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Letters from the Garden: Autumn Rituals

Dear Sangha,

Fall is here and I’m savoring all of my favorite rituals to mark the turning season. The garage is full of drying onions, volunteer pumpkins have taken over the compost pile, and we’re eating the last of the tomatoes and peppers, knowing the frost is coming soon. Our snow pear tree has been extraordinarily prolific, producing huge golden fruits that we can’t eat fast enough. They’re normally delicacies in the markets, but we’ve been turning them into pear sauce along with all the apples, just to get through the bins of them. This week we started the work of collecting and shredding leaves to start maturing overwinter for the compost next year.

I don’t have much to say this week, but here are some photos from the last month. Every season here is beautiful, but autumn is really something special.

Red and yellow onions drying for storage
Acorn and butternut squash monsters came up by themselves in the compost bins and did far better than anything I planted
Self-portrait of the gardener with baby eggplant and Long Island Cheeses (destined for pumpkin pie)
Late-season garden overgrown, but the kale is still going strong

I was going back through old notebooks and found a poem I wrote a year ago, now.

carpet of golden leaves turned brown by the first snow
bitter november wind blows hard in from the north
nothing in this life is guaranteed
why should I stay bound to what the world says
I should be?

Lots of love,

Sansei


     Letters from the Garden: Apple Time, September 19

Letters from the Garden: August, August 6

Letters from the Garden: Living by Vow, July 26

Letters from the Garden: Full Bloom, July 9

Letters from the Garden: Digging, June 25

Letters from the Garden: Harvest, June 4

Letters from the Garden: Warm Days, Warm Nights, May 23

Letters from the Garden: Permission to Be, May 8

Letters from the Garden: Work Week, April 17

Letters from the Garden: Planting Good Seeds, April 3

Letters from the Garden: Dharma Blossoms, March 20

Letters from the Garden: The First Birdsong, March 6

 

2021 BZC Membership Drive: a Testimonial from Cat

Brooklyn Zen Center (BZC) is having a membership drive during the month of October!

During this month are are sharing testimonials from current BZC members, like the one below, from Cat Von Holt. We encourage you to consider joining us and become a member today!

I think and worry a lot about aligning my actions with my values. I often feel anxious and uncertain about how well or how poorly I’m accomplishing that goal. And this makes sense! My life is messy, just like everyone’s. Amidst this messiness, the Brooklyn Zen Center sangha provides me much-needed joy, love, and clarity. I’ve also found it useful to remember that, for better or for worse, much of my “action” in this world is monetary in nature: how I spend money is a big part of my impact on the world around me. My BZC membership is one of the best ways I’ve found to align my action in the world with my values and with my heart. Giving a little bit every month allows me to acknowledge and express gratitude for the light that is this sangha. It strengthens my practice and reminds me that I am part of this beautiful, larger community that I have come to love so deeply in such a short period of time. It helps me say “thank you.”

– Cat Von Holt

You can become a BZC member here. Thank you all for your generous support!

Zen Priest Ordination

Earlier this month, at the end of a three-day sesshin, our sangha came together to celebrate the Zen priest ordination of Jefre Cantu, a long time BZC member.

On the grounds of Ancestral Heart Zen Monastery in Millerton, NY, in a ceremony officiated by BZC‘s root teacher Soshin Teah Strozer, Jefre Cantu was surrounded by dharma teachers Kosen Gregory Snyder and Laura O’Loughlin, as well as monastic and lay practitioners who joined in person and online from around the world. It was a very joyous day for our community!

2021 BZC Membership Drive: a Testimonial from Bianca

Brooklyn Zen Center (BZC) is having a membership drive during the month of October!

During this month we’ll be sharing testimonials from current BZC members, like the one below, from Bianca Ozeri. We encourage you to consider joining us and become a member today!

