Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Buddha’s Enlightenment Day Poem

Buddha’s Enlightenment Day Poem

It took an Indian prince six years of renunciation
Six years of wandering, six years of meditation
To awaken to what the farmer knew every morning of her life

Deep darkness, clearing skies of vivid stars
And each winter without fail
One joyous moment as the morning star
First startles the trembling night sky

You have to already be awake to witness this
We are already a part of each and every creation

The stars, seen or unseen. The prairie grasses frozen frosted still
The rice in the paddies picking up the dawn breeze
The rhythm of the sky and stars, dawns and sunsets, twilights, dusk and darkness
The heat, the dust, the barren, lush or harsh landscapes
Can you see the hawk’s breath as she soars low before you startled eyes?

Dawn announces the coming round
Earth wheels to greet a brighter beckoning
Attainment fades with the morning star
As it appeared, so it disappears
The young prince, renunciant
Smiles, touching the earth
Just as the daughter bent to plant the rice
The stars, the earth, the rice, the water, the farmer
The daughter’s offering to the prince under the Bodhi tree

Wake up Wake up Hurry up Wake Up

Draw back the veil, open the blinds
Wake up Wake up
Did you see the morning Star?
Did you oversleep again?

When the stone girls sighs
Her breath does not cloud
The Great Round Mirror

You have to be awake to attain this and let it go:
One by one each creation has it
One by one each creation is complete.


Margaret M. Wheeler
Tall Grass Zen

Monday, October 13, 2008

Retreat Photos

Thanks to who everyone who sat the retreat. A special thanks to Linc Rhodes for his generous teaching. And thanks as well to those who stuck around and helped Margaret and me get packed up and home. These photos were taken by Jeehyun Lee. Thank you, Jee!

Deep Creek Community Center

Lincoln Rhodes, JDPSN

Our bell and altar

Sunrise over the Flint Hills


Richard Michael, Liatrus, Christina, Linc

Christina, Linc, Margaret, Judy, Jee, Rebecca, James

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Buddhist Wedding Ceremony

The wedding was lovely. We used the Kwan Um Marriage Ceremony, which is short, yet beautiful. Here are the vows, which are based on the Eightfold Noble Path:

Views We vow in our married life together to continually break through our pre-conceived views of each other and see clearly.

Thoughts We vow to let go of feelings that arise from selfish desires, attachments, and fears, so that we can open our hearts to one another.

Conduct We vow to be compassionate with one another and with all beings.

Speech We vow to refrain from speaking harshly or deceptively to each other or about one another to others.

Livelihood We vow to practice peaceful and ethical occupations and to support each other in our work.

Effort We vow to support one another in creating a compassionate and loving home.

Mindfulness We vow to always be mindful of each other and to let go of our ideas and beliefs so that we can see each other clearly.

Meditation We vow to encourage each other to walk the bodhisattva path together.

During the ring exchange, Margaret and I made the following additional vows, which are taken from the Book of Ruth:

"Where you go I will go. Where you lodge I will lodge. Your people will be my people. What you hold sacred I will hold sacred. When you die I will be there. Nothing but death shall divide us."

Thanks to everyone for their kind wishes.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Wedding Bells


Well, tomorrow is the big day for us!

What this means for you is: we are canceling practice tomorrow, Tuesday July 22.

But you can come on Saturday the 26th.

Love, Christina and Margaret

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Where's Christina?

Good morning, Dharma Friends!

If you'd like to know what I'm up while I'm away, you can visit my other blog:


Hope you are all well and staying cool.

Here in Sonoma County it is hothothothothothothot

Love, Christina

Wednesday, July 2, 2008


Greetings to all dharma friends!

