Thursday, January 24, 2013

ZEN: Open House and Party (Pasadena)

Roshi Jeff Albrizze,; Koan Study Group, Wisdom Quarterly
PasaDharma reading and discussing koan before zazen, Thursdays, 7:00-8:30 pm. Beginner's introduction at 6:30 pm if they call Jeff in advance: (626) 529-4074 (WQ)

Roshi leads kinhin walking meditation (WQ)
BUDDHIST PASADENA - The bell rings. The teacher, dressed in traditional black and sporting full sleeve tattoos, bows. Participants take their seats on zafus, zabutons, cushions, sofas, chairs, and ergonomic setups in the middle of a redwood tree forest on the Neighborhood UU campus.
This is Pasadena, California, and one of the brightest and most successful Unitarian Universalist churches in Los Angeles is hosting another in a series of Buddhist meditation groups. Pasadharma is in its thirteenth year of providing a gathering place for Zen fellowship and "just sitting." The group is FREE and open to all, supported by the voluntary contributions of participants. The goal? To provide a sacred space for "just sitting" (zazen). Of course, there's more than just sitting going on.

301 N. Orange Grove Blvd #23 (upstairs), Pasadena CA 91103
But the point is that, unlike many Buddhist groups in Los Angeles and Orange County, the central focus here is on sitting. 
The bell rings, and the group reads (photocopies and digital versions provided). Roshi Albrizze, a former resident at ZCLA and a long time practitioner at Yokoji Zen Mountain Center, talks about Buddhism from an American perspective to a largely Occidental audience, and discussion ensues. 
The bell rings again, and so begins the first session of formal sitting. Minds race. This is followed by slow and fast walking (kinhin) around the new UU labyrinth and a second round of sitting starts. The mind calms.
Then the after-party begins: networking, hugging, social bonding, working out Zen philosophy, and practical advice dispensed liberally to keep practitioners afloat in this mad, mad world. "How did you hear about it?" "I saw it on!" "Me, too!" *vigorous handshake*

Thursday, January 31st will be different. Pasadharma is hosting a FREE OPEN POTLUCK PARTY for family and friends and curious onlookers. Meet the Roshi, his wife, his newborn, and the many activists that make up the progressive Pasadena/Northeast Los Angeles foothill community. Various insight (vipassana) meditators, Tibetan Buddhists, recovering Catholics and Jews, and Thich Nhat Hanh devotees feel at home at Neighborhood Church. And more than a few curious formerly-fundamental Christians drop by, as do urban witches (Wiccan priestesses), hipsters, shamans, cyberpunks, gardeners, and local cranks. All are welcome and embraced in this beautiful community of acceptance and Mahayana universalism.

Koan Study Group
Mara Schaeffer, Wisdom Quarterly
Koan: What is the sound of 1,000 jaws dropping?
PasaDharma's KSG is special. All that most Buddhist groups can offer to the public, over the years, is beginning meditation techniques: relax, watch your breath, feel your stress melt away, and try not to snore too loudly. After a few years of this, the serious spiritual seeker may want to advance to something with more depth -- sutra study or, peculiar to Zen, koan work. Like dream images that speak of profound meaning in symbols and images, with their origin in the objective unconscious, koan images are rich and deep. Their significance represents the collective wisdom of the Rinzai Zen tradition. But their meaning is not given freely; it requires a level of engagement and intensity which can vary from simple frustration to a deep "soul" searching like Jacob wrestling an angel. Roshi Jeff is a gifted guide through the treasure of nuances surrounding these puzzling riddles. The satisfaction of discovering each koan's meaning is one way into meditating -- the only way in is to abandon "efforting," muscling, and intellectualizing. (All of these get in the way of zen/jhana/absorption). The heart of the mystery to be found is both deeply satisfying as well as being "nothing special." We return to beginner's mind, to original worthiness, to an aha or "I knew that!" realization. But now we come to it with a more profound understanding.

Look who dropped by!
There's KPFK Radio host Carter Wallace and Master Gardener Mark Rice ( with British Rose Diveen from Culture Club 101; that's permaculture designer and visual media artist January Nordman, that's author Prof. BJ Kelleher, there's the eye doctor who runs the PasaDharma Traveling Lending Library, there's that jerk who never talks to nobody but just sits, and over there are jazz impresarios, and PasaDharma's own resident didgeridoo player of Malibu's Wright Ranch fame, Ron the self-proclaimed bodhisattva with magic powers and relics, artists from Armory Arts, the anti-Big Oil NELA Transitioners, the spiritual-but-not-religious crowd from Alexandria II Bookstore, the "consciousness raisers" from Conscientious Projector, and the skeptics from nearby Caltech and JPL.
"Dark Buddhism": Zen and Ayn Rand's Objectivism
I began as an Objectivist. Like many members of my generation, I discovered Ayn Rand in college, initially reading The Fountainhead and then Atlas Shrugged. I felt, at the time, that she had saved my life. I was a child prodigy and, as with most child prodigies, my adolescence and early adult years were filled with strong feelings of isolation and guilt. After years of bullying and taunting by other children (and the alienation of adults who found children with adult vocabularies and opinions to be creepy), I found myself overwhelmed with feelings...

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