Sangha News

Sustainable Monastery, Locally Grown

· Earth Initiative, From The Mountain, Sangha News ·

By Eve Romm

The A-frame meadow offers a spectacular view of the gentle twin peaks of Mt. Tremper. Beneath them, deer wander through the meadow, cicadas and crickets buzz, even an occasional pack of wild turkeys passes. In the midst of all this the Monastery orchard and dye garden has flourished. Sunflowers tower over the indigo and coreopsis that eventually become our natural dye pigments; raspberries and blackberries ripen, and fruit trees promise an abundant harvest. 

Five years ago we broke ground on the orchard and dye garden as part of a widespread shift in residency and monastic life towards sustainability and self-sufficiency. The store now carries some of the fruits of this labor—naturally dyed and hand-sewn aprons, napkins, scarves, altar cloths and more; honey and beeswax candles harvested from our own hives; dried hot peppers and herbs from the garden; statues designed, cast and painted in the art room; and so on. Not only do these new initiatives produce beautiful and delicious things, they also allow the residents and monastics to spend more work time outside, doing the simple but profound work of harnessing the power of the four elements to cultivate a life-supporting bounty. 

Like practice itself, the orchard will grow more fruitful and better established over years, even decades. Gokan, the resident orchardist, focused on improving the soil, putting up fences, getting a water system in place, cultivating and waiting for the young trees to bear fruit. Although raccoons and crows still pillage many of the ripening peaches, pears and plums before they can be picked, the raspberries, blackberries and elderberries are less attractive to those pests—but ardently appreciated by the resident sangha. It’s clear how much Gokan loves this work.  When I asked him if there was anything in particular he wanted people to know about the orchard, he answered in a dreamy tone I’ve rarely heard—“It’s beautiful”.  

This past spring, the kitchen shifted it’s purchasing practices to align more closely with the values of sustainability and stewardship which guide the orchard, garden, and dye garden endeavors. Instead of ordering produce sourced from all over the country, we now get our ingredients through a produce distributing company called Farms2Tables, which allows wholesale buyers to order directly from local farms. Tangy apples and cider, for example, come to us from Samascott Orchard in Kinderhook, rich and creamy whole milk in an impressive 5-gallon bag from Ronnybrook Farms in Pine Plains, and finely ground whole grain bread flour from the Wild Hive Community Grain Project in Clinton Corners. 

Much of the impetus for this shift came from concern about our carbon footprint, and the hidden transportation and cooling costs of imported produce. But for Paul, our cook, it goes deeper than that. To him, cooking with local, seasonal foods is a way of maintaining a spiritual connection to the place and time that we are actually in the midst of. As he sees it, kitchen work is a profound dharma gate, a way of directly encountering the physical realities, needs, and joys of human life. Eating what is offered by the very place in which we find ourselves, Paul says after a moment of careful reflection, is a way of coming home. It helps us to cultivate gratitude and reverence for the generosity of the land and the miracle that is life-giving food.  

In the height of the late summer harvest season, the ingredients available locally are pretty extraordinary. In addition to the avalanche of heirloom tomatoes, basil, cucumbers, eggplant, runner beans, kale, swis chard and more coming from Yukon’s acre-and-a-half vegetable garden, the local produce offerings are bountiful, varied, and incredibly delicious. When we first made the shift to only local products, though, it was early spring, before the harvest season had really gotten underway. Undeterred, the kitchen supplemented the parsnips, squashes, potatoes, radishes and beets which keep through the winter with dry and canned goods like beans and sundried tomatoes. This summer, we’re preparing for the sparser season by freezing pesto, pickling cucumbers, and otherwise doing our best to preserve some of the summer flavors for the colder season coming up.  

Turning towards a simpler, more ancient way of choosing ingredients has been complemented by an increased interest in timeless foodways like pickling, canning, and fermentation. We’ve been making our own yogurt and kombucha for some time, but these days we also have homemade sauerkraut, kimchi, fresh tomato sauce, dill pickles, mayonnaise, jam, and sourdough bread. The time and space to experiment is one of the small silver linings of the monastery closure: with fewer mouths to feed, the kitchen has more space to explore and experiment with ways to manifest our values more fully.  

These shifts towards more direct connection with the land we live on feel very connected to our dharma practice and training. What better arena in which to study and marvel at the profound truth of interdependence, and to directly see the ways in which our own lives depend on the busy work of bees and butterflies, the rain and sunlight, insects and birds, on the work of the sangha and the efforts of the larger human community. “Thus,” as the meal gatha so beautifully declares, “we eat this food with everyone,” receiving that offering with gratitude, and striving to repay it by working to be of benefit to the land and it’s many inhabitants.  

