Ango Week 4: Returning to Our Senses

A weekly message from teachers Sarah Dōjin Emerson and Charlie Korin Pokorny in support of the 2022 Fall Practice Period.

If you concentrate your effort single-mindedly, that in itself is negotiating the way.
– Dogen-zengi, from Fukanzazengi

Image: Milarepa listening

Continuing the theme of practice engagements that cultivate connection between our present awareness and our embodied experience, these next two weeks we want to offer practice possibilities for bringing awareness deeply into the senses. In Buddhism, SIX senses are traditionally named: sight, sound, smell, taste, touch, and mind (mind is recognized as a sense organ and thoughts as sense-objects, akin to the ear as a sense organ and sounds as sense-objects). To support us as Bodhisattva practitioners to connect and continually return to our embodied experience, for this week first assess: which of the six senses tend to get more of your awareness as you move throughout your day? This will vary for each of us. And then, choose one of the sense gates that usually doesn’t get the full share of your attention to amplify over the next few days in different situations.

Please also orient compassionately towards yourself around the adaptive need to tune out some sensory inputs, or dull our attention to some things, because many environments we have to navigate can be intensely over-stimulating. And then, with this orientation, are there moments when we can pointedly tune in (in small doses!) to things we might normally tune out?

The WHY of tuning in to the senses… again, these practices are cultivations that increase our capacity to line up awareness with our present embodied experience, which in turn increases valuing and attending to the information we find Here, information about our world and our experience that maybe we might have otherwise not fully noticed. Attuning to this information gives us a fuller picture of what’s happening both in and around us, increasing our empathy both for ourselves and others, and giving us a wider palette of possibilities in figuring out how to respond to whatever is arising.

Practice for this week:
– choose a sense each day to work with and set up some way of reminding yourself 3-5 times throughout the day (an alert on your phone…or even an old school post-it) to tune in to it for a couple of minutes. Maybe you want to stay with one sense all week, or switch it up each day, it’s up to you.

When reactions to sensory inputs arise, just notice. Maybe attune just to the basic vedana (positive, negative or neutral qualities always present in every experience)- is there aversion/ leaning away? pleasure/ leaning in? or neutrality? Try not to curate the sensations too much, or even comment on them in your mind…just notice what’s there to be noticed.

If you’re in a place that’s safe to do it, it can often help to close the eyes when attuning to senses other than sight since, for most of us with sight, attention to the visual field literally takes up a lot of space in the brain. When we close our eyes there is more brain capacity available for other sense perceptions.

Some possibilities for attuning to senses:

Hearing
Attuning to hearing-generally: can you find a place that’s safe to close your eyes for a few moments, and allow your hearing to fill your conscious awareness. Don’t try to hear anything in particular, just attune to the capacity to hear and all that you perceive within your field of awareness.

Or another possibility is attuning to hearing more specifically–for example by putting on headphones or ear plugs and attuning to the sound of your breath and/or heartbeat that are always present, but our brain learns to tune out.

Sensation

When you have a few minutes to sit still, see if you can pour your awareness into your hands. What is this sensation like? Can you feel temperature changes or texture on the skin? Maybe you can feel your pulse in your fingers? Or tingling? Or dullness? What’s there?

For those who get around on your feet–try feeling into the sensation in your feet in different postures– standing, sitting, lying down, walking, running.

Smell

Pick a distance you will travel and attune to smell as you traverse it. Maybe just one short block? How many smells are you aware of? Are there ones that are familiar? Are there ones you may not have otherwise noticed?

Taste

Have one meal or snack where you eat in quiet by yourself and don’t multitask as you eat–so all you are doing for the time you’re eating is eating. What flavors and textures are present? How is it to encounter them? Just notice what comes up as you resist multitasking and elevate the experience of tasting while you eat.

These are just suggestions. See if other practices arise for you. And let us know how it goes.


Previous messages from teachers Sarah Dōjin Emerson and Charlie Korin Pokorny:

Ango Week 1: Making Space for the Nourishment of Practice

Ango Week 2: The Practice of Not-Hurrying

Ango Week 3: Grounding in the Breath

Ango Week 3: Grounding in the Breath

A weekly message from teachers Sarah Dōjin Emerson and Charlie Korin Pokorny in support of the 2022 Fall Practice Period.

Breathing in, I know I am breathing in. So you focus on your mind, on your in-breath, and you release everything else, and you become free. There is regret concerning the past, sorrow concerning the past. There is fear and uncertainty concerning the future. All of that you just release in just one or two seconds because you are focusing all your mind into your in-breath. So breathing in mindfully sets you free. You have freedom. And if you are to make a decision, it’s better that you have enough freedom to make it. You are not under the influence of anger or fear, and your decision is much better than if you are not free. So just breathing in makes you free…. So the exercise is so simple, but the effect can be great.

-The Venerable Thich Nhat Hanh

In the first two weeks we have offered practices around creating space first in our homes, and then in our schedules and daily lives. Over the next few weeks we want to explore practices that help us ground and create space in our body (with “body” being shorthand for: body/heart/mind/ nervous system/soul/whole being).

This week we will focus on grounding in mindfulness of breath because it is such a profound teaching that is shared across many schools of Buddhism.

