Sangha News

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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Conversation: A New Journal from the MRO

· Mountains & RIvers: Zen Dharma and Practice journal, Sangha News, Teachings

Print is in some ways an outmoded format, lacking the speed of digital or the ease of consuming audio/video content, so it was with some degree of soul-searching that the Monastery staff decided to collect a years’ worth of teachings and practice in the new annual journal Mountains & Rivers: Zen Dharma and Practice.

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Reflections on Temple Resident Life Under Quarantine

· Essays, Reflections, Sangha News

Residency at our Brooklyn Temple has always been an interweaving of NYC energy with the Zen Buddhism of a lay practice center. In these early weeks of the pandemic, our current residents Oliver, Jo and Brian, have shifted gears from their personal and Temple related routines. Here they offer an inside view of their lives and Zen training, greatly changed and yet in important ways still very much the same. — MR

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Digital Refuge in the MRO

· Sangha News, Zen Training

By Eve Romm

Until two weeks ago, joining the residents for zazen meant hurriedly finishing the dinner dishes, throwing on my coat and heading down the road to the Monastery. Opening the front door, I would be greeted by the smell of incense and the wooden dragon’s arresting gaze before finding an empty seat in the zendo.

These days, sitting with the sangha has a very different routine. As 7:30 pm approaches, I along with practitioners living down the road or as far away as New Zealand will make room on our altars for a laptop and open the Monastery livestream, where gray-robed residents filter in and take their seats to the familiar rhythm of the timekeeper’s han run. This week, more than a hundred people are participating in “virtual sesshin” from their own homes, committing to four hours of zazen per day, periods of mindful eating and work practice, and limited contact with email and the news.

Rakusan offers a senior’s talk, livestreamed to my increasingly crowded home altar.

Strange as it is to have my laptop and Internet connection suddenly become a central part of my meditation practice, it’s surprisingly powerful to be able to see and hear the zendo. Particularly poignant are the small, ordinary sights and sounds: the familiar rustling of robes and crackling of radiators, the straightening of zabutons after service, and whispered conferences about the subtleties of service positions. Shugen Roshi recently made a small but telling change in the liturgy: instead of bowing towards the center of the room as part of the formal exit, the monastics and residents now turn and bow towards the back of the zendo, where the livestream camera is mounted. This subtle shift makes me feel intimately included in zendo practice, even at a distance.

Not all of our digital community happens in silence, though. Everything from Zen Kids meetings to art practice sessions to conversations with teachers and monastics has been moved online, so almost every day there is an opportunity to see the faces of the sangha. As much as I miss the physical presence of the community within the monastery building, there is an unexpected silver lining to this time of distancing—the ability to be in closer contact with the many practitioners who live too far away to come to the Monastery regularly. On many of the Zoom meetings, there are faces I’ve never seen, or see infrequently—the New Zealand sangha gathered in their zendo, students living overseas, old friends of the Monastery who have moved away, and many others.

Some of the many faces at a recent meeting with Shugen Roshi via Zoom.

In addition to the generous virtual offerings coming from the Monastery cloister, the lay sangha has found a number of other ways to use the digital tools available to nourish practice in this time of uncertainty. Seigei Spark and Sankai Lemmens, both senior lay practitioners, started a “Sangha Treasure” google group, a platform for sharing photos and staying connected. Shea Zuiko Settimi and Mary Bosakowski, who share a house in Phoenicia, host a Zoom meeting every night at 8 PM to check in, chant the Metta Sutta, and offer dedications or intentions.

Regarding this daily moment of connection, Mary writes: “It’s so warming, so enriching, so tender for us to spend this time and explore this teaching, together. And, afterwards, to go around the circle and offer our personal dedications. We have members of our own sangha, other sanghas, as well as friends who, while they may not identify as Buddhists, join in whole-heartedly. We may be few, or more than a few, on any given night, but each and every night has its own power and grace. I’m grateful for this time together. Grounded by it. In awe of it.”

These new digital tools have great potential, but also present some challenges. It’s hard to maintain a mental cloister when the same screen that houses my virtual zendo also offers email, text messages, work, and a host of other distractions. After some experimenting, I found a method that works for me: I tune into the livestream while sitting, but keep my laptop out of sight. That way, the kyosaku’s whack and dokusan bell provide the familiar soundtrack of sesshin without the seductive glow of the LED screen.

Other lay practitioners have found their own ways of balancing digital engagement with solitary practice:

Shea Settimi says, “I’ve learned that I have to get really quiet and grounded before I ‘enter’ the day. I do stretching, liturgy, sitting, tarot practice and journaling. And then I open it up. I’m blessed to have a very large and amazing circle of friends, but talking/texting all day with others can be exhausting. I’m still learning to find the balance. I’ve also begun evening rituals to plant intentional seeds in my mind before going to bed. In a time like this where there is so much uncertainty and so little that I can control, the power of my mind feels really magnified. Every choice is important because I can experience the effects so directly and immediately.”

Seigei’s backyard zendo/painting studio

Seigei Spark set up a new home zendo in her painting studio. She spoke to me about the challenge of doing zazen in front of the computer, noting that the “checking mind”, which is pulled to texts, emails, or the news, is hard to let go of when the device is within arm’s reach. Although Seigei mostly does her zazen practice off-line, she expressed gratitude for the extensions of zendo liturgy into the home sphere that the livestream enables.

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Cabin Quarantine Hermitage

· Sangha News, Zen Training

By Taikyo Gilman

I’m sitting outside the Sangha House on day nine of quarantine away from other residents and monastics (I get wifi here), and its a bright, drizzly spring day. A friend down with Covid-19 after we visited—maintaining appropriate distance—and so protecting the other 35 residential sangha members, including our monastic teachers, is a huge priority. So just in case (I feel fine, so far so good), I am practicing solo. The escalation of new cases in New York this week has us all on edge.

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Cloister Living in the ‘New Normal’ at ZMM

· Sangha News, Zen Training

The garden is always a refuge but especially now—the delights of the greenhouse and the fresh earth outside are intoxicating—spring has truly come. In the “new normal” at the Monastery and the Temple, life continues with adjustments great and small. Here are some highlights from our new precautions and practices as the reality of social distancing in a communal monastic cloister comes home to us.

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