Sangha News for August, 2021
Sanshin is open for regular local practice. Folks who live in town and have been fully vaccinated are welcome to attend morning zazen and service and Sunday zazen and dharma talk. Masks are required in accordance with Monroe County public health policy; if you don't have a mask we can provide one for you. Evening zazen and the Wednesday evening book group will remain virtual for now.
Those planning to attend Sunday practice in person are asked to register each week using the form on our homepage so we can monitor the number of people expected in the zendo. If it seems we are reaching the limit of the number of people we can safely accommodate, we may close registration or create an overflow space somewhere on our campus. The county's mask mandate is expected to last through the end of September, and after that time registration and capacity considerations may not be necessary.
We will not be offering guest practice for some time yet. That includes sesshin, retreats, weekend workshops, etc. as well as individual practice visits. Accommodations next door to Sanshin at 1708 are not available. There are logistics unrelated to COVID that need to be worked out, and as of now we can't house you, feed you or provide you personal guidance and direction. If you're outside of the Bloomington area, please continue to join us virtually.
Virtual practice continues. Everything Sanshin offered virtually during the shutdown will continue to be available, though you may notice changes in these events as the focus returns to in-person practice.
At-home retreat, September 2 - 5: Join us virtually for three days of practice in the style of our sesshin, a retreat devoted simply to sitting zazen. Sanshin leaders will be in the zendo maintaining the schedule and carrying out the activities of a standard sesshin day at Sanshin. You are welcome to connect via Zoom and follow along at home for as much of the day as you like. The sangha will arrive for the final zazen period and the retreat will officially end just prior to the regular Sunday dharma talk; you are welcome to stay for that talk if you choose. READ MORE
Financial position remains strong for now: Treasurer Gene Elias provides these key points about Sanshin's financial resources.
• In both 2019 and 2020, Sanshin generated positive cash flows, in 2019 more than $5,000 and in 2020 slightly less than $5,000. As a result of these surpluses, the board directed that $7,000 in 2019 and $10,000 in 2020 be invested in the Non-qualified Deferred Compensation Plan established for Okumura Roshi. This fund is basically a trust for his use when he leaves the employment of Sanshin. This is not a bank account, per se, but a restricted liability on our balance sheet; it currently stands at $41,000.
• Year end cash positions for Sanshin between 2018 and the end of the 2nd Quarter of 2021 are as follows:
• During the first two quarters of 2021, we have been running an operational deficit of about $14,000. This is mostly due to the loss of programs like sesshin, retreats and various other events due to the pandemic. This does not take into account our mid-year fund raising campaign or the proposed genzo-e in November.
• Lodging revenue was nil in 2021 and for a good portion of 2020. Even without programming, the board elected to keep the lease at 1708 due to its proximity to the zendo. Historically, the “dorm” has operated at a loss, but with no revenues the loss was greater than normal. In 2021 through Q2 this loss was slightly more than $7,200.
• Our balance sheet is healthy, but we don’t have the resources to support strategic plans and programs currently being contemplated.
Over the last three years, gifts have accounted for an average of 67% of Sanshin’s total revenue. Donors now have the option to make one-time gifts, to become monthly autopay donors, to contribute to Okumura Roshi’s retirement fund mentioned above, and to contribute to Hojo-san directly (funds do not go through Sanshin). Information and donation links are on our Giving page.
Doju Layton completed his hossenshiki as part of an official ango spent at Ryumonji in Dorchester, IA during which he served as shuso. The hossenshiki is a demonstration of the shuso's ability to lead the sangha and teach the dharma, and is a milestone in the training of novices as they progress toward being fully authorized clergy. Several members of the Sanshin family participated in the events, including Hoko, Shodo Spring, Shoryu Bradley, Mark Myogen Ahlstrom, Allisyn Gillet and Doju's parents.
