Florence Caplow/ Norman Fischer in Alberta

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  • Nindo
    • Jul 2024

    Florence Caplow/ Norman Fischer in Alberta

    Coincidence (maybe not?) has brought me 2 Zen weekends in a row: This past weekend, Florence Caplow, the author of The Hidden Lamp, came to Edmonton for a reading, public talk and Zen workshop. And on Friday I'll take the bus down to Calgary to sit a weekend retreat with the Soto gang there and visiting teacher Norman Fischer. Norman is Florence's teacher, but these events were organized completely independently. I'm really grateful they did not end up on the same weekend!

    Florence was hosted by Westwood Unitarian Congregation for all three events. On Friday evening, she explained that she waited for years for somebody to collect all the stories about women practitioners, until she realized she would have to do it herself. The Hidden Lamp is modelled after the great koan collections, with the important difference that each story/ koan is commented on by a different (female) teacher, instead of one collector/ editor. I've only read a few stories so far, but all commentaries spoke very personally how the teaching/ experience in the story can be relevant to us today. At the end of each story, there are questions for personal reflection.

    On Saturday, about 30 people gathered for a workshop titled "Zen and Nature". We shared our "special places", whether they be our front yards or far away. We read a poem by a Chinese hermit nun and each chose a line to reflect on in writing, then shared the results in small groups and the big circle. We considered what we associate with mountains and water, and did another writing exercise on that. Finally we walked outside, silently contemplating the snow, ice, dripping meltwater, and huge puddles in the neighbourhood. Everybody I talked to enjoyed this day and took something away from it.

    On Sunday, Florence talked about her path into nature conservancy (she is a field botanist) and Zen. I'd say she considers this one path, very much influenced by Gary Snyder. She is now finishing up her training as a Unitarian minister. I found her to be very engaging and inspiring. It was a great weekend for the congregation.

    Next weekend will just be plain old sitting ... and 15 degree Celsius weather should allow for snow free kinhin along the river. Well, maybe Norman will have something interesting to say as well, who knows?

    Gassho
    Nindo
    sattoday
  • Byokan
    Treeleaf Unsui
    • Apr 2014
    • 4288

    #2
    Hi Nindo,


    Neat-o! Thanks for sharing this, it’s great to read what people are up to and how they are practicing. Especially interesting and helpful to a newbie like me. Will add The Hidden lamp to my list. I’d love to hear more about retreats and things that folks are doing. Sounds like a couple of awesome weekends -- enjoy!

    Gassho
    Lisa
    sat today
    展道 渺寛 Tendō Byōkan
    Please take my words with a big grain of salt. I know nothing. Wisdom is only found in our whole-hearted practice together.

    Comment

    • Kokuu
      Treeleaf Priest
      • Nov 2012
      • 6791

      #3
      Hi Nindo

      How wonderful! The Hidden Lamp is a wonderful book of stories and I would recommend it to anyone. Florence can be heard talking about it at Everyday Zen: http://everydayzen.org/teachings/201...omen-ancestors

      Florence is someone I have felt a connection to for some time as she wrote an excellent piece about having the same illness as me, coincidentally both of us are/were field botanists at the time. Her blog can be found here: Slipping Glimpser.

      Enjoy your time with Norman Fischer and the Calgary sangha. I look forward to hearing how that goes. Snow free kinhin sounds like a very good thing!

      Gassho
      Kokuu
      #sattoday

      Comment

      • Ugrok
        Member
        • Sep 2014
        • 323

        #4
        Ah, you are so lucky ! I'm currently listening to Norman Fischer's podcasts on Prajna Paramita in 8000 lines, and reading along, it's really great, i would love to meet him and ask him questions !

        Gassho,

        Ugrok
        Sat Today

        Comment

        • Kyotai

          #5
          Have a great trip Nindo. Enjoy.

          Gassho, Kyotai
          Sat today

          Comment

          • Myosha
            Member
            • Mar 2013
            • 2974

            #6
            Hello,

            Thank you for the link.


            Gassho
            Myosha sat today
            "Recognize suffering, remove suffering." - Shakyamuni Buddha when asked, "Uhm . . .what?"

            Comment

            • Mp

              #7
              Ahhh this is wonderful Nindo ... I sat and listened to a talk once by Norman Fischer when he came to Vancouver, was a lovely experience. Enjoy! =)

              Gassho
              Shingen

              SatToday

              Comment

              • Byrne
                Member
                • Dec 2014
                • 371

                #8
                Thank you so much for sharing. I will certainly be reading The Hidden Lamp.

                Gassho

                Sat Today

                Comment

                • Nindo

                  #9
                  Here is my belated report. (Immediately after the Norman Fischer retreat, I jumped on a plane to Atlanta for a much needed spring break in GA and FL!)


                  I arrived at the center in Calgary in time to help with setup, but there was not much to do. The Calgary Soto Zen group is very well organized. I had sat with them over a weekend in September and felt very comfortable going back to the group and the (Christian) center they used for both events. This time many more people had signed up (54) and a big room was taken up completely as the zendo, where in September part of the room had been used as a storage area/ water station. Chuckling at myself, I placed my cushion at pretty much the same spot I had sat in September. Attachment? A friend from Edmonton wanted to sit next to me; it was his first retreat. I didn't want him to feel observed by me or something like that, but I didn't think it through to discuss it with him. A beautiful altar was set up in the middle of the room, and everybody would sit facing inwards. Flower petals scattered into a water bowl were used instead of offering incense. Three people were designated time keepers and instrumentalists for the liturgy. One person was the zendo manager, and another the attendant of Norman.


