This past June, the Buffalo Zen Dharma Community had the great fortune of having one of the teachers from Zen Mountain Monastery, Hojin Sensei, come to Buffalo to lead a weekend retreat. A major focus during the event was on art practice which is one of the Eight Gates of Zen taught in the Mountains and Rivers Order of Zen Buddhism which is headquartered at Zen Mountain Monastery at Mt. Tremper, New York.
That weekend's Saturday morning started with zazen (meditation) which helped forming the frame of mind needed for the most benefit from the following art practice.
Hojin Sensei was formally trained as an artist which makes it natural for her to use this training in helping Zen practitioners to use art as a path to spiritual awakening. She offered multiple art practices to the participants in a casual atmosphere during the weekend to help them let go of the cognition that we normally use to function in our lives, but can be a hindrance in opening up to spiritual awareness.
After each art type of art practice, time was taken to review what art the participants created and to discuss what the participants learned from this practice.
Besides the inspiring art people created, people participating in the event found it helpful in opening up their minds to spiritual practice.
Later in the day, Hojin Sensei gave a Dharma talk which helped round out the retreat. There was also during this retreat a question and answer period which allow the participants to ask questions about Zen Buddhism and how it is practiced.
The retreat ended with a fellowship meal and sharing. Our goal is to have more of these types of events with teachers and senior monastics coming from Zen Mountain Monastery.
Starting this month, the monthly, Saturday half-day meditation (zazen) events have restarted. Before COVID, these events happened with a frequency of about once a month. Back then, we would meet at the Network of Religious Communities building and would do zazen from 8:30 to 12:30. Zazen would be done in silence for the whole morning. There would be periods of walking meditation (kinhin) between the six time periods of zazen. Participants were requested to stay for the whole four hours if possible.
During COVID these more intense in-person zazen events, like all our other events were put on hold. Now that we are meeting in person, our number of members have recovered, and there is a renewed interest in having these events we started them again. However, to accommodate those who are younger in the practice of Zen Buddhism or just have a difficult time spending the whole Saturday morning away from their regular personal responsibilities, we have divided the six periods of zazen into a set of 3-each with a break in between. This allows those who can do the first three periods of zazen, but no the last three, or vice versa to participate. The whole morning is still done in silence. And there is kinhin in between the periods of zazen.
We now have dates for these monthly events for October and November at the Network of Religious Communities building. In December, we will have another event to correspond to the celebration of the Buddha's Enlightenment, but the format of the December event will be more in line with a vigil format where participants can come and go as they feel they need. This event will also be in silence.
These events are just one of the many ways those seeking to learn more about Zen Buddhist practice can experience the full range of spiritual practices. If you have an interest in learning more, please fill out our contact information for to get in touch with you.
Two sangha members of the Buffalo Zen Dharma Community completed their training requirements and took Jukai on April 23rd of this year. Scott Forster and Deborah Hovland, who are formal training students in the Mountains and Rivers Order of Zen Buddhism centered at Zen Mountain Monastery in Mt. Tremper, NY, spent the week prior to taking Jukai at the monastery furthering their training, meeting frequently with the abbot of the monastery, and hand-sewing their rakusus (the black bib-like cloth worn in the picture above). The rakusu is a symbol of the Buddha's robe and is also the symbol of the person taking The Precepts which are the moral and ethical teachings of Buddhism. To formally become a Buddhist, one has to take The Precepts. If one has accepted the moral and ethical teachings of another religion (Christianity, Judiasm, Hinduism, Islam or any other religion) that person can also take Zen spiritual training and even complete formal Zen training and teach Zen to others. In the MRO tradition there are sixteen precepts:
1. Taking refuge in the Buddha
2. Taking refuge in the Dharma
3. Taking refuge in the Sangha
4. Do not create evil.
5. Practice good.
6. Actualize good for others.
7. Affirm life'--do not kill.
8. Be giving--do not steal.
9. Honor the body--do not misuse sexuality.
10. Manifest truth--to not lie
11. Proceed clearly--do not cloud the mind
12. See the perfection--do not speak of others' errors and faults.
13. Realize self and other as one--do not elevate the self and blame others.
14. Give generously--do not be withholding.
15. Actualize harmoney--do not be angry.
16. Experience the intimacy of things--do not defile the Three Treasures.
At the Jukai ceremony, Scott and Deborah both got Dharma names:
"Jo" means to proceed carefully, and in a steady fashion.
"Kai" means to unravel or untie
So, the meaning of these two words together is, in Scott's own words, "Carefully, and steadily progressing in the unraveling the obscurations that the perceived self and eons of ignorance have blinded true untainted reality of the way."
