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Edward Espe Brown: Sincere and Wholehearted

Edward Espe Brown is a Zen priest and the former head cook at Tassajara Mountain Zen Mountain Center who helped found Greens Restaurant in San Francisco. He is the author of No Recipe and the classic Tassajara Bread Book. With Sounds True, he is publishing The Most Important Point: Zen Teachings of Edward Espe Brown. In this episode of Insights at the Edge, Tami Simon speaks with Edward about the origin of his newest book: a quote from his teacher Suzuki Roshi, who said, “The most important point is to find out what the most important point is.” Edward describes his discipleship with Suzuki Roshi and why Zen practice can sometimes be like feeling your way through pitch darkness. Tami and Edward talk about the tradition of “taking the backward step” and moments of realization that transcend your expected practice. Finally, they talk about Edward’s path away from extremely low self-esteem and the role of difficult emotions in Zen contemplative practice. (77 minutes)

Coffee Meditation

Coffee Meditations, Edward Espe Brown, Sounds True

During the twenty years I lived in a meditation center, I rushed through my morning coffee. After all, if I didn’t drink it fast enough, I’d be late for meditation. It was important to get to meditation on time; otherwise, one had to endure the social stigma of being late (obviously lacking the proper spiritual motivation), as well as the boredom and frustration of having to wait outside the zendo to meditate until latecomers were admitted.

When I moved out of the center, I had to learn to live in the world. I had been institutionalized for nearly twenty years. Now I was out and about. What did it mean? There was no formal meditation hall in my home. I could set my meditation cushion in front of my home altar, or I could sit up in my bed and cover my knees with the blankets. There were no rules.

Soon, I stopped getting up at 3:30 am. Once I did awaken, I found that a hot shower, which had not really fit with the previous circumstances, was quite invigorating. Of course, getting more sleep also helped.

Then I was ready for coffee—hot, freshly brewed, exquisitely delicious coffee. Not coffee in a cold cup from an urn; not coffee made with lukewarm water out of a thermos; not coffee with cold milk, 2 percent milk, or nonfat milk—but coffee with heated half-and-half. Here was my opportunity to satisfy frustrated longings from countless mornings in my past. I would not have just any old coffee, but Peet’s Garuda blend—a mixture of Indonesian beans—brewed with recently boiled water and served in a preheated cup.

Unfortunately, by the time I finished the coffee, I had been sitting around so long that it was time to get started on the day, but I hadn’t done any meditation. With this heavenly beverage in hand, who needed to meditate?

The solution was obvious: bring the ceremoniously prepared coffee in the preheated cup to the meditation cushion. This would never have been allowed at the center or in any formal meditation hall I have visited, but in my own home, it was a no-brainer. Bring the coffee to the cushion—or was it the other way around?

I light the candle and offer incense. “Homage to the Perfection of Wisdom, the Lovely, the Holy,” I say. “May all beings be happy, healthy, and free from suffering.” I sit down on the cushion and place the coffee just past my right knee. I cross my legs and then put the cup right in front of my ankles. I sit without moving so I don’t accidentally spill the coffee. I straighten my posture and sip some coffee.

I feel my weight settling onto the cushion, lengthen the back of my neck, and sip some coffee. Taste, enjoy, soften, release. I bring my awareness to my breath moving in, flowing out. If I lose track of my breath, I am reminded to take another sip of coffee—robust, hearty, grounding. Come back to the coffee. Come back to the breath.

A distraction? A thought? Sip of coffee. Enjoy the coffee. Enjoy the breath. Focus on the present moment. Remembering the words of a Vipassana teacher of mine: “Wisdom in Buddhism is defined as the proper and efficacious use of caffeine.”

I stabilize my intention. “Now as I drink this cup of coffee, I vow with all beings to awaken body, mind, and spirit to the true taste of the dharma. May all beings attain complete awakening at this very moment. As I visualize the whole world awakening, my mind expands into the vastness.


Friends, this is one of the teaching stories that is shared in my new book, The Most Important Point. This offering comes to you with my gratitude for the efforts of Danny S. Parker, who edited over 60 of my Zen talks for inclusion in this volume.

Lastly, I invite you to try the Tea and Ginger Muffins recipe that accompanies this story. Danny must have enjoyed them!

Edward Espe Brown is a Zen Buddhist priest and was the first head cook at Tassajara Zen Mountain Center.

Danny S. Parker is a longtime student of Brown’s and is an ordained Zen Buddhist priest.