                  Some instructions of zendo etiquette were given at 6pm. Folks could also sign up for sitting instruction. The formal program started at 7pm. I cannot remember what Norman said for opening or whether there was any liturgy. The evening closed with the refuges sung in Pali. I walked back to my B&B and made myself some tea; at the first sign of spring, those Calgarians had turned off the heat in the center and the B&B and I was so cold. Unfortunately all the guest rooms in the center were taken by other groups, whereas in September I stayed at the center and had access to the zendo first thing in the morning.


                  Saturday morning I found that the best spot to do some zazen in my tiny cold room was to sit in bed. Then I had a quick breakfast from stuff I had brought and went to Starbucks for coffee. The B&B breakfast looked tempting, but wasn't available until 8am, and probably would have been way too much food. When it was light enough, I went to the river to hunt for a special Pi-day geocache. I couldn't find it, but the stroll along the river to the center was very nice. The program started at 9am with Norman opening the zendo and robe verse in Japanese and English. Like last time, there were three people who had taken Jukai and one unsui (Tim). Dokusan was in groups of five to give everybody a chance. My group was called first. Meeting Norman was very informal, although we bowed when we entered and left. He has heard about Treeleaf and was intrigued to learn that I had taken Jukai with Jundo "online". It was interesting and moving to listen to other folks' questions. After my return from vacation, my friend told me in a text chat that I missed him keeling over during kinhin while I was gone for dokusan. His leg had gone numb and he tried to stand on it, then he fell over. He thought he might have broken his ankle, but fortunately was OK.


                  The day unfolded with alternating periods of zazen and kinhin. Later in the morning, Norman gave a complicated dharma talk with lots of emptiness in it. I was a bit worried about the new folks. There was a service before lunch that was dedicated to the memory of recently deceased family members and friends (folks could put names on a list and those were read during the service). Before lunch, we chanted the lunch verses in the zendo, then filed silently into the cafeteria where a vegetarian buffet lunch was waiting for us (with tables and chairs). Everybody was asked to stay in the room until the zendo manager sounded the clappers and spoke the closing chant. However, people were free to continue eating after that and get seconds. During the break I walked along the river again and found my Pi-Day trophy. Greed? Then more sitting and listening to the geese coming back from the south, and the chimes playing in the wind. For the evening meal there were no chants. Finally, everybody was back in the zendo for the last period from 7-9pm. Sitting was painful by the end of Saturday. I mostly sit burmese, with some periods in kneeling position. I was bone tired, but indulged in tea & cookies for a while in the B&B.


                  Sunday was pretty much the same, except that the dharma talk was more accessible, the service was dedicated to sick family members and friends (a very long list), and the afternoon program was shortened. In the morning, I had to carry my bags from the B&B to the center and found another geocache on the way (Sunday mornings are perfect for stealthy activities). At lunch the 3 rakusu ended up at the same table. We did a lot of silent bowing to our food and to each other at that table. I thought that it was really funny how all that is needed are a few people who bring their experience from other retreats or monastic settings and together they will carry everybody else through the weekend, sometimes bumbling along and making it up in the moment, but "always with dignity" (my Dad's motto how to make mistakes during Catholic church services). Both in September and now, I had a very strong sense of zazen as dana, giving support to those in the zendo, giving to the world what we don't need to understand, just giving.


                  Sunday afternoon I had a chance to get a private interview with Norman, but after waiting 20 minutes in line, 2 people were still ahead of me. I really did not want to miss the last sitting period and kinhin; I wanted to be in the zendo to conclude the retreat with all, so I headed back. I thought about my question and I think I knew the answer anyway .... It would have been nice to talk to him again, but frankly, I did not feel a lot of connection to him. This was very different with the female teacher in September, who I talked to twice in private. At 3:30 or so, we broke into small groups to share our experience. Everybody was free to talk for 4 minutes in the small group. Then Norman said farewell and was whisked away to the airport. I saw he was already wearing black slacks under his robes in the afternoon The zendo erupted into clean up activities, and I headed off to catch the bus back home (a very nice lady offered to take me to the bus station). Everybody seemed astonished how quickly the weekend had gone by.


                  I am very grateful to the Calgary group that they took the leap from small weekly events to organizing 2 big retreats. The fact that so many folks attended, and in total 3 people made a 4 hour trip from Edmonton, shows that these are much needed and appreciated. Can't wait for the next one!

                  Comment

                  • Mp

                    #10
                    Thank you Nindo for the update, sounds like a wonderful time. =)

                    Gassho
                    Shingen

                    SatToday

                    Comment

                    • Shugen
                      Treeleaf Unsui
                      • Nov 2007
                      • 4535

                      #11
                      Thank you Nindo.

                      Gassho,

                      Shugen

                      #sattoday


                      Shugen
                      明道 修眼
                      Meido Shugen
                      明道 修眼

                      Comment

                      • Jundo
                        Treeleaf Founder and Priest
                        • Apr 2006
                        • 39472

                        #12
                        Lovely.

                        Gassho, Jundo

                        SatToday
                        ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

                        Comment

                        • Myosha
                          Member
                          • Mar 2013
                          • 2974

                          #13
                          Hello,

                          Thank you for the moment.


                          Gassho
                          Myosha sat today
                          "Recognize suffering, remove suffering." - Shakyamuni Buddha when asked, "Uhm . . .what?"

                          Comment

                          • Yugen

                            #14
                            Thanks for this Nindo, sounds like a great weekend.

                            Norman's brother, Jeff, lives and works here in my hometown. Small world....

                            Deep bows
                            Yugen

                            Comment

                            • Jinyo
                              Member
                              • Jan 2012
                              • 1957

                              #15
                              Thanks Nindo - I really enjoyed reading this.

                              Gassho

                              Willow

                              sat today

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