"Enlightenment and clarity of mind occur only in response to the sustained efforts of study and practice. Although you have your own capacity, you practice the way with the combined strength of the community. So you should practice and search with one mind with others." --Dogen

Several years ago I attended a dharma teachers retreat at the Providence Zen Center. It is a beautiful place with paths wending through 50 acres of wooded land. Set behind the zen center on the hill is the Diamond Hill Zen Monastery overlooking a small lake. It was October and very cool, having rained all weekend. But this particular morning was clear and cloudless with a cold breeze and heavy dew on the grasses. Zen Master Bon Haeng brought us outside to begin our morning walking meditation. I got in line behind one of the teachers in our school waiting to begin walking. Before we began our walk, the zen master told us, "Walk as one person and as one with the universe." So carefully following the footsteps of the teacher before me, I matched his every step, trying to place my foot in his footstep, and moving my leg with his in strong together action. As we entered the large lawn in front of the zen center, I realized he was tromping down the wet, dewy grass for me, showing me exactly where to place my foot and that in turn I was flattening the grass even further for the person behind me so that the others in line behind us avoided having wet, muddy feet and could see where to walk with greater clarity -- each footstep a giving to the person behind.

This is what we do for each other everytime we practice together, showing each other the way, each adding our own capacity for meditation to aid one another in finding the way. In the dharma room, we bow, chant, and sit as one body. Doing this is a symbol of the true nature we all share and it helps us to continue practicing meditation even when alone. Practicing together helps us to see our karma more clearly as we abut up against others opinions and likes and dislikes and they in turn see ours. The combined energy of each sangha member brings forth the dharma in ways we can scarcely imagine. As the seed needs water to grow, we need each other to grow -- bringing forth that "mind of minds" that is always present within us and around us.

I am having surgery in a few weeks and so cannot be with you physically for awhile, but I send you all the blessings of the Buddha dharma and look forward to the time that I can be with you all again.

Good and evil have no self-nature
Holy and unholy are empty names
Outside the door is the land of stillness & light
Spring comes, grass grows by itself


Rebecca Otte is Director of the Prairy Erth Zen Center in Topeka, Kansas. She is a Senior Dharma Teacher in the Kwan Um School of Zen.

Monday, June 23, 2008


Thanks to everyone who helped out with last weekend's retreat, especially our teacher, Linc Rhodes.

Congratulations to Sam Wisely and Matt Cobb for taking Five Precepts

Thanks to Susan Warden for resuming her Dharma Teacher role.

And thanks to everyone else for your hard practice . . .

and creative rest!

Sunday, June 15, 2008

A Little Birdie Told Me

Based on a Dharma Talk given on 06/08/08 at Paririeyrth Zen Center Topeka, Kansas

Thank you all for your hard practice, it is good to be with you today.

As many of you know for the past four years I have been practicing with a woman who is imprisoned at Topeka Correctional Facility. We have slowly evolved from weekly meetings one on one, into a meditation class twice a month, alternating with a Kwan Um Buddhist Service twice a month. Both are open to any of the women incarcerated in minimum security at TCF. Twice a month I continue to meet with this lone Buddhist one on one, as her “Spiritual Advisor”, the prison’s designation for our relationship.

On one of these occasions recently, when I arrived I was told that we could not meet in one of our usual rooms: we would be meeting in the officer’s break room. No problem, we’ve had to meet there before. I went in to set up the altar, and this particular evening I was very, very tired. So instead of moving everything all around, I just moved two chairs and set up the altar on one of the tables where it was. While I was setting up, she was summoned to our meeting. When she arrived we greeted each other by bowing to each other, palmed joined, as we are not allowed to touch each other. We set down our cushions on the cold tile floor, and I opened the altar (she’s not allowed to touch the lighter, incense or the candles). I hit the moktak and we stood behind our cushions, and suddenly I notice we are smack in front of the Coca Cola machine. The bright loud Coca Cola machine. I cannot unplug it, this is a prison and I have no authority here what so ever. And so we begin, chanting Kwan Seum Bosal.

And I am immediately reminded, as is she it turns out, of Zen Master Seung Sahn’s teaching about chanting practice “Even using Coca Cola as a mantra could help your life, if you practice correctly.” So there we are in the Prison Officer’s break room, facing this huge Coca Cola machine, chanting. And this teaching comes alive: “Kwan Seum Bosal, Coca Cola, Kwan Seum Bosal, Coca Cola ….”

