Friday, April 25, 2008

RETREAT!!!

I seem to be spending a lot of my time retreating lately. In March I lead a retreat in Atlanta, tonight I'll be starting one in South Carolina, a couple weeks after that I'll be leading one in Milwaukee, then it looks like we'll have one in Southern California on Memorial Day (still waiting for confirmation), after that there's the Great Sky Sesshin in August and another sesshin in Japan in September (info for all the upcoming retreats is below). Along with this I did two weeks work practice in Tassajara Zen Monastery in early April and I'll be going back for another two weeks in June. All in all, a whole lot of my year 2008 will be spent retreating.

A few years ago I wrote an article for my webpage called "Retreat!! (Run Away!!)" I just went searching for it and it appears to have been lost in the Internet ether, wherever those things go. I don't seem to have another copy saved. No big deal. It probably sucked ass anyhow.

But I remember that the year I wrote that article my friend Miki couldn't attend the retreat because she was going to the Fuji Rock festival (not that she ever attended any of the retreats anyway, but nevertheless). I was trying to explain why a Zen retreat was different, perhaps (dare I say it???) better than a rock festival — at least if your intention is to find a way to enjoy life more and a way to make the world a nicer place.

Last week I put an article up on Suicide Girls in which I talked about how I felt that retreat centers were a good place to learn how not to waste your life. The article was met by the now tiresomely typical outcry from readers who thought I was the most egotistical asshole in the world to even suggest that a time spent away from society in quiet might be better than frittering away your days looking at titties on the Internet. But titties on the Internet pay my bills, so I can't complain too much. So it goes.

I have found, though, that I have a somewhat different attitude towards retreats and suchlike from a lot of folks in the Buddhist community who I meet at the retreats I attend and run. I think retreats are a great thing. Great. Wonderful. This is why I go on so many of the damned things. However, the real meat and potatoes of Zazen practice does not happen at retreats. The most important Zazen is the Zazen you do every day at home during the course of your real life in the real world.

I've been highly disappointed to discover that this attitude does not seem to be at all commonplace among the kinds of people who like to attend Zen retreats. Much more common is the attitude that one can get all one's Zazen out of the way in a few intensive days (or weeks or months) and then just basically let things slide the rest of the time. I'm really shocked to find that a lot of people who you see at Zen retreats don't have any daily practice at all. I just can't comprehend that. I did daily practice for over ten years before I went on my first retreat. Which is not to say how phenomenal I am. I just mean I wouldn't have considered going on a retreat except as an extension of my already established daily practice.

The other thing I find is that most retreats I attend are a bit too intense. I still do them. I don't think they're necessarily bad. But I do think they sometimes go overboard with practice. See, what happens when you concentrate a whole lot of Zazen into a few days (or weeks or months) is that you can end up feeling very high (insert Towely voice here). You have what appear to be very deep insights into life, the universe and everything and you walk out thinking you're some kind of spiritual superhero.

The problem with such insights is that they fade very quickly in the light of day, like a wonderful dream that you can't quite remember. The more Zazen you try to pack into the smaller number of days the more likely this is to occur. Or, what's worse, is when the ego latches onto that initial "spiritual superhero" feeling and you remain convinced you're God's gift to meditation long after whatever insights you had during your practice intensive have crumbled into dust or been fixed into sharply etched memories that you return to again and again and again. Guys who can manage this often end up making lots of money as spiritual masters. But what they do and say is just a waste of time.

This is why the retreats I lead, the ones where I can set the schedule at least, follow Gudo Nishijima's method of being intentionally quite a bit less intense than what seems to be the norm for Zen retreats. The insights to be had from such a practice are often not quite as deep seeming as those to be had from a very intense schedule. But they last a lot longer and mean a lot more when you re-enter the "normal" world. This, I think, is far more important. Plus, ultimately, these types of low intensity retreats allow you, over time, to actually go deeper into your practice and stay there.

Anyhow, these are just some random thoughts as I get ready for yet another retreat. See ya when I come back!

Here's the upcoming schedule:

April 25 - 27 leading a retreat at Southern Dharma Retreat Center in North Carolina.

April 29th at 7 PM, talk at Warren Wilson College’s Buddhist Studies Group. Also in Asheville, NC.

May 3rd my band 0DFx will play at Pat’s in the Flats in Cleveland with This Moment in Black History and on May 4th, 0DFx will play at the Kent Stage in Kent, Ohio in commemoration of the 38th anniversary of the infamous shootings by the National Guard

Saturday May 10th at 7 PM (or maybe 6, they need to decide yet, call before you go) at Visible Voice Books in Cleveland, Ohio’s Tremont neighborhood. NOTE CHANGE OF DATE!

