The Whale, by Rockwell Kent, Illustrated Moby Dick, 1930
“…Whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul…then,
I account it high time to get to the sea as soon as I can.”
—Ishmael, Moby Dick
I admit—it’s been a bit of a damp, drizzly November in my soul as of late, and it’s not even November yet—in fact, as I’m writing this, it’s a warm, bright, clear October day. I could go into all the reasons I’ve been feeling this way—there’s plenty for us all to be depressed about these days, no doubt—but better, I think, to focus on all the ways I could theoretically do something to extricate myself from this grim state. In other words, how can I, like Ishmael, get to sea?
Well, one thing I can do, and I did it the other day for the first time in almost four years, is get my butt to the Zendo. And it did indeed help—even though I’d never before sat in the new space, it truly felt like coming home. And zazen itself is of course another good response. I’ve heard Myoko Roshi talk about how zazen can create a kind of spaciousness—almost like it opens up a sea within us—so that we have a little more room to breathe.
Another good response is touched upon in an interview below with Tsuh Yang, who talks about the intersection of his Zen practice and his volunteer work: Do something for someone else. Get out of your head and into the world, shift your focus away from yourself and onto someone else, and do what you can to help. (As Tsuh Yang mentions, one of the interesting questions that inevitably arises is: who is helping who?)
Yet another good Zen response is to have a sense of humor about it all, including yourself and your suffering. (Take a look in our Reflections section below for the complete opening to Moby Dick—it’s very funny.)
And don't forget to glance through the upcoming Zendo events that are detailed below in the Bulletin—Dharma Talks and Music Jams, Workshops and Retreats—after all, any one of them could be an equivalent to getting to sea. It may seem self-serving to think of it this way—that all of these practices are here to help us feel better and move from a place of grimness to one of joy—but I suspect that guilt about being happy is such a waste of time. Besides, as Dogen reminds us, “Zazen is the Dharma Gate of ease and joy.” Feeling good—and allowing that positivity to radiate out into the world—is one of the ways we can shed a little sunshine out there and crack open those drizzly November clouds.
With a little shine,
Thursday, November 2: Zazen, with Dharma Talk by Gessho
Saturday, November 4: Four Vows Workshop: Being Buddha
Sunday, November 5: Online Practice and Inquiry with Joshin Roshi
In-Person: Body, Breath and Mind, Intro to Zen
Thursday, November 9: Zazen, with Dharma Talk by Soten
Newcomers Meeting, 6:40 pm
Friday, November 10: Zendo closed for Veterans Day
Saturday, November 11: Zazenkai, with Dharma Talk by Bokushu Sensei
Sunday, November 12: Zazen, with Dharma Talk by Seicho
Music Jam, 4 pm
Book Group, 5 pm
Thursday, November 16: Zazen, with Dharma Talk by Enkyo Roshi
Saturday, November 18: Grit and Grace, 3 pm
Sunday, November 19: Zazen, with Dharma Talk by Shugo
Thursday, November 23: Zendo closed for Thanksgiving
Sunday, November 26: Zazen, with Dharma Talk by Ryoshin Hoshi
Thursday, November 30: Fusatsu, with Precepts Talk by Ryotan Roshi
The Bolivian Sitting Group meets Saturday mornings, 8 am *
Bolivia Zoom Meeting ID: 297 525 8394; Password: 1234
* beginning November 11 the time will be 7 am
The People of Color Sitting Group meets Saturday mornings, 10:30 am
How to Meditate meets Monday evenings (except holidays) at 6:30 pm
Sorting Out Your Stuff meets Tuesdays at 10 am
Liturgy Training: 1st and 3rd Wednesdays of each month at 6 pm
Saturday, November 4
2 pm to 3:45 pm
Join us for the last part of a four-part series of workshops on the Four Vows:
The Four Bodhisattva Vows are chanted at the end of services at the Village Zendo and in most Mahayana Buddhist centers around the world. They express our profound vows as Bodhisattvas—to save beings from suffering, to let go of delusion, to master the Buddha’s teachings, and to awaken in each moment of our lives. But the language used to express these Great Vows is paradoxical and mysterious. How can we possibly save all sentient beings? Do we really want to end all desire? The Four Vows are seemingly impossible. It’s their impossibility that gives them their power.
