Issue 9: Spring

Visit by Catherine Gammon
of San Francisco Zen Center
to Dancing Mountains Zen Sangha, UK

July to September, 2010

Dear Sangha,

Over the time since Reb's last retreat at Gaia House, Francis Checkley in Totnes has been pursuing with Roshi the possibility of having a priest in residence in the UK. Catherine Gammon has now very graciously offered to be with us for the period July to September this year. She has expressed her views and ideas of what she would like to offer during her stay (read on for details). Sangha members are requested to give her feedback on the proposals and also to give her ideas of their own. Catherine is open to travelling to other groups in the UK to offer teachings and support and would also welcome your proposals around this possibility.

Michael Elsmere

Catherine Gammon:
Topics for Dharma Offerings with Dancing Mountains Sangha

The following are brief descriptions of offerings I could make in various formats: a series of weekend or evening classes; as a study theme for a workshop sort of retreat; the dharma offering for a day of sitting; or just as the dharma theme of my time with you. As you indicated a general interest in the sangha in teachings on dependent co-arising, I could envision framing and illuminating any of these topics with reflection on dependent co-arising. I would especially enjoy doing the writing topic as a workshop/retreat of one, two or three days, if you think there is a good way to schedule something like that. I imagine any of these offerings as engaging a small group of committed people, so that our work together would be quite intimate and offer everyone opportunities of participation and discussion. These topics could also be approached more formally in a situation with a larger number of people.

Writing as a Wisdom Project
The title comes from a phrase of Susan Sontag, when commenting on an approach to autobiography as an occasion for deep self-study. I would like to broaden the application of the phrase to include and to emphasize any imaginative work in language, including poetry and fiction. From that position of understanding writing practice as an opportunity to study and reveal this present dependently arising body and mind, we will work together, using writing exercises as well as free writing, and reading and responding to one another’s words. In the retreat/workshop format there would also be periods of reflection and silent meditation.

Bodhicitta and Emptiness
Working with materials gathered for my shuso talks, we would look at teachings on bodhicitta both in terms of practices that cultivate and sustain it (including reasoning about suffering and ignorance, practices that cultivate compassion, and precepts, ritual and zazen), and in terms of the emptiness teachings of the Diamond Sutra and the importance of emptiness in our practice of the bodhisattva vow. In the retreat/workshop format there would also be periods of reflection and silent meditation.

Dogen: Three Mind-Only Teachings
I would like to work with some of Dogen’s mind-only teachings as presented in Flowers In the Sky (Kuge), Painted Rice Cake (Gabyo), and The Triple World is Mind Only (Sangai Yuishin). We would read and discuss the three texts, and I would present additional clarifying mind-only teachings from Vasubandhu/Hsuan-tsang and the Samdhinirmocana Sutra. (The readings would not be the line-by-line study we sometimes do, but would focus on particular parts in order to be able to read more broadly.) We would attempt to look at our own reception and the different impacts of Dogen’s often metaphoric and linguistically playful way of expression as contrasted to the more analytic expressions of sutra and treatise. Everyone will be asked to express their own present understanding of these teachings in whatever language or physical form they wish to offer. In a retreat/workshop format there would also be periods of reflection and silent meditation.

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