KAKU ROBERT GUNN
Guiding Teacher of Empty Hand Zen Center
Photo by: Mitsukai
Guiding Teacher Report to Empty Hand Sangha for the Annual Meeting, 3/18/18
First of all, I would like to thank all of you and especially the Board for inviting me to be your Guiding Teacher of Empty Hand Zen Center. It is a privilege and a happy honor to step into the role created over the years of ingenuity, creativity, fortitude, self-giving, wisdom and love that Susan Postal brought to this practice, this place and this sangha. It is a testimony to her that you and Empty Hand are still here and that you, yourselves have carried on in the same spirit that she brought to the Empty Hand vision.
It is therefore with a certain humility as well as gratitude that I step into this position. You may be familiar with the story of Bodhidharma who left India for China and had an audience with Emperor Wu, who had built temples and stupas in testimony to Buddhism. The Emperor asked Bodhidharma, “What is the highest meaning of holy truths?” and Bodhidharma said, “Vast emptiness; nothing holy.” The Emperor did not understand and essentially dismissed Bodhidharma as having nothing important to say. Zen is indeed iconoclastic to the core. Emptiness pervades everything; everything is impermanent and nothing is exempt from death or decay. In this sense, everything is mundane—of the earth. And yet that is precisely what makes each thing, each person and each moment so precious that, in Zen practice, caring for what is right in front of us, however temporary it may be, is an imperative. This is, I daresay, the imperative that you all learned directly from Susan—in her living and in her dying. And that is why you are here today and why this temple is still here. To carry on what she so lovingly started. And if that’s not holy—the living encounters, the lived experiences with her right up through her own dying, upstairs and downstairs, in homes and coffee shops—if those were not holy experiences, none of us would be here.
Which is a very long way to get around to saying, “We have work to do,” and I very much look forward to our doing it together.
I will leave the details for us to get into as we engage the challenges before us. For now, let me just mention some of the areas I see as needing attention.
1. We have already begun a review of liturgy: the forms of our practice, how we sit, move, chant, bow and with what kind of awareness we do them. We come from and have experienced a variety of forms from various Zen Centers, and I would like to review them with you to come up with our very own style, the Empty Hand version of liturgy practice. I would like this to be a sangha-wide endeavor, so when you read or hear about the liturgy trainings, know that everyone is welcome and encouraged, because you are ultimately the ones who engage the practices.
2. In the area of programming, there are two kinds to consider, even if they overlap: programs for our own personal growth in Zen Buddhist awareness and practice, and programs that are more oriented toward encouraging and expanding awareness of Zen in the larger community and world. For example, the study of the Heart Sutra or a fascicle from Dōgen would be more sangha-oriented, whereas an extended study of Zen Buddhist perspectives on non-violence or gender issues might easily include the larger community. While the Board and I will be considering possibilities, please know that everyone’s input is invited and is important.
3. We have also begun a review of what we mean by membership, how it includes various kinds and levels of commitment, and how to grow the sangha both in depth and in numbers.
4. I have already given dates for zazenkais for the next several months, that should be available online soon. In addition, I will be offering classes in jukai most likely over the summer or early fall for those who want to receive the precepts and for those who already have to engage study of the precepts on a continuingly deeper level. I am also interested in our having our own retreat or sesshin as another experience for deepening our practice and engaging our lives.
5. Not all our retreats and study programs have to require a common physical space. For example, I am thinking of conducting a class on koan studies online via an interconnected thread of emails. In addition, there are certain elements of Zen practice that I have been presenting on Monday nights that might well be followed up via email threads. The cluster of issues, for example, around dharma names, rakusus, home practice and public practice is important for the entire sangha to discuss and thus might best be conducted on the internet.
6. There are other programs for us to consider and I welcome everyone’s ideas about the possibilities. Some programs might be focused on current social issues and bearing witness, such as climate change and gun control, or they might involve opportunities for community education and service. Others might examine how Zen practice affects our experiences of intimacy in relationships of every level. I will offer in some as-yet-undetermined format presentations of excerpts from my books, samples of which are available.
7. Not all dharma talks have to be given by me. Guest speakers, from within our sangha as well as from other sanghas, will add spice and zest to our common life.
8. Please share your own ideas for us directly with any of the board members or myself.