In this four-part workshop series, we’ll delve into each of the four vows in turn, examining what they mean to us, and how they work in our lives. The workshops are an intimate and experiential journey into our own life and practice, giving each of us an opportunity to renew our vows as Bodhisattvas.
In this fourth and final workshop, we will explore the fourth of the Four Great Vows, our vow to attain Buddhahood, to awaken and to serve. What does the unattainable Buddha Way look like in our daily lives? What are some simple ways of being with ourselves that we can look at more closely? How can we respond to ourselves and others with more compassion?
September 16, Saving All Beings, Leaders: Gessho and Ryoshin
September 30, Ending Desires, Leaders: Ryoshin and Mukei
October 21, Mastering Dharmas, Leaders: Mukei and Fusho
November 4, Being Buddha, Leaders: Fusho and Gessho
Registration is not required to participate in the workshop. This workshop involves small group discussion and sharing among participants. As such it will not be recorded.
Suggested donation $15 / workshop (or $50 for all four workshops). Donate at the link below.
Sunday, November 12
5:00 pm – 6:00 pm
Join us for The Village Zendo Book Discussion of
Notes on Complexity:
A Scientific Theory of Connection, Consciousness, and Being
By Neil Soten Theise
The Village Zendo’s own Neil Soten Theise will talk with us about his recently-published book Notes on Complexity: A Scientific Theory of Connection, Consciousness, and Being. The book has been widely lauded and is available in hardcover, digital, and audio formats.
The Marginalian describes the book this way:
In Notes on Complexity: A Scientific Theory of Connection, Consciousness, and Being, the Buddhist scientist Neil Theise endeavors to bridge the mystery out there with the mystery of us, bringing together our three primary instruments of investigating reality — empirical science (with a focus on complexity theory), philosophy (with a focus on Western idealism), and metaphysics (with a focus on Buddhism, Vedanta, Kabbalah, and Saivism) — to paint a picture of the universe and all of its minutest parts “as nothing but a vast, self-organizing, complex system, the emergent properties of which are… everything.”
A Village Zendo sangha member writes:
Like me, you may find the book’s title daunting. I assure you, however, Soten’s exposition of complexity is accessible and fascinating – and, in a very real sense, healing, hopeful and full of joy. For example:
“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…. 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.”
Soten uses his own background and expertise to weave together empirical science, philosophy and metaphysics (including Buddhism), which will be of special interest to Buddhist practitioners. As Soten writes:
“Complexity prods me to consider how I can participate in the world around me, rather than simply cower, with my head down. My gestures don’t have to be large, because all effects are local and one never knows what this butterfly-flapping its wings will produce in the larger world. One just has to know that we have opportunities for creating adaptive change in every moment…. Every moment has the random potential to surprise us with new possibilities. However dire the moment, lifesaving adaptation might just be around the corner, and might even arise from something you, yourself, have helped bring forth.”
Isn’t this the message we need to hear and absorb right now?
Join the online discussion on November 12th at 5pm
Saturday, November 18
3:00 – 6:00 pm
GRIT AND GRACE
Necessary Conversations and Decisions
On Saturday November 18, from 3 – 6 pm, the Zendo will present a workshop on how to discern, articulate, and document one’s wishes regarding end-of-life care.
Led by David Jimon Kunin, a retired hospice nurse, the workshop will create a safe container to explore planning for old age, sickness, and death. Awareness of the changes we may go through as we age is essential to any reality-based plans we wish to make. Jimon’s essay titled “The Tree of Acceptance of Death,” explains his approach to this topic and will form the foundation for the workshop: https://offthecushion.substack.com/p/the-tree-of-acceptance-of-dying.
Marjorie ChoGaku McCoy, an interfaith chaplain and retired attorney and hospice volunteer, will talk about identifying who might be considered for the roles of one’s health care proxy and power of attorney. She will provide practical resources on this topic, as well. Once again, there will be ample time for discussion and questions.
Please note that no individualized professional advice will be given in this workshop.
REGISTER BY WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 15 HERE
On Work and Practice
We continue the VZ Bulletin's series of interviews with Sangha members whose work intersects with their practice.
