A digest of news, reviews and musings from the StoneWater Zen Sangha
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Summer Edition - July 2017

Sensei's Welcome

Dear Fellow Practitioners, 
Welcome to the 2017 summer edition of the StoneWater newsletter. Firstly many thanks to the editor, Sarah and the contributors for such a collection of personal, various, sincere and thought provoking articles. Thank you for Showing Up with your contributions. I enjoyed and benefitted from reading each of them. And all so well written! Perhaps at some point we can produce a quality magazine with extracts and images from our various newsletters. We certainly have enough worthwhile content.
At the 2016 October session I asked the question "If 80% of success is showing up, what about the other 20%?"  There are of course many ways of responding to this but for me, both personally and from the perspective of someone who leads sesshins and weekly classes, one reply is “to show up when you show up.” Choosing to turn up and at the same time feeling ambivalent and uncommitted to being present and engaged is not unusual and I am sure it is something we have all done, however, in my experience it isn’t a useful or fruitful way to be.  If you find yourself in this situation, whether in Zen practice, work, in relationships or socially, it is definitely something worth looking at and working with. In my own case, many years ago, I was halfway through what felt like a particularly demanding week-long sesshin and spent most of my time on the cushion fantasising about leaving. In interview I spoke to the teacher about this: she said to me, “if you do not need to do this practice, do not do it and leave if you wish to". I stayed! "Stay or go, above all don’t wobble" is the lesson I learned and one I have to relearn on a daily basis.
The August Shuso month is very soon and may I wish Taisen (Alasdair), the Shuso, and those folk who will join him (there may be still some spaces available if you wish to contact him) an excellent and fulfilling time of concentrated practice. The Shuso Hossen ceremony is on the 26th August at the Liverpool Zendo. Do be there if you can. It is a wonderful ceremony and occasion. Finally, I hope as many folk as are able will  take advantage of the one-off, very reduced rate for the next October Crosby sesshin. Thanks to HM Revenue and Customs. It is not often you can say that!
Very best wishes,
Keizan Sensei
In this issue:

Showing up with our insecurities
Lineage and ancestors
Practice in everyday life
News from centres
Readings used in local groups
Shuso Hossen
Autumn sesshin
Bike rides
The next issue


 The theme of this edition - Showing Up.

Woody Allen said "Eighty per cent of success is showing up, and often inspiration waits until you do." The editors went on to say that someone else (that famous 21st century Zen teacher) said “When we are willing to show up with our insecurities we create new possibilities." What does this mean for you and do you have any experience of its wisdom or otherwise?

We'd be keen to hear from other people. Let us know your thoughts via Facebook  or the website.
Bright and Clear - Karen Shoji Robbie

In between branches
the moon
bright and clear
I look up

I arrive in the dark in the mud. A bright head torch and a friendly voice greet me. This is my first Silent Illumination Retreat. I expect silence but what else? I’m shown to the gallery and choose a bed. A 5am start followed by outdoor exercises. The week has begun and I’ve decided I want to leave. I’m reacting and it feels painful already. Sitting and silence have started. I’m used to sitting, I’ve been practising for many years but this is a different sangha. I’ve never tried Chan meditation before.

I go beyond my reaction and decide to stay. From 5 to 10 at night we sit and sit and practise. It’s a full day with work, some rest periods to sleep or shower, of course to eat and walk, alone. There are so many things that stand out about this week. The talks and private interviews were especially important for me. I came to the retreat carrying a rock. Something felt heavy inside. I was tired and tangled up emotionally. My thoughts were haunting me. This rock was getting bigger. It was time to be here and here I was. READ MORE
A personal reflection on showing up - Dorinda Cho'on Talbot

When I was offered the opportunity to give a talk at our London day of Zen recently, I decided to choose the newsletter topic. The following is an adaptation of that talk, based on my 30-odd years of showing up on the cushion. [NB This was written to be spoken so is a fairly relaxed piece of writing!] 

