Promise of Spring
“Not knowing is most intimate.” —Zen koan
Ah, March: a month of not-knowing. Is it spring, or winter? Will it snow, or be sunny and 70? And just who the hell am I, anyway?
Yes, it’s hard to know much of anything in March (not that it’s so easy to know stuff any other time)—but in March, the great mystery of it all is perhaps more apparent. And so it’s a good thing that this is the month we hold our Urban Sesshin—so that we can dive into the great unknown together, as a Sangha. (See below for a detailed description of upcoming Sesshin activities, as well as other upcoming practice opportunities.)
Speaking of Sangha, did you know that this Ango period, the VZ Sangha is Shuso? Yes, that means you! And so: congratulations, Shuso! Wait, what? I’m not ready to be Shuso, you think. That’s way beyond my paygrade—I don’t even have a Dharma name! Take heart, Shuso—after all, the mind of the beginner, fresh and open, is the mind of the master, or so we’ve been told.
Of course, one of the great matters that none of us can really know anything about, no matter our level of “mastery,” is death. This month, in our Reflections section, we are grateful to have Jane Steinberg, a member of our sister Sangha at Upaya Zen Center, recall the privilege of corresponding in prison with Donald Dillbeck, who was executed in late February.
With vast not-knowing, and a deep bow,
Thursday, March 2: Dharma Talk by Yugetsu
Friday, March 3: Jukai Information Meeting, 6 pm
Sunday, March 5: Online: Practice and Inquiry Circle with Joshin Roshi
In-Person: Body Breath and Mind; Intro to Zen
Wednesday, March 8 to Saturday, March 12: Urban Sesshin
Thursday, March 9: Dharma Talk by Musho
Sunday, March 12: Shuso Hossen
Book Group Discussion: Opening to Oneness
Guest Author: Roshi Nancy Mujo Baker
Thursday, March 16: Dharma Talk by Ryotan Roshi
Saturday, March 18: Rituals Workshop: On Bowing, with Tokuyu Sensei
Sunday, March 19: Dharma Talk by Shugo
Thursday, March 23: Fusatsu Ceremony with Precepts Talk by Myoko Roshi
Sunday, March 26: Dharma Talk by Jo An Sensei
Thursday, March 30: Dharma Talk by Mukei
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
Sorting Out Your Stuff meets Tuesdays at 10 am
Friday, March 3, 6 – 7:30 pm:
Receiving the Buddhist Precepts
Vast is the robe of liberation
A formless field of benefaction
I wear the Tathagata teaching
Saving all sentient beings
Are you curious about the precepts and taking Jukai?
Roshi Enkyo O’Hara will lead a discussion on taking Jukai, Friday, March 3, from 6 to 7:30 pm.
In the Jukai ceremony, we vow to lead our lives in accord with the precepts. The study of the precepts has no beginning or end, but it is the basis of our practice and our relations with others. This will be a wonderful opportunity for anyone considering taking Jukai this summer to ask questions and to get an in-depth introduction into what is involved with taking this important step.
If you would like to attend or have any questions, please contact Tokuyu Sensei: firstname.lastname@example.org
Sunday, March 3, 9:30 am to 11 am
First Sunday of Each Month
Online: Practice and Inquiry Circle led by Joshin Roshi
Practice and Inquiry Circle, led by Joshin Roshi, explores in real time the Zen Peacemaker Precepts of Not Knowing, Bearing Witness and Compassion in Action. A theme is presented as an avenue of inquiry and participants are invited into dialogue. Listening and speaking from the heart we learn to drop into what’s newly emerging in our presence with another and find healing connection to sangha.
9:30 – 10:00 am — Zazen
10:05 – 11:00 am — Practice & Inquiry Circle, then Four Vows
In Person: Body, Breath and Mind; an Introduction to Zen
Howard Thoresen, the Village Zendo’s Executive Director, will introduce Zen meditation and the other aspects of Village Zendo practice.
Instruction begins promptly at 9:30 am.
Recommendations for a comfortable, stable sitting posture are given, as well as guidance on how to begin a meditation practice and do walking meditation.
There will be an emphasis on finding ease in practice, and on the significance of practicing with a community and with teachers. The instruction is punctuated with short periods of silent meditation.
There will be ample opportunity for Q & A.
Join us In-Person
Wednesday, March 8 to Saturday, March 11
Sangha as Shuso
“Sangha” is community, a field of support, interaction, and challenge, where we come to be, together. This Urban Sesshin, the Sangha itself—yes, that means you!—is serving as the Shuso. Welcome, Shuso!
We will explore the theme of Sangha through three writing workshops: “Beginner’s Mind Expression,” led by Taylor Plimpton, “The More-Than-Human World as Companion,” led by Marco Seiryū Wilkinson, and “Object as Koan,” led by Sal Gessho Randolph.