Generally speaking, mindfulness of the breath is both a calming technique (although this is not true for all people in all moments, see below for more on this), and a deep teaching and practice-engagement with impermanence and non-duality (see Suzuki’ roshi’s writing on breathing below). This practice is also a cultivation of choice-full attention, of working with the mind to be deliberate about what it pays attention to and where it’s going, so that, like the practice of not-hurrying, it supports us to slow down enough to be deliberate in how we respond in any given moment, in what comes next. Ultimately, it’s a training that supports us to work with our karmic-conditioning, and make enough room around habit patterns to not be caught by the deep grooves of habit energy, giving us the space required to be responsive versus reactive.

In the book Zen and the Art of Saving the Planet, Thich Nhat Hanh shares an example of an intensely stressful situation he was in, where many people in intense need were depending on him, and how grounding in the breath and body allowed him to open to possibilities that were not present when he was caught in overwhelm and fear ( see “Zen in a Storm”, page 53,  Zen and the Art of Saving the Planet).

To support your exploration of attention to breath for those who are new to it, or to support a return for those who have worked with it before, here are a few possibilities.

Practices/ resources:

– Video of Thich Nhat Hahn “The First 8 Exercises of Mindful Breathing” It’s about a 24 minute video, and if you only have a little bit of time, try watching even just the first 5 minutes.

– If/when moving through your day, you notice a moment of clenching, dis-ease, worry and flurry, overwhelm, etc.—see if you can apply Thich Nhat Hanh’s teaching about mindful attention to the in-breath, maybe three breaths, maybe just one; and notice how that impacts your experience in your body/being

– Read Suzuki Roshi’s teaching on the practice of breathing here

– Read or listen to some or all of Zen and the Art of Saving the Planet—super helpful book for all human beings working with suffering and not turning away

If mindfulness of breathing is challenging or agitating:

Sometimes, for many reasons, paying attention to the body or breath can be agitating and not supportive for calming the mind or directing our awareness. If you find that mindful attention to breath isn’t working for you in any given moment, for whatever reason, please cultivate compassion for yourself and try something else. You can apply the same awareness practices to feeling points of contact with the floor or chair, listening to sounds, or noticing colors, or you can go for a walk/ change your environment if time allows. The idea is to create spaciousness in yourself, so if you find contraction instead, please take good care.

Consider the words of Sister True Dedication, who co-authors Zen and the Art of Saving the Planet with Thich Nhat Hanh:

I began to train myself to apply this practice [of mindful breathing] in difficult situations—those acute moments in my daily life when something went wrong, or I got hurt, or I was faced with a dilemma that seemed impossible to solve. I learned to step away and take a few immersive breaths, fully aware of the whole experience of each breath. This practice started to give me a safe foundation to be with painful feelings, and gave me space to respond in better ways rather than worse ones. Sometimes it’s harder to do it than at other times. I tell myself that if I’m finding it really hard to stop and breathe, if I just can’t step back and stop, it’s because my ancestors found it difficult, and my society finds it difficult, and my habits find it difficult. I inter-am with all of these conditions.  In which case, I tell myself, ‘Stopping must be the action of heroes!’ And that gives me extra determination to keep trying. When I manage in these moments to stop and breathe, each time it feels like a victory, a turning point, a new departure.


Previous messages from teachers Sarah Dōjin Emerson and Charlie Korin Pokorny:

Ango Week 1: Making Space for the Nourishment of Practice

Ango Week 2: The Practice of Not-Hurrying

The Swirling of Fall

From the BZC October Newsletter, by Sarah and Charlie:

Dear Sangha,

We are writing this right around the fall equinox, in this time of what feels like a rapid and dramatic change from summer into fall.

In the wondrous Qigong workshop a few weeks ago, Sally Chang taught about how the autumn is a time of acclimation, the adjusting of all things—from our bodies to the environment around us—from the outward-facing energy of summer, to the restoration of drawing inward that winter offers. And how this whole season is about adjusting to that change—gradually acclimating to a different pace, slowing down enough to allow ourselves time, rest and energy to integrate all that is changing. Sally also noted how, when we can draw out our perspective, and view these transitional seasons through a wider aperture, we can see how they are essential to growth, transformation, and ultimately renewal. But when we are in the midst of them, what can be most present is resistance to change and the loss that comes with it, and often some amount of disorientation and even awkwardness as we negotiate all that’s shifting.

We see this for our family, as we continue to find our footing after moving to Brooklyn from California in June. How right alongside the joy and excitement of new beginnings, is the poignancy of loss of what was known and familiar. We see this in the BZC sangha in the city, as there’s an ongoing negotiation of how to come back together in person after the dislocation of social distancing—with continually shifting health safety protocols, in a new shared space at Christ Church, with us as two new teachers still meeting people and (sometimes awkwardly!) figuring out how to integrate into the community. And we can also see this in society around us—collectively finding our footing after the unprecedented losses and impacts of a multiyear pandemic. A natural response to all of this can be a totally understandable longing to feel more settled, to feel surer about what’s next…to move this process of uncertainty along, please!

We want to share how, on all levels- from the familial to the societal—we are so grateful to lean into the deep resources of the Zen tradition that remind us: “not knowing is most intimate,” and “Here is the place, here the way unfolds.” We are so grateful to be a part of the BZC sangha that has such deep roots of generosity—where we can reach across to stabilize, encourage and support one another to stay upright and patient, right here in the midst of the discomfort, the disorientation, the growing pains, the awkwardness. That this is a key task of this season in sangha.

