The Buddha instructed his followers in the sangha to care for each other’s needs and not just focus on their own individual realization. In this spirit the Jizo House project, for which we are fundraising, is an on-going effort to rebuild accommodations for both able-bodied and differently abled visitors, residents and monastics, and the Diamond Net has taken shape as a sangha-at-large network to give voice, visibility and actions needed for accessibility-related changes. While the Jizo House Project makes our buildings and grounds more responsive, the Diamond Net is the human hands, eyes and voices of volunteers who can respond to and anticipate these needs.
The Diamond Net has been many years in the making. Avid discussions happened every five years at Board of Governors meetings and many additional meetings were held about the needs of differently-abled and aging sangha as well as end-of-life care for sangha members. Given shape by sangha-members experienced in aging and end-of-life care, the Diamond Net responds to sangha members who are aging, facing injury or disability [chronic or short-term], have special needs, and to those entering the dying process. Shoju Greenwood, long-time MRO student and Diamond Net coordinator, says “we’re learning together how we can make it possible to continue practicing” even with challenges, “and to open the doors as wide as possible so that anyone can come in.”
Improving the spaces we have is important for everyone. Shugen Roshi explained at the Jizo Project presentation in June, “it is part of our training to encounter difficulty and adversity, small and large, and to really work with our mind and find passage into those, but we didn’t build things intentionally so you might have to wait a long time for a bathroom—that’s not a traditional form of Buddhist practice!” Making dorms and bathrooms more accessible and numerous has picked up pace in the past few years, along with improving access for gender non-binary people, building the Sangha House and renovating of the kitchen. Roshi said “there is a reason why we didn’t do this ten years ago, or twenty years ago, because there were other things that had to be done that seemed more pressing,” such as addressing aging infrastructure, “but now is the time.”
Hojin Sensei called to mind Dogen’s words about the mountains and the rivers wanting to practice along with us. “And so do our buildings,” she said, “which is why we care for them. They have a practice. They want to practice along with us, and so this is part of our project, to support each other.”
The Diamond Net is generating and amplifying the message. As Yuho Rider, a long-time student, said about the Jizo House Project, no one should be uncomfortable asking for help “because we already care.” And yet there is much more to do. “In order to be truly welcoming,” Shoju Greenwood says, “we need to be already prepared to help folks, not figuring it out on the fly. We need to step forward and not put folks in the position of always having to advocate for themselves.” This applies not only to physical access but also to making clear that responsiveness is available in accommodations, that time is available for personal care during retreats, and even unanticipated needs can be responded to.
The Diamond Net aims to amplify its message through both in-reach and out-reach. The Monastery’s reputation as a place for rigorous Zen training can be a liability for people who want to visit and practice with the sangha, but because they are differently-abled may assume that they cannot come to Sunday service or spend a weekend. “We have to find a way to let folks know that they can come,” Shoju says. “Maybe newer folks get that, or will get that, but we need to get the message out to everyone, particularly longtime students in need now.” While more pro-active supports are in place through registration, it often takes a long time for the message to be communicated when people first make contact, or if they wish to return after some time away and have encountered new limitations.
Shoju also noted that with gender fluidity in all its manifestations it seems we all need more education and more attention to safe space. “How do LBGTQ+ people navigate the changing rooms and dorms? Where does a non-binary person go to change or use a bathroom?” she asked. Additionally, “We all need training on how to welcome differently abled people such as those on the autism spectrum,” or those with cognitive or behavioral issues that require extra guidance and accommodation. Of the Jizo House renovations and related accessibility measures, Shugen Roshi said, “this is for people who are coming, and who have not been coming yet, who will come in the future—It will open opportunity for people of different abilities, It will open up space for people who identify outside the gender binary, and also to expand and improve the spaces that we use.”
The Diamond Net is creating more ways for the sangha at-large to stay connected, with pro-active assistance on Sundays and a monthly email update. Often the Diamond Net individuals keep in touch with people in need and share requests for assistance, working to support sangha outside of the Monastery as well as those coming through the gates. On behalf of the Diamond Net, Shoju reached out early on to the Jizo Project staff during the planning process and was instrumental in expanding the range of voices being heard in that process, as well as reaching out to the Beyond Fear of Differences planning group to more thoroughly address the “able-ism” that was still not visible in this area of development.
The feedback to the sangha-funded Jizo Project has been instrumental in pointing out how these important changes also reveal areas in need of attention that were not part of the “phase one” planning, such as improvements in parking, lighting, sound systems and so on. Stay tuned for more updates as these long-term efforts continue to evolve!
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