Tribeca Park, around the corner from the Zendo
“This is the practice place of Ordinary Mind. This is the complete practice of the Treasury of Luminosity.
This is inconceivable freedom.” —from our Ango text, Komyozo Zanmai by Koun Ejo Zenji
It’s been a strange month to want to celebrate freedom, even if that’s what we’re supposed to do on the 4th, or on Bastille Day: mark our independence. But even though—and perhaps especially because—our very rights and freedoms are being so threatened, it is worth celebrating freedom right now. Fighting for it. Practicing it. Because freedom of course is what we do in Zen—not just the goal of it, but the very practice of it. Which is one of the many reasons to be grateful for all the practice opportunities the Village Zendo offers us: day after day, we get to practice—to proclaim—our independence.
This Bulletin is a double-issue, marking VZ events in both July and August, and we have plenty afoot in the coming weeks. Perhaps most importantly, of course, is Ango, a space and time to manifest “peaceful dwelling” amidst the turmoil of our lives. This year we return to sesshin at Wisdom House, and while in-person registration is now closed, Dharma Talks will be streamed online and our regular online practice continues. (See below for Ango letters from Roshi and our Shuso, Shugo.)
There’s also a new Sorting Out Your Stuff group, which carves out time to tackle those tasks that have been hanging over our heads, weighing us down—tasks that might seem menial, but that nonetheless make up our lives. (See below for a description of the class, and for a reflection from a participant.)
And of course there’s the everyday practice the Zendo offers us as well—times to sit morning, noon, and evening, zazenkais, Dharma Talks. And now that in-person practice is once again available, our everyday zazen can be an even more intimate way to explore and celebrate our independence—and interdependence—with each other. For more on the joys of in-person practice, see a piece by Adam Harrison Levy in our Reflections section.
Finally, I wanted to mention that the longtime editor of the VZ Bulletin, Nina Shuka Klippel, will be relinquishing some of her duties, though thankfully not all of them, as she will remain on as Editor-at-Large and continue to offer us the unique vision, beauty, and grace of her writing and editing. Shuka has spearheaded this publication from the very beginning (see below for a remembrance by Shuka of her time as editor), and with her at its helm, the Bulletin has become not only a way for the Sangha to stay up-to-date and connected with each other, but also to celebrate and showcase the Sangha’s rich artistic and literary talents. Please join me in expressing deep gratitude for her hard work, her light touch, her steady wisdom, and her elegant pen.
Deep bows to you all,
Thursday, July 14: Dharma Talk by Enkyo Roshi
Newcomer’s Meeting, 6:40 pm
Saturday, July 16: Zazenkai, with Dharma Talk by Kojin
Sunday, July 17: Dharma Talk by Kenko
Thursday, July 21: Dharma Talk by Daishi Hoshi
Sunday, July 24: Dharma Talk by Fugan Hoshi
Monday, July 25 – Thursday, August 4: Sesshin, Wisdom House
During Sesshin our regular online program of sitting will continue.
Daily Dharma Talks will be streamed online from Wisdom House–details to follow.
Sunday, August 7: Jukai Ceremony
Zendo Closed: Monday, August 8 through Sunday August 14
Thursday, August 18: Dharma Talk by Soten
Sunday, August 21: Dharma Talk by Jo An Hoshi
Thursday, August 25: Fusatsu, with Dharma Talk by Shinryu Roshi
Sunday, August 28: Dharma Talk by Mukei
EDITING THE BULLETIN, A REFLECTION
By Longtime Editor
Some years ago, Roshi came to me with a suggestion—that the Village Zendo should have a newsletter—and she showed me a newsletter from Upaya, which may have been written by Joan Halifax.
Nina Shuka Klippel
Nina Shuka Klippel by Joshin Roshi
I was flattered and honored to be asked to do this. My first suggestion was that it should open with a letter from Roshi. Oh no, she said—the letter should be from you! And so the Bulletin came into being.
For me it has been a vital way to be part of the Sangha. I don't live in the VZ neighborhood— although until Covid, I was easily able to get there by subway. But connecting with the Sangha every month—requesting and getting the wonderful articles and poems that make our Bulletin so special—has been a delight, and an essential part of my life.
