Idyllic Central Park
You do not think you are completely free, so you practice trying to liberate yourself. But what is binding you? Look around you. Nothing is binding you, and yet you cannot see it. You feel as if you are bound by something. Buddha calls this delusion.
—Taizan Maezumi, Appreciate Your Life
As it’s soon to be Independence Day, I’ve been thinking about freedom, which is, of course, one of the goals of our practice. (Not thinking about it, that is, but enacting it.) The strange thing to me is that, by all standards, I am free—and yet of course I don’t always feel that way. To be sure, there are moments (rare ones, often unnoticed) in which this freedom is briefly realized—on the cushion or on the tennis court, dancing, writing, laughing—moments when I lose myself and find myself all at once, and there is ease there, and spaciousness, and yes, even joy. But then there’s the other 97% of my life, in which I feel inexplicably awkward and restricted, as if something is binding me.
As Maezumi Roshi notes, nothing is binding us. We are all innately free—we need only realize it—but that’s the trick, isn’t it? After all, if we don’t realize it, does it even matter if we’re free? And besides, just how exactly do you break free when nothing’s actually constraining you—when the feeling that you are bound is just a delusion?
And what if it’s not a delusion—what about when you’re truly not free: is it possible to manifest independence even then? Below, ChoGaku offers a moving reflection on freedom as it relates to the myriad human beings who find themselves incarcerated throughout the world. Is there a way to be free no matter the circumstances, no matter what confinements and sufferings life casts our way?
This Independence Day, how will you express your freedom?
Sunday, July 2: Online: Practice and Inquiry Circle with Joshin Roshi
In-Person: Body, Breath and Mind, an Intro to Zen
In Person: Music Jam, 3:30 pm
Tuesday, July 4: Zendo Closed for Independence Day
Wednesday, July 5: Service with Liturgy Training 6 pm (New)
Thursday, July 6: Dharma Talk by Bokushu Sensei
Sunday, July 9: Dharma Talk by Enkyo Roshi
Thursday, July 13: Dharma Talk by Keiko
Sunday, July 16: Dharma Talk by Mukei
Wednesday, July 19: Service with Liturgy Training 6 pm
Thursday, July 20: Guest Speaker—Gyokei Yokoyama
Sunday, July 23: Dharma Talk by Shugo
Return to Silence Sesshin begins
Thursday, July 27: Dharma Talk by Ryotan Roshi
Sunday, July 30: Jukai Ceremony at Wisdom House
Voice of Wisdom Sesshin begins
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
Offerings from the Sangha
Independence and Incarceration
By Marjorie ChoGaku McCoy
Taylor, our estimable Bulletin editor, emailed me over the weekend, inquiring “considering it's about to be Independence Day: have you gotten a greater sense of what freedom means from your correspondence with the imprisoned? Is it possible to be free in spirit even when your body is locked up?”
My first thought after reading Taylor’s questions arose, not from my VZ prisoner correspondence, but from the time I was a volunteer Buddhist chaplain at Greene Correctional Facility near my former home. Once, in early Spring, I brought in paperwhite flowers I had force-grown from bulbs for our makeshift Buddha altar. Although prison rules allowed me to bring flowers for the altar, I could not let the men bring the flowers back to their cells. On a hunch, I gave each of the men in our group a paperwhite to hold during meditation. One man sobbed, saying he hadn’t touched a flower in six years.
I thought, as well, of a recent letter one of our VZ letterwriters received from his correspondent in a Midwestern maximum security prison. Frank had written:
“As for me, I am hanging in there. However, I must admit this environment of mine is insane! One has to stay on high alert all of the time. I can tell one about this place and movies can be made of it and books can be written about it and songs sung of it, and thus one can imagine, but I honestly believe, this place cannot be completely comprehended, conceptualized or fundamentally felt; all this must be known through experience – and I don’t mean just visiting the dark, nasty negative place, or being employed here. Granted, those are experiences indeed, but they are not, not anywhere close to the experience that I am trying to convey.”
