Two weekends ago I attended a zen retreat in upstate New York. The setting was tranquil and beautiful, with the glorious fall foliage in full riot.
In the pre-dawn of the crisp Saturday morning, we sat zazen with a sensei who had come to zen after may years as a musician in southern California.
Following an hour in silence, we were invited to rise from our cushions for a short ceremony that culminated in the sounding of a very old Japanese temple bell. It’s deep sonorousness echoed across the surrounding hills, bringing a renewed spiritual depth to all of us as we stood, heads bowed, in our rough-spun black robes.
Next, the sensei bid us begin a period of walking meditation, chanting aloud a koan he said had brought him the deepest insight during his own quest for enlightenment. We began to stride in unison, our hands folded before us, our voices raised to rose-tinged sky:
Papa oom mah mah mow papa oom mow mow . . .