On May 17th and 18th a 2-day retreat at the Milwaukee Zen Center.

I'll be one of the teachers at this year's Great Sky Zen Sesshin August 9-16. Check out their webpage for details.

The annual Dogen Sangha retreat in Shizuoka, Japan will be September 20-23.

44 comments:

Anonymous said...

But titties on the Internet pay my bills, so I can't complain too much.

There is very good money to be made in taking advantage of people's bad habits.

Anonymous said...

not that looking at them is a bad habit.. but paying for it is.

Blake said...

I have yet to attend a retreat. Finding time has been rough... finding courage has been rougher. I do sit daily (well, about six days a week... Saturdays seem to slip by me). I couldn't imagine even being able to make it through a retreat unless you do sit daily.

It just seems like my sangha's retreats are scheduled at such bad times like the weekend before my wedding. My fiance would just LOVE it if I disappeared for an entire weekend while she ran around and finished writing checks.

My goal is to attend one this summer, after the honeymoon.

Anonymous said...

If you know what website the article was posted on, it might still exist on the Internet Time Machine, www.archive.org. You sound as though you may have tried it already, just thought I'd put it out there.

Anonymous said...

If you know what website the article was posted on, it might still exist on the Internet Time Machine, www.archive.org. You sound as though you may have tried it already, just thought I'd put it out there.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Brad,

My Zen master once told me that my daily sitting (30 minutes 1 or 2 times per day) was more important than anything else I was doing.

I didn't ask why - thanks for the explanation.

z0tl said...

zazen during work practice (daily activity) is 1o,ooo times more effective as sitting in a zendo.

who said it? stupid moron hakuin, so start the fuck walking some fast kinhins, you've done enough of the shoot me now put me to sleep soto stuff eh?

once b0rn, twice b0rn, what's the difference bro? you wanna really take it "laissez faire" with meditation that's MORE EFFECTIVE when confronted with assholes like me in real life?

go teh daoist water method of dissolving bullshit. hah, so many methods, so none of them having to do anything with liberating your ass from underneath all that suffering.

mw@h.

Anonymous said...

*hic*

rolando said...

"But I do think they sometimes go overboard with practice. See, what happens when you concentrate a whole lot of Zazen..."

So Zazen = practice for you?

This IS Soto Zen we are talking about after all, hmm?

Jinzang said...

A few years ago I wrote an article for my webpage called "Retreat!! (Run Away!!)" I just went searching for it and it appears to have been lost in the Internet ether, wherever those things go.

Yes, the page was archived by the Wayback machine and you can read it here. Not much is ever truly lost on the Internet.

Anonymous said...

wut iz that picture? fat people funny, kk? very buddhist, sure.

David said...

Good Article.

buddha-builder said...

Oh, I like this article! Balance, I agree, is the key.

And how you use that dharma energy after the retreat -- that's the ticket.

Then to 100% be there for folks in daily life, that's the whole show.

Enjoy!

Jinzang said...

Very buddhist, sure.

I'm not a very good Buddhist. Thank you for pointing out my faults.

Jinzang said...

Zazen during work practice (daily activity) is 1o,ooo times more effective as sitting in a zendo.

If you can keep unwavering awareness is your daily activity, that's a very good thing. Then you're really practicing every waking moment. But this is not something a beginner can do and it doesn't help to pretend otherwise. The ability to carry practice into your daily life comes from your daily sitting practice.

DB said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
clyde said...

Brad wrote: “This is why the retreats I lead, the ones where I can set the schedule at least, follow Gudo Nishijima's method of being intentionally quite a bit less intense than what seems to be the norm for Zen retreats.”

I’ve not done a retreat. I visited the Milwaukee Zen Center web-site and read their Two-day Sitting schedule found here: http://www.milwaukeezencenter.org/html/2_day.html .

What is your less intense schedule?

Do no harm,
clyde

Fuke said...

What does "leading a retreat" involve? I mean, if people can set the hours for zazen and organize the space, meals, cushions and all that. What does the leader do? Give a few homilies? :)

Smoggyrob said...

Hi Clyde:

Here's a link to the DS retreat page. Click on the link next to "Schedule" to download a pdf.

Basically it's 04:30-21:00 with six zazen periods (45 minutes in the morning and evening, and four 30 minute sittings). That's three and a half hours of zazen per day.