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In Memoriam: Gary Shoso Peacock

· Sangha News

May 12, 1935—September 4, 2020

Shoso at the Monastery in 2012

The sangha will miss good friend, committed Zen student and jazz legend Gary Shoso Peacock who passed away peacefully on September 4th, surrounded by family at his home in Olivebridge, NY. One week later, his ashes were interred at the Monastery cemetery, Nirvana Gardens, in an intimate ceremony officiated by Shugen Roshi, with family and monastics present. 

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Ecodharma and Environmental Justice

· Earth Initiative, Retreats, Sangha News

By Dojaku Niccolino

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.

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Gates of Zen Training Stay Open

· Sangha News, Zen Training

By Eve Romm

In the 2500 year history of Buddhism, sanghas and practitioners have always had to adapt to difficult times, and our own era is no exception. The dharma which has been passed down to us survived natural disasters and political marginalization, famine and war, conflict and corruption. So it’s no surprise that training in the MRO continues with vibrancy, creativity, and enthusiasm despite the fact that the Monastery’s and the Temple’s physical gates have been shut for several months. In the past few months, many of the traditional rhythms and forms of training have had to adapt to the lack of in-person contact between the resident and lay sanghas, and it’s exciting to watch new skillful means arise to meet these new challenges.          

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Sangha / Gathering

· Sangha News · ,

On July 1, over 170 sangha members gathered on Zoom to reflect on the state of our distancing. We heard from board members who are part of a special “reopening subcommittee.” They’ve been focused on the various questions that arise when considering any relaxing of the quarantine at the Monastery and our city center.

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Two Statements from the MRO responding to the ongoing killing of Black People in our country

· Beyond Fear of Differences, Sangha News, Zen Training

Two statements—the first from the MRO People of Color Affinity Group, and second from Shugen Roshi and the white members of the BFoD Planning Group—were posted here in response to the surge in violence against men and women of color, and the persistence of unjust, white supremacist systems of oppression which remains invisible to the majority of Americans.

As a sangha we are unified in our vows to serve, to alleviate suffering and the causes of suffering, and to respond with compassion and wisdom as challenges and conflict arise. We affirm our responsibility as individuals and as a community to support each other’s vows.

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Covid-19 Enso Healing Altar

· Diamond Net, Sangha News

By Taikyo, Mariana and Laurel

The Enso Healing Altar is like many home altars—symbolic and grounding—created as a personal space to share with others. It came into being early in the ZMM pandemic quarantine, first as a conversation between two nurses in residence about grief, gratitude, fears and hopes for a future that could transform suffering into healing. Talking with other residents, they began to gather items—a Medicine Buddha, an altar cloth from a blue hospital scrub, a hand-made bowl—sharing the urgent feelings of concern for those who were on the front lines.

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Uppalavanna’s Courage

· Beyond Fear of Differences, Mountains & RIvers: Zen Dharma and Practice journal, Sangha News, Teachings

This dharma discourse by Geoffrey Shugen Arnold is excerpted from Mountains & Rivers: Zen Dharma and Practice, 2020 available here.

The bhikkhuni Uppalavanna said to Mara the Evil One: Though a hundred thousand rogues just like you might come here, I stir not a hair, I feel no terror; Even alone, Mara, I don’t fear you. I can make myself disappear. Or I can enter inside your belly. I can stand between your eyebrows, yet you won’t catch a glimpse of me. I am the master of my own mind, the bases of power are well developed; I am freed from every kind of bondage, therefore, I don’t fear you, friend.

Then Mara the Evil One, realizing, “The bhikkhuni Uppalavanna knows me,” sad and disappointed, disappeared right there.

Of all the many things we might imagine, as we begin practicing the dharma, we might not think of courage as being something we will need to draw upon, and yet it’s there in the teachings, from the beginning.

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One Continuous Thread: Virtual Sesshin

· Sangha News, Zen Training

By Taikyo Gilman

The wake-up drum and bell sounding through the hallway, people moving quietly before dawn, three rings on the bansho bell beginning morning zazen. Sesshin has its soundscape, and with a little bit of added technology, an unprecedented 133 people shared the experience of the Apple Blossom sesshin sounds.

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New Bees In Town

· Earth Initiative, Essays, Sangha News

By Joel Sansho Benton

Last Saturday a group of new residents entered the monastery for the first time—about thirty thousand of them to be more precise. On Saturday I picked up three new packages of bees from Hudson Valley Bee Supply to replace the hives we lost over the winter. Each package holds approximately ten thousand bees, each with its own queen.

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