And, finally, I thought of Donald Dillbeck, the Florida inmate who corresponded with another of our letterwriters. As many of you know, Donald was executed last February after many decades on death row. Sometime in the months before he died, Donald wrote the following for the Unconditional Freedom Project website (unconditionalfreedom.org):
“Many years ago, someone sent me a book marker with the saying “Peace Begins with me” on it. The message I received from this saying is that it’s up to me to be the one to try and get along with everyone else. Over the course of time the concept of this saying evolved and I began to understand it in a completely different manner. With my practices I began to notice that I was starting to live in a state of calmness or tranquility. No matter what’s going on, whether it be inside my monkey mind or outside events, I had this sense of underlying peace and was able to relax, knowing that regardless of the outcome it’s all going to be just fine. I also began to notice that my calmness had a way of getting others to calm down too. Ahh peace does begin with me!”
And so, my response to Taylor’s questions, shared with all of you, is:
Freedom is being able to grow, hold, keep a flower.
Freedom is not living on high alert all of the time, wherever and whoever you are.
Freedom is having a spiritual practice.
Spiritual practice is freedom.
Thursday Evening, July 20 at 5:30 pm
In-Person and Online
Special Guest Speaker
Please join us for an evening of zazen with a talk by our special guest, Gyokei Yokoyama, on the theme of:
TOKOKU-KI 洞谷記 Records and Diaries
of Keizen Jokin Zenji
Soto shu in Japan will be commemorating the 700th anniversary of Keizan Zenji's passing in April 2024 in Japan. Keizan Zenji is considered one of the two founders of the Soto Zen School in Japan, alongside Dogen Zenji. In Japan, Keizan is recognized as the main contributor to the spread of Dharma across the country together with his students. As North American Soto Zen marks the 100th anniversary of Soto Zen in North America and the 700th anniversary of Keizan’s passing, it is my wish to share with your sangha some of Keizan Zenji's messages as we continue to honor the legacy our own teachers and uphold the Buddha-Dharma in North America.
横山行敬 Gyokei Yokoyama
Kokusai Fukyoshi (Soto shu International Missionary in North America) currently serving Sozenji Buddhist Temple, one of the branch temples of Sojiji Monastery Secretary, Soto Zen Buddhism North America Office / Board of Association of Soto Zen Buddhists.
Wednesdays July 5 and 19 at 6 pm
Full Service with Liturgy Training
The first and third Wednesday of each month we will be having a full service with liturgy training.
The service at 6:00 will be in-person only and followed by three periods of zazen starting at 6:30 p.m. as usual.
The service will not be streamed online, so please consider joining us in person.
This practice will continue on the first and third Wednesdays of each month.
We look forward to practicing with you all.
For information contact Ryugin
Summer Ango 2023
Explore the heart of wisdom and compassion at two back-to back summer sesshins—July 23 through August 6 at Wisdom House in Litchfield, Connecticut.
You may join us for part of a week, a whole week, or both weeks.
Returning to Silence Sesshin: July 23 – 29
A week of quiet, “no-frills” sitting and walking meditation, without Dharma Talks, but including work practice, body practice, liturgy, and private interview with Roshi Pat Enkyo O’Hara and the Village Zendo teachers.
The week will conclude with a Precepts Ceremony (Jukai), in which several VZ students will receive the Buddhist Precepts from Enkyo Roshi. The ceremony provides an opportunity for all of us to renew our vow to manifest the mind of wisdom and compassion by embodying the Buddhist ethical teachings.
Voice of Wisdom Sesshin: July 30 – August 6
A “classic sesshin” including Dharma Talks around the theme of our ango study text. The week will conclude with a Shuso Hossen ceremony in which our Shuso (ango practice leader) will give voice to his wisdom by giving his first Dharma Talk and the sangha will respond with wisdom of its own by challenging him in “Dharma Dialogue."
We’ll be adhering to the latest CDC guidelines and the recommendations of our Village Zendo medical team. Vaccination plus a booster is required for in-person attendance.
Questions? Please contact email@example.com
For more information and to register click HERE
On Whether Sports Matters
By Taylor Plimpton
Every night, before he finally goes to sleep, Ollie’s last waking demand is, “Tell me the scores.” This inevitably involves relaying not only scores, but individual player stats—how’s Tatum doing, and what about about Jaylen Brown, and how many yards has Mahomes thrown for?