In “Beginner’s Mind Expression,” we’ll explore ways to approach writing—and life—with a fresh, curious, and open mind. Can we cultivate the unjaded perspective that all great reporters have—one that experiences the world from the intimate, vulnerable, and refreshingly honest space of not knowing? Expressing ourselves with Beginner’s Mind is one of the sacred duties of all writers—for, as Basho reminds us, “Nothing’s worth noting that is not seen with fresh eyes.”
In “The More-Than-Human World as Companion” workshop, we will practice paying attention to the more-than-human around us—plants, animals, weather, buildings, rocks, water. How do the beings around us serve as kalyana mitra, “spiritual friends,” in our lives? Through a series of writing exercises and sharing practices we will work to widen our appreciation for how the more-than-human-world supports, interacts with, and challenges us.
In “Object as Koan,” we’ll practice forms of attention to works of art and the objects that we live with. How do we entangle ourselves with the things of the world? Can we see ourselves as part of a sangha that extends into everything around us? We’ll practice writing specifically and intimately with artworks and objects as our inspiration, moving beyond mere description into wide-ranging forms of interaction and expression.
Please join us for all or any part of this retreat. It is an occasion to celebrate and experience the treasure of Sangha, of inclusion and participation for all.
For Information and to Register GO HERE
Sunday, March 12, 9:30 am
Sangha as Shuso
Schedule (Eastern Time)
Photo by A. Jesse Jiryu Davis
9:30 am Zazen
10:00 am Shuso Hossen Ceremony
is a joyous celebration concluding the intensive training period of Ango. Normally the Shuso gives a talk and takes questions from the community in a ceremonial conversation known as Dharma Dialogue. It is a participatory and stirring event. This time we’ll have the Sangha itself engage in Dharma Dialogue following a talk given by Shinryu Roshi.
As in any conversation, someone asks a question and someone else answers. Dharma Dialogue takes place in a field of not-knowing. The question ‘What is Buddha?’ could only get the answer ‘Cypress tree in the garden’ with a Master willing to allow the moment itself to give the answer.
So you don’t have to be wise or smart or even a long-term practitioner to engage in Dharma Dialogue. Beginner’s Mind is ideal which is why Senior students aren’t permitted to participate. The way it will go is as follows: the first person on the list asks the second person a question prompted by the talk. The second person answers and then asks a follow up question of the next person on the list. And so on until the list is exhausted.
If you’d like to participate in this Dharma Dialogue, sign up below.
SIGN UP FOR DHARMA DIALOGUE
Sunday, March 12, 5 pm to 6 pm
Join us for a Village Zendo Book Discussion of
Opening to Oneness
with Roshi Nancy Mujo Baker
Nancy Mujo Baker Roshi is the founding teacher of the No Traces Sangha in the lineage of Maezumi Roshi’s White Plum Asanga. A dharma successor to Bernie Glassman, she is among the first fully empowered lay Soto Zen teachers. She is Professor Emerita of Philosophy at Sarah Lawrence College, where she taught for more than forty years. She lives in New York City.
In Opening to Oneness
, Zen teacher Nancy Baker offers a detailed path of practice for Zen students planning to take the precepts and for anyone, Buddhist or non-Buddhist, interested in deepening their personal study of ethical living. She reveals that there are three levels of each precept: a literal level (don’t kill, not even a bug), a relative level that takes moral ambiguity into account (what if it’s a malaria-spreading mosquito?), and an ultimate level—the paradoxical level of nonduality, in which the precepts are naturally expressed from a state of oneness.
Full of nuance, intelligence, and compassion, the first half of the book addresses the ten grave precepts mostly from the relative level, including instructions for how to practice these precepts individually and in pairs or groups.
The second half of the book takes a deep dive into looking at the precepts from the ultimate perspective, largely through an exploration of the writings of Dogen, the thirteenth-century religious genius who founded the Soto Zen school.
The book is widely available, including in ebook formats:
Join the online discussion on March 12th at 5pm.
Saturday, March 18, 3 pm to 4:30 pm
Forms of Emptiness—On Bowing, with Tokuyu Sensei
Gassho and Bowing
with Tokuyu Sensei
Saturday March 18, Online: 3 – 4:30 pm
Why do we gassho, and why do we bow?
Dogen Zenji said, “As long as there is true bowing the Buddha Way will not deteriorate.”
Bowing is something that may trigger things in some people based on past experiences. I was recently in Thailand and their cultural way of saying hello and goodbye involves gassho and a bow. As a Zen practitioner I loved this, and was so happy to engage whenever it came up. But I noticed most other westerners felt awkward to greet them in the same way and would instead wave or nod their heads uncomfortably.
How does bowing make you feel? How did it make you feel when you first started practice?
