Issue 15: Autumn 2011

Retreat Report

By Michael Kogan Muju

Kaiyo Diana Gerard at Warminster, August 2011

A Weekend Retreat of Zen Practice and Meditation with Kaiyo Diana Gerard
12th, 13th & 14th of August 2011 at The Manor House Warminster Wiltshire

As part of Dancing Mountains’ growing number of regional retreats Devin organised the weekend entitled above. We were very fortunate to have as our guide Kaiyo Diana Gerard who began her Buddhist practice in 1974 at Samye Ling Tibetan Centre in Scotland. She has been a student at Zen Centre’s three practice centres since 1994 and was ordained as a priest by Tenshin Reb Anderson in 1998. Diana chose on this retreat to give talks about Eihei Dogen’s writings relating to meditation practice entitled ‘Fukanzazengi.’
The venue was The Centre for Addiction Treatment Studies in Warminster which trains students in addiction counselling. It is a spacious Georgian Manor House which has been converted and equipped to create a comfortable venue for groups such as our own. The main room on the ground floor with its superb original oak flooring was converted into a quiet, light filled and spacious zendo for the weekend.
Seventeen of us from north, east, south, and west sanghas asembled together around 16.30 on Friday 12 August and after a preliminary meeting to discuss the schedule we sat together to initiate the weekend. There was to be the usual emphasis on sitting together along with kinhin and services. Talks and interviews were offered by Diana on both days,
I am surprised, even on these short retreats, at how quickly we develop a strong yet tranquil atmosphere that pervades our time together. I noticed it at Trigonos on the Easter retreat and for me it was palpable again here. Perhaps it’s related to the fact that many of us have now practiced together a number of times and that we have increasing experience of retreats? Of course the venue always plays a part in this and The Manor House was a graceful container for our energy.
Diana gave two interesting talks on ‘Fukanzazengi’. After returning from China in 1227 Dogen was determined to teach what he termed ‘true buddhism’ and as part of this process wrote down for his monks ‘Universal Guidelines for the Practice of Zazen,’ ‘Fukanzazengi’. He continued to revise this throughout his life until arriving at the format that we have today. Clearly, in a couple of short talks, we could only touch upon the historical allusions and depths of this work but Diana with her succinct and clear delivery clarified in some degree my understanding of this work.
Each morning Diana tutored and instructed several of us in forms and ritual .This was illuminating, puzzling and challenging as usual and it’s always interesting to see the different nuances on forms that different teachers have! Thanks to Josh and Lucy who for the first time took on very successfully the roles of Tenkin (Mokugyo player) and Kokyo (Chant leader).
An unusual and perhaps unique feature of the weekend was the showing of the film ‘Zen,’ directed by Takahashi Banmei!!!!! ‘Zen,’ is an elegant and fascinating look into the life and times of Dogen and follows him as an orphan child, inspired by his mother’s dying words, through to him as a young monk wandering in China where he experiences his awakening. After reaching enlightenment Dogen returns to Japan to spread his teachings of silent meditation, attracting both dedicated followers and fierce detractors who cast him as a heretic. In his travels and teachings, Dogen encounters many different people. Some guide him, some follow him, and some test him, but all become crucial figures in his spiritual journey of peace and meditation.
The retreat ended at 4.30pm on Sunday after a full day of sitting, services and a talk.
I would like to give grateful thanks to Kaiyo Diana Gerard for her teachings and presence, to Devin for meticulously organising the retreat and the wonderful accommodation and to all the participants, especially those who travelled so far to be with us. I left feeling inspired and thankful I am part of such a devoted and sustaining sangha. Deep bows to all.

Kogan Muju
Radiant Light Vow No Abode Dwelling

Back to front page