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Introducing Jane Dobisz (Zen Master Bon Yeon) and her new book,

The Wisdom of Solitude
A Zen Retreat in the Woods

The Wisdom of Solitude
by Jane Dobisz, $21.95

The Wisdom of Solitude has been reissued by Wisdom Publications
 and is now  called: One Hundred Days of Solitude. Purchase it here for $14.95

We are pleased to introduce you to Jane Dobisz, a wise and insightful Zen teacher and her newly published book, The Wisdom of Solitude.

Jane is the guiding teacher of the Cambridge Zen Center in Massachusetts and a dharma heir of Zen Master Seung Sahn. The Wisdom of Solitude is the “inside” story of Jane's 100-day solo retreat told with refreshing honesty, humor, and rich insight. Her account is threaded with Zen teachings and striking perceptions of the miracles and foibles of the human mind when we have the courage to face ourselves head-on.

This issue of In the Moment features a short introductory article by Jane Dobisz as well as excerpts from her new book.

In This Issue:

F o r Y o u
By Jane Dobisz

It's 2004, the Year of the Monkey. Every year about this time, when the stars are bright in the dark morning sky, I am reminded of what a precious gift this life is.

Sitting on the cushion I think, "Another year...already passed?"
Getting together with a good friend for coffee, she says, "Can you believe it? My little Jessica is going to college!"

Sometimes the feeling of life rushing past as we helplessly stand by is quite disconcerting. Luckily for us, Buddhism teaches a wonderful and very effective way to work with this: Climb into every moment as it is and appreciate life as it is just now.

This year, as he approaches eighty, I feel particularly grateful to my teacher, Zen Master Seung Sahn. Known by his students as "Dae Soen Sa Nim", he has been such an important influence in my life. In many ways he was like a father to me--my own father died in Vietnam when I was six--but more than any father could, he was able to teach me the true meaning of life and how to find my true self.

Here is a simple example: the first time I sat winter Kyol Che (90-day period of intensive practice), in 1983, I went for an interview with Dae Soen Sa Nim.

"Good morning!" he said to me with a big smile. "Do you have any questions?"

"No," I said, "no questions."

"Then I have a question for you!" he said strongly. "Why are you sitting 90 days Winter Kyol Che?

"Because I want to," I said.

"That is number-one bad answer," he laughed. "You ask me."

"O.K." I said, "Why are you sitting Winter Kyol Che?"

"For You," replied the Zen Master.

These two words sum up the essence of Dae Soen Sa Nim's whole life: "For You." That is what his teaching is all about. In a world where people have forgotten how to have compassion for others, Dae Soen Sa Nim teaches that true happiness only appears when we forget our "I" and begin to live for all beings. If more human beings do not learn this lesson, he warns, our human world is going to have bigger and bigger problems.

Living and practicing together in many different situations--traveling and teaching around the world, going to movies, teaching me as a young 20 year-old how to deal with romantic relationships, introducing me to other Sangha members who have since become lifelong friends--in all these situations, Dae Soen Sa Nim showed me his wisdom and compassion. I could bring any question about my life, about Zen Center politics, about problems with my friends--I could bring anything to him and out of his wisdom he would find an answer that was just right. This was wonderful teaching. During that time, although he worked very hard and his body was often sick, Dae Soen Sa Nim was always cheerful, he never showed a bad mood. Even when we would visit him in the hospital, he was always more concerned about his students than about his own condition. He taught us, "If your mind is complete, the sun, the moon, the stars--everything is complete. If your mind is not complete, then the sun, the moon, the stars are not enough. You will feel that something is missing."

It was the example of his 100-day solo retreat at Mah Gok Sah many years ago, during which he attained enlightenment, that made me want to do my own 100-day retreat. It is this experience I write about in The Wisdom of Solitude. Afterwards, I spent many years learning how to take this simple, complete mind from the retreat into our everyday complicated world. Now I have a full-time job. I am married to a wonderful man and mother of beautiful 3-year old Olivia. In two weeks, our family will adopt a 2-year old son from Russia. I teach every week at the Cambridge Zen Center and sometimes travel to lead retreats at other Zen Centers. In the middle of this busy life I continue to try and practice the teachings Dae Soen Sa Nim taught me: "Just do it" and "For you."

"The Wisdom of Solitude" was written to give people a taste of Zen practicing and Zen mind. I hope that people who read it will find that it gives them a fresh look at how best to make use of the great opportunity we call "life".

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Up and Down
From The Wisdom of Solitude: A Zen Retreat in the Woods by Jane Dobisz. Copyright ©2004 by Jane Dobisz. Reprinted with permission from HarperSanFrancisco, a Division of HarperCollins Publishers.

“Zen Master, why do we all these bows? Who are we bowing to?”

“You are not bowing to anyone outside. When you bow, it’s your small self bowing
to your true self that’s all.”

-Zen Master Seung Sahn

Up. Down.
Up. Down.
Up. Down.

Barely awake, I tell myself to “just do it” while stealing a quick glance back at the bed. The sleeping bag looks so inviting. Thoughts run through my head about why it would be better to bow after it gets light out. Normally an expert procrastinator, susceptible to excuses of any sort, even I can’t get away with rationalizing in this case. At 3:20 in the morning, alone in the middle of the woods, it’s not like there’s anywhere else I have to be. I continue with the bows.

