New York Botanical Garden
“Longing, we say, because desire is full
of endless distances….”
—Robert Hass, ‘Meditation at Lagunitas’
Ever since long-time editor of the Bulletin Nina Shuka Klippel came up with the wonderful idea to have Sangha members write about practicing from afar, I’ve been thinking about distance, separation, longing. (A romantic at heart, the quote above from the poet Robert Hass has always been one of my favorites). But in a practice that is, at least in part, about closing distances and finding a way to not separate—what does it mean to practice from a physical distance? And is separation just an illusion? After all, I know from experience you can be sitting in the Zendo itself and be distant from it—mind three thousand miles away. And it’s clear from reading the moving personal reflections offered below that you can be in an entirely different country and yet be fully present, right there in the Zendo, intimately connected with your fellow Sangha members.
For me (and Shuka has mentioned the same thing), this very Bulletin has been one of the things that’s kept us connected to the Village Zendo—as Roshi puts it, it’s a kind of glue, and hopefully not just for its editors, but for the whole Sangha. Through it, we get to share with you the monthly happenings, the offerings, the events, each one of them an opportunity for us to close the distance and connect—to the Zendo, to the Sangha, to ourselves. (For more on closing the gap between yourself and yourself, see an excerpt from Maezumi Roshi in our Reflections section at the end of the Bulletin.)
This month, for instance, we have a new Online Rituals workshop—which is in part about bringing the rituals of the physical Zendo into each of our homes. And so it is across the board—Dharma Talks, Online Prison Letter Writing Workshops, Fusatsu, Shuso Hossen—all of these wonderful October events are ways of becoming more intimate with each other and with our practice—bringing it all into our everyday life, our everyday home. After all, Zen was never meant to be confined to the Zendo—and so to see it thriving across continents and seas, far away, and yet never closer—is a kind of testament.
Deep bows to you all,
Saturday, October 1: VZ Online Rituals Workshop, 3 – 4:30 pm
Sunday, October 2: Online Practice and Inquiry Circle with Joshin Roshi
In-Person Body, Breath and Mind with Howard
Thursday, October 6: Dharma Talk by Jo An Sensei
Saturday, October 8: Online Prison Letter Writing Group, 1:30 – 3 pm
Sunday, October 9: Dharma Talk by Fugan Sensei
VZ Book Discussion, online 5 – 6 pm
Thursday, October 13: Dharma Talk by Soten
Newcomers’ Meeting, 6:40 pm
Sunday, October 16: Dharma Talk by Enkyo Roshi
Thursday, October 20: Dharma Talk by Eko
Sunday, October 23: Dharma Talk by Bokushu Sensei
Thursday, October 27: Fusatsu, with Precepts Talk by Shinryu Roshi
Friday, October 28: Shuso Workshop "The Luminosity of Everyday Life"
Saturday, October 29: Zazenkai with Honsaku Gyocha
Sunday, October 30: Shuso Hossen
Ongoing Online Groups:
The Bolivian Sitting Group meets Saturday mornings, 8 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
Sorting Out Our Stuff meets Tuesdays at 10 am
Saturday, October 1, 3 – 4:30 pm
Village Zendo Ritual Workshop
with Shinryu Roshi and Bokushu Sensei
What is Ritual?
What is ritual? How does it support our meditation practice and promote the life of our community, and how does it relate to liturgy? How do we engage wholeheartedly in ritual, without creating something "holy" on the one hand, or sliding into something rote on the other?
Are there really any answers to these questions? Join Shinryu Roshi and Bokushu Sensei for this interactive workshop and find out!
Join us at the Online Zendo HERE
Suggested Donation $25/per workshop
(Go to our Support Us
page; note "Ritual Workshop")
Tuesdays at 10 am
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.
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.
Saturday, October 8, 1:30 – 3 pm
Online Prison Letter-Writing Group
For many years now, I have tried to come home, to settle comfortably in my own head, only to struggle and run once again in the face of my pain and loneliness. Then the day came when I was put in a single man cell, with no window and no contact with the outside world and there I sat for months, while my demons howled. …. I believe that to try to practice my religion means to use whatever is available to me to help myself, and all men, to settle comfortably in the boundless nature of mind. I just happen to use howling demons.
So wrote an incarcerated man to his VZ correspondent several years ago. What a gift from this man to his correspondent. Such an opportunity for both to learn, grow, practice.