I joined BZC in 2019, after studying under Kosen Greg Snyder at Union Theological Seminary. My decision to become a member had as much to do with Kosen’s teachings as with the many inspiring people I met through BZC in those three years. I had found a group of people who, like myself, were committed to healing—and to doing so beside one another. It was this—far more than being or feeling like a Buddhist—that really drew me to membership. I wanted to be a part of and help support a community in which each and every member was working toward self-discovery. The deeper I’ve entered into this community (which has been a challenge for me, considering my conditioning), the more I’ve witnessed the truth of that sentence. The commitment, care, and devotion that people at BZC show to one another and to their practice is astonishing; the kindness is breathtaking! And what’s more is how my own membership has deepened that commitment in me—in a way, it is a vow, and I have seen it work on me in the last two years. Maybe it sounds grandiose, but I honestly feel like supporting this community monetarily helps to elevate the energy of money itself, in a time when that energy is quite low. My relationship to the identity of capital-B Buddhist remains complex, but this feels beside the point—I have neither regrets nor reservations about making these monthly payments. If you have tasted even just a morsel of what I’m talking about here, please come and join us in membership!

– Bianca Ozeri

You can become a BZC member here. Thank you all for your generous support and your consideration.

2021 BZC Membership Drive: Meeting the World as Sangha

The theme of this fall’s practice period is “meeting the world as sangha.” Reflecting on this now, I realize that this phrase can be understood in two ways. In one sense, in meeting the world (or in any encounter) there is the possibility of seeing those whom we are meeting as not separate from us. We are immediately included in the community of all beings, and we all wake up together. The world is the sangha.

In another perhaps more relative understanding, our activity of meeting a suffering world is supported and bolstered by the strength and upright friendship that we find in spiritual community. We are not in this alone.

Of course, as is often the case in Zen, we come to see that both frames—the nondual and the relative—are true at the same time.

I find that membership at Brooklyn Zen Center (BZC) can be experienced in the same way. By practicing generosity in an ongoing way like this, we enter into an intimate and ethical relationship with a universe that is always and ever giving and receiving. It is a great reminder of our fundamental interconnectedness with all life.

On the relative and practical side, BZC membership is a way of supporting the community that supports you. It is a tangible act that reaffirms our commitment to practice and to all those who are supporting us on the path. From a strictly financial perspective, membership is BZC’s most reliable ongoing source of income and is essential to sustain our community and programs. To paraphrase Dōgen, we could say that membership is the “skin, flesh, bones and marrow” of Brooklyn Zen Center.

And so we will be having a membership drive during the month of October. Our goal is to raise an additional $1000 per month in membership revenue, which corresponds to about 15 new members. I invite and encourage you to consider joining us and become a member today.

Thank you all for your generous support and your consideration. May we all continue to meet the world as sangha.

With gratitude,

Ian Case
Director, Brooklyn Zen Center

The Bodhisattva Path of Liberation program: application deadline extended

Due to a great deal of interest in the past few days, we are extending the application deadline for The Bodhisattva Path of Liberation: Racial Suffering and Collective Transformation. Applications will now be accepted through October 9. The first meeting will begin on October 17.

This program is a ten-month immersive group experience oriented towards transforming racial harm and suffering through the Bodhisattva path. Participants meet monthly in an online format, balancing intimate small group exploration of racial conditioning and trauma-based somatic practices within a Dharma framework of liberation.

Participation is limited to practitioners who identify or are identified as white. Mixed race participants with European ancestry who wish to explore their relationship to whiteness and white supremacy are also invited to participate, with the understanding that this will be a predominately white space.

More information and registration is available here.

New audio dharma by Kosen Greg Snyder

A new audio talk by BZC dharma teacher and co-founder Kosen Gregory Snyder  is now available on  the BZC Audio Dharma Podcast!

Audio dharma talk by Kosen Greg Snyder (2021/06/19)

Our programs are given free of charge and made possible by the donations we receive. If you would like to support Brooklyn Zen Center, please visit the “Giving” section of this website. A suggested donation of $10 per audio dharma talk is greatly appreciated. Thank you!

Letters from the Garden: Apple Time

Dear Sangha,

Welcome back to fall. The nights here are starting to be a bit chilly, and a few of the trees are starting to think about changing colors. I had to wear socks during study period for the first time last week, and today we went swimming in the quarry for probably the last time this year. It was quite brisk.

The garden reached that point around late August where everything was overgrown and out of control, and I gave up trying to keep on top of it all. We’ve still been harvesting a ton of tomatoes, peppers, and greens, but things are winding down in these last few weeks before the frost comes. Even though I’m not planting anything new, we’ll still be picking cold-hardy greens like kale, collards, chard, and spinach through at least November.

A variety I’d never grown before called Double Red Sweet Corn.
It was both beautiful and delicious — nutty and creamy, and the kernels were white inside!

