The Meaning of Summer Kyol Che

Photo: Dmitry Rukhlenko https://www.f9photos.com

Today is the first day of summer Kyol Che 2021.

The regions of northern India are regularly struck with torrential rains during the summer monsoon season. In the time before established roads, it was dangerous to need to traverse spaces which could be suddenly inundated with waters, flash floods, and rivers which jumped their bounds. Also, the increase in water made it difficult for people walking outside to avoid poisonous snakes, scorpions, and other dangerous creatures.

For this reason, the Buddha instructed his band of wandering nuns and monks not to move around too much during the summer season. The vagabond truth-seekers he led were instead instructed by him to gather in community for the three-month when the rains came. During this period of concentrated living in community, there emerged a structure of practice to guide them throughout the day. We now call this period the “summer Kyol Che”, in Sino-Korean. “Kyol Che” means “tight Dharma“, or tightened rules and structure. Temples all over Buddhism respect this 90-day period as one of greater meditative effort and concentration.

The practicing culture of winter Kyol Che and summer Kyol Che are somewhat different, due to the change in atmospheric energy that comes with a change in weather. Winter Kyol Che is a period of much tighter focus and inwardness, owing to the contracting “yin” energy of the cold winter months. Summer Kyol Che, taking place during a period of greater sunlight and heat, is a more expensive “yang“ energy practicing environment.

When we were practicing together with Zen Master Seung Sahn at Hwa Gye Sah temple and Mu Sang Sah temple in Korea, he used to say to us: “Winter Kyol Che time you ‘push’ your practice. It is a tighter effort. In summer Kyol Che, don’t push the Zen students too hard – – the energy of the universe is looser.” This shows the natural adaptability of Zen training. It does not ignore or impose itself on the seasons. It follows nature, adapting the mentality of practice to the quality of the seasons, the world, the whole universe.

At Zen Center Regensburg, our training regimen follows the ancient traditions of the global Buddhist community, as well as matching the rhythm of the natural world.

Due to the difficulties of life under pandemic conditions, this year we cannot advertise the retreat publicly or accept retreatants from outside, except in an extremely limited number of cases. (Those limited number of available slots in the retreat have already nearly been filled.)

We will, however, continue to provide a twice-daily livestream support for those who are maintaining their home practice. From time to time, we will offer public Dharma talks on the livestream, as well as an opportunity for Q&A.

In traditional temples in Asia, it is not necessary for the meditating nuns and monks to ever need to leave the temple, for any reason except medical emergencies. But that focus is only made possible by the fact that the temples are supported by an office staff which can maintain the flow of donations, pay bills, and offer other support which enable the community to survive and the practitioners to practice.

In our case, in the West, since the tradition of giving donations to a temple retreat is not yet strong, it is on my shoulders to continue to produce worthwhile material which will cause others to feel our need for support to continue this extraordinary possibility for waking up. There is much office work to be done, planning, legal and administrative matters to meet about, etc.

So, due to this need, from time to time I will need to sacrifice some meditation periods to conduct work both inside and outside the temple. For days that I must be outside the temple, when I cannot return in time for evening practice, or need multi-day trips to do work in other places, the home practice will be supported through reruns. These will be exceedingly few. (Maybe one day, if another Sunim or any senior lay practitioner comes here to live and assist with the Zen Center, I will have the luxury to return to the single-minded focus and attendance which have been the practice since first finding this teaching.)

For nearly every person in the world over the last one year, these periodic lockdowns have become a burden and even an emotionally trying experience. So much of our common global experience, for the last fascinating year of what I call “imposed mindfulness“, has been a yearning to one day be set free from the restrictions of lockdown, and the return to our accustomed “freedom“ to wander in the realms of sensory self-tickling. Many, many people have found the enforced solitude of lockdown to be an unbearable burden!

For useless meditation practitioners like myself, the lockdowns have been nothing special: in fact, I notice sometimes an emerging “soft” regret that things will be flung back open again, and everyone’s mentalities will return to being driven, mindlessly hither and thither, helter-skelter, into the infinite ephemeral pursuits of babysitting the eyes, the ears, the nose, the tongue, the body, and the thinking-mind, lost in the sea of phenomenal superficialities.

From the very beginning of the first lockdown, I immediately felt comfortable with the ubiquitous cut-off of needlessly pointless distractions like mass sports events, manufactured corporate mass-culture-for-profit (mass sports events, movie-industry promotion that drives our attention to this famous actress or that spectacular box office “bomb“, environment-raping travel-at-a-whim pleasure-seeking, and wasteful hyper-tourism, etc) that we drunkenly took to be “normal life“.

The wasteful use of this precious planet’s finite resources that we routinely gorge on, just in order to satisfy our unfillable sense-faculties, is already beginning in haste: An article I read yesterday reported that the amount of flight traffic just last weekend – – one of the first “free“ weekends of the end of this current lockdown – – was already reported to be near pre-pandemic levels. So much for the blessedly reduced CO2 levels that were achieved when we humans were confined to our homes for this short respite from our habitual lifestyle-aggression. Scientific studies on several continents have meticulously documented how birdsong levels in urban settings dramatically increased due to the sharp reduction in the heavy ambient noise caused by constant traffic flows in the cities. Without that constant background droning of the killer and machine traffic, birds responded by increasing the volume and the frequency range of their chirping. An increase in birdsong is not just an aesthetic improvement enjoyed by us humans: it means that birds are better able to communicate with each other, over greater distances, regarding the availability of food sources, the securing of mating opportunities, and a general sense, communicated with one another, that there is that natural flowing harmony in the universe they inhabit.

Sorry, bird-world. We’re back. Lockdown is over — we’ve got baseball games to attend. Need to fly to the Olympics to watch people run around in a circle and swim through water, and then measure that. Go fuck yourselves (again).

Kyol Che goes in the “opposite” direction from the flailing lemmings. Kyol Che is Zen practitioners’ willful lockdown. It is a “lockdown“ freely chosen to cut off the spread of the most lethal virus in the universe: the mind virus of untrammeled conceptual thinking and desire. This disease of the human mind is something far, far more terrifying than anything that Covid could present, so Kyol Che is a traditional and highly-engineered “social distancing”, for a period, from all of the innumerable unnecessaries — an enlightened lockdown to “unlock“ the vast potential of our infinite, before-thinking mind.

For this reason, I always embrace the coming of Kyol Che, and perhaps this is the reason why I felt so natural in embracing the pandemic lockdowns which were “imposed“ on us by the civil authorities for the last year.

If I need to travel, during this beautiful Buddhist “lockdown“ of Summer Kyol Che, it will only be in order to carry out projects which serve the Dharma.

Thank you to everyone for your support for the Dharma, and for spreading Zen Master Seung Sahn‘s exceptionally clear-eyed mind-hack technologies, through your support for the Zen Center Regensburg.

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