Sangha News for February 2022
Introduction to Dogen retreat: A winter storm covered Bloomington in dangerous ice and then topped it off with a layer of snow just as the retreat was set to begin, and those who had been planning to participate in person were told to stay home, stay safe and join the virtual participants online. On that basis, the retreat went on as planned and Hoko gave four of her five talks from home, awaiting safer road conditions before returning to Sanshin for the final day. More than two dozen practitioners heard the talks and a smaller number participated in zazen. It was the first time the retreat had been given since the pandemic shutdown two years ago, and the first time it was led by Hoko, with the support of Hosshin and Doju.
Nirvana Day observed: The sangha honored Shakyamuni's passage into Nirvana on a Sunday morning with zazen, a talk by Okumura Roshi, a chanting service that included the Heart Sutra and the Verse of Homage to Buddha's Relics, and a potluck lunch, the first since the pandemic shutdown. Okumura Roshi's talk will shortly be available on our YouTube channel.
from the Dogen Institute:
Digital Archive Initiative announced
David Thompson, Director
How many of us have happily clicked on a link to one of Hojo-san’s or Hoko’s Sunday talks on YouTube, or clicked on a link to the DI website to read a poem and its commentary, or picked up one of Hojo-san’s many books that delve into Dōgen? I think the answer is – probably – all of us.
All of these works of practice, study, and scholarship have digital lives, and the files themselves, or their progenitors, reside on a number of different platforms within the digital universe. Dōgen Institute takes primary responsibility for these digital repositories, helping directly or indirectly with the upload, maintenance, and documentation of thousands of files.
We are acutely aware of the value of these files. They represent decades of concerted effort by Hojo-san, Hoko, and their dharma heirs. As Hojo-san nears his transition to the Founding Teacher role, it is more than appropriate to spend time and effort to assure that these files can continue to be accessed on into the future.
To that end, we are forming a group to address the long-term challenges and opportunities of the digital archive. We are looking for a group of people who have skills and experience with digital archives, libraries, digital interfaces, technology, and library-like distribution systems. The group we gather will be taking a look at the following topics:
During this engagement, we expect to be exploring possibilities such as partnering with a university, partnering with a company (either profit or not-for-profit), or continuing to tend to the archive ourselves. While a physical archive is not yet included in scope for this initiative, the group will examine issues that may be in common with the digital archive. The possibility of a physical archive will be addressed in conjunction with our facilities and our development committees. If you have experience in these areas as a librarian, an archivist, or as a technologist, I urge you to reach out to me. These files represent a precious legacy to which Sanshin holds a digital key. If you have the skills, please consider offering them toward this wonderful initiative.
Interview for website project: Okumura Roshi was interviewed for the final segments of a project produced by Interior Mythos Journeys. He was previously interviewed several years ago about a variety of topics related to practice and spiritual life. Videographer Maryellen May explained, "The cinematic art forms of Interior Mythos Journeys express the converging deep currents of East and West. Interior Mythos Journeys delivers timeless, universal, and changeless depth messages to inform contemporary personal practice. The Life Journeys series of Interior Mythos Journeys, in which segments from Abbot Okumura's interviews appear, is designed to support solitary depth inquiry and substantive group discussion using universal language and a quantum scientific worldview. Please access this material here or here." We'll spread the word when the newest interview becomes available.
March sesshin in honor of Uchiyama Roshi (10 - 13): Uchiyama Roshi's memorial day is March 13. We will sit in recognition of the very important role our founder's teacher has played in the development of the practice we carry out at Sanshin today. The sesshin will end with a talk by Okumura Roshi about his teacher and a chanting service. More information about in-personal participation for local practitioners and virtual participation for others is here.
Experiencing Zen: An Introduction to the Basics (begins April 4, 7 pm): We'll explore what Zen Buddhism is really all about, beginning with the central ideas of Buddhism itself and moving on to the teachings and practices particular to its Zen form. Class will include instruction in sitting practice (zazen) and walking practice (kinhin), as well as plenty of time for questions and discussion. Enthusiastic participants in this class from previous years went on to form a zazen/book discussion group that is still meeting today. Class is taught by Doju Layton at Ivy Tech Community College. Complete information is here.
