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/
First the good news........
Mn. Bear Gokan Bonebakker has recently been given the title of Dharma Holder which means that he has formally begun the process to eventually receive Dharma transmission (Denbo). This is the highest level of formal training that is offered in Buddhist training.
Gokan first came to the Monastery in 1994, and received The Precepts in 2000 becoming a formal Buddhist. He has been in residence since 2007 and was ordained in 2014. He presently is the Operations Director, and also helps coordinate the National Buddhist Prison Sangha. He also works to maintain the monastery orchard.
Now the bad news....
Due to the newest COVID surge with the omicron variant, the monastery has again closed itself to outside participants. However this is expected to only be temporary. Nonetheless, when Zen Mountain Monastery may open again has not been determined. There will be periodic assessments and the goal is to open up again to the public when it is safe to do so. The Organizing Council of the Buffalo Zen Dharma Community mets monthly to reassess when we may open up to in-person gatherings. At the most recent meeting, it was decided that we would continue only with our Zoom options. However, opening up to in-person gatherings will still be assessed monthly.
Well, it has been a long time coming, but Zen Mountain Monastery has opened its doors to non-resident practitioners. Of course, the monastic staff are taking all appropriate precautions to maximize people's health. More specifically, this means being fully vaccinated and having a negative COVID PCR test within the last three days before their arrival at the monastery.
People interested in attending a retreat will have to contact the registrar (firstname.lastname@example.org) for more information.
The Buffalo Zen Dharma Community will continue to offer Zoom group practice opportunities through its usual Tuesday evening program. And it will also continue to offer monthly 1/2 day sits. The dates for these 1/2 day sessions will depend on other events in that month. There is planning going on for a full day practice opportunity (zazenkai) that is expected to be in January of 2021. So keep your ears and eyes open for the latest. If you are not on the mailing list, please do so by going to our "CONTACT" page.
As the local Buffalo Zen Dharma Community continues to meet online, spiritual progress continues. Besides the Tuesday night (7 PM -- 9 PM) program, there are monthly half-day meditation (half-day zazenkai) events on a Sunday morning (8:30 AM -- 11:30 AM). And now the Organizing Council is looking to have an all-day practice event in January to ring in the new year which will not only include zazen (meditation), but a senior monastic talk and oryoki (the formal taking of a meal in meditation setting).
Training of course continues at Zen Mountain Monastery where there have been changes in the monastic staff. Two residents at Zen Mountain Monastery have taken steps to advance their monastic training.
Julia Jiryu Krupa became a postulant monastic in a brief ceremony on March 5th. Postulancy is the first stage of monasticism, a way for someone discerning their spiritual calling to lean a little further into the home-leaving life without yet taking any formal vows. For Jiryu, as with anyone who enters postulancy, the question of monasticism is something that she's already been exploring for several years. She became a student of Shugen Roshi's in 2010 while living in NYC and had also done extensive residential training with the San Francisco Zen Center and their Tassajara Mountain Center before stepping into residency at Zen Mountain Monastery in early 2018. Previously Jiryu worked as an architect and later in restaurants having graduated from the Natural Gourmet Institute in 2013. She currently manages the Monastery Store, a position she has held for several years with dedication and grace. She has served as liturgist among other roles, and regularly lends both her drafting skills and her food preparation training for the benefit of all the sangha.
Jeffrey Kien Martin had a novice ceremony at the Monastery on Sunday, April 18th. Kien is currently the Monastery cook (among other responsibilities), but his involvement with the Monastery goes back two and a half decades. After starting a career in engineering, Kien completed two years of residency at the Monastery in the late nineties. He went on to teach english in Italy and also lived in New Mexico, New York City, and Germany, but he always maintained his connection with ZMM and Fire Lotus Temple, often spending a month in residency in the summertime.
In 2016, Kien returned to full time residential training and became a postulant one year later. Now, as he takes on the robes of a novice, Kien will further eplore the monastic vows and train in the role of a monastic, though it's worth noting that one does not formally commit to those vows until full ordination, leaving the discernment process open to further clarification. Those lifetime vows are: simplicity, service, selflessness, stability, and following the path of the Buddha
However this has not turned out to be the case. There is significant resistance to getting the vaccine, and on top of this, the new deadly Delta variant has spread causing more problems. This makes us question if we will ever return to a pre-COVID normal state of activities, and if now is the new normal.
The organizing council of the Buffalo Zen Dharma Community which meets monthly has addressed these questions. And a recent letter from the organizing council member David Genwa Nelson recently was sent out to the sangha expressing the council's latest conclusion on this issue. It is presented below.
Organizing Council letter to the sangha
Many people have been asking about when the Buffalo Zen Dharma Community will be returning to Westminster Presbyterian Church (WPC) for in-person gatherings. This email is intended to let you know what the current situation is.
WPC has indicated the requirements for any group using the church are that everyone wear a mask at all times and social distancing is followed. This presents two problems. 1) In warmer weather we use a climate controlled area of the church. We wouldn't be able to do this and maintain social distance forcing us to use Parish Hall (where we meet during cooler months). 2) Parish Hall is often much hotter than the temperature outside. This in combination with mask wearing could result in dangerous conditions for those with breathing issues.
With the recent Covid19 variant strains and mutations, the Organizing Council has decided to take a wait and see approach. Zoom offers a stable platform for members to meet without risk. The Organizing Council will continue to meet monthly and assess when a return to in person practice is prudent.
If you have not previously practiced with us and would like to learn more please get in touch with Carolyn Keirin Alif. If you have practiced with us in the past and would like to join our zoom sessions on Tuesday evenings, please contact Christine Ansei Nelson.
David Genwa Nelson
Well, the long-awaited Jizo House has finally opened! And this is good news for the sangha. It opens up the possibility for sangha members who may be infirm or disabled from age or medical conditions to come to Zen Mountain Monastery to practice. It was designed to match the style of the main monastery building on the outside, but with more space available than the old Jizo House for the monastery's dye studio and statuary. It also has space for processing honey from the property's bee hives, and for general storage. It also has a transition room for convalescent and end of life care for the monastics. In the video below, Gokan, one of the senior monastics will take the viewer on a tour of the Jizo House, with an explanation of its structure and use. He also discusses other changes at the monastery as part of the larger Jizo Project to help those who are infirm to continue their practice at the monastery.
Mn. Shoan Ankele
Danica Shoan Ankele is a Dharma Holder and Senior Monastic in the Mountains and Rivers Order. A native of New York City, she first came to the Monastery as a sophomore in college and has been in full time residential training since 2007. She became a senior student in 2009 and took full monastic ordination with Shugen Roshi in 2015. Shoan is the Monastery’s Creative Director and Training Coordinator. She also oversees our Tenkozan line of statues and naturally dyed fabrics, designed and produced on the Monastery grounds.
David Kozen Williams, MRO has been a formal student in the Mountains and Rivers Order since 1997.