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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Dear zen friend
1) October sesshin from 10/11 to 10/15
November sesshin from 11 08 to 11/12
2) Zendo is busy for preparations for wintry season. There are many things to do by strong muscles. I sometimes feel It would have been easy if I would move to California or Florida.
Recently I found a Japanese TV show called “An Isolated House” in Youtube. In Japan people have moved to cities for decades by thinking life in deep mountains is hard and inconvenient. Villages were emptied and houses were abandoned. But some houses are run well in isolated areas. Why and How?
A TV producer found houses in isolation using google earth, sent a cameraman and a reporter for making a show. The crew visited a house. But to drive an unpaved narrow road in the countryside is dangerous. They often get lost or the house is found empty. For making a show they try to find a different house and people. A best show is often made by chance. A wise man or an artist live in an unexpected situation.
Each house has a story. 93 year old man has maintained a mile long path and gone shopping by a car. He has not visited a doctor for 2 decades. A business man moved to inside mountains. The crew found him while looking for a mysterious house nearby. He has meeting with his employees through internet in the morning and is building his house, the headquarter of the company in the afternoon.
Many have built their houses by themselves. Most of them had no experience of construction work. One planted 10,000 trees like pine, cherry, cedar by himself. One re-cultivated village wide paddy fields by himself. Nobody asked help but enjoyed their lives. One wishes to build a bathhouse with water warmed by electricity. Modern technology allows him to generate electricity using brook stream. His dream is sure to come true.
There are many interesting episodes on each show. I cannot miss it. All the people on the screen are practical, industrious, creative, and healthy.
I stop complaint.
Dear zen friend
1) September sesshin from 09/13 to 09/17
October sesshin from 10/11 to 10/15
2) While working in a trench, a sniffing sound was heard. Looked back, a deer was standing 15 meters away. 2 fawns were eating grass with her. It was a deer family gathering. A mother deer may have wanted to draw my attention.
I continued my work, they continued eating grass for an hour in an evening.
3) In July and in August, Valley Zendo invited two old friends for listening to their dharma. I have known them for more than forty years. Both have had lives based on zen Buddhism. It was great reunion. This summer would be remembered.
We have studied many concepts like Buddha, Dharma, impermanence, emptiness, reincarnation, precepts, and or wisdom and compassion. In the end we live and die in a secular world. Each practitioner has to go through the real world with these zen concepts. Lifeless ideas become blood and muscles through practice. Those old friends were living examples of how to embody words of Shakyamuni.
The guest speakers honestly showed their right motivation, right view, right thought, and right practice before our eyes. Thanks for their kindness, I saw what I should do next.
I cannot imagine my life without zen Buddhism. I cannot seek after the truthfulness (dharma) without Buddhas’ ideas. In fact, not many people know zen. Yet in this summer I found I was not alone.
Dear Zen Friend
1) September Sesshin: from 09/13 to 09/17
There will be a renovation project of the entry hall during the first week of September. So the sesshin is put off for a week.
2) Summer lecture: on 11th of August (Sunday,) 10 am. Guest speaker: Mr. Kenneth Locke.
We talk about Valley Zendo from the days when the land was purchased and a house was built. Before Valley Zendo was set up in Charlemont, there was a sitting group in Northampton. Rev. Shojo Karako who was sent by Uchiyama Roshi led the group. Mr. Ken Locke was one of its members. Through their sitting practice, people became familiar with zen and Buddhism. Thus the foundation of Valley Zendo was made. You may hear more interesting stories on Sunday.
Potluck lunch follows.
3) One Day Zazenkai at Shantigar on August 24th (Saturday) from 9 am to 5 pm. Dharma talk is around 10 am.
Shantigar is located at 63 Davenport Rd, Rowe, MA. It is a beautiful place. Please see its website.
4) Rev. Shohaku Okumura stayed at Valley Zendo on 20th and 21st of July. Many people gathered for work day and dharma lecture. Some were old timers who really built facilities with hammers and nails. Some were long time supporters and local people. Some were young people who would make a history of zen in the future. The gathering unexpectedly became Re-Union for Valley Zendo.
We also had chanting with memories for those who had passed.
Upon these events I felt the spirit of Uchiyama Roshi, which has made history in the woods.
Dear Zen friend
1) July Sesshin: from 07/12 to 07/16
No August sesshin
2) (A) Workday: On July 20th, (Saturday) from 9 am to 3 pm.
There are jobs to do like cleaning inside out, mowing, stacking firewood. Many mosquitoes and ticks are around. Please be careful for protecting yourselves in the fields and woods.
However, day’s main purpose is for participants to meet and have conversations with guests. Free time with tea is expected after light lunch.
(B) Rev. Shohaku Okumura gives lecture on July 21st, (Sunday) at 10am. (Sunday zazenkai: 8 am – 10 am)
Rev. Okumura is resident teacher at Sanshinji, Bloomington, Indiana, was one of original members of Valley Zendo. Any words from him would be interesting.
Rev. Okumura is one of well-known zen teachers with many publications. Please use this chance to clarify your questions. Potluck lunch and free talk follow in the afternoon.
Rev. Okumura leaves for airport around noon time on Monday, July 22nd.
3) Summer Lecture with Guest speaker, Mr. Ken Locke: August 11th , (Sunday) 10 am,
4) One day zazenkai at Shantigar, 63 Davenport Rd, Rowe, MA.: August 24th (Saturday) from 9 am to 5 pm.
Zazen, Kinhin, Walking in the woods, Lecture around 10 am.
Enjoy summer heat.
Dear zen friend
1) June sesshin: 06/07 – 06/11
July sesshin: 07/12 – 07/16
2) Baika (Sotoshu Songs) Lesson: On June 20th (Thursday) from 9 am to noon.
Baika teacher is Rev. Kuga Shonen with Rev. Kojima Shumyo as attendant.
You may touch a different culture other than sitting.
If interested, please join us.
3) (A) Workday: On July 20th, (Saturday) from 9 am to 3 pm.
(B) Lecture of Rev. Shohaku Okumura on July 21st, (Sunday) at 10am.
Rev. Shohaku Okumura is resident teacher at Sanshinji, Bloomington, Indiana, was one of original members of Valley Zendo.
4) President Trump had four day trip to Tokyo from 25th to 28th. He was accompanied by many cabinet members. It looked like a move of the government administration. He and his team met emperor Naruhito and Japanese cabinet members. He promoted new era Reiwa. That was what national guest means.
He watched Sumo wrestling, and gave the presidential trophy for the champion. He looked taller than Sumo wrestler, who was supposedly the strongest. His seats were specially made, a steps to the ring was newly built. No one stands on shoes on the ring.
The first Sumo bout was recorded in’ Kojiki,’ the official history written 1300 years ago. Sumo is not a sports but a ceremony in front of an emperor. Sports did not exist thousands years ago.