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On August 19th, 2010, dropping all thought of “here” and “there”, an unusual event took place over the Internet, when three of the members of the virtual Threeleaf sangha lead by Soto Zen priest Jundo Cohen, were ordained as novice priests, all by the book, in the traditional manner. People from all over the world could stream  the ceremony (now available on YouTube). It was performed simultaneously on three continents: while the teachers (Taigu and Jundo) were perched in front of their laptops in Japan, the three ordainees were located in Canada, Germany and Sweden, linked via the Internet. Torbjörn or Fugen, as he is known at Treeleaf, was one of the three novices receiving ordination, connecting with the others from his flat in Tibro, Sweden. In a number of emails we exchanged shortly after the event took place, I asked him a few questions about the ceremony itself and his thoughts on becoming a priest in training. Here I publish them in one post (with Fugen’s permission), just as they are. A lot of snow came down since August but better early in winter than never…

– Fugen, do you remember when the idea of becoming a Zen priest first crossed your mind?

I had no thought of becoming a Zen priest, but I was asked by Jundo on December 22nd last year if I would consider it, and here we are. Now, for me, becoming a Zen priest is no big thing, I don’t really see me as any different or having become any different, and I didn’t seek any of honorifics some people sometimes seek and call themselves by. I’m really just me, being here, doing this.

That being said, for me, becoming this is a good practice and it enables me to help more people in the process.

– This particular ordination is unique in that it was conducted entirely online. I guess I want to ask you if it felt real?

First up, what is real? I am not a Zen teacher and only in training as a priest, and as such is not to be viewed as an authority of any sort in the matters of Buddhism and Zen Buddhism, but according to Buddhism the world you think is real isn’t really as you think…

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During Maracatu rehearsal the other night something interesting happened. In a matter of an hour two alfaias (rope-tuned bass drums of varying sizes playing a mixture of complimenting, powerful rhythms) got cracks. Our wonderful group leader was shaken and asked us to play a song that celebrated the spirits of Maracatu. That somewhat surprised me: he seemed to have given this happening some meaning, saw it as a bad sign. I liked the devotional song a lot but the new rhythm was hard to pick up for a beginner. We did the song a number of times and moved on. Soon after that our leader’s alfaia cracked, the third one in one evening! In my time with the group this had never happened before. Our leader explained that drums don’t get cracks because someone plays passionately but they do break when they are played nervously, with the wrong kind of energy. I think  he was also devastated by the fact that two of the drums got broken when he was playing them.

My first thought was of a practical character: could the changed in the last few days weather conditions have effected the skin of the drums? Of course, it could be the combination of both: dry air and nervous energy. The last two practice sessions we were preparing for the upcoming workshop with the three renowned Maracatu teachers from Brazil. Our leader arranged for the workshop to happen in Uppsala and was keen on our group making the best of this master class with the masters of Maracatu. Maybe a little too keen. Maybe the pressure was too much and he brought in something extra into those rehearsals.

This made me think of the right effort that has always been a big question for me in many life situations. Strong willed and persistent as I am sometimes, I can keep pushing to only end up in the same place I started. I could have saved the efforts and time by stepping aside in the right moment, had I paid attention and not have become obsessed with the idea of how it should be. Most often I could make a good case for my persistence that in the end is more a sign of stubbornness.

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The following quote was published yesterday on Dr Rick Hanson’s Budda’s Brain page on FaceBook:

“When negative material arises, bring to mind the positive emotions and perspectives that will be it’s antidote.” -Dr. Rick Hanson

By negative material I guess are meant difficult thoughts and emotions like anger or jealousy but I could not be sure. I was somewhat surprised by the comment as I saw it as an encouragement to replace the negative states with the positive ones. But is this not like changing the black shades for the pink ones when none of them show us what reality is like?

Some people on Fb commented that the quote was too simplistic and probably taken out of the context which seemed to be the case. In the end Dr Hanson himself left a clarifying comment:

This is a very interesting thread, and really gets at the not-always-easy balance between Wise Mindfulness on the one hand, and Wise Effort on the other. Libby is right, the single sentence from my book that started this thread… needs to be understood in context.

I think there are three basic phases in personal growth, psychological healing, and spiritual practice: mindful presence with what arises, working with what arises, and replacing what arises. Or in six words: let be, let go, let in.