And that once we feel that net of stability, encouragement and support that is refuge in Sangha, we can show up fully and vulnerably right here in the swirling. And with joy and humility, maybe even see what’s beautiful in this particular time: light changing, leaves tumbling off the branches, bright clear wind and cleansing rain waking us up to the gifts of our lives together in the Dharma.

With deep appreciation and warm bows,

Sarah & Charlie
Dharma teachers at Brooklyn Zen Center


Sign up to the Brooklyn Zen Center mailing list here and receive the monthly newsletter and occasional special announcements. The BZC newsletter is sent at the beginning of every month with information on our many offerings, program scheduling and other sangha news. Trouble receiving the BZC newsletter? Let us know, we are here to help!

New audio dharma talk by Chimyo Atkinson

A new audio dharma talk by Chimyo Atkison is now available on the BZC Audio Dharma Podcast!

Audio dharma talk by Chimyo Atkinson (2022/07/16)

The BZC Audio Dharma Podcast is offered free of charge and made possible by the donations we receive. A $10 suggested donation per dharma talk is recommended. You can donate to BZC here. Thank you for your generosity

Ango Week 2: The Practice of Not-Hurrying

A weekly message from teachers Sarah Dōjin Emerson and Charlie Korin Pokorny in support of the 2022 Fall Practice Period.

Making space for ourselves is possible if we prioritize its importance, if we don’t get trapped in constantly doing. When I first heard the phrase ‘the pathology of productivity’ from coach Chela Davison, I recognized the anxious fuel for so much of my life.

-Sebene Selassie, from You Belong

The practice of Not-Hurrying

Building on the practices from last week of creating (or refreshing) altars, can we grow that into how we make space as we move through our days. This week we are offering to focus on the practice of not-hurrying. To engage this practice it’s essential to recognize that sometimes (often) not-hurrying is not available. It’s important to be compassionate with ourselves when these are the circumstances we are working with…and it’s also compassionate to experiment with finding some spaciousness even amidst the sensations of hurrying/ rushing/ pushing. We may also investigate when we need to move fast, how to be unhurried? Asking ourselves: How can I care for my agenda without getting lost in it completely.

One place to open into the practice of not-hurrying is in advance. When you’re scheduling your day, your week, your life is there room for play? For example, is there time to attend to the need to go to the bathroom, or to eat, or to get from one place to another in between scheduled meetings or events. If it usually takes 20 minutes to get somewhere we need to go, can we build in 30 just to have some spaciousness around getting there?

For those in the city particularly, it’s challenging to get places! There are a lot of potentially obstructing variables that are impossible to account for. I have been appreciating that there seems to most often be a 15-20 grace period for arriving anywhere- everyone collectively acknowledging that anything could happen as one tries to get from point A to point B. So what happens if we start to build that in for ourselves? Again, some days this is a luxury the demands and responsibilities of our lives won’t allow…but look for the places where you can build it in, and build it in.

And then, if you can make space for the “practical” “realities” of life, is it possible to expand into things not often valued in grind-culture: for the unexpected, for creativity, for imagination, for day-dreaming, for puttering… for doing nothing at all.

Why is not-hurrying important?

When we are rushing around, we are stressed, our body/mind/nervous system is tight, constricted and in a state of activation. In these conditions, we are more likely to fall into old, unexamined patterns of conditioning. Depending on the cultural messages that shaped us, these may well include conditioning around hierarchy, inequities, patriarchy, misogyny, racism, self-devaluation, etc.. As Bodhisattva practitioners, we need to be moving at a pace that allows for the spacious to be choice-full around our actions, versus coming from early, unexamined conditioning. It requires effort to call forward what our true values actually are in any given situation and respond form there, versus quickly reacting from a place of habit energy. Building in space around how we move through our days and in our communities means that we will be in a less tightly wound reactive state, and increases the chances of our being able to pause, attune, and chose from a place of practice and our genuine values about what comes next when we need to respond.

Possible practices Not-hurrying

– Add 10-15 minutes to any commute you need to make

– Building in 15 (to maybe even 30 if your life will allow it) minute breaks between online meetings or activity, stand up, move around, have a body

– If you live in the city, and are moving around by foot or bike (or any other non-car vehicle that you propel), see if there are moments when you can wait for the actual green light. (I say this as someone who is often on a bike and really, really wants to get ahead of car-traffic! This will be a challenging practice for me). To practice anything does not mean you do it 100% of the time, it just means you notice whether you do or you don’t, when you can and when you can’t. When you can wait, how is that? When you can’t wait…how is that? and what’s happening in your body? Can you feel what Sebene Selassie names as “leaning forward” in the link below in yourself? what IS that? where does it come from? what is the inclination or internal/ external posture doing to you right in that moment?

– Get somewhere 20 minutes early: this one is challenging both logistically, and also psychologically because it might lead to an awkward feeling of being somewhere early. Still, if you’re up for the experiment, try it on. Get somewhere you need to be (that isn’t your home) 20 minutes early (obstructions allowing!), and then just rest there while you wait. What to do while you wait: resist the phone, try to use the time to arrive fully in the body- breathe deeply; invite the mind of zazen; feel your feet on the ground; close your eyes if it’s safe, and listen; notice a color around you; look up and see what’s there

– 3 breaths: when things are moving fast, when spaciousness is not available, is it possible to feel grounded where you are and take three deep breaths? (more on this next week)

– and Remember: To practice anything does not mean you do it 100% of the time, it just means you notice whether you do or you don’t, when you can and when you can’t.

