Mirror of Zen Blog

Marcus Aurelius in Regensburg

A section of the triptych altar in the Dharma Room at Zen Center Regensburg e.V., with commentary by Eduard Schewalje, the outgoing Housemaster, who has just completed an amazing, growth-filled year of training in that very challenging position.

This graphic is especially relevant because our Dharma Room — our main meditation room, the “Zendo”, in Japanese — is located directly over the foundation stones of the headquarters building where the Emperor Marcus Aurelius himself wrote sections of his classic text to himself, The Meditations, while on campaigns here against the Germanic hordes. (Think: the opening scenes of the Russell Crowe movie, Gladiator — that’s it.)

We meditate directly over that spot. Unknowingly — not-knowingly! — our community was drawn to establish a Zen Center right on that spot. On that very spot! It still gives me chills to realise that — it occurs to me every day I enter the room for practice, without fail.

If we had started an ice cream parlour over that spot, that would be interesting for parlor talk. If we had opened a bookstore specializing in the classics over that spot, that would be deeply intriguing. If we had opened a fucking Italian restaurant over that spot (“Emperor’s Pizza” or ”Big Marcus’s Cappucino and Canolis”), that would be truly amazing. Really. You would have some really cool factoid to whip out at parties if those were so. I mean, who would really believe you, anyway? The coincidence of any of these things would just stretch the imagination way too far.

But a meditation center? Yes, that is really an almost cosmic alignment. And yet, this goes one level further: When you consider that the views and practices of Zen and Stoicism are often so closely associated or described together, or conflated in the common understanding (though sometimes poorly so), and that Stoic philosophy is sometimes described offhandedly as “Greek Zen”, then you have something of inconceivable proportions. It simply boggles the mind.

What are the odds? What are the chances of this?

For the first few years of our Zen Center, I used to whip out these maps for some visitor who might appreciate the significance. The Zen Center residents would laugh at me, and justifiably so. But there you have it: of all the places we could have grounded our community in Germany — nay, anywhere in Europe! — this humble spot became the home of our spiritual work together:

1. The borders of the Roman Empire in 117 CE:

2. The base established by Marcus Aurelius on the banks of the Danube — named “Castra Regina”:

3. The overview of Castra Regina:

4. Another view of the base, with the HQ building (“Praetorium”) where generals and officers lived and planned, and where the Emperor stayed when he was on the base:

Castra Regina, virtuelle Idealrekonstruktion des mit bis zu 6000 Legionären besetzten Lagers.

5. The modern street plan overlaid on the outlines of Castra Regina (note the Praetorium, directly in the center, with the assembly field — the Legat — directly below and in front of it):

6. The location of the Zen Center Regensburg e.V. [red box], plopped right smack on top of the Praetorium [yellow box]:

What are the chances of this?

[ Eduard’s second hashtag should be spelled memento mori. ]

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