Up. Down.
Up. Down.
Up. Down.

Three hundred times. Each time a bow has been completed, I move one bead on the mala to keep count while repeating the mantra in my mind. The rhythm of the movement and the sound of the mantra working in tandem cut through all the foggy thinking and wake me up.
Here in the West we don’t bow to anything or anyone. Not to God, not to Buddha, not to our parents, not to each other. It would never occur to us to bow because this is a democracy and we are all equal. In the East however, everyone is always bowing to everyone else. It is a sign of respect, a greeting, a religious practice, and simply a chance to pause.

Bowing is the act of our small self bowing to our true self. Our small self is the “I, my, me” that feels like a separate person. It’s the one who thinks “I’m Jane, I’m a mother” or “I am Bob, I’m a doctor.” Our true self has no idea of being separate because it is before all ideas and thinking. Like the way water always flows to the sea or a tree grows up, up, up, our true self just does its job, without the added burden of thinking about it. When we bow, we aren’t bowing to anything outside of our own true nature. Each bow is a chance to wake up from the illusion that we are somehow separate from the universe. In the physicality of palms touching the mat, of knees on the ground, and of standing up again, there is only the activity of bowing.

Zen Master Seung Sahn, in his inimitable English, says bowing is the “number one quick way to make your karma disappear.” Sometimes I think he decided to take bows to a whole new level as he launched his brand of Zen in the West. For twenty or more years he has done a thousand bows a day, no matter what. Sick, tired, traveling, on trains, in hotel rooms . . . he never misses them. Just watching him do that day in and day out has itself been a big teaching.

And here I am, young and strong. After only three hundred bows my legs are shaking like two jelly gummi worms. The schedule is proving to be a formidable master, and it’s only the first activity of the first day.

Thirsty now.

A cup of tea would be good.

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From The Wisdom of Solitude: A Zen Retreat in the Woods by Jane Dobisz. Copyright ©2004 by Jane Dobisz. Reprinted with permission from HarperSanFrancisco, a Division of HarperCollins Publishers.

"People say that what we’re all seeking is a meaning for life…I think what we’re really seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonance within our innermost being and reality, so that we can actually feel the rapture of being alive."

-Joseph Campell

One of the main purposes of my coming here was to get my mind and body in the same place at the same time. More than three months into this adventure, it’s happening more frequently – certainly more so than when I first arrived. By making my focus smaller and smaller, everything is getting bigger and bigger. Just rinsing out the breakfast dishes, I am happy. There’s a vast space around things in which anything is possible. A sense of rapture permeates even the smallest activities of the day.

This word, “rapture” is not one we are accustomed to using because it typically is reserved for the most rarefied of moments of pleasure like great sex or a gorgeous beach or a wonderful piece of music. Why not let that kind of joy into all the "little" things, like smelling the air, hearing the insects singing on a spring evening, washing the dishes, or seeing our family at the end of a day’s work? Isn’t that what our whole life is?

Joy comes from appreciation. Appreciation comes from paying attention. Paying attention is the practice of Zen. It’s so simple, yet look how I have had to strip away everything, come out here to a cabin in the middle of nowhere, adhere to an unforgiving schedule, and stick it out through all the ups and downs in order to discover it.

It’s very humbling.

At the same time, it’s inspiring because it means I don’t have to wait for rapture to come at only the “rarefied” moments. It’s possible to change my habit from dreaming to waking up. Then this rapturous joy will enter my life more regularly. What’s going on "outside" will match the "inside". I won’t just be going through the motions of living – I’ll actually be alive.

Having the mind and the body in the same place at the same time solves about ninety-nine percent of the matter.

The other one percent of course is what you do with it.

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'The DharmaBum' -- Write a short essay about a retreat experience and receive a $100 DharmaCrafts gift certificate
Attention! Travelers on the Way - where have you wandered in search of Truth?
The DharmaBum is a monthly travel feature that highlights dharma centers throughout the world. Please share your personal experience at a dharma center you have visited, the dharma center you call home base, or a retreat place. If your story is selected for our monthly newsletter, we will send you a $100 gift certificate to DharmaCrafts and provide a link on our website to the dharma center in your story. For information on how to submit your story to The DharmaBum, click here. The deadline for submitting an essay for our next newsletter is Monday, March 22.

Sorry, deadline has passed.

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Limited Edition CD by Philip Glass to benefit Jewel Heart
DharmaCrafts and renowned composer Philip Glass are pleased to offer you the exclusive opportunity to purchase a limited edition of 500 individually numbered, CD portfolios, with a signed copy of the original score by Philip Glass. Your purchase of this 17-minute, solo piano recording will benefit Jewel Heart, a spiritual, cultural, and humanitarian organization devoted to making the ancient wisdom of Tibetan Buddhism relevant to contemporary life. We hope you will consider taking advantage of this special opportunity to help keep Tibetan culture alive.



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DharmaCrafts gratefully acknowledges the participation of our Dharma Business Friends who have contributed learning content to this issue of In The Moment:

- Kwan Um School of Zen
- Shambhala Sun

DharmaCrafts publishes In the Moment, our monthly email newsletter, as a source for learning more about meditation and the teachings of Buddhism, and as a venue to interact with you, our DharmaCrafts community. We love to hear from you; email us


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