Members Meeting Wrap-Up

Apr. 18, 2010 - Posted by in: Blog - 26 Comments

At the wrap-up of the Village Zendo Members’ Meeting on Saturday , we were offering one-sentence summations of our experience and one member said she’d found hosting a conversation both ‘terrifying and marvelous.’

I perfectly understood the part that was terrifying: would she be jeered or supported for sharing her concerns?

But what made it marvelous?  I also happen to know that others hadn’t fared so well.  And what made the difference? And why does it matter?

It matters, I think, because how we conduct ourselves in a conversation is how we save all sentient beings: by staying awake. To our fears. Our reactivity. And it’s a lot easier to practice that on the cushion counting our breath. Expressing ourselves in a gathering, we tend to forget.

So what’s it like for us to come from that place of oneness – the salve of silence –  to enter into dialogue and encounter our differences?

I recall my own experience in a particular group at the meeting.  I was giving what I thought were creative solutions to a problem,  when one by one I saw folks getting up to leave. Weren’t they as enthralled as I was with what I had to say?  At that moment I realized it wouldn’t hurt if I tried to listen a little more.

So I’m curious to hear about others’ experiences. We’ll read in the Members Meeting Report what the content of those conversations was. But for now I’m more interested in hearing about what it was like to listen and speak to one other about what we care about? What were the joys? The challenges?

  1. 26 Responses to “Members Meeting Wrap-Up”

  2. Hi Sensei, that’s an interesting question you ask, which I won’t try to answer now. =)

    Rather, I’d like to address something we asked ourselves at the meeting: How do we make it clear that our retreat prices are negotiable for those committed to practice but unable to pay full price? I just noticed that the Interdependence Project has nice language here:

    The page says:

    “Cost: $120 (all members discounts apply)

    “Can’t afford it? It is our full intention to accommodate the financial needs of anyone who has a genuine commitment to practice and study. Reduced Payment Options and Work-Study are always available. Please contact to make alternative arrangements.”

    By A. Jesse Jiryu Davis on Apr 19, 2010

  3. Hmm. What *did* I mean by \marvelous\? Excellent question! I was speaking from my heart and in the moment, so I must have meant it, but I have to admit that in looking back, it’s only the terror that stands out.

    And yet. As somebody who has been sitting with the sangha for years but only recently become a member, the idea that I’m not just using the VZ as a place to go but am actively engaged in creating it keeps unfolding to me in waves of surprise and unfamiliarity. Right before going upstairs to the meeting, I literally stopped on the sidewalk on Broadway and said to myself, \I should turn around, get back on the subway, and go home. I don’t really belong in this discussion; I’m not deeply ingrained enough in the community.\ My resistance–my attempt to snap back into passivity vis-a-vis the sangha–was pronounced and physical.

    And so perhaps that’s what I meant was marvelous about the format, in which the only way to have a discussion about what was on my mind was to stand up and speak my concern into a microphone and post it on the wall: It was marvelous in the way it demanded that I stop holding myself separate, stop haunting the sidelines, commit to being in the room with everybody and to co-creating the sangha.

    Which is also, of course, entirely terrifying.

    By Sara M. on Apr 19, 2010

  4. Not about the experience but — another topic I’d like to see us engage with –

    Engaged Buddhism… service to the community. I would love to see us as a sangha (those who can) offer service in places where it’s needed. Two possibilities spring to mind — first, nursing homes like DeWitt, where patients sit in their wheelchairs, desolate, abandoned emotionally and spiritually. I do a little visiting there. It would be wonderful if there were a few people to do this.

    And/or — the juvenile justice system — there must be many places – from the courts to alternatives to incarceration – where compassionate presence could be helpful. We can be guided by Charisa here.

    By Nina Shuka on Apr 19, 2010

  5. Really great suggestions, Shuka. Will add to the Member Report.

    By Joshin on Apr 19, 2010

  6. Sara,

    You’ve given a wonderful demonstration of how to jump from the 100 foot pole! Ring a ding a ling! Go on to the next one!

    By Joshin on Apr 19, 2010

  7. Good going, Jiryu. Will add to Report. Very helpful.

    By Joshin on Apr 19, 2010

  8. Thanks to Joshin Sensei for giving us a forum like this. It’s helpful to have a place where we can continue to reflect on what happened at the meeting, share new ideas or give voice to things that weren’t expressed at the time of the meeting wrap-up.

    I confess that I came away from the meeting feeling a bit rattled. While in many of the break-out groups the tone and energy of the group seemed to be open, creative and respectful, that was not always the case. I think it is important that we as a sangha be able to communicate with each other openly and honestly, and to feel safe in our communication. I was aware of a vibe in at least one of the break-out sessions that did not feel safe and where the tone was confrontational.