A slow descent
I’ll begin with the idea of showing up. Maybe because it sounds American, I don’t know, but I don’t like this phrase. There’s something simplistic about it – it sounds a little bit casual, throwaway, a little bit glib*. I don’t want to just show up, or make an appearance. I’m rewinding back to the beginning of my practice here and what motivated me to start sitting. I don’t need Woody Allen or anyone else telling me to show up. I’m already here, I’ve been born! That’s the thing, I want something more. So for the purpose of this micro exploration, I’m going to replace or clarify the phrase showing up with being present. Eighty per cent of success – in this context, the success of living my life as fully as possible – is the intention to be fully present. And that chimes with my motivation for beginning, and continuing, practice. READ MORE
Showing up, insecurities and all - Miranda Wayu Forward

I’m top of the class at avoiding showing up, that I readily admit! But something tells me that the previous sentence itself is a good example of that very thing. It’s too easy to admit to failures if the alternative is to ‘just do it’, as Roshi said. But it’s a start - here are some examples of my own avoidance tactics.

Writing, or rather, not writing for considerably longer than the actual writing takes (yes, I seem to have started), says it all really. What can I possibly say in a Zen newsletter? For starters, it has to be wise and compassionate, as well as non-dualistic. It probably will include a couple of paradoxes too. And of course it has to be the best. Yes, I’m coming out as a fully-fledged, competitive perfectionist! And, to cap it all, I’m a monk – so it has to be even wiser and more compassionate. Alternatively, if I’m feeling low, then my story is that I’ve not got anything worth saying. Either way, is it any wonder nothing gets written? Well, I’ll just give up trying to be wise and compassionate, and have a stab at honesty. That’s hard enough!

Running away, or avoiding conflict, has been another long-term strategy of mine. Confrontation and disagreement just feel too uncomfortable. I hate that churning, butterflies, gut, fear feeling when I’m stuck between two people close to me who are arguing. READ MORE
Showing up to my insecurities - Sarah Kokai Thwaites

Instead of writing about showing up  with  my insecurities, I’ve found myself writing about showing up  to  my insecurities. After decades of burying away my insecurities, being able to show up  with  them and feel them as part of my life has depended on recognising and acknowledging them in the first place. 

Most of us I think have our own most frequent response to life, the grooved pattern that it is easiest for us to fall into without noticing. For me that has been fear and, alongside this, a denial of fear. I grew up with a relative who lives with worry. All the time. About anything. If there was nothing to worry about, that would become something to worry about. Seeing how severely that level of worry and anxiety curtails life, I resisted signs of this in myself, rejecting any similarity, determined to have a life. And so I did. I applied to go to university despite being terrified that I’d never get in (I knew no one who had) and spent the first term at university fearful that I’d been let in by mistake and that someone would one day ask me to leave. READ MORE
Showing up - Alan Kaishin Crawford

When I reflect on what it means to 'show up', three levels of meaning come up for me. 

The first is literally, physically, to show up! To actually get my backside in gear and 'show up' at the Zendo at least once a week - even when I'm tired and drained after a long day at work. It also means to 'show up' and get my bum on my cushion each morning and evening at home, whether or not part of me might prefer an extra hour in bed or just one more episode of whichever Netflix series my wife and I are currently engrossed in! (our light entertainment wind down after our toddler goes to bed!). It means to get out of bed, to go to work, fulfil my responsibilities. Doing that which the generation beneath me calls 'adulting'. This basic level of showing up is a pre-requisite for anything else of interest, meaning or benefit to take place. 

Sometimes showing up on the cushion each day is effortlessly automatic. I just do it. Other times, such as if I'm tired or ill, it takes a little grit and discipline - 'right effort' as it's called in the eightfold path, combined with 'right intention' - reminding myself of the intentions, motivation and aspiration that bring me to practice - to relieve the subtle Dukkha of unease and lack, to live with greater freedom, spaciousness, clarity and authenticity, to appreciate my life and live more fully, to be of benefit to others. But when I do show up, the rest often takes care of itself. The candle is lit. Incense is offered. Sitting happens. Chanting happens. I remind myself that "life and death are of supreme importance". I'm almost always glad for having done the formal practice. But first I must show up. I'm naturally lazy so showing up isn't always easy. READ MORE
The louder the scream the faster the ride - Mike Moss

The following has been written and rewritten again and again. It contains a lot of things that I'm currently working with. It's also complicated, messy and a reflection of where I find myself. What's worth mentioning is that I write about recent tragedies in Manchester and my own mental health crises, which some folks may not wish to read about.

