Dharma in September 2016

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.
Eishin Ikeda
Valley Zendo


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Dharma in August 2016

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.
Eishin Ikeda
Valley Zendo
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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 July 2016

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Dharma in June 2016

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:      email@shantigar.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.
Eishin Ikeda
Valley Zendo
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Dharma in May 2016

Dear zen friend

1) Baika Lesson will be held from 9 am to noon on 9th (Thursday) of June. Rev. Moriyama Yuko from Japan will teach us with help of Rev. Ito Yuji of SFO office.
Those who want to participate in the event may arrive at zendo 10 minutes before 9am.

Pot luck lunch follows. They will leave zendo around 2 pm, so you may find time to ask and discuss music, zen, or Japan with them. (In the cases of last 3 visits they left around 11.30am.)

Baika is sotoshu songs. Why is a song sung at a zen temple? By accident I found close relationship between singing and zen in 2009. By request of Ikuko san in 2011 Baika department in Sotoshu was spotted. After our contact, CDs, texts, and music instruments arrived from nowhere and somewhere. I talked about singing, chanting at sotoshu conferences. Sotoshu started sending Baika teachers since 2013.

Last October I stayed at a temple in Japan. Before a ceremony about 10 women beautifully sang Baika. I was impressed with its tones and harmony. (I know how hard and long they practiced, because we practiced the same thing with slight result.) I am still discovering a secret in Baika singing, which would be a life long practice. There is a general understanding among Soto priests; Baika practitioners live long.

2) June summer time sesshin: from June 10 to June 14.

3) I had ignored website and all hi-tech communication technologies. Dogen Zenji, Sawaki Roshi, and Uchiyama Roshi recommended just sitting, which should not have any connection with any technology.

In May I purchased 3 apple trees to plant not from a local store but through internet. The items were sent by fedex with little cost. When I bought baby trees I used to have a difficult time to find a truck. Now I just wait for delivery of fedex. I have to admit that internet has changed a business model and a social structure. We can live in a rural area without truck as long as holding ID. The world has changed!

The same thing has happened to our website valleyzendo.org. Long story short, the site is under new management since the end of May 2016. Maintenance will be done by valley zendo and a team. It requires a lot of change since it has been ignored for more than a decade. It is terribly incomplete. Well, we will work.

If you search something about valley zendo, please first check the website. From now on monthly dharma mail will be posted in valleyzendo.org as well.
Eishin Ikeda
Valley Zendo

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Dharma in April 2016

Dear friend

1) May sesshin : from 05/06 to 05/10.

2) I have spent whole April with my right leg dragged. Pain of lightly twisted ankle has lingered almost 6 weeks. Sheer pain in the beginning was sharp. As days passed, slowly normal movement has come back. I expect I can use a chain saw after May sesshin.

The healing process has reminded me of my shoulder frozen 6 years ago. Tendons and muscles were swelled. The inflammation of any part of body takes long time to heal. That experience has given me a certain perspective this time and kept me calm. The best doctor is time. Curable, yet we should avoid all injuries.

During April sesshin, I could not do kinhin. I heard from friends and practitioners that they could not sit. But never heard anyone could sit, at the same time not walk. I was exceptional, a pioneer. Any pioneer or #1 is something.

Then I remembered my first day of zazen. I was eighteen, visited the second well-known temple in the city for seeking a place for zazen. An old priest with crutches aside was talking to his friend. He said he could not do zazen, and instructed me to go to a small temple where zazen kai took place.

I left saying thank you. That was the turning point of my life. I am not the number one, I just followed the same way that priest walked. It was a sweet reminder. I did not ask but could guess what happened to him.


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