Starting Saturday, Feb 24, the Upper Valley Zen Center is hosting a monthly series of single-day and multi-day retreats at Moose Mountain Retreat in Hanover. (The deadline for signing up for the first retreat is Friday, 12 noon. Click here for the complete schedule and registration information.) The retreats will be led by Gendo Allyn Field, lay monk and teacher in the Rinzai Zen tradition. He received ordination from Joshu Sasaki in 2003 and suijishiki (teacher ordination) from Sandy Gentei Stewart in 2013. In addition to leading the Upper Valley Zen Center in White River Jct and the affiliated Dartmouth Zen Practice, Field is a "per diem" chaplain at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center and leads Zen practice at Concord State Prison. The Observer interviewed him about the nature of a Zen retreat.
What happens at an all-day Zen retreat. Do you sit for the whole time?
"Zen" is 'meditation concentration,' the root practice of Buddhism and "retreat" is training in that practice. "Being detached from external appearances is meditation, being free from inward disturbance is called concentration." The training involves both mind and body, silence and as well as talk or chant, sitting meditation as well as walking, meal times and work periods, discipline and also free time. We follow a training format Zen practitioners have used since ancient times.
Is a Zen retreat something someone new to a meditation practice should (could) attend? Is it scary? Does someone have to be familiar with Zen to get anything of the session?
Retreats involve instruction for newcomers and breaks for everyone to stretch their legs. Accommodations are possible for people whose physical limitations make sitting meditation difficult. You don't need to be a long-time meditater or a Buddhist to join a retreat. Zen is not difficult. But to explore yourself and your own experience can be hard. It is ourselves that are difficult! We become skilled at avoiding things we would rather not look at. Zen argues that, sooner or later, freedom requires that you go there. A Zen retreat creates a safe place to do that work —if you are ready and willing. Like anything else, what you get out of it depends on what you put into it.
People are welcome to attend an "Introduction to Zen Practice" held each week at the Upper Valley Zen Center located underneath the Main Street Museum in White River Jct. on Wednesday nights, 6 to 7 pm, to learn about the practice and to ask questions.
The topic of the first retreat is "Faith and Mind". What does that mean?
During the February retreat, we will explore the meaning of "faith" and "mind." We will use the ancient Chinese text "Shinjinmei" to explore these words in Zen tradition with insight into our own understanding.
The retreat web page says that there will be opportunities to speak with the teacher. What kind of things are talked about?
Retreats are primarily a group activity —sitting, walking, eating together. But opportunities are also provided to meet with a teacher for a conversation about personal issues related to practice. Sometimes a teacher will pose a question as a focus for meditation.