Rob

Anonymous said...

Zazen retreat in Shizuoka

Link

ted said...

With all the retreats, are you sure you're not French?

See you (again) in Shizuoka...

ben said...

Funny, i started sitting in zazen fairly regularly AFTER my first sesshin, last year's Shizuoke retreat. I've beent trying to sit dasily, and it ends up being every weekday most of the time. But it was a good chance to get introduced to proper sitting, and the chilled-out-more-than-a-stoned-manatee- feeling was enough to encourage me to keep going so far.

As for the Fuji Cock Fest, the 4-day sesshin is cheaper that 2 days there.

Although i would miss the sesshin too if Propagandhi was playing at the same time... Good thing they weren't!

Yudo said...

"With all the retreats, are you sure you're not French?"

Another super anglo saxophone prejudice. the French workers have the greatest productivity of the Western world. The problem is not the French, it's their rulers who are notoriously incompetent, greedy and infatuated with themselves. Napoleon's fault.

Anonymous said...

Here is how it is possible to not have a stable daily sitting practice and yet still be capable of doing a lot of concentrated zazen (or vipassana as the case may be) on a retreat:

Structure. On a retreat, the structure is provided from the outside. Meals are taken care of, I was in a protected environment, someone was telling me what to do, there was a schedule, with no room to waffle.

It was like stepping onto a conveyer belt and being carried along.

It has been very much harder for me to generate my own structure and to get my daily sitting practice in place.

And, I've found that yes, the hardest thing to do is take what I have learned on the cushion and then apply it in between the times I am on the cushion.

Must mention I once did a few Insight meditation retreats in a lovely wilderness area. But after a few, I decided to try Zen.

The reason was that I found that re-entering urban life after being away from the city was too painful and difficult.

Another thing that was strange at the Insight retreats was that afterward, when it was over, people were high, talking like mad, exchanged phone numbers and e-mails. It all felt very intimate.

Yet..when I would phone them, theyd not return my calls.

It was as though there was a sort of insta-intimacy following the retreat, and then when everyone returned to daily life, the re-entry was so difficult for all of us that we were suddenly shy about returning phone calls or e-mails.

By contrast, I appreciated sesshins at our local Zen Center. The people I sat with were the same people I did kitchen duty with during the week, and our center was in the city. So the whole thing was less intense but very much more integrated into our daily lives. Re-entry never felt difficult after the Zen sesshins at our urban center.

Nevertheless, I agree heartily with Brad---in the long run it is sitting every day that matters and getting curious about how to apply practice, even to the most painful and infuriating or boring situations we encounter (or stir up) when off of the cushion.

Mysterion said...

Anonymous said...
"Here is how it is possible to not have a stable daily sitting practice..."

Do you not eat breakfast?

It is no more difficult to maintain a daily zazen schedule than it is maintain a breakfast routine.

z0tl said...

1st you need to understand zazen makes air tastes 1o,ooo better than chocolate, THEN you will get to the point where maintaining the practice during daily routine is as easy as having breakfast.

i concur with the pretend part, which is why you won't see me advocating AGAINST retreats. that's just rationalizing on part of poor saps who like to "read about sitting" and claim it's not needed.

it is needed, however, not for liberation. see the koan about the master polishing rock trying to turn it into a mirror next to the sitted student trying to wake up sitting to wake up.

oh, wait, i forgot this is the comment section where everyone's teh buddha already.

my bad.

blogger said...

Everybody wants to be an individual.
Oh, but everyone already is unique.

Some want only to conform.
Some want only to refuse to conform.

Retreats are not about conforming, they are about experiencing - and allowing others to experience - without experiencing YOU.
SEE

ted said...

Yudo,

I assure you I meant no harm with my joke. My family is partly French, and I'm planning to live there in a few years.

Pardonnez-moi.

renbyo said...

I have been to a couple of dozen retreats over the years, even lived at a zen center for a couple of years. Many of the more established zen groups have made retreats quite pricey, and alot of us average blue collar buddhist can't often afford them. I understand paying the bills, and something for the teacher but The $80 to $100 a day some places charge seems a bit much for dormitory sleeping, small sparse meals, and the opportunity to do work practice.

I sit at home regularly, and with a small neighborhood group once a week. But I feel that paying big bucks for the fancy retreats at the well known zen centers is just not much bang for my buck.

tim said...

