Dharma in January 2017, Spring Thaw (1)

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Dharma in the Year of Bird, 2017

Dear zen friend
1)  January sesshin:     from 01/20  to 01/24 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)   Last winter was the warmest and easiest in my memory. There were few snowfalls with less than three inches each. Deep snow was talked about but never came true. It was so warm that firewood shed was not emptied. I worried about the consequences of little water and springlike winter.
Last November I had to cut a few trees, mow leaves, and get propane gas delivered. I waited for the best timing for those works. Then It rained for two weeks. I waited days for land being dried. I still have time, I thought.
Then it snowed late November. Snow did not melt quickly. A propane gas truck failed to come close enough to the tank due to slippery driveway. Leaves were covered with snow. Trees were not cut because of cold temperature. I have been frustrated with my own incomplete operation.
I knew winter would come soon and it might be very cold while waiting for the best timing. Even though cold winter was imagined in November, a sense of urgency did not come out. Memory of the easy winter overwhelmed me. I was simply lazy.
In Buddhism there are four lands, they are named North, East, West, and South. Former three lands are paradises with great Buddhas. But the land of South is the land of suffering, samsara. All humans are living in the land of South with Shakyamuni Buddha. This is why our lives are full of sufferings and pains.
Dogen Zenji often wrote ‘Fortunately we were born in the South Land.’ For long I wondered what was ‘fortunate’ while longing for paradise.
Warm winter gave me a false sense of timing. I forgot that nature is often hard to survive. The preparation works were not finished, as if I were in a land of paradise.
2017 is the year of Bird, and many also say the year of hope.
A Happy New Year!
Regards.
Eishin Ikeda
Valley Zendo
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Dharma in November 2016

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?
Regards.
Eishin Ikeda
Valle
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Dharma in October 2016

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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.
Regards.
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.
Tea
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.
Regards.
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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