Pick up a copy of Edward Espe Brown’s newest book, The Most Important Point, today!

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Edward Espe Brown: No Recipe

Edward Espe Brown is a renowned chef and Zen teacher who is best known as the first head cook at the Tassajara Zen Mountain Center. In addition to writing several cookbooks including the classic Tassajara Bread Book, Edward founded Greens Restaurant in San Francisco. With Sounds True, he has published No Recipe: Cooking as Spiritual Practice. In this episode of Insights at the Edge, Tami Simon speaks with Edward about Zen teachings on what it means to have to feel our way through the dark—both in the kitchen and on the spiritual path. They talk about cooking as a form of offering and why working with food can be one of the most potent ways to express our hearts in wholeness. Edward shares what he learned in his turbulent first days as the head cook for a spiritual community, including insights from his first Zen teacher, Shunryu Suzuki Roshi. Finally, Edward and Tami discuss what it means to seek out our heart’s true desire, as well as how to embody that search in all that we do. (72 minutes)

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Golden Tara to Who Helps Manifest and Fulfill Purpose

Meditating on Golden Tara shifts your sense of identity away from the smaller self that experiences itself as a separate being. When you identify with Tara in meditation and throughout the day, you realize that you are always in relationship with a fantastic, complex universe. Your energy increases because you no longer feel alone. You have Tara’s help, the help of friends, and countless other beings as well.

On the one hand, you are an infinitesimally tiny part of the grand whole. On the other hand, you have a role to play in the continuing creation of this complex universe. As you deepen and stabilize your inner Tara consciousness, your actions are imbued with love and compassion, arising from your understanding that you are an integral part of whatever you seek to change.

Remembering Tara also helps preserve your energies when you encounter unexpected obstacles; her golden light reveals the treasures hidden in the unwelcome stumbling blocks of life. Difficult challenges hold keys to awakening. Tara helps you approach problems as an inherent part of the journey, supporting you as you move toward them to uncover wisdom they might offer. They often provide a wake-up call to send you in a new direction, offering greater clarity about your life purpose.

This inclusive attitude creates more health in your personal ecosystem as well as the universal ecosystem. Ask Golden Tara to transform your challenging emotions into love and to increase your energy for discovering meaning and purpose in your life.

Tara’s Appearance

Golden Tara appears as the life-giving female buddha in a body of radiant golden light. She embodies the light of life itself. The vase in Golden Tara’s hand contains the power to increase our life energy, power, and material and spiritual resources. These resources support us in times of ease and times of difficulty, enabling us to discover and fulfill the purposes of our life on a moment-to-moment basis and over the arc of our lives.

For centuries, artists have created statues and thangka paintings of Tara, always adorned with jewelry. These sacred paintings, usually done on fabric and surrounded by brocade, portray the qualities of their subjects and convey teachings as well. Thus we take special note of Tara’s adornments. A crown rests atop her head. Necklaces of varying lengths cascade from her neck to her waist. Bracelets encircle her wrists. All have been crafted from gold with deep red and blue jewels woven into the designs.

Gold has been the preferred precious metal of jewelry makers for thousands of years. Gold is malleable; gold doesn’t tarnish. Golden light is associated with increasing life-force, healing, and holiness. Holy people of many faiths are often painted in an aura of golden radiance.

Many years ago, I heard a teaching that Tara’s jewels represent her experiences over lifetimes on her way to enlightenment and buddhahood. Profound understanding of the Buddhist teachings and her experiences as a woman led Wisdom Moon to vow to attain enlightenment as a woman and to persevere toward her goal. Tara’s life events were surely difficult and awe-inspiring, ordinary and phenomenal. All of them were precious contributions to her journey, which has benefited countless beings over hundreds of years.

The Mantra

Om Tare Tuttare Ture Sarva Ayur Punye Pushtam Kuru Soha!

“Ohm Tahray Tootahray Tooray Sarwah Ahyoor Poonyay Pushtahm Kooroo Soha!”

When you recite the mantra of Golden Tara, you are urging (kuru) Tara to increase (pushtam) your life energies (ayur) and merit (punye), your contributions to adding positive energy to beings around the world, near and far. Mantra recitations need not be limited to formal practice. Use them throughout the day to slow down and focus on whatever task is at hand.

The Practice

First, visualize the entire mandala of Green Tara emerging into the space in front of you. You are surrounded by your friends, loved ones, and supporters, and she is surrounded by your teachers and all the twenty-one emanations. After the opening prayers, imagine Golden Tara coming into the foreground of the mandala. Recall her praise while visualizing golden rays of light streaming from her heart as well as the golden vase in her right hand, which rests on her right knee, palm open in the gesture of supreme giving.

