were active at the time of Christ, & later suppressed. She was never a real person, but an archetype.

3:10 PM
After lunch today, I hiked up to the forest altar. I found a walking stick near the base of the trail, perhaps left by another yogi, & took it with me in case of rattlesnakes or bears. (Like it would help!) It was good for balance.

The altar clearing was lovely, with several statues scattered about as if they had grown there organically. Many people had left items there over the years – faded photographs of people and dogs, shells, painted rocks, natural rocks, malas, feathers, bits of paper, and more. A woman was laying down along the low retaining wall, so I took a seat at the far end from her.

Being with all these mementos of grief made me think of my father. The first anniversary of his death is coming up in less than two weeks, and I’ve been missing him very strongly lately. I began to think I had made a mistake in going there and was about to leave.

Then I had a thought: There are no mistakes; there is only karma. (I don’t know if I believe this, but it’s what I thought at the time.) So I stayed and let my tears fall silently.

I thought about how I feel when I hear a joke my dad would like, and then get that sickening lurch in my gut when I remember I’ll never get to tell him. I thought how I’d never get to ask his fatherly advice again, or hold his hand.

All this while, I was looking at a statue of Kwan Yin, because she was closet to me. Like Tara, she is a goddess of compassion. I spontaneously began to pray silently to her. I asked her to watch over my father and give him the motherly love he was lacking in his life. I don’t know why that prayer came to me. I had always known that Daddy and Grandma were never close, and I knew that it pained him. He worked very had her whole life to be a good son to her, and she always doted on one of his brothers. Perhaps my subconscious – or my Buddha nature – put it all together. All I know is that I felt better after I prayed that prayer. I felt that some cosmic unfinished business was at last complete.

I was sniffling quite a bit by then, and so, I suddenly realized, was the other woman in the altar clearing. She moved from lying down to sitting up, and I hurriedly wiped my eyes in embarrassment. I stood up to go, and wouldn’t you know it, she got up at the same time!

She came rushing the entire two paces over to me and put her hands on my upper arms. We each saw the tears in each other’s eyes and immediately moved to embrace. We shared a long hug, tight and warm, both of us sniffling. Finally, it relaxed naturally and we pulled back, still touching. The tears were still there, but now there were smiles, too. In those moments, she became Kwan Yin to me. She was the very goddess of compassion, the personification of sympathetic love. Then we released each other, turning opposite directions to begin our separate journeys down the hillside.

As I reached the trailhead, I placed the walking stick alongside the path. It’s to the right as you head up, “handle” end placed so it’s easy to grasp. May it be of as much benefit to the next woman.

6:15 PM

I’m reading “Machig’s Last Testament,” which Tsultrim read to us the other day, and I got to this part:

Once discursive thoughts are totally abandoned,
Dharmakaya is not other than that.

And I got it! I went “Ah…!” which is the one-syllable reduction of Prajna Paramita. And Prajna Paramita is a (1 of 3) dharmakaya. Ah, indeed. Isn’t that interesting…?

9:08 PM
I had another encounter with Kwan Yin/Tara this afternoon. After my run (same course, 3 minutes off Tuesday’s time – Yea!) I had a feeling I had forgotten something. I had thought about leaving an “offering,” but I didn’t have anything I felt was appropriate. I had a lot of strange thoughts around this issue, but ultimately I decided to go back to the forest altar and wait for further instructions.

This journey turned into a pilgrimage. I was coming from a different point on the land & took a different path. It was steeper, rougher, and turned into what I realized was nothing more than a game trail. Shortly after that realization, the trail ended. At least I found a pretty green rock, which I pocketed.

I found my way back to the meditation hall. [Which is pretty remarkable when you understand that I’ve gotten lost in my own city while using a GPS.] Then I did what we always do when our meditation is thrown off: I began again.

And somehow, leaving from the exact same point I had left from scarcely three house before, I took yet another trail. What the hell, I thought, I don’t know why I’m doing this anyway; let’s see where this leads.

Luckily, it led to the forest altar. Nobody was there this time, and I felt comfortable looking at the objects people had left there. Then I sat in front of Kwan Yin and meditated for a while.

I got up to go because I wanted to be back in time for Prajna Paramita practice. I said to Kwan Yin, “I don’t know why you brought me up here.” And then I remembered the rock in my pocket and set it in front of her. “But here. You can have this. It’s isn’t much, but it’s a pretty green.”

I felt an immediate sense of peace and realized I had done what I came to do. Buddhism isn’t what I’d consider a quid pro quo religion, but I felt I was making a stronger connection with the universe, as manifested by this goddess.

“I don’t know where this relationship is going,” I said to Kwan Yin. “you tell me.” Then I bowed to her – which is really my own Buddha nature – and headed back down.

After sunset Prajna Paramita practice, which was rich and deep, I went to do my work meditation in the kitchen. I really enjoy working with those 3 women. We’ve gone from being 4 individuals to being a team. We can usually anticipate each other now, and we’ve cut our work time by about 1/3 as a result.

I really miss Michael. And not just because of the erotic dreams I’ve been having about him, either! I look forward to showing him all I’ve learned here. I can’t really explain it, it’s beyond words. So I’ll show him Zen-style: by being the best wife I can as I deepen my practice. I had joking asked him what he was going to bring me back from Japan, & he asked what I was going to bring him from Spirit Rock. I told him, “a better wife.”

This time in retreat has strengthened my commitment to a regular meditation practice. I already have in mind where I can fit it in my daily routine. Everything’s in flux right now, anyway, as I transition from fixed hours to freelancing, so this is a good time for schedule changes.

The practice of feeding my demons has completely banished the depression I’d been battling since April, and that had nearly killed me in July. Funny what happens when you shift your paradigm from fighting to feeding. Of course, as Somerset Maugham said, “It’s easy to be a holy man on a mountaintop.” (I’ll forgive him the masculine reference since the character who spoke that line was a man referring to himself.)


Ven. Dr. Myodo Jabo (Sandy Gougis) is a Zen Master and Priest in the Five Mountain Zen Order. She began studying Theravâdin Buddhism in 1998, adding Zen in 2003, and Vajrayana Buddhism in 2008. She currently practices in both the Zen and Tibetan traditions. Her Zen teacher is Most Ven. Wonji Dharma of the Five Mountain Zen Order, and her Tibetan guru is Lama Tsultrim Allione of Tara Mandala. In her free time, Myodo enjoys painting, jewelry making, and other creative endeavors.

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