The big excitement of the fall here is picking and processing all of the apples from the orchard. Last year we had so many apples to peel and cook down that it became a running joke about advertising for some “apple interns” who could be paid in the hot new currency of apples.

We do two, well, three main things with all these apples. The first is to eat the nice ones for breakfast, the second is to cook the less-nice ones down into applesauce or apple butter, which we also freeze and eat for breakfast, and the third (my favorite) is to wheedle the tenzo into allowing a special day-off baking of apple cake. The apple cake tradition began last fall, when we were overwhelmed with apples and I baked a different apple dessert every day off for about six weeks straight…until the practice period started and we had to renounce cake.

Rahel is not an apple intern

Baby, it is September again and we are back in apple cake season, and I am here to spread the love of apple cake. This recipe was one of our favorites from the great apple cake trials of 2020, and it has become something of a house recipe. Or, at least something of a Sansei recipe. It reminds me a lot of my grandma, who was from a Pennsylvania Dutch farming family and was always making very German things with lots of cinnamon and buttermilk. I don’t know why it’s called Apple Grunt, but I like to think it’s because it’s so good that you lose the capacity for higher speech when eating it.

Apple Grunt
*recipe adapted from the Mennonite Community Cookbook, by Mary Emma Showalter, which is a bountiful source of classic apple dessert recipes

Batter
¾ cup sugar
6 tbsp butter, softened
3 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
3 cups flour (I like to make one cup whole wheat, for added body)
1½ tsp salt
3 tsp baking powder
1½ tsp baking soda
1½ cups buttermilk (may need to add extra until you reach a pancake-batter consistency)
6-7 cups apples, cut in about ¾-inch chunks, don’t need to be peeled

Topping
3 tbsp butter, very soft
¾ cup brown sugar
1 tsp flour
1 tsp cinnamon

Cream the sugar and butter together in a large bowl. Beat in the eggs and vanilla. Separately mix the dry ingredients together, and add to egg mixture in alternation with the buttermilk. Stir just to combine, then mix in the apples. In a small bowl, beat the topping ingredients together until well combined, and scatter small dollops all over the top of the cake. Bake in a greased 9×13” pan at 375 degrees for 35 to 40 minutes, until golden on top and baked all the way through. It’s a very snackable cake, not too sweet, and delicious for breakfast or warm with vanilla ice cream.

Lots of love,
Sansei



Letters from the Garden: August, August 6

Letters from the Garden: Living by Vow, July 26

Letters from the Garden: Full Bloom, July 9

Letters from the Garden: Digging, June 25

Letters from the Garden: Harvest, June 4

Letters from the Garden: Warm Days, Warm Nights, May 23

Letters from the Garden: Permission to Be, May 8, 2021

Letters from the Garden: Work Week, April 17, 2021

Letters from the Garden: Planting Good Seeds, April 3, 2021

Letters from the Garden: Dharma Blossoms, March 20, 2021

Letters from the Garden: The First Birdsong, March 6, 2021

New audio dharma by Chimyo Atkinson!

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

Audio dharma by Chimyo Atkinson (2021/07/10)

Our programs are given free of charge and made possible by the donations we receive. If you would like to support Brooklyn Zen Center, please visit the “Giving” section of this website. A suggested donation of $10 per audio dharma talk is greatly appreciated. Thank you!

New BZC program: The Bodhisattva Path of Liberation

Dear Sangha,

It is with wholehearted sincerity that Brooklyn Zen Center announces the launch of a new program offering this fall. The Bodhisattva Path of Liberation: Racial Suffering and Collective Transformation is a ten-month immersive group experience oriented towards transforming racial harm and suffering through the Bodhisattva path.

Participants meet monthly in an online format, balancing intimate small group exploration of racial conditioning and trauma-based somatic practices within a Dharma framework of liberation.

This program is limited to practitioners who identify or are identified as white. Mixed race participants with European ancestry who wish to explore their relationship to whiteness and white supremacy are also invited to participate, with the understanding that this will be a predominately white space.

Please visit the program page for a full description, schedule, and application link. The application deadline is October 1 and the program begins on October 17. Please contact us with any questions at undoingwhiteness@brooklynzen.org.

