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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Dharma in September 2017

Dear Zen friend

1) October Sesshin: from 10/06 to 10/10.

November Sesshin: from 11/10 to 11/14.


2) I made a lot of apple sauce. Freezer is filled with cans. They are two kinds, red delicious and mackintosh.

3) We have study group on the third Sunday every month. I started the event thanks to Uchiyama Roshi’s suggestion. He said just sitting is not good enough, right understandings are must for a Buddhist.

Participants take turn to lead discussions. Since brain power is limitless, any topics and ideas are welcome. I have mainly presented the laws of cause and effect as Buddhist idea at the sessions.

The pattern recognition was also presented several times. We are able to recognize things as pattern. We see red or blue instantly, we know triangle or square at once. It sounds easy to function. Does a pattern need cognition theory to sense?

The laws of cause and effect contains a long chain of relationship of all things. Since the chain is long, a way of understanding tends to become variable. Each Buddhist school was established due to a specific cognition theory.

Cognition theory is boring and painful to study. I often lost patience to keep learning. Pattern recognition may not need a long chain of words.

I recently sent an essay to a popular blog. It was accepted as excellent. And it happened to be about pattern recognition in a totally different context. I am from a culture of a pattern recognition language.

Today was a day for mushroom hunt. Most of fungus are not seen nor known. Is it worth classifying millions of fungi by color, form, smell, location? To know all million kinds of fungi seems to be out of human power.

And mushrooms are too variable to exactly categorize them. It may be good enough to classify them by the patterns, edible or poisonous.

Eishin Ikeda
Valley Zendo

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Dharma in August, 2017

Dear zen friend
1)   September sesshin:      from  09/08 to 09/12
      October Sesshin:    from  10/06 to 10/10
2) Zendo is on vacation mood in August. We enjoyed Summer Lecture and Zazenkai at Shantigar.
Somehow it has been rainier and cooler than usual.
We almost needed heating on 27th.
3) I presented the Eight Awareness at the Zazenkai. It was excerpts from Shobogenzo Eight Awareness written by Dogen Zenji. It also was based on the record of the last days of Shakyamuni in The Great Nirvana Sutra. Shakyamuni left guidance on how to live for his students. In it he said ‘Live according to not others but the Self and the Dharma.’
‘The eighth Awareness is not to be engaged in hollow discussions.
(It is to be free from conjecture by realization. To thoroughly study real forms of all dharma is named no hollow discussions.)
About the line above (the eighth of eight awareness), endless discussions were spoken, however. Is awareness better suited than awakening? Isn’t it free from realization by conjecture instead? What is dharma? What is hollow discussion?
When I came to the eighth awareness, I became silent and sat, it was clear and simple.
Here is America, language and experiences are different. Things are not simple.
I used to love arguing ideas like emptiness, impermanence, Buddha nature, enlightenment, or nirvana. Looked back those days, they were hollow discussions for me.
In the meantime, I noticed perfect logic was not powerful enough to bring enlightenment, and abstract words ignored both a fact of physical body and a matter of good and bad.
My suggestion was bow and respect would be necessary for studying the all dharma.
We should discuss Buddhism until we know what is hollow.
Eishin Ikeda
Valley Zendo

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Dharma in July, 2017

Dear Zen Friend
1)  No Sesshin in August
     September sesshin :   from 09/08 to 09/12
2)  on August 13th Sunday, Summer Lecture will take place at 11 am.
     This year’s guest speaker is Mr. Pike Messenger.   I personally met him and found him interesting. I asked him to share his wisdom with us. The following is his message.
        Here is my background.    I was raised on a subsistence farm in Salisbury Massachusetts, a coastal town. We raised vegetables, dairy cows, chickens, hay, and apples. I worked for my grandfather and uncles.  We used horses as well as tractors.
         After high school I studied botany, chemistry and agronomy  at UMass in Amherst from 1952 to 1956. From 1956 to 1963 I served on two Navy ships in the Pacific. In 1961 I married Chitose Yamaguchi a seamstsress from Kyushu. We moved to Middleton and  raised 3 children.  I taught high school biology from 1963 to 1993. From 1995 to 2009 I was Middleton’s conservation agent. For the last 20 years I have been an active member of the Middleton Stream Team and the Ipswich River Watershed Association. These groups protect our waters and wetlands. In 2011 I published a book of 300 essays entitled The Water Closet.
       My talk will be about major changes in the land from after the last continental glacier up to the present. The subject is way to large for a one hour talk so I will just hit important points in my time.   The changes have been very dramatic and long  very interesting to me.  A couple of centuries ago  your Warner Hill was probably without many trees. There were no plants or animals 12,000 or so years ago before the ice melted.

