Does spring come because we want it to? Do we will the grass to grow and the flowers to bloom? Or does all of life occur unbidden, as if completely aside from us?
It’s hard to accept sometimes that the universe has it covered, and doesn’t actually need our help. After all, as bodhisattvas, we want to make a difference, save all sentient beings (and while we’re at it, the universe, too). But if human history has shown anything, it’s that when people try to fix things (especially things that aren’t broken), we tend to muck them up. So, if we cannot act without mucking it all up, what are we to do?
Well, as the above poem suggests, one thing we can do is nothing! We can begin with our most basic practice, zazen: sitting quietly on our cushions and allowing life to unfold as it will. After all, if we can truly arrive at a place of non-action, of wu-wei, existence will take care of itself—spring will come of its own accord. (Of course, spring will still come even if we’re not doing nothing, but this is sort of the point.) In the socially engaged Buddhism we practice at the Village Zendo, it could be easy to put our focus only on doing—on work, on social action, on taking to the streets—but it’s too easy to forget what a revolutionary act doing nothing actually is, for implicit in it is the massive, healing faith in the perfection of the universe as it is, and in the wholeness of ourselves as we are. We don’t need
to do anything, and to sit quietly, completely, and keep our hands to ourselves is to overcome that ancient, misguided notion that life is broken, and so are we, and that it’s up to us to fix it all.
I do not mean to belittle the noble actions so many members of our Sangha take to improve our world—only to remind us that, at their best, these actions arise out of the wisdom of this stillness, of zazen. After all, out of this great root calm—the plain, simple presence of sitting quietly and doing nothing—great acts can and do occur, as our Sangha (and indeed, this Bulletin, with its record of meaningful events and offerings) proves: poems can be written, love and support can be offered, the streets can be taken.
And the interesting thing is, when these actions arise from the ground of zazen, they happen naturally, like grass growing, flowers blooming. Then it’s as if we have nothing to do with it, as if the universe itself is responsible—which of course it is.
With spring on my mind,
Sunday, April 2: Online: Practice and Inquiry with Joshin Roshi
In Person: Body, Breath, and Mind—Intro to Zen
In Person: Music Jam, 3:30 pm
Thursday, April 6: Dharma Talk by HonGō
Sunday, April 9: Dharma Talk by Soshin Sensei
Thursday, April 13: Dharma Talk by Ryotan Roshi
Newcomers’ Meeting, 6:40 pm
Saturday, April 17: Zazenkai, Dharma Talk by Bokushu Sensei
Sunday, April 16: Dharma Talk by Ryoshin
Thursday, April 20: Dharma Talk by Enkyo Roshi
Sunday, April 23: Dharma Talk by Fusho Hoshi
Thursday, April 27: Fusatsu Ceremony
with Precepts Talk by Shinryu Roshi
Sunday, April 30: Dharma Talk by JiSei
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
Sunday, April 2, 3:30 pm – 5 pm
How do you translate Beginner’s Mind into sound? Easy. By listening. Harmonizing. Allowing space.
We are all musicians whether we practice an instrument or not. This is a musical jam that welcomes all, from beginners to professionals.
Based on Music for People techniques and led by Todd Rogers, a generous and trained facilitator, this open kind of improvisation is inspiring and fun for performers, singers, teachers, dancers, and amateur musicians. No experience needed!
“A highpoint of the month for me,” says Joshin Roshi. “A superb practice in not knowing.”
3:30 – 4:00 pm: Instructional session
—learn simple, fun techniques for freeing up your sound
4:00 – 5:30pm: Improv Jam
Improv Jam will continue the first Sunday of Every Month
Sunday April 2
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.
Sunday, April 2
In Person Only:
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
Saturday, April 15, 8:30 am – 12:45 pm
Online and In Person
With Dharma Talk by Bokushu Sensei
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.
The 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, April 22, 4 – 5:30 pm
Village Zendo Members
are invited to join us online for our
Image by Rodney Musho Greenblat
Saturday, April 29, 3 – 4:30 pm
Forms of Emptiness
Village Zendo Rituals
with Shinryu Roshi and Fugan Sensei
Chanting connects us as we voice the Dharma together, in community. In this workshop, we explore the practice of chanting at Village Zendo. What are our chants? How do they resonate in our lives and in the world? And how can we engage more fully in chanting when we are at home and/or online?
