Ango Week 10: Joy continued

Image: Dancing Buddha print by Vivienne Eastwood

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

Right! There’s serious work to be done: let’s play.
—Bayo Akomolafe

Dear Ango sangha,

How have the past few days been? How is your practice of joy going?

We want to recognize, not only is this a tender time in the Sangha, but for many people the holiday season is a mixed bag. There are so many messages about joy and gratefulness and merriment…while for many people the holiday season amplifies loss, increases anxiety, and can generate despair, even while the world is all glitter and shopping and apparent holiday cheer. So it may feel like engaging a joy practice right now is yet another thing that brings mixed feelings. We want to offer the image of untethering joy from conditions, and really engaging it as something subtle and readily available, not something that could be compared, bought or sold. Practicing cultivating joy in this way takes effort. This is partly why we wanted to spend weeks building up to it- through embodied attunement, through breath, through rest, through ritual and ceremony, through our senses, through not-hurrying…see if it’s possible to approach it through the lens of all you’ve been cultivating and exploring over the fall Ango.

For those in the U.S., we want to include acknowledging that dominant collective culture turns this week toward the immense complexity of the tradition of Thanksgiving. However you do or do not celebrate this holiday, may practice support you to be with whatever the holiday evokes: maybe a season of gratitude, maybe an anticipated coming together of family…but also maybe something you have not historically celebrated/ not your cultural tradition; maybe a time of anxiety and pain around family, around food, around history; maybe a time of deep reflection on the myth and social conditioning that attempts to erase attempted genocide of indigenous people and centers colonial domination; and much more. May the Dharma support us being spacious enough to hold the complexity to honor every part, and to lift up parts that have not been so seen or acknowledged or allowed in the past.


We are going to recommend dance as a practice this week, and wanted to share this teaching with you that we received for some context. Our family’s dance Kumu in California, Vao Paleti or Aunty Vao, shared with us that in Pacific Islander dance, every time our foot touches the ground or floor, we are connecting with ancestors and honoring them. Since learning this, all dance has opened for us as more of a ceremony- connecting us to our lineages, to our ancestors, to earth. This teaching can change our relationship to Kinhin/ walking meditation, and to walking or standing in general- feeling every step we take as meaningful, connected, and honoring. It feels resonant with Thich Nhat Hanh’s teachings around how “Peace is every step.”

The monks at Ancestral Heart shared that, in the days after hearing about Kosen having cancer, they were invited by Watershed to a bonfire and dancing. The image was so moving- everyone carrying care and worry, and also coming together around a fire, and moving with joy.

So it’s in these teachings, and in this spirit, we are offering the practice this week of dancing.

Possible practices:

– Dance for 5 minutes a day: we are hoping everyone will try this one on in a way that works for you. Maybe it just means listening to music you like and bobbing your head. But maybe it also means turning it up loud and moving until you’re sweaty and falling over…or maybe something in between. If you notice annoyance, cynicism, irritation, self-consciousness arising with reading this, honor that…and maybe try it for a couple minutes anyway. It can be supportive to dance alone, so it’s not about being seen or being social- just about having a vital human body and allowing joy in movement. And it can be supportive to dance with others, sharing the joy.

– Play: if you see the chance this week- do something playful you maybe haven’t done since you were a kid, or maybe ever. Jump on a swing for a minute; go down a slide; put on some roller skates, or ice skates; jump up/ down some stairs, roll down a hill or maybe just roll around on the floor? This is by no means an exhaustive list! Find something that works for you, for your body, that feels maybe a little silly, and try it on…just once, as an experiment.

– Care for yourself with tenderness: make it a koan for this week- how do I care for this moment? Include yourself in the inquiry and see what arrives to be done/ or not to do.

With gratitude and complexity abounding,
Sarah & Charlie

New BZC Audio Dharma Podcast Episode: Conversation with Sally Chang and Shingetsu Laura O’Loughlin

This episode is a conversation with Sally Chang, Chief Instructor of Evergreen Taiji Academy, and BZC dharma teacher Shingetsu Laura O’Loughlin, offered as part of a Qigong Fundraiser Workshop for BZC, offered at Boundless Mind Temple in Brooklyn in September 2022.