3)  On Aug. 26th, Saturday, there will be one day zazen kai at Shantigar (Peaceful Home) at 63 Davenport Rd, Rowe.
     The event starts at 9 am and ends at 5 pm.
      I give a talk about ‘Buddhism in daily life’ in the morning and Mr. Jean-Claude van Itallie leads a meditation walk in the woods in the afternoon.
     For signing up and more information, please contact Peter Columbus at email@shantigar.org.  or  call  (413)339-4332.
     No cost, donation is accepted.
     For directions, please see     http://www.Shantigar.org
Eishin Ikeda
Valley Zendo
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Dharma in June 2017

Dear Zen friend
1)  July sesshin :   from 07/07 to 07/11.
2)  There is no sesshin in August. There will be Summer Lecture instead on Aug. 13th Sunday  11 am.
This year we invited Mr. Pike Messenger to share his knowledge about environments of American land. Mr. Messenger is a retired teacher, who has continued studying nature and leading natural conservation group.
More details will be announced by next dharma mail.
3) There is one day zazenkai at Shantigar in Rowe from 9 am to 5 pm on Aug. 26th Saturday. Eishin will be there.
Shantigar is located on the beautiful hill in the neighbor village of Charlemont.
More details also will be announced in the email at the end of July.
4) My jet lag lasted long. For 2 weeks I was in Japan and Los Angeles under fine weather. When I returned it was rainy and chill. Zendo almost needed stove heating.
There were many things to do. Stacking firewood, mowing grass, planting trees and vegetables, upgrading zendo. For a month I felt I was working in a dream.
At 5 O’clock this morning I checked weather, thunder storm would come in the morning. So I started working with chainsaw and a shovel at 6 O’clock. (Usually I start working outside at 10 am.) All the work was done by 8 am. Rain started at 9 am. Finally I could catch up to a pace of normal life.
5)   I heard president Trump used social media network for his presidency. I know nothing about twitter. But blogs seem to work like newspapers. Some are popular, some spread fake news.
A few days ago I had a beautiful experience through comments of a blog. A person made up by typewriter and paper like me tends to be pessimistic for the future of internet age. In fact, we may not need to worry about the tech future, I thought.
Eishin Ikeda
Valley Zendo



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Dharma in April, 2017

Dear Zen friend

1)  May sesshin   from 05/12 to 05/16

2)  This year almost all firewood for next winter have been obtained in April. This is the fastest job I have ever done. I had two big trees, which were cut at noon and can be burned in the evening. Dogen Zenji talked about it. 

I do not like engines nor sound of engines. I was grown up in a village where there were no car, no telephone, no engines. A bus ran on highway which was far away from the house.

Sometimes family needed a machine for harvesting rice or pumping water. Those machines were rented with caring people. A machine often stalled. People gathered around the engine and tried to solve a problem with oily hands. The picture did not look pretty. Engine and agony were closely associated in my memory.   

For making firewood one has to use chainsaw. This was the only reason I touched a chainsaw. A saw needs frequent sharpening. I did not know how and where to sharpen. It was too complicated to learn. I asked a professional to take care of the saw.

Last year the professional sharpener died. He was a nice person, but old and frail. I was the last person to ask the sharpening. I was dependent on him for almost ten years. Abruptly I was pushed to a situation in which I had to take care of my chainsaw by myself. I finally began learning sharpening.

Sharpening is subtle and difficult. Success is not in sight. At least, though, I have become familiar with the engine and the mechanism of chainsaw. I’ve become less panicked. Sometimes a condition of the engine is felt through the saw.

I met another professional sharpener the other day. He sharpens 30 saws a week. That is why he became a professional. I sharpen a saw two times a week. I cannot catch up to his skill. But I have to keep practicing Zen and the art of chainsaw maintenance.

In India there are three great gods. They are Brahma, Vishnu, and Siva. Vishnu is the god of maintenance and most popular. Brahma is god of creation, Siva is of destruction. 

Our daily life requires constant maintenance. A knife should be sharpened, floor should be swept, rents in clothes should be mended. Enough firewood must be stacked every year. Little wonder Vishnu is most popular among the Three.

Eishin Ikeda
Valley Zendo

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