Jun 102020
 

Sensei Al Genkai Kaszniak, Ph.D.

Upaya Sangha of Tucson

 

In a June 2nd, 2020 online posting by Lion’s Roar magazine, Zen teacher and author, Zenju Earthlyn Manuel offered the following words.

(From:  https://www.lionsroar.com/darkness-is-asking-to-be-loved/ )

 

DARKNESS IS ASKING TO BE LOVED

 

“By now we have lost the tiny sense of peace we created for ourselves. Our composure is an idea long gone, reflected in the grinding of our teeth and locked jaws.

If you are still holding up trying to meditate, I invite you to fall down. Fall down on the earth. Come down here and smell the sweat of terror on your skin, overpowering the scent of agarwood.

Come down on all fours and greet the darkness that reeks of death, reaches out its desperate hand and asks to be loved as much as we love the light it gives.

Come down here on this earth and breathe for those gasping for air. Hear each scream as a bell that never stops ringing. Bury your face in the mud of this intimate place, in this shared disease and tragedy.

If you have nothing to say, now is the time for the deeper silence honed that does not apologize or seeks something kind to say. And yet the deeper silence is not quiet. It whispers in the dark and wakes you from the nightmare.

Come down here and be still on the earth. Let loose shame, rage, guilt, grief, pain, and make a river of it.

Come down here. Catch the love poems hidden in the shouting, watch the unfolding of the seasons from the ground, look up at the sky. And when it hurts from being down here so long, roll over and see what you couldn’t see from the other side.

Breathe out loud. No particular posture needed.

Fall down onto the earth. Fall off your soft cushions. Come down here. Come down here, where the only lullaby tonight will be the sound of your heart drumming the songs you were born with.”

 

As I suspect has been true for many of you, the past weeks have left me shocked, saddened, often angry, and dismayed. We are still in the midst of a global pandemic, with the numbers of infected persons and deaths continuing to climb in many places. And now, George Floyd, an African American man, has been murdered in custody by a white police officer, with three other officers watching, not intervening, abetting – complicit in this horrific event. This is yet another in a series of murders of persons of color, recently including Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and Dominique Clayton, by police and self-appointed vigilantes. And we observe with shame and anguish the countless other Black lives that have been ended by white violence, stretching back over 400 years in this country.

 

George Floyd’s murder, in this context of countless other killings and widespread injustice suffered by Blacks and other people of color, has triggered widespread protest, rage, and violence, including more killing, by both law enforcement officers and alleged protesters. Most protesters have been peaceful, and many law enforcement officers are dedicated professionals, faithfully serving their communities. There are those in positions of power whose words and actions have kindled greater outrage by disparaging protesters and their important concerns, and violated their First Amendment rights. Some local, state, and national leaders have spoken out against these powerful persons, while others have doubled down on their support. 

 

How are we to respond to all of this? How can we remain resilient, not be overwhelmed by grief, anger and fear, and yet be strong advocates for justice, fairness, and equality, asserting in all the ways available to us what should have been obvious centuries ago in America, that Black Lives Matter. As, equally obviously, do the lives of other people of color, of varying sexual orientation and gender identity, and all who have experienced a devaluing of their lives. And, how can we transform our own hearts, including the implicit bias born of unrecognized privilege, that lets us not see and turn away from injustice and inequality? How can our practice, in what we call this awakened way, activate our resilient strong spine, our committed, compassionate heart, and our tireless courage? Not a practice that shelters us from a threatening and challenging world, nor a practice that only soothes, relaxes and reassures a distressed mind and body. But rather, a practice that also brings us into an embrace of the whole catastrophe, including moral darkness, death, and those dimensions of human nature that we might prefer to ignore, and yet not letting this obscure or reduce our ability to realize kindness, compassion, love, and active hope?

 

If there is any single phrase that captures the era in which we are now living, it is, “I can’t breathe.” As you know, these were among George Floyd’s few dying words as he gasped under that police officer’s knee on his neck. “I can’t breathe” also describes the experience of those with the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome of COVID-19. And, this phrase may also describe the feeling of many who suffer with anxiety born of unelected isolation and uncertainty. Our breath is literally our life, our vitality, the maximal volume of air that we can exhale from our lungs after a deep breath, not surprisingly, referred to as “vital capacity.”