An interview with Sangha member Tsuh Yang Chen,
volunteer at Catholic Charities
By Iris Ryusho Höger
Thank you so much, Tsuh Yang, for doing this interview for the VZ bulletin. I’d love to learn a bit about your volunteer work and how it affects your practice, and vice versa. Would you give us a short introduction to what you do?
Sure. Since January, I have been volunteering a few hours a week at Catholic Charities. It's a very large social services organization in New York City. They work mostly with the poor, as well as a lot of newly arrived immigrants and refugees. The work I do varies. Mostly it has been working in the donation room, sorting through donations of clothing and other household items, and helping our clients find what they need. Because I speak Spanish, I use that a lot. But there are many other tasks—for example, creating, editing, and translating resumes, and assisting clients with job searches and applications for public housing. Also, we are asked to go on appointments with clients to receive benefits and identification documents or enroll children in school. So there are many different tasks that are involved. Some of them I can do from home, like public housing applications, resumes, and job searches.
What brought you to volunteering? And does your Zen practice have something do with it?
Well, I've volunteered because I stopped working some time ago. And I wanted to find something to address this crisis that we have today in our city. New York City is receiving 2,000 newly arrived immigrants and refugees every week, and they keep coming. So I guess I wanted to help address that. Previously, I also worked mostly in the nonprofit sector. I used to be a grant writer for health centers for the poor and vulnerable communities. So in a way it's a continuation of that. And what does my practice have to do with it? Well, I guess it’s also a search in a way. A search for belonging. You know, we come together at the zendo also for a sense of community, because we can’t practice by ourselves. And by volunteering, I’m also with other people. It’s most meaningful when I’m physically with clients and with other volunteers and staff.
Can you think of a situation or experience at work where you felt this sense of belonging?
Yeah, there are moments when I'm feeling very open, very present, and very relaxed. And I am simply doing the work. Many months ago, a client came into our donation room in a wheelchair, heavily bandaged. I helped him find clothing and get dressed. I asked him if he had anyone at home to help him, and he said no, he lived in a homeless shelter. This was one of those moments where I was just in the flow of helping someone. I wasn't really thinking much and there wasn't any kind of fear or disgust or judgment. It was just kind of a deep and meaningful moment.
And it reminded me of the last few years of my parents’ lives, when I was in the hospital with them many times and saw some hospital workers who were incredibly kind and dedicated. I mean these are the people who take patients to the bathroom, bathe them, dress them, and feed them. That‘s what they do every day and they're some of the lowest paid workers. And I saw the care and the dedication that some of them had, and it deeply moved me.
Also, my volunteer work has taught me lessons about emptiness, impermanence, and not-knowing. For example, the client in the wheelchair I was talking about—he came back a few weeks ago. And, you know, he was not in a wheelchair, he was healed, and I talked to him a little bit. The previous visit he told me, he had come from Turkey, and I thought he was possibly a political refugee. But he wasn't, he had come on a tourist visa and overstayed. So I had made assumptions about this person, and he wasn't necessarily who I thought he was. And he was also very difficult and very demanding and driving staff crazy. So the first experience was so positive and wonderful, and then the second time, it wasn't so much. It tells us something about making assumptions and thinking that you know something. And it taught me something about trying to hold on to an experience.
In terms of Zen practice, I realize that the moments I’m in trouble are when I want to pick and choose. I want the good feelings and I want the good moments and I want everything to work out. For example, I had to accompany a couple from the Congo Democratic Republic to the benefits office to apply for food stamps. And the experience was very difficult because they gave us the wrong information and also because I had no experience in doing that. We were there twice, each time for five hours, and by the end of the second visit we were very hungry and tired, and we hadn’t finished the process because it still entailed a phone interview and the wait time for that was another hour. So we left and decided to do it another day. And it made me so frustrated. I was also very angry at myself because I didn't know how the process worked. I felt very inadequate and the whole process made me think: how do people apply for their benefits when they don't speak English or they just arrived in the country? So I want the good feelings from helping someone and I want everything to go well, and I don’t want the obstacles and the frustration. And that's when I get into trouble. I had to take a week off from volunteering, because I was angry and frustrated and I didn't want to have that feeling again.