Later, after we had completed our practice session that evening, we both talked about what a powerful experience that was to chant Kwan Seum Bosal, Evening Bell Chant, The Heart Sutra and the Great Darahni with that Coca Cola machine shining brightly before us, reminding us of Zen Master Seung Sahn’s teaching.

Last weekend I was returning home after running some errands and as I was turning into our driveway, I saw a tiny baby bird at the edge of the driveway, almost in the gutter. So naturally I slowed the car and carefully turned to avoid it. I parked, got out of the car, and walked back down the drive and attempted to get the bird to move. It kept peeping cheeping at me, but I could not dissuade it from its reckless spot. Fearful that it would hop into the street and be killed, I finally scooped it up. It perched on my finger. Such a beautiful bird, a brown thrasher. It cheeped some more, “I’m hungry.” Well now what? Thrashers tend to hang out on the ground or in shrubs, but I was concerned that our outdoor cat Max would find this bird. So I wanted to save this little bird in my hand. And now one of its parents arrived looking for it, with a morsel in its mouth. It flew over me a few times demanding that I unhand the little bird. I spied a low branch in a locust tree and placed the bird there. I watched and listened awhile, then returned to the house. I went out to the yard again later, the baby Thrasher was gone from its perch. Inwardly I congratulated myself for saving it, and wondered where it had flown. Then to my utter delight, I saw three baby blue jays sitting on the ground in a cluster, beside our birdbath. Their parents were in the oak trees screaming at them. I imagine they were cajoling them to use their wings to fly and get out of range of Max the cat, who was napping on the front porch. So I joined in the chorus with the adult Blue Jays, “Fly you silly birds. The universe has wings and it can fly.” One of them made a short flight into the forsythia bushes, the other two just continued to sit there. I decided to let Max in the house for a while.

Oh! I was much delighted with all these fuzzy baby birds in the yard. When Christina arrived home later I told her about my encounters with the birds and commented, “I wish you’d have been here with your camera, they were so cute.”

An hour or so past. I went out to the car for something, and I saw a bird had been run over in the street. I went to look closer. It was a baby thrasher. I could see the stripes on its chest. I was so upset; I went into the house and cried. I regressed becoming like a little child, slumping against Christina. And I was asking myself, “what is this, what is this grief?’ Quickly I realized that this sense of loss was not about the bird at all, but about my perception of myself, the delusion that I had somehow saved this bird.

Finally, sometime later, I couldn't bear it that the bird's carcass was in the street. I walked down the driveway and into the road, peeling the flattened bird off the pavement and placed it in a flowerbed.

Yet the bird had something else to teach me. And I have been digesting this lesson all week.

A few days ago I was talking with Rebecca Otte on the phone and she asked me if I could give the Dharma talk today. “Oh sure, no problem.” Then last night I was complaining to Christina, “Why did I say I would give the talk? I don’t have anything to say, I don’t know anything.” I could only think to tell about the bird, but I hadn’t fully processed what had happened, let alone had a clue as to how to weave it into a Dharma Talk. So I went to bed and slept hoping for inspiration in a dream. Then this morning I woke up and just picked up the Compass of Zen and let it fall open. This Zen serendipity gave some direction on how to digest this incident and shape it into a talk. The page it fell open to was Zen Master Seung Sahns teaching on chanting: “The correct practice of meditation means attaining one pointed mind without wanting anything.” I wanted something: I wanted to save the bird from death. And also wanted the bird to remember me, for this is not the first time I have held a baby bird, believing I was saving it from danger.

Wanting a certain outcome, this is attachment, clinging - a link in the chain of dependent origination. Recognizing this I could trace it backwards – to desire, sensation, contact, the six senses --- all the way back to ignorance. I had picked up the bird to save it, deluding myself, “I am a great bodhisattva saving this bird from a death in the street.” This is Zen smugness. I thought I was becoming One with the Universe but instead I created life and death.