 

Historically, we humans have metaphorically recognized the vital centrality of breath, when we describe our most significant experiences and transformative insights as “inspiration.” Teachers and guides of many traditions, over many centuries, including the Buddha, have realized the importance of breath in transformational practice. Gently resting attention in the breath is a here-and-now anchor for the clear and open awareness of our meditation practice, especially when mind has wandered from the present. Gently resting attention in the breath is also a kind of swinging gateway, with inhale and exhale, a gateway to mindful awareness of the body.

 

When the Buddha taught the foundations of what, in English, has been translated as “mindfulness,” as recorded in the Satipatthana Sutta, the first of the four foundations that he taught was mindfulness of the body. The body is also central in the meditation practice of our Japanese Soto Zen tradition, the Zazen practice called shikantaza, or “Just! Sitting.” For Eihei Dogen, founder of the Japanese Soto Zen tradition, Zazen is, foremost, a posture of the whole body, not merely a state of mind. This deceivingly simple practice of Zazen, of Just! Sitting, differs from those meditation practices that place emphasis on mental contents, such as thoughts, visual imagery, etc. Such emphases on these contents of mind can limit attention to what, for shorthand, we might call “the head.”

 

Our practice of this Just! Sitting of Zazen is embodied, not giving disproportionate status to conceptual and imaginal mental contents, rather, including open awareness of all the body-mind. Zazen is also fully embedded, or situated, in the present time and space. And it is enacted, arising inseparably with our intentionally arranged bodily posture, and the swinging gate of the breath. Temporarily setting aside our highly developed cognitive faculties, we simply let go of con­ceptualization as it arises.

 

Although in Zazen we don’t intentionally think about anything, we’re not “spaced out,” or falling asleep. On the contrary, making gentle effort and sustaining attention, our awareness is awake and clear. I noted that Zazen practice is deceivingly simple. Deceivingly, because without our apparently “doing” anything, without the mind-body moving, we are releasing our ignorance, our mistaken views, implicit biases, and inappropriate conditioned concepts through which we co-create our experienced world. Less clouded by the lens of our mistaken views, we are less likely to perceive there being “others,” who are often subtly experienced as lesser than our deluded sense of self, a sense of self as independent and as deserving of any privilege we have, and desire to keep. Of course, when we practice zazen we’re not concerned with such ideas as “delusion,” “self,” or any other concept. All we need do is embody and enact Zazen, here and now, without any need for elaboration or conceptual abstraction.

 

Our Zazen practice helps to prepare us for engaging our world, a world so filled by racial and ethnic injustice, inequality, and all of the pernicious consequences of the shameful inheritance of slavery, white supremacy, and the other manifestations of the domination of all those who are perceived as “not us,” not among the privileged few. When in Zazen we Just! Sit, without engaging in internal arguments or exhausting, strenuous and dualistic force of will, we are naturally cultivating an awake, clear, less self-preoccupied and more continuous mindful awareness.

 

This more continuous mindfulness, though perhaps necessary, is not alone sufficient. We must also clarify our intention, and vow with others to uphold this intention, allowing the support and abrasion of sangha, of community, to help uphold and lovingly critique the enacting of our intention, approaching each situation with not knowing and open, steady attention, bearing witness. And, we must then enact our engagement in loving, compassionate action, always openly assessing how our actions are received, ready to revise.

 

In our simple embodied enaction of Zazen, we are also addressing the other scourge of our present era, contributing to how more of us can stay alive and healthy in this SARS-COVID-2 pandemic. More frequently mindful, we are more likely to wear a mask, more likely to notice our physical distance from others, more likely to wash our hands after being away from our home, and less likely to touch our face in the midst of some unnoticed daydream.

 

In this era of “I can’t breathe,” we can bring mindful awareness to engagement with our suffocating world, remembering that the road to loving action has many lanes. No one of us has to occupy each of those lanes, only those to which we are drawn, uniquely suited, capable, and can safely navigate. Whether participating in protest marches or other forms of political action, or offering various forms of support to those who are, awareness of our own and others’ risk and safety needs to be considered.

 

So, remembering that there are many possible lanes, I’ll close these reflections with a few often quoted words from scholar and activist, Angela Davis:

 

“I’m no longer accepting the things I can’t change. I’m changing the things I can’t accept.”