Whether you’re already writing to incarcerated persons, or are curious about the practice, come to the next VZ Lifelines to Solitary online meeting. All are welcome. No need to pre-register.
If you have questions, concerns or topics for discussion, contact ChoGaku
Sunday, October 9, 5 – 6 pm
Join us for
The Village Zendo Book Discussion of
This Brilliant Darkness:
A Book of Strangers
by Jeff Sharlet
As this training period’s Shuso, Shugo was invited to choose a book for the VZ book discussion series. He chose This Brilliant Darkness: A Book of Strangers
by Jeff Sharlet. Shugo will facilitate the discussion on October 9th at 5pm.
Shugo wrote this about his choice:
We often think of darkness as somehow lacking—that which lacks light, and therefore lacks the nature of illuminating what we really want to see: the truth. After all, the Buddha was enlightened. But the relationship of light and darkness is at the heart of our practice; is itself the practice.
In This Brilliant
Darkness: A Book of Strangers, journalist Jeff Sharlet takes us on a journey of pictures and stories with this relationship as our guide. He writes, “Darkness isn’t the absence of light, it’s the presence of ink. The stuff from which letters and words and stories are made. Darkness moves; it flows from one letter, from one image, to the next.” Joy, pain, hope, despair—the stuff of light and darkness. We flow with Sharlet’s beautiful writing, with the stories of strangers, with our own stories.
The book is widely available in hardback and ebook formats.
Join the discussion HERE
Thursday, October 13, 6:40 pm
Are you new to the Village Zendo online community? Would you like to get to know some of the teachers, meet other community members and ask questions informally? If so, please consider joining us for an open conversation on the second Thursday evening of every month. No reservation needed — just show up when it works for you.
This offering complements our ongoing weekly “Learn to Meditate” program, which occurs at 6:30pm on Monday evenings.
Time: Second Thursday of every month, starting at approximately 6:40 pm, immediately following the Dharma Talk and chanting service.
Join Online HERE
Friday, October 28 – Sunday October 30
Shuso weekend with
Shuso Jeff Shugo Berman
Friday, October 28, 7:30 am to 3 pm
The Luminosity of Everyday Life
Drawing on our study text Komyozo Zanmai, “The Practice of the Treasury of Luminosity,” this workshop is an opportunity to dig into the luminosity of our everyday lives. When we take time to slow down and enter a space of creative engagement, we find luminosity in our living and working spaces, in the cities and towns we call home, in our interactions with others, and in the natural landscapes that permeate throughout. The workshop will open with interactive presentations from sangha member, essayist, and horticulturalist Marco Seiryū Wilkinson, as well as composer and video producer, Shuso Jeff Shugō Berman. In the afternoon, we will use hands-on creative practices, including photo and video gathering as well as writing and discussion, to connect with and respond to the luminosity of our lives.
Saturday, October 29,
with Dharma Talk by Enkyo Roshi
and Hansaku Gyocha
(a formal tea the night before Shuso Hossen)
Sunday, October 30
A ceremonial rite-of-passage marking a student’s promotion to the rank of Senior. It takes place at the conclusion of the intensive training period of Ango during which the student serves as a model to the sangha or community. The event is both a crucible and an empowerment for the student in that their understanding is tested by the community. As such, it is a participatory and deeply moving experience for all. At Shuso Hossen, the Shuso gives his or her first Dharma Talk and takes questions from the community in a ceremonial conversation known as Dharma Dialogue.
Complete Descriptions of these Events and Registration Information will follow soon.
Thoughts on Practicing from Afar
Travels through Mountains and Fields
—Yosa Buson, ca. 1765
As you might know, Australia is a long, long way from NYC. I live on the coastal plain in Yuin country, one of the tribal groups of the First Nations people. Up and down the New South Wales southern coastline there are small villages that once relied exclusively on fishing, farming, and service industries. These towns have since prospered and grown as a result of the influx of tourists and, increasingly, those seeking a sea change from city life.
The town I live in is Ulladulla, meaning ‘safe harbour.’ Small towns like this one tend to be conservative & closed—hard to break into. They have numerous organizations that I joined at first, attempting to make friends. It’s been seven years and now I am beginning to meet up with a few like-minded people. There’s the Manjushri Centre with a small group of good people who attend to meditate, practice Tibetan rituals, and fundraise for the building of a Stupa in the nation’s capital. During the shocking fires that devastated surrounding towns and areas, the Centre declined the motion that we become involved with the relief efforts, and that’s when I decided to leave and provide whatever help I could by joining with other organizations to help (Salvation Army, Red Cross, Catholic Church, etc.)
