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Newsletter | Other newsletters from lockdown


Dear Lockdown friends

This will be our last Lockdown Letter for a while. There will be others, just not so indigestively regular! So we will continue our zazen and our practice here at Poplar Grove; may you do the same wherever you are. To quote the slogan from one of our Cape virtual Zen groups; ‘If you can’t go out, go in!’ (cnachmann@gmail.co.za). We are in the process of updating our stoepzen.co.za website to use it better – for instance, by installing a mailing list subscriber button, recent Dharma talks and occasional newsletters. As you know, I am still at sea with all kinds of technologies so please be patient.

And, once again, I need to thank you for all your donations. This is so deeply moving. Your generosity inspires us to keep this work alive. At PGZ it enables us to maintain the buildings (we are rebuilding a long drop that meerkats have burrowed to the point of collapse and completing the additions to the kraalhuis hermitage kitchen). It also gives Margie the opportunity to keep up with her teaching of the children and her support of the squatters outside of town during winter. And, of course, we keep warming our zendo cushions.

Many enthusiastic donors are not, for one reason or another, those who do Zen retreats. There are those who practise selflessness by sitting zazen and those who practise selflessness by leading another across the street or making a bank transfer. It is the selflessness that is the point, not the manner of expression; this is an essential characteristic of genuine Zen practice. We give ourselves to this world in whatever way we can and to value one form above another is merely the working of our judgement-mind. When we allow the world to touch us, we understand the fundamental equality and impartiality of emptiness. To put it another way; zazen is just zazen, work is just work. The brokenness and the beauty of this world will bring us all to our knees in one way or another. May we take such an opportunity to express our gratitude and aliveness. This morning I came across a wonderful quote from the late Shunryu Suzuki Roshi which knocked me off my chair:

‘I don’t know anything about consciousness
I only teach you how to hear the birds sing.’

I was recently asked to write a short piece for a Sunday newspaper as a contribution to a multi-faith column on the Corona Pandemic. I am not sure when it will be published but have been given permission to use it in this newsletter. So here it is below. Thank you for this journey together into what - we must insist - is always a new life.

‘Through the eyes of the Corona Buddha’

'The real question of today is not whether the Covid-19 lockdown is correct or not, it is not about my fears or my finances, nor is it about how to protect myself against sickness and death. The real question is this: Whatever the reality of this moment, how will I live my life? This is the approach of Zen. We take the life we find ourselves in - whatever it may be - and we start there. We take the person we are – whoever we may be - and start there. With the truth of this circumstance as my anchor, how do I wake up and live from the very heart of my life? In Zen practice this is always our question to ourselves - it is what we call our ‘koan.’ In this very moment, in this place, at this time and among these people, how will I live my life?

In asking this, it is helpful to stop, take a breath and pay attention. We call this meditation or ‘zazen’ – you may have your own word for it. Zen meditation is not an escape from what is happening or the creation of a private alternative reality; on the contrary, when the voices of our self-concern have a chance to quieten, we find that we are already woven into this world and are naturally a part of it. What is often called ‘the real world’ is not just the news on television or the opinion of pundits; it is also the breath coming and going in my body, the warmth of soapy water as I wash the dishes, the laughter of children and the tears outside my window at night. This is the gift of being awake.

And this is not merely a theoretical pastime. It is our commitment, our discipline, and the source of how we live, for being in this open field includes our embodiment of it. Once again, it is not so much what we do as where it comes from. Acting from beyond our habitual self-interest carries with it a compelling quality of presence and authenticity. From the breadth of the wider view comes wisdom; from the intimacy of our connectedness comes compassion. We meet the world as it is; we meet each person as they are. From there we can act with gratitude and fearlessness, using our skills, intelligence and experience for the benefit of all beings and the environment. When we realize that this world and I are not separate, we look after everything.

To use more traditional words, how do I meet the Buddha in Lockdown? How do I embody God’s grace among the fearful, the dying or the hungry? When I am at home I play with the children, I sew masks, I do nothing; the imam calls himself to prayer and the monk rings his bell in an empty meditation hall. When I am allowed outside, I wander the street in companionship with this universe and the people in it. I go to funerals and sing from the bottom of my heart. How wonderful to see you again!

At a time when our certainties are collapsing we truly need a sane and clear way of responding. We need people who are willing to let go of self in order to live wholeheartedly here. This is a remarkable opportunity for each one of us and for our world - for the sake of us all, how will we use it?

(Antony Osler, Dae Chong, Osho; Guiding Teacher, Poplar Grove Zendo)’

With fond greetings to you all,
Antony and Margie Osler, Dae Chong and Tae Ja Do, Osho
Poplar Grove Zendo 13 June 2020

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