 

 

Mar 162020
 

Dear Sangha Friends:

We have put our First and Third Saturday morning sangha meetings on hold until further notice due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Our Saturday meetings will now occur online, via Zoom videoconferencing. We will also similarly offer online meditation and open discussion, on Second and Fourth Saturdays. If you are already on our sangha listserv and have received previous email messages from the sangha, you will receive information each Tuesday before a Saturday meeting, giving instructions on how to connect with the online sangha meeting. If you are not on the sangha listserv, but would like to receive these emails, please request to be added through the “contact us” feature of this website.

I will also continue to provide bimonthly (First and Third Saturday) dharma talk recordings as well as other virtual supports for our sangha practice. So, the rest of this message is to give you information on where to find those dharma talks and other material.

After each dharma talk, a recording of the talk will be uploaded to the “Dharma Talks” page of our sangha website. From the home page of this sangha website (where you are now reading this notice), at https://upayatucson.org , move your cursor on the horizontal menu bar and click on “Resources.” This will pull down a sub-menu. From this sub-menu, click on “Dharma Talks.” Then, scroll down to the section labeled “Dharma Talks from 2020,” and click on the recording (organized by talk date and title). As you will see, you can also listen to any of the previous dharma talks given during our regular Saturday sangha meetings and some visiting teacher retreats, as well as video recordings of a few non-sangha talks I have given. Also note that on the “Resources” pull-down on the homepage menu bar, you will find sitting and walking meditation instructions, and the chants that we do at our regular meetings. You can use these resources to help in maintaining your at home meditation practice. The “Resources” portion of our sangha website also provides a “Getting Started” section in which I have provided an annotated listing of Zen and other Buddhist books that you might find useful in supporting your practice.

May you all be safe and free from suffering. Please care for your health and that of others by observing all Centers for Disease Control and other governmental instructions and recommendations during this pandemic.

Sensei Al Genkai Kaszniak

Mar 162020
 
Dear Sangha Friends:

Sensei Al and the entire Steering Committee of the Upaya Sangha of Tucson are carefully tracking the Coronavirus, COVID-19 situation as it develops, and will be instituting infection mitigation measures at all or our regular meetings and other sangha events. We wish to do all that we can to safeguard everyone’s health and safety.

The personal safety precautions recommended by the World Health Organization include:

  • Washing your hands for 20 seconds and using at least 60% alcohol-based hand sanitizer
  • Covering mouth and nose when coughing and sneezing, using flexed elbow or tissue and discarding used tissue immediately into a closed bin
  • Avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth with hands.

In both our regular meeting space in the new TCMC building, and at other venues that we may utilize for larger sangha events, we will be making efforts to keep surfaces, doorknobs, light switches, etc. as clean and disinfected as we manage. We also recommend that, during this period of concern about infection risk, you consider greeting other sangha participants with hands in gassho and a bow, rather than our more familiar handshakes and hugs.

We encourage you to stay at home or to leave the practice space if you are feeling any flu-like symptoms.

We will inform you by email and posting on our website of any changes that may be necessary or additional information as the situation unfolds.

Wishing all of you good health and peace,

Sensei Al Genkai Kaszniak

Mar 052020
 
Dear Sangha Friends:

Sensei Al and the entire Steering Committee of the Upaya Sangha of Tucson are carefully tracking the Coronavirus, COVID-19 situation as it develops, and will be instituting infection mitigation measures at all or our regular meetings and other sangha events. We wish to do all that we can to safeguard everyone’s health and safety.

The personal safety precautions recommended by the World Health Organization include:

  • Washing your hands for 20 seconds and using at least 60% alcohol-based hand sanitizer
  • Covering mouth and nose when coughing and sneezing, using flexed elbow or tissue and discarding used tissue immediately into a closed bin
  • Avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth with hands.

In both our regular meeting space in the new TCMC building, and at other venues that we may utilize for larger sangha events, we will be making efforts to keep surfaces, doorknobs, light switches, etc. as clean and disinfected as we manage. We also recommend that, during this period of concern about infection risk, you consider greeting other sangha participants with hands in gassho and a bow, rather than our more familiar handshakes and hugs.

