Gateless Gate 11: Land Interrogates Shrine Master

[Explanation: For over 20 years my spiritual practice has been Zen meditation. I am currently a member of Boundless Way Temple, Worcester, MA. I study koans under the instruction of David Rynick, Roshi. “Koan” comes from the ancient Chinese practice of law and simply means “case,” as in the record of a legal proceeding that points to the truth of the matter at hand. Koans are statements of proceedings usually in a monastery context, that point to truth. Another one of David’s students and I have taken up the practice of writing verses in response to some of the koans we study. My dharma name is “Setsusho.” Below is the koan. The koan translation from the original Chinese is by poet David Hinton. Rather than transliterate the character names, Hinton uses a literal translation of the Chinese characters: “Visitation-Land” a.k.a. Zhaozhou/Joshu. Confusing, but perhaps opening up more nuance of meaning. Following the koan is “Setsusho’s” response!]

Case

Master Visitation-Land stopped at a shrine-master’s hut and called out: “Anyone there? Presence? Any Presence there?”

The shrine-master simply held up his fist.

“You can’t anchor a boat in water this shallow,” said Land. Then he left.

Later he returned to the shrine-master’s hut and again called out: “Anyone there? Presence? Any Presence there?”

Once more the shrine-master simply held up a fist.

“Ah you–you can offer up and steal away, put to death and bring to life,” said Land. Then he bowed reverently.

Setsusho’s Verse

River pools below two boulders

Hermit swims long strokes

Against the current

Going nowhere

Gateless Gate 10: Lucid-Black Alone Impoverished

[Explanation: For over 20 years my spiritual practice has been Zen meditation. I am currently a member of Boundless Way Temple, Worcester, MA. I study koans under the instruction of David Rynick, Roshi. “Koan” comes from the ancient Chinese practice of law and simply means “case,” as in the record of a legal proceeding that points to the truth of the matter at hand. Koans are statements of proceedings usually in a monastery context, that point to truth. Another one of David’s students and I have taken up the practice of writing verses in response to some of the koans we study. My dharma name is “Setsusho.” Below is the koan. The koan translation from the original Chinese is by poet David Hinton. Rather than transliterate the character names, Hinton uses a literal translation of the Chinese characters: “Lucid-Black.” Confusing, but perhaps opening up more nuance of meaning. Following the koan is “Setsusho’s” response!]

Case

Lucid-Black asked Master Twofold Mountain: “I am perfectly alone now, perfectly impoverished. I’m an alms-beggar here. Won’t you please grant me the sustenance of your teaching?”

“You are Lucid-Black, acharya, great dharma-sage!” Twofold-Mountain called out in response.

“Yes, replied Lucid-Black.

“You’ve savored three cups of clear wine from our ancestral household of green-azure origins. And still you say you haven’t moistened your lips?”

Setsusho’s Verse

Side pierced, legs broken

Friday, third hour past noon

In sun-blotted dark, crowd’s mockery

wafts on the sweetest breeze

Vast Insight Surpassing Wisdom

[Explanation: For over 20 years my spiritual practice has been Zen meditation. I am currently a member of Boundless Way Temple, Worcester, MA. I study koans under the instruction of David Rynick, Roshi. “Koan” comes from the ancient Chinese practice of law and simply means “case,” as in the record of a legal proceeding that points to the truth of the matter at hand. Koans are statements of proceedings usually in a monastery context, that point to truth. Another one of David’s students and I have taken up the practice of writing verses in response to some of the koans we study. My dharma name is “Setsusho.” Below is the koan. The koan translation from the original Chinese is by poet David Hinton. Rather than transliterate the character names (in the example below, “Quingrang”), Hinton uses a literal translation of the Chinese characters, so Quingrang becomes “Light-Inception Peak.” Confusing, but perhaps opening up more nuance of meaning. Following the koan is “Setsusho’s” response!]

The Case:

A monk asked Master Light-Inception Peak: “The Buddha of Vast Insight and Surpassing Wisdom sat in meditation for ten kalpas on Buddha-Way Terrace, but the Buddha-dharma never took shape for him. How is it, in all that time, he never wholly became Buddha-Way’s turning seasons?”

“A question to the point exactly,” replied Light-Inception.

But the monk persisted: “After all that meditation on Buddha-Way Terrace, how is it he never wholly became the Buddha-Way?”

“Because he never became a Buddha.”

Setsusho’s Verse

Deaf monk sits beneath a dead branch

Half moon hangs in the sky

In Kenosha, Jacob Blake

Lies in hospital, spine severed

Gateless Gate 8: What-Next Invents Cartwheel

Hoop Old Cart Broken Round Woodworm

[Explanation: For over 20 years my spiritual practice has been Zen meditation. I am currently a member of Boundless Way Temple, Worcester, MA. I study koans under the instruction of David Rynick, Roshi. “Koan” comes from the ancient Chinese practice of law and simply means “case,” as in the record of a legal proceeding that points to the truth of the matter at hand. Koans are statements of proceedings usually in a monastery context, that point to truth. Another one of David’s students and I have taken up the practice of writing verses in response to some of the koans we study. My dharma name is “Setsusho.” Below is the koan. Following that is “Setsusho’s” response!]