    I realize that we were not operating in the form of Council, but some of the fundamental practices of Council would seem to apply: that every person has space and time to contribute, that we speak and listen from the heart, and that it isn’t about being “right”, shutting down others or being dismissive of questions and concerns that arise.

    As Sara said so beautifully in the one of the posts above, we are all responsible for co-creating the kind of discussions we want to have.

    By eisho on Apr 19, 2010

  9. Thank you Sara for saying some of my words – I just was just too scared to express them. I was thinking I could come to the meeting and sit in the back, slide in late, leave early; I’m so new to the sangha I felt like I didn’t have a right to be there at all but then Joshin Sensei asked me to come at noon to help set up which was a real gift. I might not have made it in the building if I didn’t have a responsibility to fulfill and that was what I particularly liked about the meeting: Seeing the sangha taking its responsibility towards itself so seriously and not just looking toward the teachers to take the leadership roles but asking what tasks they could, as sangha members take on. it created a feeling of inclusiveness I really appreciated as someone who is new and sometimes has a hard time being a “joiner” – this time I didn’t have to worry about that – I felt like I was being joined.

    By Guo Ming on Apr 20, 2010

  10. Based on what I saw in the meeting, engaging in a practice quite different from Council (no cross-talk, no responding), I have a suggestion regarding meeting format. I realize that this open meeting format needs people to respond, but my break out session raised some strong feelings, and I observed people talking past each other, sometimes quite angrily. I thought afterwards that we did not build-in time to get us to break out of our usual modes of (non)listening. Perhaps for next year, we should try to incorporate a few minutes of silent sitting practice before beginning each breakout meeting.

    I found the format very helpful, and I’m grateful for sangha members who came forward to suggest topics, for the community for being open, and for all those who contributed and listened.

    By PaulRomaine on Apr 20, 2010

  11. In one of the ancient lifetimes of the the Buddha, more that 1000 lifetimes ago, there was a modest but wonderful Zen temple on the top of a mountain overlooking a great city. The sangha and monks loved the temple very much, but they all felt that somehow it could be better. The grand and compassionate abbot of the temple decided to have a meeting and ask all the sangha and monks for suggestions. The senior monks, the middle monks, the new monks and the whole sanga gathered reverently. They broke into groups and had quiet discussions until one of the middle monks said, “Our black robes are drab. I think we should have indigo blue robes.” A senior monk replied, “Maybe emerald green robes would be even better!” A very pious new monk said “Better to keep them black. That is the tradition!” Quickly a heated discussion began. New topics appeared with nothing to do with robes. A wealthy sangha member demanded they should ask for more donations, and a poor sangha member cried that he couldn’t afford the exorbitant prices already. Soon there was shouting and jostling, and someone knocked over a bell. There was cursing and laughter and soon they all forgot about their vows. A keg of strong drink was opened and a drunken revelry began. Finally the grand and compassionate abbot banged her zen mighty stick and the altar shook! The monks and sangha were silent. “Is there anyone who has not voiced their opinion!” she demanded. After an awkward period of time, a shriveled and very old monk, who was usually in charge of filling the abbots water beaker, said, “there is a sangha member who has not spoken..” and pointed behind the altar to a large old flower pot of dirt, where a dead plant had been. Out of the dirt came wriggling a grimy earthworm. The earthworm blew a clod of dirt from his nose hole and said: “The Buddhas and Bodhisattvas have an emancipation that is called Beyond Comprehension. Among those who play the part of devil kings in the immeasurable asamkhyas of worlds in the ten directions, there are many who in fact are Bodhisattvas dwelling in the emancipation Beyond Comprehension. They employ their skill in expedient means to teach and convert living beings by appearing in the guise of devil kings.” The earthworm expounded in this way for a long time and then said, “This is what is called the wisdom and expedient means possesed by the bodhisattvas who dwell in the emancipation Beyond Comprehension.” When the senior monks, the middle monks, the new monks and the whole sanga heard this they all simutainously set their minds on the attainment of anuttara-samyak-sambodhi.

    By Musho on Apr 21, 2010

  12. This year’s meeting seemed far more engaged and productive. Profound thanks to everyone who was able, and took the time, to be there.

    $$ was very much in the mix of all four groups I worked with, in various ways. Three of them sounded like the same conversation – ground hogs day!

    Two (out of several billion) thoughts:

    1. A sangha sponsored/organized business that could generate steady income and have members volunteer to run it along with paid individuals. Kill many birds (figuratively) with few stones. With all the amazing, creative talents among us, it seems attainable (pun intended).

    2. (unrelated to the $$ material world concerns) I’d like to start a Saturday morning sitting session ~ 8:30 – 10:00. I understand that there are some programs that sometimes utilize the space. Maybe they could start after 10:00 … maybe? I’d be happy to open. Some have expressed an interest in attending already. Can we have too much sitting (my koan)!