As you might know, I'm a coordinator of a volunteer mentoring program for refugees here in my city of Hamburg, Germany. We arrange one-on-one sponsorships to support refugees with finding their way around in our city, our country, and our bureaucracy. Some of our volunteers describe their experience of being a mentor for a refugee as challenging. In their efforts to offer help and support, they run up against their own expectations. Expectations regarding themselves (“Am I doing this right? Am I enough?”); regarding their mentees (“They should make different choices. I want XYZ for them.”); and also regarding “the system,” the government or society. Oftentimes they describe a deep sense of powerlessness. I was wondering, have you experienced something similar? And if so, how did you respond to that?
Yeah, as I said, I think we get into trouble when we want something rather than being in the moment of doing it. We want everything to be easy, we don’t want clients who are difficult and demanding. I had an experience where they asked me to do the resume for a client. This person was a professional in his country, but here, he does cleaning work and construction work because he doesn’t speak English. He sent me a 22-page resume. and I worked on it a lot. I talked to him on the phone, I texted him, emailed him, put in a lot of work to create a resume. And I realized we had all this interaction and something was bothering me and I wasn't sure what it was. And then I realized: “Oh, in our communications via phone, text, email, he never once said, ‘thank you.’” And so that bothered me. And I thought, yeah, that's when I get into trouble. When I want only positive feelings, and positive experiences.
I only do a few hours a week. And sometimes they will ask me, ‘Can you do XYZ tomorrow?’ And I have to say no, because I can't, and I feel guilty. I feel a lot of different emotions when I have to say no. It also makes me think about why do I pick and choose what I want to do? For example, there was one case manager who kept trying to get me to do clerical work for her. And I didn't want to do that. I'd rather be helping clients. And last week I went to the office and there was nothing to do, so I ended up doing clerical work for four hours. And it was fine, you know, but it makes me think about why do I pick and choose, what are the things that I want to do and I don't want to do. I'm very privileged because I'm a volunteer and I can pick and choose. But sometimes you learn something from not picking and choosing.
Yes, I do believe we can learn something from not picking and choosing. And I also believe what can be labeled as picking and choosing can at times just as well be labeled as self-care and setting healthy boundaries.
I’d like to talk with you about the importance of self-compassion and gentleness in the helping profession. Helping others who are struggling can be emotionally, and sometimes also physically, taxing work. In my experience it can also stir up old trauma, insecurities and all kinds of unfinished business in those who think of themselves as “the helper.” There can be a danger of trying to bypass work on ourselves by working on others. In my experience this kind of projection can make it difficult for helpers to accept help for themselves. I sometimes feel our first Bodhisattva Vow—“Sentient beings are numberless, I vow to save them”—can easily be mistaken as an invite to exactly this kind of projection. I was wondering, could you say a few words about your experience with gentleness and self-care in the helping profession?
It‘s interesting that you mention the first vow, because that's exactly what I have been thinking about. Every day I read the news, and every day it seems like things get worse, there's a new war, there's a new conflict, there's more hatred and violence, every day. And as I said, we're receiving 2,000 refugees every week in New York City. And what I do is so little, it's just a tiny drop in the bucket, and it's like the four vows, it's impossible. And it's the same thing with my practice. I've been practicing for 20 years or more. And I have always thought that I'm the worst practitioner. I always think I'm not good enough, you know, my practice is horrible, I have a hard time with zazen. The same thing with the work that we do. It's impossible to achieve, feels like it’s hopeless. But I’m reminded of that poem by Issa:
This dewdrop world
Is a dewdrop world,
And yet, and yet…
It’s like the Four Vows, it’s impossible, but we still have to do it.
“And yet, and yet…” Very touching. You know, I used to be pretty harsh with myself, expecting a lot of myself and others. I think it was my way of trying to bypass the scary feeling of powerlessness and vulnerability. Nowadays I’ve come to see that gentleness and softness are my most helpful assets when it comes to trying the impossible. A few years ago, I came across this quote by Buddhist teacher Jack Kornfield that spoke to me: “Buddha put it quite simply: You can search the whole tenfold universe and not find a single being more worthy of love and compassion than the one seated here—yourself. Self-compassion and self-forgiveness are not weaknesses, but the roots of our courage and magnanimity. […] And it is by first practicing self-compassion that you find not only a way to hold your own struggles and sorrows in your heart—but through them you learn how to connect with the sufferings and sorrows of all those around. […] Plant your seed of trust. It will grow in its season.”
