The great project of Zen is awakening.
On the one hand Zen is about the most important things in our lives. Within the practices of Zen we have an opportunity to come to our deepest knowing, to find who we are, and how we fit within the world. As such Zen is focused on the disciplines of meditation, the technologies of awakening. On the other hand Zen is about becoming ordinary, discovering who we are within the simplest moments of our lived lives. And so Zen is also about how we eat our breakfast, how we treat children, and how we care for each other. It is about poetry and dance and politics and changing the world.
Zen is a path deeply rooted within the teachings of the Buddha, enriched by encounters with the sages of China, and now also through additional meetings with cultures across the globe. Zen is accessible to anyone who wishes to explore the contours of her mind, the shape of his heart: women and men, young and old, scholars and those who don't even read the morning newspaper.
One western Medieval author wrote of "a cloud of unknowing" and this image is instantly recognizable by Zen practitioners. In Zen our awakening to the reality of the world has many names, each pointing beyond names: the unborn, beginner's mind, only don't know. This cloud of unknowing is a possibility for each of us that exists before our first thought, as well as being the all-consuming reality of all our thoughts and actions. This unknowing, unborn or beginner's mind and heart is the deepest aspect of our human condition and is the source of wisdom and compassion.
Zen is both the experience of reality, and a way toward that experience. As such Zen is about transformation. There is magic within this transformation, because as we find ourselves changing, we notice that the world around us also begins to change. This path of transformation of self and the world is called the Bodhisattva way. This is a path of reconciliation where our hearts and minds and the very earth itself are discovered to be holy, where the divisions of self and other become less clear, and our every act becomes sacred.
There are any number of ways a person can awaken to see into the heart of this matter of our profound interconnectedness to each other. But ultimately this experience of insight happens spontaneously. Awakening is a glorious happenstance, a mysterious accident. And none can claim causal responsibility. We each come to it in our own way. For some it is a flash of illumination. For others it is a gentle unfolding like the petals of a particularly fragrant flower. This insight into our true nature happens within all religions and none. This awareness of our profound interweaving with all beings is nothing other than our birthright as human beings.
At the same time we can live our whole lives without ever having this insight that heals and opens new possibilities. The Zen disciplines are simply ways that have evolved over the generations of our human experience to particularly enhance the possibility of our coming to our own intimate and direct knowing. So, if awakening is an accident, the practices of Zen make us particularly accident-prone.
Zen is not a theology or set of beliefs. The practice of Zen invites us to come into a deeper relationship with this moment — to learn how to fully participate in our life of each moment. We practice together and with the guidance of a teacher, not to learn what someone else knows, but to uncover the wisdom and aliveness that is already present within each one of us.
The principal discipline of Zen is 'shikantaza', literally "just sitting". In just sitting, we allow ourselves to become aware of our experience moment to moment. Through this deceptively simple practice we begin to see how the constant activity of the mind can be a barrier between us and the aliveness of each moment. 'Shikantaza' is both a path to and an expression of our basic sanity, wisdom, and compassion. As we learn how to cultivate a basic friendliness with ourselves as we actually are, we begin to see that what we have been looking for is already here.
The other great discipline of the Zen way is 'koan' introspection. Koans are poems and stories that both embody and elicit a moment of penetrating insight, bringing us to the dazzling reality of presence. The western master of koan introspection John Tarrant Roshi has described a koan as "being like a jewel and the koan system as being a treasure box of world culture".
Boundless Way Zen offers opportunities for engaging with both of these ancient disciplines as well as with other traditional Buddhist practices under the direct guidance of several qualified Zen teachers. We are an independent sangha bringing together the insights of both the Soto and Rinzai lines of Zen.
The core of Zen discipline is regular meditation practice. We need to find time in our lives to sit down, to shut up and to pay attention. The core work of the sanghas, the local communities of Boundless Way Zen, is to support individuals' practice through providing opportunities to regularly meet and meditate together. In practicing together, we are supported and encouraged on this path of awakening. Please consult the websites of our local sanghas for their meditation schedules.
Sesshin means, "to touch the heart/mind". Sesshin are extended silent practice periods lasting most commonly three, five or seven days. Retreats involve sitting and walking meditation, chanting and meal practice, as well as talks and individual meetings with a teacher. These extended practice periods allow us to go deeper into this mystery of awakening to our lives and are an essential part of Zen training. A Zen teacher once observed that attending a single sesshin is like practicing for a year.
A central focus of BoWZ is to develop a full calendar of sesshin and other opportunities for intensive practice. Currently we schedule a large number of half and single-day retreats as well as two three-day and one seven-day sesshin each year.
Please consult the calendar for our current retreat schedule.
The Ways of Community
Boundless Way Zen is dedicated to exploring the fullest expression of our realization of the identity of the ordinary and the sacred through attention to many aspects of our human lives. This includes attention to community, to moral development, to social engagement, particularly around issues of peace and communal justice, as well as to the arts and other expressions of human personality. Each of these is a facet of the jewel of authentic practice, as important as our sitting meditation or participation in sesshin. We are just at the beginning stages of how we can support each other in these varied aspects of practice.
Part of our mission is to support local Zen meditation groups that make this practice of Zen available to people as a part of their daily lives. BoWZ came into existence through the coming together of independent local sanghas. We currently support local sitting groups through the authorization and guidance of senior Zen students to lead groups where there is an interest. Guiding teachers also visit and teach at different sanghas to support these local groups. All the sanghas come together to create and practice in the longer sesshin.
the principal sanghas gathered together into the Boundless Way are the
Zen Center at Boundless Way Temple led by
Melissa Blacker and
David Rynick, with the assistance of Harold Stevens, James Cordova, Ray
Demers, Aaron Caruso, Sam Politz and Paul Galvin, the
Thoreau Zen Sangha in Newton
led by Sue Allen, Spring Hill Zen in
Medford led by Stephen Wallace, the
Street Zendo in
Providence, RI, led by James Ford with the assistance of Jan
Seymour-Ford, the Greater
Boston Zen Center in
Boston led by Josh
Bartok with the assistance of Kate Hartland,
Hartford, CT, lead by Ken Walkama, and
Zen, led by Jean
Currently our guiding teachers are also all active Unitarian Universalists. One is a UU minister. Many of our sanghas meet in UU churches and a number of the members of BoWZ are currently Unitarian Universalists.
Unitarian Universalism is a uniquely North American spiritual phenomenon. It has its origins in New England Puritan Christianity, but over the last two and half centuries has grown in new directions. Since before its formation through the consolidation of the American Unitarian Association and the Universalist Church in America in 1961, it is probably fair to assert that it has moved from being a "liberal Christian denomination" to being a "liberal denomination with Christians". Contemporary Unitarian Universalism is a non-creedal liberal denomination with Christians, Jews, humanists, neo-pagans and Buddhists, among others, all working to form a new and pluralistic religious community.
Many western-born Buddhists, particularly those of European descent, have found Unitarian Universalist congregations welcoming communities within which they could raise their children. And these Buddhists, including our three guiding teachers, have been active in returning the favor by offering Zen and other Buddhist practices within those congregations.
Today there is
an ongoing and fruitful
dialogue between western Buddhists and Unitarian Universalism expressed
in part through the UU Buddhist Fellowship. Boundless Way Zen
sees as one part of its mission a furthering of that dialog.