    By Sam Clayton on Apr 21, 2010

  13. musho…bows to you and your crazy, wonderful creative spirit. I feel much love for you in this moment, reading your words.

    I am sorry I could not attend, as I was presenting at a conference this weekend…but I am grateful for the care in writing up the content of the discussions and giving a feel for how challenging and wonderful the opportunity was. I decided, despite my initial resistance to the very public nature of the blog to share here, but I am using my initials only. I hope the members will be able to identify me.

    General impressions from reading about the different groups:
    I loved reading about the group of “I don’t know”. Just the name of it was wonderful. I cringed when I read about the difficulties of discussing money. how much I relate to that. a part of me wants to have more social contact with people, and a part of me wants to have people around me, but in silence. I am jealous and covet more attention, but then feel like crawling into a hole when I am corrected or noticed in a way that does not feel comfortable.

    I am not new and not senior at the zendo, somewhere in between, and as I said to Shinriyu recently, “middled aged”. I feel sometimes that I am still not sure now much time and energy I have to give, and seeing the lists of all the things people can do , volunteer, advertise, fundraise, made me feel a bit overwhelmed… but then some days I have such a strong desire to give myself fully to the practice, to the community- and I know I would like to find a space to do more for and with others.

    I read with interest about the 12 step group with two participants. I think the idea is so lovely. I went to DA (Debtors Anonymous) a few years back, which helped me so much- and I recommend it to all that are struggling with financial issues that may be linked to issues that we talk about in the program and our own practice: filling the void and pain of deprivation and suffering with unhealthy choices about money. I still struggle, but manage to be at the Zendo and pay what I can, without the crushing fear of debt. While I don’t have drug or alcohol addictions, I would like to support this group if it happens.

    I will end with the 10th step from the program:
    “Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it”

    How much this connects to the generous attempt of the Sangha to make changes, to atone, to be one with all things.

    in love and gassho

    By ns on Apr 22, 2010

  14. I’ve delayed posting because i’ve been looking for a calm state of mind in which i could say “i apologize for expressing myself in a way that was discomfitting to many.” But i have not found it. So in the last couple of days i’ve tried to ponder more deeply why this, itself, is so difficult.

    this morning at the zendo, speaking with sangha mates, a copule of things came up: first that there was concern that i left after the 2nd group session on saturday because i was angry. i did not – i had to be at my mom’s by 5 and had planned from the get go to leave at 4:30. so no worries, please, about me having stomped out as a sustained hissy fit.

    second, rinsho reminded us of a woody allen movie (but we couldn’t remember which one)
    woody’s waspy girlfriend: “the worst sin in my family was yelling”
    woody: “the worst sin in my family was buying retail”

    i hope you’re smiling the way i am at that, and if you’re not, it points to a cultural difference in expression that is partly at play here, i suspect: intense verbal sparring and argument is something i grew up with – its a mark of passion, not necessarily just of anger. in my relationship with mark – as typical a canadian waspy guy as i am a northeast jew boy (me and woody) – this has been a differential dynamic that still occasionally is problematic nearing the quarter century mark (you should have been at our passover seder this year with my sister in law’s idiot new racist husband…)

    so what reads as hostility and anger to some may not be quite the same to others.

    but being caught up in my trained cultural patterns of expression is not freedom, is it? so setting that aside, i’m thinking a lot about why this passionate response gets sparked for me. i think most people reading this blog will know that it’s not my only way of responding to discourse and not a particularly common one for me.

    but i recognize it well – its my mama bear response. “don’t mess with my cubs!” it can be brought out by someone causing my boyfriend distress through bad treatment, someone pushing my mom too hard in the emergency room for something she can’t do (like drink ALL the contrast fluid NOW), and people threatening my communities: e.g. fundamentalists talking about homos, racists dissing obama, etc.

    so there is the question of why the raising of “finance issues” at the meeting should push that button and suffice it to say, at this moment, that i remain fearful after two decades in the zendo, of how the zendo lives on an edge that not only might keep it from being what it can be (not enough space, resources, etc), but also, i think, fails to support our Roshi in a manner that allows her the full freedom and space she deserves in which to keep herself restored and refreshed – the kind of support i see churches and synagogues without question extend to their clergy, but which seems to be a distant concern to many of our members.

    i may be wrong about all this, but my mama bear response arises in response to my sense of it. this is an explanation, not an excuse. i recognize the difference. and i’ve already said plenty about all of that in the heat of debate last weekend…

    the more persistent discussion that has arisen here on the blog, in emails that have included me, and in chats with sangha mates is that the intensity of my response was problematic. and, in response to that, i keep looking for the moment when my heart relaxes and the flower of repentance blossoms and i can take responsibility for pain or injury i have caused and genuinely say “i apologize.”

