What Kind of Ancestor Are You Willing To Be?

Dear Friends,

Happy spring and we hope this message finds you well.

We’ve been in Japan the past month and wanted to share some of the fruits of our practice with you. We also wanted to share one of the dharma talks from the most recent U.S. retreat in Colorado.

See below for a letter from each of us, and a video of a dharma talk from Larry, entitled, “What Kind of Ancestor Are You Willing To Be?”

Best in Love,

Peggy and Larry

The Deep Well of Our Practice- A Message From Larry

The deep well of meditation offers us refreshing and healing waters of transformation, if we are willing to go deeper. Deeper than coping with momentary discomforts of life. Deeper still offering us liberation from our deepest suffering.

Recently we enjoyed two mindfulness days in Kyoto. Our focus was on meditation. We shared practices and teachings on the profound function of meditation of focusing attention in a special way to support the spiritual process of awakening, healing and transformation.

Many years ago, I was in a room at Deer Park Monastery with Thay and others. I saw a calligraphy that said, “Don’t leave when you’re inside the cave of angels until you get your transformation.”

I have learned through practice one can cultivate, “Wings of Awakening.” 

One wing is the deep stability of body and mind. The second wing is freedom from the suffering of clinging. If one continues the practice, when you leave the cave of your heart you can embrace your wings to ride the Dharma Wind. How cool is that?!

The profound purpose of mediation is so that whatever is going on in the world, in our lives, in the moment, in the here and now, in the streets of history, we are capable of dwelling in an inward beatitude- blessedness in body and mind.  

I wrote this in my journal this morning: 

We meditate to behold that which is unborn, uncreated, and undying (the ultimate dimension) - amid that which is born, created, and dying (the historical dimension).  And you don’t have to use the word behold, one can also use touch see, glimpse, taste, so let’s try taste- We meditate at the same time to taste that which is born, which is created, and dying (historical dimension), amid that which is unborn, uncreated and undying (ultimate dimension).  

Many people have thought for a long time that the purpose of meditation was the ultimate dimension experience alone. But Meditation is not to get away from this world of turbulence. It is to be deeply in touch with our world of suffering without being caught by it.  This means meditation is not about bypassing our human experience but to recognize, name, accept and embrace the calling of our precious life.

An ancient teacher in Hinduism said the purpose of meditation is so our soul learns how to be stretched over the cosmogenic abyss while we do our daily tasks.  What a great image.  Imagine- our hearts and minds holding the vastness of everything while we’re doing the dishes. The way our beloved Thay likes to say this is that every day he walks in the Kingdom of God; he touches the Pure Land of the Buddha.  

The invitation is to train yourself to dwell in meditation day and night.  What does this mean? Live in a monastery, not sleep?  Listen carefully:  when you come to your daily practice or you go to a nourishing sangha gathering you are having your seeds of deep serenity watered, you are having these seeds activated, re-activated, encouraged.  You are also having your seeds of insight, deep looking, contemplation nourished and inspired. The waters of this sacred well run deep and wide; stay awake and embrace the precious flowers of compassion and wisdom blooming from the well within. 

Loving Jizo, The Bodhisattva of Great Aspiration- A Message From Peggy

I enjoy each step on the stone walkway at Koyasan. This is the largest cemetery in Japan with over 200,000 headstones. The path leads to Kukai’s temple and final resting place. Kukai is founder of the Shingon sect of Buddhism.

On either side of the walkway are giant cedars, low green bushes, green and yellow bamboo, moss covered ground and ¾ of a mile of monuments and statues. There are thousands of Jizo statues and altars. Many of the Jizo statues are sporting red hats and bibs as you will see in the photographs. Some have more adornment and it is easy to imagine the young child that loved to play with make-up and dress in pearls. There is also a triangular formation of  made up of Jizos. This monument is for people who have died but had no known relatives. How kind.

Our advisor, friend and fellow practitioner Tetsu points out, “This monument is for a feudal lord, this was a shogun, this was another feudal lord”. Then the shoguns of present time, “this monument is for the president of Panasonic, of Motorola, of Samsung.” Even of a major termite mogul. Hisako’s (Tetsu’s wife and another advisor, friend and fellow practitioner on the path) parents are there and she finds the small path that leads us up the hill to her parent’s monument. Tetsu brushes off pine leaves from the base of the monument. Hisako takes a few moments in prayer and we pray together and bow. 

At the base of the elder cedars are many Jizo statues.

Around any corner in Japan, there are Jizo statues and neighborhood shrines. Jizo is the protector of travelers and children. She is best known as the protector of babies and children who have died. We know her in the Thich Nhat Hanh tradition as Kshitigarbhaya, the Bodhisattva of Great Aspiration. I walk for family, friends, students, clients and all beings who have lost children. It is always tragic to suffer the loss of a loved one.

I am reminded of the kindness and friendship of Jan Chozen Bays. Chozen is Abbot of the Great Vow Monastery near Portland along with her husband Hogen. Chozen wrote a wonderful book entitled Jizo Bodhisattva. Chozen loves Jizo and has created and cultivated a Jizo garden at their monastery. This is a powerful place of beauty and deep story. People have made Jizos and set up shrines in this garden for their children. Some of these shrines bring a smile to your face as you will see toys and symbols that this child loved. There might be a pop bottle, key ring, shirt, and much loved sneakers. In Japan, many of the Jizo’s have straw baby sandals by the stone statue.  

I walk many steps remembering the kindness and support that have been offered to Larry and myself by Chozen and Hogen.  We taught at Great Vow on two different occasions. They also gave us room and board so we could attend a remarkable event known as the Painting Experience with Steward Cubley. I am grateful for their work as Abbots on behalf of the dharma and on behalf of us all. I am reminded of Koshin Christopher Cain, Head Teacher at Puget Sound Zen Center. Koshin also offered the gift of dharma friendship to Larry and myself. We taught in this temple and we attended many Sunday services as we were lucky to have the service a 15-minute walk from our home. We are grateful for the work he has done on behalf of the dharma on Vashon Island.  Listening deeply as I walk on the stone walkway at Koyasan, I am filled with gratitude for Koshin, Chozen and Hogen.

And for Jizo. Many of the statues have bibs and hats as you will see in the photographs. Some have more adornment and it is easy to imagine the young child that loved to play with make-up and dress in pearls. There is also a triangular formation of many Jizos. This monument is for people who have died but had no known relatives. How kind.

We will offer teachings and wisdom from Jizo at our March Wisdom School near Mexico City. We teach at a lovely Benedictine Monastery. Our sangha friends in Mexico are wise, playful and deep practitioners. We hope that you can join us.

A Dharma Talk by Dr. Larry Ward at the Maitreya Buddha retreat in Estes Park, Colorado on April 5, 2019.

In this dharma talk Larry addresses topics such as:

  • Thich Nhat Hanh's practice centers as centers of resistance, not just centers for feeling good

  • Mindfulness as more than just a coping / stress relief strategy

  • Going beyond calm , illusion, confusion and mental constructs, including that of being less than, more than or the same as others

  • Recognizing and not bypassing pain and sadness as a means of experiencing interconnectedness

  • Dealing with trauma and skill building for resiliency including learning to regulate, relax, restore and recreate our nervous system beyond fight, flight and freeze.