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 Roshi and he and other teachers in the Order have been visiting ever since. In this blog post, MRO students Myoke Adams and Gensei Moore share their thoughts on the first few days of this summer’s teaching. To read an account of the sesshin that followed, click here to read another post by Navina Clemerson, MRO.
Offer the World This
The annual getting together of NZ MRO students in Nelson has a reunion atmosphere – lots of warm smiles, food, catch-ups and laughter. There are 40 of Shugen Sensei’s students in New Zealand and Australia, and the bulk of us meet in July each year for the chance to connect with our teacher. This time it was good to also see a healthy contingent of newer folks bringing in their energy; people who have been sitting with local groups for a couple of years who are now ready to take in more.
The opening events were at Fairfield House, a Victorian mansion poised on a hill above Nelson’s cathedral. The public talk was called “Illuminated Mind: Seeing into the Illusory Self”, and the weekend workshop was entitled “Playing in the Buddha Field: Compassion and Skillful Means.”
What was our experience of the weekend? We remember being constantly struck at Shugen’s skill at presenting his topic. He’s very good at keeping things alive, colourful, down to earth – interspersing teachings with zazen, discussion and liturgy. He finds just the right balance for how much to talk and how much to ask questions. He’s personal while also speaking of principles. We enjoyed his sense of humour, combined with a very sharp mind.
The retreats covered many points which struck us as radical but familiar. There’s an internal sort of “I’m in! Sign me up!” when we hear these teachings. It’s satisfying to encounter Dharma that is so well expressed, so clear within the teacher, through his living it. We think this was a common recognition among those of us who participated.
The teachings were aimed at cultivating skillfulness in body, speech and mind. They were about keeping on coming back to our aspiration. Keeping on getting the feel of it, the joy of it, the life-force that is bodhicitta. Taking refuge, the precepts, and atoning were important teachings. It was nourishing to enter the familiar liturgy (and some things that were new), and then to have Shugen’s clarity on the intent and power that can build within these words. As he spoke, what came to mind were areas of our lives that were asking for more attention.
It is interesting that the moral teachings, the teachings of loving-kindness, respecting and serving all beings, all people of all stripes, seem more and more front and centre within the Mountains and Rivers Order. We find the focus on compassion encourages us to step more actively into the role of a responsible human in an unjust and hurting world. We are inspired by the initiatives Shugen spoke about, like Beyond Fear of Differences, that utilize the wisdom of the Dharma to promote positive behavioral change around racism and sexism. We see the greater emphasis on compassion in practices like sharing the Metta Sutta during sesshin, and reciting the Sutra of Great Compassion at the start of work practice.
Thank you, Shugen Sensei, for your visits, which so enliven our journey of practice. We are very grateful to you and the Monastery for what you offer the world.
– Geoff Gensei Moore MRO is based in Christchurch New Zealand, and Kate Myoke Adams, MRO lives on Waiheke Island, in Auckland’s Hauraki Gulf. To visit the webpage of the New Zealand affiliate groups, click here
Photos by Tom Kusho Phillpotts.
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