So another big mistake. Zen Master Seung Sahn taught use that our mistakes are not so important, it’s how you correct your mistake. Our mistakes can be great teaching. There was a Korean monk Sok Du – Rock Head – very very stupid monk, but he was very determined. One day he asked the Zen Master, What is Buddha? The Zen master replied, “Buddha is Mind.” But Sok Du misunderstood – they were speaking in Chinese, so he thought what the Zen Master said was “Buddha is grass shoes.” Sok Du didn’t question this, he just sat with this for many years, always everywhere, “Buddha is grass shoes, Buddha is grass shoes.” Until one day, we know the story, he was carrying a load of firewood down a hill, tripped in his grass shoes. Firewood went flying everywhere, the shoes flew in the air and landed and he saw they were all torn up. Sok Du mind opened he attained enlightenment; “Waaahh. Buddha is grass shoes.” He ran to the Zen master shouting, “Now I understand Buddha.” The Zen master asked him what he understood and Sok Du hit the Zen master over the head with the grass shoes. The Zen Master says, “Only that?” So Duk replies, “My grass shoes are all torn up.” And the Zen Master laughed, “Now you truly understand Buddha.”

So I came here this morning with these ideas for this Dharma talk but uncertain how to weave it together: Coca Cola, Grass Shoes, Road Kill. After we chanted and sat down for mediation I thought of Sok Du and his great determination and suddenly all these memories appeared and disappeared: our cat Sophia was killed in the road in front of our house. My sister was hit by a go cart right before my eyes, I was four and she was two. I thought she was dead lying there in the street in front of the house we lived in. My 16 year old nephew was killed in a car accident in 1985. All these memories juxtaposed with Sok Du's "Buddha is grass shoes" and then suddenly turned into “Buddha is road kill, Buddha is road kill.” BOOM. Something opened up inside. I held this new mantra while I meditated this morning with all of you.

More practice is necessary. "Buddha is road kill, Buddha is road kill...."

Margaret Wheeler
Dharma Teacher
Tall Grass Zen
Manhattan, Kansas

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

A Request from China

Zen Master Dae Kwan, who is the guiding teacher of the Hong Kong Zen Center, has sent this request our to all the members of our school:

Dear All,

We like to encourage all our students to support the government request to meditate for 3 minutes to all the deceased who die during the earthquake in Sichuan at 2:28pm for 3 days.


May we meditate with this mind and dedicate to the Sichuan victims to sacrifice for all beings.

-May all the deceased go to good and bright pure land and be free from frustration, anger and sadness. Attain good rebirth.

May their death turn to a great bodhisattva action for all beings, help all beings to wake up from our delusion and attachment.

May we show our deepest gratitude and apologies to your unfortunate death. Because of our bad action to our Earth that this happen in your place.

May more life be rescued.

May all families be taken care of and no one is left out.

May all the missing families be reunited.

May all the frontline volunteers’ be safe and with great energy to help those who are in need.

May all of us wake up and learn from this bad situation and continue to bring forth great love and great care to those who are in need until all become independent.

May we all learn from this disaster and turn it to a great teaching to this whole world that government and subject become one will heal all crisis.

You can share this dedication with everybody.

Yours In Dharma,
Sifu / Dae Kwan

Thursday, May 15, 2008

New Location?

Looks like the Tall Grass Zen Center has a brand new location! Wow! No building fund drive or anything. Guess all that hard practice really pays off here on the physical plain after all.

Either that or its some sort of sports medicine clinic in Topeka.

Which do you like?

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Kwan Se Um Bosal

Thom Pastor JDPSN was seriously injured a few days ago when he was rear-ended by a drunk driver traveling in excess of 100 mph. Thom's neck and shoulder were broken. Fortunately, his spinal cord was not damaged. He had surgery on his shoulder today and will have to wear a neck halo for some time as his neck heals.

