Azalea Garden, Bronx Botanical Gardens
“When walking, just walk. When sitting, just sit. Above all, don’t wobble.” —Yunmen
We’re honored this month to share here in the Bulletin an excerpt from Neil Soten Theise’s new groundbreaking book, Notes on Complexity. In the first chapter, Soten reminds us that “complex” doesn’t necessarily mean “complicated”— but while the book focuses on complexity, I found my own thinking over the past few days veering helplessly to the topic of complication. After all, life can seem so complicated, sometimes, so overwhelming. Health, money, family, friendship, love, work, practice, suffering, desire, etc., etc. etc.—how is one to handle all this stuff on a day-to-day basis? My honest answer is: I don’t know. I realize this is part of practice—to simply live your everyday life as best you can, complications and all—but personally, I’ve been feeling pretty overwhelmed as of late. Which is, I guess, sometimes just how it goes.
My mom was a big fan of the acronym, KISS: Keep It Simple, Stupid. (I wish she were here right now to remind me of this in her wonderfully wry, no-nonsense tone—but in a sense she sort of is.) In Zen terms, what this means, perhaps, is that’s in our best interest to focus solely on the matter at hand. After all, you can’t fix everything at once—and to attempt this is part of what can make us feel so besieged by it all. But you can take care of what’s in front of you right now. And then, after that, you can take care of what’s next. Of course, there will never be an end to things that need to be taken care of—it will be one thing, and then the next, forever and ever, Amen—but one thing at a time even I can theoretically handle.
Our practice can help with this idea of keeping it simple. We sit, we breathe, we pay attention to our posture. We keep our focus on the present moment, and whatever arises within it. As Yunmen reminds us: when walking, just walk.
As someone who’s been feeling a little wobbly as of late, I might add: when wobbling, just wobble.
Thursday, May 4: Dharma Talk by Bokushu Sensei
Saturday, May 6: Prison Letter Writing Group, 1:30 pm
Sunday, May 7: Online: Practice and Inquiry Circle, with Joshin Roshi
In-Person: Body, Breath and Mind—
Intro to Zen, with Howard
Thursday, May 11: Zazen (no speaker)
Saturday, May 13: Zazenkai, Dharma Talk by Fusho Hoshi
Sunday, May 14: Dharma Talk by Enkyo Roshi
Thursday, May 18: Dharma Talk by Kenko
Saturday, May 20: Rituals Workshop on Posture
Sunday, May 21: Dharma Talk by Ryoshin
Thursday, May 25: Fusatsu, Precept Talk by Fugan Sensei
Sunday, May 28: Guest Speaker: Cuong Lu
Monday, May 29: Zendo closed for Memorial Day
Ongoing Weekly 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
Notes on the Annual Meeting
by Howard Thoresen, Executive Director
Dear Village Zendo Community,
Congratulations! Throughout the pandemic and in a time of political and social turmoil, we have been strong. We have completed a full year of practice in our new Tribeca space. Our membership has remained steady, and our online community has grown exponentially. We’ve maintained a full schedule of practice, talks, Zazenkais, and Fusatus, and we have returned to in-person retreats at Wisdom House and Garrison. We have added several new teachers, and a number of members have taken jukai. And we have maintained our online practice, moving forward as a truly hybrid dharma center with affiliates and members spread across the globe.
Please take a moment to look over this organization chart, created by Joshin Roshi.
Notice the various streams—Online and In-Person, Practice and Administration, Maintenance and Communication. To our teachers; to our webmaster, Kojin, who with his team keep the beautiful website and calendar up to date; to each of you who wear many hats as openers, coordinators, registrars, service position holders—we thank you all for your service. And, of course, this only represents a tiny glimpse of Indra’s Web: the People of Color group has expanded online, the Book Group, the Prison Letter Writing group, the group that prepares and posts our talks on podcasts, Facebook and YouTube, the Sorting Out Our Stuff group, our affiliates in the northeast and Bolivia…thanks, and ever thanks.