To me, the Bulletin is and should be the voice of the Sangha. Do other Sanghas have so many poets, so many artists (we need to show more of their work in future Bulletins), so many engaged Buddhists, working as chaplains, or leading groups in prisons…?
Editing the Bulletin has been stimulating, fun, a pleasure—but the time has come to pass it along, so that the Sangha can hear other voices, read other perspectives. Of course, the Bulletin couldn't happen without Howard's production—the bold graphic design and all those wonderful photos—and Taylor's copyediting skills, and so I'm delighted that the two of them have agreed to carry on.
The Village Zendo’s first in-person summer retreat since the start of the pandemic will be July 25th through August 4th at Wisdom House in Litchfield, Connecticut. While registration is now closed for in-person attendance, our regular online sitting schedule will continue and the Dharma Talks will be streamed online via our Online Zendo.
A Letter from Roshi:
Dear Village Zendo Sangha and Friends,
It's Summer Ango! And, again, we are trying something different than in 2020 and 2021, which were Zoomed online. Before that, we practiced for many years at the Grail in Cornwall, and one year, 2019, at Wisdom House. This year we return to Wisdom House for a residential retreat, as well as continuing our online offerings for those who cannot join us in person. Of course, ideally, we meet all our life experiences as new and fresh, so let’s be grateful and appreciate the differences this third year of the pandemic era brings us.
This year we will offer a ten-day residential retreat (July 25-August 4). We will of course continue our regular Zoom meeting separately. Even with today’s constraints, it is urgent that we find time to renew our practice. The Ango officially begins on July 25 ending with our Shuso Hossen on October 30. We will have time to practice deeply, at Wisdom House, at home, or at the Zendo. There will be many openings and opportunities for us all to participate in studying and practicing, in accord with our deep dive into Ango practice.
I am pleased to announce that our shuso, the ‘practice leader’ for this Ango, is Shugo—Jeff Berman—who will offer his leadership and model practice for us during this time. Shugo, who is a musician as well as audio engineer, will provide us with a steady beat for our Ango practice.
As you may recall, Ango means ‘peaceful dwelling,’ and it is my hope that all of us who participate will encounter our own peaceful dwellings in our hearts and minds. I hope you will participate in our retreat as you can, either in person at Wisdom House, or holding the Sangha online on Zoom during this time. Indeed, this year, we need to do this more than ever! This will be our first hybrid, part-residential, part-online Ango. To that end, I encourage us all to attend whatever aspects make sense for you.
Our unusual study text for this Ango, selected by Ryotan Roshi, is “Komyozo Zanmai
,” a beloved short Soto essay by Dogen’s successor, Koun Ejo.
Please take time to notice what is important in your life and do try to attend as much of the Ango as is possible for you. It is a time of introspection, of creativity, clarity, and resolve. Sitting together in person and online, taking time to practice, and listening to our own nature—this is our annual practice of restoring and re-centering. Take this opportunity to practice deeply and wisely.
A Letter from Shuso:
It seems that the tension and tumult of the past two years is only getting higher with each day. While we continue to hope for peace in our city, country, and around the globe, new bouts of violence and intolerance cut through like a knife, bringing us back to sadness, uncertainty, and outrage at injustice. Whether another mass shooting, a new Covid variant, or the overturning of Roe v. Wade, it’s hard to stay engaged and not get overwhelmed. It is in this time that we are once again invited to Ango, to clear a space in our lives for “peaceful dwelling.” But what is peaceful dwelling in a time like this? What does it mean to sit quietly, removed from society, while the world around us is in turmoil?
I’ve just returned from spending a week in London. While I was walking through the city, I came upon a small Quaker meeting house, where I stepped inside to sit for a few minutes. As the sounds of the city grew quiet, the space in and around me came to life. I felt my heartbeat quicken and the wind of breath swirling throughout my body; the shimmering light reflected off the leaves of a tree just outside the window and danced on the floor; a bee buzzed against the windowpane. I felt an excitement, a sense of expectation—something is about to happen.
And something is about to happen; something is always about to happen as our lives unfold, moment-by-moment. When we sit and turn our attention to it, we feel what it is to be alive in this vast, mysterious universe. The universe that spontaneously expresses itself through us and calls us back home like a distant voice across the sea. Sitting quietly and connecting with this extraordinary experience, we are awake, alive, and ready to engage, interact, and respond.