    but that’s simply not happening readily. and this brings me to the issue for which i have no answer, but which i’d suggest has already demonstrated itself worthy of reflection and discussion: does civil discourse necessarily require “nice” discourse. is there no room in a “temple of true expression” for passionate voicing of concerns? is it always inappropriate? some people have said: “we want to maintain the zendo as a safe place for discussion…” is anger and passionate dangerous? it seems that in these circumstances i’m expected to modulate my intensity to more “skillful means” that will allow people to feel safe and unthreatened.

    and the reason that i come to this morning (it may evolve to something different by tom’w or next week) for why i can’t modulate it downwards yet is because i still feel threatened by attitudes that are more about self protection than they are about protection of our sangha, our teachers, our dharma.

    so there’s threat being felt on many sides of this equation.

    so i guess my question, unanswerable as yet for me, is where is there space in a buddhist sangha for true expression if we are more concerned about “safety” within discourse than about “true expression”? is coming to the zendo about hiding from the world? or about dropping our fears of it? at the zendo on saturday and subsequently i’ve been told that i “have to honor the courage of the people who brought up the difficult issues for discussion” – is the way to honor that by rseponding in a non-challenging way? a manner that would have meant that the courage was unnecessary?

    while the way i write these questions indicates that i believe i have some answers to them, but i’ve come far enough along in my practice to know that these are not, as yet, trustworthy answers. i know better than to think these answers i give myself in my current state of mind are the right ones.

    but i’m pretty sure that some of these questions are good questions.

    By Soten on Apr 22, 2010

  15. Recently I opened an old box and looked inside. There was an article from 1987 entitled “Quasars Very Close Together Reported at Edge of Universe.” It says:

    “Quasars are relatively rare in the universe, and having two of them so close together would be unprecedented….It was suspected that this was a double image of a single quasar, formed by the bending of its light waves by the gravity of an intervening object. In that case all properties of the two objects should be identical, including the speed at which they are receding from the earth. Such motion reddens the wavelengths of their emitted light. It turned out that their resulting red shifts, while similar, are not identical.”

    At each moment, these distant objects are becoming more distant from the earth. Their radiation is ancient and defines the limits of what humans can detect. If we were beside them, those quasars would undoubtedly prove fatal to us. Still, they remind us that time is space, and that space-time is far beyond our comprehension. Having only each other, these quasars are long gone and yet live on as particles reaching endlessly receding shores.

    We only have each other, rarities both infinitely near and infinitely distant. As our red shifts redden and intervening objects like words camouflage reality, we can remember this and remain sincere in our support of each other as we pursue the truth.

    By Bokushu on Apr 22, 2010

  16. Soten,

    You’ve raised excellent questions that could keep us going for a long time. I’m glad you brought up the role of cultural conditioning and how it can prescribe behaviors that become unquestioning norms for us. Along those very lines, I think we shouldn’t forget the overarching influence of the American cultural ethos which valorizes the strong he-man, can-do, protector role over that of the vulnerable and needy – qualities that have traditionally been carried by women, the elderly and what we refer to as the underdeveloped nations of the world. Still, certain incidents in our recent history – 9/11, Katrina and the financial downturn – have brought us more in contact with those parts of ourselves, to our anguish and dismay. And one senses a kind of cosmic recalibration at work requiring us as a culture to do a better job of integrating the more vulnerable parts of our society – providing health insurance for those who can’t afford it being the latest example. There isn’t at all the same stigma in Europe to being on the dole, for instance, in recognition of the fact that having a job is not always something we can control. So it’s not at all that I’m advocating that the zendo not ask for money but I’m curious about the kinds of conversations that are more likely to be sidelined in one cultural context than another.

    I certainly love being independent and being being able to help others. I don’t like being dependent. But isn’t that the true meaning of the begging bowl? The original monk was a home leaver who set forth in complete insecurity, utterly vulnerable. It was certainly not about padding one’s nest.

    I think we all have a tremendous amount of work to do to embrace the parts of us that are not at all heroic, but are rather needy and afraid and embarrassed that we don’t fit the prescribed norm.

    By Joshin on Apr 23, 2010

  17. i absolutely agree with you on all these points, Sensei. i would highlight two things, though:

    1. we must each be constantly mindful of distinguishing work that needs to be done by each of us, on ourselves, as individuals (whether the work is carried out in therapy in contemplative practice, or in dokusan, etc) and work that must be done by each of us for the community in which we participate. these are different.

    an example: when she asked me to be the most recent shuso, Roshi said to me: “walking the shuso path is about the sangha, not about you.” and, indeed, that’s just what it turned out to be. my personal issues were not central to being shuso except only in so far as they impacted on me being responsive to the needs of the sangha. it was not up to the sangha to adapt to me, but for me to find ways to adapt to the needs of the sangha and to accept the need to adapt with equanimity (which i accomplished with more or less grace at different moments).

