Sunday, November 30, 2014

What is Meditative Inquiry?

Is it possible, even for just several moments, to set aside what I will refer to as “the known”, and simply listen and observe freshly to what is being said or talked about? By “the known” I am referring to our prejudices, beliefs, what we think is 'right' or 'wrong' other words, the whole content of the conditioned mind. That is not to say it has been obliterated, which is impossible anyway, except maybe in instances of some forms of brain injury. Rather, to allow “the known” to be in abeyance, which happens when the energy is in the listening and looking at this moment. This kind of listening is itself transforming, because it requires the brain to quiet down from its usual activity of “directing the show”. In meditative inquiry one doesn't know where the looking, questioning, and listening will lead. Can inquiry or looking happen out of interest, out of curiosity, rather than in order to obtain a result? Maybe the search for an answer or some result is what has originally motivated us, but at the moment of inquiry, can that 'ambition' be put aside? This type of inquiry is not what we are typically familiar with in our day-to-day lives. Our conversations are mostly about  things and can stay on a superficial level, rather than a probing more deeply into our thoughts - such as our rigidly held notions or beliefs about ourselves and each other.

An important ingredient in meditative inquiry is this act of open listening. Listening, wondering and not knowing: this can all happen alone or together with like-minded people. Looking together with others has the opportunity wherein someone might point something out that we haven't noticed or seen before. In the spirit of something Nisargadatta – an Indian teacher - once said, in an instance such as this.....”what does it matter, who is who?!” What matters most is the looking itself – in which there is truly no 'me' and no 'you'. Can we meet together in that spirit?

Monday, October 6, 2014

Meditative Inquiry in Rochester


I started working with Roshi Kapleau at the Rochester Zen Center around 1971. Soon after I was part of a young staff that helped form Sharon Springs Zen Center, located near Albany, NY. Sharon Springs Zen Center became one of the first affiliate centers of the Rochester Zen Center. It was led by Richard Clarke who was a senior student of Kapleau at the time.

Sharon Springs Zen Center disbanded several years later. I moved to Rochester in 1975, and soon began working with Toni Packer, who was the designated successor to Kapleau. Around 1979 I began working at Rochester Zen Center as a member of Toni Packer's staff. Toni left the Zen Center in approximately 1981 because she no longer wished to work within the context of a traditional, formal religion. She had been very influenced at the time by the teachings of J. Krishnamurti, someone to whom her husband Kyle had introduced her. During this time period those of us who followed Toni joined together to help form The Genesee Valley Zen Center in Rochester. Toni had a vision of building a meditation retreat center in the country, and it was during that time I embarked on a land search for the property that was eventually to become Springwater Center. Initially I worked on staff as part of the original building project in Springwater, and in 1985 I began to work as Toni's assistant administrator, a position I held until I left staff in 2008 in order to help my wife with her solo medical practice.

In the mid 1990's I started leading retreats, giving talks and holding private meetings with people at Springwater Center and I am one of several people who Toni invited to continue the teaching work at Springwater Center.

Even before the Springwater building project began, it felt important to me to have a place in the city where like-minded people could come together to sit quietly and also to look at whatever someone might share with the group. Whenever I brought up the idea of a city center while on staff in Springwater, Toni was supportive of the idea, but for numerous reasons such a place never materialized.

After a couple years of living full time in Rochester, I started an informal weekly meeting opportunity for people to sit quietly and inquire together. We get together on Sunday mornings for quiet sitting followed by a group inquiry/discussion, in the spirit of the work that we developed at Springwater Center. If you are interested, please contact me via email and I would be happy to discuss it further and meet together privately if you wish.