For inspiration

– Read or listen to Sebene Selassie’s book You Belong

– In order to shake up conditioning around the “pathology of productivity,” we are going to have to get comfortable, over and over again, with the discomfort of letting go of something we were trained to value, often things we really, sincerely want to do. In the long run, practicing with not pushing all the time can lead to relief, but it’s also important to know that in the moment of doing it, it can be painful.

This is a post by Sebene Selassie about catching herself “leaning forward” into activity, seeing what was happening, and then reversing course/ letting go.

Lastly…

What does “Ango” mean?

Sorry for tossing around this term and not offering everyone a definition until now (thanks to those who asked to remind us).

Ango is one of the terms in Japanese (taken from Chinese) for a 3 month practice intensive, or the rains retreat- referring to the 3 months of monks gathering together to practice together in Shakyamuni Buddha’s lifetime. The characters literally translated mean: “peaceful abiding” (which possibly means that all practice periods have been encouraging slowing down and finding some ease).

Here are some character translations in case you want to explore the meaning more, excerpts from the Digital Dictionary of Buddhism:

Ango – 安居 – Peaceful Abiding, Retreat, Monastic Retreat

An- 安 –

Still; serenity; peace, tranquility (Skt. praśrabdhi; Tib. shin tu sbyangs pa). [Charles Muller; source(s): Nakamura, Stephen Hodge, Yokoi]

Contented, at ease, to rest in. To be at repose. [Charles Muller]

To pacify, to soothe, to settle. [Charles Muller]

To place, to fix at, to arrange. [Charles Muller]

Go- 居 –

To dwell, to remain, to be in. To be situated in a certain place [] (Skt. uśati). [Charles Muller; source(s): Nakamura]

To abide, to live at. Oneʼs abode; residence. [Charles Muller; source(s): Soothill]

A place, a scene. To place; to put into place. while being in a certain place… [Charles Muller]

To sit. [Charles Muller]

To occupy; oneʼs occupation. [Charles Muller]

Bent on; to put into practice. [Charles Muller]

This week’s email is a long one, thank you for making it all the way through! They won’t always be this long, but we had an abundant gathering of things we wanted to offer you all this week.

Please take good care of yourselves, one another, and all beings.

In sangha,

Sarah & Charlie


Previous messages from teachers Sarah Dōjin Emerson and Charlie Korin Pokorny:

Ango Week 1: Making Space for the Nourishment of Practice

Ango Week 1: Making Space for the Nourishment of Practice

A weekly message from teachers Sarah Dōjin Emerson and Charlie Korin Pokorny in support of the 2022 Fall Practice Period.

Going forward in practice is a matter of everydayness.
– from Fukanzazengi, by Dogen-zenji

Dear Fall Ango Bodhisattvas,

Thank you for all of your clear and vibrant intentions expressed in your commitment forms for this three month practice period.

Our hope is to share an email each week with some encouragement, resources and practices for you to try on as we work together with the theme of Repose & Bliss, Engagement & Liberation.

This week’s practice:
We encourage you to look for the places where you can make space in your life for the nourishment of practice, in all the ways you can interpret this.

The practice offering this week is to either create a home altar, if you don’t already have one; or refresh it if you do (maybe even take everything off, clean and dust, and recreate; or add something that represents your intention for this fall).  For inspiration around this, you can visit this page at BZC with images of altars members made during the pandemic.

See if you can allow your altar to become a teaching for how to integrate your practice into your daily life and routines.  See if the space you make for the physical altar can translate into space you make while moving down the street, interacting with others, cooking food, taking a breath in the midst of a busy moment, etc.

Logistics:
Dharma buddies: If you don’t yet have a Dharma buddy, but would like to be paired with someone to connect one-on-one with throughout the practice period, please email and let us know.

Please take very good care of yourselves and one another and the Dharma.

With gratitude for our coming together,
Sarah and Charlie

Leadership Bodies at BZC

We wanted to refresh and update the sangha on some of the powerful institutional work happening to strengthen leadership and governance at BZC. Here’s an overview of the leadership bodies at BZC, their roles, how they work together, and how you can contact them.

  • The Board of Directors is in charge of the financial and administrative health of BZC. They review and advise on budgets, strategy, governance, and operations. You can contact them here.
  • The Practice Council is made up of practitioners who have gone through shuso (head student) training and oversee the training and practice health of the center. They set the calendar of retreats and dharma talks, nominate ryo heads, and discern other practice-related issues that arise. You can contact them here.
  • The Sangha Council represents the sangha when making decisions about leadership at BZC. Their role is to review names of those proposed for leadership roles, as well as receiving grievances in the Ethics Process. You can contact them here.
  • Sangha Harmony Allies are here to listen and guide someone through their process, empower that person with agency, and to moderate peer conversations when ethical questions and issues arise. You can contact Inzan Monica Rose Smith here and Renhō Gerardo Dexter Ciprian here.

Buddha’s Robe Sewing Apprenticeship at Sanshin-ji

From the BZC September Newsletter, by Kiku Morimoto:

Last April, I moved to Sanshin-ji in Bloomington, Indiana, to begin a one-year Buddha’s Robe-Sewing Apprenticeship. During this apprenticeship, I will study under Yoko Okumura, a renowned sewing teacher, to learn  Okesa sewing, technique, and history, originally written in the Vinaya (rules and procedures for a Buddhist monastic community) and other texts such as Shobogenzo Kesakudoku by Dogen Zenji. This project helps to build upon my sewing skills and ensure this traditional, 2,500-year-old Buddhist robe-sewing knowledge is passed on to the next generation. Yuko is the only teacher in the United States who received formal one-year sewing training at Antai Temple in Kyoto, Japan, under the lineage of Zen Master Kodo Sawaki, who revived the tradition of hand-sewing kesa in modern Japan.

