Practice Period

Fall Practice Period 2017

The whole sangha is invited to find a way to participate in the practice period. Our theme this fall is Looking into the Great Matter--Birth, Death and Our Human Lifespan. The materials below are offered to enrich your experience and provide a common background for a sangha-wide conversation. Even if you are not attending the class, you may want to take up the week-by-week assignments.  Links to shorter class readings and class talks are provided.

General Reading list

Sunday Talks Related to Practice Period


Week 1 Class - Death: Our Fear and Fascination

Mindfulness focus

The Buddha said:

What, friends, is the noble truth of the origin of suffering? It is hunger, which brings renewal of being, is accompanied by delight and lust, and delights in this and that; that is hunger for sensual pleasures, hunger for being, and hunger for non-being. This is called the noble truth of the origin of suffering.

Our focus for this week will be to become better acquainted with our craving for existence and our craving for non-existence. You may not be immediately aware of such cravings but assume along with Buddha that they form a core part of who you are.

  • Read the Gregory Kramer chapter, paying particular attention to the second and third of the three “hungers”—the hunger for being and the hunger for non-being. Explore these hungers in interpersonal situations.
  • Notice the hunger to be seen, and from there, notice the hunger to exist.
  • Notice the hunger to avoid being exposed, and from there, notice the hunger for non-existence.
  • It what other ways do these hungers manifest for you?
Readings and Study:
Class Talk by Jeff


Week 2 Class - Death as a Companion for Life

Mindfulness focus

The cause of death is birth. The fire of life consumes. Death is always present in life whether we are aware of it or not. Our task this week is to cultivate an awareness of death that brings a greater intimacy with life, a deeper presence in the face of constant change.

  • This week make death your companion. This should feel somewhat uncomfortable but not overwhelming. Find a way to keep death near that helps you feel more alive. Experiment.

  • Find a word or image or totem that reconnects you with the dissolution that is part of life. Keep it in your pocket, literally or metaphorically. Feel it there throughout your day.
Readings and Study:
Class Talk by Jeff

Week 3 Class - Investigating our Paradigms of Existence

Mindfulness focus

This week we continue to explore our experience of how things arise into existence and then pass away. Please place emphasis on the actual experience and not the culturally acceptable explanation. It takes some effort (and some zazen) to tease apart one from the other. We are working on exploring different possible modes of experience and developing a flexibility of mind.

  • Notice an apparently new thing and ask, “What is it that is continuing here?”

  • Notice an apparently abiding thing and ask, “What is this that has just been born?”
  • Bring to mind an important loss you have experienced and ask, “How is this person or thing that was lost continued in what is with me at this moment?”
Readings and Study


Week 4 -  Self/Other/Relationship Co-creating

Mindfulness focus

Our practice is a practice of awareness, an awareness that is cultivated most directly in zazen. Please devote yourself to zazen. We look into the great matter by working at the edges of our zazen awareness. We sense something at the edges and invite it to come forward to be witnessed. Our teachings guide us in what to look for at the edges.

This week we investigate the experience of self and other being co-created in relationship. This is not an easy thing to investigate. Again, we practice zazen on and off the cushion and work at the edges of our awareness.
  • Notice how we continually attempt to re-establish or reformulate our existence. Assume this to be true and then look for the experience. The only way we can experience ourselves is in relation to another.
  • Our compulsion to compare ourselves to others can be seen as a compulsion to re-establish our sense of existence. Investigate.
  • Consciously observe your experience of being a subject interacting with objects. Notice how the subject cannot exist without the object and the interaction.
  • Allow the experience of self/other/relationship to be discontinuous.
Readings and Study:
  • Stephen Levine, Who Dies, Ch. 8, Grief.
  • Re-read and study, Thich Nhat Hanh, No Death, No Fear, Ch. 4, pp. 59 – 89.
  • Thich Nhat Hanh, No Death, No Fear, continue reading so as to finish the book by the end of class.
Class Talk by Jeff

Week 5 - Grief and Loss

Mindfulness focus

(From Stephen Levine, Who Dies? ) Once someone asked a well-known Thai meditation master, "In this world where everything changes, where nothing remains the same, where loss and grief are inherent in our very coming into existence, how can there be any happiness? . . ." The teacher, looking compassionately at this fellow, held up a drinking glass which had been given to him earlier in the morning and said, "You see this goblet? For me, this glass is already broken. I enjoy it, I drink out of it. It holds my water admirably . . . But when I put this glass on a shelf and the wind knocks it over or my elbow brushes it off the table and it falls to the ground and shatters, I say, 'Of course.' When I understand that this glass is already broken, every moment with it is precious. Every moment is just as it is and nothing need be otherwise."

  • Further explore the truth that loss and grief are inherent in our very coming into existence.
  • How does the fear of loss complicate intimacy?
  • Practice “this glass is already broken.” The existence of the glass is not separate from its breaking. Begin with everyday objects and chance encounters with people. Meetings end in separation. Not only that, but meetings would not be meetings if separation was not part of their nature.
  • Extend this practice to include what is dear to us. That is, practice knowing that as our hearts go out to embrace what is dear to us, our loss of this dear one is absolutely immanent. No matter what precious person or thing you encounter, it is “already” lost to you. And yet, here it is for you to appreciate.
  • Can we see discover a deeply human and fearless intimacy that is not detached but that includes both the warmth of the embrace and the sadness of the loss? Can we allow the warmth and the sadness to enhance each other, creating a deeper intimacy, rather than to dilute each other, creating a sense of distance?
Readings and Study: