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 March 2021

Dear zen friend
1)  It is spring. A week ago daffodils started coming out. I thought they would have bloomed last Sunday. I was wrong.Not a single flower appears yet. 
Temperature will go down below zero for the latter half of this week. They may bloom next week.I cannot wait. 

2)  Corona Pandemic began last March here. It has changed social and individual life style. I did not imagine the sudden prosperity of mask industry. The change of my life style was difficult access to a doctor and having longer time of thinking. 
There are too many entertainments these days. We do not have enough quiet time. Since social distancing has been advocated,  I have had more quiet time than usual. 
I used to look for the core of myself, that is true self. The question who I am remained all the time in my young and middle ages.  I was not alone. All philosophy, religion, and psychology call true self into question.  Enthusiasm to look for the true self does not easily end. 
Buddhism as well as science handles nano seconds. Nano seconds resembles momentary impermanence. I learned Christianity has  had the same argument for centuries. 

I could not find the core self nor the true self but faced a matter of impermanence. Any self, core or true is impermanent moment by moment. This is why the self could not be grasped. How could I were exceptional? 
Walking on the snowy road one day this winter, inspiration came across: Isn’t true self a whole life? People live for 50 years, 70 years, and for some over 100 years. Isn’t each whole life true self? 
We live out a life of John Smith. When died, people speak about John Smith, a whole life of John Smith. These concepts and feelings have been common understandings. In Buddhism this is called continuum impermanence. Life is continuum, death is impermanence. 
There are two impermanences. 
The difficult access to a doctor has pushed me to take care of my body and mind by myself. Consequently and surprisingly  I found a way to become healthy. The situation reminded me of the principle of self help. That is a common understanding all the time for all. .   

Eishin Ikeda

Valley Zendo

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Dharma in February 2021

Dear zen friend

1)A foot deep snow remains around valley zendo. It is snow white as far as eyes can see. Maple sugaring begins. Daytime becomes longer and brighter. Spring has come. In a few weeks daffodil and more flowers will bloom. 

2)   Since 2018 visiting a clinic and meeting a doctor became norm.  For three years I have been intimidated by doctors about sickness and injuries.  Most of the time I was advised to have blood test and take medicine.  Then I felt depressed. 
Two weeks ago  “Fitness Program” drew my eyes in brochure of an insurance company.  I used to think such program was just a business promotion. Discomfortable conditions have persisted enough, I applied for membership at a fitness club. 
I visited the club 2 times last week first time for years. I walked, rowed, and did stretching. Caution and slow motion were priority. I could not sweat, which I used to love. 
On Sunday today, knee pain has gone, sciatica has almost not sensed. Fitness preventive program has worked well so far. 
We should know how to correctly walk and stretch before work out. Many YouTubes show a lot of hints. If correctly exercised, our bodies seem to recover their functions for some extent. For restoring to health, we may try to do motion or action first, and changing or correcting diet second.  

Regards.Eishin Ikeda

Valley Zendo

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Dharma in January 2021

Dear Zen friend
It was -6 degree Fahrenheit this morning, coldest this winter.
The stove needed 2 times more firewood to heat zendo.
One foot snow has stayed for 2 weeks.
Yet, mild weather is expected to be back after Monday.
The bottom is over, spring is near.

Naturally life is normal, somewhat bored, and peaceful.
We adjust ourselves to cold winter by skiing and skating.
In spring blossoms are spread and humming birds are welcome.
Swimming and camping are fun in summer.
Maple foliage and serene moonlight calm our minds in autumn. 
Nowadays abnormality is everywhere.
Town is quiet like silent spring. Kids run wearing mask.No more hugging nor shake hands.
Images as Americans may be changing.

Why do people look for vaccine rather than medicine?
Why do people talk about climate change rather than stove heating?If a stock price were rigged, many kinds of numbers would have been manipulated.
Mathematics was supposed to be pure science.Facing unusual crises, we should step back and sit.

Regards.Eishin IkedaValley Zendo
P/S  I had chance to have corona virus test on Christmas eve. Its result was negative.
Should I feel good because no virus was caught? Or should I be afraid that I am not immune? Things are complicated.

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Dharma in October 2020

Dear zen friend
1) Sesshin is not scheduled in November. 

2)  Corona pandemic has been a dominant issue this year.
We are told to stay home and socially be distant from people.
At a burial site today, everyone wore a mask in blowing air.
We are still living under fear of the virus.

President Trump recovered from corona symptom and says his immune system has worked best.
His son is young,  he ignores the positive test result.
Less than 1% of infected people die.
Certain treatments are established among medical network.

Surge of cases in the US and European countries are reported.
Third wave is a scary idea.
A scientist said that a new test kit is so sensitive that it reacts even a virus in air while testing. 
Huge number of cases is good for pharmaceutical companies to sell expensive vaccine.

During the pandemic a clinic was closed.
It was inconvenient to talk to a doctor.
I was forced to live without doctor or medicine.
On October 17th I found how to cure sciatica by loose stretching through YouTube.

Another YouTuber showed where blood clogs are possibly made.
It was a sole of a foot.
This reminded me of a demonstrator of foot sole massage at a Country Fair, who said massage just made her feel good.
She might be breaking clogs down.

Clogs in the blood are said major cause of stroke.
We have taken aspirin to thin blood and dissolved clogs by medicine.
In reality we do not know exactly how and where clogs are made.
We should have massaged the soles of our feet.

Regards.Eishin IkedaValley Zendo

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Dharma in September 2020

Dear zen friend
1)   No sesshin is scheduled in October.

Reopening is near.
A few months ago, people expressed fear under a mask.
Now the fear has been fading.
Be patient (one of the deepest values of Mahayana Buddhism).

2)  During the Labor Day weekends, we were busy to make herb gardens.
More than ten  kinds of flowers were planted. 
Humming birds were seen next morning.
Four shrubs in the woods were planted, too.
In the google map Valley zendo is surrounded with green color.
Green leaves alone are seen from inside in summer time.
Nature must be rich in color.
Rose is red, violet is purple.
Where is rose, where is violet?

I started cutting trees for making flower gardens in spring.
The project had proceeded slowly.
At the end of August a flower loving person appeared.
She needed a piece of land, we needed flowers.

I used to plant fruit trees and fruit vegetables.
I was hungry.
These days I am hungry for seeing multiple colors.
Maybe because my stomach has shrunk.

The flower project is in the beginning.
The color in the google map will be changed in ten years.
Then I will recall that the project began at the time of corona pandemic.

Flowers help bees, insects, and humming birds to survive and thrive.
Many things must be done for making flower gardens.
In reality, physical work is the source of health. Flowers are helping human lives, too.


Eishin Ikeda
Valley Zendo

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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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