Okumura Roshi gave a virtual talk from Sanshin's zendo as part of a three-day retreat organized in part by Doryu Cappelli and Gyoetsu Epifania with the Dharma Academy in Italy. The retreat focused on zazen and included work, study and fellowship.
He also gave a series of five virtual talks for a retreat at Zen Mountain Monastery in New York as well as a Sunday public talk that introduced themes from the recent children's book Squabbling Squashes (see more below). The recording of that talk is available here.
Author answers our questions about new children's book
Squabbling Squashes is a story for children of all ages about interconnection and learning to live with both harmony amid differences. It's based on a parable from Kosho Uchiyama’s Opening the Hand of Thought and was written by sangha member Carol Lingman, with illustrations by Minette Mangahas. Carol agreed to answer some questions about the book for this issue of our newsletter.
How is this book like and unlike other children’s books? What gap might it fill in the children’s literature now available?
The story of the Squabbling Squashes is a Zen teaching story that has been told by Zen masters since the Tokugawa era in Japan. It describes a key Buddhist idea of interconnectedness of all beings but does so in the simplest possible way—by showing how squashes in a garden discover that they are all connected by a vine.
It is part of a genre of children’s books that presents a serious message in a simple but meaningful way. As with most picture books for young children, the colorful and relatable illustrations embody the message in a way that supports the simple narrative and makes it possible for children to then repeat the story to themselves as if reading it. By repeating the simple story, the child begins “owning” the message and even telling the story in his or her own words.
What were the most important considerations in telling and showing this story?
Squabbling Squashes is kind of a unique story in that it has a message that is clearly conveyed to a young audience through the squash imagery, but the story also points to an important Buddhist idea that can be further explored by adults.
As Okumura Roshi said, ”We think we are independent and we compete with others and we argue. So there are many squabbling squashes in this world.”
The idea of squashes growing together in a garden offers many possibilities for presenting familiar and relatable images for young children to follow. We tried to literally “put them in the picture” through our words and illustrations—for example when the squashes say that “the monks (or parents) like me better than you.”
What conversations could this story open up between children and their grownups?
There are three messages in the story that can be the basis for conversations between children and adults: (1) living together peacefully on the planet; (2) being interconnected with all beings; (3) learning a way to become quiet and calm in ordinary life.
As Okumura Roshi said, “We have so many squabbling squashes in this world today, so this teaching of finding something strange that connects ourselves with others, of finding that we are living together with all beings, is really a meaningful teaching.”
Grownups can use this story to discuss the idea of how we are all connected and living together. They can also talk about finding a way to calm down by sitting quietly. This is not an unfamiliar strategy for parents and children who often find the need for a “time out” for restoring calm. But this book is particularly useful as it offers specific steps (with pictures) that both adults and children can follow.
What responses to the illustrations and text have you received from children and adults?
There has been an immediate positive response to the colorful illustrations from both children and adults---before they even know what the story is about. Children are particularly attracted to the illustrations of the squashes in the garden
Adults who have children or grandchildren or who work with children know about the importance of finding a way for kids to be calm in a stressful situation, and they appreciate the descriptions and illustrations for learning how to sit quietly. One adult said she immediately sat with her granddaughter in this way, following the illustrations in the book. Others said it was helpful to have validation for their own messages about the importance of finding calm.
Parents and grandparents are also pleased to have a story with a message about being connected and living peacefully with others, particularly in this time of divisiveness. I heard, “It’s a good story for right now” many times.
The book has been very well-received by grandparents who really appreciate a story with a message that they can relate to and talk about with their grandchildren—about a healthy way to live peacefully in the world.
The garden setting and imagery seem to be something that audiences across generations can relate to.
How might this book be of interest to adults as well as to kids?
Squabbling Squashes presents a big idea at a basic level. The idea of interconnectedness can be studied in deeper ways and in many contexts, such social or environmental. Okumura Roshi described the book as “a kind of Zen version of Indra’s net.”
Squabbling Squashes is now available for purchase online.
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