The sunflower is the national flower of Ukraine
“A kind word is like a spring day.” —Russian Proverb
It is March, the month that brings us spring, and yet right now, it still feels like the world is shrouded in darkness and winter.
There was a recent thread in the Village Zendo community email list on groups.IO that addressed the following theme: “What supports you in times of suffering?” The question—posed by a Sangha member in need—was an earnest and intimate one, as were the myriad reactions from other Sangha members (see below for a selection of these). People responded with their own personal experiences of suffering; they responded with poems, and with links to music and movies and Dharma Talks; they responded with their hearts. All of which was a clear reminder that in times of suffering, we can always count on the Sangha itself to support us—all of us there for one other when we need it most.
There are so many other ways the Village Zendo offers us support each month, and this March is no different, with a calendar that includes Dharma Talks, the Path Class, the People of Color Sitting Group—and of course, daily zazen. But this month also gives us the chance to join Urban Sesshin, which begins on March 16 and culminates with Shuso Hossen on March 20. A “joyous time of sharing in the treasure of Sangha,” Urban Sesshin allows us to come together to practice intensively and to encounter ourselves and the world freshly, with Beginner’s Mind. This year, the focus of the event will be the arts—yet another pillar of support for our community—with workshops on drawing, writing, and watercolors. Read more about it below.
Also please be sure to read our Reflections section at the end of the Bulletin, which this month offers wisdom from Roshi Merle Kodo Boyd, a Dharma sister of the Zendo who recently passed.
Though it may be hard to see, Spring is upon us even now. The other day, I gathered snowdrops from a neighbor’s yard and put them in a small vase, where they immediately began to droop. It seems that certain flowers bloom best from out of the ice.
With much gratitude to all of you, and deep bows…
Thursday, March 3: Dharma Talk by Musho
Sunday, March 6: Practice & Inquiry Circle with Joshin Roshi
Thursday, March 10: Dharma Talk by Ryoshin
Sunday, March 13: Dharma Talk by Bokushu
Wednesday, March 16 — Friday, March 18: Urban Sesshin
Thursday, March 17: Dharma Talk by Fusho
Saturday, March 19: Zazenkai, Dharma Talk by Enkyo Roshi
Sunday, March 20: Shuso Hossen
Thursday, March 24: Dharma Talk by Ryotan Roshi
Sunday, March 27: Dharma Talk by Fugan Hoshi
Path Class, 1:30 – 4 pm
Thursday, March 31: Dharma Talk by Shinryu Roshi
Newcomer’s Meeting, 6:40 pm
The Bolivian Sitting Group meets Saturday mornings, 7 am
Bolivia Zoom Meeting ID: 297 525 8394; Password: 1234
The People of Color Sitting Group meets Saturday mornings, 10:30 am
How to Meditate meets every Monday evening (except holidays) at 6:30 pm
Wednesday, March 16 through Friday, March 18
In this sesshin we bring together the practice of zazen with a focus on the arts as a way to encounter ourselves in a fresh way. Our Shuso, Hon Go, a serious student of drawing, will lead us in a workshop on Drawing; Joshin will lead us in a workshop on Writing; and Seiki, an award-winning artist, will lead us in a workshop on Watercolors.
The theme of this Urban Sesshin is The Leisurely One (from Shodoka). Our aim is to allow ourselves to dip into this state of mind as we attend to how our world appears to us in novel form. Truly, this is an opportunity to allow ourselves to practice Beginner’s Mind.
As always, there will be a Zazenkai (intensive day of sitting) on Saturday before the celebration of Shuso Hossen on Sunday, when Shuso takes his seat as a Senior Student and gives his first Dharma Talk.
Urban Sesshin is typically a joyous time of sharing in the treasure of Sangha. Within the container of zazen, we give ourselves over to the joy of discovery. It promises to be memorable!
The daily schedule is available HERE , and you may also address inquiries to email@example.com.
Saturday, March 19
8 am to 3:45 pm
Dharma Talk by Enkyo Roshi
For information and to register, click HERE
Sunday, March 20
SHUSO HOSSEN CEREMONY
Michael Hon Gō Brooks, self-portrait
Shuso Hossen is a joyous celebration marking a student’s promotion to the rank of Senior. It concludes the intensive training period of Ango in which the student serves as a model and practice leader. Michael Hon Gō Brooks will give his first Dharma Talk and will take questions from the community in a ceremonial conversation known as Dharma Dialogue. It is a participatory and stirring event.
No registration required.
Schedule (Eastern Time)
9:30 am Zazen
10:00 am Shuso Hossen Ceremony
A Village Zendo Email Conversation:
Sad Buddha, photo by Taylor Plimpton
I am—like many people in my country and I suppose like many of you—in shock and deep pain about what is going on in Ukraine right now.