In this workshop we will look at some writings about what gassho and bowing means to us as Buddhist practitioners and how they are utilized in different areas of our practice. And we will explore what comes up for you, and what feelings we have around the ideas of gassho and bowing, and our actual experience of them.
Additional Forms of Emptiness: Rituals Workshops will be held March 18, April 29, May 20, and June 17.
More information HERE
Thursday, March 23, 5:30 pm – 7:15 pm
In-Person and Online
Please Consider In-Person Practice
Fusatsu Ceremony and Precepts Talk
with Myoko Roshi
Traditionally held at the full moon, the Village Zendo community gathers once a month for its Fusatsu ceremony of repentance or atonement. It is our way of acknowledging that we are not separate from all the harm and disharmony in our world and that our practice should naturally lead to us to ethical action. In the latter part of the ceremony, the officiant gives a Dharma Talk focusing on the Zen precepts of ethical conduct.
A key piece of the Fusatsu ceremony is bowing. Over and over again, we lower our heads. The action of bowing down, together with the action of chanting, helps us to let go of the usual stream of thoughts and reopen the body, heart, and mind. We can all do this, whether we do a full prostration or a standing bow. In that moment of lowering our heads, we can release our vain presumptions about what we know and what we can control. This is the moment of purification and atonement. It is not a transcendence of our lives and our evil karma, in their endless ramifications, but an open engagement with them. Bowing down and letting go of thoughts, we can also naturally connect with our innate capacities, which we identify with the wisdom and compassion of the Buddha and Bodhisattva ancestors. And with the reopening of body, heart, and mind, we hold the means to respond to the suffering in our lives and the world around us.
SPECIAL NOTE TO OUR ONLINE COMMUNITY:
Those who attend online can, if they choose, chant along with those attending in-person. They can also do full prostrations at home, or simply do bows while standing or sitting.
A Remembrance of Donald Dillbeck
By Jane Steinberg
Just over nine months ago, I received a letter from inside prison walls, and in the following months, my practice of serving the incarcerated deepened and strengthened my bodhisattva vow in ways I could not imagine.
May 8, 2022
I’m on Florida’s Death Row and decided years ago, I could waste this time and throw away a golden chance of using solitary, or I could embrace my situation and live life much like a monk and found self-compassion, simplicity, acceptance, harmony and grace.
Brightest Blessings—Let’s create a nice day.
You can practice anywhere, even in the unimaginable confines of a 7×9 cage—Don called his cell a “cage.” Like many of us, I seek a quiet space to practice in front of an altar created from meaningful objects. I have encouraged and supported other insiders to practice where they are, following the breath, noting thoughts. I had an attitude of, C’mon, you can do this; circumstances do not have to be perfect. Don shared with me how to not be confined by boundaries and limitations. A 7×9 cage on death row was Don’s home and zendo for well over 30 years. He called his cell “my monastery.” “It’s also been my friend, worthy opponent as well as my teacher of very valuable lessons on the topics of patience, acceptance, stillness, inner silence, and most importantly it taught me how to surrender to SPIRIT. Which yes, brought me unconditional freedom and self-discovery.”
As a practitioner of Daoism and Wicca, Don understood that “all paths are an opportunity to open up within” and was eager to discuss concepts like suffering and emptiness, eagerly adding the Verse of Atonement to his daily practice.
He also believed that the willingness to serve is the best and most amazing part of our lives and that we serve all of life. For all of us who serve those that suffer, we have down times, the times we want to just turn our backs, shut our ears. One man’s experience on death row with over three decades of continuous practice renews me, melts my delusive sense of a petty self and selfishness. One more breath.
Don used to put the words “Death Row” in quotes. For some reason, this gave me a false sense of security, like it was just another location inside the prison, and I guess Don’s calmness and abiding faith in practice in our correspondences dulled my senses to the true reality. On January 25th, 2023, I received an email from his attorney letting me know that Governor Ron DeSantis had signed his death warrant to take place in a month’s time. Just like that, all direct communication was severed, but we could continue to write and through his attorney, very occasionally, receive a response. On February 22nd, Don was allowed to voice a farewell: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=agXDy7ddGWk
. For the first time, I heard his soft southern accent: “I know that you will continue to create nice days bringing simple acts of common kindness into the lives of both the incarcerated and the folk you come across in your daily life. Whether it be a warm smile or taking a few minutes and giving them your complete attention where they know someone hears them and they are understood without being judged.”
These were amongst Don’s last public words. He was executed at 6:03 pm on February 23, 2023 at Raiford Prison, Florida where he had spent 40 of his 60 years.
Don was a changed man and had accomplished the supposed goal of prison: rehabilitation. His many messages of love and kindness speak for themselves. Please share far and wide.
Brightest Blessings…..Let’s Create A Nice Day
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
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