To create a location which locates you
Buddhist monasteries are acommunal (cenobitic) form of monasticism, about 2500 years old, and thusprobably the oldest, on-going, communal institutions in the world. The settled sites were called ‘arama’, meaning‘pleasant park’. Our own specifictradition of East Asian Zen monasticism is about 1600 years old and acontinuation of the basic tradition.
Why has it lasted so long? because the teaching and the yogic craft ofBuddhist practice has been developed communally and generationally and taughtand practiced communally and generationally.
Buddhism is a multi-generational development of yogic practice, an experientiallyrooted philosophy, and a manifest, compassionate vision of humanity and of allsentience.
Three dharmic aims underlie the basic structure of Zen monasticism andthe components of its lived practice. One is to realize freedom from mental suffering. The second is to live in concert witheverything as it actually exists. Andthe third is to create likely conditions for the realization of enlightenment.
This first aim, to realize freedom from mental (psychological andemotional) suffering, requires developing a ‘wisdom-observing-mind’ rooted instillness. Monastic life is designed tohelp us realize this wisdom-observing-mind.
The second aim is to live in concertwith everything as it is. This comes to fruition through a personal realizationof a contextually presenced bodilymind, continuously and successively articulatedwithin ungrounded immediacy. Thispractice is at the center of monastic practice.
And the third aim, enlightenment is ‘notaimed for’ because it is not anywhere but here. However, it is experienced as an instantaneous shift to, or anincremental establishment of, freedom from mental suffering, an embodiedimmediacy, and an imperturbable, attentional interiority.
Buddhism is not a revealed teaching to be believed, or a teaching ofthe ‘book’. Like science, Buddhistteachings are generationally and accumulatively developed. And as science requires universities,libraries, laboratories; Buddhism also requires monasteries; texts; informedpractice – and often universities and scholarship.
Of course, you can practicezazen alone and anywhere, and you can practice the teachings at any time in anycircumstance. However, zazen and theteachings have been developed through shared practice and its generational transmission. This mutuality and succession almost alwaysoccurs with a teacher, with fellow practitioners, and through the equivalent of‘peer review’.
The ‘Seven Buddhas BeforeBuddha’ (sometimes 27 are counted) is a mythology developed to emphasize thatthe Buddha was not a solitary, yogic genius, that his teachings and practicesarose within the practices of India of the time, and that these teachings andpractices can also arise within the basic conditions of our lived lives.
Buddhism has no centralinstitutional authority. Its coherenceand its cohesion are maintained by the practice of the Buddhist precepts, bythe transformative effect of meditation, and by demonstrated realization inevery generation.
Dharma Sangha,Johanneshof-Quellenweg, is part of this tradition. Our present Sangha arises from the‘invisible-sangha-of-the-past', and our present Sangha will be a foundation forthe 'invisible-sangha-of-the-future'. This is lineage. Our individualpractice and our shared practice continue the Lineage.
Zen practice issimultaneously singular and communal. Each of us finds our way to articulate and embody the teachings andpractices within our lived-life. Whilewe do it in our own way, this ‘own way’ is deeply informed by the Way.
We all speak language in ourown way – and we realize the potentials of expression in our own way. But none of us could have created language byourselves. Language remains simultaneouslypersonal and mutual – and it develops through being simultaneously personal andmutual.
In a similar way, monasticand lay practitioners mutually speak, practice, and live the language of Zen.
All of us who have a dailyzazen practice, who have done sesshins, and who have done one or more angos,know that these instituted forms of Zen practice do something to us, change usindividually, transform our relationships with others, and open us to what wecould not have known otherwise.
If Socrates, Plato, andAristotle had available the practices of zazen, sesshin, and ango, would theyhave understood the Delphic maxim: ‘know thyself’ in a different way, in adeeper way?
While in those Greek times,oracular practices included altered modes of consciousness, sensorydeprivation, and psychotropic gases, these practices were limited to designatedseers. They were not practices availableto anyone seeking to know themselves. The conceptual, yogic, and kinetic development of similar transformativepractices and their universal availability is the creation of MahayanaBuddhism.
A Zen Practice Center isdesigned and built for the interior world of shared zazen. As a Concert Hall is designed for the musicof the musician, a Zendo is designed for the Mind of the practitioner and forthe shared Mind of practitioners. It isa home – away from home – within ourselves.
However, the history andnatural aspects of the Practice Center’s site are also important. A building begins where it stands. At the same time, how a site has been used bybuildings, by habitants, by society, and by times in the past, are resonancesthat should and to some extent will accompany a sites future uses.
A ‘site’ is a ‘localposition’ (situs), a made-environment. Now Dharma Sangha is daring to remake and newly use this site. We are doing so within the observation of ourneighbors and with their cooperation.
