HAPPY NEW YEAR 2023!
Altar at Garrison, Winter Ango 2022 – 2023, by Eko
I’d like to admit right off the bat that I am extremely adept at making New Year’s resolutions, and absolutely awful at keeping them. In fact, this gap between thought and action—between knowing what one should do and doing it—is a subject I’m trying to write a book on (yet another thing I want to accomplish but can’t seem to). Anyway, the fact I can’t manage to adhere to my resolutions apparently doesn’t stop me from making them, so I thought I’d share a few Zendo-related ones that made it onto the list this year.
#1: Get to the physical Zendo to sit (for an interview with Bokushu Sensei on the importance of in-person practice, see below).
#2: Practice Enlightenment (for Rohatsu reflections, including one by Musho on having faith in Buddha’s enlightenment, and thus our own, see below. Also, for a list of practice-enlightenment opportunities (which all Zendo events innately are), see our January calendar.)
#3: Organize Life/ Get Shit Together (for help with this, consider attending Tuesday’s Sorting Out Your Stuff group).
#4: Take It Easy on Yourself (see our Reflections section below for something I wrote about not letting the pressures of the New Year make you feel like a failure).
It’s heartening to be reminded that the Zendo is here to help us with our resolutions—which, after all, are perhaps not so different from our aspirations, our impossible bodhisattva vows. We could all use a little support as we journey to become our best selves. Or, perhaps as we journey to realize we are somehow already our best selves—whether we stick to our resolutions or not.
With love and aspiration,
Sunday, January 8: First Sunday
Online: Practice and Inquiry with Joshin Roshi, 9:30 am
In-Person: Body, Breath, and Mind, 9:30 am
Thursday, January 12: Dharma Talk by Musho
Newcomers Meeting, 6:40 pm
Sunday, January 15: Dharma Talk by Enkyo Roshi
Monday, January 16: Zendo Closed for Martin Luther King Day
Thursday, January 19: Dharma Talk by Daishi Hoshi
Saturday, January 21: Zazenkai, 8 am – 3:15 pm
Dharma Talk by Fusho Hoshi
Sunday, January 22: Dharma Talk by Jo An Sensei
Thursday, January 16: Fusatsu Ceremony
Precepts Talk by Shinryu Roshi
Saturday, January 28: Prison Letter Writing Group, 1:30 pm
Sunday, January 29: Dharma Talk by Mukei
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 Your Stuff meets Tuesdays at 10 am
Scenes from the Winter Retreat at Garrison, by A. J. Jiryu Davis:
Sunday, January 8, 9:30 am
, Joshin Roshi continues her popular Practice and Inquiry Circle
, we offer Body, Breath and Mind: An Introduction to Zen
led by our Executive Director, Howard Thoresen.
ON IN-PERSON PRACTICE
An Interview with Bokushu Sensei
by Taylor Plimpton
My original intention here was to write a short personal essay encouraging folks to return to in-person practice. To accomplish this, I was finally going to make it into the new Zendo myself, sit in person for the first time in almost three years, and write about my experience. I planned to do this before the end of the year, but ironically—or perhaps, exactly to the point—time and opportunity slipped away, and I was unable to make it in. Knowing how important this topic is, however—and knowing, too, that I and other Sangha members may need some extra encouragement to break free from our comfortable patterns of online and at-home practice—I turned to Bokushu Sensei. What follows are his thoughts on the differences between in-person and online practice, as well as on why we should all make the effort, this New Year, to get our butts to the Zendo.
Interviewer: I know for me, there’s been a strange kind of fear or resistance that arises when I think about coming back to the Zendo. Why in your opinion has in-person attendance fallen?
Bokushu Sensei: I think that there are several reasons that many people are not coming to in-person practice as often as they did in the past. There may be some for whom fear is a prime motivating factor. Yet even for those who have some form of fear, the object of their fear is variable—fear of Covid, fear of what it will be like to sit in person after all this time, fear of reopening "difficult" relationships in the community by practicing in person. Or the fear may in fact be more a form of resistance—resistance to "upping the ante" (as the person sees it) by practicing in person as compared to virtual/online practice.
But there are other potential explanations for reduced in-person attendance in addition to fear. I think convenience has a lot to do with it. People have become accustomed to remote/virtual practice, and they appreciate its undeniable convenience as compared with commuting substantial distances to practice in person. Remote/virtual practice is also much more flexible because one can cancel (or join) the meditation session at the last minute. By contrast, a cancellation on the doorstep of the physical Zendo is a much harder and more jarring maneuver to execute.
Our culture has a mania for convenience—and its corollary, speed—but this mania has many hidden costs. In terms of paying a visit to the physical Zendo, this choice offers not only the direct experience of being in a room together with other people meditating and supporting each other, but also all of the related experiences. These include the trip itself—all the sights, sounds and other impressions that offer unlimited fuel to practice. Going to the Zendo and practicing there are trips well worth taking, though the actual destination and mileage will vary considerably from one occasion to the next.
These past few years, so many Sangha members have found a refuge in online zazen. In highlighting the importance of in-person practice and encouraging people to return to it, is there the danger of belittling the efficacy of virtual practice?
One does not need to dismiss or deny the value of online/virtual practice to recognize that it is a very different experience than in-person practice. And we should not be so eager to validate online/virtual practice that we deceive ourselves about the differences. Each of us sees the quality and quantity of those differences differently, and accords different weights to them. And each of us can decide for him/herself which mode of practice is preferable, but anyone who says they are equivalent has simply not tried one, or the other, of them. It is worth examining why each of us prefers what we prefer, and to open ourselves to pointedly challenging those preferences as a way of opening to a broader range of options. This is the freedom of practice.
