On Mindfulness • Interview

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The term mindfulness is ubiquitous these days. But its origins can be traced back to the teachings of the Buddha, whose main practice was anapanasati, “mindfulness of breathing.”

In this interview, Zuisei Sensei discusses some of the misunderstandings of mindfulness, as well as its true potential to help us cultivate awareness, wisdom, and compassion.

Recorded at Zen Mountain Monastery, 03/16/2017

Not Leaving the Monastery

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“What I saw or heard or felt came not but from myself—and there I found myself more truly and more strange.” —Wallace Stevens

Zuisei Sensei speaks from the heart about her own spiritual journey and her ongoing commitment to practice as she steps further into lay life.

Recorded at Zen Mountain Monastery, 12/30/2018

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01 : At Blackwater Pond by Mary Oliver

02 : "Expressions” by Master Dogen

03 : Tea at the Palaz of Hoon by Wallace Stevens

Daring to Ask

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We have to be willing to take a risk in order to see clearly.

In this talk on case 31 of the Gateless Gate: Zhaozhou Saw Through the Old Woman, Zuisei Sensei speaks of the spiritual life as a perilous journey. “Every time we ask,” she says, “we expose ourselves. But when we don’t ask, we also expose ourselves. So we might as well take a risk—be wild and daring — and see what comes of it.”

Recorded at Zen Mountain Monastery, 10/14/2018

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Sacred Space

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For this Fusatsu (Renewal of Vows ceremony) Zuisei Sensei speaks of sacred space as the ground in which atonement and vow become possible. It is, to borrow Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel’s words, “A sanctuary in time”—a place and period which is both distinct from and equal to the everyday. A space full of possibility.

Correction: The opening quote, attributed to Charles Chu, is actually by Margaret Gibson.

Recorded at Zen Mountain Monastery, October 11, 2018

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Ancestors (with Hojin Sensei)

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We are never practicing alone—not in the darkest pit of hell, not in the brightest state of bliss. When we know this, the natural response is to bring forth our buddha ancestors and look at them in veneration. We formally bow and meet them, which is none other than meeting ourselves.

Zuisei Sensei and Hojin Sensei speak about the importance of honoring and connecting to our ancestors in spiritual practice. This talk was given at Zen Mountain Monastery’s Annual Women’s Sesshin, Wild Grasses.

Recorded at Zen Mountain Monastery, 09/16/2018

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The Mother of All Buddhas

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“Prajna Paramita is unguarded, but she is not naïve. She is ferocious and kind, both strong and soft. And when she becomes embodied in one of us, she is none other than who we are. She knows the ground upon which she stands, and she does not fail to cover it.”

How do we reconcile the systemic harm perpetuated through the construction of gender with the ultimate truth of selflessness? In this talk, Zuisei Sensei speaks about reclamation of identity as a form of embodiment of Prajna Paramita, wisdom beyond wisdom.

Recorded at Zen Mountain Monastery, 09/14/2018

Mind at Ease, Part 2

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In part two of this talk on Gateless Gate 41, Zuisei Sensei speaks on the five overarching disturbing emotions: attachment, pride, envy, anger, and ignorance, and the collective journey we are on to wake up to these patterns and remember our innate goodness.

As the Buddha said, all of his teachings were for the purpose of seeing the truth of suffering and its cessation. The way to put at end to suffering is to realize ourselves, but we cannot do it while caught in the storm of strong emotions. So we need to have a way to recognize and deal with them, and this is what so much of practice is about.

Recorded at Zen Center of New York City 08/05/2018

Mind at Ease, Part 1

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“We look out at the world and we see nothing but conflict, nothing but clamor and strife and forces that seem to feed on our discontent. And we think, how can I be at ease in the midst of all this?”

In this talk on Gateless Gate 41, Zuisei Sensei speaks on waking up to the state of our minds and the ongoing journey of cultivating ease and peace in the midst of all that life brings us.

Recorded at Zen Center of New York City 08/04/2018

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01 : Gateless Gate 41

02 : Siddhartha by Herman Hesse

03: The Work of Happiness by May Sarton

Balance in the Midst of Turmoil

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Equanimity is the fourth of the Four Immeasurables, four virtues that also include loving-kindness, compassion, and sympathetic joy.

In this pointed talk after the 2016 presidential election, Zuisei Sensei speaks of equanimity in relationship to the practice of taking refuge in the Three Treasures of Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. She also offers an expression of welcome that became incorporated into Zen Mountain Monastery’s Inclusion Statement.

Recorded at Zen Center of New York City 11/13/2016

The Radical Act of Self Love

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Lovingkindness, one of the Four Imeasurables, is also the ninth of the ten paramis or paramitas (perfections). In this talk Zuisei Sensei speaks of the hunger we all have for love and warmth, for the touch, the regard, of another human being. We are hungry to belong and to know ourselves as part of a whole. Lovingkindness for ourselves can teach us that we have never been apart, never been broken. That is why we’re able to offer immeasurable love to ourselves and others.