Yeah, it's wonderful. That’s one of the things that I'm very grateful for in our Sangha. One of the things that our teachers try to instill in us is a sense of patience. When I talk about my teachers, I mean our teachers at the VZ, but I also do a lot of reading from teachers from other traditions, such as Tibetan and Theravada lineages. And they always say, be very gentle with yourself, they always say, be patient. Usually, I'm very impatient and I want things to happen much quicker, you know. That's one of the things that I’m trying to learn: to be patient with myself and with others and with the world. Things happen sometimes very slowly and that's okay.
I would like to close this interview by coming back to something you said right in the beginning that stayed with me. You were talking about belonging and about care and dedication. Care and dedication towards our work, towards the client coming into the donation room, towards ourselves. Maybe after all there isn’t so much of a difference between taking care of others and taking care of ourselves?
It's interesting what you mention, because ultimately when we do the work, when there's a moment like the one I described where I was helping the client in the wheelchair, what happens in that moment is that the self drops away. I'm not thinking, I’m just in the flow. And when you talk about care and dedication, sometimes when we're doing this work, the question becomes: Who is helping who? Sometimes I think this work helps me. I would be in a much different situation if I wasn't doing this. So I'm not necessarily helping someone. Sometimes they are helping me.
Thank you so much, Tsuh Yang.
Thursday, December 7, 9:00pm
continues until 7:00am Friday, December 8
On Rohatsu we commemorate the Buddha’s enlightenment by doing as he did, sitting zazen all night. This year our Rohatsu all-night sitting will take place for the first time in person and on Zoom, starting at 9 pm on Thursday, December 7th, and continuing until 7 am on Friday, December 8th morning.
There will be a Dharma talk by Mukei Smith.
The rest of the night we will sit in 35-minute periods with kinhin for In-Person participants and breaks for Online participants in between. For those attending In-Person, refreshments will be served. Also, the opportunity for interview will be available for In-Person participants. Participants are encouraged to continue throughout the night, take their own breaks, and come and go as they need. At 6:30 am there will be short service including the Verse of the Kesa and the Work Gatha.
This will be a hybrid event. Registration is required. Suggested donation of $10.00.
Please join us for any part of Rohatsu to help celebrate this important date on the Buddhist calendar. Let’s embody Shakyamuni’s awakening and make the utmost endeavor!
. REGISTER FOR ONLINE ROHATSU
. REGISTER FOR IN-PERSON ROHATSU
Village Zendo Winter Ango
December 26, 2023 — January 1, 2024
Time Outside of Time
The Village Zendo’s year-end retreat is a chance to step out of ordinary life and enjoy deep silence and contemplation at the turning of the year. Our schedule is serious (with plenty of zazen meditation) but also spacious, with time to enjoy the beautiful grounds and nearby trails. Dharma Talks are given daily, and there is opportunity to meet individually with teachers. Delicious vegetarian meals are offered buffet-style. If you have put off doing a residential retreat, or felt intimidated to try one, this is a wonderful retreat to attend. Come and join the Village Zendo Sangha as we greet the new year with clear minds and open hearts.
STUDY TEXT: THE TIME BEING BY EIHEI DOGEN ZENJI
"BEING TIME" — 1990 FILM BY ROSHI PAT ENKYO O'HARA
FOR COMPLETE INFORMATION AND TO REGISTER, CLICK HERE
The opening to Moby Dick, by Herman Melville
Call me Ishmael. Some years ago—never mind how long precisely—having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world. It is a way I have of driving off the spleen and regulating the circulation. Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off—then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. This is my substitute for pistol and ball. With a philosophical flourish Cato throws himself upon his sword; I quietly take to the ship. There is nothing surprising in this. If they but knew it, almost all men in their degree, some time or other, cherish very nearly the same feelings towards the ocean with me.
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.