Ango (practice period) set for April 4 - July 4: Ango, or practice period, is an opportunity to focus a bit more intensively on our practice and perhaps to make a commitment to ourselves to stretch a little -- to sit a little more, attend a little more frequently, learn something new or take on a particular activity. We invite you to consider how you might deepen your practice during this time.
During ango we have the additional leadership of a shuso, or head novice, who takes on various responsibilities in the sangha as an opportunity to develop clergy skills. Our shuso for this ango is Issan Koyama from New York. His theme for the ango is Two sides of reality in one action. He will be supporting our practice and we will be supporting his growth as a leader. Issan will be giving a series of 10 Sunday talks, leading a one-day workshop, serving as doshi for monthly World Peace ceremonies, serving as ino for monthly ryaku fusatsu ceremonies, assisting with sesshin and retreats, and serving the sangha in myriad other ways while he's in residence here. In June, we will recognize the coming completion of his term as shuso with two ceremonies in which he will demonstrate his dharma mastery to the sangha and his readiness to teach and serve independently. More information about the ango will be available shortly on our website.
Please note that as of April 4, the first day of the ango (practice period), we will return to our standard morning schedule:
5:10 am Zazen
6:00 am Kinhin
6:10 am Zazen
7:00 am Robe chant
7:05 am Service
7:30 am Reading from Shobogenzo Zuimonki, announcements, soji (cleanup)
7:45 am Bow out
Gyobutsuji looks back on 10 years
The other day as Monty, Gyobutsuji’s longtime canine resident, and I were taking our daily morning walk during a cold, snowy, cloudless morning, I thought of how our long, occasionally steep driveway, winding through the remote Ozark mountain woods of Northwest Arkansas, probably didn’t look much different than it had in on a similar icy morning back in in January 2012, soon after I had moved to my then new home. I’m pretty sure at that time I admired the sun as it sparkled through the ice-laden branches and glistened up from the fresh, pristine blanket of snow on the ground, just as I did as I walked on this January morning of 2022.
It almost seems like yesterday that I was struggling with a friend to unload, from my poor 1980 VW Rabbit, the 200 lb portable generator I had brought up from Texas to charge our solar electric system. This was during the winter previous to the one in which three different snowstorms left me stranded, since I didn’t yet have a four wheel drive vehicle to navigate the snow and ice on our steep drive. Needless to say, I was probably less able to enjoy the wintery beauty of our driveway that particular January, but I was so appreciative when my neighbors (who live several miles down the nearest county road) offered to take me along on a grocery run into town.
continue Reading about gyobutsuji's 10th anniversary
We haven’t had a large number of people come to Gobutsuji, but I’m actually amazed at the number who have, considering our remote location and the intensive style of our practice. I have enjoyed connecting with and getting to know each person who arrives, especially in that intimate way that only zazen practice can foster. I’ve also enjoyed living in this forest of tall old oaks, hickories, and many other species of trees. I feel so fortunate to fall asleep at night listening to the chirping of the spring peeper frogs in April and the call of the katydids in late September. At those times it almost feels as if I have lived here all my life.
I remember first considering helping to establish a place to do sesshins back in the mid-2000’s while practicing at Sanshinji. It seemed like something I could do and enjoy, and perhaps it would be a way to make a truly wholesome offering to the world. I was developing a deep appreciation for the style of sesshin we do in Okumura Roshi’s lineage, and I wanted to help make it possible for others to participate in this practice. Although I used to jokingly speak of sesshin as “entering the black hole,” eventually I began to consider it a refuge and the foundation of stability in my life.
