Open Access

Sharing space with the Buddha

· Open Access, Photos, Sangha News

On September 3, in addition to opening the Fall 2017 Ango training period, the Monastery also held a different sort of opening ceremony. Shugen Sensei and Hojin Sensei performed an eye opening for two new images, created specifically for the the main altar in our zendo.

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Photo by David McNamera, MRO

This is the Way I Express My Gratitude

· Dharma Discourses, Open Access · ,

by Geoffrey Shugen Arnold, Sensei

In the Mountains and Rivers Order we have two paths by which a student can practice and realize Buddhadharma—a lay training path and a monastic path. These make up the fourfold sangha as established by the Buddha: female and male monastics, and female and male lay students. The lay and monastic students together create an interdependent and co-dependent body that is sangha. Each path has its own integrity and is mutually dependent upon the other, and the differences between the two paths helps to give each its vitality.

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A True Life

· Editorial, Open Access · ,

by Suzanne Taikyo Gilman

What is a true, reliably grounded, fulfilling life? The question of what is true can haunt us, fueling our underlying dis-ease and motivating us to explore and even make major life changes. But rare are the opportunities to unravel the skein as thoroughly as through spiritual inquiry. The taking up of a simple life of generous service sounds appealing, an antidote to all kinds of suffering, not to mention a place of refuge and nurturance. But how do each of us find and genuinely live that true and fulfilling life?

In this issue of the Mountain Record we offer perspectives on the inner experience of discerning one’s spiritual journey, be it through meditation, prayer, creative expression or an exploration of different means. Tibetan dharma teacher Jetsün Khandro Rinpoche speaks of discernment as wisdom arising naturally from our intrinsic nature—our buddha nature—which knows right from wrong, wholesome from unwholesome. Shugen Sensei describes the particular journey of a monastic discernment in the Mountains and Rivers Order as helping to clarify and reaffirm the Bodhisattva vows of all practitioners. Teresa of Avila explores the allegory of the interior castle as the practice of self-knowledge. And theologian Belden C. Lane takes us on the mountain trail with the mystical poet Rumi, who offers the heart coming fully to life as it yearns for the Beloved.

Practice addresses our tendency to step away from our fundamental perfect nature, and so discerning wisdom helps develop clarity and confidence as we find our way back. Thanisarro picks up this thread in his teaching on discernment as a key element of self-study within Theravadan practice, leading to an end to suffering in this lifetime. Annie Dillard describes engaging the world with passionate curiosity as a writer, delving deeply into the intricate mystery of what we call reality. And in this issue, Sangha Reflections bring to light the personal journeys of lay and monastic Zen practitioners in the MRO sangha whose dharma practice is alive with the questions of how to manifest this human life for the benefit of all beings.

Discernment of one’s path takes time. We fall in love with what is new and positive, but without maturity we can’t yet keep our feet on the ground. Practice helps us to meet the challenges of the conditioned mind and its narrow focus on comforts.

Living simply and being of service in the world is a genuine life of spiritual practice, whether formal vows are taken up, or not. May we discover how best to offer ourselves, and our unique gifts, for the benefit of all beings.


Suzanne Taikyo Gilman
Mountain Record Editor

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Photo by Steve Jurvetson

Giving Rise to Discernment

· Articles & Essays, Open Access · ,

By Thanissaro Bhikkhu

We meditate, developing mindfulness, developing concentration, and after a while we begin to wonder, “When is the discernment going to come? When are the insights going to come?” And it’s important to look at what the Buddha has to say about what gives rise to discernment. Mindfulness and concentration are prerequisites, but there’s also more. And in searching for that “more,” it’s especially instructive to look at two sets of qualities that the Buddha said lead to Awakening—the Five Strengths and the Seven Factors for Awakening—to learn their lessons on what gives rise to discernment, what’s needed for these insights to arise. Otherwise you can meditate for twenty, thirty, forty years—as Ajaan Lee says, you could die and your body could dry out on the spot—and still not gain any discernment, because you’re lacking some of the proper qualities.

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Photo by Chizen Brown, MRO

Sangha Reflections

· Open Access, Sangha Reflections · ,


Learning how to listen to, recognize and act upon my longing has pulled the strings of my discernment. This is how I have made decisions in my life about my life and my Zen practice. But I don’t always know this. And I have had to be patient. It almost feels like I am being discerned.