    2. the distinction into “vulnerable, needy, dependent” and “heroic, nurturing, strong” is false. we are all, each and everyone of us, all of these things. and it is as ineffectual for those who perceive themselves as “weak” or “in need of help” to simply demand it of those who they perceive as “strong” as it is for those who are “strong” to insist that someone they perceive as “needy” be totally dependent on them.

    the optimal turning of the dharma wheel, where freedom truly manifests, is for everyone to acknowledge their own potentials for both weakness and strength (neither of which, in fact, have moral values, good or bad, outside of our cultural constructs) and to nurture the expression of both in others.

    in this current discussion of finances, i have been asked to be more careful around those that have less resources than i do, protecting their possible feelings of inadequacy or guilt or shame, etc. and of course i should be careful of these potentials.

    but its a two way street. i’m misperceived by many to be comparatively “non-needy.” in fact, i’m saddled with financial responsibility for several people who are hurting in these difficult times, and my resources are not sufficient to these responsibilities. so, in fact, i feel quite needy and inadequate.

    in that light, what was strikingly absent from the discussions in which i participated about zendo finances, was consideration for the needs of people who give on a comparatively large scale. discomfort has been expressed about the posting of the donors list on the zendo wall, implying that such generosity should go unrecognized, that people with the financial resources to make such contributions should to do so without a community expression of gratitude. the imbalance in this view should be self-evident.

    there are needs all around. everyone is strong in some fashion. everyone is weak in some fashion.

    to say that “the weak” should be only coddled for their weakness is wrong; they should be encouraged to understand the power that they actually have, to not feel shame or guilt about having strengths, and not shy from using them.

    to say that “the strong” should never be coddled is equally wrong. they should be encouraged to understand their own vulnerabilities and to accept that sometimes they need to ask for help, that it is ok to do so, and they should be able to so without shame or fear of rejection.

    manjushri’s blade, i suspect, always cuts two ways (at least).

    By Soten on Apr 23, 2010

  18. cannot begin tell you how glad I was to read your post on the blog regarding the meeting.. I offer for your consideration clips from one of my favorite (and one I find quite zen) movies:

    I have often felt uncomfortably self conscious by a saccharine tiptoeing and a rather forced goodness that I often present to the sangha for fear of not being seen as a good buddhist. Through this lens, I am also super critical of my anger – and I find that it also conversely (and perhaps perversely) connects to overwhelming shame (guilt) that slays me when I’m yelled at or criticized. So I think I experience both. The out-of-controledness of it is the worst part for me – the flush of ungluing, rapid heart beat…short breath almost panic. This happens on both sides – both when I’m angry or when I find anger directed my way). When we did the exercise at winter sesshin with the cards, the one I got was ‘ Upaya – Skillful Expression of Anger – and in all this – I find myself wondering – with nods both to Loretta & Rose Casterini, Ronny Cammerari, and the middle way of the do I savor it all. I think skillful expression does not mean no anger no yelling…no passion…I never want to give up crying when the high notes are hit at the opera! But I also know (and I speak for myself) that I can lose myself in a way that causes a kind of harmful destructive outburst towards another and perhaps even worse – trigggrtd my own guilt and shame to magnify other’s anger towards me as negations of my entire being (” because they fear death”). I never want to be responsible for that in another so I try to keep the lid on the lid on – then blow up and so on. I don’t mean by sharing this to imply that I know anything more beyond the blog as to what actually happened – I was not there – this is me jumping off the cliff about me….But I so value you- especially because you express your passion and bare your soul. I have my own versions of that… I have found myself suffocating in the image of the “good buddhist” and it has helped me to hear that I may not be so alone in coming to terms with balancing my own authenticity (including authentic anger) with compassion…

    love and bows ZenRai

    By zenrai on Apr 23, 2010

  19. The previous comment was addressed to particular reponse to his first long post…


    By zenrai on Apr 23, 2010

  20. One problem with raising one’s voice, accelerating one’s speaking or repeating oneself is the way it can squelch others. Well, that, plus how people sometimes seemed to be talking past each other. “First seek to understand, then to be understood.” Not easy to live by, and yet when we take our attention from others, aren’t we being stingy with our attention? (Easier said than done.)

    May I suggest that we as a sangha take a broad view of generosity and remind ourselves frequently what many non-profit boards remind me: if you can’t give financially, you can give in other ways. And I’m filled with gratitude, whether someone gives a teaching, cuts flowers, dusts zabutans, invites the bell or han, or tamps ashes. A smile as you come in the door. A cushion for waiting on line for interview. Concern for someone’s posture and comfort. I marvel at some of these simple acts. Gratitude can crowd-out emotions that can be toxic to ourselves or others.

