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Quarterly Newsletter of the Dharma Center

Autumn 2004 · Page 1 · 2 · 3

Contents

Robertson Abbot's Report · Indra's Net · Rondebosch Abbot's Report
Inside Out · A 31-Day Retreat
China Moon · Art of Living Festival · Exploring the Zen Kong-an · Appeal · Public Lecture


China Moon

Heila Downey PSN

China Moon is the name of the recently opened restaurant on the Olive Grove-Aids Memorial farm in Robertson. Annie and myself, together with many locals attended the opening last Saturday evening, and this afternoon after returning from two days in Arniston, Rodney and myself decided to have lunch at China Moon - to put the chefs to the test! The food was excellent, the ambience and setting unequalled!

And better value, you will not find in a long time. They will open for breakfast, teas and light lunches Wednesday through Sunday, and serve evening meals on Friday and Saturday evenings. The restaurant management comprises Ricky and Erica. They sure deserve our support. Their telephone number is: 023 626-9161.


The Art of Living Festival

The Dharma Centre and Kensho Krafts.
The Civic Centre, Foreshore, Cape Town
09h00 to 17h00 Saturday the 27th and Sunday the 28th of March 2004


Exploring the Zen Kong-an

Heila Downey PSN

When students first encounter Kong-an study, the most frequently expressed difficulty is the Kong-an's ungraspable quality and the perplexity that occurs as a direct result of the student's interaction with the Kong-an, and the fact that it prevents their ego from triumphing -" I am too stupid, it makes me feel dumb!" Also, there is the perception that Kong-ans are illogical - particularly when referring to some of the older traditional Kong-ans. Far from it! The Zen Kong-an can be viewed as Buddhist logic, which is much more experience based than Western philosophy - Just this - WHAT IS IT?

The psychological resistance expressed is of course very human, and most certainly not peculiar to western students. Depending on the cultural heritage and social upbringing, different cultures will manifest these difficulties, resentments and afflictions in different guises - the inability to just be able to say: "Don't Know!"
Thus, rather than the Kong-an being a tool for liberation, it becomes yet another obstacle in life and practice.

Zen Kong-ans should be seen as exercises, by which we train the mind to transcend our subjective biases, acquired ideas and conceptions of the world and who we are, enabling us to arrive at becoming the direct witness of reality - attaining what IS.
Another view often expressed is that the reading of Kong-ans is rather boring. The reading of Kong-ans is essential. However, unless we do this in conjunction with sustained meditation and in a trusting partnership with a teacher, Kong-ans themselves are merely dead words captured on dead trees. A combination of daily sitting meditation, attending retreats on a regular basis, the reading and study of Kong-ans, together with one-on-one interviews with a teacher trained in Kong-an practice, are essential if we are to use this method of practice to free the mind from the illusion and habitual patterns that afflicts our daily lives.
Yet another frequently expressed view is: " I don't understand Kong-ans, they make no sense at all!" There just is no way to comprehend or understand Kong-ans other than through themselves. You must merge and become one with the Kong-an. Kong-ans have the ability to open up intellectual understanding, but intellectual understanding alone will not unlock the actual attainment of Kong-ans.

As we continue to break through and free ourselves of the barriers that afflict us, we will realise that Kong-ans are the most sophisticated of Zen devices used to enable both beginners and experienced students to attain the joy of being - true liberation, and awakening. Dae Soen Sa Nim often urges: "More stupid, less thinking necessary!"

Traditional Kong-ans (The Gateless Gate, The Blue Cliff Record and The Whole World Is a Single Flower-365 Kong-ans, to mention but a few) are the backbone of Zen practice. It is essential , however, that they are used together with dynamic, everyday life Kong-ans.
When working on a traditional Kong-an such as "Does a Dog Have Buddha Nature?", or "What Is the Sound of One Hand Clapping?" we repeatedly bring the Kong-an to mind throughout the day, not in a dull mechanical way - thus enabling us, over time to develop and engage a deeper dimension of attention and awareness, resulting in a continued and sustainable state of awareness, regardless of whether our thoughts or surroundings are calm or disturbed.

Su Bong Sunim, our teacher, who died 10 years ago, used to say: "If you say or think it, you own it!" Never a truer word spoken! It was at just this point that Rodney's doctor called to say that Rodney was on his way home from a consultation, but in all probability he would not be sleeping at home tonight.
"Pack his toothbrush and razor!" he said, as Rodney would be seeing the ophthalmologist later in the day, and might spend the night in hospital. In fact, it was on this night that Rodney had 41/2 hours of surgery on his right eye.

Now, two weeks later, I am able to reflect on many of the opportunities presented during this traumatic and unsettling time, as well as those missed, to look deeply at the question: " What Is This?"
Every now and then noticing the trend of momentarily lapsing into a state of subjective biases and conditioned thought patterns…becoming aware of this, and returning to the direct witness of reality -- of what is!

It is exactly in a time of difficulty, that bringing the question: "What Is This?" to mind, prevents us from lapsing into conditioned, deluded thinking (This is terrible! Why me? Why now? etc, etc.,) enabling us to free ourselves from this human weakness. Just one taste is all it takes!

Kong-an or Koan = Public case. i.e. NOTHING is a secret or hidden!
Traditional Kong-ans are tools to help us unlock the human potential of awareness.
Yet, the most important Kong-an of all is: "What is this? - How do I live my life?"


Appeal from the Robertson Trauma Support and Counseling Centre

Heila Downey PSN

Just this past week I was appointed in the position of the Vice Chair of the Robertson Trauma Support and Counseling unit at our local Police Station and Hospital. The incidence of sexual and child abuse, as well as violent crime necessitates us training more people to support victims and their families as well as the police and nursing staff. Quite a job I would say!
If any sangha would like to contribute pictures, toys or furnishings, in fact, anything to aid us in making this facility a comforting place to escape to after a trauma -- it will be much, much appreciated!


Public Lecture - Zen and Everyday Life

University of Cape Town, Kramer Law building Middle Campus, Thursday 23rd of March 2004 at 20h00, Classroom 2A: ZEN AND EVERYDAY LIFE: How to take the stillness and awareness of Zen into family, work and the general hustle and bustle of life. Heila Downey - Master Dharma teacher, and Rodney Downey, senior Dharma teacher. (This talk forms part of a series of lectures that are part of the Art of living Festival).