Conversation with Sally Chang and Shingetsu Laura O’Loughlin (2022/09/23)

About Sally Chang

Sally Chang is Chief Instructor of Evergreen Taiji Academy. She is a Teacher, Acupuncturist, and 30+ year practitioner of Daoist Wisdom Arts including Qigong, Taiji, and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). Sally’s teachings focus on cultivating the innate capacity for healing; and she is known for her warm, focused presence.

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 9: The serious matter of Joy

Image: Yoko’ Ohashi’s calligraphy: raku- joy, bliss, music 

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

The zazen I speak of is not learning mediation, it is simply the Dharma gate of repose and bliss (raku).  The practice-realization of totally culminated enlightenment.
—Dogen-zenji from Fukanzazengi, from Moon in a Dewdrop translation


Do not think lightly of good, saying it will not come to me. Drop by drop the water pot is filled. Likewise, the wise one, gathering it little by little, fills one’s self with good.
—Dhammapada Chapter 9 verse 122

Dear Ango sangha,

I have been working all week on an email about the complexity of cultivating joy and play in the midst of pain and suffering. Also about the relationship of joy and play to repose and bliss, engagement and, most importantly, liberation. To be honest, this email has taken on a life of its own and become, I think, too massive to be digested in one sitting.

So, in the spirit of our practice period, I won’t try to force all I have gathered to condense into something manageable today, but will slow things down and allow us to take up this theme over the next few weeks. For this week to start us off, I offer two ideas about joy, one story about play, and a few resources for all of us to consider together.

Here are the two ideas:

1) In the tradition of Buddhism, states of ease, peace and joy are cultivated not only because they are easeful and heart opening, but because they are ultimately wisdom building.
2) We have to investigate what we mean by joy and happiness and play, and anywhere we find they’ve been made conditional (vs innate and unconditional), gently untether them.

Here’s the story:
Recently, we were at a gathering for families with our son. Some people had known one another for years. Many, like us, were new to the community. It was a grey, drizzly day, so we were outside and chilly. Everyone was standing around a little awkwardly, not really knowing how to engage. Until, at some point, one wise parent/organizer yelled out- “Freeze tag- and everyone is playing!” Suddenly, everyone was running around, laughing and enjoying the particular chaos that ensues when playing freeze tag (especially when half the participants haven’t played freeze tag in decades). And suddenly we were in intimate connection with people we hadn’t even had a chance to meet yet- dodging and spinning, freezing and unfreezing one another. The whole field of relationship changed within minutes. And, once we all got too tired, everyone now felt warmly in community.

This, to me, shows the role of play in relation to the Dharma- to help us to be pliant and responsive, to wake us up to our vitality, to our connection. Play can transform us and change the field in which we are connected to one another, and also clear away, as really nothing else can, the hindrances for experiencing the depth of our connection

But often access to states of play can get inhibited as people grow. Again, as a Bodhisattva engagement of staying alive and responsive to the world, are there moments in your day where you can play? If not, can you build some? (and if not, start small!)

Here is a small list of resources around joy and play and Dharma:
Possible practices:
check out one, or several, of the resources below and see what comes up in you? what’s stirred? what’s challenged? what’s calling for further exploration?  Are there other teachings you’ve come across that you want to share?

– Listen or re-listen to Yoko Ohashi’s talk on Healing and joy including the evolution of the character above.

“Joy is a Radical Act”, by Scott Tusa, from Tricycle

-The work of Saliha Bava, PhD, Joy and Social Justice

Resistive Joy: Sustaining Our Activism Through Celebration by Helena
from Disorient- a blog/ resource for intersectional, feminist thought, education and activism

The teachings of Ross Gay author of The Book of Delights and Inciting Joy

– Ted Talk by Rick Hanson- neuroscientist and Buddhist practitioner, Hardwiring Happiness

Inquiring into conditioning:
What were you taught in early life about joy, fun, play, pleasure, bliss? Who was teaching you and how? What was allowed in these realms? what wasn’t? How do you feel about these concepts now? What arises in your daily life around them? What from your early life aligns with what you believe now? What doesn’t? When/ where/ how/ with who can you enact joy, fun, play, pleasure, bliss?

