The lights dim in a black box theater while the stage remains illuminated at opposing angles. Right away nothing happens. You become aware of your own expectations, the state of your digestion, the other audience members. Perhaps they know something you don’t. And then, slowly, a powdery white figure begins to move. Crouched low, barely covered in ragged, stained garments. Have they been there the whole time, even when you entered the room? Or did they slip in while you and your friend sat down, checking your phones once more before turning off the alerts? Was the performer listening in on the audience’s conversations? How could they have been crouched there so long, not moving? Wait, are there two of them?
This excerpt is from Mountains and Rivers, the annual book-length journal of the MRO which features original contributions from dharma teachers like Hojin Sensei, an artist, ceramicist and director of training at Zen Mountain Monastery. Learn more here about the journal and enjoy this teaching Hojin offered on creativity, connection and spiritual integrity.
Hojin Sensei: You can do an entire art practice with your eyes closed, so it’s not about technique. It’s about connections, about staying connected, turning off those voices that judge. Or, let the judge do your work! What does ‘judging my work’ actually look like? What would a judge draw? I mean, give ‘em a pen! Say “go to it, judge,” you know. They’d probably be, like, “naw, not that. You’re going to do that? no way, that doesn’t look like art.”
As fall ango came to an end, Monastery residents gathered to share their three-months of art practice. Led by Hojin Sensei, herself an artist, I felt that her deep interest in the work was contagious. Creative expression in art practice, one of the “eight gates” of Zen training, enriches our practice with something vital and uniquely alive.
Zen training in the Mountains and Rivers Order includes taking up creative expression—both the traditional Zen arts as well as contemporary arts—to deeply study the self through using our inherent human creativity.
Hojin Sensei spoke in March after her recent art practice retreat, “Face to Face,” offering these words: This exquisite magical display we call our body, our self. What is it? Of course ‘face’ does not always mean the physical part of the body. In another way it’s the surface of the mind’s mirror which is also being attended to—seeing our bodies, the directness with our embodiment, as a sacred awakened activity.
Oh my gosh! How did the high privilege ever come to me to review this book? I am lost in it and continually astonished. Margaret Gibson’s newest book of poems, Not Hearing the Wood Thrush, is ripe and full and endlessly transcendent. Not hearing the wood thrush is a fine art that we would all do well to learn
She makes her way and takes us with her through the dozen doors and windows of her poems into the woods, the river, and the star fields.
A wooden Buddha gazes down upon my desk from a small shelf painted the same color as the walls: Chinese Dragon. Beside him, a picture Lucy drew when she was six shows a bird with human face and the words Have fun being a parrot written below it in parrot colors.
Earnestly I vow to become one, sleek-feathered, able to fly pathless above human traffic in a kingdom of light and air, no suffering.
I can’t go on feigning surprise at the kalpas it’s taken so far, since they’re all my kalpas.
I follow the path, but it forks. To the right, faint blazes ruckle the bark. The trail follows the brook all the way to Nirvana, where I have never been. To the left, the path soon splits again: right to Nirvana, left to the trail that forks.
The National Buddhist Prison Sangha (NBPS) was started over twenty-five years ago by John Daido Loori, Roshi after he received a letter from an inmate at Greenhaven Correctional Facility. The correspondence program developed by the Zen Mountain Monastery community now provides guidance in Zen Buddhist spiritual practice for people in prisons all over the country. This guidance is provided by Practice Advisors who are experienced students supported by the NBPS Directors.
This summer, July 5 – 8, some of the country’s most celebrated contemplative poetic voices will be headlining the first ever Buddhist Poetry Festival at Zen Mountain Monastery. The festival spans an overflowing weekend of workshops and readings, writing and reflection, designed for anyone who resonates with Dharma and poetry, regardless of their own previous level of engagement. In addition to featured events, participants will have opportunities to join monastics and residents in periods of meditation, as well as liturgy, and communal meals. Yet the festival will also open up the usual Monastery schedule to be more, well, festive. In short, there will be something for everyone.