The Writings of Urban Sesshin:
1. My fish/my sneaker, an offering by Torei
A Creative Offering from the Sangha
My sneaker. It’s a black, Brooks Brothers levitate stealthfit. It says all these things on it in various places on the outside. Inside there is a tag that says 9.5 medium width. It’s 9.5 men’s but in the UK it’s 8.5. My foot is smaller in the UK. There is a little bit of mud on the soles. It got there from when I walked Ollie in the park this morning. I try to catch up with him as he runs joyfully off leash through the grass. Rolling in the mud. I try to stop him and then I just let go. The lace is tied as I took them off without untying them. These shoes are made like a sock, or a glove, and they don’t need to be untied. On the right side of the sole near the heel, the sole is rubbed off because I walk in a way where my feet are turning outward and putting too much pressure on that part of my heel causing me all kinds of foot pain. It’s a reminder of all the habits I tried to break and surgery on my foot that did not help. I feel a rush of shame. I turn the shoe to the side. It says guardrail on the side of the sole. What am I guarding against? I put my hand in the shoe. The place where my foot hits the inside of the shoe holding the weight of my body. I feel its imprint. The heaviness. I remember when the shoe was newer and springier, just a few months ago, and how quickly these sneakers I wear almost every day are impacted by me. The end of one of the shoelaces is frayed. It often gets untied, and I step on them until I find a place to lift up my foot or tie them. I was never properly taught as a child how to tie a shoe. I feel sadness. I feel both the joy and the challenges of my life carried by my sneaker, this shoe, every day.
2. An offering from ChoGaku
(Gessho’s last exercise in Object as Koan: look at the first object you chose to examine today. What’s new?)
What is new is that I’m tired now. Could barely stay awake in zazen. Paradoxically, the photograph, the stairway are more clearly in focus. Probably because the sky has darkened in anticipation of the coming rain and snow, the shadows in the photograph are deeper, larger, more easily seen and felt. The risers more prominent than the flat surfaces. When I’m tired, shadows ARE more easily seen and felt. And most particularly when I dream.
The photograph is an invitation to explore the dark clouds and treacherous steps of living in this world. The thin places where I can move from light to shadow and back again. At least up till now, I’ve always been able to leave the shadows, whether chosen or not.
(Gessho: Now, write a poem about it.)
Darkening steps, up
through high grass and gnarled
trees, lead to some light.
3. An offering from Nina Shuka Klippel
(After reading Charles Simic:)
“The world is beautiful but not sayable— that’s why we need art.” But art is the voice of a single person (except for tribal art—worth exploring later).
And yet we use the word art as if it were something we could agree on. Why do we need art? As indeed we do! Otherwise, just the banality of existence.*
The work of art takes the lowly apple and makes it—unforgettable? immortal? Yes—art as defying death. Those apples of Cezanne’s will not rot or stink— thus defying mortality. Or—showing us another view of it?
*Note: this does not take account of the experience of nature, which is—for me—even richer than the experience of art.
(Instruction: Choose an object and write a journal as that object, its experience of the world. I chose a photo of waterlilies that hangs above my desk.)
So long have I stayed here, on her wall, unchanging, even though my whole life—everything I am and represent—is about change. So I embody a paradox—a permanent, unchanging manifestation of change. So how can I help Nina deal with change, with loss? Yes, manifest the brightness that
Remains—and acknowledge the darker underside? Too pat, perhaps. Note also—community. We are not isolated flowers, but relate to each other in a pattern. So—not one but many, many as one.
4. Big Fish, an offering from JiFu
I am on the floor standing in front of a big yellow canvas my husband painted.
He said it is too big, and his mind can't come to it. He is used to smaller surfaces.
Aren't we all used to smaller surfaces? Out of habit.
Look a bright blue sky
Out of habit
I stand alone
"When is the painting done"? I asked. He said "Now."