    We’ve made a lovely gesture in recognizing our financial benefactors; how might we make it a practice to express gratitude towards those who contribute in less enumerative/remunerative ways?


    By PaulRomaine on Apr 24, 2010

  21. in response to Soten’s last post where he addresses the need to be compassionate to the needs of the poor and the wealthy…

    In this case I just feel compassion for the position you are in- feeling exposed in the community, and the vulnerability one can feel after getting emotional in a public space. My many years of involvement in psychotherapy, community organizing, activism and group leadership have shown me that it is wonderful to have a space for people to share their concerns in a democratic way and for everyone to have a voice, but it also opens the door for people to be triggered, hurt, not heard and emotionally overwhelmed. there can also be a clash in communication styles, and things said that can sting in the heat of the moment. I have found myself on both sides- feeling shut down, or expressing myself in what I felt was a passionate manner, but others experienced as confrontational.

    I completely understand why you don’t want to apologize, as you feel that the you have something to add and say that has validity- and I actually agree with you on some points, for example, having Roshi be more financially comfortable, acknowledging those who can and do contribute, as someone who is more lacking I feel tremendously grateful that there are donors who can support my practice as well. But it may be helpful to acknowledge, based on what I read here, that there may have been folks that were affected by the way you expressed yourself- we all do that from time to time, hurt others by our tone or manner, even if the point we are making is valid. apologizing or atoning or any word that works for you, does not mean that you are wrong- even though we are often conditioned from an early age to think that way. It just means that you can take responsibility for the situation.

    Much love.

    By ns on Apr 24, 2010

  22. paul: it seems to me there is a lovely and steady flow of appreciation for all the daily tasks of maintaining the zendo – individually in the gasshos and verbal thank yous between people throughout every visit i have ever had to the zendo and communally at every council and open sozan in which the dominant theme that always seems to flower from practice is gratitude.

    i fail to see a paucity of that.

    what i have been trying to point to, which has yet to be acknowledged publicly in a significant way (though i have received many expressions of it privately), is that:
    1. there is discomfort, even resentment, around expressing that appreciation communally for those who have made large and often anonymous gestures;
    2. there is a persistent failure over years to offer truly generous support for our Roshi on a communal level that is substantive (i.e. financial), rather than just personal.

    my lack of skill in expressing it at the sangha meeting has become the focus of much discussion – and valuable discussion, indeed, i think (though i wish more people would post here than send me private emails) – but the issues i raised, obscured by my manner, have not been significantly discussed on this blog or in the emails i’ve received or the conversations i’ve had.

    the counterbalance to my defense of the slightly more aggressive fundraising awareness (that being the dana bowl in the hallway and the donor list on the wall) is not to say that we need more appreciation of those who give by doing rather than by $$ – it is to explore why such small fundraising gestures are questioned as objectionable.

    ns: so perhaps after a week of this i have calmed down enough to say “i apologize for ways in which my manner of expression made honest communication difficult for many people – apologizing to them personally. i also apologize to the sangha as a whole for the way in which my manner of expression obscured a deeper discussion of our individual responsibilities for our sangha and our teachers.”

    at the same time, i’m pleased to see the resilience of our sangha’s ability to communicate by the continuation of the discussion. but i’m also disappointed that so many people feel it is safer to express oneself in private than in public.

    lots of self consorship going on. is that the answer to feeling angry? to squelch? while we have created a safe space in the zendo for people who are uncomfortable by passionate discourse have we done so at the price of asking people to censor themselves to be “good buddhists”, as zenrai courageously expressed in his posting above?

    By Soten on Apr 25, 2010

  23. I was sorry to miss the member’s meeting and am grateful for the write-ups and continuing discussion on the blog.

    I have tried several times to write a response. I have found it difficult because I have conflicting views within myself. I feel strongly that people should feel welcome at the Village Zendo regardless of their ability to contribute financially. I also feel strongly that people should support the Zendo and not be encouraging others to ‘drive a hard bargain’ for ango. I want to be (and believe I am) sensitive to the feelings of those who find it financially impossible to meet the membership fees. Yet, I am grateful to Soten for pointing out that people who contribute have feelings also. When I read the phrase ‘drive a hard bargain’ for ango, I felt like a dupe in a car dealership who paid the sticker price. That was a reaction to the phrase and not a result of wanting to give less than I do. If anything I wish I could give more.

    There are a couple of things at play here: First is that the deal making is not at all transparent. Only those in the know get a deal, and apparently if you are a good bargainer you can get a better deal. Second, is the fact that not only do people have different financial means, but we have different value systems. When discussing sliding scale fees, one of my teachers said, “So you give someone a lower fee because they say they can’t afford your price and a few months later you hear that they are going to Europe. Are you okay with that?” There will always be people who will consider their obligation to the Zendo to be of great importance and will forgo other pleasures to meet these obligations. There will be others who will think that they deserve their pleasures and will seek to reduce their obligations. There will be some with no money for obligations or pleasures. And there will be still others who can meet their obligations and enjoy pleasures. Fortunately there are some who find pleasure in exceeding their obligations. Are we collectively okay with that? Can we include everyone?