Stood by the police tape as everything began to develop in Manchester that evening, I had heard it was a small accident, a busted speaker and panic, and I thought I could help; offer someone the use of my phone, be with someone in shock, just do something to help fix the situation. But then the sirens grew to a scream, and the helicopter became two, and huge screens appeared, and then I didn't have to read a news update to know what was going on. At that point, “showing up” meant having to walk away and to accept that this can't be fixed, at least by me. I text my Dad who works nights at a factory nearby to reassure him that I'm safe and headed for a long journey home.

The following day, I made the same journey back into the city centre to attend the vigil. I couldn't shift the sense that no one really had clue as to why they were there other than a gentle compulsion, a feeling that it was a good thing to do and that they needed to do it, for whatever reason.  READ MORE
‘Showing Up – How Do I Get to Square 1?’ by Woo-Young Tetsugen Yang

This is a tale of 0.

Even before I start, I would like to state that I completely agree with Woody Allen and Someone Else here. Never mind the ‘profound Zen wisdom’ – there are many good old fashioned logical and secular reasons on why the two above statements are true. Firstly, I find practice makes perfect. Secondly, I have found showing up with consistency forms good habits, and in turn good habits make showing up easier, resulting in a virtuous cycle. Thirdly, I can never know what’s happening on the field better than by being on the field myself, and true inspirations for effective and appropriate solutions can only arise from such accurate knowledge.

So far, so good. But what does showing up actually entail? In answer to this question, Andy Tanzan asserted that it meant ‘not running away’. However, as always, there is a catch. If the very insecurities, fears and anxieties stop us from showing up and instead make us run away in the first place, how do we actually get to the Square 1 of ‘showing up’?

A well-known simile in the Indian philosophical tradition tells us a story of a man who mistakes a length of rope to be a snake in the dark. Although he runs away at first, he later decides to return and examine the ‘snake’ more closely with more light, whereupon he discovers that it is not a snake but merely a length of rope. Heartened by his success, this spirited seeker then proceeds to examine the rope even more closely, and discovers that it is not even a length of rope but a collection of intertwined strands of straw… and so on. Nevertheless, when I confront my own insecurities, sometimes they look more like fire-breathing dragons let alone the relatively harmless snakes from which I can at least run away. READ MORE 

One day, Master Kyung-Huh's disciple Man-Gong went to fetch his master as it was time for lunch. Upon opening the door to his room, he found that Master Kyung-Huh was lying down in his bed, and a huge python was coiling on Kyung-Huh's belly. Fearing for Kyung-Huh's life, Man-Gong immediately tried to remove the python. However, Kyung-Huh calmly dissuaded his disciple and said, "There is nothing to worry about. Just leave the snake to play on my belly. It will go when it wants to." After a few minutes, the python slithered away, and Kyung-Huh went with Man-Gong to for lunch.

Picture by Brodie Shoji MacPhee.  Story related by Woo-Young Tetsugen Yang
Who is Shakyamuni Buddha? – Alasdair Taisen Gordon-Finlayson
Some time ago – years, now – I started a series of posts for the SWZ website trying to fill in some of the gaps in my own knowledge about the various figures in the Zen lineage who are venerated in our dedication during regular service. I managed to do the two I was most curious about – the sixth patriarch Daiken Eno (Huineng) and co-founder of the Soto school, Keizan Jokin. However, as so often happens, life got in the way and I didn’t take it further than that.

We’ve recently updated our dedication to include some of our female ancestors, and a few of our dharma sisters are going to post about the new names on the list. I’ve agreed to carry on in the meantime with some more posts about the original men on the list, in the hope that we’ll end up with a complete set.
And not that it’s at all intimidating, but I’m going to launch into it with the first name on the list: “The Great Master Shakyamuni Buddha.”

