SnowFlower Sun April 2019

Silent Illumination Meditation

from a talk by Susan O’Leary

Our lineage through Thich Nhat Hanh is in the Linji (‘Rinzai’ in Japanese) Zen tradition. For me, the most important and deepest teaching in Zen is that nothing is separate. Nothing. Soto-style Zen meditation (called ‘silent illumination’ in Chinese Tsao Dong Zen, and shikantaza or ‘just sitting’ in Japanese) bows to that understanding.

About twenty years ago, I heard Sister Chan Khong, Thay’s beloved and closest collaborator, say these words at Plum Village: “Make your heart large.” Those words, “Make your heart large,” summed up Chan Khong’s remarkable presence in the world to me, and when I came home, I practiced with that gatha. The gatha helped to open the door to Soto Zen meditation for me, and I have also been reading and increasingly studying in that tradition established by Dogen in Japan in the 13th century.

Having spent most of my life consciously above my neck and not in my body, this practice helped me to become aware of my physical humanness and of being in this very moment. Practice in silent illumination does not follow or name thought. It forgets the self. It returns to dropping into an awareness without words. Turn your attention for a moment now to becoming aware of the presence of your heart, of its warmth, its beating, its expansiveness. If you can’t feel your heart, put your hand over it and relax into the connection.

Dogen wrote in Actualizing the Fundamental Point, “To study the Buddha way is to study the self. To study the self is to forget the self. To forget the self is to be actualized by myriad things. When actualized by myriad things, your body and mind as well as the bodies and minds of others drop away. No trace of realization remains, and this no-trace continues endlessly”.It is in my body that I can go beyond thinking, beyond words. Awareness of my body has, over time, helped me, in moments, to drop away awareness of my body, to rest in an awareness beyond body or mind.

In awareness of your body, slowly let this awareness expand and drop away, too. If thoughts or words arise, go back to an awareness of your body that helps you to drop words, through the physical sensation of your breath, through awareness of your heart, through awareness of your body and beyond.

Our bodies teach us that nothing is separate. We follow our breath in meditation, breathing in oxygen, breathing out carbon dioxide, but our skin is also subtly permeable, and absorbs very small amounts of oxygen too. Thinking of how our entire bodies respond to and physically take in the world, in this subtle way that we do not generally notice, is a metaphor for me of non-separation. It helps me remember that when I sink into awareness of my body, and then slowly again and again drop away that awareness, I am sinking into awareness of the world, of my connection to it.


SnowFlower Summer Monastic Retreat “Harmony in our home, Joy in our world” led by four monastics from Blue Cliff Monastery.

Children’s Program, Tuesday April 23, 6:30 – 7:25 at Friends Meetinghouse
Regional Retreats:

Plano Retreat hosted by Lakeside Sangha. “In Deep Gratitude: Celebrating the Teachintgs of the Venerable Thich Nhat Hanh”. Friday, May 3-Sunday, May 5. Facilitated by Dharma teachers Jack and Laurie Lawlor. $199 per person. SnowFlower scholarships available.

Communi-Tea Time

Enjoy a delicious cup of tea and conversation with SnowFlowers, Tuesday 6:00 – 6:50pm – Friends Meetinghouse.

Tea with Susan Pearsall

Quiet Conversation and Turkish Tea in Susan’s home. Contact Susan at

Tuesday and Friday Sangha Meetings

The Friends Meetinghouse, 1704 Roberts Court, Madison, WI. 7:00 – 8:30pm.

Wednesday Daytime Sangha Meetings

Locations Rotate, 1:30-3:00 pm – Refer to Wednesday listsrv emails for location information and updates. For more info, email

Sunday Morning Sangha Meetings

Locations Rotate, 10:00 – 11:30 am. Refer to Sunday listserv emails for location and topic. For more info, e-mail

SnowFlower Sangha Mentoring Program

It is natural that newcomers to the practice may have questions. A mentoring relationship supports a newer practitioner by clarifying matters of personal practice and sangha practice. The logistics are up to the mentor and mentee. If interested, contact Susan Pearsall at

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