Stay tuned for next week, more to come…

New audio dharma talks available!

New audio dharma talks are now available on the BZC Audio Dharma Podcast!

Healing: audio dharma talk by Yoko Ohashi (2022/11/05)

This Distress is Worth Recounting: audio dharma talk by Sarah Dōjin Emerson (2022/10/29)

Potentiality: audio dharma talk by Kosen Greg Snyder (2022/10/15)

Healing and Vow: audio dharma talk by Kosen Greg Snyder (2022/10/14)

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 8: The support of ritual and ceremony

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

To bow to the floor and to bow standing is dignified bearing in motion and stillness. Painting a decayed tree, and polishing a brick of dead ash continues without stopping. Even though calendar days are short and regent, study of the way in this manner is profound and deep.

—Eihei Dogen-zenji from Shinjin Gakudo (Body-and-Mind Study of the Way) in Moon in a Dewdrop

With news of Kosen’s diagnosis, and the complexity of feelings that are arising for many of us in digesting this news, we want to wait to take up joy together next week, and skip ahead to the nourishment and support of ceremony and ritual.

In Soto Zen ceremony and ritual are central, and are practice-engagements of non-duality. Ceremony is a place of integration of everything that can seem separate. Coming together in ceremony, we enact how this separation is delusion, and create space for the connectedness of all things to touch us and change us. For example, zazen practice itself is the ceremony of the non-duality of Buddhas and practitioners. When we sit, this is a ceremony of engaging how we are our particular selves, and how to tenderly be with our particular selves; and also how we are not apart from buddhas, how Buddhas sit in the world right where we sit.

Ceremony is a place where things that are hard to digest become digestible, because we do ceremony together, and together we have a capacity greater than when we imagine ourselves to be separate. Even if we offer incense alone in a room, we are engaging the enactment of how all Buddhas and bodhisattvas, and all practitioners of the past, present and future, are here with us. The meaning of any offering now lives in relationship with all the beings who have sustained this meaning over time, and do now, and will in the future.

So this week, coming from our practices of attuning to our bodies, and of exploring nourishment, we can take up ceremony and inquire: how does ritual and ceremony support me right now? If we are working with emotions and memories and feelings and life circumstances that feel un-integratable, is there a way that ceremony can help us integrate, help us feel connected to one another, and help us hold what is arriving to be held?

This week for the online daily zazen and service, we are offering well-being ceremonies for Kosen as a way to help us meet what’s arising, and then also to offer the merit and intention of our practice together to be of benefit to him. As we do this, we can open to how, as we make an offering of our coming together, this is also caring for ourselves- as we naturally want to do something to respond when someone we care about is in distress. So the making of an offering cares for our distress and benefits Kosen and we are alive there, in relationship with one another and how we impact one another.

Ceremony is a place of alignment of our conventional reality with the equal truth of the transcendent. In Charlie’s most recent Dharma talk, and in the class on Zen Ritual Life, there has been discussion of how ritual supports a different sense of time than our everyday, quantifiable sense of time. This articulates how, in ritual and in ceremony, we collectively make space to move at a different pace- one that allows for integration of complexities with our bodies and in concert with one another. And how, in a life of practice, this is not only nourishing, it is essential to move into with some frequency to nurture bodhicitta, to nurture our freedom, to nurture liberation.

So this week, please find a way to engage with ritual and ceremony in a way that supports you.

Practice possibilities:

– Wednesday through Friday morning after the ceremony of zazen from 7:30-8:00am, there will be well-being ceremonies for Kosen from 8:00-8:15am. To join these online offerings, please see here.

– On Wednesday evening (November 9) at Boundless Mind Temple we will offer a well-being ceremony in person.

– Utilizing the altar you created in the first week of the practice period- light a candle and simply make the offering of light. Or offer incense: light it, bring it to your forehead and state an intention, then place it in the incenser (or in something where it’s safe to burn), maybe spend some time with it while it burns.

