The lights dim in a black box theater while the stage remains illuminated at opposing angles. Right away nothing happens. You become aware of your own expectations, the state of your digestion, the other audience members. Perhaps they know something you don’t. And then, slowly, a powdery white figure begins to move. Crouched low, barely covered in ragged, stained garments. Have they been there the whole time, even when you entered the room? Or did they slip in while you and your friend sat down, checking your phones once more before turning off the alerts? Was the performer listening in on the audience’s conversations? How could they have been crouched there so long, not moving? Wait, are there two of them?
If you’ve wondered how to respond to human-created ecological devastation and climate breakdown, so has author David Loy. “What does Buddhism have to offer?” is the question he posed for a discussion at Fire Lotus Temple last November, and the major theme of his upcoming Ecodharma retreat via zoom on Thursday, October 3rd.
Zen training in the Mountains and Rivers Order includes taking up creative expression—both the traditional Zen arts as well as contemporary arts—to deeply study the self through using our inherent human creativity.
Hojin Sensei spoke in March after her recent art practice retreat, “Face to Face,” offering these words: This exquisite magical display we call our body, our self. What is it? Of course ‘face’ does not always mean the physical part of the body. In another way it’s the surface of the mind’s mirror which is also being attended to—seeing our bodies, the directness with our embodiment, as a sacred awakened activity.
The Beyond Fear of Differences (BFoD) Planning Group held a public forum at the Monastery on Sunday, March 3, 2019—a moment 10 years in the making. It was a chance to welcome the whole Sangha into the development of the BFoD mission and vision process, to share the details about the process that the committee had been involved in, and to let people know how they can get involved. A similar forum was held one week later at the Zen Center of NYC.
On Saturday, January 5th, ZCNYC held its first retreat just for people of color: Healing the Wounds of Racism with Valerie Brown and Marisela Gomez. This program was the result of changes in the Programming Committee that brought people of color from the Beyond Fear of Differences Planning Group into the decision-making process around programming. With their help promoting this program—even with a cold rainy day—turnout was excellent, indicating a clear need for these programs going forward.
The room was dim. About sixty bodies arranged themselves wall-to-wall in rows, eyes closed, supine on zabutons. Imagining themselves dead.
“How did you die?” intoned a voice. “How old were you when you died? Where were you when you died? Who was with you, or not, when you died?”
The questioner was Zen priest and chaplain Trudi Jinpu Hirsch-Abramson, who conducted the retreat Death & Dying: Using Death to Teach Us How to Live, on January 13 at Zen Mountain Monastery. What was most surprising about the weekend was the degree to which we did not talk about death—at least not about our fear of it—but about our lives.
“The prospect of death,” Hirsch-Abramson said, “can launch you into you.”
NOTE: This July, Shugen Arnold Sensei made his annual trip to New Zealand to lead retreats and public programs with our substantial sangha there. He first visited NZ almost 30 years ago with Daido Loori Roshi and he and other teachers in the Order have been visiting ever since. In this blog post, sangha member Navina Clemerson shares her reflections on the sesshin that took place . To read an account of the public talk given by Shugen Sensei in Nelson, click here to read another post by Myokei Adams and Gensei Moore.
On Sunday, November 20th, at the conclusion of a full and steady Shuso Hossen Sesshin, Chief Disciple Prabu Gikon Vasan offered his first talk and met the sangha in dharma encounter. After several sunny days that barely felt like autumn, Sunday dawned cold and snowy. Shoan, as head liturgist, declared it a most auspicious forecast for the Shuso Hossen Ceremony.
The blaze and burn of summer begins to cool, and we turn our attention to the Fall Ango. Shugen Sensei has asked me to be Chief Disciple for the training period, and I find myself feeling at once excited and scared and grateful—excited to offer myself up completely, scared that it won’t be enough, and grateful for a practice that can hold all of that.
For this ango we will take up Dogen’s Genjokoan, sometimes translated as “The Question of Everyday Life” or “Actualizing the Fundamental Point.” Dogen reminds us that regardless of clarity or attainment “flowers fall amidst our longing, and weeds spring up despite our aversion”. For me this means that what I love will leave no matter how much I love it, and what comes my way will come no matter how much I want to avoid it. How poignant to encounter this teaching at the onset of autumn, amid the falling leaves and darkening sky, as the geese and warblers fill the air with song—briefly—and depart.
Let’s enter ango with open hands, not grasping any part of this practice or rejecting any part of our lives. Let’s make our training commitments—assessing work and time and energy and obligations—in the faith that our fundamental questions and our everyday lives are not in conflict. Let’s look for the fundamental on the front page, and discover genjokoan in the daily grind.
Thank you for your practice, patience and guidance.
Prabu Gikon Vasan began Zen practice at ZCNYC in 1999, became a formal student in 2001, and received jukai in 2008. He has worked as a clinical social worker in New York City for fifteen years, and currently helps mental health clinics to implement best practices in areas like suicide prevention. He lives with his wife, Hosui, in Brooklyn and will be in residency at Fire Lotus Temple for the fall.
The Mountains and Rivers Order training schedule cycles through periods of intensification and relaxation, mirroring seasonal changes and giving us varied opportunities to study and practice. The spring and fall quarters are ango (“peaseful dwelling”), nintety-day intensives that continue an ancient tradition dating back to the time of the “Buddha, when the sangha gathered in forest groves during monsoon season to support each other in their practice and receive teachings from the Buddha and his senior disciples.
Each ango has a theme drawn from the Buddhist teachings. This Fall 2016 Ango, the sangha will be taking on the teachings of “Genjokoan,” a fascicle by Dogen from his Shobogenzo: Treasury of the True Dharma Eye. Dogen’s teachings in this fascile ask us to see every aspect of life as the raw material of practice and realization. We will engage this together during the ango’s Buddhist study sessions and the Ango Intensive retreat.
The training and practice of the chief disciple is another important facet of ango training. When a junior student is ready to make the transition to being a senior student, the teacher will ask him or her to serve as chief disciple for the training period, leading the ango and offering their sincere and wholehearted practice as a model for the sangha. The ango culminates with a special right of passage for the whole community: Shuso Hossen.
For more information about this Fall Ango and the various activities both at the Monastery and the Temple, please check out the Monastery’s website.
From April 7th through the 10th, more than 60 sangha members gathered to sit, study, practice, and support each other in exploring the theme of this spring ango intensive, Being Born as the Earth. True to Shugen Sensei’s words from the opening sesshin, “the Earth is our chief disciple.”