Vows & Practices: The Way of Council

March 10, 2016

With others, I received the teaching of The Three Tenets: Not Knowing, Bearing Witness, and Healing Action from Roshi Jishu Holmes and Roshi Bernie Gassman during the time I was studying for the ceremony of Jukai, receiving the Zen Peacemaker Bodhisattva Precepts. (See the teachings on Ethical Conduct.) About a year later , with others, I received the teaching of The Way of Council from  Roshi Joan Halifax who was becoming a priest in our Zen Peacemaker lineage. I am moved by the way in which intentions, arising unknown to each other but from the same bodhicitta, manifest in a deeply supportive way.

The Way of Council is a way of speaking with each other that embodies Not Knowing, Bearing Witness, and is the Healing Action of Oneness. This is a way of speaking with and to each other that is different from the back and forth conversation of our usual way. It is spontaneous, reflective and respectful of difference

When the council is called the space is prepared with the same care for form and purpose that prepares a zendo. We sit in a circle with  an altar cloth at the center. On the cloth are a flower, a candle and four talking pieces.  The person holding the talking piece will be the only person who can speak. Everyone else will listen. Council is an expression and experience of the non-interference of sameness and difference, of the simultaneity of sameness and difference.

We gather with four intentions: We will listen deeply and from the heart. When someone is speaking we will listen with our whole body and mind, not thinking about ourselves and  what we will say when we pick up the talking piece. We will listen without judgment andl bear witness to the person speaking .

We will speak from the heart, spontaneously, not having prepared what we will say. We will surprise even ourselves with our words.

We will honor “lean expression”. We will say just what needs to be said, recognizing that others must have a turn to speak. We will speak with the intention that what we say b both true for ourselves and of service to the whole of the circle.

We will respect the intimate and open nature of the circle by not speaking of what is shared there. Though we may speak and reflect on what later arises for us, we do not speak of the contributions of others.

The experience of Council is not unlike that of “facing the wall” in zazen. We speak, as we sit in zazen, from Not Knowing. We listen, as we sit in zazen, Bearing Witness to whatever arises. Our responsive speech is a Healing Action as is our breath and stillness in zazen. When we hold theseThree Tenets and these intentions of listening deeply, of speaking spontaneously and from the heart, both stillness and action are arising through the mind of zazen.