With warm hearts,
Laura O’Loughlin
Kristin Miscall
Terence Caulkins
Sansei Simmons Antell

Reflections on Resistance and Pipeline 3: a share by Yoko Ohashi and Koan Anne Brink

On this new episode of the BZC Audio Dharma Podcast, Yoko Ohashi and Koan Anne Brink share about their experience with the Line 3 resistance movement in Minnesota.

Reflections on Resistance and Pipeline 3 (2021/06/12)

New audio dharma talk by Laura O’Loughlin and Sally Chang!

A new audio talk by BZC dharma teacher Laura O’Loughlin and visiting teacher Sally Chang is now available on  the BZC Audio Dharma Podcast!

Audio dharma by Laura O’Loughlin and Sally Chang (2021/06/05)

Our programs are given free of charge and made possible by the donations we receive. If you would like to support Brooklyn Zen Center, please visit the “Giving” section of this website. A suggested donation of $10 per audio dharma talk is greatly appreciated. Thank you!

Letters from the Garden: August

Dear Sangha,

We’re reaching the far side of summer, when the farm stands are filling up with fresh ears of corn and the swimming holes are warm from months of sun. It’s hard to think about the cold right now, but it’s time to be getting fall vegetables in the ground, because we’re only about two months away from the first frost. Still, it’s difficult to drum up too much enthusiasm for planting kale and spinach when it’s much more exciting to be picking the first eggplants, tomatoes, and buckets of peppers. Today I hauled in about a gallon of shishito peppers, which are going to be delicious roasted up.

Tomatoes!
This is what ten gallons of peppers looks like

As I’ve been exploring this question of what garden practice means within a Zen monastery, I’m pulled back again and again to the relationship between growing food and eating it, between the earth and our lives. In many ways, garden practice is an extension of the kitchen, or perhaps kitchen practice is an extension of the garden; both request a deep alignment of the activity of our lives.

To cook from the garden instead of the supermarket requires more than simply learning lots of different ways to use summer squash. It requires flexibility, creativity, and a renunciation of the quality, variety, and on-demand availability that our industrial food system provides at a great and invisible cost. Eating from the garden is not always sexy. Often our greens are bug-eaten, sometimes we have a lot of one vegetable and none of another, and to truly eat with the seasons means a lot less variety and giving up most fresh produce in winter.

Dogen Zenji advises us to handle all ingredients as though they were our own eyes, and to wash the rice with such care that not a single grain is lost. His teaching is that there is no difference between preparing a meal and practicing the way. “When handling and selecting greens,” he tells us in his Instructions to the Tenzo, “do so wholeheartedly, with a pure mind, and without trying to evaluate their quality, in the same way in which you would prepare a splendid feast. The many rivers which flow into the ocean become the one taste of the ocean; when they flow into the pure ocean of the dharma there are no such distinctions as delicacies or plain food, there is just one taste, and it is the buddhadharma, the world itself as it is.”

Lots of lettuce

I don’t have answers here. But I can say that when I showed up in the kitchen with 16.6 lbs of Chinese cabbage last week, we made a good few gallons of kimchi with it…

Lots of love,
Sansei

P.S. This letter will be taking a break for the rest of August, so look for it again in the fall.


Letters from the Garden: Living by Vow, July 26

Letters from the Garden: Full Bloom, July 9

Letters from the Garden: Digging, June 25

Letters from the Garden: Harvest, June 4

Letters from the Garden: Warm Days, Warm Nights, May 23

Letters from the Garden: Permission to Be, May 8, 2021

Letters from the Garden: Work Week, April 17, 2021

Letters from the Garden: Planting Good Seeds, April 3, 2021

Letters from the Garden: Dharma Blossoms, March 20, 2021

Letters from the Garden: The First Birdsong, March 6, 2021

New audio dharma by Kosen Greg Snyder

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

Audio dharma by Kosen Greg Snyder (2021/03/21)

Our programs are given free of charge and made possible by the donations we receive. If you would like to support Brooklyn Zen Center, please visit the “Giving” section of this website. A suggested donation of $10 per audio dharma talk is greatly appreciated. Thank you!

New audio dharma by Kosen Greg Snyder

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

Audio dharma by Kosen Gregory Snyder (2021/03/20)

Our programs are given free of charge and made possible by the donations we receive. If you would like to support Brooklyn Zen Center, please visit the “Giving” section of this website. A suggested donation of $10 per audio dharma talk is greatly appreciated. Thank you!