Now that ginger tea beckons me.
Look a bright blue sky is overhead
Through the window and my eyes
Bright blue sky is overheard.
Keep looking long enough to dissolve into tears or erupt in laughter
I dare you
Let's go wonder about each other
I learn how to feel lazy about everyone and everything.
This frees trauma and suffering
It is never mind, mind I choose
Never mind is pure non
Sense is what conjures a world.
What world is that again?
A never mind of world.
5. An offering from Kodo
In the Absence of Mother
A Love Affair begins
Two men making raspberry jam
One barefoot, wearing a burlap sack
The Other… The Sire
A suit jacket and tie
No syllables uttered
In their hush
“The Mother is Present”
whispers the spoon to the jar
The Mother is Present.
On Prison Letter-Writing
The Village Zendo’s “Lifelines to Solitary” group, also known as our “letter-writers group,” has long worked with the national organization Solitary Watch to provide correspondents for men and women housed in solitary confinement who seek a supportive letter-writing relationship. Although some of us correspond with incarcerated persons who are no longer in solitary or never were, the majority of our correspondents come through Solitary Watch.
The unnecessary tragedy of solitary confinement in the United States is recounted in great detail on the Solitary Watch website (solitarywatch.org
“The use and abuse of solitary confinement in U.S. prisons is one of the most pressing domestic human rights issues in America today—and also one of the most invisible. According to available data, the total number of men, women, and children living in solitary confinement in all state and federal prisons exceeds 75,000, with tens of thousands more in isolation in local jails, juvenile facilities, and immigration detention centers.
Far from being a last-resort measure reserved for the “worst of the worst,” solitary confinement has become a control strategy of first resort in many prisons. This despite the fact that it has never been shown to serve any legitimate penological purpose, and may actually increase both prison violence and recidivism. Individuals can be placed in complete isolation for months or years not only for violent acts but for possessing contraband, using drugs, ignoring orders, or using profanity. Thousands more are held in indefinite solitary confinement because they have been “validated” as gang members, based on highly questionable information. Others have ended up in solitary because they have untreated mental illnesses, are children in need of “protection,” are gay or transgender, are Muslim, have unsavory political beliefs, or report rape or abuse by prison officials.”
The VZ letter-writing group will hold its quarterly meeting online on Saturday, May 6th at 1:30 pm to share stories and discuss issues raised by our correspondences. Everyone is invited to attend, whether you are currently corresponding with an incarcerated person or not.
If you’d like information about our program before the meeting, please contact ChoGaku at firstname.lastname@example.org
(You can learn about current solitary confinement practices in New York State at: https://www.nysfocus.com/2022/09/12/halt-solitary-implementation-doccs/#:~:text=Widespread%20Violations,more%20than%2015%20consecutive%20days
Standing on Each Other’s Shoulders
By Willie Mukei Smith
I remember seeing a photograph in an art book of a sculpture that had figures of all sizes standing on each other’s shoulders. It conveyed the message that we all get where we are with the help of others. I write this at a time when I have been feeling a loss, sadness. Presently there is nothing in my life that would indicate a loss and there is nothing to be personally sad about. Recently I was catching up with a friend and she shared how life has changed as a result of the pandemic. Stores are empty. The number of people on the streets has diminished. Inflation, refugees, mental health issues, housing, and hate crimes are some of the headlines always reported in the media. As I was thinking about all of this, I felt that I had a hole in my heart. Suddenly I realized that I was in mourning. Three years of survival doing everything to dodge Covid bullets and feel safe. There was no room for mourning. It was solely about staying safe and surviving.
Towards the end of 2021 we, the Sangha, moved to a new space, a space quite different from the one in which I had practiced. During the Closing Eye ceremony, I shared what the former space had meant to me. We touched on our sadness but did not provide adequate time for complete mourning. As we entered a new year, with the production of vaccines and boosters, the goal for everyone was to get back to normal. Is mourning part of normalcy? Yes, if we acknowledge it and pay attention to its many manifestations. This is not a process done individually, but collectively. Like the sculpture, we are all standing on each other’s shoulders, especially during this time of transition.
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!