By Geoff Gensei Moore
In telling the story of the celebration of the New Zealand Sangha’s 30th Anniversary, one place to start is with sesshin. Packed to the gunnels, fifty of us took part in this week-long silent retreat at Lake Rotoiti, the outdoor education centre which has been one of our South Island retreat homes since Daido Roshi’s early visits to New Zealand.
This sesshin was led by our guiding teacher, Shugen Roshi, with monastic Yukon Grody and NZ senior student Kaido Nash as monitors and training staff.
It was a quintessential Rotoiti retreat: cold mornings, long hours of zazen, spectacular views of the mountains and lake, birdsong, rainbows, and teachings from every direction. On the last day, three students received jukai.
The sesshin closed with the obligatory group photo (see banner above), and then packing up the entire zendo, kitchen, and everything and everyone for the trip back to Nelson.
That evening, eighty friends of the MRO gathered at Fairfield House in Nelson to celebrate the thirtieth anniversary of when Daido Roshi and Shugen (as a postulant monastic) came to us offering the Dharma. It has been thirty years since then of nurturing and growing the sangha, training and practicing Zen together.
In New Zealand, it’s customary to begin notable events with a mihimihi (welcome) in the Maori language (te reo). Ishu Lawless and local kaumatua (elder) Mike Elkington called everyone together, welcoming Yukon and Shugen Roshi, acknowledge the land, the sky, the living and the dead, especially two important members of our Zen family who are no longer with us, Daido Roshi and New Zealand monastic Mary Kaijun Mold.
Our kiwi sangha then sang a waiata (song) for Shugen and Yukon. The first verse in reo goes:
Purea nei e te hau
Horoia e te ua
Whitiwhitia e te ra
Mahea ake nga poraruraru
Makere ana nga here.
Which translates as:
Scattered by the wind
Washed by the rain
Transformed by the sun
All doubts are washed away
All restraints are cast down.
When the host offers a waiata, a response from the guests is customary. Shugen Roshi and Yukon stepped forward with a haunting chant that wove the lyrics of Purea Nei with lines from ‘The Mountains and Rivers Sutra” ...Although we say the mountains belong to the land, they truly belong to those who love them…
“It was beautiful and moved many of us to tears,” said Kaiun, one of our Zen elders.
Houn, another Zen elder, said, “Shugen Roshi and Yukon were so wonderfully sincere – the full integration of musicians and monks.”
Then it was time for the giving of taonga (treasures). Shugen and Kaido stood at the centre of the room, a gift held between them, and on their shoulders we placed our hands, extending concentrically, so that gift-givers and receiver were all connected. Suido Nash wrote a poem about this moment:
Nga Hau e Wha (The Four Winds)
A musical offering,
Held gently in outstretched arms
By our beloved senior student,
Towards our dear teacher.
Hands clasped together he smiles
Through the eyes of love.
We all smile through the eyes of love.
We hear with our eyes
This music travels on the four winds
And around the world!
Nga Hau e Wha!
Our gift to Shugen Roshi acknowledged his enormous contribution to our lives over these thirty years. In reo it might be called a “taonga puoro,” a singing treasure: a putorino flute, hand-carved in Nelson by artist Brian Flintoff.
Jinmon Langabeer, shown here with Roshi, was the kiwi who discovered Zen Mountain Monastery in the early 1980s, and who first invited Daido Roshi and Shugen to New Zealand. How great it was to have Jinmon with us that night, and to hear him play.
Fast forward a few moments – here’s Yukon receiving his gift, a coffee mug made by a Nelson potter with a beautiful little piwakawaka (fantail) decoration. Kaido explained that Yukon had became very enamored with this iconic bird with the fan-shaped tail after encountering it in their garden during his stay.
There was more singing of waiata, and then we adjoined for dinner and entertainment. Tosan McKinnon gave us his wonderful energy as MC for this part of the evening.
Our first stage performance of the evening shows Kaido and Suido Nash in duet. Click here to see a clip of their beautiful performance.
Furyo Stockwell remarked that this gift of music “epitomizes how special this couple is, once again working together to create something great. They have lived, practiced Zen and raised a family together over what must be approaching four decades now. They are an inspirational team, giving boundless love and support to each other through life’s ups and downs.”
Seian Clare offered a talk about the future of MRO Zen in New Zealand, including next generation of practitioners, sangha diversity, and putting down roots through developing a Zen centre.
The redoubtable Houn Snadden the followed with some beautiful anecdotes of the Zen of yore.Houn highlighted the contributions of of Jinmon Langabeer for his leadership and energy in Auckland and within the whole NZ sangha, Kaido and Suido in making the Southern Skies Zendo a reality in Nelson, and of Seisen Lewis and Chosei Crimp, who were instrumental in creating the Opawa Zendo in Christchurch. A special mention also to the multi-talented Taisui Markwell, who along with Houn and Chosei, spearheaded the zendo-building in Christchurch.
There was more music. Jinmon Langabeer on flute, and Steve Ingram on guitar; then a rendition of “Don’t Worry Be Happy” led by Wellington sangha members. Bennett Friedman had selected this song on the basis that it hit the charts the year of Daido Roshi’s first visit to New Zealand.
Shugen Roshi spoke next, invoking the mystery of the connections we make in this life. Shugen, what a beautiful and sustaining presence you have been in so many lives. We are so fortunate.
From there it was movie time: a 30-minute film about the Mountains and Rivers Order in New Zealand by Cameron Kito Broadhurst. Combining interviews and footage past and present, this record of our original Zen sangha members is a great gift to our community. To see the video, click here or scroll to the bottom of this post. Deep bows to Kito for producing this gem.
And so our evening came to a close. Thank you to all those who made this celebration possible. It was a heartfelt offering; a moment to honor the treasure of living as Sangha, and the paths we travel together.
Geoff Gensei Moore, MRO, is based in the central North Island of Aotearoa New Zealand, and serves as the secretary of the New Zealand affiliate group.