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
Dear Zen friend
1) May sesshin from 05/12 to 05/16
2) This year almost all firewood for next winter have been obtained in April. This is the fastest job I have ever done. I had two big trees, which were cut at noon and can be burned in the evening. Dogen Zenji talked about it.
I do not like engines nor sound of engines. I was grown up in a village where there were no car, no telephone, no engines. A bus ran on highway which was far away from the house.
Sometimes family needed a machine for harvesting rice or pumping water. Those machines were rented with caring people. A machine often stalled. People gathered around the engine and tried to solve a problem with oily hands. The picture did not look pretty. Engine and agony were closely associated in my memory.
For making firewood one has to use chainsaw. This was the only reason I touched a chainsaw. A saw needs frequent sharpening. I did not know how and where to sharpen. It was too complicated to learn. I asked a professional to take care of the saw.
Last year the professional sharpener died. He was a nice person, but old and frail. I was the last person to ask the sharpening. I was dependent on him for almost ten years. Abruptly I was pushed to a situation in which I had to take care of my chainsaw by myself. I finally began learning sharpening.
Sharpening is subtle and difficult. Success is not in sight. At least, though, I have become familiar with the engine and the mechanism of chainsaw. I’ve become less panicked. Sometimes a condition of the engine is felt through the saw.
I met another professional sharpener the other day. He sharpens 30 saws a week. That is why he became a professional. I sharpen a saw two times a week. I cannot catch up to his skill. But I have to keep practicing Zen and the art of chainsaw maintenance.
In India there are three great gods. They are Brahma, Vishnu, and Siva. Vishnu is the god of maintenance and most popular. Brahma is god of creation, Siva is of destruction.
Our daily life requires constant maintenance. A knife should be sharpened, floor should be swept, rents in clothes should be mended. Enough firewood must be stacked every year. Little wonder Vishnu is most popular among the Three.
Dear Zen friend
1) April Sesshin from 04/07 to 04/11
2) Spring Cleaning: April; 29th (Sat.) from 10 am to 3 pm.
Activities: Zafu and Zabuton beating, Stove pipe cleaning, Firewood stacking, Inside and outside house cleaning.
If interested, please email back.
3) After last article released, some sent me useful advice. Thank you.
When you visit Japan in spring and summer, you would see rice growing in paddy fields everywhere. Middle sized birds are flying on the fields and fish swim in ponds. You may not see shell-fish. I was surrounded with such scenes and worked for farming. Walking around in muddy fields was not so uncomfortable. Kids like mud.
Paddy fields are artificial water pools. In spring every year farmers make millions of pools laying earth on the ground and maintain them to the end of summer. Water is led into the each pool from ponds or rivers. Whole process requires physical work and constant care.
Chemical spray and fertilizer were added into water when I was a child. This modern method looked temporarily. Many farmers have developed organic rice growing methods since then. Birds and fish you are seeing add natural fertilizer in the fields. Natural water contains nutritious ingredients. People have been using the rich ingredients, the power of nature in other words for growing rice for thousands of years.
I was learned at school that rice growing method came from East Asian continent about 3000 years ago. Rice is a plant found in tropical areas. It is logical to think its origin is a hot area. It was a change of civilization, so new term Yayoi was given. I was also told that the new method was brought by new people, too.
Recently relics of paddy fields were found in Japan. They were made about 7000 years ago. Archaeologists say climate in Japan at that time was cooling from semitropical to temperate. So people began to make tropical conditions artificially in the paddy fields to keep growing rice. Origin of rice was in tropical land, but origin of rice growing method was in peoples’ hands. Did Yayoi people come? Unlikely. Not necessarily in other words.
Rice is a product of technology as well as a gift of nature.
Dear Zen Friend
1) March sesshin: from 03/10 to 03/14.
2) It snowed 2 feet deep for two days in February. It had been wanted for long. The snow was extremely light, sweet, and beautiful. I shoveled it 2 times faster than usual. (easy snow)
Last year I planted three apple trees. I dug holes and put the trees into them. I did not put fertilizer because those trees should get used to new environment. (This is my idea, which had worked well. Garden catalogs and instruction books recommend big holes and plenty of fertilizers and watering.)
Watered few times, I watched how they would start growing. They did not. Growing tree takes time, but something seemed to be wrong. I dug soil here and there to check. The garden soil looked dry. And the grass in the garden looked poorer than before. The soil itself might change.
For eight years the garden only absorbed heavenly rain and snow fall. Rainfalls are not plenty enough for garden soil. Additional water from the hills behind kept the garden moistened for centuries. At the same time ingredients from hills were added at each flood. I cut those water and ingredients away. I gained dry land and poor soil as a result.
It was easy to plant fruit trees before. All trees grew. We used to harvest abundant tomatoes without giving fertilizer. I thought I knew how to grow them. In reality century long natural watering and accumulated ingredients made good gardening possible. Constant addition of natural water was cut, one has to depend on artificial fertilizer and a sprinkler.
Many civilizations are ruined to deserts. One of the major reasons of their failure may be little knowledge about water. My experiences show its first stage.
To be continued.
Dear zen friend
1) December sesshin: from 12/10 to 12/12 for three days.
Year-end sesshin: from 12/27 to 12/31 for five days.
2) There will be a tour planned by Sotoshu for Baika festival from 05/21 to 05/24 in 2017.
It is scheduled to gather at Kyoto on 05/21.
Application deadline is January 31st.
If you are interested, please email me back.
3) Autumn is a season of foliage. Zendo is surrounded with beautiful leaves in October. People drive highway nearby just for sightseeing colored hills and mountains.
I used to take a walk on hills of northern Kyoto. Unforgettable scenes of foliage are still remembered. You may have seen a picture of the golden temple with Japanese maple.
Foliage falls. Rotten leaves become ingredients for soil. But they first cover grass, garden, and country roads. They become troublesome for daily life, must be removed. Removing leaves is not an easy job. My shoulder pain I wrote about several times was triggered by raking leaves. So I make careful plan for the raking each year.
To my surprise, there were few leaves this fall. About half the amount of leaves than those of ordinary year was given from trees. It was easy this year.
There was little water from heaven for a year. Last winter was warm with less than 5 inches snow. It never snowed deeper than 6 inches. In spring and summer, it rained sporadically. Few apples, no peaches were harvested in adjacent areas.
While I was focusing on fruit, trees produced fewer leaves than usual. Leaves are engines to bring solar energy into trees and plants. Fewer leaves mean less productivity. We may become poorer.
Climate change or climatic cycle?