Before I get started, tonight, Wednesday January 23, 2013, at 7:15 pm I will host zazen at Yogavidala 4640 Franklin Ave Los Angeles, CA 90027, on the corner of Franklin and Vermont behind the 7-11 in Los Feliz. We’ve been doing this for about four months now every Wednesday night. We’re getting about 2-5 people each time, which is barely enough to pay the rent on the space. As of February we’re moving the sittings to Thursdays at 8:30pm to see if that does any better. If it doesn’t we’ll probably just drop the weeknight zen things.
On Monday my friend Nina and I went up to Mount Baldy Zen Center to talk to them about holding a Zen retreat there. The terms and prices they quoted us sound very reasonable. We have not finalized anything yet. But the most likely dates for the retreat would be April 11-14 (or possibly April 25-28). Once we have worked out the details I’ll post them here. I’m deliberately posting this a bit prematurely to try and gauge what sort of interest is out there for this. We need at least 20 people in the retreat (that’s part of the policy at Mt. Baldy) and the cost would be somewhere around $325 per person (possibly more, possibly less). This will cover all meals and accommodations.
This will be a full-on Zen retreat. Participants will be required to maintain silence for most of the three days. There will be no cell phones or computer use allowed. The main activity will be zazen. There won’t be any workshops or games or weenie and marshmallow roasts. Drug and alcohol use will not be tolerated. But there will be a period of yoga each day, a chanting service each morning, a few talks by me followed by Q&A sessions, a work period each day and opportunities for dokusan (personal meetings with me) for all participants. There will be free time for hiking and exercise too.
After Nina and I returned from Mt. Baldy on Monday, my roommate started talking to me about ways he thought we could get more participants at our retreats and thereby make more money. He was saying we could add fun activities, more talks, less zazen, etc. And, of course, all of this would bring in more people. But then it wouldn’t be a zen retreat. It would be something else. At best it would be a weekend in the mountains with a bit of zazen thrown in. Which wouldn’t be the worst thing people could do. And I’m not completely opposed to that kind of a retreat. I may start doing those some day.
But here’s the thing. People are always complaining that their minds are too busy to do meditation. Your mind is not too busy to do meditation. I don’t care who you are or how busy your mind is. Your mind is just as busy as everybody else’s. Your mind and Buddha’s mind are equally as busy. Meditation is hard for everyone who does it. Everyone. If it wasn’t difficult to sit still and be quiet they wouldn’t build giant statues commemorating people whose main claim to fame is that they could sit still and be quiet. It’s hard work. But you can do it.
One of the things that makes a person’s mind seem “too busy for meditation” is the way we are constantly agitating our brains with unnecessary information and stimulation. It’s like sitting there poking your eye with your finger over and over and then complaining that you can’t see clearly.
Retreats in which participants get to chat or play with their computers or go for trips to local sightseeing spots etc. rob those participants of the opportunity to go deeply into silence. Which doesn’t mean those retreats are evil or anything like that. They may offer people who are super busy and super stimulated a chance to be a little less busy and a little less stimulated. And that’s nice. But that’s not what a zen retreat is about. A zen retreat is about going deeply into silence for several days. And you can only go deeply into silence for several days by going deeply into silence for several days . So while I may one day offer a few more “lite zen” retreats like the one I did in the Lakes District U.K. last year, this won’t be one of those.
As some of you have surely noticed, Mount Baldy Zen Center is the home temple of the recently vilified Joshu Sasaki Roshi. I have to admit, after all the shit that’s been flung at me recently I take a kind of perverse delight in the idea of holding a retreat at Mount Baldy. Take that, self righteous upholders of morality! Ha!*
But the less sexy truth of the matter is that we’ve been looking into holding a retreat at Mount Baldy for a number of years now. It is the perfect place for a Los Angeles based zen group to run a retreat. It’s close to LA and yet remote enough to have the proper atmosphere. It’s a zen center so it has all the stuff one needs to run a proper zen retreat (a zendo, a Buddha hall, bells, a big mokugyo, monks to run the kitchen and make three-bowl meals, etc.). It’s not a place built for yoga or camping or whatever that we’d have to adapt to our purposes. It is as beautiful a spot as anyone could possibly hope for. All the recent controversy about Sasaki offers no reason at all for us to change our minds about holding our retreat at Mount Baldy. So there!*
* These are jokes. Sometimes I tell jokes on this blog.
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