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As the Buddha taught in Kesaputta: “Come, Kalamas. Do not go by oral tradition, by lineage of teaching, by hearsay, by a collection of texts, by logic, by inferential reasoning, by reasoned cogitation, by the acceptance of a view after pondering it, by the seming competence of a speaker, or because you think, ‘the ascetic is our teacher.’ But when you know for yourselves, ‘These things are wholesome; these things are blameless; these things are praised by the wise; these things, if undertaken and practiced, lead to welfare and happiness,’ then you should engage in them.”
—Buddha : In the Buddha's Words
Posted by Peg Syverson - Oct 20, 2018, 12:49 PM

Dear Sangha-

Yesterday was the last day of the Right Use of Power Teacher Training at San Francisco Zen Center. Twenty-one people from all levels of the organization completed this training and they are now planning ways to incorporate it across the organization. Below you can see our class photo in the beautiful SFZC dining room, with Linda Galijan, President of SFZC, her husband Greg Fain, and David Zimmerman, incoming abbot in the front row along with Cedar Barstow and me. Not shown in the photo, because he had to leave a bit earlier, is our own Appamada sangha member John Cooley, now training at Green Gulch.

It was wonderful to be leading this training with Cedar, the founder of Right Use of Power, and a good friend, especially with such wholehearted, caring, and attentive participants.  We ended with certificates and a short closing service that had come to me in zazen a few weeks ago. I thought folks in the sangha might be interested in what we chanted together. I think it should sound pretty familiar!

Right Use of Power Closing Service

Introduction by leader:

We have all been harmed by misuse of power, and we have all caused harm.
Let us be clear and truthful in facing this reality.


All harm I have caused throughout time and space,
From beginningless misuse of power
Borne by my body, speech, and mind,
I now fully avow.

All harm we have caused throughout time and space,
From beginningless misuse of power
Borne by our collective body, speech, and mind,
We now fully avow.

All harm that has been caused throughout time and space,
From beginningless misuse of power
Borne by our structures and systems,
We now fully avow.


In the past, I took refuge in personal power;*
In the past, I took refuge in role power;
In the past, I took refuge in status power.

For the present I take refuge in clear awareness;
For the present I take refuge in learning and growing;
For the present I take refuge in connection and care.

Facing the future, I seek refuge in the boundless light of wisdom;
Facing the future, I seek refuge in the open heart of compassion;
Facing the future, I seek refuge in the community of all being.


Beings are vulnerable, I vow to use my power with care;
Delusions are inevitable, I vow to seek and use feedback;
Missteps and harm are unavoidable, I vow to work wholeheartedly toward repair;
Practice gates are everywhere, I vow to enter them.

The right use of power is wise, skillful, and kind, I vow to walk this path.


*note that when we take refuge in personal power, it might be our own, or someone else’s, for example when we revere some leader, or when people do not use their power, which we feel is itself a misuse of power


Posted by Peg Syverson - Mar 25, 2018, 12:35 PM

Dear Sangha-

As we enter the second week of the spring Practice Period at Appamada, I encourage you to continue to deepen your practice and wholehearted exploration of your path of awakening for yourself and for others. This week we take up Point Two of the Seven Points of Mind Training, based on Norman Fischer’s book Training in Compassion. I’ve been inspired, too, by Dzigar Kongtrul’s book on the same subject, The Intelligent Heart: A Guide to the Compassionate Life, in case you would like another source from a contemporary Tibetan teacher. 

Last week we began with the first point, “Train in the Preliminaries.” Now we begin seriously working with the mind training key points and their Lojong slogans. Mind training point two is “Train in Empathy and Compassion.” It has two parts, “Absolute Compassion,” and “Relative Compassion.” Norman Fischer writes: “The technical term for this training in Mahayana Buddhism is the development of bodhicitta, which means, literally, the impulse or desire for spiritual awakening. This doesn’t sound much like compassion or sympathy. Yet implicit in the Mahayana Buddhist understanding of spiritual awakening is the thought that spiritual awakening means awakening to a heartfelt concern for others, since any selfish effort, even with a goal of wisdom or enlightenment for oneself, would never lead to real awakening; it would always lead to more narrowness. Spiritual awakening is exactly dropping the sense of one’s narrow separateness; it is essentially and profoundly altruistic. So cultivating bodhicitta means cultivating true and heartfelt concern for others in a way that is not clingy or arrogant, but is based on the accurate wisdom that none of us is alone, we all need each other and are closely related to each other. 

