STO May Precepts Sesshin

Greetings Everyone.

We are announcing and inviting you to join us at our upcoming STO May Precepts Sesshin that will be hosted at the Mission Mountain Zen Center in Dayton Montana from May 3 to 7. 

Attendance for this 5-day will be both via Zoom and in-person.  During this meditation retreat we will focus on deepening our Zen practice and our understanding of the 16 Bodhisattva Precepts through daily dharma talks and Zazen practice.   We will look at the relevance and importance of the Precepts in our daily lives and how the Bodhisattva Precepts are at the heart of our moment-to-moment efforts to awaken to our true nature and help all beings.

Please register and join us in supporting each other in affirming our commitment to deepen our Zazen practice.  The sesshin will begin on Wednesday evening, 5/3 at 6pm MDT and conclude on Sunday at noon on 5/7.  We will have daily Dharma Talks, on “Actualizing the Precepts”.  Dharma Teachers will include Kanzan Slattery Sensei, Zenku Sensei, and Taiun Elliston Roshi.  Everyone is welcome for any or all of the retreat. 
Registration DetailsClick on the link here to see the 2023 STO Spring Precepts Sesshin May 3-7 Schedule Overview. Suggested fee for the retreat is $200 for in-person attendance and $100 for Zoom participation.  (However, please give whatever you can and join us as much as you can via Zoom).   In-person space is limited so please let me know as soon as possible if you want to attend in person.  The nearest airport is the Glacier Park International Airport in Kalispell Montana.  Transportation to and from the airport will be provided.To register, please send an email to Zenku at indicating your intention to join the retreat via Zoom or in-person.   Make your registration donations for the retreat in one of the following ways:Go to Mission Mountain Zen web site at and click on the donate button on the bottom of the home page.Or, if you prefer, you can also send me a check, made out to: Mission Mountain Zen, and send it to 25364 Old US Highway 93, Dayton Montana 59914 (indicate it is for STO May Precepts Sesshin)All donations, after expenses, will go to STO to the support of its mission to teach the Dharma and make Zen Meditation available to all.
Once you are registered to attend, I will send out additional information and a link to attend the Sesshin.
Let me know if there are any additional questions about the STO May Precepts Sesshin or any registration questions by sending a message to my email address below.  
I hope you can join us.  I look forward to practicing together.
View Sesshin Shedule

Still Sitting

Bellevue Dharma is continuing to meet online the first and third Tuesday of each month, 6:50pm, PDT. Contact Bill for link.

This time of year, the equinox, is considered a time of balance. Balance of light and dark, and hopefully a balance from extremes. Traditionally in Zen, this is a time to consider our Zen practice of the paramitas, delivering us to the other shore.

O-Higan, as this is known in Japanese Buddhism, is an auspicious time for coming together. Please join us March 26, 7:45am-12 noon for in-person Zazenkai.

Zazenkai Schedule 

8:45     Arrival and set up

9:00     Zazen

9:25     Walking meditation (kinhin)

9:30     Zazen 

10:00   Break, stretch

10:15   Zazen or kinhin

10:45   Prepare for service, stretch

10:55   Zen Service and Dharma discussion

11:30: Noble Silence ends. Set up for lunch and share a dish

12:00 Clean up

12:10 Four Bodhisattva Vows and goodbyes

Zazenkai: December 4, 2022 In person. 8:45am until 11am PST


Zazenkai December 4, 2022

Zazenkai is a period of additional meditation than is usually done. In our case, our bi-weekly meetings are one 25 minute period.

This zazenkai allows for about 2 hours of Zen practice, both sitting, walking and standing.The time of each practice period is still about 25 minutes. There is just more time for a couple extra periods of zazen or walking meditation. There will also be a short dharma talk and discussion.

We’ll conclude with a snack at about 11am. Please bring a vegetarian dish. Ellen and I will provide tea, coffee, crackers/bread, cheese and a dish. Contact Bill Cooper for more information or questions.

Beginners are welcome. Why? Because we’re all beginners.

Spring Precepts Sesshin STO

Silent Thunder Order Spring Precepts Sesshin

May 11 – 15, 2022

Please join STO and Mission Mountain Zen for a 5 day Spring Precepts Zen meditation retreat which is being offered both in-person and via Zoom.  A Sesshin (literally, gathering/clarifying heart & mind), offers us time to intensify and mature our meditation practice.  It affords a unique opportunity to clarify your life.  The Sesshin will be led by Zen Priest Zenku Jerry Smyers.  We will study the 16 Bodhisattva Precepts, (cultivating right zen practice) and their implications during the retreat Dharma Talks.  While, we hope you can join for the entire Sesshin, the schedule is designed to permit you to partake in as much of the retreat as you can.  Dokusan, private interviews with the teacher, will be offered.   Suggested fee for in-person participation is $200, and for Zoom participation $100 for the entire sesshin or $30 per day.  See the following retreat schedule, all times are Mountain Time. 