Often the first phase alone is enough. But sometimes it’s not, and the Buddha himself – a great proponent of the power of mindfulness! – encouraged people to be active in the mind to reduce the negative and increase the positive. The trick is to be active in these ways without falling into the pitfalls noted in several of your posts of aversion to “negative” states of mind or craving “positive ones.” That’s where insight, equanimity, and practice come in.

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Reb emphasises that one cannot be still by oneself, only together with all sentient beings. We cannot be ourselves by ourselves. All other beings are helping us, only we tend to forget about it. One cannot do anything by oneself. So Reb defines enlightenment as helping others and helping others as enlightenment. (Oneself is included in the realm of others, of course).

In the place of stillness the action and the actor (practitioner and practice) meet. The actor is the action. The action is the actor. When there is an actor in addition to the action, there is no stillness.

“…all right doing is accomplished only in a state of true selflessness, in which the doer cannot be present any longer as “himself”. Only the spirit is present, a kind of awareness which shows no trace of egohood and for that reason ranges without limit through all distances and depths, with “ears that hear and eyes that see”.

(E. Herrigel, “Zen in the art of archery” )

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This is another year Reb Anderson invited us to have a jam session with him at a Zen sesshin on the tiny island of Idöborg in Stockholm archipelago. I suspect Reb developed a strong bond with the island and the cold waters of the Baltic sea as he keeps returning to this place just as many of us do.

The little experience of sitting sesshins I have come from this environment, with this teacher and basically this gang so in a way it was like going home. Meeting some of the people at the boat terminal on our way to the island was like seeing old friends again – it felt as if we never parted. Apparently, nothing brings people closer than sitting, surviving the contents of one’s mind, and working, walking, eating and sharing living space in silence for about a week.  Quite a few of the people have been to Green Gulch Farm where Reb’s been teaching and/or sat sesshins with him in other countries.

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When I saw that Vince Horn was interviewing Insight meditation teacher Christopher Titmuss on Buddhist Geeks on the issues of sexuality and love in the practice of Dharma (episodes 176 & 177) , I heard myself exclaiming, “At last!” As lay practitioners we deal with these issues everyday yet few Buddhist teachers in their Dharma talks explore the ways of being a sexual being and a Dharma practitioner. Probably because there is not much said about it in the traditions or because these questions are not often asked? A the same time, I cannot help but notice that many people around me, including those practising Buddhism, have been going through separations and divorces and often see those relationships ending as a failure.

Here I could not agree more with Christopher when he points out that in our modern world defining a successful relationship as long-lasting, monogamous, heterosexual, etc is not helpful to us. I find that by putting a label on the relationship (many of which are simply too narrow for our modern lives) or deciding what it is supposed to be like we put an additional pressure on it which can lead to its premature ending, at least in its current form. I realise it is not the label per se that puts pressure on us but the expectations we associate with it and the static, Polaroid-like image in our head of what it should be like. It is then even more important to bring attention and exploration into these areas and observe the whole dynamics as the relationship unfolds.

The questions I ask myself about anything when I feel stuck, including all areas of the heart are

What is the most important thing for me in this area?

and

What does it ask from me on a daily basis?

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The two comments to my one of my previous posts on community have been most thought-provoking (thank you Casey and Nathan!) and triggered in me some further reflection on what tribe I want to belong to and what I can contribute with. One of the questions that came up for me was: at what point does a group of people become a sangha? What’s a sangha? Then came the webinar with Dosho that so promisingly was entitled “Ingredients of Community”:

The quotes from Zen ancestors that Dosho offered in the presentation left me with no answers as to what made a community of practitioners and were more about unskillful ways to relate to others in the community (don’t-do-this-be-nice-and-drop-the-judgements). I think if we have a shared intention, we will figure out the ways to be around each other that would be in tune with that intention.

One of the teachers whose teachings and methods resonate with me, Ken McLeod, offers the following words on Sangha:

“…More generally, the Sangha consists of all individuals who practice the Dharma with the intention of waking up into the mystery of being. The Sangha is the community based on shared intention, not on a mutual dependence. Just as the term Buddhism incorrectly implies belief, so does the term Buddhist incorrectly implies believer. A person who practices the Dharma is, more accurately, a follower or traveler of a path, the path that Buddha Shakyamuni discovered.

The path is far from easy… Fellow travellers, companions on the path, provide us not only with support but also with the benefit of their own experience and understanding…” (Ken McLeod, “Wake Up to Your Life” p. 44-45)


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