Valley Zendo

zendo history-1

Zendo History

Valley Zendo was created cooperatively by priests from Antaiji, Valley Zendo’s home temple in Japan, and North American lay practitioners. In 1974 Rev. Koshi Ichida and Mr. Stephen Yenik arrived from Kyoto. The following year land was purchased with donated funds in forested hills near the Vermont-Massachusetts border. Rev. Ichida was joined by  monks from Antaiji, Rev. Shohaku Okumura and Eishin Ikeda and several American practitioners. Together the group cleared the land and built a simple structure that served as residence and zendo. Thanks to the support and labor of monks and lay practitioners over the years, Valley Zendo has been able to function as a zazen center for four decades.

Set in the woods of the Berkshire mountain foothills, Valley Zendo provides a quiet atmosphere in which to practice zazen. Reached by a narrow dirt road, the facilities at the zendo mirror its rustic setting. In order to preserve the integrity of the Antaiji tradition, from the beginning life at the zendo has been simple. In winter the zendo and residential facilities (where the resident teacher lives) are heated by wood stoves. Drinking and bathing water are drawn from a well located at the edge of Valley Zendo’s land. Each summer vegetables and herbs from the zendo garden contribute to meals in daily life as well as during sesshin. Through the work of its residents and donations from lay practitioners Valley Zendo continues to provide its services to individuals interested in the practice of Zazen.

Valley Zendo hopes to continue to provide instruction in shikantaza and to encourage people to integrate zazen practice into their daily lives. The Zendo does not intend to create a hierarchical structure, but has been run with help of board members as regulated by government. We envision the zendo’s sangha as a network of independent practitioners.

–Eishin Ikeda, Resident teacher

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Dharma in August 2020

Dear zen friend
1)  September sesshin was discussed for long. Comfortable temperature is expected. Some are eager to do sitting practice.
Yet corona pandemic dominates our lives. Manner of social distancing must be respected. Even the Bridge of flowers is closed. So we give up hosting sesshin in September.
Things change. Sesshin will reopen some day. Please be patient.
We have Sunday zazenkai from 8 am to noon. Conversations after noon follow. Five people are welcome at a time.
2)  While being tired of conversations about Corona virus, news that Japanese prime minister Abe resigns was heard. You may have already known comments and evaluations about Abe.
Politicians are always fighting for profits for himself and his group. I don’t know what is really happening in Tokyo. Illness was reason for Abe’s stepping down.
Whatever happens in politics, my concern is in a different area.  To make clear what Dogen zen and the teachings of Shakyamuni is more important for me than talks of politics.
While I was writing about emptiness, a friend sent me a list of hundreds of questions about Heart Sutra. Heart Sutra is based on emptiness. The list was made in 1984. The questions are still fresh and useful. These things are essential for zen study.
Whoever becomes president, whoever becomes prime minister, we should build our lives based on the truthfulness, if possible, on the Buddha dharma.
Eishin Ikeda
Valley Zendo
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Dharma in July 2020

Dear Zen Friend
1)  Zendo is surrounded with most comfortable environments these days.
     It is warm, is sunny most of days, and rains occasionally.
    These are best conditions for sesshin.
     Yet social and medical uncertainty is everywhere.
     September sesshin  ( 09/11  –  09/13)  is unlikely to take place.
     Corona pandemic is an unprecedented event.
     More unknown things in unknown areas would happen.
     It is better to stay home and wait for a time in which a solution would come out.
     We have to live with corona virus.
2)  There are zen words ‘Zadatsu Ryubo,’ mean dying sitting and dying standing.
     The words are understood that a great priest can die sitting or standing with the power of zazen practice.
     Uchiyama Roshi cast away the common sense and said no one knows how to die.
     Power of zazen does not mean physical miracles.
     I had vertigo few times, which was very uncomfortable.
     I sat on a couch and waited for the relief each time.
     Bad feelings usually persisted for days.
     And the couch became scared.
     On a couch large surface of bodily skin is pressed when sitting or lying.
     Blood circulation is easily prevented from smooth running.
     In zazen posture, 3 physical points touch zabuton, in standing only 2 feet touch the floor.
     The blood more freely runs in our body while standing or sitting than lying like couch potato.
     When asked what good posture is, in general standing and sitting are better than lying.
     Ancient people who had to work hard daily may have known that blood circulation is the key for survival.
     I am not sick now, just recall wisdom of zen words.
     Eishin Ikeda
     Valley Zendo
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Dharma in June 2020

