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Jiki's cushion and tools: Cloud Mountain Zen

zazen, inquiry, community

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When Shakyamuni Buddha meditated beneath the Bodhi Tree, Mara pointed to the place where he sat and demanded, "Who witnesses and confirms your right to the seat of enlightenment?" 

Shakyamuni reached down and touched the ground with his fingertip. "I call the earth as my witness," he replied.

All of this and more is explored in dokusan (formal dharma conversations), offered by Susan Murphy Roshi and Kynan Sutherland Sensei. Dokusan is a uniquely Zen opportunity to deepen, refine and strengthen practice in the spirit of mutual awakening. If you are interested in learning more about this possibility, please contact us.


Red Earth Zen

‘When you know the place where you are, practice begins’, said Zen master Dogen. The eco-wisdom and sense of bodily belonging gathered and practised in the indigenous Australian sense of ‘Country’ has been a long-time path of inquiry in this thoroughly Australian lineage on this spiritually powerful continent.  Since it is the earth and all beings that wakes us up and heals us back into congruence, it is entirely natural that Zen comes to find its feet on the red earth of Australia and the dharma in eucalypts, saltbush, the bounding shadows of kangaroo, the zig-zag path of platypus, the deep taproot in time and no-time that is Country - its sixty millennia of human mind co-evolving unbrokenly with place unique in this world.


Our practice is all about integrating the wisdom of meditation into our (astonishing) ordinary lives.


Zazen (seated meditation) is a perpetually open refuge of quiet, clear, responsive awareness, right where you are – making it a refuge of care for all life, in a human world grown dangerously careless towards the compact of life. This ritual offer of unqualified attention is a vessel;  here, consciousness can naturally transform, and begin to be of transforming use.


Zazen just allows and studies the embodied mind with a relaxed and undivided gaze, letting a foreground sense of separate ‘self’ heal back into all that is.  In a typically low-key undoing of expectations, Zen calls this most natural and alive awake state, ‘Ordinary Mind’.


Zazen literally means "seated meditation". However, formal zazen can take many forms, depending on your body type, flexibility and needs. The traditional posture for zazen is one leg in front of the other (half-lotus, full-lotus or burmese) on a round meditation cushion (zafu). However, kneeling on a bench or sitting on a chair is just as welcome. The left hand should be gently cupped by the right, with both thumbs lightly touching. The back should be kept straight and the shoulders should relax. With chin tucked in and eyes half-veiled, allow your body to settle into the place where you are.

Counting breaths

If you are new to practice, counting your breaths is a good way to start. Silently embody “one” on the out-breath, followed by “two” on the next out-breath, all the way up to “ten”, then back to ‘one’. As soon as you notice your thoughts drifting, just return to “one.” The intention is not to cut off thoughts, but return each time to what is actually happening, just as it is. By settling completely into every breath, a strong capacity for focus and attention is cultivated.


Zen practice matures gradually into shikantaza, or “just sitting”, a radical invitation to experience just what arises without counting, judgement or any imposed intention. You just let all that is breathe and flow, inseparable from your open, alert, undazzled being. The subtle enjoyment of quiet ease and equanimity in this non-action of becoming congruent with reality gradually becomes equal to what is in all directions.  And this most simple practice opens a path of lifelong discovery.


In this lineage we place a strong emphasis on koan inquiry, to bring an enlivening edge both to settled zazen and to the widening circles of our lives. Koans are “public cases” of awake mind, that can be records of live encounters, single questions, even single words. Thousands of koans have been collected and studied over centuries, most famously drawn from Tang Dynasty China, but new ones will never stop appearing. Students work with a koan in collaboration with a Zen teacher to come to share and enjoy the same mind as these funny, brilliant and deeply compassionate ancestors.


And furthering a non-traditional turn pioneered by John Tarrant Roshi, we also break the seal of traditional private koan work from time to time to let koans explore and wise us up together in open koan inquiry.  No special level of insight is required in letting a koan take you up and begin turning all your preconceptions wonderfully upside-down.

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