What are the main differences for you personally in the two modes of practice? Or, to put it another way, what for you is the most valuable part of in-person practice that doesn’t quite translate to online practice?
When I’m in a room meditating with other people, I feel the connection and shared intention with them more distinctly than I do online. The collaborative aspect is much more palpable and also more subtle. My control issues rise to the surface much more readily, as my very definite ideas about how things and people ought to be collide with how things and people actually are. I also behave differently around other people than I do when I’m by myself, and observing those behavioral differences meticulously and without judgment is just one gift bestowed upon me by our Sangha. It’s all much more vivid and urgent in person.
For Sangha members (like me) who might be struggling to return to the Zendo, can you offer any advice?
If you are struggling with the idea of returning to in-person practice at the Zendo, observe the struggle carefully. Often, these struggles are signals that we send to ourselves that we wish to change but hesitate to do so. But what, in fact, is there to hesitate about? Ambivalence and conflicted feelings are part of our common experience in most aspects of our lives, so why would practice or the choice of where to practice be any different? Rather than dwelling solely on one side or the other, see them both as equally valid options and recognize that your freedom depends upon your opening to both. These options offer distinct benefits and can be interchanged depending upon the tone, texture, and specifics of the moment. Live dynamically and let your practice flow from and inform that dynamism, wherever you are.
Lastly, do not underestimate the importance of your physical presence to others. Sitting still with others in a plain room facing a plain wall, you are an inspiration and a guide to others, both inside and outside that room. Never doubt the support that your presence offers to others, and bestow it freely as an integral part of the Sangha treasure.
Saturday January 21, 8 am – 3:15 pm
With Dharma Talk by Fusho Hoshi
We invite you to participate in Village Zendo’s Zazenkai, a half-day retreat that will be held both online and in person. It will include ample periods of meditation, service, a Dharma Talk, and conclude with open sozan.
Zazenkai will be held in a hybrid format, in which both virtual and in-person participants will practice together. Please note that there is separate registration for online and in-person attendance.
REGISTER FOR ONLINE ZAZENKAI
REGISTER FOR IN-PERSON ZAZENKAI
Saturday, January 28, 1:30 pm – 3 pm
Prison Letter-Writing Group Meeting
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 Shuka or ChoGaku.
Image by Taylor Plimpton
At the Village Zendo, we mark Rohatsu (Buddha's enlightenment day, which falls on December 7) by doing zazen all night long and into the morning. What follows are two reflections of this year's event.
Faith in Rohatsu
Roshi Rafe Martin from Rochester NY has written a new book entitled A Zen Life of Buddha. In the introduction he quotes Phillip Kapleau Roshi saying, “Zen is rather simple. To practice it you only need one article of belief: that the Buddha was not a fool or a liar where upon his great enlightenment he exclaimed 'Wonder of wonders! All beings are Buddha, fully endowed with wisdom and virtue.'”
I agree with Roshi Kapleau and Roshi Martin. The only faith you need to have to do this practice is faith that Shakyamuni Buddha was enlightened. His enlightenment was the simple realization that he and all being are not separate from each other or separate from the great earth, and there is virtue and wisdom in everything.
It was a radical concept to accept then—as it is a radical concept to accept now. I think Roshi Kapleau and Roshi Martin are saying the only thing we have to accept is that Shakyamuni’s enlightenment happened. From that example we are meant to find out for ourselves—and that is the basic way of Zen. To find out the meaning of meditation and enlightenment—for yourself.
On Rohatsu we are asked to contemplate the wonder and simplicity of Shakyamuni’s enlightenment: To see ourselves as integrated with all beings and the great earth as it is right now.
a poem by Ryusho
my darkness remains dark as it
slowly breathes me
in and out I become
dark like the morning star
ON STARTING OVER IN THE NEW YEAR
By Taylor Plimpton
…And then of course there’s the solstice and New Year’s—natural beginnings that we have traditionally marked as occasions to inspire our own renewal. But maybe the real truth is that we shouldn’t be stressing so much about this idea of starting over. After all, the great origin—ground zero, one—is never far. It accompanies us always, a present moment of stillness that is the very path we are walking, whether we realize it or not.
We can never really be lost, no matter how far we wander.
This is why there’s something kind of dangerous in thinking that we need to start over—as implicit in that thought is the notion that we have gone astray, that something is wrong with us and needs to be fixed: that old, sad, self-help delusion. Or, to put it another way, to be too focused on getting back to one is to miss the point that one is right here.
And I guess it’s good to have these instances of renewal like the solstice to remind us that we too can begin again, or perhaps to remind us that we are perpetually already beginning again. Still, it can feel like an awful lot of pressure sometimes, the whole New Year’s thing—the idea that all of a sudden you’re somehow supposed to be able to start fresh, become a brand new, happy, healthy person, and so on—which is why it’s probably best not to take any of this stuff too seriously. In fact, if anything, the return of the light should remind us to take things—life, politics, our perfectly imperfect selves—lightly. After all, wherever we are, however we feel, that’s exactly where we need to be. Or, as the great haiku master Issa puts it:
New Year’s Day—
everything is in blossom!
I feel about average.
For the full essay, go HERE
Connect With Us
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: Taylor Plimpton
Editor-at-Large: Nina Shuka Klippel
Managing Editor/ Design & Production: Howard Thoresen
In these trying times, the Village Zendo still relies on your support.
If you are able, please make a donation and type
"DANA" in the Comments box. Thank you!