I notice that like many of my generation I still harbor the fantasy that we as mankind will slowly but steadily mature out of our self-centered dream and our "isms" that are its effects (expansionism, nationalism, militarism, racism, materialism, just to name a few).
But what, when this candle is blown out?
I would like to ask for your support and wisdom in a time in which I sometimes feel I'm drowning in fear and pain—my own and that of the world.
What helps you to stay present in the midst of suffering?
When all consolations are taken away—what's left to do?
I'm aware that I answer at a great physical and psychological distance from these tragic, unspeakable events.
I've sat this morning in the half-dark listening to (exquisitely rendered) Ukrainian liturgical music as the snow falls heavily outside. I don't yet know what else to do… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=79QG-ZhMDDE
Bows of solidarity and grief,
You asked, ‘what supports you in times of suffering?’
I find profound lessons in the VZ Podcasts, & the most recent example is Roshi Enkyo’s talk, ‘The Gift of Giving’ of 2/20/22.
I hear your feeling of helplessness and feel that way too. Connection to the Sangha, music and nurturing myself and others help. In other words, giving as a practice. We are being asked to give ourselves which is the hardest part. Or perhaps give ourselves over to the biggest picture. That of living and dying. All else falls away…
…Yesterday at my job a colleague in her twenties read a message from her friend's family in the Ukraine. It was eloquent and foreboding. The resonance of that message is echoing your message. Is that consolation?
In chaplaincy training we are taught that sometimes there is nothing "to do" or to "do nothing" because there is nothing to fix or that we can't fix a problem. It is beyond our abilities to do so. We have the practice of Zazen which is not an escape.
From the Shodoka:
"Ah, the degenerate materialistic world! People are unhappy; they find self-control difficult. In the centuries since Shakyamuni, false views are deep, Demons are strong, the practice of the Dharma is weak, disturbances are many."
And the more poetic, "The lotus lives in the midst of the fire; It is never destroyed."
And finally, "Evil cannot shatter the truth."
That is all I have to give.
Sending thoughts and sitting with you,
I hear you. Earlier this week when you wrote to Monica, (Monica, hope you're recovering well!), I copied it and pasted it as a text to myself—it calmed me in the midst of my panic about the war:
"Sending metta across the ocean. :)
May you be well, Monica. May you be happy. May you be free from suffering.
May you trust life, as it is, right here and right now.
Sometimes it helps to write these letters to ourselves too, with all their difficulty and surprise and strange joy.
To "trust life, as it is"—how does that sound itself out when we talk to ourselves and let the page overhear as a benevolent sponge? Ahmatova, Tsvetayeva, Mandelstam, Pasternak, and Mayakovsky were here and left us notes rescued from fire and written in fire. They had to memorize their verses to keep them from the same police invading now, in the US and in USSR, 2. Not separate.
I'm Serbian, so this perennially flammable crossroads of geography between empires has burned me alive many times.
But here I still am dancing ash. Bundles arising and falling, always codependent with no-bundles. And yet there are the refugee bundles hastily assembled. For this I have nothing but tears and poetry and love and letters and calling people to see how they are. Many of my poet friends in New York are Ukrainian and Russian. We came up together. And now again this.
I'm curious what our Elders think about how this is, compared to the Cuban Missile Crisis they lived through.
Bows to you, Iris, and thank you for your counsel,
May you trust life, as it is, right here and right now.
Yes, Filip, these words from Iris felt so true and sustaining to me.
They reminded me of Bokushu's grammar school cafeteria Dharma Talk.
And yes, the food at the rehab place I’m now staying has much in common with that school cafeteria.
I'm healing and feeling tired and in a strangely weak and liminal space opened by surgery, a new sad and frightening war, and snow coming down and blanketing everything.
In times of suffering, one thing that sustains me is all of you—what you have offered, are offering now, what you still have to offer.
with love and thanks,
I appreciate this question and thread so much. Our Sangha has such a beautiful voice, individually and collectively.
It was so soothing for me to read Filip’s email…his noticing and making the connection between Iris’s plea and the generous offering she made to Monica was an offering in itself.
