Archive for Monday, July 5, 1999

July 5, 1999


The new leaders took part in a question-and-answer ritual that helps members learn dharma, or the way, at the Kansas Zen Center.

A gold-painted Buddha statue smiles through the heavy odor of burned-out incense as Kansas Zen Center members greet each other and robe themselves for dharma combat and a baptism of fire.

During the ceremony installing them as the center's first co-abbots, Susan Warden and Dennis Duermeier hesitated Sunday morning when Zen Master Stan Lombardo called them to dharma combat. The question-and-answer exchange they were about to go through was not a new experience.

Lombardo asked the duo to explain the two halves of the Korean word for abbot.

"Chu-ji. Chu means dwelling and ji means support," Lombardo said.

He turned to Duermeier and asked what chu means.

Duermeier slapped the table top and said, "Welcome to the Zen Center."

Lombardo turned to Warden and asked her to define ji.

She slapped the table top and said, "How may I help you?"

Lomabrdo nodded with each answer.

Warden and Duermeier won this round of dharma combat, which plays an important role in the practice of Zen center leaders. Dharma is defined as the way or the truth or law. Simply put, it is the teachings of Buddha.

As they move up the ladder of teaching ranks within Zen, Lombardo, Duermeier and Warden face harder and harder questions from more and more teachers.

New members are introduced slowly to dharma combat. Meditation, which is the best known Zen practice, is only part of what Zen Buddhists do.

The center conducts meditation sittings each day. Each week a member can also have an interview with Lombardo, at which the member may ask questions of him or receive a kong-an to work through.

A kong-an is a paradoxical statement like, "What's the sound of one hand clapping?"

It can take weeks to find the right answer to Lombardo's questions about a kong-an, said Rebecca Otte, center director.

Some of the newest members of the center had their first taste of dharma combat Sunday in a ceremony following Duermeier and Warden's installation.

The new members were accepting the five precepts, the basic principles of behavior required of Buddhists. In accepting the precepts, Buddhists vow not to take life, not to take things not given, not to engage in lustful misconduct, not to lie and not to use intoxicants to induce heedlessness.

During the ceremony, new members were called forward to receive their Buddhist names.

When Lombardo called Todd Wynant forward, he told the Lawrence man his name is Dae Jok, meaning great stillness.

"What is great stillness?" said Lombardo.

Wynant clapped his hands, an important message in Zen.

"Only that?" replied Lombardo.

In answer, Wynant went down on his knees and bowed forward until his head was touching the wood floor.

Lombardo held one finger to his lips as Wynant stood up.

When Zen practioners clap their hands, slap the table or the floor, they are communicating a mind clear to experience things as they are.

After receiving their new names, the eight new Buddhists went through yong bi.

Kneeling on meditation cushions, they extended their left arms. A dharma teacher placed a bent piece of candle wick on their arms. They watched the flame on the wick burn down as the teachers, licking thumbs and forefingers, asked them when they wanted the wick put out.

At various moments, the new members nodded and the wicks were pinched and yanked away.

"I was just letting it happen," Wynant said of the yong bi. "It was intense. It was OK. It didn't feel like a problem."

Like slapping the table or clapping the hands, the small burn focuses the new member on the immediate experience of the moment, the goal of Zen practice.

"It's a clear direct experience," said Lombardo, who has three small scars on the inside of his left arm from yong bi ceremonies. "The mind just becomes that. It's a chance for all karma to be burned away."

Under Buddhist teaching, karma is the law of cause and effect ruling a person's life. Bad deeds create bad karma. Observance of the dharma may free a person from the bad karma one has created in this or past lives.

Said Lombardo of the yong bi, "It's a baptism of fire."

-- Erwin Seba's phone message number is 832-7144. His e-mail address is

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