Please keep Thom and his family in your thoughts.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Midwest Sangha Weekend

April 25-27 was Midwest Sangha Weekend, hosted for the third time in a row by the Ten Directions Zen Community. Five teachers attended: Bobby Rhodes, School Zen Master & Guiding Teacher of TDZC (among others); Dae Kwang Sunim, School Abbot and Guiding Teaching of the Great Lake Zen Center in Milwaukee (among others); Linc Rhodes, guiding teacher of the Indianpolis Zen Center, Prairyerth Zen Center (Topeka) and Tall Grass Zen; Judy Roitman, Guiding Teacher of the Kansas Zen Center (Lawrence, KS) and Red Earth Zen Center (Oklahoma); and Thom Pastor, Guiding Teaching of the Isthmus Zen Community (Madison, WI) and Great Brightness Zen Center (Las Vegas, which really puts the "west" into "midwest").

Naturally, there were even more students than teachers, including Margaret and Christina. It was wonderful to see so many old dharma friends and to make new ones as well.

The weekend kicked off on Friday with a workshop for Dharma Teachers and Dharma Teachers-in-training. We all practiced together Friday and Saturday nights and Saturday and Sunday mornings. At this event, all the teachers give interviews, and there's no telling who is behind the door you've just been called to!

There were workshops all day Saturday as well as Sunday morning. Saturday evening there was a variety show. I'm sure that the stars were the family of drummers, including a mom, a dad, and two little kids. Hopefully, soon there will be some photos!

A million thanks to the Ten Directions Zen Community for hosting this great event!

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Practice Canceled

There will be no practice this upcoming Saturday morning (February 23). Several of us are planning to go to the half-day sit at PrairyEryth Zen Center in Topkea instead. Scroll down for a link to PrairyEryth.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

As the snow recedes
across the lawn
gathering in the edges
of the flower bed
the neighbor's dog
paces in the cold
dry grass

Each year the great question

Will Spring Arrive?

Will Spring Come?

Margaret Wheeler

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Our Larger Sangha

We have some opportunities in the coming weeks and months to visit/support/interact with other sanghas.

On Sunday February 3, Zen Master Dae Kwang will be giving a talk at the Kansas Zen Center following practice. Practice runs from 9:30 - 11:00 a.m. The talk follows. ZMDK is the school abbot and a monk and a wonderful teacher. Margaret and I are planning to attend. We hope to see some of you there: perhaps we could go out for tea afterwards.

On Saturday February 23 and Saturday March 22, Prairy Erth Zen Center will host extended days of practice. You can visit their website at http://prairyerthzen.org

And, saving the best for last, MID-WEST SANGHA WEEKEND will be held on April 25-27 in Chicago. This will be an excellent opportunity to visit with Linc Rhodes, to meet other teachers (including Bobby Rhodes, the Guiding Teacher of our school, and Zen Master Dae Kwang, the School Abbot, among others), and to meet and practice with our Kwan Um Family members from Indy, Chicago, Madison, Milwaukee, and other places throughout the midwest. Let's all go!

Monday, January 28, 2008

Post Retreat

Thanks to everyone who helped make the retreat such a success: Bob for set-up and hosting Judy; Pete and Sam for cooking and site break down; Dick for hosting Linc and giving a great dharma talk; Matt for picking Linc up; Rebecca for moktok; and Margaret for shopping, cooking, and making sure I got the story right. Thanks, too, to Susan, Liatris, and Judy for helping out with the ceremony.

Here are some ceremony pics: thanks and congratulations for Rebecca for taking sixteen precepts and Dick for taking five.

Midshipman Marston comes aboard!

Everybody says "kim chee"!

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

January Retreat

We are so happy that Linc Rhodes JDPSN will be leading our fourth retreat at the little schoolhouse on the prairie. We'll gather around 5:00 p.m. for an informal meal on Friday evening, January 25. The retreat will start at 6:30 and run through Sunday morning at 10 a.m. A precepts ceremony will follow the retreat at 11:00 a.m. Please join us!

If you'd like to register, please email us at tallgrasszen@yahoo.com.