September 14, 2010

Sesshin in Bavaria

I was grateful this past week to have the opportunity to travel for sesshin to Laufen, in southern Germany on the Austrian border. Our organizers, Raymond Schroder and Anselm Stahl, are among a group of long-time Zen practitioners with whom we've had connection for some time. They are also martial artists, and many of their community are bodyworkers.

Beautiful Bavarian weather, just starting to feel of autumn, greeted us in Laufen. The sesshin venue was an old Capuchin monastery just outside the medieval city gates. Built in the early 17th century, it was for centuries an important residence for Catholic monks observing the rigorous Capuchin rule. Though the last friar left in the 90's, inevitably something of their spirit seems to remain. Walking in the cloister garden, or doing zazen near the monastery cemetery during free sitting time in the evenings, we caught some sense of the atmosphere of intense devotion and simple, silent discipline that must have prevailed in that place.

Our rooms, interestingly, were originally the monk's cells...with the difference that two cells are now cobbled together for each modern single guest room. A few cells have been kept in their original state, however, with straw mattresses and worn writing desks being the sole evident luxuries. Our zendo was the room formerly used by the monks for chanting, and we practiced our own okyo there with an appreciation for that history (and for the acoustics). Perhaps the place bearing the most powerful feelings from the past, however, was the small prayer chapel nearby, barely 10 feet on a side, where we met for dokusan.

In short, I found myself over our few days of practice feeling a strong sense of appreciation for these monks, whose humble grave stones crowd a small courtyard just off the main garden and whose orchard still displayed for us some of the literal fruits of their labor.

Not less is the appreciation felt for our friends from Germany and Austria, who so obviously take very seriously the call in our lineage to physically embody Zen. I now gratefully know something also of Bavarian hospitality and cuisine. Many thanks to these training brothers and sisters in Europe, who are doing so much to bring alive the Zen teachings in a truly relevant and concrete manner.

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