We encourage you to stay at home or to leave the practice space if you are feeling any flu-like symptoms.

We will inform you by email and posting on our website of any changes that may be necessary or additional information as the situation unfolds.

Wishing all of you good health and peace,

Sensei Al Genkai Kaszniak

Mar 032020
 

Dear friends,

 

For those joining us this Saturday, March 7th, for our first Saturday of the month Upaya Sangha of Tucson meeting, we will meet from 10:00 am to noon, and our meeting will include brief sutra chanting, sitting meditation (Zazen), and a brief tea break. After this, we will have an interactive time with a special guest.

 

Note new meeting location: We will meet at the new Tucson Community Meditation Center (TCMC) building, 1147 N. Howard Blvd., one block North of Speedway, just East of the Loft Theater, on the West side of the street. We meet there the 1st and 3rd Saturdays of each month. There are plenty of zafus (meditation cushions) and chairs.

 

Also Note: Please do not park in the dirt area to the South of the building. This is the private property of the house next door.  A nice family with children live there and play in their front lot. There is ample street parking nearby, and a small number of spaces behind (West) the building for those with limited mobility. Please enter from the rear (West) of the building.

 

Please help us to accommodate our members who are chemically sensitive to fragrances or other scented products. Thank you for not wearing perfume, aftershave, or similar products.

Also, please don’t forget to regularly check the Community Page of this Sangha Website for new announcements.

 

Thanks.

 

Feb 182020
 

Dear Friends:

Upaya Sangha of Tucson is holding a full-day silent meditation retreat, also called a zazenkai, at Tucson Community Meditation Center (TCMC) on Saturday, February 29th. TCMC is located at 1147 N. Howard Blvd., North of Speedway, just East of the Loft Theater, on the West side of the street. This Zazenkai will start at 7:45 am and will end promptly at 4:00 pm.

What is Zazenkai?

Zazenkai offers an opportunity to deepen practice that is less intensive than a several-day retreat or sesshin. It will consist of alternating sessions of zazen (seated meditation), and kinhin (walking meditation). Expect zazen sessions to be roughly 25 minutes, and kinhin 10 minutes. There will be a brief period of chanting, and a morning dharma talk on “Deep Practice: Going Against the Stream” will also be offered by Sensei Al. There will be brief silent morning and afternoon tea breaks, a one-hour silent lunch break mid-day, and a closing service. Please plan on bringing your own lunch.

Opportunity for an optional brief formal private interview (sanzen) focused on practice, will be available with our Sensei.

No registration is necessary.

Plan to arrive promptly by 7:45 am and remain in noble silence throughout the day. A brief orientation will precede the first practice period. This will cover the necessary details to make the event go smoothly (minor logistics, schedule, information about interviews, etc.).

If you are unable to attend for the entire day, it is permissible to attend for a half day. If you plan on attending for only the morning, please arrive at 7:45 am and depart at noon. If you plan on attending for only the afternoon, please arrive at 12:45 pm, departing at the end of the Zazenkai at 4:00 pm. Anyone arriving late should sit in silence in the West entry area, joining the rest of the group during the next kinhin (walking meditation) period.

What to bring?

TCMC has chairs & cushions (zafu/zabuton, seiza benches) available for use. If you wish to have a different setup for meditation, feel free to bring your own from home. You may wish to bring a blanket or scarf to ensure comfort. You may also want to bring a water bottle, as well as a lunch if you will attend for the full day. Please wear darkly colored, modest clothing. Meditation robes or samue may also be worn.

Parking reminder: Please do not park in the open lot just South of the building. This belongs to the house and family next door, and their children often play there. There is ample street parking, and a few spaces in back (West) of the building for those with mobility limitations.

Please help us to accommodate our participants who are chemically sensitive to fragrances or other scented products. Thank you for not wearing perfume, aftershave, or similar products.

Also, please don’t forget to regularly check the Community Page of this sangha Website for new announcements.

Thanks, and Warmest Regards.

Feb 052020
 

The following are links to the two readings that Linda Drake so kindly provided the sangha when Sensei Al was not present on 2/1/20:

The first reading, “The Art of Not Being Offended,” is by Shemsi (Jodi) Prinzivalli, Ph.D., psychotherapist, spiritual teacher, and author of How to Be a Mystic in a Traffic Jam: Reflections on Living as a Spiritual Person in Everyday Life, from which the article was apparently excerpted. She evidently maintains a private practice in NJ and NY, and there’s a copy of the article posted on her website <http://www.njcenterfortherapy.com/TheArtofNotBeingOffended.en.html>. It contains the standard request not to reprint it without her permission.