After this apprenticeship, I hope to be able to spread this knowledge to various temples around the United States, and thus help to ensure the preservation of this sewing lineage, which is derived directly from the Buddha. Unfortunately, this sewing practice is dying out, even in Japan. Though at a few temples the monks still sew their own Okesa, most priests in Japan purchase their Okesa. I feel that preserving this knowledge will be critical to changing that reality and returning to the tradition of personal sewing practice.

My first project here was to sew a seven-panel Okesa with bird feet stitches for a dharma teacher whom I have never met. When Yuko sewed 20 Okesa in one year during her apprenticeship at a temple in Kyoto, she also didn’t know who she was sewing for. I worked on it every day for months, in a quiet peaceful environment where every day I’d see baby bunnies hopping on and munching grasses, squirrels  running and jumping on branches of walnut trees, a deer with two bambi hanging out in the backyard, and birds singing beautiful songs. I brought the finished Okesa to Okumura Roshi’s room and put it down on the altar, then prostrated three times. I will never see that Okesa again. Just sew, finish, and let it go.

Dogen Zenji instructed: “Impermanence is swift; life-and-death is a vital matter. For the short while you are alive, if you wish to study or practice some activity, just practice the Buddha-Way and study the buddha-dharma,” (Shobogenzo-zuimonki; 1-11).

This teaching of impermanence was brought home to me in the middle of April, when my friend Mark passed away unexpectedly. He was a fun, generous, and loving person. During his active and varied life, Mark loved running a doughnut shop and teaching creative writing at a University. He once took his step-son on a cross country road trip by motorcycle. His lively personality informed his love of Buddhist practice. He once told me that he used to smuggle espresso coffee in a thermos into a strict Rinzai temple to keep awake during sesshin. After driving for five hours from a three-day Vipassana retreat in D.C., he once took me and five other passengers to each of our homes in Manhattan and Queens,  without anyone asking. Mark was planning a trip to Greece to celebrate his 60th birthday. His sudden absence was hard to believe.

A few weeks later, we found a dead rabbit in our front yard at Sanshin-ji. The next day, we found a dead bird in the backyard. We buried them, put rocks and flowers on their graves, and chanted the Maka Hannya Haramita Sutra. From June through July, in the evening, so many fireflies with twinkling lights illuminated our backyard like a jewel garden.They only live for a short time and now they are gone. I thought of the dream-like nature of life. Fireflies appear and disappear, Mark was here and now he is gone. His life was complete. His death was complete.  We all come from no-thingness and return to no-thingness.

I practice the Buddha-Way through sewing Okesa. Because the nature of life is impermanent, I can only sew moment by moment putting in a wholehearted effort. By bringing my whole body, mind and undivided attention to each stitch. In this way, there is no separation between myself, sewing and everything else. The boundary of sense of time and space disappears. There is only eternal now.

“If you are not living life that doesn’t die you are wasting your life” (Kodo Sawaki Roshi).

The life that doesn’t die is so close and intimate.
Just sew wholeheartedly stitch by stitch.
Clarifying the reality of life-and-death.
There is just sewing.
That is my Zazen.

You can see my sewing practice through Facebook Live regularly from Yuko Okumura’s Facebook page here.

Here is the Kesa Study Channel on Youtube where you can see the past videos.

Bowing,

Kiku Morimoto,
Sewing Apprentice at Sanshin-ji


Sign up to the Brooklyn Zen Center mailing list here and receive the monthly newsletter and occasional special announcements. The BZC newsletter is sent at the beginning of every month with information on our many offerings, program scheduling and other sangha news. Trouble receiving the BZC newsletter? Let us know, we are here to help!

Qigong Fundraiser for BZC!


A message from Laura:

Dear Sangha,

Sally Chang is offering a Qigong fundraiser workshop this weekend in Brooklyn. She is open for folks who register for the event to come for less than the full two days as a way of supporting more sangha to participate in this fundraiser for Brooklyn Zen Center. She is also excited to meet and practice with our sangha.

Through Sally’s teaching, my very beginner’s qigong practice has allowed me to experience a fluidity, harmony and strength while moving my body through space that resonates deeply with the qualities of body, mind and heart cultivated while sitting on the cushion.

If you can’t attend the weekend, please consider participating in our online conversation this Friday evening which is also part of our fundraising event. You can register for these offerings here.

If cost is a barrier to participation, please reach out to Ryan at director@brooklynzen.org with the rate that works for you and we will try to accommodate. We also encourage those of you who cannot attend to give anyway—you can simply use the registration form and enter an amount in “Donate to BZC’s scholarship fund” without registering.

With deep bows,
Laura

2022 Fall Practice Period: Repose & Bliss, Engagement & Liberation

Each fall, BZC creates a container to help support our community in taking time to clarify our intentions, deepen insight, embody our commitments and more fully integrate our practice as life. Returning to silence in this way strengthens mindfulness and opens the heart.