Before I left London, I visited the crypt at St. Paul’s Cathedral, and sat in front of the memorial to William Blake. It shares the first lines of his “Auguries of Innocence,” which opens with a beautiful invocation of the absolute. At the end of the poem, Blake writes, “We are led to Believe a Lie / When we see not Thro the Eye / Which was Born in a Night to perish in a Night / When the Soul Slept in Beams of Light.” Like Avalokitesvara in the Heart Sutra, Blake directs us to see not “with” our senses, but “through” them; we must see through and beyond the realities that are right in front of us, to the deeper truths that we share as human beings. This, I think, is what Ango is all about. To witness through our full capacities the true pain and suffering experienced by our friends, family, and all beings; to share in the joy and ecstasy woven throughout the fabric of our lives and lift up the communities of which we are a part; to immerse ourselves completely in the process of darkness and light, the realms of day and night into which Blake bids us journey. This is how we can show up and be of service in a world that needs our help so dearly.
I’m so excited to enter this Ango period with you. Whatever your Ango looks like this season, I hope you will delight in the richness of this practice that we are able to share together.
Sorting Out Your Stuff Group
This idea grew out of Susan Moon’s description of her “sorting” group in Alive Until You’re Dead: Notes on the Home Stretch. We were inspired to try it ourselves, maybe with other Sangha friends.
The group’s purpose is to support one another in cleaning up and clearing out whatever needs our attention, and whatever it might be. A will? a closet? a file cabinet? a relationship? Let’s handle it, with the knowledge that “time swiftly passes by and opportunity is lost.”
We will meet on Zoom, start with a little sitting, then briefly share what we’re working on. Next, we go off and do whatever is on our list for 90 minutes. Finally, we reconvene to check in again, and maybe share a bit of relevant dharma wisdom. These meetings are held on a weekday morning because phone calls are often very important to these processes: calling the trusts and estates lawyer, calling the appraiser, calling the eye doctor’s office.
We will simply start. (As the rice cake lady says, “just go straight”.) Each Tuesday morning we meet on Zoom. The important thing is that we are connected as we are actually doing the work. Not talking about it or thinking about it. Doing. And then connecting again.
If you’d like to join us, please do! E-mail Keiko for Zoom link and more info.
Please note that the “Sorting Group” does not take place via the public online Zendo link. It is available only to participants who have notified Katie Keiko Crum, email@example.com. Once you’ve done that, she will email you the Zoom link on the morning of the meeting.
Sorting Out Your Stuff Group
A Participant's Reflection
I approached the first workshop with my usual sense of trepidation (à la "Inquiry Circle Sundays" kind of disquiet) in spite of having a relatively solid understanding of the session's focus: to support one another in cleaning up and clearing out whatever needs our attention (to quote Keiko's overture). The prospect of creating a blank canvas for a doable task within a specific time frame was stimulating, compelling, and ultimately, wholly liberating. Cameras on or off, leave the Zoom room or stay logged on, a veritable buffet of choices orbiting around the job at hand. And its composition? Potentially as unique as a thumbprint. When we reconvened, clarity and momentum were the themes that resonated. But as important, perhaps, the luminous feeling of community that can help us hold each other up while we stare down those things that require our attention—however tangled they may be.
By Shelley Hanson
Coming this Fall
The Elder Years: Grit, Growth, Grace
This fall, the Village Zendo will present a three-part series entitled The Elder Years: Grit,
Growth, Grace. Although the series focuses on the elder years, people of all ages are
welcome and encouraged to attend to consider what might lie ahead and/or help loved
ones navigate growing old in America. The three sessions will include the following
topics (we anticipate some overlap):
Session 1: Attending to this Skinbag: Physical, Psychological and Cognitive Changes
as We Age
Session 2: The Path of Wisdom and Compassion: Spiritual Challenges, Gifts and
Practice in the Elder Years
Session 3: Laying the Foundation: Planning for Safety, Security and Support
Soten Theise (chair), Seigen Hanson and Ann Danoff, with organizational support from ChoGaku McCoy, are planning the first session.