The life of the Buddha
I was going to cheat on this one and not give a full biography of the Buddha… but the more I read, the more I wanted to summarise things for myself, get them straight in my head. So I’m afraid you’re reading the result of a bit of my self-indulgence. The life of the Buddha is written about in many places, and for full details, please refer you to your favourite source. I did check out the Wikipedia article on the Buddha’s life[i] while preparing this, and it’s currently pretty substantial and a good read.
Here’s a quick sketch, though… I’ll break it down, as many have before, to the Buddha’s birth, growing up, renunciation, quest, enlightenment, teaching and death. READ MORE
Who are these women? Explaining the female names in our dedication chant -  Miranda Wayu Forward and Sarah Kokai Thwaites

In January 2016 the names of 4 female ancestors, Mahaprajapati, Soji, Ekan and Ekyu were added to the dedication chanted in StoneWater services alongside the 5 male ancestors, including the Buddha himself. Previously the dedication paid tribute to women ‘lost and forgotten’. With a resurgence of interest in female ancestors and the publication of several notable books on this subject (see references below), this wording no longer felt appropriate.
Although some Zen communities have adopted a female lineage alongside the standard lineage and chant all the names of both lineages regularly, at StoneWater, as a lay sangha we have a shorter service and instead only include some of the more notable ancestors, leaving other names unspoken but hopefully not forgotten. The recorded history of female ancestors is still patchy and doesn’t fit neatly into lineage documents such as the chart people receive on taking jukai (it is widely acknowledged that the male lineage was probably not as neat as the documents indicate either but has been ‘tidied up‘ over the intervening centuries). There are many female ancestors (as there doubtless are male) of whom little if anything is known. What have survived through the years are the names and outlines of many women who dedicated their lives to practice. From these many names we chose four to include in the dedication as a representation of the many more. There were others who could have been chosen instead and anyone who browses through the references may well find another that strikes a stronger chord with them. If so please let us know. We’d love to hear.


Mahaprajapati was born in Devadaha the younger sister of Maya and was to become the aunt and stepmother of the historical Buddha and the first female monk.  READ MORE
Women ancestors – why honouring them by name in our services is important to me – Miranda Wayu Forward

When I first joined StoneWater Zen way back in 2001, I couldn’t help noticing that all the ancestors named in our services were male. Women did get a mention, however, but only as ‘all women lineage holders whose names have been lost or forgotten’. How sad, I felt, but unsurprising to me as a feminist with first-hand experience of the treatment of women in other spiritual practices. I had rather hoped that Buddhism would have magically escaped this! I took a deep breath and persevered.

What a relief it was to learn in the last few years that current US women lineage holders had researched and found many ancient women ancestors! Firstly, I was far from alone. Secondly, we could include some of them in our own services.
So now our sangha services include the names of Mahaprajapati, Soji, Ekan and Ekyu, ancient women ancestors of us all. Thank you very much to all who supported this piece of work through the Women Ancestors Group and helped this to happen.

I wonder if you would humour me now by trying a little thought experiment… READ MORE
A regular newsletter subject is 'Practice in Everyday Life'. Here two sangha members add their thoughts, Maurice Shokatsu George reflecting on his need to walk in the fresh air and Stuart Gendai Hollywood on growth he sees in his practice.

‘A step into Sunyatta’ by Maurice Shokatsu George

I need to walk in the fresh air. Every Monday I go walking with my good friend Ian. He never tells me in advance where we’re going; it could be a trip round our home town; or the local university; or far away in the open countryside. It will always be a proper walk – at least five miles, maybe ten. Ian enjoys talking and so do I. We often cover the latest political events. He always tries to persuade me to go with him to a cricket match. (That’s his religion.) We never stray into matters of faith or belief. This is partly because Ian is immune to these areas and partly because I wouldn’t want to appear as a preacher or a proselytiser. We’ve been walking companions for over thirty years and we’ve never had a serious disagreement.