We call this container a “practice period”. Our Buddhist ancestors created this ritual of bringing wandering monks In India together during the rainy season in order to cultivate sangha. This tradition has continued for the last 2,500 years. Zen practice emphasizes the importance of vow in order to align and support our deepest yearnings. The practice period supports us to return to our deepest vow, especially amidst a lay life that can distract us from this subtle, inner calling.

Find more information on the Fall Practice Period here.

2022 Fall Practice Period

Repose & Bliss, Engagement & Liberation

In the Fukazazengi Dogen-zenji, founder of Soto Zen in Japan, says that zen meditation practice is “the Dharma gate of repose and bliss, the practice realization of totally culminated enlightenment.” In this 90-day fall practice intensive, we will look together at the relationship between cultivating rest, joy, ease and spaciousness- and commitment to responding with care and skill to suffering, in the world, in our communities, and in ourselves. We will inquire into our karmic and cultural conditionings around “repose and bliss,” engagement and action; and consider what these qualities have to do with Bodhisattva practice. How do we uprightly cultivate them to support commitment to reducing harm and increasing liberation in our communities, our society and in ourselves?

Participation in this fall practice period will include: making a practice commitment; attending opening and closing ceremonies; opportunities for daily zazen, as well as one, three and five day retreats; regular meetings with practice leaders; being paired with a Dharma buddy; and an offering of texts and writings, both from the Zen tradition and contemporary thinkers about what role rest and joy have in our life of Bodhisattva practice-engagement.

We invite you to join the BZC 2022 Fall Practice Period and be part of this precious time when we together devote our efforts to cultivating the Bodhisattva way of life. The practice period form outlines the many optional offerings that will support our practice period. Please fill out and submit the 2022 Fall Practice Period Form by September 10th.

Highlights from the 2022 Future of American Buddhism Conference

From the BZC August Newsletter, by Weishin Huang:

L to R: Chenxing Han (author,”Be The Refuge”), Cristina Moon (Rinzai Zen priest), Devon Matsumoto (founder, Young Buddhist Editorial), Weishin Huang (Brooklyn Zen Center), Rev. Blayne Higa (Kona Hongwanji), and Ru-Jün Zhou (Hemera Foundation)

Highlights from the 2022

Future of American Buddhism Conference

Who and what is America?
Do we mean the one-hundred-and-eight military bases we have around the world?
Do we mean the territories? American Samoa? Puerto Rico?

 

Dr. Larry Ward, in his gripping baritone, uttered these questions into the still meditation hall at the opening of the four-day Future of American Buddhism Conference in Garrison, NY, this past June. I went, hoping an event of this ilk would offer some stirring, inspiring, and challenging conversations about the state of our mahasangha. I got those, and so much more. Here are some of my highlights:

Discussing her research on cases of sexual misconduct and abuse of power in Buddhist communities, Dr. Ann Gleig, wielding Manjushri’s sword, shared a no-nonsense finding: major corporations have handled things better. The charge was clear—Buddhist communities must support the survivors, heal the harm, hold individuals accountable, and put in measures to reduce and prevent future acts of misconduct and abuse.

Chenxing Han and Rev. Blayne Higa busted the myth that American Buddhism was created in the 60s in the Bay Area. Buddhism arrived in the United States by way of Chinese, Japanese, and Korean immigrants in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Right now, Asian American Buddhists make up over two-thirds of Buddhists in America. Rev. Blayne himself is a fifth-generation Japanese American Shin Buddhist, born and raised in Hawaii. He is the resident minister at Hawaii’s Kona Hongwanji Buddhist Temple, which has been serving the local Jodo Shinshu Buddhist community since 1897.

Devon Matsumoto talked about the Young Buddhist Editorial (YBE), the online publication and community of young Japanese American Shin Buddhists he co-founded. YBE focuses on young Buddhists building connections with one another, fostering Japanese American cultural and religious resilience in the face of structural domination, and engaging with social justice movements as Japanese and Asian Americans.

There were also moments that rippled and jolted my whole being, in the best of ways:

Rev. Myokei Caine-Barrett blasted a rousing rendition of drumming and chanting that transformed the subdued room into a pulsing lotus bloom. Chenxing invited everyone to join her in prostrating to the Buddha, filling the hall with, to echo her words, a feeling of arrival and spiritual kinship. Cristina Moon woke us up with a sharp, clear bellowing katsu. She then shared the ways the highly rigorous physical training at the Rinzai Zen Daihonzan Chozenji in Honolulu are at once traditional and innovative forms of Zen practice.

Cristina also served tea to several of the conference guests, including our dear SFZC teacher and City Center Abiding Abbot Rev. Tenzen David Zimmerman. I also had the delight of being served. Cristina’s serene, gentle, lighthearted, precise-and-never-uptight, and yes, badass expression of Chado, or the Way of Tea, filled me with the sustained transmission of the practice. The six paramitas were all there, like a lotus floating, a breeze through the willows. Plus, she brought mochi from Hawaii, which was, I’m just going to say it, pure ecstasy.

Many other moments, many of them gestures of kindness, are quiet and simple. The kind that have no intention of drawing any attention to themselves. One speaker fills the cup of another before their panel, gently holds and moves their glass with a napkin. An attendee sprains their ankle, another lends them their set of crunches. Someone finishes their lunch, but not their conversation, as another offers and takes their plate. Each act lasts but a moment, a breath; a gift, given, received. Each time, my heart feels the dewdrops of dana.