There’s a team of five dedicated volunteer chaplains working within a 32-bed hospital in the next town. Two are Christians and three Buddhist. We three have become a little sangha. We meet to sit, and we conduct a Bookclub based on our spiritual interests. The hospital chaplaincy team is supported by a newly appointed visiting supervisor who, as avowedly Christian, would like us to proselytize within the hospital and at various events. We three found this something of a challenge and have been working towards achieving a more collegial, multi-faith approach to serving the patients, families, and staff.
Over the time I’ve been living here, I have come to rely heavily on Village Zendo for the teaching opportunities—for regular teacher interview, Koan Study and Dharma Talks. The VZ provides contact with a wider community and is truly a beacon for this fledgling group of Buddhists. During our struggle to reach an agreed approach to working with our new supervisor, we needed guidance and inspiration, and we listened to Shinryu Roshi’s recent Dharma Talk, ‘Watching Closely,’ to help us forge a middle way.
Many times, when I have experienced feelings of isolation, I’ve played and re-played some of the Dharma Talks, and these I find inspiring and nourishing for my practice here, and have helped me navigate some of the challenging interactions within this conservative community. Without the Podcasts and regular interviews with Roshi Enkyo O'Hara I would have struggled, especially through the dark and lonely times.
I am grateful, too, for the Zoom meetings that keep me in touch with my heart life there. Thank you to the teachers and the entire community for all you do to ensure this outreach is sustained. I am happy to report that these days I smile more often.
what a joy it was
to smell the Hudson
see clouds mirror on 1WTC
taste cinnamon at Grandaisy's
hear the zendo's security shutter rattle
feel bells sound in my bones
touch your robes
keeps the treasure
while i freely share it
For years, living “far away” in Ohio and then San Diego, I carried the Village Zendo inside me, but in a tenuous way, finding it hard to make it to sesshins or back to New York City, and when I did I felt a bit like a stranger, the sangha through its day-to-day practice having somehow moved on and beyond me, a once- or twice-yearly visitor at best. Eventually for a time I stopped coming back altogether, though wherever I went I carried the Village Zendo with me. I returned to steady practice with the Village Zendo through Zoom when the COVID pandemic grounded me and everyone else. Suddenly I was as much “there” as everyone else, but where was I?
My partner and I have a room in the back of our house that serves as an office, a guest room, and a little satellite corner of the Village Zendo. A folded-up zabuton and zafu come out from under a chair and get set up between daybed and desk, an altar lives on top of a bookcase full of books I use for teaching, and the desk chair gets flipped around and turned into a perch for my laptop, a magic window to Tribeca and New Paltz and Cape Cod and Bolivia.
It can be disorienting, opening that window at 4:30 am to a place where it is three hours ahead. The world is lighting up over there and I imagine the folks in the zendo will head off to work after sitting, while here it is fully dark and after sitting is done at 5:30 am I am just as likely to climb back into bed as to make a cup of green tea and begin my day. Later, zazen becomes an afternoon break at 2:30 or 3:30 in the afternoon for me while it caps the day and opens on to evening on the east coast. I remember early on in the pandemic during a zazenkai, sitting “next to” someone in Australia in the Zoom zendo for whom my mid-morning sunshine sit was a midnight vigil. Bewildering!
In zazen, I see myself. In Zoom zazen I also see myself. I see myself in that little glowing box and by myself I mean my background. Truly this whole earth is my body, or at least that part of it captured by my computer camera. One of Zoom zazen’s hidden benefits is the way it makes me tidy up. Piles of books off the bed, maybe even onto a bookshelf. Smooth out the blanket, fluff up the pillows. Put away the clothes, maybe even fold them. Notice the painting on the wall that most of the time has become invisible through familiarity, push at one corner to straighten it.
These days I am at home in San Diego between the desk and the daybed, but also at a writing residency (where I’m writing this now) in Palm Springs between the bed and the night-table, or in a hotel room in Los Angeles sitting facing the room door, listening to the housekeepers making their rounds in the hallway outside. Now that I am beginning to travel a bit, these two years of finding myself “there” in the Zoom zendo has meant that “there” is “here,” anywhere. It turns out the Village Zendo is everywhere (or at least wherever there’s wifi).