The second reading is from well-known meditation teacher and psychologist, Jack Kornfield. His October 2018 article or post is called “Freedom amid Challenging Times” <https://jackkornfield.com/freedom-amid-challenging-times/>

Jan 292020
 

Dear friends,

 

For those joining us this Saturday, February 15th, for our third Saturday of the month Upaya Sangha of Tucson meeting, we will meet from 10:00 am to noon, and our meeting will include brief sutra chanting, sitting meditation (Zazen), participant check-in, sangha-specific announcements, and a brief tea break. After this, Sensei Al will offer a dharma talk (which he originally intended to give at the last meeting that he could not attend) on “Why Are We Doing This?.

 

Note new meeting location: We will meet at the new Tucson Community Meditation Center (TCMC) building, 1147 N. Howard Blvd., one block North of Speedway, just East of the Loft Theater, on the West side of the street. We meet there the 1st and 3rd Saturdays of each month. There are plenty of zafus (meditation cushions) and chairs.

 

Also Note: Please do not park in the dirt area to the South of the building. This is the private property of the house next door.  A nice family with children live there and play in their front lot. There is ample street parking nearby, and a small number of spaces behind (West) the building for those with limited mobility. Please enter from the rear (West) of the building.

 

Please help us to accommodate our members who are chemically sensitive to fragrances or other scented products. Thank you for not wearing perfume, aftershave, or similar products.

Also, please don’t forget to regularly check the Community Page of our Sangha Website (see below) for new announcements.

 

Thanks.

Jan 142020
 

Dear friends,

 

For those joining us this Saturday, January 18th, for our third Saturday of the month Upaya Sangha of Tucson meeting, we will meet from 10:00 am to noon, and our meeting will include brief sutra chanting, sitting meditation (Zazen), participant check-in, announcements, and a brief tea break. After this, Sensei Al will offer a dharma talk on “The Dharma of Fear and Loathing.

 

Note new meeting location: We will meet at the new Tucson Community Meditation Center (TCMC) building, 1147 N. Howard Blvd., one block North of Speedway, just East of the Loft Theater, on the West side of the street. We meet there the 1st and 3rd Saturdays of each month. There are plenty of zafus (meditation cushions) and chairs.

 

Please Also Note: There is ample street parking nearby. Please enter from the rear (West) of the building.

 

Please help us to accommodate our members who are chemically sensitive to fragrances or other scented products. Thank you for not wearing perfume, aftershave, or similar products.

Also, please don’t forget to regularly check the Community Page of this Sangha Website for new announcements.

 

Thanks.

Dec 312019
 

Dear friends,

 

For those joining us this Saturday, January 4th, for our first Saturday of the month Upaya Sangha of Tucson meeting, we will meet from 10:00 am to noon, and our meeting will include brief sutra chanting, sitting meditation (Zazen), participant check-in, announcements, and a brief tea break. After this, Sensei Al will offer a dharma talk on “Time Passing – Time Being.

 

If this is your first time to join us, we will meet at Tucson Community Meditation Center (TCMC), 1231 E. Edison St., one block south of Grant, just west of Mountain, on the north side of the street. We meet the 1st and 3rd Saturdays of each month. There are plenty of zafus (meditation cushions) and chairs.

 

Please Also Note: If you are available at 1:00 pm, after our sangha meeting, Blake and other TCMC folks could use help in moving chairs, cushions, etc. into a truck, to unload at the new TCMC location on Howard Street.

 

Parking reminder: It’s important to the future of TCMC to observe mindful parking by not parking on the same block as the Center and by leaving an empty parking space in front of the homes on the neighboring blocks. Please reserve TCMC driveway parking for people who cannot walk far.

 

Please help us to accommodate our members who are chemically sensitive to fragrances or other scented products. Thank you for not wearing perfume, aftershave, or similar products.

Also, please don’t forget to regularly check the Community Page of this Sangha Website for new announcements.

 

Thanks.