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Photo by Will Carpenter

Fall 2017 Ango

· From The Mountain, Open Access · ,

The Mountains and Rivers Order training schedule cycles through periods of intensification and relaxation, mirroring seasonal changes and giving us varied opportunities to study and practice. The spring and fall quarters are ango (“peaceful dwelling”), ninety-day intensives that continue an ancient tradition dating back to the time of the Buddha, when the sangha gathered in forest groves during monsoon season to support each other in their practice and receive teachings from the Buddha and his senior disciples.

Each ango has a theme drawn from the Buddhist teachings. This Fall 2017 Ango, the sangha will be taking on the teachings of Prajna Paramita, the Perfection of Wisdom, one of the foundational teachings of Mahayana Buddhism. We will engage this with selected texts together during the ango’s Buddhist study sessions, art practice and retreats.

The training and practice of the chief disciple is another important facet of ango training. When a junior student is ready to make the transition to being a senior student, the teacher will ask him or her to serve as chief disciple for the training period, leading the ango and offering their sincere and wholehearted practice as a model for the sangha. The ango culminates with a special right of passage for the whole community: Shuso Hossen.

For more information about this Fall Ango and the various activities both at the Monastery and the Temple, please check out our website.

Shuso’s Letter

Photo by Constanza Ontaneda

Photo by Constanza Ontaneda

Dear Sangha,

As the year ripens and summer wanes, we come together once again for the fall training period. Shugen Sensei has asked me to be the chief disciple this ango. I’m delighted and deeply grateful for the chance to serve in this fashion. My aspiration for the next few months is to trust unreservedly in the love of the sangha, and not to withhold my love for this life, with its highs and lows, its thorns, its precipices, its peaks, and its abysses. Although I don’t always know how to do that, still, this is my vow. Please guide me in my practice.

Throughout the ango, we’ll be studying Prajna Paramita, the Perfection of Wisdom, traditionally personified as the Mother of All Buddhas. We’ll focus in particular on the Perfection of Wisdom in Eight Thousand Lines. As we take up this ancient teaching, let’s embody Prajna through the practices of generosity, discipline, patience, enthusiastic effort, and meditation. In this manner, together with all beings, we give birth to the wisdom that neither arises nor ceases.

When Daido Roshi used to visit Fire Lotus Temple, he would often say, It’s because the fire burns that the lotus can bloom. May the fire burn hot—and the lotus bloom—for each of us this fall.

Nine bows,

Patrick Yunen Kelly, MRO took up formal Zen training in 1994 and began practicing with the MRO in 2000, after moving to New York City from California. He became an MRO student in 2001 and received Jukai from Daido Roshi in 2004. He also completed several years of residential training at Zen Mountain Monastery as well as at the Zen Center of New York City. Yunen now lives in Brooklyn with his partner, Constanza Ontaneda, MRO and their two cats, Liza and Tropy. He is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in biochemistry and molecular biology and likes to spend his free time refining his art practice. You can see his work at

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Buddhist Economics

· Open Access, Reviews · ,

Media Review
An Enlightened Approach to the Dismal Science

by Clair Brown Ph.D.
Bloomsbury Press
Review by Lillian Childress


What would a world look like where the rules of economics were governed by Buddhist principles?

Clair Brown has set out to imagine such a world, drawing on her experience as an economics professor at University of California Berkeley and a longtime Tibetan Buddhist practitioner. Her book offers us the promise of laying out a road map to “an enlightened approach to the dismal science”

Brown walks us through a vision of economics based on maximizing collective happiness rather than maximizing profits: “In simplest terms, the free market model measures prosperity by focusing on growth in average income per person and in national output, while the Buddhist model measures prosperity by focusing on the quality of life of all people and Nature.”

Ultimately, however, Buddhist Economics leaves us with few tangible steps forward.

Brown focuses on mundane “save the earth” steps, putting her seal of approval on things we already knew were good: put on a sweater when it’s chilly, wrap presents with newspaper instead of buying wrapping paper. Some seem particularly unique to Brown’s socioeconomic bracket—“we drive less and lease a small electric car, driving our older Prius on longer trips.” On the whole, her suggestions for how to transition to a Buddhist economy lack the cutting insight that our economic discourse needs to transition away from the current model that is causing climate change at a faster pace than we can comprehend.

from Buddhist Economics

“In Buddhist economics, people are interdependent with on another and with Nature, so each person’s well-being is measured by how well everyone and the environment are functioning with the goal of minimizing suffering for people and the planet. Everyone is assumed to have the right to a comfortable life with access to basic nutrition, health care, education, and the assurance of safety and human rights. A country’s well-being is measured by the aggregation of the well-being of all residents and the health of the ecosystem.”