Letters from the Garden: Living by Vow

Dear Sangha,

What is garden practice? It’s a question I ask myself every day. What does it mean to practice, in and with the garden? What is it to understand myself as not separate from the living world around me? What does it mean, as a monastic community, to grow our own food in a moment of such ecological crisis?

It has been easy for me to emphasize interconnection in these letters, because interconnection is easy to see outside with bees buzzing around and rain clouds on the horizon. But such communion is not passive; it requires something of us in return. It asks us to be in right relationship to the bees and the fields and the rain. It asks us to confront every part of how we are living, individually and collectively, that is based in killing, stealing, lying, arrogance, greed, and disparaging the value of life itself. To practice with the garden is to be radically challenged by it, to confront something that is beyond my small control, to let myself be changed by the work and the land in ways that I cannot predict or understand.

It is one thing to intellectually understand that tomatoes grow on plants, which come from farms, and then are shipped to the store for us to buy. It is something else for my body to know what it is to plant tomato seeds in the dark of winter in faith that the warmth will come, to dig a bed by hand with sweat pouring off my head, to water them in the heat, to weed out the grasses and smell the distinctive perfume of tomato leaves on my hands for hours, and to watch day by day as the fruits set and grow dusky pink until finally they are ripe to pick. It is one thing to know intellectually that pesticides are harmful; it is something else entirely to stand in the field and consider spraying poison on the ground that I have tended and the vegetables that I am going to feed to people I love. My body actually will not let me do it. And yet we live in a world where such a thing occurs on a staggering industrial scale.

Greens and flowers from the garden

What would it mean to live our vow to the earth? I’m not asking abstractly. Our lives actually depend on it. Please genuinely sit with this question in your own life, and in our lives together. Our food comes from the earth. All of it. And the earth cannot sustain the way we have been living.

What would it be to truly face the carbon consequences of eating meat and dairy? What would it mean to let go of “supermarket thinking”—going out to acquire the predetermined specifics for a recipe, wherever they may come from—in favor of cooking based on what is available in our place and season? Would it be possible to only eat foods that grow within our region, in the season in which they grow? What might it look like to develop a vegetarian home and temple cuisine that honors our own ethnic heritages, but is based in foods that grow here, rather than relying on cultural foodways that may come from very different climates and require globally-sourced and resource-intensive ingredients, like coconut and other produce from the global south? Where does renunciation live in our practice of ethical life?

I don’t have answers to these questions, but these are what the garden is asking of me right now. I share them with you with the invitation to explore them together, and encourage you to consider them with the kind of heart that is open to being changed by the encounter. What does it mean to live our vows as a community when the stakes are our very lives?

In faith and love,
Sansei



Letters from the Garden: Full Bloom, July 9

Letters from the Garden: Digging, June 25

Letters from the Garden: Harvest, June 4

Letters from the Garden: Warm Days, Warm Nights, May 23

Letters from the Garden: Permission to Be, May 8, 2021

Letters from the Garden: Work Week, April 17, 2021

Letters from the Garden: Planting Good Seeds, April 3, 2021

Letters from the Garden: Dharma Blossoms, March 20, 2021

Letters from the Garden: The First Birdsong, March 6, 2021

New audio dharma by Kosen Greg Snyder

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

Audio dharma by Kosen Gregory Snyder (2021/03/19)

Our programs are given free of charge and made possible by the donations we receive. If you would like to support Brooklyn Zen Center, please visit the “Giving” section of this website. A suggested donation of $10 per audio dharma talk is greatly appreciated. Thank you!

New audio dharma by Ian Case

A new talk by Ian Case is now available on the BZC Audio Dharma Podcast.

Audio dharma by Ian Case (2021/05/08)

Our programs are given free of charge and made possible by the donations we receive. If you would like to support Brooklyn Zen Center, please visit the “Giving” section of this website. A suggested donation of $10 per audio dharma talk is greatly appreciated. Thank you!

New audio dharma by Laura O’Loughlin

A new talk by BZC dharma teacher Laura O’Loughlin is now available on the BZC Audio Dharma Podcast.

Audio dharma by Laura O’Loughlin (2021/05/01)

Our programs are given free of charge and made possible by the donations we receive. If you would like to support Brooklyn Zen Center, please visit the “Giving” section of this website. A suggested donation of $10 per audio dharma talk is greatly appreciated. Thank you!