    Here are some proposals for the executive committee to consider:

    Have a scholarship committee – this committee will decide on how scholarships will be awarded and how much will awarded and how many scholarships will be awarded. My recommendation is that there should be a formal application process that might include the applicant’s writing a paragraph on why they want to attend ango,etc. It is important to decide if certain slots will be set aside for scholarship or if slots will only be open to scholarship applicants on a waiting list basis (ie. If there are openings available after the initial registration shows there are openings left). Since I believe such funds are limited, perhaps restrictions should be made as to whether you can receive scholarships more than, say, two years in a row.

    Have a full accounting for scholarship funds – these are phantom dollars but they should be accounted for. When a scholarship is granted, the entire fee should be accounted for as income and the discount should be accounted for as an expense. (Perhaps this is already done. I haven’t seen a financial statement.) This is important for making decisions on some of the questions raised about (how many, how much, etc.)

    Change the sign on the dana bowl – if the dana bowl is going to be prominently displayed in the hallway, I would like to see a welcome to Village Zendo sign more prominent. Having the dana bowl with the stark sign: SUGGESTED DONATION $$$ be the first thing that newcomers see from the other end of the hall, I think, gives the wrong impression of what the Village Zendo is about. Here’s one suggestion:
    A large sign saying:


    A smaller sign in front of the dana bowl saying:

    Suggested Contribution $10
    or whatever you can afford

    Fundraising thoughts – have silent auctions been tried? I have long wondered if we could put on Jakata Tales or Monkey stories for children during the summer months. Are there any thespians out there? Kudos to all who are dreaming up other ideas. My niece tells me that karaoke night brings in good money, but that may just be for a younger crowd. Bringing money to the Zendo can be fun.

    A final note to the person who said she wanted to give what would be for her like what giving $100 is to others. This is impossible because, as alluded to above, for some giving $100 is easy and for others it is difficult. You cannot use others as a polestar. You must look to yourself, your own circumstances, and your own values. My recommendation is to give as much as you can while still being comfortable. I think it was the Dalai Lama who suggested that one should not give so much that they feel resentful – that is counterproductive to our practice. And yet we can all learn to be a little more generous.

    I could not help but notice a voice inside say ‘liar’ when I wrote that I wished that I could give more. The voice said, ‘if you wish you could give more, then do it. You know you can afford it.’ So I will. This discussion has provided an opportunity for me to take a look at myself, my circumstances and values.

    Thanks to everyone.


    By Ikai on Apr 28, 2010

  24. Ikai,

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts. it is never easy to speak frankly about financial matters and issues of transparency. and a scholarship committee is a good idea and I know from discussions I had with Ryotan that this is already in motion. You actually seem like a good person to be on this committee as you have an understanding of the complexities of all the dynamics that affect how we discuss money, present to ourselves and the world what we have and lack, and the interpersonal dynamics that could be at play. Ultimately, these are real issues that I think are valuable to look at, not only to promote a sense of fairness among members, but are important for our own growth and practice.

    My only vote would not to offer scholarships as a waiting list only option. based on our current reality, summer ango sesshins would be completely closed off to those in need of a scholarship because spaces are so limited even to full paying members. I think there should be some slots available, an application process and then a lottery if more applications are submitted that have merit then is available. I also would recommend that we have a scholarship set aside for people who come from communities that are traditionally underserved by the Zen community- people of color in particular. I recently watched a video of Bernie Glassman talking about this issue, and I do think issues of privilege and money can potentially keep people out, although I am aware it is not the only factor.

    Zenrai- I wanted to add that I appreciated your thoughts about being a “good Buddhist”. I currently am struggling with this issue around eating meat, trying to bring more mindful eating practices into my life, feeling like a failure because I can’t be a full vegetarian and then feeling my judgment come up around Zendo events that have included meat. There is a part of me that wants the Zendo to be more “righteous” then me, but the real issue at hand is that I need support in certain areas- around my anger, around eating etc, and it’s scary to me sometimes when people I admire and look up to are struggling with the same issues. at the end of the day- I can see that also as support, that there is no “pure” and “defiled” that the Zendo and the community is not seperate from me in my own personal struggles.


    By NS on Apr 30, 2010

  25. NS – (whoever you are)….! While I certainly share you concern about meat (as a chef this was at first a big concern for me – I feared karmic disaster!) – my understanding from our teachers is that in our lineage is that this is not a requierment, it is an individual choice . I also find the terms defiled and pure laden with judgement like heaven or hell..etc. We are all perfect and we all need improvement (Maizumi Roshi?). Even though I understand that all actions have karmic effect, and the issues of \a good buddhist-ness\ are similar, I personally feel much more struggle over the issue of expressing anger , where what i say may impact another , and conversely where what I don’t may hinder the \true expression\ that defines the heart of our shanga’s mission.


