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?
Dear Zen friend
1) November sesshin : from 11/11 to 11/15.
2) It snowed 6 inches deep on Thursday 27th. Temperature has been low since. This is the earliest first snow for the wintry season in my memory.
I enjoyed autumn foliage along my drive on Wednesday. Surprise, surprise
3) Uchiyama Roshi said in one of his lectures that we were not wise enough to know what death is. I had no clue to think of death then. Death was issue which would be thought about decades later. I was busy to find solutions on other problems.
A few years after his retirement, Uchiyama Roshi published collection of poems. One of poems briefly and clearly depicted life and death. It was an understandable picture for me for the first time in my life. I newly respected Roshi’s continuous approach to the dharma.
He wrote: Life begins with Self like scooping water by a ladle. The Self is formed by the shape of the ladle. Death is like the thought of Self is broken, just like the water is scattered to the ground.
To know a clear perspective is important. Without the perspective of life, we do not know where we are going. We have fear of death mainly because we do not know where we go after our own deaths. I appreciated Roshi’s sincere search. Analogy of water and ladle, thought and Self was simple and clear. Simplicity often helps to grasp complicated matters.
However, questions arose over time. Roshi did not say who scooped the water. (Passive voice is commonly used in Japanese.) How are Self, ego, and thought related? When water is scattered to the ground, the world ends all together. What happens to the water? Does ground hold any meaning? Something does not fit to the real, practical world. Arguments did not cease.
I’d like to propose a different view about ‘life and death,’ inspired by Uchiyama Roshi.
Life and death is like the birth of an apple and the end of the fruit. Apple’s life starts with pollination in spring. In summer it grows under sun shines. In autumn it goes bad with frost temperature. Apple’s meat gets rotten and falls, seeds are eaten by animals. Few sprout in spring.
An apple is born with pollination. Spring wonder brings about pollination with flowers, bees, and warm air. Apple grows while taking energy of the Sun. The death of the apple doesn’t mean the end of the world. The consequences of a piece of apple persist in the form of sprouting from seeds or enriching soil with skins. We don’t know how far the influences of an apple last in time and space.
Dear zen friend
1) October sesshin: 10/07 to 10/11.
2) Soto zen is based on Buddhism. Buddhism is based on the teachings of Shakyamuni, which is called Buddha dharma. The Buddha dharma is the teachings about life, aging, illness, and death. So we should know what death is. In reality things are not simple.
For last two years few close friends including my teacher died. I newly had to think about loss of life.
I did funeral ceremonies few times this year. Each time I said the deceased now is in Buddha’s house and watches us how we live. Funeral service is expression of respect and entering ceremony for the membership of Buddhas’ house. He is not alienated, so that memory on him comes and stays. We are not separated from her, so that we feel intimacy with her legacies. Where is he or she? They are in the Buddhas’ land.
Where is Buddhas’ land? It is unseen. Isn’t it illusion or fiction? What is merit for funeral service? Isn’t Sotoshu local truth? We look for the universal answer. Buddhism is a story when science was nonexistent. In the modern age, soul, spirit, and tradition are not trendy. Our bodies and the world are matters, only matter exists. When a person dies, both body and mind die out. That is it. It is not worth thinking of the meanings of death.
I know these arguments because I had modern education. Modern knowledge is based on materialism and logic of reduction. I was just like you arguing about death and life in a philosopher’s room. I understood it well. At the same time I was uncertain about such clear knowledge. My anxiety did not go away.
When death was discussed, nobody had sure answer. All the philosophers avoided to have spoken about death by saying like ‘Death is the last issue for philosophy.’ Philosophers are experts for handling logic and understanding the world. We understand the world through logic. Death may not solely be understood through logic accordingly.
I have been surprised at unexpected gifts bestowed by Sotoshu after having jumped into Antaiji. Funeral service is one of them. The service at least has given me hint in which death cannot be grasped by ordinary thought. This does not mean we must cease thinking about death, but find the certain way to search the true dharma in Buddhism. Remember that Shakyamuni explained death in his original teaching.
Having read Shobogenzo, Dogen Zenji was sure that the understanding of death leads to the understanding of life. My search began again.