I feel that I am cocooning a bit, I must admit. I am limiting how much information I am taking in about the suffering on our subways and streets and in the larger world. I feel sad, fear, anger about it all at moments, but then I shift back to myself. Perhaps I need all the energy I have for my own healing at the moment (my body is still recovering from the trauma of illness and surgery) and for the needs of my family which includes a little puppy, 12-week-old Ollie, a mini goldendoodle that we adopted this week. Our nights and days are filled with caretaking for this little baby. Maybe we are crazy for taking on this task right now I think to myself as I stumble bleary-eyed from taking him out in the middle of the night. And yet, here we are, living, taking care of ourselves and others the best we can, which sometimes includes reading less news… but it all finds its way in anyway. A few of my psychotherapy clients talk about their anxiety regarding the war in Ukraine, some of my clients share about the suffering of the homeless and the violence they witnessed directed towards them, others talk about their terror of being victims of violence themselves, affected by various news stories of people being stabbed and harmed in the subways on the streets and in their homes, my transgender clients are pained about the news from Texas and the fate of transgender youth and families. I talk with them about all this suffering, our interconnected humanity, I even find myself mentioning to one client the concept of bearing witness. So I guess, I am showing up for what I can, at times with bleary or clear eyes, either way, it sustains me.
With love and gassho,
Long time no see/chat. I read these threads often, but have been bad about responding. A lot of that has to do with also feeling like my candle has burned out. I can't offer much advice, Iris, as I am also lonely, isolated, and overwhelmed by the suffering happening in the world. Lately the only thing that has helped is live music. It's been over 2 years since I played music with anyone and this past weekend I went to an Irish jam session in Denver and it brought some joy to my heart and for a few hours took my mind off the rest of life. I'd seek out something you know you love, and try to go to that to awaken some joy.
Giyu (in Denver)
Thank you, Iris and everyone, for your questions and responses and tender hearts.
Yesterday I watched Mission Joy: Finding Happiness in Troubled Times, the documentary about Archbishop Desmond Tutu and HH the Dalai Lama's five days together in Dharmasala in 2015. It reflects their cultivated capacity to connect and reconnect with joy amidst suffering, loss, and adversity and is freely available for viewing via TRICYCLE magazine through March 4th. Just under 90 minutes long, it is worth seeing at this time, and at any time.
I’m numb from the shock. I studied sculpture and drawing with teachers and friends from Ukraine, several of whom had gone through great suffering in the past. Such wonderful, strong people, and I have no words that touch my sorrow and anger.
That everything changes and will go in directions that I can’t foretell helps me stay in the present. Sangha and loved ones get me through the night. We are all connected.
With love, in gassho,
Hon Gō • 本興 •
I've been sitting with this excellent question for days as the war tears open traumas I thought were over. war torn heart.
My father is a Russian born in Kiev. His father, a professor, was seized and murdered by Stalin. My father remembers Kiev under siege, and feels it again now as he watches the bam bam footage. He joined the U.S. military because he believed in this country, its democracy, its inclusion. So we lived on military bases during the cold war and were shunned for being Russian. Now my daughter asks if everyone will hate us. No, I say, Russian is many things, too complicated to be an enemy.
We watch the poetry of Tarkovsky and I feel supported. Humans flailing, looking for hope. I am like that.
Filip writes of dancing ash and co-dependent bundles, and I feel supported because his turns of phrase spin me into a new dimension. "Let the page overhear as a benevolent sponge?" His words legitimize the hours I’m spending reviewing my diaries. Maybe not so benevolent, in my case. The stories I lived had the power to wound again.
I talk to dear Howard and he tells of his friend, Chad, who just fled Ukraine. Chad made a beautiful film featuring a Ukrainian artist traumatized by Chernobyl et al. Russian Woodpecker won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance. I watched it on Vimeo for 99 cents, and I felt supported.
I feel supported as I email with my father, hear his analysis and heartbreak, and as I read your accounts of wars in your history. We are like that, built to fight. Is there such a thing as fighting for good?
Kansho spoke this morning of the danger of making meaning and also the danger of abandoning it. A bomb is a bomb is a…
I am grateful to this Sangha and our teachers for holding our face to the fire, and especially for the way that art in its many forms calls us to witness, to hold each other, no matter what.
By Roshi Merle Kodo Boyd
1944 – 2022
The key is compassion for and curiosity about who we are. The only thing that can make us uncomfortable with being alone is not liking who we are. That’s what we do when we face the wall: we face who we are. Being okay with however that arises is the most compassion and the most honesty you can ever offer yourself—to just accept yourself as you are. Even if you don’t like it, that’s okay, because not-okay is always a practice gate. We can always include what we don’t like in ourselves. But letting go of worrying about having to become perfect: that’s a gift that we give to ourselves.
Whatever we need to adjust about ourselves so that we’re in accord with the way things are, those are changes we can make. But first we have to be honest about how we are, and solitude allows that. One of the promises that I made to myself as a child was to be honest with myself. I wasn’t going to lie about who I was. Something I didn’t really know at the time but my life ended up making clear to me is that being honest is more relaxing than pretending. Energy that has been used to pretend is no longer needed, and it’s free to go with the natural way of things. That’s what sitting zazen is about: no need for pretense. Okay as it is. Okay as you are.
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Editor: Nina Shuka Klippel
Guest Editor: Taylor Plimpton
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