Please email me if we’ve missed something or someone—this chart is an overview of our basic structure and will later be expanded to include all the active groups at the Village Zendo.
Financially, we experienced a deficit in 2022 which had to do with the costs of moving and preparing our new Zendo, and with paying two rents as our lease at 588 Broadway had not expired. Now that that connection has ended, our expenses are considerably reduced. We continue to depend on income from donations, memberships, and programs. We are grateful to the Sangha for your continuing support.
For several years I was a student of Ashtanga Yoga. That practice began with a chant, bowing to the lotus feet of the teacher—something I was never that crazy about. But one time, one of my instructors pointed out that the teacher had two feet. He said, “One foot is planted firmly in the tradition and the other is moving in improvisation.” That struck me as a kind of aspiration for my practice.
Last month we had an Urban Sesshin with the theme “Sangha as Shuso,” a title that sums up for me the history and future of the Village Zendo. We bow to our teachers, of course, but the great matter they are teaching us is that wisdom, intelligence, and compassion reside within us, and therefore that the future of the Zendo and the Dharma itself reside within us. I believe that more than ever, our programming has come out of Sangha initiatives, and there are more such programs coming in future months.
I believe new leadership will arise out of the Sangha; we’re looking for it, and I believe it will take us in unexpected directions. I take refuge in the way of Not Knowing.
Sunday, May 28, 9:30 am
In-Person and online
Guest Speaker: Cuong Lu
Cuong Lu will give a Dharma Talk and read from his book:
Happiness is Overrated: Simple Lessons on Finding Meaning in Each Moment
Cuong Lu, Buddhist teacher, scholar, and writer, was born in Nha Trang, Vietnam, in 1968 and emigrated to the Netherlands with his family in 1980. He was ordained a monk at Plum Village in France under the guidance of Thich Nhat Hanh and became his 18th disciple. In 2000, he was recognized as a teacher in the Lieu Quan line of the Linji School of Zen Buddhism. Cuong is the founder of Mind Only, located in Gouda, where he teaches Buddhist philosophy and psychology, specializing in Yogachara Buddhism combined with the Madhyamaka (middle way) school of Nagarjuna. In 2022, he founded the No Word Zen order, emphasizing the whole world as a place of practice. Cuong leads retreats and gives Dharma Talks in Europe, the United States, and Asia, and offers presentations to large organizations. He is the author of three books, The Buddha in Jail, Wait, and Happiness Is Overrated. For more information, please visit www.nowordzen.com.
Creativity is the Essence of Complexity
An Excerpt from Neil Soten Theise’s New Book
Nothing in the universe is more complex than life. Microscopic life abounds both in the scalding, pressurized, sunless depths of ocean trenches and upon the highest, frozen Himalayan peaks. In between, throughout skies, in oceans, and across lands, life is endlessly on the move. And, surely, in the billions of years in which organisms will continue to thrive on the planet, there will be vastly more life forms, with variety beyond anything we might imagine.
The complexity of all this rich abundance has long resisted explanation. The origins of life remain deeply mysterious. What biological wonders might emerge next are beyond our knowing. If we were even to begin to fathom it all, a theory of complexity was necessary.
Complexity theory is the study of how complex systems manifest in the world. The use of the word complexity here does not mean “complicated,” however. Complexity in this context refers to a class of patterns of interactions: open-ended, evolving, unpredictable, yet adaptive and self-sustaining. It is this complexity that we will explore—how life self-organizes from the substance of our universe, from interactions within the quantum foam to the formation of atoms and molecules, cells, human beings, social structures, ecosystems, and beyond.
A distinguishing feature of life’s complexity is that, in every single instance, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Even if one knows the characteristics and behaviors of all the individual elements of a living system (a cell, a body, an ecosystem), one cannot predict the extraordinary properties that emerge from their interactions. In complexity theory, these surprising outcomes are called emergent properties or just plain emergence.