– Take time to sit quietly and acknowledge all of what’s present for you and alive in you. Write down everything you can name on a piece of paper that you can fold into something that fits on your altar. If you practice with offering incense, you can light a candle and some incense, and circle this offering over the incense three times clockwise, then lift it to your forehead and name an intention, just in your mind, of how you want to offer this piece of paper and all it contains. Then put this on your altar and let it rest there for as long as it needs to be there.

– Everyday there are beings of all kinds- human, plant, animal and otherwise, offering us teachings. Offer a bow to something or someone to thank them for being in your life or the teaching they have offered in return. If it doesn’t feel appropriate to do this explicitly or outwardly in any given situation, offer a bow internally or maybe even on the sly so only you know, but the offering of gratitude will still be made.

Inquiring into conditioning:

What place did ritual and ceremony hold in your early life? How did these concepts and practices show up? What were you taught about them? How did you feel about them?

How do ritual and ceremony live in you presently? Are there ways they show up that are obvious? Are there ways they happen in your life that are more subtle, or not something you would historically think of as ceremony or ritual, but is part of a cyclical rhythm of your life?

When engaging with ritual, what arises for you? Some possibilities: skepticism, cynicism, doubt…devotion, love,immersion, freedom…discomfort, comfort, familiarity, resonance, alienation, confusion…and everything else in between. Take some time to turn this and just observe whatever is stirred up.

New audio dharma talks available!

New audio dharma talks are now available on the BZC Audio Dharma Podcast!

Small Project: audio dharma talk by Sarah Dōjin Emerson (2022/09/17)

The World of Dew: audio dharma talk by Charlie Korin Pokorny (2022/10/22)

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!


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!

Repose & Bliss: audio dharma talk by Kosen Greg Snyder (2022/09/10)

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 7: Nourishment

Image (detail): Mayumi Oda, “Morning Breath/ My Breath”

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

We need to flood the system with life-affirming principles and practices, to clear the channels between us of the toxicity of supremacy, to heal from the harms of a legacy of devaluing some lives and needs in order to elevate and indulge others.
—adrienne maree brown, “We Will Not Cancel Us”

This week’s email is a little later because it took some time to form.  The theme we want to offer is Nourishment, and we want to offer it in light of a couple of teachings from our tradition.  The first is stewarding, attending to and caring for the first grave precept: a disciple of Buddha does not kill.  We can turn this precept to its affirmative form: a disciple of Buddha cares for and cherishes life.  So in taking up Nourishment, we can ask ourselves:how do we care for life?  How do we flood the systems with life-affirming principles and practices, moment after moment?  And taking up this question as a koan and a compass on every level: from a vast planetary scope, to our communities, to our beloveds, to our own bodies within systems, down to the minutiae of our most mundane, intimate daily choices.

The early roots of the word nourishment come from Latin nutrio, which has the meanings: to feed, foster, nourish, cherish, preserve, support.

This week, growing from contemplating the body and contemplating rest, we invite an inquiry around nourishment. Like rest, nourishment is something we can think of more conventionally- as in food and nutrition; or more expansively- what sustains us, what supports, what restores and nurtures?

What feeds, fosters, cherishes, preserves and supports you? What nourishes your body? your heart, your whole being? your practice? your bodhicitta/ aspiration for liberation? your freedom?

The second offering form the tradition that we want to include this week is an understanding of nourishment in the context of the cyclical nature of giver, receiver and gift- how true  nourishment never actually travels only in one direction, but happens, in interconnectedness, in systems of reciprocity.  Given that, are there things you offer into the world that nurture you by your offering of them?  Are there offerings you receive that are actually a gift to those giving them to you?

Possible practices:

– Mindfully feeding ourselves:
Caring for how engaging with food and eating can be a complex relationship for many people, and acknowledging that mindful appreciation of eating is rarely supported in dominant culture and busy lives, can we engage with eating and feeding ourselves this week as an offering?
One possibility: Take time to get quiet and settled, and then ask yourself what foods your body would really appreciate taking in right now. If something comes, can you find this food? Is there time, just once this week, to cook this for yourself? Can you create a small ceremony to offer yourself the food and to receive from yourself the food?