    By ZenRai on Apr 30, 2010

  26. Zenrai,

    Thank you for responding…I actually really like the way our Zendo and lineage is in this regard, that how and what we eat is our personal choice, and would not like that to change. It actually challenges me to take full responsibility for my own actions without looking to others to set the rules for me. Something as personal as nourishment, like money, is tied into so many emotional issues of lack, need, desire, etc. that it really makes sense to work with this individually.

    But I want to expand on this a bit more…I did raise this issue in relation to anger and communication, because, as I said I found myself getting upset when meat was served at the Zendo on a number of occasions- not in retreat, Zazenkai or Ango, but other events, one of them being our annual fund raiser. But in that moment I realized that I need to work on a skillful way to express this to the board, because it is so easy to get self-righteous around this issue, and shut off the other with a moralistic attitude, which as you said, goes against our sangha’s mission (I did vent though to a few Zendo vegetarians who i knew would agree with me ;)) So, I really thought about what is going on here for me. I realized that I still want to advocate that events representing the Zendo be vegetarian, as most of us meat eaters can agree- reducing meat consumption is better dramatically for the environment and reduces animal suffering. Eating vegetarian at the Zendo to me, seems like a very small sacrifice for anyone, and has benefits at least in my view, for the practice. At the same time, the reason I got angry was that I had expectations that the teachers and the community should know this, be aware of this, take care of me, be more righteous and pure, set an example. But, the truth is, that the Zendo is just a group of people figuring out how to do things, in the best way that they can…and if I stop fuming and speak up about it, in a way that is skillful, maybe I can have some impact.

    That being said, back to your issue- I do get upset when I perceive other people to be expressing anger at the Zendo, and yes, I do have some fantasy, that no one will yell and get angry. When someone does, I sometimes feel afraid, resentful, judgmental. but Soten is right- there is no way to avoid us getting intense sometime with each other- where there is intimacy there will always be the potential for that… and we can always come back, just as we are doing here, and explain, repair, apologize or say why we can’t apologize right now. it really is a beautiful thing. This is more beneficial then shutting down.

    At the last fusatsu , we reflected on the precept around anger: turning suffering into wisdom- and how when we are able to recognize our suffering, and realize what is there- that is wisdom and we are less likely to act out in a way that is damaging. I took this to heart. I have a long way to go in this regard, but it’s always good to be reminded that we have support to get there.

    By NS on May 4, 2010

  27. I would like to float another suggestion before the executive committee that I think might ease the discomfort for people who struggle financially and may very likely raise a little more money.
    The thought is that we abandon the membership dues model and use a monthly pledge model. The church of my youth used pledges which were canvassed once a year. The basic idea is that people are asked to consider what Village Zendo means to them in light of their own financial circumstances and pledge an amount of their own choosing to pay to the Zendo monthly. I doubt that many, if any, would take advantage of this to pay less than they are already paying now. But there may be others, like myself, who would like to give more, but see giving a lump sum to become a mahasattva, or whatever, as out of reach. As I admitted in my previous post, my little voice said if you want to give more, increase your monthly check 10-15%.
    The canvass took place once a year. It started with a dinner where there were pleas to welcome the canvassers into your home and be generous, etc. There was a sort of canvass tree. Ten people (executives of the church) made their own pledges to each other and then each one canvassed ten other people. Some of those people (prearranged through volunteer sign-up) would then canvass 10 more people. You can see that you can pretty quickly canvass hundreds of people this way.
    The canvassers were supposed to arrange a face to face meeting with those being canvassed (though I think sometimes it happened via phone). This gave people a chance to tell someone what they thought about the church what it meant to them and how much they intended to contribute monthly. The canvasser’s job is really to witness this. They were not supposed to place any pressure on anyone to increase their pledge. They could, of course report back any complaints that they heard from the people. The canvass offered a time for every person to be heard personally. It also offered a means to get to know some others personally.
    There is an outside chance that donations would decrease (but as stated above, I think that unlikely). The accounting for pledges may take more time. This will take some organizational effort. Still I think the advantages outweigh the above difficulties. The pledge model removes the stigma of not being able to pay the dues. It provides a yearly time of reflection on how much the Village Zendo means to each supporting member. I believe it will actually increase donations. It provides an opportunity for quiet conversation about the Zendo on a one to one basis which can give voice to those of a quiet nature. It can be a means of meeting new people and making new friends.
    If the executive committee thinks this a worthwhile thought to pursue, I would be happy to work with others on it.

    By Ikai on May 12, 2010

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