As you recite her mantra, Om Tare Tuttare Ture Sarva Ayur Punye Pushtam Kuru Soha, imagine that you are absorbing this light and that other beings and other places are receiving the light of Tara as well.

Kuru, which appears in seven of the Tara mantras, carries a particularly bold tone. You’re not meekly asking Tara to help—you’re putting your whole heart and body into this request. “Tara, please do this for me. Remove blockages so more energy flows into my life and work! I’m counting on you!” The same tasks that feel overwhelming in one moment seem entirely possible in the next.

Tara can help you discern the wisdom inherent in the obstacles you encounter in your life and practice. Meditate on the continuity in your life—the joyful moments, the extremely painful moments, and everything in between. Your experiences are not meaningless fragments. Imagine a mosaic forming as you piece the fragments together into a beautiful coherent pattern. Invoke Tara’s wisdom to give you greater clarity about your life purpose and the means to fulfill it.

Recite the mantra at least 21 times or 108 times whenever possible. Then rest in the vibrational field created by your chanting. Allow frustration and doubt to dissolve, releasing energy for healing. You become richer in inner resources, which leads to enriched outer resources as well, both material and spiritual. Affirm your connection to all life forms in the universe. Know that the benefits of your heartfelt wishes and efforts will flow from you into the world.

As you bring the session to a close, visualize Golden Tara receding into her place among the twenty-one emanations. See the whole mandala dissolve into radiant light, which flows into you and merges with your inner light. Dedicate the merit or positive potential generated by the practice to the healing of all beings—with no exceptions.

This is an adapted excerpt from Tara: The Liberating Power of the Female Buddha by Dr. Rachael Wooten.

 

rachael wooten

Rachael Wooten, PhD, is a Zürich—trained Jungian analyst and psychologist who has been in private practice as a therapist for more than 40 years. An enthusiastic interfaith activist, she has studied and practiced in Buddhist, Jewish, Christian, and indigenous traditions throughout her adult life.

Rachael has been mentored by spiritual teachers such as her Tibetan root guru Lodrö Tulku Rinpoche and Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi. She has taught Tara practices under the authorization of Lodrö Rinpoche for more than 20 years. Rachael has offered Tara workshops through the Resource Center for Women and Ministry in the South, ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal, and C. G. Jung Society of the Triangle. She currently teaches a monthly Tara meditation group at Pullen Memorial Baptist Church in her hometown of Raleigh, North Carolina. To learn more, visit rachaelwootenauthor.com.

 

 

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Acharya Shunya: Sovereign Self

Acharya Shunya is a classically trained master of Ayurveda and an internationally renowned spiritual teacher and scholar of Advaita nondual wisdom. The first female leader of a 2,000-year-old Indian spiritual lineage, she has dedicated her life to the dissemination of Vedic knowledge for the spiritual uplifting of all beings. With Sounds True, Acharya Shunya has written a book titled Sovereign Self: Claim Your Inner Joy and Freedom with the Empowering Wisdom of the Vedas, Upanishads, and Bhagavad Gita. In this episode of Insights at the Edge, Tami Simon and Acharya Shunya explore our spiritual journey from feeling afraid to feeling powerful, from bondage to sovereignty. Offering unique perspectives that come from being both a woman and a householder, as well as the spiritual leader of her lineage, Acharya Shunya describes the boundless essence of spirit we all have within, the importance of breaking free from the cultural limitations that prevent us from remembering our true spiritual freedom, and how Vedic wisdom provides us with a timeless guided journey to spiritual sovereignty. 

Rebecca Walker and Lily Diamond: Your Creative Power t...

Rebecca Walker is a bestselling author, lifelong activist, and TV and film producer, named one of the most influential leaders of her generation by Time magazine. Lily Diamond is also a bestselling author and a photographer, wellness advocate, and creator of the award-winning blog and memoir cookbook Kale & Caramel. Together, they have written a book called What’s Your Story?: A Journal for Everyday Evolution, published by Sounds True. In this episode of Insights at the Edge, Tami speaks with Lily and Rebecca about the power of the right question to move us in the direction of claiming our narratives and using the power of our imagination to create our future. They discuss the importance of telling our own stories in the ways only we can. They also explore how rewriting the stories we tell about ourselves and our world can ignite the alchemical process of everyday evolution, moving us in the direction of healing society, the Earth, and our own spirits.

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