A Message From Shinge Roshi

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Dear Sangha Members and Dharma Friends,

Well, it’s official: I have retired from being abbot of the Zen Studies Society, and am now able to give my singleminded (always heartfelt) attention to the Zen Center of Syracuse Hoenji. I was very happy that so many of you attended the October 1 retirement ceremony and 80th birthday celebration at Dai Bosatsu Zendo. It was truly an occasion of love and gratitude.

With your support, we’ve come through the pandemic-related years of lockdowns, careful reopening, and reconfiguring, and are experiencing a vibrant mix of young students, newcomers of every age, and aging oldtimers attending our daily sittings and special events.

We are so grateful for all of your contributions—financial, volunteer, and participatory. Your end-of-year giving is essential to our important Dharma work, some of which I will describe in this letter.

At our Annual Meeting August 27, our positive engagement during the period when we couldn’t meet in person was noted, particularly the online offerings that not only supported our local Sangha, but attracted new participants from all over the world. We acknowledged the many people who lived in the Central New York area who had not been able to come to Hoenji even before the pandemic due to health problems and family needs. Together with geographically distant Sangha members, they have been enthusiastically joining us on Zoom for zazen, Dharma Study, talks, dokusan, and sesshin. We agreed that continuing this online practice is a crucial part of offering and receiving the Dharma. With that in mind, a new website is being designed.

We’re using a hybrid approach for many of our events, such as Dharma Study on Sunday afternoons, when we gather in the Forman House Dharma Hall and have a big screen filled with Zoom Sangha members from all over the country. We had a strong response to my second online Deep Presence course. Every Wednesday evening we provide an Intro to Zen session on Zoom. In-person Thursday evening zazen, which hadn’t been held since March 2020, has been reinstated, with meditation instruction for newcomers. On the first Thursday of the month we offer informal tea and discussion.

We’ve also formed a close Dharma friendship with the Abbot and monks from the Dinh Thanh Temple in Frankfort, NY—I was asked to speak at their Buddha’s Birthday celebration, attended by several of us and hundreds of Utica-area Vietnamese Buddhists. I had met Ven. Tet Tung Thai, Ven. Nguyen Thai, and a young novice monk when they visited DBZ in 2022, and they came to Hoenji twice this year, giving me a beautiful Japanese robe to wear at my retirement ceremony (which they attended), as well as a golden incense burner (now on our Dharma Hall altar), special incense, and a ceremonial bowing mat.

Together with Chigan Jaeckel Roshi and Hokuto Daniel Diffin Osho, I started a Dharma Teacher Training class for ordained and lay-ordained students last January. Six of the nine started practicing at or continue at Hoenji: Muken Mark Barber, Joraku JoAnn Cooke, Kushu Damir Jamsek, Jishin Liz Kuney, Doshin David Schubert, and Kimpu Jonathan Swan.

Our community engagement has also ramped up. At Syracuse University, where Joraku is Buddhist Chaplain, and Jikyo Bonnie Shoultz and Doshin are Assistant Chaplains, meditation attendance has quadrupled during the past three years. Several students have attended Hoenji’s Sunday mornings, Dharma Study, and sesshin, and have participated in retreats on campus, as well as community service projects such as providing food for people in need at the Samaritan Center. We have renewed our involvement at several other area colleges, including Hamilton and LeMoyne.

The Zen Center of Syracuse Board initiated a commitment to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, and is planning a Sangha-wide retreat and ways we can follow up on our earlier work with young people, teaching meditation techniques as a way of defusing anger and reducing violence. Two of our Board members, Jikyo and Dr. Ednita Wright, are also on the Board of ACTS (Alliance of Communities Transforming Syracuse, a faith-based organization that is committed to dismantling systemic racism within the wider community). In addition, we have established a close relationship with our predominently Muslim neighbors across Seneca Turnpike at the CNY RISE Center.

It has always been a priority for us to care for our beautiful facilities, outdoors and inside, even more so as the global climate crisis worsens. We’ve been planting native species of wildflowers, bushes, and trees that can feed the many birds and pollinator insects that live on these six acres, and have reduced the presence of invasive plants like European buckthorn, knotweed, sticky willy, and garlic mustard, promoting the return of native vegetation. We’ve planted three white pines in the Sangha Grove, two of which stand as guardians at Jisho Judy Fancher’s memorial wildlife garden, and have completed the cedar fence. Inside the Forman House, which was built in 1810 as the home of the first president of Syracuse, Joshua Forman, parts of the plaster ceiling and walls that have fallen and cracked are being repaired by a contractor who is one of the few remaining master plasterers.

As you well know, we are living at a time of increasing turmoil and anguish: war in Ukraine, Israel, and Gaza; gun violence; an epidemic of addiction, poverty, and hunger; social justice issues; drought, wildfires, and floods caused by global warming. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed.

We may not know what to do, but we know what to be: bodhisattvas on a transformative path of inner se-renity, resilience, and compassion. We turn to you to help us continue our work. Your strong support at this time is deeply appreciated.

With bows of gratitude,

Shinge Roko Sherry Chayat

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  • Zen Center of Syracuse
  • 266 West Seneca Turnpike
  • Syracuse, NY 13207-2639
Sun, Dec 31, 2023 - 9:00pm
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