We request suggestions regarding topics you would like included in the first session. Please note that we plan to cover topics of general interest. No
personal medical advice will be provided.
We would appreciate your completing the following anonymous survey so we can target the session accordingly.
Please return the survey by Friday, July 22nd so we can incorporate your feedback into our planning for the workshop.
If you have questions about the survey, please reach out to ChoGaKu at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you have technical issues with the survey, please reach out to me. You can also leave comments in the survey itself.
The Texture of Reality:
Waking up at 6:00 am is a bummer. I’ve tried different alarm settings on my phone—chirping birds, sonorous chimes, sprightly whistles and, when none of those worked, a repetitive blast that sounded like a UPS truck backing up into my bedroom.
Thoughts on the Joys of In-Person Practice
By Adam Harrison Levy
But what eventually compels me to throw back the covers is the feeling that if I don’t get up, I’ll let my fellow early morning Sangha members down.
It’s been only three months since the Zendo has re-opened but there is already a chummy conviviality to the small group of early morning regulars. Fusho arranges the flowers while sipping her coffee, MyoGetsu registers attendance, and Seizan makes sure his robe is perfectly arranged. Roshi breezes in, gives a cheerful wave, and then takes off her shoes with the same graceful efficiency as unfolding her gray Zugu during morning service. She checks her phone and disappears into the dokusan room.
This loose familiarity changes at 7:25 when we assume our service positions. The bow at the shoji screen when entering the Zendo proper, the bow to the room, the bow to the cushion, the arrangement of the zafu, the folding of the legs: the repetition of outer movements in preparation for inner stillness.
When assuming a pose, yogis talk about muscle memory. I like to think of this as Zen memory, forms that connect all buddhas throughout space and time: the ino’s chant, the doan’s bells and Roshi’s ritual movements. These are repetitions that are both unifying and consoling.
Sitting in person in the Zendo means sharing a physical space that inspires a level of sensory attention, and inner attention, that I didn’t experience when sitting alone at home during the pandemic.
I will forever be thankful that the Zendo made the transition to Zoom (seemingly) effortlessly. It was astonishing to see the influx of practitioners from around the country and the globe during those two years. But when zazen was over and I closed my laptop, I would be struck, without fail, by a wave of sadness that would often bring me to tears.
We were alone, but together. That sense of togetherness was invaluable. But the cause of my underlying sadness was the feeling that it was a simulacra of togetherness, different in a significant way from sitting in the Zendo. And this difference had something to do with the texture of a shared physical reality.
In the Zendo, I can hear Seizan’s robe rustle, and sense Fusho’s watchful gaze. I hear MyoGetso cough. The scent of incense drifts by. Outside a car rumbles over the cobblestones of St. John’s Lane. And through it all, Roshi sits as still as a stone.
In person, we are freed from our squares, no longer muted by the forbidding red slash. In real time, there is more at risk. We experience our imperfections: the doan misses a cue, I chant off key, and the timing of our bows falls out of sync. We have to take our non-verbal cues from each other and pay more attention than when gazing at a screen. The reward is that we occasionally achieve a fleeting moment of inter-dependent grace, which is all you can really ask for.
After zazen, everyone seems a bit lighter. Sometimes we linger over espresso and chat. We put away the electronics, set the timers on the air filters, and put on our shoes. Inevitably, the cares, responsibilities and tasks of the upcoming day rush in. The gate rumbles closed. It’s 8:30am. Cars inch their way out of the Holland Tunnel, blasting their horns. Office workers trudge from the subway.
Walking down the street I can’t deny a sense of virtue, of having already established a foundation for the day, even if it’s wrecked by an incoming email. At least there isn’t that habitual pandemic sadness. Sitting in person, my practice feels more engaged, riskier, less verbal, and more sensory. The texture of reality helps to wake me up.
We communicate in three places online:
our email list, a Facebook page, and a Groups.io list
where we share events and information among the whole
Sangha. Explore these various ways of staying connected and
up to date here: https://villagezendo.org/connect-with-us/
Editor-at-Large: Nina Shuka Klippel
Interim Editor: Taylor Plimpton
Managing Editor/ Design & Production: Howard Thoresen
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