Zen Buddhist to lead Mystic Heart in art of doing nothing



Mary Desmond | Staff Writer

A car crashes; a child is stuck amid the debris. Then, as if propelled by some supernatural strength the child’s parent lifts the car and rescues the trapped child.

That parent is living and acting in the moment. That strength comes from awareness, a quality of being present. That is the mindset that Zen Buddhism works to cultivate, said John Pulleyn, the head of Zendo at the Rochester Zen Center.

“People go through their days, they’re bored and depressed or things just aren’t exciting in anyway, but when you have those moments when you’re completely present, everything comes alive,” Pulleyn said.

He will lead the Mystic Heart Program in the Zen Buddhist tradition during Week Three. The Mystic Heart Program is a religious program that focuses on teaching different religious meditation practices from around the world. This year, the taught practices are Zen Buddhism, Sufism, Jewish Kabbalah, Christianity and Baha’i.

Pulleyn first caught a glimpse of the Zen Buddhist ideology while hiking as a college student. After seeing a shelf mushroom growing on a tree, he declared that it was disgusting. A nearby friend told him that Alan Watts, a prolific writer on Zen Buddhism, would say that it was his mind that was disgusting, not the mushroom.

“For whatever reason I just went ‘Oh, this is right, that is exactly what’s going on,’ ” Pulleyn said.

Throughout the rest of his college career, Pulleyn read and studied Zen Buddhist writings. After he graduated, he went to Rochester to study under Roshi Philip Kapleau. Pulleyn has been practicing Zen Buddhist meditation at the Rochester Zen Center intermittently since 1968. Since 1990, he has been assistant to the abbot and head of training at the Center.

Zen Buddhism is the school of Buddhism that focuses on meditation. It does not rely on words, letters and scriptures, but instead commits itself to the act of seeking truth.

“Zen has always made a distinction between concepts and reality. Always made the point that reality really can’t be put into words,” Pulleyn said. “You can say that’s a tree over there — but tree is just a concept, it’s just sort of this arbitrary sign that we use to represent something that is beyond words; everything is really beyond words.”

In daily meditation sessions at the Welcome Center, Pulleyn will lead participants in two rounds of sitting Zen. He will spend time before each sitting session talking about Zen Buddhism and teaching how best to arrange the body when sitting. Pulleyn said Zen teachings focus on practicing being aware.

“If you really make an effort not to lose yourself in thoughts but to pay attention to what’s right in front of you — so when you’re washing the dishes you get into it, you know, soap, water, it’s actually this wonderful dance. We miss out on it because we think our business is thinking,” Pulleyn said.

On Tuesday and Thursday, Pulleyn will lead the Week Three Mystic Heart seminars titled “Doing Nothing but Leaving Nothing Undone: Zen Meditation in Action” and “Committing to Action Without Clinging to Results: The Buddhist Approach to Meditation and Engagement.” Both themes reflect central points of Zen, Pulleyn said.

He said he hopes participants leave practice with an increased sense of what life is like when the mind quiets down.

“I never worry that somebody needs to become a Zen Buddhist,” Pulleyn said. “I just hope people begin to value waking up and being present.”

Mystic Heart’s morning meditation takes place from 7:15 to 8 a.m. Monday through Friday in the Main Gate Welcome Center Conference Room. The meditation seminar takes place from 12:30 to 2 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays in the Hall of Missions. A Christian centering prayer session is offered at 7:45 p.m. Thursday nights at the Welcome Center.

Gate passes are required to attend all events held by the Mystic Heart Program. Donations are accepted.

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