​Walking is a spiritual activity for me (but not for Ian). While I wouldn’t claim to be a naturalist or any other kind of ‘green’ expert, I certainly know a lot more about the natural world – for example the difference between a bluebell and a forget-me-not. So what’s so ‘spiritual’ about the open country? This is partly due to the marvellous passing of the seasons in England. Spring, summer, autumn, winter. The perfect tetrad. Perhaps there’s also an atavistic urge at work here: an ingrained response to the elemental experiences of our forefathers and mothers. READ MORE

Growth - Stuart Gendai Hollyoak

Loving-kindness is difficult to practice. Every once in a while I meet anger and discouragement because I expect results but they are neither certain or traceable and to continue in spite of their apparent absence feels stupid and futile. The resistance is formidable but I practice nevertheless.
I practice loving-kindness because I grow weary of the thinking that separates me from life. I wish to connect to be more than just myself and that doesn’t happen as an idea within the confines of logic. It’s easy to mistake the idea of connection for connection itself, especially when it feels good, but nothing will change if no work is done. Simple cause and effect.
I continue to sit because I refuse not to and because I’ve exhausted enough alternatives over the years to know it isn’t enough to live just for pleasure. I’ve been caught many times in the gravity of self-centredness and dragged, for a day at the most, into a claustrophobic life. In such a day a tug of war ensues between resisting and remaining with discomfort. It’s as fun as it sounds.
To what can I attribute this growth within practice? Buddha-Nature. The Heart. Being. Intuition. No name will suffice. While I can’t verify the source I feel it comes from somewhere other than my small self. The effort to return there is worthwhile. Pain is less sticky and, for a time, I can put down my weapons and let the fresh air of life in.

News from Centres 


Beginners Sessions
In Liverpool the Beginning Zen course consists of 3 sessions.

Session 1 takes place once a month on a Saturday afternoon,1.30 to 3.30pm. This informal session includes instruction in zazen, correct posture in different sitting positions, and basic meditation techniques. Our aim is that after this session people will immediately be able to do zazen comfortably at home. Instruction is tailored to individual needs and there is opportunity for informal discussion over tea and biscuits. 

Session 2 is held as part of our weekly Saturday morning zazenkai and reviews people's experience of zazen and introduces the form and practices associated with sitting as part of a group. We encourage beginners to do this within a month of Session 1.

For session 3 we encourage people to attend one of our regular Wednesday or Thursday evening sittings which are normally led by our teacher, Keizan Sensei, and to do this soon after session 2. 

The remaining session 1 dates for 2017 Beginning Zen are as follows:-
August:  No introductory session
16th September
14th October
18th November
We ask everyone to book a place through the website. 

Care for Your Zendo Days
On Monday 7th and Tuesday 8th August, we are asking sangha members who are free to consider giving some of their time to help care for the zendo. There will be cleaning and decorating tasks. Contact John for further information

Time to Talk
The group continues to meet on the third Sunday of the month from 3pm to 5pm and is open to all sangha members, either to drop in or to attend on a regular basis. See further information HERE. The next group dates will be 20th August, 17th September and 15th October.
Zazen at Miranda's
The next dates are 13th August, 3rd September and 1st October. 
All sangha members are very welcome to join these groups. For more details, please contact Miranda on or 07905460516.
Zen Mind Beginners mind cover
The London group convened by Tony Shinro Doubleday, continues to meet every Wednesday evening in Newington Green and hold monthly classes on Saturday mornings. They also had a full day of Zen practice on 17 June at which Dorinda Cho'on Talbot gave the Dharma talk (which you can read above). I will send a picture of the lunch break. A new development is that the group also meet on Friday mornings at Osteopathy East in Hackney.

Tony also visits Tim Zenki Steele's group in Kent monthly on a Sunday. 
Zen Mind Beginners mind cover
The Northampton group convened by Alasdair Taisen Gordon-Finlayson continues to meet each Wednesday evening. Their zazenkai on 17 June went well, with people from as far afield as Cambridge and Birmingham (though mostly from Northampton!). It was a very hot day for samu, but a great day of practice and sangha. They are sad to say goodbye to Simon Brown who is leaving for work in Germany - he's been a rock for the group and will be missed.
The Derbyshire group meets each Thursday, the first Thursday of the month at the Assembly Room in Bolsover and the other weeks at the home of the group convenor Mark Shawcross. As a new group, the numbers are still fairly small but with a few new enquiries lately it could be set to grow.
Zen Mind Beginners mind cover
Readings used in local groups