WednesdayMay 11 6:00PM until    7:00PM 7:00PM until    7:30PM 7:30PM until    8:30PMZazen (25 X 2) + Heart & Metta SutraOrientation & Dharma DiscussionZazen (25 X 2) + Tissarana
Thursday,Friday, &Saturday  May 12May 13May 14 6:00AM until   8:30AM 8:30AM until 10:30AM10:30AM until 12:30PM12:30PM until    2:40PM  2:40PM until    3:30PM  3:30PM until    4:20PM  4:20PM until    5:20PM  5:20PM until    6:00PM   6:00PM until   7:30PM   7:30PM until  9:00PMZazen & Morning Service (40 X 3)Breakfast BreakZazen & Midday Service (30 X 3) Lunch Break & CleaningZazen (40 X 1)Dharma Talk & TeaBreak Period Zazen (40 X 1)Dinner BreakZazen (40 X 2) + Tissarana
SundayMay 15  6:00AM until   8:30AM  8:30AM until 10:00AM 10:00AM until    Noon   NoonZazen & Morning Service (40 X 3)Breakfast BreakZazen & Midday Service (40 X 2) Lunch & End Sesshin

Everyone is welcome.  Please contact Zenku at the email below for further information and registration.  Mission Mountain Zen Group meets weekly for meditation at 6pm on Wednesday’s via Zoom

For more information:, email

Four Vows, continued

Let’s continue looking at the four vows. Again, they are: 

Beings are numberless, I vow to free them.

Delusions are inexhaustible, I vow to end them.

Dharma gates are boundless, I vow to enter them.

The Buddha way is unsurpassable, I vow to realize it.

(Robe worn by Georgia O’Keeffe, Nevada Museum of Art.)

Last time I talked about the first vow, so this time I will go into the others. Our second vow is, Delusions are inexhaustible, I vow to end them. Here again is an apparent contradiction; if delusions never end, how do we end them? 

The topic of ending reminds me of my first koan, which was how do you stop the temple bell? Or perhaps it was, stop the temple bell. Either way I was confused. It wasn’t until I began to understand that there’s very little stopping of anything that I set aside the literalness of the koan. Eventually I saw the question as how do I become the temple bell? 

The same goes for our delusions: greed, anger and ignorance.  They constantly arise. So first we have to see this arising, not try to stop or reject it, and then we can ask ourselves, how do I become selfish or angry? How do I ignorantly divide and separate myself from the world around me? Just looking this way and observing our suffering is a beginning to ending our delusions. 

With the third vow we have a more positive situation– Dharma gates are boundless; I vow to enter them. Dharma in this case can have two meanings. One, it may refer to the endless teachings of the Buddha and the texts related to them. This is a literal understanding. We enter the gate of learning the Dharma, the texts, and teachings. 

The other way is to interpret Dharma gate as a metaphor inviting us to enter into each of our life circumstances as teachings, as Dharma. Our life fills with boundless Dharma gates. Seeing our life this way is to realize our numerous circumstances are not trivial. The Dharma is everywhere, it is timeless, always present, whether it be the annoying neighbor, Covid 19, or social unrest, we have boundless opportunities for practice.  We won’t always see things this way; this teaching goes against our selfish nature. And that is why we take the vow.

Mara and the Buddha

(originally in Sati Sangha newsletter, June, 2017)

Recently I’ve been re-reading Stephen Batchelor’s After Buddhism: Rethinking the Dharma in a Secular Age. In this excellent book I was fascinated by his discussion of the Buddha’s exchanges with Mara.

In Buddhism Mara is a demon who represents various unhelpful qualities, everything from death to personal obstructions, such as greed or ignorance. Mara tempts the Buddha, much in the way Satan is said to have tempted Jesus.

Probably the best known story of Mara concerns the night of the Buddha’s enlightenment. Mara sent 3 women—perhaps even his daughters– to tempt the Buddha away from his vow of sitting under the Bodhi Tree until he obtained enlightenment. Of course Mara lost the battle, the Buddha was not distracted from his pursuit of enlightenment, but the story remains a relevant one for our modern struggles to live wiser, more compassionate lives.

What most interests me in Batchelor’s thinking is his telling of other occasions when Mara arrives to the Buddha and the Buddha simply says, “I know you, Mara” and he, Mara, then disappears. In other words, awareness of Mara and what he is about leads to his ineffectiveness and lack of power over the Buddha. In these situations at least, nothing more is needed than the comprehension of Mara, an understanding of the trap of the hindrances, and in this bare recognition there is transformation and clarity for the Buddha.

Also, it interests me that Mara never goes away permanently, he periodically appears to the Buddha throughout his life. I think here there is a lesson for us, too, for we will have many occasions when we struggle with our own meetings with Mara—whether it’s in the form of our ignorance, or unhealthy desires, our reactivity, or our shortcomings.

But as some of these stories point out, it is by recognizing and knowing Mara that we have the opportunity to transform our lives, to gain wisdom. It’s not a matter of driving or pushing him away, or being hard on ourselves for our lack of success. So, when the neighbor’s leaf blower starts just as we sit down to meditate, we continue with our practice, our curiosity about what’s arising in us. Because it’s probably best not to be inattentive when Mara arrives.