Recorded at Zen Mountain Monastery, 01/29/2016

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01 : Karaniya Metta Sutta

02 :The Art of Eating by M. F. K. Fisher

03 : St. Francis and the Sow by Galway Kinnell

Renunciation Paramita

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In the third talk in this series of ten talks on the paramitas, Zuisei Sensei speaks on the importance of renunciation:

“What if we think of renunciation as the protest against anything that gets in the way of our clear seeing? Renunciation of noise, of distraction, of self-serving thoughts, of doubt, of arrogance, of greed and fear and laziness, harshness and the need to control.”

Recorded at Zen Center of New York City 11/14/2015

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01 : Ten Paramitas by Thanissaro Bikkhu

02 : The Four Immeasurables

03: Dhamma Fighting by Ajahn Chah

Virtue Paramita

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In the second talk in this series of ten talks on the paramitas or perfections, Zuisei Sensei speaks on the importance of cultivating virtue as a quality that brings us to regard all beings fully.

So instead of thinking of virtue as purity, we can think of it as a careful, loving, seeing of all things and all beings. This kind of seeing involves a letting go, an emptying of ourselves so we can meet another fully.

Recorded at Zen Mountain Monastery 10/18/2015

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01 : Ten Paramitas by Thanissaro Bikkhu

02 : Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard

03: Breast cancer surgeon who sings to patients , New York Times

Patience Paramita

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Paramita in Sanskrit is translated as “gone to the beyond”, or “gone to the other shore.” It is is also known as “perfection,” in the sense of “wholeness” or “completeness,” and refers to a set of qualities that are based on the realization and cultivation of wisdom.

In the first talk in this series of ten talks on the Paramitas, Zuisei Sensei speaks on the importance of cultivating patience: “Patience arises out of seeing what is. It’s accepting what is. It’s not opposing what is. It’s enduring what is. Patience is not fighting, not rejecting or resenting or begrudging. Patience is wholeheartedly embracing reality.”

Recorded at Zen Mountain Monastery 09/25/2015

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01 : Ten Paramitas by Thanissaro Bikkhu

02 : The All Embracing Net of Views Translated by Bhikkhu Bodhi

03: No Time to Loose: A Timely Guide to the Way of the Bodhisattva by Pema Chodron

Right Concentration

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Right Concentration, the eighth and last factor in the Noble Eightfold Path, is made up of the four jhanas or deep meditative states that the Buddha experienced leading up to his enlightenment. They are ever more intimate states of meditative absorption whose purpose is the development of insight into the nature of the self and reality.

As the Buddha said, Right Mindfulness, the seventh factor in the Noble Eightfold Path, is remaining focused on the body, on feelings, on mind, and thoughts or “mental qualities.” In other words, being mindful means being aware of the totality of human experience, in order to see whether our actions create suffering or alleviate it.

Recorded at Zen Mountain Monastery, 08/28/2015

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01 : Right Concentration

02 : The Four Jhanas by Henepola Gunaratana

03 : Working with Thoughts translated by Thanissaro Bikkhu

Right Mindfulness

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“And what is right mindfulness? There is the case where a person remains focused on the body in and of itself—ardent, alert, and mindful—putting aside greed and distress with reference to the world. They remain focused on feelings in and of themselves... the mind in and of itself... mental qualities in and of themselves—ardent, alert, and mindful—putting aside greed and distress with reference to the world. This is called right mindfulness.”

As the Buddha said, Right Mindfulness, the seventh factor in the Noble Eightfold Path, is remaining focused on the body, on feelings, on mind, and thoughts or “mental qualities.” In other words, being mindful means being aware of the totality of human experience, in order to see whether our actions create suffering or alleviate it.

Recorded at Zen Center of New York City, 08/02/2015

Right Action

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As the fifth factor in the Noble Eightfold Path, Right Action is traditionally understood as not taking life, not stealing, and not engaging in sexual misconduct. More broadly, we could understand it as actions that are affirming, live-giving, and in harmony with the truth of things—that is, our deeply interconnected nature.

Sensei quotes Chökyi Nyima Rinpoche, who says that dharma means “the unmistaken.” And he says that the way to be unmistaken is to first learn, then reflect, then training in being unconfused. How? By taking actions that will lead to our clarity and awakening.

Recorded at Zen Mountain Monastery, 06/26/2015

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01 : Right Action

02 : This I Believe by Robert A. Heinlein

03 : Upajjhatthana Sutta

Right Livelihood

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Opening with a Spanish reading of Pablo Neruda’s famous poem “Ode to Common Things,” Zuisei Sensei speaks of Right Livelihood, the fourth factor in the Noble Eightfold Path.

Sensei speaks of work, both as sacred labor, and as the act of relating to other people and to things. We have to work, we have to make and buy and use and eat things. The question is how do we do this so we don’t hurt ourselves, each other, and our planet. So right livelihood is about living rightly—about caring deeply about our work and one another and the things that support our lives.

Recorded at Zen Center of New York City, 06/07/2015

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01 : Ode to Common Things by Pablo Neruda

02 : The Responsible Company by Yvon Chouinard

03 : Right Livelihood