Zazenkai at StoneWater Zen Liverpool has included excerpts from the following:

The Five Invitations - Frank Ostaseski
Everyday Zen - Charlotte Joko Beck
Stone Leeks: More Haiku Stories - Ken Jones
Beyond Mindfulness: Living Life through Everyday Zen - Ken Jones
Realising Genjokoan: The Key to Dogen's Shobogenzo - Shohaku Okumura

StoneWater Derbyshire have been reading: 
Buddhism is not what you think -Steve Hagen 
Shuso Hossen
In August, our annual month long retreat will take place at the Lakes Zendo. This event will also form part of the training for a Shuso or ‘head monk / trainee’ and this year the position is being taken by Alasdair Taisen Gordon-Finlayson. The position of Shuso traditionally includes responsibility for the organisation of the training period and close work with Sensei on a koan which will later be presented to the sangha at a formal Shuso Hossen ceremony.
This ceremony will take place at the StoneWater Zen Centre in Liverpool on Saturday afternoon, 26th August when the Shuso will present a dharma talk based on the Koan. (Details of the Koan will be circulated soon in a general sangha email.) This will be followed by a question/ answer session in which those who wish to support Taisen may challenge him on his understanding of the koan (dharma combat). All Sangha members are warmly encouraged to support and witness this ceremony. Rehearsals will be held on the mornings of Friday 25th and Saturday 26th August, in Liverpool. Anyone who wishes to take a role in the ceremony and can attend the rehearsals should contact John Suigen as soon as possible:
Autumn Sesshin

Led by Keizan Sensei, supported by Tony Shinro Doubleday. 
Sunday, 22nd (6pm) to Saturday, 28th October (10.30am) at Crosby, near Liverpool.

StoneWater had an unexpected windfall this year from Gift Aid. To benefit the sangha equally and to thank all of you who have supported our retreats over the years we have decided as a one off (this is not a precedent!) to subsidise the autumn retreat from our funds. The cost will thus be a flat £150 for everyone who attends. The retreat is already filling up quickly. If you wish to attend please book as soon as you are able.

For enquiries and information on how to book, contact: Jez Lovekin, Llwyndrain, Pontrhydygroes, Ystrad Meurig, Ceredigion, SY25 6DP. Tel 01974 282686 or e mail

StoneWater Zen Liverpool Bike Rides

The only sangha bike ride in this quarter saw 6 riders heading out of Southport onto quiet Lancashire country lanes before meeting the Leeds - Liverpool canal and taking the towpath all the way back to Liverpool. Although various options to cut the route short were available, all 6 kept cycling the full 30 miles to the Pierhead and then beyond, taking the day's cycling over 40 miles for some. There was not a lot of blue sky but there was plentiful bird life and a lot of restful water - which everyone managed to keep out of, despite a couple of near misses when bikes hit bumps and holes on the towpath.

The next bike ride will be on Saturday 2nd September. If interested ask Sarah for more details or to be added to the Sangha bike ride email list

Our question for you for the next issue is:

‘When your mind changes, the world changes. And when we respond differently to the world, the world responds differently to us. ‘ - David Loy.  We invite you to share if and how you have found this to be or not be the case in your life and practice.

Contributions on this or other subjects are much appreciated. Please pass them to Sarah at and Andy at by 15th September or earlier if possible.

Guidance for contributors for web posts and Newsletter pieces
We are looking for up to 1000 words and for articles to be written in the first person.  Sensei very much wants us to talk about our own personal experiences and to own our own stuff; he really does not like or want us to preach or teach. Your photos or pictures to illustrate articles are very welcome.  The intention is to include shorter pieces, including poetry, book reviews etc. only in the Newsletter and longer articles as web posts and as excerpts in the Newletter with a link to the web post.
We reserve the right to edit pieces for length, style and format.  If you want guidance on any of this ask the editors - for the Newsletter Sarah, for the website Andy.
All content in the newsletter or on the Stonewater Zen website is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. We are happy for the resources to be used but not for profit and provided Stonewater Zen is acknowledged.
Copyright © 2017 StoneWater Zen Sangha, All rights reserved.
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