In the morning, first thing, it’s more of the same: my son goes and gets my laptop and climbs into bed with us and we look at the results. (Lizzy attempts to keep sleeping, though Ollie’s yelps of delight at a team’s victory or cries of despair at a loss make this no easy task.) Actually, before he even opens the laptop, he wants to know what happened, he simply can’t wait. So it was a few weeks ago when he asked, innocently, “Who won between the Bengals and Bills?” I had lost sleep wondering what I would tell him. “They didn’t finish the game, buddy. Someone got really hurt on the field and they canceled it.” “What?!?” he said, incredulous. To not finish a game seemed unimaginable to him.
Later that day, after school, we talked more about it. I explained to him how everyone was on the same page, the players, the coaches, the announcers, everyone: when it came down to the really important stuff, the game didn’t matter anymore, not even a little. All that mattered was Damar Hamlin, a young human being whose life was on the line. “When it comes to someone maybe dying, there are very few games that do matter,” I explained to him, though I realized as I said it that, in this light, there were actually no games that mattered. “What about the Superbowl?” Ollie asked, and I replied “Nope, not even the Superbowl.” And Ollie got it, he really did, which I was so impressed by. It’s reassuring to know that my little fanatic has a sense of perspective, and that, when it gets right down to it, so does most everyone else. People can be so surprising, sometimes, so wise.
And of course it’s not just sports that loses meaning in the face of life and death—it’s almost everything. How does your office job hold up against the loss of a loved one? The argument you had with your spouse that at the time seemed so all-encompassing? Those years-old resentments you’re hanging on to with such venom? In this harsh light, what on earth does
There’s a weird thing that can happen when you reach the conclusion that nothing matters, though, because then all of a sudden, realizing life to be so precious—everything matters
. And for me, at least, this very much includes sports. The way it can bring people together—families, friends, fathers and sons. After all, among those myriad things that actually do matter in this world of life and death, spending time with your child doing something you both love, that matters, too—and more than a lot of other stuff. Sitting on the couch and watching a game of football, playing catch in the yard: these are the ordinary, everyday moments that mean something.
There are important moments that happen out there on the field or the court, too, model behaviors I can point out to Ollie and say, Look at that
. I think of the way Rafael Nadal gives himself so completely to every point, as if it were his last. I think of the way opponents will hug after a game, all animosity forgotten; the way basketball players touch hands with their teammates after their first free-throw whether they sink it or not; the way football players kneel and bow their heads to honor a comrade who’s been injured, and to pray…
So much else of what’s admirable in sports is invisible—or at least, too easily overlooked—like, for instance, the impossibly hard work and dedication athletes put in. There’s this notion, so prevalent in the weekend warrior’s unconscious, that it could somehow be us out there. It is the daydream of eager children and fat men on couches alike (i.e., Ollie and me)—and it’s part of what connects us so closely to the sports we watch: I could have thrown that pass, I could have made that layup, I could win Wimbledon.
Interestingly, part of what my father’s experiment in participatory journalism proved was how far off these fantasies really are. His presence out there showed exactly what would really happen if you or I found ourselves miraculously on the field—we’d get pummeled. (In his one set of downs quarterbacking for the Lions in a scrimmage, he lost some 30 yards). There was a huge chasm between the professional and the fan, and it wasn’t just the size of these guys, or their God-given talent and athleticism, but the work—the years and years of practice—of sacrifice. It’s easy to sort of assume such mastery can be attained overnight—after all, the grace of true skill is that they make it look so easy—but really it takes a life. Yes, even before football almost killed Damar Hamlin, he’d already given the game his life. And this is admirable, of course—this is the devotion, the love, it takes to master any craft—but it is also just sort of sad.
Does the game matter to these young men? More than anything, perhaps.
“Did we win?” The innocent question, heartbreaking, of the man whose heart had stopped on the field.
—excerpted from Ollie Goes to the Game
, first published in Sports Illustrated
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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