Dzigar Kongtrul explains relative and absolute bodhicitta this way: Relative bodhicitta, which arises out of love and compassion, is the aspiration to attain enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient beings. Absolute bodhicitta is the direct insight into the empty nature of all phenomena. Though I have yet to come across a better term in English, the word emptiness has its drawbacks. It can frighten or disturb people and lead them to confuse Buddhism with nihilism. So it’s important to state at the outset that emptiness doesn’t refer to a void or a black hole. It is not the same as nonexistence. To say that a person or thing is “empty” simply means that it doesn’t exist in the intrinsic way we think it does. When we say phenomena are empty, we mean that we can’t grasp them or pin them down. It doesn’t mean that they don’t function or appear to our senses. 
He adds, The absolute bodhicitta slogans give a step-by-step method for understanding emptiness at increasingly subtle levels. 

Here are the absolute bodhicitta slogans, from Dzigar Kongtrul (you may want to compare these to the same slogans in Fischer):
    2.    Consider all phenomena as a dream.
    3.    Examine the nature of unborn awareness.
    4.    The antidote itself is liberated.
    5.    Rest in the nature of the alaya (the enlightened nature that all beings with a mind possess).
    6.    In post-meditation, be a child of illusion.

Here are the relative bodhicitta slogans:
    7.    Practice giving and taking alternately. Mount both upon the breath.
    8.    Three objects, three poisons, and three roots of virtue.
    9.    In all conduct train with maxims.
    10.    Begin the sequence of taking with oneself.

Curious about what these slogans can possibly mean, and how you can use them in your practice and everyday life? That would be a great thing to inquire about, with your practice period buddy, with the teachers, and through engaging with the book. But this is the central point of the entire seven point mind training in compassion, so please take some time to reflect on it. Next week we will take up the third Mind Training Point, 
“Transform Bad Circumstances into the Path,” or as Kongtrul puts it: “Transforming Adversity into the Path of Enlightenment.” 

Stay tuned!

Thumbnail for Appamada Chant Books!
Posted by Peg Syverson - Mar 7, 2018, 7:10 PM

We are delighted to announce the publication of Appamada's Chant Book. We now have both the original version and the large-print version in print, and available for downloading. This project was a long time in development, and it is wonderful to finally see it in print! We have been offering some copies for sale at Appamada, and now we are glad to provide it as a downloadable PDF file on the Appamada Chant Book page. Most of all we want to thank Peter Williams for helping with layout and printing, Jenny, Ann, Joan, and Laurie for helping collate the pages, and our reception hosts, Ann and Robin. We are working on a Spanish language version and hope to have that posted soon.

Posted by Peg Syverson - Sep 25, 2017, 12:40 AM

The conference for Branching Streams, the affiliate sanghas of San Francisco Zen Center, was held at the Cenacle, a Catholic facility at 513 Fullerton Pkwy, in Chicago. It’s a nice facility for a small conference. The rooms are small, with a bed, a desk, a little sink, and a closet, but clean and comfortable. Bathrooms are shared, down the hall. The meeting room was on the lower level, a large room with carpeting and comfortable chairs and folding tables. It was quiet and the neighborhood, right at the north end of Lincoln Park, is older brownstones, now very upscale, and shaded with trees. The weather was absolutely glorious, about 68-70º and sunny every day. 

Steve Weintraub was coordinating the program, and his wife, Linda Ruth Cutts, the central abbot of SFZC was there, as well as Linda Galijan, the President of SFZC. Greg Snyder, from Brooklyn Zen Center, and many other people I had met in various meeting and conferences were also attending. It was the perfect audience: Zen teachers with a great capacity for paying attention and for self-awareness and mindfulness.
Thursday morning I did a three hour presentation on Right Use of Power. I was a bit nervous about it, because I had completely taken apart my previous structure for this work. I wanted to organize this workshop by providing first a general introduction to Right Use of Power, then three main sections: the individual, the sangha, and the world. For the individual section, we explored our personal relationship to power and to stepping into power, abuses or misuses of power folks had experienced, and our need not to deny or suppress our power. In the sangha section we talked about the power differential and the difference between intention and impact, about role power in sanghas, and the difficulty people have recognizing and stepping into the responsibility for their role power. We also explored leadership styles, both the positive qualities and the shadow side of each style. For the world section, I drew on the work of Joanna Macy, the current climate (the Buddha’s fire sermon: “all is burning”), Joanna Macy’s three domains of effective action (holding/blocking actions, provision of structural alternatives, and transformations of consciousness), the public expression of the moral clarity the world is in need of now. I read the Shambala Prophesy and David Whyte’s “Start Close In” to finish. There was a wonderful response to this work, from both the participants and the leaders from SFZC.

