Wayne Coger

When I first wrote to the Springwater Center for Meditative Inquiry, I said that I was aware it was not directly affiliated with Zen. Wayne Coger wrote back to me: “While we are not a Buddhist Center we are incorporated as a Zen Center. The late Roshi Kapleau once wrote that the ‘spirit of Zen is all pervading.’ So legally, and perhaps in spirit, we are in the Zen tradition.”

After my first visit to interview him and Sandra Gonzalez, I came back to do a week-long retreat in order to get a clearer impression of what goes on here and how it differs from more traditional centers. When I was looking for a way to bring my book, The Story of Zen, to conclusion, I returned to Springwater and Wayne Coger.

Although there is no iconography, there are elements familiar from more traditional zendos. Zafus and zabutons are available, but people may also spend the scheduled sitting period sitting in lounge chairs looking through the windows at the grounds. Wayne believes the freedom the center provides for people “not to have to subscribe to any particular doctrine or creed to be very refreshing and very freeing.” The traditional formalities, Wayne suggests, aren’t necessary. “That’s not to be critical of someone who finds them necessary. What we are doing here has been an on-going experiment. Can this be done? Can it unfold without the formal trappings of a religious organization?”        

“When someone first comes here and seeks instruction, what do you tell them?”

“Do nothing.”

I laugh. “And, of courses, that just pisses them off.”

“Yeah,” Wayne says.

“What do you mean, ‘Do nothing’?”

“To see that all the manipulations, all the efforting, all the self-deception, doesn’t bring us any closer to the presence of this moment; to see that when we are busy doing things, we’re not really listening, we’re not really here. So, we’re looking at the possibility that this doing is a kind of a trap. That it lets us feel that we’re going somewhere, that we’re creating an illusion of kind of a goal, but, in reality, we’re here. And what is calling for attention is here. I wouldn’t say that we’re free of that tendency ‘to do.’ But we’re looking at looking; we’re looking at seeing; we’re looking at looking at the doing, at this incredibly agitated and nervous tendency to always want to have something on the fire, always to have a goal, to always have some way of measuring what kind of progress we’re making. And part of this experiment is to see if it’s possible to be without that.”

“So, if you drop the trappings, then the energy has to come from oneself.”

“Yes. Where else can it come from? The teacher can’t see for you. The teacher can talk about what they’re seeing, what’s present for them. But the seeing has to be here. It’s difficult. And it can be very frustrating. If one’s looking for someone to take one by the hand, and say, ‘Just do this, and everything will be okay’ . . . I don’t know if that’s self-deception, but it involves both of us – if we’re making that kind of contract – in a very precarious situation. I think there’s much more danger for the person doing the leading, but it’s dangerous for both people. We can really get a sense of inflated worth. A lot of mischief can come out of that if we’re the one who’s going to show people the truth, so to speak. That’s quite a heavy responsibility. So the approach here is to see if we can work together, look together. In this kind of together-working, can there be a clarifying, a clarity that emerges?”

“Would you equate these moments of clarity with awakening?”

“Yes. People are infinitely capable of waking up. The coming to is not dependent on the tradition. It manifests in human beings when there isn’t the kind of entanglement with our beliefs, with our sense of oneself or one’s separation or one’s fantasies about one’s self, one’s idea. If there is a break in the continuity of that story, there can be an opening, a freshness, a seeing.”

“The time I did a retreat here, that was an issue which came up at least twice during the discussion periods, participants questioning whether or not awakening was actually possible. And, as I remember the discussion, there seemed to be doubt about that. My feeling was – and I remember saying this – that I think people often have an inflated idea of what awakening is which can get in the way of actually experiencing awakening.”

Wayne nods his head. “That the feeling or idea of what awakening consists of gets in the way of a spontaneous or a free opening? Yes, I would agree with that. I’ll put it the way it happens here. We read about something – enlightenment stories or awakening stories – or we hear somebody talking about this awakening, and not surprisingly, with a lot of ideas flowing, a lot of images, and hopes and dreams. And I think within or without traditions, within the Zen tradition or other meditative traditions, when there is a genuine coming to, waking up, it’s discovered it’s not what we imagined or wanted or thought it was. It’s none of that. It’s not thought. It’s not imagination. And maybe that’s part of the discovery, that we’re living our lives in the imagination, in the realm of thought, in the realm of ideas. Not that there’s anything wrong with thought, we just think that our thought is reality, that it’s all there is in some ways. And we also think that because I’ve thought something it’s invariably true. Again, this work is beginning to look at thought in a more open, unbiased way. To see thought as thought.”

Cypress Trees in the Garden: pp. 385-408

The Story of Zen : 430-36

Zen Conversations: Pp. 95-98.

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Published by Rick McDaniel

Author of "Zen Conversations" and "Cypress Trees in the Garden."

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