Sonja Jyakuen Nuttall, Donna Karan, Richard Gere, and Roshi Pat Enkyo O'Hara
Sonja Jyakuen Nuttall, Donna Karan, Richard Gere, and Roshi Pat Enkyo O'Hara
photo courtesy Urban Zen Initiative

October 07 Journal » From Broadway to the West Village
Village Zendo Stars in Donna Karan's Urban Zen Initiative

Nina Shuka Klippel

Picture a vast square space, the size perhaps of three basketball courts. On the walls, huge gray photos move in slow and perpetual change: immense empty landscapes of desert or lake, with perhaps a lone human being dissolving to intimate images like the seamed face of an elderly monk, or hands fingering a mala, in barely perceptible motion. On the sand colored sisal floor are ranged row after row after row of black zabutons and zafus—and on a stage platform, our own familiar Manjushri, mounted on a chair.

Such was the setting in which, last May 23, the Village Zendo was recreated in a West Village studio to provide a day of meditation, almost a zazenkai. The occasion was Donna Karan’s Urban Zen Initiative; the space, the Greenwich Street studio of Karan’s sculptor husband, Stephan Weiss, who died of cancer in 2001. The day was part of a ten-day Well-Being Forum focusing on alternative ways of healing. Dozens of members of the VZ sangha participated, along with some 150 others, most from the worlds of fashion and healthcare.

Roshi Pat Enkyo O'Hara at Urban Zen Initiative
photo: Jesse Jiryu Davis

There was meditation, a moving reminiscence by Laurie Anderson, a talk by Roshi Pat Enkyo O’Hara, an oryoki lunch served with elegance and grace by members of the sangha, a yoga period and, in the evening, a panel led by Roshi. There was even a dialogue, or perhaps dharma combat, between Roshi and surprise guest Richard Gere.

The evening panel focused on how Buddhist practice informs and creates healing. Panelists Dr. Neil Soten Thiese, Dr. Philip Bhark, cardiologist, Catherine Anraku Hondorp, chiropracter, and Carol Enmei Crigliano, psychotherapist and cancer survivor provided a wealth of personal and professional insight, much of it, as Anraku said, about helping people find their own natural healer.

So how did this extraordinary day come about, and where does it lead? It began with a conversation about outreach and fund-raising for the Zendo, between Julie Myoko Terestman and Sonja Jyakuan Nuttal, who has done fund-raising for the Dalai Lama. Sonja also works with Donna Karan, and told Myoko about the big Urban Zen Initiative. And so it all fell into place.

Myoko took on the job of coordinating the event, pulling people together, assigning tasks, planning the panel with Roshi. "I wanted to get everyone excited and involved," she says, "and in fact people were incredibly responsive. This sangha can make anything happen!"

Robert Chodo Campbell and Sinclair Shinryu Thompson worked out team assignments; Chodo and Koshin Paley Ellison were like floor managers, making sure that each stage of the event went smoothly. With incredible caring and attention to detail, the very presence of the Village Zendo was re-created. As Myoko said, "Using the form allowed us to transform the space."

The upshot of all this? "We got great positive feedback," says Myoko. "They loved Roshi and the Village Zendo—and they want to continue the relationship." From this experience has come a sense that much more is possible for the Village Zendo in terms of outreach, of relating to the world.

Panel discussion at Urban Zen Initiative
photo: Jesse Jiryu Davis

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