Our time together concluded with dedications of merit from various panelists, organizers, and attendees. Each dedication reflected a different Buddhist tradition, expressed by each person through their unique heritage, age, gender, mind, heart, and hara. With each dedication, I felt the joining our hearts to the one heart of the world, in awareness and love. American Buddhism is messy, complicated, and, at times, painful and fraught. Yet, if those present at this two-hundred-plus-person gathering, onsite and online, were reflections of the Buddhdharma in this also-messy nation-state, then I have full faith that the three jewels—already carefully cared for on Turtle Island for two centuries—shall continue to glisten, like Indra’s net, amongst the multitude of intersectional inter-beings, for many more moons.

In community,

Weishin Huang
Brooklyn Zen Center Board Chair


Sign up to the Brooklyn Zen Center mailing list here and receive the monthly newsletter and occasional special announcements. The BZC newsletter is sent at the beginning of every month with information on our many offerings, program scheduling and other sangha news. Trouble receiving the BZC newsletter? Let us know, we are here to help!

Message from the Tanto: Introducing the Boundless Mind Temple Practice Roles

Dear sangha,

I would like to take a moment to introduce and celebrate the people holding the practice roles at Boundless Mind Temple. Some of these folks have been in their roles since the temple opened in March and some have just started. We have now filled all these positions, and so I feel a few words are called for to hold these people up and to articulate the spirit of their service.

We have two people each sharing the three roles of ino, shika, and shissui (workleader). Our two co-inos are Erica Essner and Gerardo Dexter Ciprián. (Yoko Ohashi also served as an interim co-ino during the spring.) The inos care for the practice in the meditation hall (zendo) and train the doanryo, who lead the chanting and play the instruments during service. They help oversee the ceremonial and ritual aspects of the temple. The inos and the doanryo also set up the zendo every Saturday.

Our two co-shikas are Radha Radkar and Kristen Davis. In a monastery, the shika is the guest manager. At Boundless Mind, the shikas—along with a team of greeters—help greet and orient guests and newcomers. They are also in charge of setting out the tea and refreshments that we enjoy at the end of our Saturday program.

Our two co-shissuis (or workleaders) are Matthew Menzies and Amy Holderness. The shissuis lead the periods of soji (temple cleaning) on Saturdays and the longer work periods during retreats. They help care for our physical space and for the practice of work itself, which in our tradition has the spirit of zazen in activity.

I would also like to acknowledge the role of jisha (or teacher’s attendant). As you know, Julia DeWitt became Kosen’s jisha after Ryan became director earlier this year. Inzan Rose will now be taking on the role of Laura’s jisha (as Kristen has transitioned into the shika role). The jisha role is unique in that its responsibilities—from personally attending to the teacher to coordinating and scheduling practice discussions and other events—often straddle both Boundless Mind and Ancestral Heart temples.

It would be very easy to see each of these roles as having a different area of responsibility—and they certainly do—but I would rather like to frame these as areas of care. The inos, shikas, shissuis, and jishas are helping care for different aspects of the temple; they are simultaneously being trained and helping to train others in developing a capacity of care. As we all learn to care for the cushions, for the brooms, for the cups, and for each guest who walks in the door, we begin to develop a new relationship to things and to each other. This capacity for care is cultivated gradually and the practice is also available immediately in this moment. Over time of course, guests become hosts. The practice of sangha is endless. 

Our situation at Christ Church is unique in that we have to build the temple anew each week. For our staff, I feel that this calls for an extra dimension of devotion, faith, and commitment than if the temple were ready made.

Please join me in celebrating their devotion and care.

With gratitude,

Kidō Ian Case
Tanto, Brooklyn Zen Center

Upcoming BZC Offerings: Save the Dates!

Save the dates for these upcoming BZC offerings.

At Boundless Mind Temple, Brooklyn:
– September 17, Saturday: One-Day In-Person Sit with Sarah Dōjin Emerson – Registration is now open!
– September 23-25, Friday evening-Sunday mid-day: Qi Gong Fundraiser for BZC with Sally Chang (details TBA)
– October 14-16, Friday-Sunday: Three-Day In-Person Sesshin with Kosen Gregory Snyder
– Registration is now open!
– November 19, Saturday: One-Day In-Person Sit with Charlie Korin Pokorny – Registration is now open!
– December 7-11, Wednesday-Sunday: In-Person Rohatsu Retreat, co-led by Kosen Gregory Snyder, Shingetsu Laura O’Loughlin, Kidō Ian Case, Sarah Dōjin Emerson and Charlie Korin Pokorny

At Ancestral Heart Zen Temple, Millerton:
– November 11th–13, Friday–Sunday: Weekend Themed Retreat at Watershed (details TBA)
– January 2–30, 2023: One-Month Residential Practice Period – Registration is now open!

Dates and information for additional 2023 winter retreats, as well as many other offerings, will be shared shortly – stay tuned!

New audio dharma talk by Yoko Ohashi and Kidō Ian Case

A new audio dharma talk by Yoko Ohashi and Kidō Ian Case is now available on the BZC Audio Dharma Podcast!

Audio dharma talk by Yoko Ohashi and Kidō Ian Case (2022/04/09)

The BZC Audio Dharma Podcast is offered free of charge and made possible by the donations we receive. A $10 suggested donation per dharma talk is recommended. You can donate to BZC here. Thank you for your generosity!