I need an RSS feed for your blog. I can not keep up with email notices and website book marks all the time... The best of the Best such as your writings need to be somewhere that has an RSS feed.

I login to myyahoo RSS reader and I'm in and out of everyone's business daily in under an hour.

Without this I lose entire days sometimes following links and trying to convince people to switch to sites like MySpace with an RSS blog.

When you make the switch or get RSS options on this site please contact us so we can follow your writings and attend some of your retreats.

Tim
Nebraska Green Group
myspace.com/timfrentz

Jinzang said...

that's just rationalizing on part of poor saps who like to "read about sitting" and claim it's not needed. it is needed, however, not for liberation. see the koan about the master polishing rock trying to turn it into a mirror next to the sitted student trying to wake up sitting to wake up.

I wouldn't claim to understand any koan. But, I always understood the point of this story as enlightenment is not something produced by causes and conditions. Rather, it is something we all possess (we're all teh buddha).

That doesn't mean we don't need to sit. How else to see what mind is, than to look at it? Sitting doesn't make you a buddha. But it helps you recognize that you are a buddha.

Rich said...

Thank you for sharing your insights on daily zazen practice and retreats.

Anonymous said...

Basically it's 04:30-21:00 with six zazen periods (45 minutes in the morning and evening, and four 30 minute sittings). That's three and a half hours of zazen per day

3 1/2 hours for a retreat?! What a bunch of wusses! At my old center we sat 3 hours of regular zazen every freaking day. Retreats were 10 hours of daily seated zazen. I used to sit 4 or 5 hours per day on my own for weeks just to prepare for a retreat.

Sounds like Brad is rationalizing why they don't sit much at DS retreats. Same reasons could be given for why a center only does half an hour per day or 5 minute retreats. Hard core zen, my ass. Buncha wimps~ Grandma zen.

Mysterion said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
John said...

Hey Tim:

feed://hardcorezen.blogspot.com/feeds/posts/default

Hey Mysterion,

Actually lots of people don't eat breakfast every day. Like me. It's more healthy to eat breakfast every day, and I know this, but sometimes my fear of being late for work stops me from eating breakfast.

Mysterion said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mysterion said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rich said...

What is continuity? Is that like staying alive?
Is that making positive healthy actions routine?
Why am I responsible when everything I do, I do it for you.
Is the I and you connected or is that just me?

Mysterion said...

"There is but one responsibility - to maintain continuity in your own life."

I am referring you to this article on daily routine because it is the very foundation upon which you build your own life - and health. In my practice, it is unusual, but not rare, for this subject to come up from time-to-time. By "continuity," I imply more than mere daily, weekly, or seasonal routines. Underlying each life is a biological clock which, to some extent, is genetically encoded. When you can detect those subtle cues your clock - regulator - gives you (e.g. time to rest, time to eat, time to avoid milk, time to avoid animal fat) then you have entered mastery of your own vehicle.

The body you wear day-after-day is called the "Vehicle" to enlightenment.

Rich said...

Then I would describe continuity as karma, which is why my vehicle is more of a jaguar than an elephant. My clock regulator is feelings like hunger, thirst, fatigue. Mastering my vehicle is trying to be present for whatever is. Sitting is good for this. I've never sat for more than a short day so I don't know if extended periods of sitting is better. I'm not sure if my muscles and joints could take it. Give me some hard training points for keeping don't know mind alot.
Dripping water will wear out every material, fire only works for some.

z0tl said...

brad caters to wusses who would otherwise never graduate from sitting grandma style to warm up your engines 10 hours a day 4 days sittings.

once you get a taste for what that can bring about (ie, nothing), yet you can be present through it all, i would not bother with retreats unless they are week long, preferably rohatsu in a place where your balls/ovaries freeze in place unless you breathe into them with much care throughout.

Rich said...

I sit because it is a natural restful time when I can just be. Right now a half hour in the morning and evening is enough.

Graduating from granpa style and having my balls freeze is not important to me. Being alive is wonderful just as it is.

Anonymous said...

40 hours of zazen in four days is great for those who can pull it off, but I suspect that it's way past the point of diminishing returns for 99% of retreaters-- including me.

In my own experience, feats of zazen endurance nearly always feed into the "we're more Zen than you! Go team!" attitude. Why turn the retreat into just another competition?

berto said...

Ive read a lot of these blogs about this heavy eqipments. Im looking for a bundle package of heavy equipment and i found in the site komatpillar.com. I wish i could go to the philippines to buy those equipment but on my situation right now I cant go there.