Case

Master Moon-Shrine Mountain asked the monks: “When What-Next invented the cartwheel, it had a hundred spokes. But what if hub and rim are broken off, spokes scattered away–do you understand the bright clarity of what it could do then?”

Setsusho’s verse

Deaf monk hears with eyes

Sparkling ripples slapping the raft

As he and Huck and Jim

Light out for the territories

Setsusho’s Verse: Gateless Gate #6: “World Honored One Twirls a Flower”

[Explanation: For over 20 years my spiritual practice has been Zen meditation. I am currently a member of Boundless Way Temple, Worcester, MA. I study koans under the instruction of David Rynick, Roshi. Another one of David’s students and I have taken up the practice of writing verses in response to some of the koans we study. My dharma name is “Setsusho.” Below is the koan. Following that is “Setsusho’s” response!]

6: WORLD-HONORED HELD FLOWER

Long ago on Spirit-Vulture Peak, Shākyamuni Buddha, the World-Honored One, held a flower up and revealed it to the sangha. Everyone sat in shadowy silence. Then Mahākāshyapa’s face broke into the faintest smile. The World-Honored-One said: “I possess the perfect dharma of the eye’s treasure-house, the nirvana of mind’s mysterious depths, the true form of formlessness, the subtle mystery of the dharma-gate. Not relying on words and texts, outside teaching and beyond doctrine—I here entrust all that to Mahākāshyapa.”

Hinton, David. No-Gate Gateway (p. 18). Shambhala. Kindle Edition.

Setsusho’s Verse
Ant crawls across IKEA carpet where a sleepy monk sits.

Amarylis blooms like juice squirting from peeled orange.

Monk, ant, amarylis.

This truth never fails.

Setsusho’s Verse: Gateless Gate #7 “Joshu’s Wash Your Bowls”

[Explanation: For over 20 years my spiritual practice has been Zen meditation. I am currently a member of Boundless Way Temple, Worcester, MA. I study koans under the instruction of David Rynick, Roshi. Another one of David’s students and I have taken up the practice of writing verses in response to some of the koans we study. My dharma name is “Setsusho.” Below is the koan. Following that is “Setsusho’s” response! Note: “Visitation-Land” is David Hinton’s poetic rendering of famous Zen Master Joshu’s name.]

7: VISITATION-LAND WASH BOWL

A monk asked Master Visitation-Land: “I’ve just arrived here in your thicket-forest monastery, Master. Please show me what you have to reveal.” “Have you eaten your mush?” Land asked. “Yes.” “Hurry then, wash your bowl!” At this, the monk was awakened.

Hinton, David. No-Gate Gateway (p. 20). Shambhala. Kindle Edition.

Setsusho’s Verse

Bowl specked with cereal sits in the kitchen.

Monk covered in bunny fuzz sits on the sun porch.

Unhindered.

Who washes?

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 5-22-20

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 5-22-20

This Sunday marks both the seventh Sunday of the Easter Season and Memorial Day weekend. The gospel lectionary for this Sunday is John 17:1-11. Jesus has been giving his disciples an extended farewell address following what would be their last supper together. Chapter 17 contains the concluding prayer of Jesus’ farewell address. 

My years learning the crafts of preaching and writing have taught me to pay special attention to endings. For example, while I may go off script while preaching the body of a sermon, I always make sure I have a carefully crafted final sentence that will bring my homiletical flights in for a landing. Of all the things one might write or say, folks tend to remember the ending.

Another rhetorical strategy for helping an audience retain information is repetition. In his concluding prayer Jesus repeats the phrase “that they may all be one.” This is the message that Jesus wants to leave his disciples–that he wants to leave us: “that they may all be one.” It also happens to be the motto of the United Church of Christ: That they may all be one.

The UCC motto “That they may all be one” caught my attention while I was a divinity school student. I had left the denomination of my upbringing and was searching for a new church home. While I didn’t know a lot about the UCC, I thought Jesus’ final prayer for his disciples, his dream for the world, was a great foundation upon which to build my faith, my vocation, my career.

Over the past 20+ years I’ve learned a few things about the prayer that they may all be one. The most important is this: on the most fundamental level of reality, the level that is beyond human comprehension, we are always already one. In other words, Jesus’ prayer is less an expression of a goal he wants us to achieve and more a description of a reality he wants us to wake up to.

Buddhists use the metaphor of waves and the ocean to explain the confusion we experience around unity and separation. Like waves each one of us is a manifestation of the movement of the great ocean. We are never at any moment not a part of the ocean. In fact, waves are the ocean. We are one with God. We are one with each other. At all times. What affects the ocean affects the waves. What affects the waves affects the ocean. It would be ridiculous for a wave to say, “I am not the ocean,” or for a wave to say to another wave, “You have nothing to do with me.” Yet, that is how we humans too often behave. We act as if an injury to one has nothing to do with us. We wallow in self-pity thinking we are bereft and alone. We become envious or annoyed with others thinking their words or behavior are somehow personally directed at us when more often than not, they are just rolling along, manifesting as one small crest on this great, ever active womb of life.

