Dharma in April 2018

Dear Zen Friend

1)         May Sesshin             from   05/11  to  05/15

            June Sesshin            from   06/08  to  06/12

2)         Baika Lesson          9 am  on May 24th  with Rev. Shumei Kojima

            Dharma talk           11 am  on May 24th by Rev. Ryugen Ogasawara

The schedule is subject to change.  Please see the posting at  valleyzendo.org,  or email back, or phone call  at  (413)339-4000  for sure information.

3)    It snowed at valley zendo in the morning of 30th of April.
Air was chill.

I have not experienced a long winter like this.

Worldwide efforts to prevent global warming may have worked too well.

4) New movie about practice at Eiheiji by NHK was on youtube. It was filmed last autumn and winter, was reasonable and enjoyable. Narration was nice.

A big institution has many gates for people to take part in. Sotoshu  began with strict zazen practice with the teachings of Shakyamuni Buddha and Dogen Zenji.

As time went on, some became seriously interested in sitting itself, some liked to study sutras. Some liked ceremonies, some liked buildings and arts. Some composed, some became poets, and some liked performance.

I used to think of one activity alone while I stayed there decades ago.
Now I enjoy various events.
Originally the area of Eiheiji was considered as being too harsh to live. To build a temple was a crazy idea. Now a road to the temple is open and 100 buses a day at a time bring visitors. It is one of the most popular tourist spots in Japan.

It snows 10 feet deep every winter. The temple covered with snow is a beauty. Snow also breaks hundreds of tiles on the roof. The replacement of damaged tiles is an important task. You see it if you go there.

Eishin Ikeda
Valley Zendo
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Dharma in March 2018

Dear Zen Friend

1) April sesshin: from 04/06 to 04/10

May sesshin: from 05/11 to 05/15

2) Spring Cleaning

April 28th Saturday is the day of spring cleaning.
Work starts at 10 am, light lunch at noon, and ends around 3 pm.
There will be house cleaning, zafu and zabuton beating, and stacking fire woods.
If interested, please join us.

3) I think I wrote this before, the issue still stays in my mind. In my lifetime in Japan, archeologists have dug thousands of remains. Their relics are recorded and categorized. Having studied them from many angles, lives of ancient times have become gradually apparent.

Lacquer products are found all over in the remains 15000 years ago. Rice fields were made 5000 years ago. Rice seems to be traced back to around 10000 years ago. From vestiges of stone arrangements, it is said that rules of running of the sun were known. Chestnuts, fish, and seashells were eaten every day. They built a tall houses with big trees. Precious metals were traded in large areas, even found in the continent, too.

In the texts at school while I was a student, rice, lacquer, and many things were brought from the continent. Such was a history and common sense, then. Now, due to archeological findings, view of history is changing. Many things might have been taken from the islands and carried back to the continent.

The best thing about these relics is that all of them are natural. Researchers do not have to worry about any pollution.

Look at bath tissue, we buy thin paper rolls at a super market. I guess Krazy Glue like product is used for making tissues. Glue is chemically made. While billions of people enjoying soft bath tissues everyday, plastic pollution is spreading to earth and oceans. “Nausica in the valley” is not fiction.

We regard language as civilization. We discuss written things as if everything has been written and understood. These concepts, however, could be said extraordinary. We are living in extraordinary age, so that we increase pollution.

My original concern about ancient times has been how people in the old times communicated each others. The first document was made in 604 AD in Japan. It was written in Chinese letters with Chinese grammar. People at that time knew both the time of no letters and the time of letters.

Use of letters might have meant destruction of a previous civilization. People were happy without letters. After 604 AD, people had to learn how to use letters. Was the change good for them?

Eishin ikeda
Valley Zendo

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Dharma in February 2018

Dear zen friend

1) March Sesshin from 03/09 to 03/13

April Sesshin from 04/06 to 04/10


2) On the 19th, I found 3 feet long crack in the front glass on my car. From inside it looks beautiful especially in the morning sun. Reflections of seven colors through cracks are impressive.
There was a small crack when I bought the car 10 years ago. It has always been a concern. The crack did not extend until that Monday morning.