I followed with an afternoon breakout session on abuse of power, feedback, and repair, about an hour and a half. I organized the section on abuses of power around abuses based on the four dimensions of the power spiral. This was mainly providing content. Then I organized the rest of the presentation around three key points: Prevention, Mitigation, and Repair of abuses of power. We only had time for one exercise, the feedback script, in the Prevention section. Prevention has to do with the proactive efforts we can make to avoid abuses of power by ourselves or others. Feedback is critical to this, but so is the kind of awareness of our own conflict avoidance strategies, past conditioning, and tracking indicators, especially for the person in the up-power position. In the Mitigation section, we talked more about up-power/down-power differentials, the importance of tracking for indicators in both positions, and the continued importance of feedback. In the Repair section, we talked about the five steps for resolving difficulties, and walked through examples, but we did not have time to do any practices with it. That proved actually to be fortuitous, because later I was able to use a small incident that happened between two people at the conference to demonstrate the five step repair and it seemed quite helpful to the group. People were very happy with this session. They especially loved the feedback as investment in relationship concept. 

The second day of the conference featured a keynote by Taigen Dan Leighton on social activism, which drew deeply on the Buddha’s teachings as well as Dogen’s writings, but was much too short, in my view. I would have loved to hear more! He trained with Joanna Macy, who was a mentor for him, and also engaged in the antinuclear work she was doing back in the 70’s.  His talk was followed by a panel of folks engaged in social activism in their sanghas. I was very interested in these initiatives and hope to discuss possibilities with our own sangha. 

I was also asked to consult confidentially with several participants about particular issues in their own sanghas and relationships with students. These individual consultations seemed to go very well. 

Finally, on the third day I did a very brief (1 1/2 hour) overview of Appreciative Inquiry, extremely truncated, but still very well received. I was really constrained, and this is such rich material that it was hard to say what folks got out of it. But the evaluations were very positive about both presentations and the breakout session. It was a great pleasure to be able to share these models with the sangha teachers and leaders, and to see how powerfully they responded to them. 

Posted by Peg Syverson - Aug 31, 2017, 9:40 PM

 The instruction I gave at the Red Corral Residential Intensive for following the breath:

There is a core practice, and please simply follow this method for the entire intensive. It is simplicity itself and the method the Buddha used and taught. The method is mindfulness of breathing. 

Now why would I say mindfulness of breathing rather than mindfulness of the breath? Because in breathing we are not talking about something discrete, packaged like little sausages: a breath in, a breath out, a gap in between. Certainly there are methods that are expressed like that. But typically this results in people struggling in various, sometimes very subtle ways, to control the breath. They may even end up out of breath or gasping like a fish. But breathing is a tidal ebb and flow, constantly in motion, and not a series of chunks, bigger or smaller, shorter or longer. 

Here's an image that came to me when I was in zazen in Chicago, and it might be helpful for you in using this method. When I was very young, living in Wisconsin, an old man used to steal into my bedroom at night and wake me up about 4:00 to go fishing. I would quietly throw on some clothes and stumble out, and we would go down to the lake, still dark, in complete silence. We would drag the little blue boat down to the water, and row out to the middle of the lake, which was calm and quiet. We sat in stillness as the sky grew pale and then rosy, the lake enveloping us in the morning mist. As we sat there in the tiny boat, the gentle swells of the water would lift us and release us, in little waves. Holding the lines, we were alert and awake, ready to act. Even so, there was nothing to do but sit in silence in the still boat and be rocked by those swells that carried us effortlessly and in complete ease. 

Let your meditation be like that, your breathing just gently rocking you like a little swell on a still lake. As we sat in silence in our little boat, from time to time a fish would leap out of the water, gleaming, flip, and disappear again below the surface of the lake. So from time to time as you sit quietly here, a phrase, a thought,  or a line may spontaneously leap into your awareness, turn over in your mind, and then slip back into the depths. 

Over and over, simply return to the method, resting in the rhythm of breathing. Nothing complicated about it, no problem if you forget. You can't lose it, you can't do this wrong. Just be patient and kind with your own mind. And awake.

When sitting, let go of all worry, planning, devising, arguing, stories, and fantasies and just rest in the spaciousness and stillness. You can abide in the boundless wisdom and compassion that surrounds you and supports you here. This is a return to your original nature. 


Our Schedule

Welcome! These programs are open for everyone.

Monday—Friday 6:30-7:30 AM
Morning Zazen

Sunday 8:00-11:00 AM
Zazen, service, and dharma talk

Sunday 8:00-9:00 AM
Newcomer orientation

Tuesday 12:30-1:30 PM

Wednesday 7:30-8:45 PM
Wednesday evening program

More activities can be found on the Appamada Calendar

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913 East 38th St
Austin, TX 78705 (Map)

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Please be mindful of our neighbors. Additional Parking is available in the Cafe Hornitos parking lot at the corner of 38th St. and the I-35 frontage road, one block east of Appamada.

Recent Posts
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