Dear Zen friends
1) September sesshin: from 09/09 to 09/13
2) On 18th (Sunday) of September, Rev. Yuji Ito will give us Baika lesson.
Time: 1:00 pm to 3:00 pm.
Why do we sing? This question is related to the essence of life and Buddhism.
There will be Study group at 10:00 am on the same day. We may discuss this immediate issue at the time.
The schedule on third Sunday 18th is:
Zazen: 8:00 am.
Study group: 10:00 am.
Zazen: 11:10 am.
Lunch at noon.
Baika lesson: 1:00 pm.
Baika ends: 3:00 pm.
3) A neighbor had a long vacation abroad. She asked me to pick her vegetables during the time . Thanking to her donation, I made fire wood out of a fallen tree.
Zukini, broccoli, squash and more were big and overgrown. I enjoyed fresh vegetables. But every time I approached the garden, her dog barked hard. It was ready to bite me. It was a nice dog for protecting master’s house.
I always failed to grow vegetables. Whatever kinds I planted, deer, bears, and turkeys ate them all. So I gave up maintaining a vegetable garden. Fences are not good enough to keep them out.
Ah, a barking dog! it scares animals away as well as chases a stranger. Those harmful (?) animals would not be near to my garden if there were a dog. I did not think that the reason for failure of gardening was not having a dog. Pet has been out of my concern.
Dogs and cats are most popular pet. A pet is a friend. And also a human is a friend of a pet, too. This relationship might have begun at the same time humans were born. Because both like peaceful situations throughout their and our histories.
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) There is no sesshin in August.
2) Summer Lecture in August on 7th Sunday at 11 am.
We have continued internal study about zen and Buddhism. However, sometimes outside winds feel fresh and stimulating. So Summer Lecture program was created and a few guests were already invited to hear their wisdom.
This year, a neighbor and a famous playwright, Mr. Jean-Claude van Italie accepted our invitation. We are looking forward to hear his rich experiences and wisdom.
There are 3 periods of zazen from 8 am to 11 am.
Lecture starts after 11 am.
Please join us.
Pot luck lunch follows.
Title Balancing Act : Practice and Performance in Daily Living
Playwright Jean-Claude van Italie, Valley Zendo’s neighbor and director of Shantigar Foundation for theatre, meditation, and healing, shares how integrating performance and meditation practices can lead to a more creative and balanced life.
3) I make firewood throughout spring and summer. Firewood heats two times. In summer as bodily sweat, in winter in the stove.
Enjoy the rest of summer.
Dear Zen Friend
1) July sesshin: from 07/08 to 07/12.
2) A Day of Meditation at Shantigar in Rowe, Massachusetts
9 am to 5 pm on July 23rd 2016
For more info: firstname.lastname@example.org
3) This year’s Baika lesson on 06/09 with Rev. Moriyama Yuko was an epoch making event. Many people attended. Thank you. Moreover, Baika finally became familiar to us. It has taken 5 years to begin understanding singing. Compared to 10 years for zazen, 5 years is not too bad.
At the first conversation with Sotoshu I was told that Baika is based on face to face learning. Since there was no teacher, we had to practice copying CD. CD was good text for a while. In fact, alive teacher is much better than CD by many meanings. I cannot write details here because a living teacher holds secrets a lot.
The same thing would apply to internet courses in schools. Good teachers are needed no matter how well AI or a robot would have improved.
There are many technical terms for Baika. What are tone, rhythm, pitch, keynote with clear sense? I did not know their true meanings. It is shame to make confession here. But this is record that I started from a low place. So any person can do better than I do.
Baika is deeply connected with breathing and posture. Not only good shape but also functional body and mind are required. Maybe Baika practice will enhance a suitable body and mind. This is why practice is critical. I guess a professional singer is aware of moves of muscles from waist to head, from back to front, and right to left. It may be worth practicing Baika to prove my guess.
4) At around solstice: Peony flowers at peak.
Bambi is born.
First flight of baby phoebes is seen.
5) The website is almost completed. (There is no end.)
Dharma emails will be posted every month.
Updates will be added from time to time.
If you want to know events or something about valley zendo, please visit: valleyzendo.org.