Save the Date: January Residential Practice Period

Dear Sangha,

We are thrilled to announce our first-ever One-Month Residential Practice Period, coming January, 2023: a major step for our sangha and temples. Ancestral Heart Zen Temple will partner with our neighbors at The Watershed Center to offer this powerful part of our Soto Zen tradition. We will follow an intensive monastic schedule, eat oryoki meals, sit multiple periods of zazen each day, and engage in communal work and ritual life.

More details are coming shortly, but we wanted to allow those who are interested to start planning. We request everyone to live on-site at Watershed and remain in residence the entire month, from January 2nd–30th.

We look forward to deepening our collective work through this ancestral practice. It would be a joy to sit with you all.

Ian Douglass Case,
Brooklyn Zen Center Tanto (Head of Practice)

New audio dharma talk by Kosen Greg Snyder

A new audio dharma talk by Kosen Gregory Snyder is now available on the BZC Audio Dharma Podcast!

Audio dharma talk by Kosen Greg Snyder (2022/06/11)

The BZC Audio Dharma Podcast is offered free of charge and made possible by the donations we receive. A $10 suggested donation per dharma talk is recommended. You can donate to BZC here. Thank you for your generosity!

A Deep Breath

From the BZC July Newsletter, by Chetan Khanna:

This Spring, we planted spinach in the garden at Ancestral Heart Zen Temple. On one particular day, my back wasn’t sore, but my fingers were chilly from the wet soil despite the sun coming down on us. My mind wandered to the idea of stamina, perhaps to distract me from my cold hands. I had come to Ancestral Heart for a few weeks, in part, to better learn to mitigate the cycles of exertion and burnout that are regular in my life. I hoped my body would further internalize the routine here and find ways to adapt it into my day-to-day.

For each spinach plant, I weeded the soil, carved out a hole, added some compost, placed the plant, and then packed it all up nice and snug. I tried not trying, easing my body when I caught myself exerting to be the best and fastest planter. I noticed the harsh voice that came up with that urge— the one that was never satisfied with what I did—allowing it to soften. I hoped that each plant would flourish, eventually nourishing us. If only I could control all the elements that could make this so! I made do with the attention and effort I could give them now. With each spinach plant tucked in the soil, I found myself slowly yielding to the moment. I wonder if longevity and stamina might be found here.

I finished planting the container of spinach. I felt the ground supporting my feet and admired the idyllic view the temple overlooks. I took a deep breath and grabbed the next container.

Chetan Khanna
Brooklyn Zen Center Sangha Member

Sign up to the Brooklyn Zen Center mailing list here and receive the monthly newsletter and occasional special announcements. The BZC newsletter is sent at the beginning of every month with information on our many offerings, program scheduling and other sangha news. Trouble receiving the BZC newsletter? Let us know, we are here to help!

New audio dharma talk by Kosen Greg Snyder

A new audio dharma talk by Kosen Gregory Snyder is now available on the BZC Audio Dharma Podcast!

Audio dharma talk by Kosen Gregory Snyder (2022/01/22)

 

The BZC Audio Dharma Podcast is offered free of charge and made possible by the donations we receive. A $10 suggested donation per dharma talk is recommended. You can donate to BZC here. Thank you for your generosity!

Dharma Teachers Moving to Brooklyn

Dearest Sangha,

While some of you have heard their dharma talks and gotten to know them through their visits and joining our online programs, we are happy to announce that Dojin Sarah Emerson and Korin Charlie Pokorny are moving this summer to Brooklyn and have offered to support sangha life at Boundless Mind Temple. The main motivations for their moving here were their own wisdom regarding the care of their family – they joyfully come with their daughter Kaya and son Lokha – and their long held admiration and respect for the BZC Sangha.

When we first learned this might be a possibility, we were thrilled. Throughout our conversations, Sarah and Charlie have continually expressed admiration and enthusiasm for our sangha and the work we do here. They have generously offered to be of service in whatever ways they can. We have been so deeply moved by how very kind and respectful they’ve been with us and our sangha so far.

As they are both ordained priests and dharma-transmitted teachers, they will be making themselves available for practice discussion, retreats, and Zen training once they settle in. Also, both trained many years at Tassajara and were co-head priests at the Stone Creek Zen Center. So they bring very helpful practice and administrative leadership experience with them. Excitingly, Sarah is also a trained sewing teacher and can support sewing!

Since they will be offering dharma talks and practice discussion in an ongoing way within our community, we felt it appropriate to ask them to attend Practice Council meetings. They have also offered to support organizational needs where possible and appropriate.

For them to offer themselves and so many years of training in this way without a formal paid position is a rare kind of generosity. We are grateful for their willingness to make themselves so available to Brooklyn Zen Center. We are grateful for their openheartedness and inspiring care for the three jewels. Please reach out to them and make them feel welcome.

With love and joy,
Laura and Kosen

New audio dharma by Chimyo Atkinson!

You can now listen to a dharma talk offered by Chimyo Atkinson.

Chimyo Simone Atkinson was ordained a priest in the Soto Zen Buddhist tradition in 2007 and received Dharma Transmission in 2015. She is a member of the Association of Soto Zen Buddhists Jukai-e committee and an SZBA liaison to that organization’s Roadmap Committee.

Audio dharma talk by Chimyo Atkinson (2022/05/07)

The BZC Audio Dharma Podcast is offered free of charge and made possible by the donations we receive. A $10 suggested donation per dharma talk is recommended. You can donate to BZC here. Thank you for your generosity!