The crack may become cause for a dangerous situation, so I made an appointment for replacing the front glass on 27th.
Yesterday morning, the garage called and said that the person in charge of replacement had heart attack. My appointment was cancelled.
The cracked front glass remains intact in the month of February.


3) Maple sugaring is going on. Walking near a sugar house, sweet air is sensed. It is a sign that spring is coming. And it is a gift from Indians.

When we receive a gift, we think about return. If it is a big lasting gift like Maple syrup, we may build a shrine and pay respect. Are there any shrine near or inside a sugar house?

In Japan there are shrines for rice, needle, calligraphy brush, fox, racoon, horse, pigeon and more. New shrines are built every year.
When an interstellar satellite was launched, the general manager of the project visited a shrine for receiving blessings for the safe running of the engines. Because of his prayer and sincerity, ‘Hayabusa’ completed its mission.

Italians may build a tomato shrine thanking for pasta industries. Irish may respect a potato temple for having had millions of lives saved. Spanish must have had enough money to build a golden shrine for the sake of Incan treasuries.

Zen is a teaching for personal understanding and practice. Having studied deeper enough, practitioners become aware that an individual cannot live without countless gifts. This is why Sotoshu has many ceremonies to express gratitude.

Eishin Ikeda
Valley Zendo


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Dharma in January 2018

Dear Zen friend
1)         February sesshin:       from 02/09 to 02/13.
             March sesshin:           from 03/09 to 03/13
2)   On the day of Spring Cleaning, we found a scroll in the basement. Inside the scroll there was calligraphy of Sawaki Roshi. Sawaki Roshi was the greatest zen master for last 150 years. The scroll was somewhat damaged by stains and molds.
I asked a few people for advice how to handle it. And heard there is industry of paper preservation. Universities have lots of books to be well kept, national and local archives must be carefully treated. Some are valuable, some not. Quality of paper is different on age and even a place of production. Restoration and preservation of these documents requires professional knowledge and skill.
Museum level treatment was recommended at valley Zendo after restoration. To avoid sun ray and moisture is possible. Museum level is a dream, though.
I asked an institution to work for the scroll. It took about 2 months to finish with lots of money. And I was disappointed with its result. The calligraphy did not look much different from 2 months before. What did those guys do?
Later I thought just whitening was possible and simple. For restoration, however, looking aged is valuable. I did not buy a new picturer, but an old picture which looked aged.  Wanted a bright picture, preservation institution is a wrong place.
I sent the picture for a friend to frame. He brought the picture in January. I was surprised at seeing beauty of the framed picture.  Unbelievable! He said the back ground color fit best for the calligraphy.
Most of the time at valley zendo I think about woods and flowers. Document conservation was a totally different world. It was fun to have a glance at a different industry.
Eishin Ikeda
Valley Zendo
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Dharma in the year of Dog 2018

Dear Zen friend

A Happy New Year!

1) January sesshin : from 01/19 to 01/23.

February sesshin: from 02/09 to 02/13.

2) It was coldest during the year end sessin. We experienced a feeling of sitting in a freezer. Most of the time, cold weather went away from sesshins. This time that luck did not happen.

3) This year is the year of Dog by Chinese yearly chart. They pick 12 animals. Recent order is Monkey, Bird, Dog, and Boar. The characters of animals are said that Monkey starts manipulation, Bird implicitly keeps manipulation, Dog brings a big event and new trend becomes apparent, Boar pushes the new trend without hesitation.

On TVs and in youtubes, there are many discussions about big events for the year of Dog. Many shows take an hour, some take 3 hours. To watch their predictions in the world was interesting. I wanted to gather information as much as possible so that I would understand the world before anything big happen.

They talked about politics, economy, international relations, war, philosophy, literature, psychology, Olympics, and AI. A big event like 9/11 may happen in the Far East. To think about global issue is fun.

At the same time the weather forecast warned severe snow storm with record low temperatures in this weekend. This may be a big event. I could do little for preparation but brought a kerosene lamp nearby.