I went to the in-person sesshin this past summer, and there is no doubt that there was something powerful and special about being physically together, as I once had regularly done before circumstances over a decade ago led to me moving away from New York City. And yet, in that reunion were so many other people in far-flung places who I had only ever known as pixels on a screen. In a way that was never true before, Village Zendo feels like a global sangha thanks to Zoom, dropped like a blade of grass by the invisible hand of the internet into my computer, wherever I may be.
Unlike the patriarchs and matriarchs of old
The words of Roshi Joshin during Sesshin on the first Winter of the Covid-19 pandemic landed in a soft place within my body. As if I had recognized them as already related to me, familiar as my own self. She said we are bringing the zendo back home
, and a few breaths later she added, where it belongs
It was the first time that as a community we were performing this bi-annual ritual from our very own locations, not gathered under the same roof. It was the first year we were erecting a temple from scratch aided by an invisible network of intricately complex human-made technology—a formless field of benefaction that allowed me then, and keeps allowing me now, a Chilanga from Mexico City currently living in Toronto, Canada, to access teachings, teachers, and sangha without having to embark on a pilgrimage across vast expanses of land and time, international borders, and away from everything known to me, unlike the patriarchs and matriarchs of old.
Having practiced without a formal Sangha at different times of my life had cultivated within me the basis for a home-based Zendo: in deep relationship with discipline and twilight, kettle, pot and tea, incense and flowers, bells, zafu and zabuton. In deep relationship with my partner’s quiet and most basic habits, rhythms and needs. In deep relationship with the many two and four-legged beings whose sounds drift through my window as they walk, run, or fly by, on their way to who knows what destinies.
However, hearing those words uttered miles away and yet resonating out loud in my own living room, while watching the landscape slowly being transformed from city to wilderness by the grace of gently falling snow, made something within me step back. My feelings went silent, we are bringing the zendo back home, where it belongs
, a quiet arose: Something wild and unknown stood revealed, vast like a long-distance call.
Practicing online with the Village Zendo since has meant that my home zendo, already beautiful and well inhabited, has been filled with the voices, the thoughts, the struggles, the losses, the joys and celebrations of so many. It has also meant that my own life gets to be weaved into its tapestry and through its doors enter and touch your life too. What stood revealed and wordless in the centre of my chest then has slowly become the realization of the need for the ideas and practices of zendo and homemaking to be at one, as well as an unexpected sense of belonging that I cherish and grapple with every day.
I did not think belonging from afar was possible, I did not think participating from afar was possible, let alone feeling seen and getting to know and develop meaningful relationships with the many who gather to erect this now hybrid Sangha; and yet, it seems to be happening. Though practicing in this new and brave way is frustrating on many accounts—how could I complain? Here I am writing with you in mind and here you are holding my thoughts in yours.
Met and challenged by this ongoing dialectic called Dharma practice and three years into this unexpected turn of its wheel, I find that my home zendo has grown. It is intricate and complex, it puzzles me with questions I can’t find answers to, it challenges my beliefs and categories, and it is alive, everchanging and radiant!
In the realm of the flawless Dharma, let us keep walking this path and see where this leads us. Sometimes together, sometimes apart.
“Close the Gap
Between Yourself and Yourself”
An excerpt from Maezumi Roshi’s Appreciate Your Life: The Essence of Zen Practice (Shambhala)
We have a practice known as the paramitas. Paramita means “to have reached the other shore.” Dogen Zenji says, “The other shore is already reached.” In other words, the meaning of reaching the other shore is to realize that this shore is the other shore. This life is the unsurpassed, realized life. There is no gap.
So if there is purpose to our practice, it is to realize that this shore and the other shore are the same. The purpose is to close the gap, to realize that there is just one shore, there is just one life. To reach is extra. Until you realize that this shore where you stand, this life that you are living, and the other shore, the life of the buddhas, are the same shore, you cannot appreciate your life to the fullest.
In that sense we can say that the purpose of practice is no purpose. If we have a purpose, then we have problems. We set up all kinds of goals and we reach for them. But the amazing thing is that the goal is right here! We are on the starting line and at the same time we are already on the goal line. In other words, we are already living the buddhas’ life. Regardless of whether we realize it or not, regardless of whether we are new or old-time practitioners, we are intrinsically the buddhas. Yet until we see this, somehow we simply cannot accept that fact . . .
. . . How to close the gap between Yourself and yourself? Please take this seriously as your fundamental koan. Sit comfortably and concentrate well . . .
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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"DANA" in the Comments box. Thank you!