—Clair Brown

Moreover, Brown’s large-scale solutions lack the detail and the punch that we see in meticulously researched books like Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate. In her final recommendations for achieving an economy founded upon Buddhist principles, she urges us to promote sustainable agriculture, reduce waste, and increase access to potable water. What Brown fails to pay heed to is that we already know these things are desirable—we rely on experts like her to lay out a road map for how to achieve these noble goals. Thus, many of Brown’s proposals feel like they are Band-Aids on a greater problem. The call, for example, for more holistic economic indicators than GDP is a valid (and important) one, but still far from the revolutionary thinking it will take to get to the root of why—on a basic, spiritual level—we are led to over-consume.

Religion and spiritual practice can be integrated with economic thought, as we saw so artfully carried out in Pope Francis’s Encyclical on Inequality and Climate Change. What Brown fails to fully delve into is what the Encyclical articulates so well: the spiritual dearth that leads to unceasing consumption and greed and exactly what in our society is causing this dearth. As Pope Francis calls this modern ability to heedlessly over-consume “the throwaway economy.”

Calling the book Buddhist Economics is almost a misnomer, as very few Buddhist teachings, let alone original texts, are mentioned after they are cursorily introduced in the first few chapters. Brown seems instead to rely on a using a few sample quotes from modern Buddhist teachers and channeling Western-style mindfulness speak—at points, it feels as strange as if Pope Francis wrote his encyclical without a single reference to the Bible.

Ultimately, Buddhist Economics is a step in a direction we urgently need to turn towards: critical thought about how we can shift our economic system away from unbridled growth and consumption, and towards a system that equitably distributes resources and maximizes wellbeing for all. What we need now is the next step in the progression: decisive spiritual wisdom and concrete solutions towards these important goals.

from Buddhist Economics

“In Buddhist economics, people are interdependent with on another and with Nature, so each person’s well-being is measured by how well everyone and the environment are functioning with the goal of minimizing suffering for people and the planet. Everyone is assumed to have the right to a comfortable life with access to basic nutrition, health care, education, and the assurance of safety and human rights. A country’s well-being is measured by the aggregation of the well-being of all residents and the health of the ecosystem.”

—Clair Brown

Lillian Childress is a member of the MRO sangha living in New Haven, CT.

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A Plea for the Animals

· Open Access, Reviews · ,

Media Review
A Plea for the Animals

The Moral, Philosophical, and Evolutionary Imperative
to Treat All Beings with Compassion

by Mathieu Ricard
Shambhala Publications

Ahimsa, the Sanskrit word for non-harming, is an elemental attribute of the Buddha’s teaching. The concept of “harm,” in and of itself, is not mysterious. It manifests when we needlessly inflict damage, pain, or suffering on any patchwork in the fabric of reality. Later Buddhism codified the notion of saving all sentient beings as an outgrowth of this non-harming. All beings with sentience or consciousness—or to put it in more biological terms, with a spinal column—are able to demonstrate their desire to live their own destinies, their own lives. And this is where Matthieu Ricard, former scientist now an ordained Tibetan monastic, begins his exploration of our relationship with the animal world: if we, not as Buddhists but as a species (a species of animal, in fact), place value on the moral sanctity of life, how do we continue to justify the imprisonment, torture, and murder of billions of fellow sentient beings each and every day?

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Traveling by Day

· Dharma Discourses, Open Access · ,

by Geoffrey Shugen Arnold, Sensei

This Discourse appeared in the Fall 2013 issue of Mountain Record, “Within Light, Darkness.”

True Dharma Eye, Case 113
Baofu’s Blocking of the Eyes, Ears, and Mind

How do we become lost to ourselves? What does this even mean, and what’s the consequence of being lost? To see things as they are—it sounds so simple. We open our eyes, and there is something before us. The sun is bright; the moon is half-full; the grass is green. It appears plain and clear—what more is there to see? Well, if our ordinary seeing and perceiving was in accord with the real nature of things—our world—then shouldn’t our lives be functioning in harmony?

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New Zealand Sesshin, July 2017

· Articles & Essays, Open Access, Sangha News, Sangha Reflections

NOTE: This July, Shugen Arnold Sensei made his annual trip to New Zealand to lead retreats and public programs with our substantial sangha there. He first visited NZ almost 30 years ago with Daido Loori Roshi and he and other teachers in the Order have been visiting ever since. In this blog post, sangha member Navina Clemerson shares her reflections on the sesshin that took place . To read an account of the public talk given by Shugen Sensei in Nelson, click here to read another post by Myokei Adams and Gensei Moore. 

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