Even though the Catskills are frozen and quiet right now, if I close my eyes, I can already hear the returning song of the Hermit Thrush and smell the tulips blooming. Slowly the Esopus Creek, covered in ice, will loosen its grip on Winter and Spring will come.
The first two meetings of the ZMM sangha’s new “What is Whiteness?” (WIW) group began the same way: enlarging the circle of chairs in the Sangha House to accommodate far larger numbers than expected. The overwhelmingly high attendance on Sunday afternoons didn’t come as a surprise. Since the BFOD forum last March which invited the larger sangha into the anti-racism work—which smaller planning groups have been engaged in for a decade—many white sangha members have expressed different versions of the same sentiment: “When can we start?”
As fall ango came to an end, Monastery residents gathered to share their three-months of art practice. Led by Hojin Sensei, herself an artist, I felt that her deep interest in the work was contagious. Creative expression in art practice, one of the “eight gates” of Zen training, enriches our practice with something vital and uniquely alive.
From the ango opening retreat Peaceful Dwelling in early March through the greening trees and blossoms of Shuso Hossen in late May, here are highlights from our ninety-days of sangha practice at the Monastery in Spring 2019:
Not being a native speaker of English, living my 75th year of life, hard of hearing—surely I was way back in the line of candidates for Chief Disciple. Thus, it was a big surprise when Shugen Roshi asked me to be Chief Disciple for Spring Ango. Immediately a line from the Shuso Hossen Ceremony became real and very present for me: “I feel like a mosquito trying to bite an iron bull.” Fears of incompetence arose in my consciousness.
As Autumn is swiftly approaching and we experience the impermanence of those lovely summer days, we can be reminded of and reflect on the limited time we have in our own life to manifest what we came here to do.
On April 8, 2018, Shugen Roshi completed the process of dharma transmission for Vanessa Zuisei Goddard. Zuisei first came into residency in 1995, fresh out of university. She spent 14 years as a monastic and returned to lay life in 2014, continuing to work full time for the Monastery in various capacities. She became a dharma holder in 2015, enabling her to begin leading retreats and training as a teacher both at the Monastery, at the Zen Center of NYC, and with our affiliate groups.
On Mt. Tremper we are alive in cold February. The wind stings, the ice cracks underfoot, and at night we are dazzled by bright, bright stars. What a privilege it is to live on this mountain and feel the earth turn from season to season and to share our practice with the sun and snow. Now the sun swings around and begins to consider Spring 2018, and we begin to consider Ango. Again, like softening earth, we’ll deepen our practice and find what grows within us.