Herrischwand, within theheadwaters of the Murg, was cleared for settlement and farming around the 9thcentury. However, because forest soil isnot well suited to agriculture, and because of the long winters, the region hasbeen poor, and as a result, of little interest to feudal and monasticoverlords. This has given Hotzenwald thereputation of attracting tough, independent, spiritual, and often ungovernableinhabitants.
Wolfram Graubner chose thisplace as the site for his architecture and woodworking business because of its proximityto Johanneshof, where he lived as an 18 year old student of Graf vonDurckheim. But he also chose thislocation, because he liked its reputation for independence, open-mindedness,and spiritual inhabitants.
Johanneshof has been anartists’ studio, a farm, and for 30 years, an anthroposophical kinderheim. The kinderheim brought teachers, medicalprofessionals, children, and visitors into Herrischwand, enlivening and informing the area. For 20 years, Johanneshof was part of Graf vonDürkheim’s psychotherapeutic community as a residence, a meditation center, anda site for sesshins led by Japanese roshis. For the last 20 years, it hasbeen the Dharma Sangha Zen Buddhist Study Center.
When Wolfram lived inJohanneshof, as its Director for Durckheim, he found himself studying the twohectares across the road. He imaginedsometime building a monastic compound on the site. He wanted to create a place for gatheringsand conversations about real questions. This was his dream.
Wolfram observed where thesun reached the site, where the snow stayed and where it melted. He imagined roof ridges adjusted to the horizonand roof angles related to the line of the equinox sun. He wanted to preserve the springs, streams,and marshes on and nearby the site.
When his dream turned into excavatingand building, they uncovered the foundation of a farmhouse, which had burnedfrom a lightening strike in the early 1800s, and two huge, glacial boulders. Nearly everyday, auspiciously they thought, ararely seen Auerhan bird watched them working.
The plan for Hotzenhaus wasdeveloped during 1980 to ‘82. It wasbuilt between 1982 and ‘84. TheSchreinerei building, the cabinet making shop, which will be our New Zendo and BuddhaDharmaHall, was planned in 1982 with and for Hugo Kükelhaus. However, Kükelhaus died in 1984, and thebuilding was not finished until 1986. The large Construction Hall below and adjoining Hotzenhaus was builtduring 1989 and ‘90.
Until four years ago, for 20years, the Hotzenholz property was the architectural and design offices, the cabinetmaking and carpentry shops, and the construction space for as many as fifty-twopersons. Bridges, Rudolf Steiner Waldorfplaygrounds, and anthroposophical school equipment have been designed and madein Hotzenholz and installed throughout Europe.
What are the ingredients of aZen Practice Center? I could list many, but since we are not building a newcompound on a traditional mandalic ground plan, we will have to explore andwork with the buildings and grounds we have: the spatial and dynamicrelationships between them; the way the Sangha moves within the exterior andinterior spaces; the personal, practical, and dharmic uses of the spaces; thepaths and gardens and entryways. We willhave to discover and evolve the ideal aspects of a Zen Practice Center in ouruse of Johanneshof-Quellenweg. Withthree 90-Day Practice Periods already accomplished, we have already begun
First of all, there is thesite itself and its history. The site’s topography, natural beauty, andits adaptability to practice, residence, and monastic life. Then there issilence. Ideally, the compound is so designed and articulated thatsilence falls as one enters the Gate. (The Honmon, The Origin Gate,it is called.). Presently, we have thesilence of the backgarden of Johanneshof, and the silence of the garden betweenthe New Zendo building and Hotzenhaus, and the silence too entering thecoatroom of the Zendo. These ‘silences’ become tangible parts of ourPractice.
Then there is water. Our confluence of springs and streams. It would be good to have a pond –we will eventually. In a pond water stops in silence, sometimes silenceshines in its surface, and sometimes silence hides beneath the ripples of thewind.
The gardens, interwoven withpaths, plants, flowers, trees, and buildings, bring us songbirds in the morning. The trees occupy the angles of the roofs.
In a Zen Practice Center,ideally each space, each building, each room, each location will feel complete,almost separately defined, and yet still part of the whole, inter-in-dependent. Anywhere we walk in the compound and stop for a moment, ideally, we will findourselves in a location complete in itself – and we will feel complete inourselves.
It is proportion that makes aspace feel complete and the body too. Proportion arises from thebody. And proportionate spaces return proportion to the body. Embodiable spaces – rooms, gardens, walls, doors – make us feel complete.
Constructed spaces can bestbe embodied when we can heuristically feel the construction of the space: howbeam rests on pillar, how a wood floor reaches the wall, how stones distributetheir weight, how windows and doors welcome use.
