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SUNDAY Zen: with John Tarrant on June 4

MONDAY Zen Luminaries: Next Guest Ocean Vuong in conversation with Jon Joseph on Sept. 18

INTO SUMMER Open Temple is here! May 1–June 30

FALL Open Mind Retreat: with John Tarrant & Tess Beasley, Sept. 7–10: SAVE THE DATES


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ZEN LUMINARIES – A Primer for Forgetting: Jon Joseph in Conversation with Essayist Lewis Hyde

February 20 @ 6:00 pm - 7:30 pm

Free – $12


A Primer for Forgetting: Getting Past the Past

Join us for a conversation with Lewis Hyde as we investigate “forgetting” as a creative and social force.

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.

Eihei Dogen, Genjo Koan

Lewis Hyde, in his A Primer for Forgetting; Getting Past the Past, sees the above passage by Dogen as a key point of departure for his book: “Where is your practice? Is it just sitting on the cushion, or is it your whole life?” Forgetting, Hyde believes, is fundamental to healing—of the self, the culture, and the nation.

What the soul already knows. Born into this life, those who seek to recover their lost wisdom need to find a teacher whose task is not to directly teach ideals but rather to remind the student of what the soul already knows. “What we call learning is really just recollection,” says Socrates to Phaedo. It’s anamnesis, or unforgetting, the discovering of things hidden in the mind.

The empty studio. Said John Cage to Philip Guston, “When you start working, everyone is in your studio—the past, your friends, enemies, the art world, and above all, your own ideas—are all there. But as you continue painting, they start leaving one by one, and you are left completely alone. Then, if you are lucky, even you leave.”

Not memorizing chess. Emmanuel Lasker was one of the greatest chess players of all time, holding the world championship for a full twenty-eight years beginning in 1894. His classic Manual of Chess, published in 1927, ends with some “final reflections on the education of chess” that include the remark: “Chess must not be memorized…Memory is too valuable to be stocked with trifles. Of my fifty-seven years, I have applied at least thirty to forgetting most of what I had learned or read, and since I succeeded in this, I have acquired a certain ease and cheer which I should never again like to be without.”

The Lotus Eaters. My comrades…mingled with the lotus eaters…and whoever of them ate the honey-sweet fruit of the lotus no longer wished to return home, but there they wish to remain…feeding on the lotus and forgetting their homecoming. —Odyssey

“Apologists for the Lotus Eaters always insist that the lotus made them forget about their journey home. It does that, but we prefer to say that the lotus helped them come into the present moment. They stopped having flashbacks to the war, they stopped daydreaming about a town they hadn’t seen for years, and they noticed what was going on right then, right there.”

How does a nation forget? The 1964 murders of the black youths Charles Moore and Henry Dee in Mississippi. The Sand Creek Massacre of 150 mostly Cheyenne and Arapaho women and children by the U.S. Army in 1864. “The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting,” writes Milan Kundera.

Hyde: I say the struggle against power is the struggle against the memory of difference.

Writing a poem. Myself, when writing poems, I practice revision by forgetting. I write a draft of the poem, and then another and another, allowing the versions to pile up in a jumble—it all sits there, in a shapeless pile, clammy with fatigue. Then I set it aside for at least one day. Then I write the poem from memory. Great chunks will have fallen into oblivion, while others will have returned clarified from the pool. The double goddess [of remembering and forgetting] attends…dropping the discord to reveal the harmony.

I am the Handyman. All thoughts and feelings are the seeds of possible actions; when we let them blossom into actual action (physical or mental), they bear the fruit of individual self. I scratch an itch and now I am a Person-Who-Scratches. I daydream about fixing a leaky facet or building a walnut bookcase and I am the Handyman. I fret about some stupid remark and I am the Dummy. Following a train of thought or action on an impulse is the elemental form of self-making. Not acting but instead returning to the breath is the elemental form of self-forgetting.

For Comfort

For comfort when I milk the goat
I lean my forehead on her side.
From there by the barn I can see down
Through the sinking evening air
To the pond
Where the sunset has brought
Trails of haze up from the water.
That’s a form of love: drops of water floating
In breath, the goat’s or mine,
or the steam from her hot milk in the dish.

Lewis Hyde, This Error Is the Sign of Love

A gift that cannot be given away ceases to be a gift. The spirit of a gift is kept alive by its constant donation.

—Lewis Hyde

Official Short Bio

Lewis Hyde is a poet, essayist, translator, and cultural critic with a particular interest in the public life of the imagination. His 1983 book, The Gift, illuminates and defends the non-commercial portion of artistic practice. Trickster Makes This World (1998) uses a group of ancient myths to argue for the disruptive intelligence that all cultures need if they are to remain lively and open to change. Common as Air (2010) is a spirited defense of our “cultural commons,” that vast store of ideas, inventions, and works of art that we have inherited from the past and continue to enrich in the present.

Hyde’s most recent book, A Primer for Forgetting, explores the many situations in which forgetfulness is more useful than memory—in myth, personal psychology, politics, art & spiritual life. A MacArthur Fellow and former director of undergraduate creative writing at Harvard University, Hyde taught writing and American literature for many years at Kenyon College. Now retired, he lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts with his wife, the writer Patricia Vigderman.


Lewis Hyde is a national treasure, one of the true superstars of nonfiction.

—David Foster Wallace

Jon Joseph Roshi


Join us on Monday for a lively conversation with special guest Lewis Hyde. All are welcome. Register to participate.

—Jon Joseph


February 20
6:00 pm - 7:30 pm
Free – $12
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