"Kyo" means mirror referring to the mirror-mind or mirror of samadhi. It is the mind which sees things without favoring or rejecting. It is the mind that reflects just what comes before it. Even when covered with dust, the mirror remains clear and bright.
"Shin" means heart-mind are unified, one reality, one person. There can be compassion and kindness in thoughts and ideas; there can be intelligence and incisiveness in feelings and emotions. Wisdom reveals the true Dharma body, free of qualities and attributes. Compassion expresses this true body through its characteristics and various aspects. To put it another way, "To cultivate the natural peace that is the nature of every person, and to offer this mirror to all."
It has been a long time coming, but finally the Buffalo Zen Dharma Community is meeting in person again. Last month our first in-person event was the half-day meditation event at the Network of Religious Communities from 8:00 AM to 12:30 PM. But on September 6th we started meeting again at the Westminster Presbyterian Church for our full program. It has been about 2.5 years since we were regularly meeting together at Westminster Presbyterian Church. So, in preparation for our meeting in-person while COVID is still around, our Tuesday night Zoom meetings have ended while we work on our new format. During the month of September, our hope is to work out how to maximize the benefits of our pre-COVID meetings while minimizing our health risk exposure.
We are asking those who want to join us to be fully vaccinated including boosters. However, proof of vaccination is not required. We ask that if someone is feeling a bit ill to save their visit for when they are feeling normal. Masks are not required. But if someone is more comfortable wearing a mask during the program, they are encouraged to do so.
The doors to the church opens at 6:30 PM which allows for the space to be set up for the program which starts at 7 PM. It is during this time that some socialization can occur, and questions can be asked. While we work out any problems to a smooth flow of the program during the month of September, we are not offering in-person meditation instructions like we did in the past on the first Tuesday of the month. However, this instruction is expected to start up with the first Tuesday of this coming October. We are not offering refreshments at the end of the program as we did before COVID, so participants are asked to bring their own beverage. Bathroom facilities are available. Meditation pillows (zafus) and mats (zabutons) are provided as well as chairs, meditation benches, and chair back supports. If someone has their own black meditation cushion or mat, and would like to bring it, they are encouraged to do so. People are requested to wear loose, comfortable clothing that does not draw attention such as tank tops, above the knee shorts, or brightly colored clothes. It is always best to not use strong scented products. During Zazen and the talks, participants are asked to remain in silence and to minimize their movements and remain in the meditation posture.
Our program begins with a few announcements, but then transitions into a short liturgy while standing. Next, on meditation nights we have three periods of meditation (Zazen). On talk nights, after the initial liturgy, we have one long meditation period with a recorded talk after. The three-period Zazen nights alternate with the recorded talk nights. The program ends with a short chant and a few brief words. Clean up and further socialization follows after.
In between the periods of Zazen, we have kinhin (walking meditation). One can sit through the walking meditation if they would like, but it is during kinin that people have the opportunity to use the restroom or get something to drink. We are asking those who would like to join us, but have not had any meditation instruction or experience to come to our first Tuesday of this coming October. At that time we will have the ability to offer this instruction in-person and an opportunity to practice Zazen that night. Please let us know if you would like to come October 4th by sending us a message from the "Contact" page. From the pictures above, one can see that everyone is welcome from those who have had formal training such as the students of the Mountains and Rivers Order with their grey robes to those who have not had any experience, but are interested.
Well, it has finally happened! The COVID pandemic has finally reached the point in Erie County in which the Buffalo Zen Dharma Community is able to start in-person gatherings. This past Saturday, the 6th of August, we met at the Network of Religious Communities building for our first monthly half-day, Saturday morning zazen (meditation) intensive since the COVID social restrictions started. Afterwards it was possible to share lunch at one of the local restaurants. This has been a long time coming. We are also presently planning on having full Tuesday night services like we had pre-COVID sometime in October. In September we will be suspending our Zoom Tuesday night program as we prepare and coordinate full services in October.
Participation in the half-day Saturday morning zazen (meditation) intensives requires that the participants have already received introductory information/instruction on zazen. Such information is available through our Newcomers page and through contacting us. More specific information can be supplied by talking with one of our members who have already been going to these events.
This intensive meditative event has six meditation periods with five periods of walking meditation in-between. The event is held in silence. Participants are asked to attend for the whole session. However, there can be some extenuating circumstances where exceptions are made. Bathrooms are available, and participants may bring a beverage. Incense is started at the beginning of each meditation period. Participants are asked to be fully vaccinated against COVID, though no proof is required. Those feeling ill are asked to not attend. Masks are not required; and the wearing of masks is left up to the participant. Formal Mountains and Rivers Order students are requested to wear their meditation robes, but for those who are not, just comfortable clothing is required. Low sound electronic air purifiers are used to recycle the air every hour. Cell phones are asked to be turned off.
