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.
Zen training in the Mountains and Rivers Order includes taking up creative expression—both the traditional Zen arts as well as contemporary arts—to deeply study the self through using our inherent human creativity.
Hojin Sensei spoke in March after her recent art practice retreat, “Face to Face,” offering these words: This exquisite magical display we call our body, our self. What is it? Of course ‘face’ does not always mean the physical part of the body. In another way it’s the surface of the mind’s mirror which is also being attended to—seeing our bodies, the directness with our embodiment, as a sacred awakened activity.
The National Buddhist Prison Sangha (NBPS) was started over twenty-five years ago by John Daido Loori, Roshi after he received a letter from an inmate at Greenhaven Correctional Facility. The correspondence program developed by the Zen Mountain Monastery community now provides guidance in Zen Buddhist spiritual practice for people in prisons all over the country. This guidance is provided by Practice Advisors who are experienced students supported by the NBPS Directors.
This summer, July 5 – 8, some of the country’s most celebrated contemplative poetic voices will be headlining the first ever Buddhist Poetry Festival at Zen Mountain Monastery. The festival spans an overflowing weekend of workshops and readings, writing and reflection, designed for anyone who resonates with Dharma and poetry, regardless of their own previous level of engagement. In addition to featured events, participants will have opportunities to join monastics and residents in periods of meditation, as well as liturgy, and communal meals. Yet the festival will also open up the usual Monastery schedule to be more, well, festive. In short, there will be something for everyone.
It is perhaps a widely held assumption about the Zen arts that they occur in a bubble of tranquility and equanimity unsullied by the chaos of the world.
One might picture a solitary painter or poet, or a silent line of archers practicing kyudo (Zen archery), each focused singularly on the completion of a perfect act. That assumption might be correct to a point, but Painting Peace, Art in a Time of Global Crisis by Kazuaki Tanahashi opens up a different view.
Today, the Monastery Store takes a big step in increasing its offerings of sangha-made items. For several years we’ve featured bird house gourds, incense holders, beeswax candles and of course honey from our own hives. All of these products and more have celebrated age-old traditions of handcraft using resources cultivated and harvested from our own grounds. As you’ll see and read below, a number of these endeavors have been fermenting and evolving behind the scenes and we’re very excited to now share them with the wider world. (For now, most of these items will only be available at our in-person store, but we’ll expand to offering them online as quantities become available.)
With the onset of summer, our Spring Ango training period came to a close with multiple displays of dedication and playful inquiry. First, on May 17 and 18, art presentations were held at the Zen Center and at the Monastery, giving ango participants the chance to share their work. Over the course of the ango, we took up the Karaniya Metta Sutta as an entry point for creative explorations. The results came in photos, poems, sculptures, video, watercolors, collage and in just about every size and shape you could imagine. (Medium, short, small, or otherwise!)
Master Dogen taught in his fascicle Henzan—Encountering Everywhere, that whole-hearted practice of the Way is to take up the study of one thing and to understand it deeply. He encouraged us to “study each dharma exhaustively and then to study it still further.”
In Spring of 2000 during one of our three-month training intensives, called ango, we were presented with an art practice assignment: to choose one thing, one object, and be in its presence for next 90 days with full attention. Daido Roshi charged us to enter into the continuously changing nature of our experience, and bring our understanding into a form of creative expression.