Dear zen friend
1)  I’d like to reopen Sunday zazenkai from 8 am to noon on Sundays.
It is easy to sit in summer, in warm and breezing days. We sit while windows are open.
We have to gradually restart normal life with corona virus anyway. Please think coming zendo as attending summer camp.
2)   We are having slow life for 4 months due to corona virus pandemic. I thought the pandemic was like a new flu. Every year millions of people are infected with flu and less than 1% of them die.
This time is different. There is no vaccine nor a specific medicine for the new virus. The uncertainty has made people fearful. I’ve heard Japan has 3 medicines and America has 2 medicines for the cases. Where are they?
One thing became clear. That is immunity, the last resort for life. Medicine is a help. When immunity collapses nothing can help for living. And immunity is increased by vitamin D, which is made by sunbathing. Immunity also is increased by move. Physical move makes body warmer, more fluid, and stronger. Thus young people are generally immune to the corona virus.
When I had flu, I went to an Indian restaurant and ordered spicy dish. Then I slept covered with multiple futons and sweat. I followed my grand mother’s instruction.
A scientist said an antic body is made when body becomes very warm after infection. Sweat needs for cooling body after heating or fever the body. It  is the same thing as my grandma’s teaching.
I cleared woods in the land, made firewood, and is digging a huge stump. I’ve been playing with birds, deer, and racoon. We saw the most beautiful peonies in the garden. Not bad so far.
Eishin Ikeda
Valley Zendo
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Dharma in May 2020

Dear zen friend
1) Corona virus pandemic has been calming but will not go away. People do not feel comfortable to sit together in a room. So we should wait for reopening zendo for a while.
  Doctors are talking about immunity. To increase immunity, we should keep ourselves healthy and take Vitamin D. Immunity is best in warm body and good sleep. Sunbathing is easy way to get vitamin D.
  Zendo has many things to do in summer. If you want to work outside for getting Vitamin D, please come and play around. We may discuss Buddha dharma on the deck.
2)  A Japanese scientist and an internet TV commentator said the following.  You may be interested in his views.
The corona virus pandemic is a logical outcome of the progress of science and technology.
After chemistry was studied hard, a poison gas was produced and used at WW1.
When nuclear physics advanced rapidly, an atomic bomb was invented and used during WWII. While knowledge and technology were existing, humans want to use them.
After airplanes were born and became common, bombers and missiles are deployed.
Likewise, humans found DNA and had technology to handle genes. That was why P4 laboratory was set up. Vaccines used to be made  with weakened virus poison. Now scientists try to make vaccine using DNA data. Knowledge and technology are ready to go. But new way is possible to bring more toxic viruses.
Humans have co-existed with viruses. This corona virus would become weaker at the next wave. In general we don’t have to be pessimistic.
Eishin Ikeda
Valley Zendo
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Dharma in April 2020

Dear zen friend
Zendo is closed.
Nothing has happened since the middle of March.
The first time in human history, smile has disappeared in the whole world.
During WWII, South Americans were smiling.
At the Cuban crisis, Asians were smiling.
Now in 21st century, corona virus has spread into every corner of the earth.
All the people are anxious.
I feel that serious world event happens every ten years recently.
Fukushima tsunami and nuclear power plant explosion was in 2011.
911 was in 2001.
Collapse of USSR was in 1991.
More big events are expected in this year and 2021.
Humans enjoyed peaceful time from its birth.
An old civilization lasted centuries and millenniums.
Roman empire existed for thousand years.
Romans enjoyed slow and cheerful life around Mediterranean sea.
Nobody knows how long pyramids have existed.
As we come to think we are smarter, serious events occur more frequently ever.
No matter how corona virus naturally or artificially originated, modern medical science was involved with its advent.
Corona pandemic as well as other big events seem to be revenge against extreme human handling.
We are busy, perhaps too busy.
Social distancing is not contradictory to Buddhist life style.
Those who are infected with corona virus are not necessarily patients.
Millions do not go to hospital because of influenza symptom.
A few effective drugs are already found and used.
Social activities will re-open soon, maybe in May.
Magnolia bloomed today.
While worrying about ongoing world events, garden had changed from snow to flowers.
Eishin Ikeda
Valley Zendo
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Dear Friends
Thank you for your concerns on my problem, which started 11/25/19.
I could not sit on Sundays as well as during sesshin for more than 2 months.
Sciatic nerves were painful.
X-ray pictures showed no significant damage on bones and discs.
A doctor sent me a physical therapist.
Upon awakened around 3 am on 12th, Youtube was on. A Japanese martial artist said “Get rid of rubber bands, use a string.” with 6 milli meter strings in his hands.  My eyes opened wide.
I took a walk 6 miles once a week last 2 years with 3 socks. One pair of socks was heavy duty, tight, and reached my knees. Socks were supposed to be a protector. They really became the cause of sciatica.
The martial artist also said that the waist, pelvic areas should not be a supporting point but be massaged.  The physical therapist advised exercises to loosen muscles around the waist and thighs. Both agree on how to cure sciatica.
Now the physical therapy methods have worked.
I am almost free from nervous pain.
March sesshin is coming soon.
Enjoy spring.
Eishin Ikeda
Valley Zendo
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Dharma in January 2020