If anyone is interested in taking up an authentic and life-changing Zen Buddhist practice, please contact us about learning more. The Buffalo Zen Dharma Community is an affiliate of the Mountains and Rivers Order of Zen Buddhism centered at Zen Mountain Monastery in Mt. Tremper, NY, which was started by Roshi John Daido Loori.
The Buffalo Zen Dharma Community Organizing Council has met recently to discuss in-person gatherings. Unfortunately, with the rise in COVID cases, and Erie County now being listed by the CDC as being at high risk for getting COVID, the Council has decided to put off considering in-person gathering until after the first of September. This was quite the disappointment to the Council considering the excitement building for returning to in-person events. But, the Council thought this would be best. However, it was also thought that we should move ahead with preparations for in-person gatherings by scheduling a day in which the Tuesday night supplies such as meditation cushions and such, can be cleaned and ready to go once the decision is made to meet again in person. For the latest information, please click the button below and send us an email. Thank you.
With the sustained improvement in COVID cases and as more and more public places are opening up to our more normal way of interacting, the Buffalo Zen Dharma Community has also been exploring going back to in-person gatherings. Of the two places we meet (Westminster Presbyterian Church, and the Network of Religious Communities building), it appears that the first in-person gatherings will probably be at the Network of Religious Communities building as the COVID precaution goals are easier to meet there.
This does not mean that we will not continue to have an online presence as we have had in the past. However, due to the time and effort it takes to make the transition back from our online practice to our in-person practice, there may be a time in which the online Zoom practice options are put on hold. It appears as we plan that it will be easier to provide both an online Zoom presence at the same time as the actual in-person practice at the Network of Religious communities building for our once monthly half-day meditation sits.
Our tentative plan at this time is to look toward opening up to in-person gatherings after June 1st. For the latest information on our progress in moving in this direction, please come back to this monthly new blog to get the latest.
With Erie county now being designated as being a low risk area, and the COVID metrics being favorable, the Buffalo Zen Dharma Community Organizing Council has started the process of returning to in-person group events. The two main areas of review are the Tuesday night programs at Westminster Presbyterian Church and the monthly half-day meditations at the Network of Religious Communities building. There are a lot of things that need to be considered. A recent organizing council survey was sent out and this coming Saturday the 26th of March the council will be meeting to address only this one topic. Eventually, the ideas will be shared with the community (sangha) at large. One of the things that needs to be done is an the Organizing Counting being updated on what the COVID precautions at Westminster Presbyterian Church are at this time.
If anyone has an interest in sharing their opinion with the Organizing Council regarding in-group activities (their starting and how they will be run), please feel free to contact any member of the Organizing Council. Their contact information is listed on the "Members" page of this website
(https://www.buffalozen.org/members). Anyone may also share their opinion through the contact page of this website (https://www.buffalozen.org/contact.html)
With the Omicron COVID virus numbers dropping, and with no more problems with COVID at the monastery, there are now opportunities to practice at Zen Mountain Monastery. However, one has to be vaccinated and have a PCR COVID test that is negative within the last three days of arriving at the monastery. Also a test will be performed when the person arrives which will also need to be negative for the person to enter the monastic community. For those who are not able to participate in retreats at the monastery, there are online programs available to support our practice.
Sensei Hogen Green (pictured above) will be leading a retreat "Nuts & Bolts of Zen Practice: Great Determination. This retreat is open to anyone. In this retreat Sensei Hogan will explore how Great Determination manifests, its relationship with our spiritual intention and other perspective bearing on this essential quality of practice. Some of the questions that can arise in exploration of limitless determination: What is it? A feeling, and accomplishment, a demand? Where so I find this quality, even if I do not feel I have innate perseverance? How does this great determination encourage me? How does it discourage?
As usual there will be ample time for more questions and your thoughts you would like to share in this exploration. These sessions are open to anyone, and designed specifically with Practicing Members in mind.
For those interested in basic instruction, there is also an opportunity to get it directly from the MRO teachers and senior staff. This happens bimonthly and is available to anyone. This online opportunity helps one to learn how to sit zazen and establish a personalized practice space of your own. Participants will join the liturgy service at 9 a.m. on Livestream.com/MRO before joining this session on Zoom. There will be time for questions before switching back to Livestream for the dharma talk. Offered bimonthly. For more information visit: https://zmm.org/all-programs/
David Kozen Williams, MRO has been a formal student in the Mountains and Rivers Order since 1997.