This unpredictability is both a core subject of complexity theory and a key feature of what it has to offer our understanding of the world. Neither we nor our universe is machinelike. A machine doesn’t have the option to change its behavior if its environment changes or becomes overwhelming. Complex systems, including human bodies and human societies, can change their behaviors in the face of the unpredictable. That creativity is the essence of complexity.
The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. So much is packed into that simple expression. Colloquially, the phrase evokes community, teamwork, elevated purpose—the ways in which people, with their own differing talents and abilities, when working together, can create synergies beyond the scope of what any of the individuals alone might have been capable of producing on their own. A winning team. A social movement. A perfect dinner party.
But complexity extends far beyond human beings and their social behavior. Examples of complex systems are found not only in sociology and biology but also in chemistry and physics. The universe is a shimmering web of complexity that continually births and nurtures life, tempting us to believe that life might even be its central purpose and most fundamental expression.
Complexity bridges the seemingly unbridgeable gap between the universe at its most infinitesimal, described by quantum mechanics, and at its most vast, described by the theory of relativity. As successful as these two most successful of all scientific theories have been, they are unable, on their own, to illuminate how we go from the most basic elements of existence (space, time, matter, energy) to the complex behaviors of living organisms and their social structures: ecosystems, cultures, and civilizations. It is complexity theory that shows how the entities arising from fundamental physics actively weave themselves into ever larger structures, step by step, until they become the fabric of our everyday lives and of the dynamic, natural, living systems that surround us.
While the aims of complexity science are grandly ambitious, when studied with careful intention, its lessons can also be deeply personal. It can solve some of the most crucial riddles of our sense of being.
In the womb and for a relatively short time afterward, we are in a seamless world in which we experience no divisions: there is no self and no other, no baby and no mother. Gradually, inevitably, in early infancy, we move from this state of intimate wholeness into another state, one of separation. We become bounded by our skin: everything inside it an “I,” everything outside it “the world.” Parts, not wholes.
Occasionally, if we are fortunate, we find ourselves in a situation with other people in which we achieve that feeling of complete unity, of something bigger than ourselves. In the absence of that experience, many of us will spend our days struggling to understand how “I” and “the world” relate. If we’re at all able to recall that sense of seamless unity, we may look over our shoulder and wonder, “How can I get back to that?” And if we’re not able to recall it, we may instead just be left with the uneasy sense that something is missing, even though we’re unsure what that something is.
Complexity theory not only provides us with scientific understanding, but as we travel down its paths, the implications of the theory can also enlighten us, providing insight into everything from the permeable boundaries of our bodies to the nature of consciousness. Complexity theory can foster an invaluable flexibility of perspectives and awaken us to our true, deep intimacy with the larger whole, so that we might return to what we once had: our birthright of being one with all.
Notes On Complexity © 2003 by Neil Theise. Published with permission of Spiegel & Grau.
Announcing Our New Covid Policy
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has determined that transmission rates for COVID-19 in our local counties are low.
As a result, the Executive Committee of the Village Zendo has determined that effective immediately the use of masks will be optional for in-person practice at the Zendo. We will no longer require proof of vaccination to enter the Zendo.
You are still very welcome to wear a mask when you attend Village Zendo events.
If you have a condition that impairs your immune system, and if you are over the age of 75, we recommend that you wear a mask.
If you have fever, chills, cough, sneezing, runny nose or a new rash please take appropriate care of yourself and do not come to the Zendo until you have recovered.
If you have been exposed to COVID-19 recently, please wear a mask.
Any member may still choose to wear masks or N95s. Please respect their decision.
Please be aware that if community transmission of COVID-19 or Flu return to high or substantial levels, we may be required to return to mandatory masking. Staying up-to-date with vaccines remains the most important way to prevent the serious complications from COVID-19.
A Poem by Editor-at-Large Nina Shuka Klippel
As Picasso said
“I don’t seek, I find”
To seek is to name:
Nothing to discover!
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!