Dear Zen Friends
1)         February   Sesshin:     from  02/07  to  02/11
            March Sesshin:           from  03/06  to  03/10
2)  “Shobogenzo in Snow Country” is going on Sunday mornings.
I have had really a good time while reading Genjokoan this winter.
We will read the paragraph about firewood and ash next Sunday on, while burning ash tree in a stove.
3)  in the past two years, I have visited hospitals more often than in my whole younger days. I had to see doctors, surgeons, pharmacists, therapists, acupuncturists, and even interpreters for various symptoms.  Things are changing.
Firewood in Genjokoan is life, and ash is death. I could simply think how to burn firewood until two years ago. I wished to sit and die. A doctor talks about life and health.
Now the reality pushes me to think about life and death, firewood and ash. Gradually my plan has changed to sit, read, write, and die. I asked a doctor to care how a patient would die. How many medicines a 90 year old man should take for restoring health? Formula for living are not simple anymore.
We usually have a model for living. We might have a model for dying, too.  My favorite model for dying was Han Takehara, a dance teacher. She was teaching Japanese dance at ninety five years of age. One morning she did not wake up. Students saw her breath stopped. Her face did not show any pain, her body did not fall into disorder.
Uchiyama Roshi also was a great model. Roshi was elaborating his writing to his last day and collapsed.  In his last book, he never gave up hope, while saying the unpredictability of life.
I am sure I cannot copy these great models. As long as alive, though, I’d like to do my best.
Eishin Ikeda
Valley Zendo
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Dharma in the year of Rat, 2020

Dear Zen friends
A Happy New Year!
1)    No sesshin in January
      February sesshin:     from  02/07  to  02/11
2)  On Sundays there are Sunday Zazenkai from 8 am to Noon.
We usually sit for 4 periods.
During winter we put a session, ‘Shobogenzo study in snow country’ from 11 am to noon on Sundays.
We are reading Genjokoan this winter.
If interested, please join us.
3)   My new year resolve is to follow ‘The Eight Awakenings,’ the last chapter of Shobogenzo.
It recommends eight minds on how to live as a Buddhist.
The classic text is full of wisdom.
Many things happened last year.
It was the year I visited a hospital and saw a doctor most often in my life.
That fact taught me that health is the base for everything.
Life is unpredictable.
A schedule here may be changed according to a situation.
Please mail back if you have any questions.
The whole Shobogenzo tells us we should do our best as long as we are alive.
From the snow country.
Eishin Ikeda
Valley Zendo
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Dharma in November 2019

Dear zen friend
1)       December sesshin     from   12/06   to  12/08
     Year end sesshin        from   12/27   to  12/31
   January sesshin        from    01/17   to   01/21
2)     Shobogenzo in a snow country
        We have study group during winter. A chapter of Shobogenzo is translated, read, and discussed during a snow season. Genjokoan, the first chapter of Shobogenzo,  is picked up this season.
        The discussion starts at 11 am on Sundays. The event is scheduled on 1st, 15th, and 22nd in December.  5th, 12th, and 26th in January 2020.
3)     Uchiyama Roshi said a few clear words which still remain in my ears. One of them is that one cannot understand True Dharma before 65 years of age.  Even Sawaki Roshi spoke deluded words before that age.
         A historian expressed similar feelings. He felt painful to live while being young. He was surrounded with lies in school, in work places, and among mass media. He started looking for truth in historical studies. After decades of search, he finally has found peace in mind since the truthfulness is seen in his sight.
         I feel that my view about the dharma is completely different from the one in my twenties. Contents of the dharma now were unable to imagine 10 years ago. All chapters of Shobogenzo become finally connected. Many puzzles were solved.  I am over 65.
         This is why I want to have special study group during snow season.
Eishin Ikeda
Valley Zendo
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Dharma in October 2019

Dear zen friend
1)      November sesshin     from   11/08   to  11/12
         December sesshin     from   12/06   to  12/08
         Year end sesshin        from   12/27   to  12/31
2)     Shobogenzo in winter
        We have new study group during winter. A chapter of Shobogenzo is translated, read, and discussed in a snow season. Genjokoan, the first chapter of Shobogenzo,  is picked up this season.
        The presentation and discussion starts at 11 am on Sundays. The event is scheduled on 1st, 15th, and 22nd in December. Dates in later months will be announced in this column.
3)      A national ceremony on new emperor took place on 22nd of October in Tokyo. It was raining in the morning.  (There were floods by typhoon 19 few days before.)
         When the ceremony started rain ended. And a rainbow appeared on the palace. Dust in air cleansed, Mt. Fuji was seen with first snow fall on its top. Twitters and YouTubes were filled with messages that heaven celebrated the ceremony by auspicious signs.
          All is accidental, ceremonies are not essential, we say. Essence is scientific matter, ceremony is meaningless. I agreed these views as  Uchiyama Roshi did.
          One day about 10 years ago, I became aware that life is full of ceremonies. What is presidential inauguration, an address by both a winner and a loser after election, national anthem at a baseball game, a birthday party, and a funeral service?
          In West Side Story, George Chakiris refused handshake ceremony before a fighting. The fight resulted in two dead, and another victim later.  Is ceremony really meaningless?
          An answer may lie in Genjokoan.
Eishin Ikeda
Valley Zendo
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