From the Abbot - January 2017
Happy New Year! We just completed Martin Luther King Sesshin at New York Zendo, and what a sorely needed and much appreciated time it was. Some 30 of us sat in our renovated building and rejuvenated Sangha. There was a sense of deep togetherness based on everyone’s intensive sitting and hard work. The atmosphere was open and clear. We had sold a legal easement of air and light to keep this beautiful building; we received a Dharma easement of air and light to continue on this endless Way.
After an election that has brought turbulent emotional reactivity and concern as our nation takes a radical swerve to the right, we are more aware than ever how precious, how urgently necessary, is our practice of awakening and compassion.
This is an exciting time of growth and vigor for the Zen Studies Society. Toward the end of this year—on Saturday, November 25, 2017—we will have an event of major consequence for our Rinzai Zen lineage: inka shomei. In this ceremony I will give Dharma transmission to my first spiritual heir, Dokuro Jaeckel Osho, who trained for more than thirty years with Kyozan Joshu Sasaki Roshi. Shunan Noritake Roshi, abbot of Reiun-in at Myoshin-ji in Kyoto, will take part in the ceremony. Dokuro will join us at DBZ more frequently from 2018 on, and in ensuing years, will undertake more teaching responsibilities.
Thanks to Noritake Roshi’s kind arrangements, one month before the transmission ceremony Dokuro, his wife Shuko Marlene Rubin, and I will attend the 250th memorial commemoration of Hakuin Ekaku Zenji at Ryutaku-ji, where Soen Nakagawa was abbot. While in Japan, we will also pay our respects at Reiun-in and other important temples.
With careful consideration and discernment, the Zen Studies Society is planning a series of initiatives to further support and revitalize the Sangha. At New York Zendo, I’ve formed a Council of Mentors, longtime students who can offer guidance, friendship, and encouragement to the Sangha, including following up on newcomers and helping them feel a part of a caring community that is growing not only in size, but in depth. Under the leadership of Choshu Joseph Buxbaum, members of the Council are charged with being emissaries of Kanzeon, the Bodhisattva of Compassion, providing students old and new with listening ears and helping hands, and deepening their student-teacher relationship with me by attending sesshin as often as possible at Dai Bosatsu Zendo.
Dokuro Osho and I will alternate leading weekend sesshins at NYZ, and Junryu Roshi and Hokuto Sensei will do the same for all-day sittings. Junryu will continue giving Thursday talks as well.
Plans are already underway for the momentous 50th anniversary commemoration of New York Zendo Shobo-ji on September 15, 2018. Please let us know if you would like to serve on the anniversary committee, and look through your files of photographs, artifacts, and program flyers for inclusion in a special display.
While in New York City last week, I met with Enkyo O’Hara Roshi, abbot of Village Zendo, and we discussed collaborative efforts, sharing information on and attending both Sangha’s programs, including their social justice initiatives and our Zen arts events and presentations by NYC-based professors of Buddhism, honoring D.T. Suzuki’s scholarship within the profundity of realization.
We also talked about holding a symposium or retreat on issues many groups have faced around power abuses, sharing what we’ve learned about being awake to and preventing exploitation and abuse, and working together to offer healing. Acknowledging past difficulties, we can be part of a widening circle of recovery, complementing Zen practice with trauma resiliency work under the guidance of professionals in that field.
In 2016, we commemorated Dai Bosatsu’s 40th anniversary, the 50th memorial of D. T. Suzuki, and the 60th anniversary of the establishment of the Zen Studies Society to support his writing and teaching in the West. It was a joyous time indeed, with returning students from the early years, dedicated practitioners old and new, and many special guests. The year culminated in a Rohatsu Sesshin that many of us felt was the most profound we had ever experienced.
We are beginning spring kessei at DBZ with two ordinations: Myoho Brenda Miller, our indefatigable gardener and environmental steward, and Kimpu Jonathan Swan, who has done several kessei in the past and is serving as inji and assistant shika. A total of 13 residents—six ordained and seven lay practitioners—will be training this kessei, including five who come to us from JunPo Roshi’s Hollow Bones Sangha.
DBZ shika Juyo Dennis Giacomo, who gave a well-received Dharma talk at Shobo-ji’s New Year’s Eve, was one of a large group of Board and Advisory Council members who met after MLK sesshin to discuss ZSS’s long-term sustainability and strategic planning. A sense of forward momentum and positive energy infused the meeting, and good initiatives were presented, particularly toward land stewardship, forest management, and environmental sustainability at DBZ, building on recent efforts like our biomass boiler that uses waste wood as a fuel source and research toward developing a solar array.
This Dharma is priceless; we must do everything we can to ensure that our temples receive the necessary financial support so that what is offered here is available generation after generation. To ensure economic stability, we are forming a new development and communications committee.
The ongoing economic health of our organization depends on three pillars: membership support, for which Sangha members may authorize their banks to make monthly payments; end-of-year giving, which was particularly generous this year; and capital campaigns for renovation and construction. Certain projects may qualify for grants.
Looking ahead, we would like to offer “cradle to grave” opportunities for Zen practitioners: not only regular and special events like O-Bon, family weekends, Thanksgiving, and New Year’s Eve, but providing cottages and other residential space for couples and families, a wellness center for Open Space programs, and a Buddhist retirement center for active elders.
We will be building on the Mission/Values/Vision work we’ve done in recent years, and will update our ongoing operations, including a newly designed website. We’ll continue our very successful Internship Program, connecting with colleges and universities and networking with professors and practitioners in the fields of environmental science and forestry, religion, philosophy, world music, Zen arts, film, and culinary arts.
All aspects of our strategic planning will be carefully examined to make sure they are in accord with the fundamental reason for our existence: offering strong, dynamic, open-hearted practice in the Rinzai Zen tradition to all genuine seekers of the Way.