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PMZC Spring 2023 Class Syllabus: Sailing Home

Description: In this class, we will study Zen teacher Norman Fischer’s Sailing Home (2008) to investigate our experiences on the spiritual path. After studying specific texts central to Mahayana Buddhism, in this class we will pull back and examine metaphors and narratives central to Western Culture, specifically the theme of the transformative journey, or Odyssey, expressed in epic poem format by the ancient Greek poet Homer at the very root of Western tradition. 

On this journey, we recognize, study, and gradually transform the presence of dukka or suffering in human life. In the practice of zazen and the study of the sutra, we also discover that this transformation happens both in the moment and gradually over time, as we deepen our practice and realize experiential understanding. As in earlier classes, we actively engage the practice-based elements of gratitude, faith, and compassion in ending that suffering and dis-satisfaction. And, in studying and practicing with Sailing Home, we actively let go clinging to self, embracing whole-heartedly our complex odyssey of becoming, of entering emptiness and complete inter-dependence.

We will study and practice with Norman’s book Sailing Home (2008); supplemental texts include the Study Guide and archived Dharma Talks at Week by week, we can reflect on and investigate the components of the book, contextualizing it both historically and at the center of daily zazen. Each of us incorporates the practice and study of zazen as it opens into experiential realization of emptiness, the deepening understanding into emptiness of self, and the deepening of compassion in our moment-by-moment practice. 

Meeting and studying the presence of dukka or suffering plunges practitioners into three inter-related aspects: their difficulties to awakening to fundamental truth in this life; the challenges that facing directly presents; and the profound openings that direct, active practice of compassion manifests. Studying the sufferings of the self, we inhabit and become intimate with them. Turning towards practice, we concentrate, practice, and deepen our vows by active practices in the emptiness of all dharmas, all beings.


This 6-week class at Prairie Mountain Zen Center will be online via Zoom for any interested practitioners. Reverend Chikyo Ryunin Ewan Magie will offer the class on Thursday evenings after zazen for 6 weeks starting mid-September 2022. Zazen begins at 6:30 and the class runs from 7-8pm. Each week there will be brief presentation followed by group sharing to keep classes interactive. And the class atmosphere involves respectful use of Right Speech, judicious selection in personal sharing. It is not a confessional or tell-all group.


Texts: Sailing Home: Using the Wisdom of Homer’s Odyssey to Navigate Life’s Perils and Pitfalls  by Norman Fischer (2008)


Supplemental Texts: 

Everyday Zen Study Guide (


Week 1: Setting Forth – The Sea of Stories to Waiting


Week 2: Speak Your Grief–From False Stories to Practice with the Body


Week 3: Disaster – Working with Disaster & the Lotus Eaters


Week 4: Being Nobody – Practicing with Fatigue


Week 5: Desire & the Land of the Dead – The Siren Call & Impossible Choices


Week 6: Coming Home & Love’s Risk –Return to Peace



Concluding Remark: Incorporating the odyssey of life and spiritual practice into our zazen enhances our understanding of Zen practice in relation to our suffering and struggles in the long spiritual journey. Ideally, we practice them together to enhance our moment-to-moment awareness and deepen both wisdom and compassion. Each of us can engage these practices both in the zendo and in daily life as a way to deepen our experience of Zen practice. Learning by ourselves and with others helps nurture the Bodhisattva spirit within each of us, manifesting wisdom and compassion amongst all beings in the ten directions. 

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