“Plenty Good Room (Interbeing)”

MLK and Thich Nhat Hanh, Chicago, 1966

Rev. Dr. Todd Grant Yonkman, Transitional Senior Minister

First Congregational Church of Granby

Sermon for the 5th Sunday of Easter

10 May 2020

Text: John 14:1-14

Plenty Good Room

When I was teenager my dad used to say to me, “You’re just like your mother.” Some of you may have read the piece I wrote this week about the complicated relationship between my parents. They didn’t get along well for a number of reasons. Dad only said, “You’re just like your mother” to me when he was upset with me, so I learned that being “just like my mother” was a bad thing. I watched my own behavior to see for myself if dad was right. Am I just like my mother? And if I am, what kind of man does that make me? My mom is a pastor. If I become one, does that make me “just like” her? How does that affect my relationship with dad? It was all very difficult and complicated, but it’s a situation all of us share to some degree or another. Each of us is the product of parents. The very cells of our bodies are built with the genes of others. This is true not only for parents and children, but for all of life on this planet, even, in fact, for the entire universe. Buddhist monk and peace activist Thich Nhat Hanh has a term for this reality: “Interbeing.”

Interbeing is a term that could describe the truth at the heart of our Scripture text this morning. Jesus says to his followers, “I am in the Father and the Father is in me.” “The Father” is Jesus’ word for God. Jesus is telling us that just like you and I owe our very existence to our parents, Jesus owes his very existence to God. Just like we are formed from the very genes of our parents, Jesus is formed from the very spirit or “breath”–which in the Bible is the same word–of God. In the same way that I am “just like” my mother, Jesus is “just like” God. And, by the way, so are you. So am I.

A few verses later Jesus says, “You will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.” In other words, we are just like Jesus. In the same way Jesus is in God and God in Jesus, we are in Jesus and Jesus is in us. God, Jesus, you, me, the entire universe, we all–to once again use the words of Thich Nhat Hanh–”inter-are.” 

This can all sound very abstract and impractical, but it actually isn’t. In fact, you don’t need religion–whether Buddhism, Christianity, or any other–to tell you that we are all inescapably interconnected. Science tells us this. Biology tells us this. Physics tells us this. Common sense tells us this. The coronavirus tells us. What we need religion for is to remind us what we already know–that my health and wellbeing is intimately connected to yours. What we need religion for is to hold us accountable for doing what is right, no matter how difficult that might be.

Dr. King famously said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. nominated Thich Nhat Hanh for the Nobel Peace prize. His statement about justice is a statement of interbeing. Racism isn’t just a problem for the South, racism is a problem right here in Granby. Homelessness isn’t just a problem for Hartford or Springfield. In fact, one of our church members who has been active in affordable housing for years said in a meeting this week that most of the homeless in Hartford don’t come from Hartford. They come from places like Granby, like Simsbury, like West Hartland. To look down on other communities–even if it is in pity–as if these issues are problems for “those people” is to completely miss the truth of interbeing. This is what makes interbeing so difficult. Relieving your suffering isn’t as much about changing you as it is about changing me. Ending homelessness isn’t so much about changing Hartford, it’s about changing Granby.

Because he was speaking in and to a patriarchal culture, Jesus said, “I am in the Father and the Father is in me.” But he could just as easily have said, “I am in my Mother and my Mother is in me.” On this day when we honor mothers, we can honor them by remembering our connection to all of life. On this day when we take time to make expressions of love to our mothers we can consider whether it is truly possible to love our mothers without also loving our neighbors. On this day when we recognize the priceless gift of life our mothers have given us, we realize that life is not ours to keep but ours to share.

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 5-1-20

“The Gate Within”

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 5-1-20

The Gospel of John has a special feature the other gospels do not. In John Jesus makes a number of theological statements that begin with the phrase “I am”: “I am the light of the world”; “I am the Bread of Life”; “I am the true vine”; “I am the resurrection and the life”; “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” There are seven “I am” statements in all. Two are found in John chapter 10, part of which serves as the lectionary text for this coming Sunday, the Fourth Sunday of Easter also known as “Good Shepherd Sunday.” The “I am” statements of John 10 are: “I am the Good Shepherd,” and “I am the gate for the sheep.” I have heard many sermons and sung many hymns about the Good Shepherd. I have never heard a sermon or sung a hymn about the Gate, good or otherwise. So let’s talk about the gate!

It’s easy for me to understand why the Good Shepherd would get all the attention. The Good Shepherd invokes the romantic images of the “green pastures” and “still waters” that “restore my soul” in Psalm 23. The Good Shepherd feels accessible and relatable and comforting. The Gate seems a little weird: The gate for the sheep? What does that mean? However, my experience in life and in reading the Bible is that it’s often the overlooked things that bring the biggest insights. So this Sunday we’ll sing songs about the Good Shepherd, but we’ll reflect on the Gate and our own calling to open the way to abundant life for all during this time of pandemic.