In our busy, urban world it is difficult to pause, take stock of this life, deepen spiritual practice and respond from a settled body and mind. Not living in a monastic setting, it is hard to find a silent container that so deeply supports our commitment to clear seeing. One way to cultivate this support is to join together in community, reserve a stretch of time and point our shared effort toward concentrated practice right in the middle of lay life.
Each fall, BZC creates a container to help support our community in taking time to clarify our intentions, deepen insight, embody our commitments and more fully integrate our practice as life. Returning to silence in this way strengthens mindfulness and opens the heart.
We call this container a “practice period”. Our Buddhist ancestors created this ritual of bringing wandering monks In India together during the rainy season in order to cultivate sangha. This tradition has continued for the last 2,500 years. Zen practice emphasizes the importance of vow in order to align and support our deepest yearnings. The practice period supports us to return to our deepest vow, especially amidst a lay life that can distract us from this subtle, inner calling.
Our Fall Practice Period begins mid-September, once most of us are back in our routines, and ends mid-December right after Rohatsu sesshin, our annual retreat held in celebration of the Buddha’s enlightenment. Though we consider formal practice to be an ongoing part of a deepening spiritual life, we also realize the demands of New York City make it important to have times of greater and lesser intensity. The fall practice periods is an opportunity to put some other aspects of life on the back burner for a bit so we can wholeheartedly devote ourselves to Zen practice in community. Doing so underpins and strengthens all other aspects of our lives.
There are so many wonderful offerings at BZC to support your practice during a practice period. During this time one might choose to add a few periods of zazen to the week or make a commitment to attend all retreats. Directing one’s attention to a particular precept or teaching for this time might prove illuminating. Taking on a new practice role or meeting more regularly in practice discussion with a teacher would be appropriate as well. There are a number of ways to broaden the mirror of practice so that the mind can be seen more clearly. Ultimately this will be up to each of us to consider our practice and see how we might deepen our commitment. It is important however to be realistic about our responsibilities. When making this commitment please consider your home and work responsibilities and make a sound, balanced intention that can be actualized. Being clear about this will allow us to rest in the practice period, rather than experience it as additional stress.
We honor our practice intentions by committing to attending some of these practice events by filling out a practice period commitment form. By making your commitment explicit, putting it in your calendar and showing up, you are honoring something sacred within yourself and important for this world. Your presence also keeps the three jewels – “Buddha, Dharma and Sangha” – alive and well.
It is a joy to feel each other in the meditation hall, a joy to know the community’s support, a joy to talk about the dharma and a joy to witness one another’s blossoming into the many unique manifestations of this profound mystery. In stillness, simplicity and silence, we will lovingly join together in the common cause of seeing our true nature. This is our commitment. This is our way.