We are once again holding a Zen retreat at Mt. Baldy Zen Center not far from Los Angeles. The dates are May 9-11. If you register by April 15th, you get a discount. The registration page is here.
I’ve said this before, but I’ll say it again, Zen retreats are a very good way to deepen your meditation practice. They’re a good opportunity to get a quick and relatively painless taste of the Zen monastic experience.
I think that sometimes people get the impression that I disparage monastic Zen practice. But I don’t. I do think there’s an unfortunate tendency for people to hear about monastic practice, assume that the only real Zen is monastic Zen and then simply give up on even trying it out because they can’t do the monastic thing.
Dogen himself is responsible for some of this. Some of the later essays in Shobogenzo seem to be saying that only monks can truly experience what Zen is all about. This contradicts earlier essays that say that anyone can experience what Zen is all about if they just practice zazen.
Those later essays were written to be read as sermons to monks at the monastic centers Dogen ran. I think they were intended as encouragement for what must have been an almost unimaginably difficult way of life, especially compared to the way most of us live in the West in the 21st century. It was cold, it was remote, it rained all the time, there were no restaurants or bars nearby to escape to, there wasn’t even WiFi! It was a tough life.
But that’s just one way to practice. Practicing at home as part of your ordinary lifestyle is also valid.
And it’s good to step away from that for a short time and submit to at least a few of the austerities of monastic practice. Up on Mt. Baldy there is no WiFi and your cell phones will not work. To me, that alone is always a tremendous source of relief. There are no distractions. Everybody is there to practice. The group supports each other. We’re all going through the same thing.
Personally, I can’t do more than a single period of zazen at a time when I’m home by myself. I suppose I’m physically able and there are days when I have the time. But it’s just too difficult. However, when I’ve been with a group of people who are all committed to practice I’ve done seven days straight! It’s amazing what you learn that you’re capable of on retreats.
Our three-day schedule is easy-peasy by Zen standards. You can see it at the bottom of the registration page. I know we’re doing the schedule right because at every retreat I’ve ever run the really gung-ho Zen nerds complain that it’s far too easy and the people who’ve never experienced a retreat before — or who have only done some of the (to me) far too easy ones people like Thich Nhat Hanh run — complain that it’s much too hard. That, I think, is the definition of the Middle Way.
I really like the monastic life. It’s my dream to be able to establish a place where I can lead a variation of monastic style practice on a long-term basis. It takes so much effort and so much money to run a place like that, though, that I tend to doubt it will ever happen. For now, retreats like this are the closest I can come.
I’ll be leading a few more retreats this year in Germany (Benediktushof has just confirmed one for Oct. 12-17), Norway, Finland, and the UK. Those will be great too. I encourage you to attend. I don’t have any prospective retreats in the USA this year other than Mt. Baldy (write me at email@example.com if you want to set something up). So you Americans who want to do this, here’s your chance!
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Registration is now open for our Zen & Yoga Retreat at Mt. Baldy Zen Center May 9-11, 2014
The events page is now updated! Take a look at where I’m gonna be!
You can see the documentary about me, Brad Warner’s Hardcore Zen, at the following locations:
• April 17, 2014 Los Angeles, CA
• April 20, 2014 San Francisco, CA
If you’d like me to do a talk or retreat in your city, write me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’m especially interested in places that are accessible by train from Philadelphia. But I’ll consider any reasonable offer.