– Savoring small moments of sensory joy:
Attuning to your senses, can you identify things besides food that feed and nourish your heart/mind/being/soul? If you let the aperture be wide around asking this question- is there anything that surprises you?

Are there

sights (art, light, colors, views, scenes in your daily life, an expression on someone’s face),
sounds (music, sounds in nature, certain voices, laughing babies, the sound of the subway?!),

smells (scents that bring a sense of ease),

sensations of ease and joy (some examples: noticing a moment of feeling warmth- holding a cup of tea, putting on a warm sweater or socks, sun on your skin, stepping into a warm shower of bath; or noticing a moment of moving from even small discomfort into ease- sitting down, laying down, resting your eyes, resting your feet)

that bring joy and nourishment to your being?

If you can identify one or a few, can you make time to encounter them, turn your whole being and attention toward the nourishment, and maybe even savor the sensation for a few breaths, a couple of times this week?

-Find a way to make an offering, even one that seems small, this week that nurtures you in the giving of it.

Inquiring into conditioning:

What does Nourishment evoke for you? What did you learn about it in your early developmental life? Who nourished you? How? What nourished you? How? Are there things you felt nourished by in the past that no longer nourish you? What has changed?  Are there things you can experience as nourishment now that weren’t in the past?

What is the history of nourishment for you and your family, for your ancestors, for the communities you come from? What were the forces at play in shaping all this? What does it mean to care for these histories in your life right now?

We are working our way toward the contemplation of joy, pleasure (maybe even bliss!) next week- so maybe begin to walk in some contemplations around these concepts this week as you explore nourishment as well.

Thank you for your patiences and your care for your practice, yourself, your communities and all beings,
Sarah & Charlie

January Practice Period Canceled 

Some recent health concerns facing BZC’s dharma teachers have compelled us to cancel the January Residential Practice Period at Ancestral Heart and Watershed. This feels in alignment both with the Practice Period theme of “Repose and Bliss” and our Strategic Plan’s emphasis on care and collective stewardship. We hope to offer it as soon as the right conditions arise. For all the latest information on BZC’s programs and latest updates, please see the BZC Calendar.

Zen Priest Ordination

Earlier this month, the BZC sangha came together to celebrate the Zen priest ordination of Kaishin Victory Matsui. Surrounded by BZC dharma teachers, senior practitioners, sangha members, as well as family and friends, Kaishin took this vow of dedication to practice and community. The first such ceremony to take place at Boundless Mind Temple in Brooklyn, the gathering was a very special occasion for our community!

Kaishin Victory Matsui is currently the Tenzo (head of the kitchen) at Ancestral Heart Zen Temple, where they have lived for the past three years. They were born in Tokyo and raised in Brooklyn, and have been practicing at Brooklyn Zen Center since 2015.

Here are some of the images of the ceremony. All images by Jess X. Snow.




Ango Week 6: Rest as Resistance

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

I judge my success by how many naps I am taking a week and how many healthy boundaries I create and uphold. This is my wealth.

You will have to think differently. A mind change is necessary for the resistance.

-Tricia Hersey, the Nap Ministry (Instagram post 8/8/22)

This week we want to turn our full attention to the repose part of repose and bliss, and take up practicing with rest. As Charlie mentioned in his talk on Saturday, the work of Tricia Hersey of The Nap Ministry was an essential ingredient in the inspiration for this practice period. One of the things she teaches is to understand rest beyond just naps or sleeping, but the nourishment of daydreaming and imagination, or having time in our day, of taking care of our bodies. She is challenging people to expand our conceptions of what’s restful and restorative, and then asking people to include these practices as valuable in our lives, as essentially transgressive forms of resistance to capitalism and white supremacy culture, as acts of liberation.

