Archive for mindfulness

The Anatomy of an Online Jukai Ceremony

Posted in Buddhism on the web, Jukai, Western Buddhism, Zen with tags , , , , , , , on November 18, 2008 by Al

Jukai just got digital. Jundo Cohen of Treeleaf Zendo is trailblazing in the art of online Dharma.

What is Jukai? This is an ancient Zen ceremony where a Buddhist student receives the precepts and takes refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha. It usually involves sewing a rakusu, a traditional Zen garment that my non-Buddhist friends have lovingly taken to calling a “Buddha bib,” and getting a Buddhist name from the teacher. It has that satisfying gravitas we’re all looking for in a religious ceremony.

Jundo Cohen, ordained in the Soto Zen tradition under Zen Master Gudo Wafu Nishijima, created Treeleaf Zendo over 2 years ago and brought interested practitioners a serious online sangha experience. Complete with samu (work practice), sanzen (video chat meetings with the teacher) and a forum for communication among members, the sangha has grown steadily. Now, a small group of us have joined Jundo in his latest experiment of an online Jukai ceremony.

Not that calling it an “experiment” should in any way imply that Jundo or his students aren’t taking the requirements seriously. Over several months, Jukai hopefuls are studying a wide selection of readings, primarily guided by Robert Aiken’s The Mind of Clover: Essays in Zen Buddhist Ethics and also including essays from many other Zen teachers. Participants are even sewing the rakusu, guided by a very detailed set of instructional sewing videos with Rev. Taigu created especially for this unique online ceremony.

So how exactly did Jundo do it?

Skype for direct video communication
Treeleaf video zendo for group meditation and retreats
Google Video for the rakusu sewing instructions
Treeleaf forums for precepts study

Other materials:
– Various sewing materials (fabric, thread, etc.)
– Robert Aiken’s The Mind of Clover: Essays in Zen Buddhist Ethics
– Various online readings
– The good ol’ meditation cushion

Loose schedule:
– Prep period of gathering materials, ordering the book
– General discussion of Jukai and the Three Refuges
– Week by week study of the 10 precepts (not to kill, lie, steal, self-aggrandize, defame others, misuse sex, misuse intoxicants, become wrongfully angered, to be generous, and to honor awareness, learning and community) with metta “intermission” week
– Simultaneous sewing of the rakusu while studying the precepts
– Weekend Rohatsu retreat (Dec. 6-7)
– Online Jukai with Jundo

We’re still not sure how the live online Jukai is going to work out, but that’s part of the beauty of it. The expansion of online Dharma proves again and again that you can seek out and learn from the teaching that best benefits you, not just the teaching next door.


Zen Buddhist Gathas

Posted in Zen with tags , , , , , , on August 16, 2008 by Al

If I were to ask non-Buddhists to read one Buddhist book, it probably wouldn’t big one of the big sweeping volumes about the history of the religion, and it definitely wouldn’t be the new agey self help from the Dalai Lama or Thich Nhat Hanh. It wouldn’t even be the punk-to-monk semi-autobiographies by Brad Warner or Noah Levine, even though those are some of my favorites. It would probably be The Dragon Who Never Sleeps by Robert Aitken. It’s a slim, rarely-mentioned and highly underrated collection of Zen Buddhist gathas. Gathas are little poems (in Aitken’s format, the second line is always “I vow with all beings”) that illustrate some of the best moments for practice in our lives.

Here are some of my favorites:

When someone offers a drink
I vow with all beings
to acknowledge the sorrow it causes
as it warms and gladdens our hearts.

When the outcome proves disappointing
I vow with all beings
to look again at my purpose-
was it Dharma or something else?

When I panic at losing my bearings
I vow with all beings
to acknowledge the error is panic,
not losing familiar ground.

When my efforts are clearly outclassed
I vow with all beings
to face my own limitations
and bring forth my original self.

Looking up at the sky
I vow with all beings
to remember this infinite ceiling
in every room of my life.

When a car goes by late at night
I vow with all beings
to remember the lonely bakers
who secretly nourish us all.

When a train rattles by at the crossing
I vow with all beings
to remember my mother and father
and imagine their thoughts in the night.

If you practice with gathas, please share some in the comments.

The anatomy of an online meditation course

Posted in Buddhism on the web, General, Vipassana with tags , , , , , , on July 17, 2008 by Al

This week, two excellent Insight Meditation teachers kicked off a 6-week Introduction to Mindfulness Meditation Course (that I mentioned in a previous post). What’s special about that, you say? Well, this meditation course takes place entirely online.

Meditation instruction online? Web-based Dharma teachings? Right up my (and probably your) alley. Now that I’ve almost completed Week One of the course and had my first online meeting with my meditation instructor, I thought it would be interesting to profile the tools that Gil Fronsdal and Ines Freedman (along with a host of other assistant teachers they brought on due to the popularity of the course) are using to bring this course to the web.

Site: Google Sites
The teachers have set up a website specifically for the course. Though (almost) all of the information on the site is communicated via email, this provides a nice repository for students to refer back to during the course.

Group communication: Google Groups
All of the communication from the teachers comes via email from a Google account set up specifically for the course. Students were invited to join the Google group as soon as they registered for the course.

Scheduling: Jiffle
This is the one tool I hadn’t heard of before I took this course. Jiffle allows others to schedule themselves for appointment times on your calendar (if you approve the request). Students were required to reserve a time each week on their instructor’s Jiffle calendar for their one on one meeting.

One to one communication: Phone, IM, Skype, and email
Course participants have a lot of flexibility in the way they choose to communicate with their meditation instructors. We had our choice of regular phone (we call our instructor or our instructor calls us), various IM clients (Y! Messenger, AIM, Google Talk), Skype voice and/or text chat, or just plain old emails. No matter what you choose, you get guaranteed weekly live one on one time with your meditation instructor.

The instructors have artfully combined all of these tools to create a seamless practice environment where communication is quick, scheduled, and personal. The instructors are available to answer questions, and practice issues that are relevant to the entire group can easily be shared with everyone. So far, this is a great experience and a flagship example of buddhism for the web generation.