So Gyobutsuji was established with the intention of supporting others in the practice of zazen and sesshin. Often when we consider the development of a practice center, we use some kind of relative means to measure that development, such as the growth in numbers of those attending practice events and perhaps what sorts of improvements have been made to the physical practice space. Here at Gyobutsuji, we have seen some growth in these ways, and I am really grateful for that. Yet we are still a very small community, and in fact most of the practice I did here during my first six or seven years was solitary. But even during those times, I felt if even one or a few people were sitting zazen as a result of my effort here, things were OK. I felt my vow was being expressed and I was making an offering to the Dharma.
But something happened here in 2019 that prompted me to deeply question that thinking. A person came to live at Gyobutsuji who, it seemed to me, was a person genuinely seeking to study the self and make an offering of sincere practice. But after living here for six weeks, she had a severe asthma attack triggered by the high pollen levels of our woodland location. Our only option at that moment was to make the 45-minute drive to the nearest hospital, since it would undoubtedly take much longer for an ambulance to get here. Yet tragically, she passed away before we arrived.
To be honest, for quite a while I thought I might never speak publicly about this event, because it just seemed so inappropriate to talk of such a thing in terms of how it affected me. Someone had lost her very life —what I felt and experienced around that event seemed so very minor in comparison. And I also thought I would never be able to “make sense of it” in a way that would
enable me to integrate it into my “life narrative” and speak about it sensibly.
But I did begin speaking about the event some months ago, because at some point it began feeling almost dishonest not to do so. At times when I was speaking of the dharma, I worried I might be hiding out or holding back by not talking about something that had such a profound impact on my life. So as I began to consider what I would write about in this article, at some point it became clear I would have to write about this event, even though I can find no way to clarify its meaning or present it in some positive or uplifting way.
So, I have to say that my faith in my life direction was severely shaken by this event. How could it be, that a person had come to Gyobusuji with an apparently sincere intention to practice, and that intention, along with the results of efforts I made to establish a practice place devoted to zazen, had resulted in her death? There was and is no way to make sense of this in terms of the narrative I had created about my life direction and bodhisattva vows.
Honestly, all I could think to do after her death was to just keep going, just keep sitting and practicing the best I could. Somehow I think this is the only way I can honor my student’s memory and my own feelings of grief, loss and doubt. During many sesshins following her death, the emotions and thoughts arising around this event were very intense. I shed many tears and many doubts arose about myself and my practice. But somehow by the end of each sesshin, these difficult emotions had lost their grip on me, and I would feel peace and acceptance. But the feelings would always eventually return, and they continue to ebb and flow to this day. They have lessened in intensity and frequency, but I imagine they will always be with me to some degree, though I will continue to practice with them. I don’t expect or endeavor, really, to ever be free of them. I don’t aspire to be free of her memory. I know she will always be part of my life now, and I accept and welcome that.
As I considered how to write about this event, this line about zazen from Dogen Zenji’s Bendowa kept coming to mind:
The melodious sound continues to resonate as it echoes, not only during sitting practice, but before and after striking sunyata, which continues endlessly before and after a hammer hits it [Okumura Roshi's translation].
Somehow this line made sense to me in a way it hadn’t before. It was as if all I could do to honor my dead student was to just keep sitting, so that the melodious sound of her practice would keep echoing through zazen. If I quit practicing or supporting practice for others, her death might be part of a set of conditions that inhibited practice and the relief of suffering in this world.
This understanding, however, frankly does not alleviate the doubt and grief I associate with this event. Yet it helps me to continue practicing with that doubt and grief, as the contents of my life. By accepting them, honoring them, and practicing with them, we can mostly coexist peacefully; it’s as if I and the difficult thoughts and emotions have come to some sort of a “live and let live” agreement of mutual acceptance. At least that is how it feels for now.
So for the foreseeable future, I plan to continue sitting amidst the maples, oaks, and hickories, amidst the drumming of the woodpeckers calling out from hollow logs, amidst my sorrow and grief, and amidst my joy. I and Gyobutsuji’s fellow practitioners will continue gratefully, with so many of you who support our practice here, sitting within this Dharma Realm that dwells beyond our thoughts and heals beyond our understanding.
For complete information about Sanshin and our style of practice, visit our homepage.
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