Practice possibilities:

– Read this brief article: “To Transform Work, We Must Rest” by Tricia Hersey from Yes magazine

– Drawing on the past few weeks of attuning to the body, inquire into what’s restful and restorative for you, your being, your body and nervous system. Be expansive in this inquiry: maybe this means more sleep, but maybe this also means savoring a sound or a view or a color, or a cup of tea; maybe it’s a gentle activity: drawing, bathing, walking, gardening…roller skating?! Maybe it’s having a small chunk of time each week that isn’t scheduled, so you get to move at a different pace (the joy of puttering!). Or activities that ask us to be in a different time than dominant culture time: connecting with ancestors, making offerings at a home altar, prayer, creativity. See what comes if you open heartedly inquire: what is restful for me in my life right now?

– Maybe actually take a nap?! Or just lie down or recline and close your eyes and let the mind drift…

– Read or listen to Rest is Resistance by Tricia Hersey

Inquiring into conditioning:

What were you taught early in life about the concept of “rest?” What messages impacted you around rest? Who exemplified rest and taught it to you? How much of your early conditioning around rest aligns with how you see it in your present life? How much doesn’t?

Also, can you inquire into, historically in your life and also now in the present, who gets to rest and who doesn’t? And can you attend to and care for some of the forces behind the discrepancies? Can you care for where you fall on this spectrum? Can you see places where sangha might support you in this care?

A couple weeks ago, we had the gift of attending an event with Tricia Hersey in person in Brooklyn celebrating the publishing of her new book. One thing that she emphasized several times that stayed with us was that, even once she was certain about reclaiming rest as an act of liberation, it took years for her to fully engage this practice because of how powerful the “brainwashing” of dominant culture was. This is such an important teaching: that in our efforts to investigate and uproot harmful conditioning, we don’t cause ourselves and others more harm in thinking this should be a quick process, or even that it will be a painless one. One of the things that’s needed in learning to rest is saying no to a lot of things that are wanted and engaging. Conditioning around pushing ourselves happened over years, in many ways over centuries, the forces of it won’t change over night. And we can participate in the collective undoing with our hearts and efforts strongly rooted in compassion… and also some perseverance and commitment to caring for suffering too.

Your body is a site of liberation.

It doesn’t belong to capitalism.

Love your body.

Rest your body.

Move your body.

Hold your body.

– Tricia Hersey, Rest is Resistance

BZC Residential Summer Retreat audio dharma talks available!

Kosen Gregrory Snyder, Shingetsu Laura O’Loughlin, and Kidō Ian Case co-lead the BZC Residential Summer Retreat this August at the Watershed Retreat Center, next to Ancestral Heart Zen Monastery, in upstate New York. During this week-long Soto Zen retreat, they offered dharma talks drawing from the Xin Xin Ming, a poem attributed to Seng Can, the Third Chinese Patriarch of Zen.

These talks are now available for listening, sharing and downloading on the BZC Audio Dharma Podcast! 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.

Xin Xin Ming: Reversing the Light – Audio dharma talk by Kosen Greg Snyder (2022/08/09)

Xin Xin Ming: Aversion and Affection – Audio dharma talk by Shingetsu Laura O’Loughlin (2022/08/10)

Xin Xin Ming: Using Mind to Cultivate Mind – Audio dharma talk by Kosen Greg Snyder (2022/08/11)

Xin Xin Ming: A Reflection of the Cosmos – Audio dharma talk by Shingetsu Laura O’Loughlin (2022/08/12)

Xin Xin Ming: If You Can Be Like This – Audio dharma talk by Kidō Ian Case (2022/08/13)


New audio dharma talk by Charlie Korin Pokorny

A new audio dharma talk by Charlie Korin Pokorny is now available on the BZC Audio Dharma Podcast!

The History We Carry Within Us: audio dharma talk by Charlie Korin Pokorny (2022/04/16)

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 5: Continuing Returning to Our Senses, and Beginning to Contemplate Conditioning

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

A long loving look at the real…

from The Inner Work of Racial Justice by Rhonda Magee

Image: Buddha Eyes on Swayambhunath Stupa-Kathmandu

This week, we wanted to offer to continue grounding awareness in the senses, since there are a number of them and so many ways to attune. We will also add some contemplations of and possible practices for attuning to the sense gate of sight. Acknowledging that not everyone has sight through their eyes, or has sight in equal measure, we all have ways of “seeing” and our dominant or preferred habits of perceiving the world.