This embodiable,experienceable construction is consciously articulated throughout theHotzenholz buildings. It was the lifework of Wolfram Graubner and HugoKükelhaus to create human-scaled, experienceable, buildings, with spaces,rooms, stone-work, which sensorially awaken the bodily-mind. They calledit organological building. Amazingly, we are beneficiaries of these organologicalbuildings, simply because they were across our country road,.
To a degree, this same kindof experienceable construction is present in the Johanneshof building, as itwas how buildings around Herrischried were constructed in the early 1900s.
Buildings like this in Japan are considered to be balance points. You visit them to restore your balance. They’re also understood to be something likebatteries storing the energy of their use, of their accommodation, and for us,the accumulations of dharma practice, the accumulated presence of the Sangha.
The entire compound of a Zen Practice Center finds its fullest anddefinitive expression in the Zendo and in the BuddhaDharma Hall, especially inits altar. Here we are lucky, because wehave a five hundred year old Amida Buddha on a lotus stand. It is a serene, deeply presenced, beautifullymade Buddha. Generations have taken careof it.
Traditional Zendos are spare and refined at the same time. In the old days, Zendos had earthen floors(Eiheiji still does). Our new Zendo floor will be slate. The refinement of a wood-joinery Zendo shouldequal the refinement of Zen practice. Ideally, the attention required to notice the mind in its variety andsubtlety, ought to be similar to the attention felt in the construction of aZendo.
When the proportions of a Zendo work, there is a depth of silence, areadiness for sound which doesn’t have a sound.
It is traditional to have a Manjusri, the Bodhisattva of Wisdom, on aZendo altar, not a Buddha. In a Zendo,each sitter is a Buddha, or a Buddha to be, with the encouragement ofManjusri’s wisdom. The raised meditationplatform, called the Tan, is the altar of each practitioner.
This raised Tan also makes it easier, really possible, to serve mealsin the Zendo during sesshin and Ango. The raised Tan is also long enough for practitioners to sleep on, as istraditional during Ango and Sesshins. The Tansu, the cabinets, at the end of each Tan, are for bedding in thelower half, and personal effects in the upper half.
The outer edge of the Tan is the ‘Eating Board’. It is about 10 inches wide. We also call it the MA Board, because itdivides the Zendo into the space of activity: serving meals, kinhin, enteringand leaving; and into the space of doing nothing but Zazen. The MA Board is carefully respected. It is not stood on nor touched except to wipeit. When practitioners enter the Zazenspace, they lift themselves over the MA Board, without stepping on it.
On one side of the MA Board is the space of known activity anddoing. On the other side, is the unknownand the undoing of usual mind. All theactivity of a Zen Practice Center approaches, supports, and protects the MABoard. We don’t know what is on theother side of the MA Board. Even when weare sitting there, we don’t know. Ourown otherness is us, is a potency which opens us to the otherness of others –and all otherness. When othernessbecomes our own, True Self is present.
A Zendo is a singular space, a complexity of spaces. It expands and compresses. It folds out of sight, but not out ofexperience. A Zendo awakens our internalgaze, our attentional interiority. Formand emptiness, duration and interpenetration. It is a duration weknow, an interpenetration we experience.
While we don’t need a Zendo to do zazen, we do need a Zendo to doZazen with others. Two or three personssitting together regularly in the same place are starting a Zendo, especiallyif they dedicate the space to the practice of zazen.
Who are the otherswith whom we sit? Many many are in thepast. In a way, we are sitting with themtoo. You wouldn’t likely think up zazenon your own. You wouldn’t know reallyhow important it is to limit sitting to the same time, and same length of timeevery day, nor how important it is to limit sitting spatially bynot-moving. At least, I wouldn’thave. I wouldn’t have known either, howto evolve concentration, attention, attention to attention, attentional interiority,the bodily-mind aspects of attention, or the priorities and articulations ofmind itself. And that is just mentioningattentional aspects of sitting. Andthere are many many teachings and practices which are essential to developing alifeway practice.
Really, it is Buddhawho gives us permission to practice within the noble concept of Awakening.
So Buddha isone of the others. And if Buddha is oneof the others, then the entire lineage of Buddha Ancestors, the invisibleSangha with whom we practice, are the others. All those who will sit in the New Zendo, the visible Sangha of thepresent, are also the others. It is forthese others, including each person we meet, that we have the teachings of theBrahmaviharas and the Paramitas. It isthese others, who open up our Zazen practice to the deepest, compassionate,wise possibilities of human life.
Weare weaving and celebrating –– weaving with threads and patterns from the past,weaving within our lived present, and weaving, too, an imagination ofpractice-life in the future.