My Dear Friends,
I send you greetings of great peace and affection as we close in on the end of this complex and challenging year, a year of COVID-19 and the isolation that it has imposed upon us all, as well as a year of great social and political unrest in this country and beyond. It has occurred to me many times during the last year that being truly conscious, with an open mind and open heart, is of great importance during such times, times when it is easy to retreat into simplistic answers and reflexive impulses. And it is at just such times as these that committed spiritual practice can not only part the clouds of confusion and fear, but can provide an inner ground of openness and clarity that illumines the way forward.
The poet William Stafford wrote, “It is important that awake people be awake, for the darkness around us is deep.” There is nothing new about this, and yet this last year has been an ongoing reminder of the importance of being both personally and collectively conscious and awake to the inner forces and impulses that run through each of our lives. The Buddha reminded us over 2,500 years ago that constant change and impermanence is the inherent nature of manifest existence. And yet within all of this change taking place there is the light of being, the awake quality of mind and consciousness that is the very foundation of our entire experience of being. It is this awake quality, with its naturally occurring clarity and heart-fullness, that is the true spirit of spirituality. And it is this awake quality, or spirit, that has the power to liberate us from endless confusion and sorrow, not only for our own sake, but for the sake of all beings. It is indeed important now that, “awake people be awake.”
Due to the coronavirus, this coming year will see Open Gate Sangha dedicating its focus to online teachings. We do plan on starting up in-person events as soon as we feel that it is safe to do so, but until that becomes a possibility, we will be offering online teaching programs exclusively throughout 2021. While no one knows when COVID will abate enough for people to feel safe and comfortable meeting in public spaces, we at Open Gate Sangha feel that it is of the utmost importance to be just as dedicated to the online environment as we have been to in-person events. Already the online retreat that I taught in August of this year, as well as the two-month A Revolution of Being and several daylong intensives online, have shown me that deep and committed spiritual practice through web events can be as powerful and transformative as in-person events. They are different of course, but no less powerful, and a wonderful way to stay connected during this time of COVID restrictions.
It has been some twenty-four years now since I began teaching, and little could I have imagined what has occurred over all these years. I could have never imagined meeting so many wonderful, creative and sincere people as I have had the great honor to meet over these many years of teaching. Nor could I have anticipated the great privilege and honor of working with so many talented and committed people on the Open Gate Sangha staff, as well as countless volunteers, who work tirelessly to make these teachings available to what has become a worldwide sangha. I am blessed beyond measure by all of your sincerity and commitment to waking up the world, one person at a time.
For several years, I have been feeling the call toward personal retreat time but have, until now, chosen to continue to offer teachings to my students to whatever extent my energy would allow, knowing that when the time was right to take some time off for personal retreat it would become obvious. And now it has become obvious that these next four months are the time to step back from teaching and take some personal retreat time.
So, the upcoming daylong intensive, Dwelling in the Heart of Wisdom: Unlocking the Power of the Heart Sutra (November 7) will be my last live teaching event for the next four months. It seems totally fitting that I will be teaching on the Heart Sutra just before going into personal retreat, for the Heart Sutra is the most condensed and concise teaching on enlightenment in the whole Buddhist canon, and regarded in Zen as the crowning jewel of enlightened wisdom literature.
The staff at Open Gate Sangha will continue to broadcast recordings of teachings during my time away, so please stay connected for further dates and details of broadcasts over the next four months. And if some of you feel so inspired, do join in the spirit of retreat with me by deepening your own commitment to contemplative practice over these next four months, for the silence of the heart knows no separations of space or time. It dwells as Meister Eckhart said, only “in the timeless now.”
I send you all much peace and happiness. May you dwell in the consciousness of the always and already present condition of your inherent true nature.
With Great Love,