Sight is a powerful sense-gate, and even an energetic experience. From Sarah: when I was a child I had a game I liked to play where I would lie in bed in the morning and close my eyes and see if I could feel, in my body, when my parents were looking in at me. Pretty consistently, I had a sensation when they would look in, and if I opened my eyes right then, there they were looking at me. I am not sure that I shared this with anyone at the time, because I thought no one would believe me! But now I know this is a common experience for human beings. Have you ever been looking at someone, and they turn toward your gaze? Or vice versa, you look up and it’s because someone is looking at you? To some extent we have probably all developed a sense of how long we can look at someone before it sets off their I’m-being-looked-at radar. My guess is that this sensation probably has old roots as a protection against predation, a feeling people describe as the “hairs on my neck go up,” a feeling of being watched. I am sure there are interesting scientific explanations for this sensation, but for this week, just feel into this as a way to engage the potency of sight. It’s also interesting to consider that by most measures, the eyes are a visible part of the brain, and in that sense also very powerfully connected to brain and mind and awareness.


– Honoring what a powerful sense-gate sight is, this week experiment with what happens when you pour your full awareness into seeing, and see what happens. One way to do this is to spend some time really regarding something you technically “see” often, but don’t fully see with your whole presence. I recommend pigeons and house sparrows, or other birds with such ubiquitous presences some of us may not even fully register they are there. What happens if you spend a few minutes giving them your full-hearted, sight-centered regard? Or a plant or a tree in your daily life that you “see” but don’t fully see. What happens when you give it your full attention? Or the face of someone you see everyday? If the conditions are right (because many people get uncomfortable when being looked at for “too long”…see defense mechanism above!), if circumstances support fully regarding someone you see often, can you notice things you haven’t noticed before? What are other ways to infuse your sight with your full awareness? Can you be open to being surprised by noticing something new even while it may be very familiar?

– Read/ listen to, or revisit if you have before: The Inner Work of Racial Justice by Rhonda Magee and My Grandmother’s Hands by Resmaa Menalem. Both books offer embodied somatic practices every chapter or section for grounding awareness and mindful attention in the body and investigating our experience as racialized beings in the Dharma of mindful attention.

This week we also want to introduce a new section to the weekly emails…

Investigating cultural and karmic conditioning

This week, and in the coming weeks, we want to offer a practice around inquiring into our conditioning around different concepts related to “Repose & Bliss, Engagement & Liberation.” We want to start off with a gentle, non-grasping inquiry into what have each of us have inherited around the concept of “work.”

When you can, take a few minutes to consider: What were you taught about work in your developing life? What it is and what it isn’t? Who taught you, implicitly and explicitly, about what work meant and how it was supposed to look? Who exemplified “work,” who “didn’t?” How valuable was work in your life and family? What messages were internalized and shaped you? Where did work fall in the hierarchies of values? For example, how valuable were activities considered “work” compared with “play,” compared with “family,” compared with “time for yourself”…compared with “vacation”?!

Considering all that, what’s your conception of work now, in your present life? What of your early conditioning still resonates? What doesn’t? Maybe talk this through with your Dharma buddy, or in dokusan, or with family members and loved ones who were a part of helping form what “work” meant in your early life. What are other people’s ideas about work? Where do they line up with yours, where do they not?

The idea here is not to get some right answers, but just to open a conversation within ourselves and with one another in sangha about our conditioning- to pull into a Dharma-infused inquiry: what we have inherited, culturally and karmically, around work? And to inquire into how all of this shapes and impacts us and our communities and our sangha; and how these conceptions align, or don’t, with our deepest values and heart request as Bodhisattva practitioners, and as human beings at this point in our lives.

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!

Being in Conversation: Audio dharma talk by Kosen Greg Snyder (2022/02/05)

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 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:

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.


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.


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?


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.


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