In the morning of the 3rd, water in the sink did not lower. Something went wrong with water pipe. It was a small sink, but real problem may not be so simple. It was in cold winter, snow was about to fall. the fixing could not be postponed.

In the telephone directory there was not a single plumber listed in the village. I called few people. Some refused to work, some helped. For two days I had to be with the water pipe problem.

Possible candidates of the problem were ice, clog, or design flaw. It was hard for plumbers to find exact cause for the trouble. The team brought a vacuum cleaner, snakes, hair dryer, electric saw, flash light, paper towel. After trials and errors, they managed to make temporary fix at the time of snow fall.

New year for zendo started with a big event.
Eishin ikeda
Valley Zendo


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Dharma in November 2017

Dear Zen Friend

1) December Sesshin from 12/08 to 12/10

The year end Sesshin from 12/27 to 12/31

January Sesshin from 01/19 to 01/23

2) A middle sized tree fell just before my eyes in the back yard. An explosive sound was scary. I heard falling sound many times at night, this was the first time to see a real tree falling.

There was no wind when the tree fell. Looked at broken parts, particular reason why the tree fell was not seen. A frame of tree collapsed, The existence of the tree (cause), ended (effect).

3) Winter is fast coming. Heating has been a serious question for valley zendo. Survival here means overcoming freezing temperature. Since the challenge is inescapable, I have had to learn many things about heating. If I lived in a city or in southern part of the US, I would never have attained knowledge related to heating.

This year I learned a new thing. In winter a stove must run through all night. Every night I got up once for adding firewood into the stove. Every night I calculated when to sleep and get up around certain time. I did it. The activity became my second nature.

After November sesshin I could not get up at one night due to exhaustion. That made me scared by thinking what would have happened in the middle of winter. I visited a stove shop in the following day.

New stoves are much different from old ones. An old style wood stove was a place for bonfire in a house. There always is danger of real fire. A new stove seems to contain the danger as much as possible. The control of temperature and direction of heating has been substantially improved.
At the same time all impurities in the wood are designed to burn. There has been a problem of creosote from the wood stove. This is why all chimneys must be cleaned every year. New products look to burn even creosote in smoke. A chimney sweeper may lose job if all stoves are replaced with new products.
A new stove is supposed to consume 30% less firewood than current one, and the burning of one load lasts about 10 hours. This is the most attractive feature for me.

We used to read ‘Discovery of Fire,’ ‘History of Fire,’ History of Fire and Humans.’ These concepts are based on fire in the forests. An old stove was an iron box in the house. So people talked abut distance of stove from wall.
The back of a new stove is not hot, so the distance is no more big issue. Finally modern technology has pushed a wood stove to a higher level.

I desire to sleep without worries about getting up at night.
Eishin Ikeda
Valley Zendo

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Dharma in October 2017


Dear zen friend

1) November sesshin: from 11/10 to 11/14

December sesshin: from 12/08 to 12/10

Year end sesshin: from 12/27 to 12/31


2) Almost all foliage has fallen. It looks a quarter less than usual. Less productivity of leaves is possible for this year.

3) September sesshin took place under low temperature. Rain added misery to chill air. I was sad and uncomfortable wondering when to start stove heating.

During October sesshin It was fine for five days. For two days air was hot like summer. Sitting is hard for both in cold and hot temperature.

On the fifth day it was hot and humid in the morning. We were supposed to be exhausted. After noon time, suddenly I had a feeling of doing perfect zazen, desired to have five more days of sitting. It was very comfortable.

At the end of the session, everyone looked happy. One participant said ‘This sesshin was one of the best.’ I was pleased all practitioners ended October sesshin with comfort.

Uchiyama Roshi said that the enlightenment depends on temperature and humidity. He is right. Comfortable sesshin is not necessarily a good one.The comfort may be a product of air and vapor.

At the same time I have to say that we should have nice and comfortable sesshin for hundreds of times. 10 years of practice means 120 sesshins. If most of them were nice ones, a practitioner would become confident on zazen. Those who have confidence on zazen are likely to understand what Shakyamuni said.

Comfortable sesshin is a gate for the mystery of zen.

Eishin Ikeda


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