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.
Ron Hogen Green is a husband, father, grandfather, sports-enthusiast, retired podiatrist, and a lay teacher in the Mountains and Rivers Order. Hogen Sensei formally began practicing Zen in 1978 with Philip Kapleau Roshi, shortly after graduating medical school and entering private practice. In time, Hogen and his wife, Cindy Eiho Green, helped run the Denver Zen Center, an affiliate of Kapleau Roshi’s Rochester Zen Center. He attended his first retreat at Zen Mountain Monastery in 1988, and not long after began studying with Daido Roshi. In 1993, Hogen completed his training in the Kapleau Lineage and was designated a senior student in the Mountains and Rivers Order. He and Eiho left Denver in 1995 and entered full time residency at ZMM. At the Monastery, Hogen served as Director of Operations for Dharma Communications for 10 years and, in 2000, ordained as a monastic.
In 2007, Hogen Sensei returned to lay life, spending time with family while continuing to play an active role in the MRO, its practice centers and affiliates. In 2016, he received dharma transmission from Shugen Roshi, becoming the first lay teacher in the Order. He served as co-director of the Zen Center of NYC for a number of years and currently divides his time between rural Pennsylvania and South Florida.
Jody Hojin Kimmel, Sensei received the priestly transmission (the transmission of the Precepts) from Daido Roshi, who began the process in 2009, and from Shugen Roshi, who completed the transmission in 2012. In 2017, she received full dharma transmission from Shugen Roshi. She serves as the Training Director for the Mountains and Rivers Order and Abbess of the Zen Center of NYC. Hojin Sensei began her artistic career early and has taught drawing, ceramics, and painting, opening people up to the wonders and mysteries of the creative process. She has been in full-time residential training at the Monastery since 1990.
Hojin Sensei has visited Buffalo multiple times for several annual meditation retreats (sesshins) hosted by the Buffalo Zen Dharma Community. And she continues to support our sangha. Before she came to Zen Mountain Monastery, she studied art which she has used in her working with students in the Mountains and Rivers Order of Zen Buddhism to develop their art practice--one of the Eights Gates of Zen training. Her style of teaching is very warm, personable, and encouraging--not at all like the foreboding Zen Masters of Zen history. She will probably be remembered most by me forher kindness when she officiated my father's funeral. Now that she is a sensei, and she has more responsibilities not only at Zen Mountain Monastery but also at the Fire Lotus Temple in New York City, she may not be as available for our retreats as before. But, she will always be welcome; we hope to see her soon!
When will the Buffalo Zen Dharma Community return to its usual activities? This is the question for our sangha. The short answer is we don’t know. There are many factors that come into play in answering this question. What does the Center for Disease Control recommend? What do the facilities we use have to say about when we may return and what are the requirements to return? When does the sangha feel comfortable returning? What do local and state authorities have to say about communities of faith returning to their usual activities? What kind of cleaning, disinfection, and ventilation requirements are there going to be once group activities start up? In the State of New York communities of faith are slowly coming back to group settings. However, it takes a lot of planning to meet safety requirements.
The Zen Center of New York City, Fire Lotus Temple has published its Re-opening Guidelines. But the number of practitioners who may return for a group sit is very much less than their normal. And if we are to return to Westminster Presbyterian Church, who will be the people assigned to make sure we are following these required guidelines?
A recent poll of the Buffalo Zen Dharma Community has revealed that most of the sangha members are not interested in returning to our usual group activities at this time. We have started a dialog with Westminster on our return which they say may happen as soon as June first. But, due to the current preference of the sangha members to continue with our Zoom meetings, we are not making plans now to start group activities. Rather, we are looking to re-consider when we are going to return to Westminster later this fall.
Future posts on this blog will update where the Buffalo Zen Dharma Community is in the journey back to group activities at Westminster Presbyterian Church.
Even though we have not started up group activities and are not spending money on events which can cost a lot, donations are still very much appreciated to maintain our Zoom capabilities and internet presence. Donations are still very much welcome and can be sent to:
Buffalo Zen Dharma Community
165 Warsaw Street, Unit 330
Depew, NY 14043
Even though not all of the Zen Mountain Monastery monastic staff will be visiting the Buffalo Zen Dharma Community, there are those who will. To help those who come in contact with us know these staff members better, this post and subsequent others will help introduce them.
John Daido Loori, Roshi | Founding Teacher (1931-2009)Daido Roshi was the founder of Zen Mountain Monastery and the Mountains and Rivers Order, and served as the guiding teacher for almost 30 years. A holder of the Soto and Rinzai Zen lineages, Daido Roshi drew on his background as a scientist, artist, naturalist, parent and Zen priest to establish a uniquely American Zen Buddhist training center. He is the author of numerous books, including The Eight Gates of Zen and The Zen of Creativity. Daido Roshi gave dharma transmission to Bonnie Myotai Treace, Geoffrey Shugen Arnold, and Konrad Ryushin Marchaj.
Click here for a link to some remembrances of Daido Roshi, published in Tricycle Magazine shortly after his death. Or watch an 18-minute video tribute to Daido Roshi that draws on his own words by clicking the button below.
Early in my years practicing Buddhism, John Daido Loori said that he was charged with creating an American form of Buddhism by his teacher Maezumi Roshi. Daido Roshi pointed out that Buddhism takes its own form in each country and culture it enters. This made me wonder what would Buddhism be like in the United States of America after it had been here for 100 years.
The following article appeared in the Sangha News of the Mountains and Rivers Order this past January which helps answer this question.
Awakening Justice: MLK Jr 2021
JANUARY 28 · BEYOND FEAR OF DIFFERENCES, SANGHA NEWS
By Taikyo Gilman
Honoring the legacy of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. was not on the MRO’s annual calendar of events until sangha member Tanya Bonner brought it up. She asked the teachers, Why do I have to go somewhere else outside of my practice community to honor this ancestor? While not a Buddhist, Rev. King embodied the moral and ethical faith imperative to respond to suffering in his lifetime. So, planning began for the first annual event held in January 2019, organized by Tanya, other Black and POC sangha members and MRO staff.
Simultaneous MLK Jr. events at Brooklyn’s ZCNYC Temple and upstate’s Monastery were powerful reminders of the bodhisattva activity in the world, and the sangha’s deep need to honor our connection with these ancestors who support us in our moral and ethical precepts—in social and racial justice work—within dharma practice.
This year’s 2021 MLK events were sobering reminders of how entrenched the violence, trauma and racialized inequality continues to be in our nation. Many months in the planning, Hojin Sensei and Tanya developed Brave Together: A Conversation Panel with Black sangha members and special guest Pamala Ayo Yetunde, co-editor and author of Black and Buddhist: What Buddhism Can Teach Us about Race, Resilience, Transformation, and Freedom for mid-January.
Joined by sangha members Yama Faye and Degna Chikei Levister, the four panelists took up questions related to how they encountered Buddhism and connected with the Dharma, and their experiences as Black practitioners entering this and other sangha communities. A lively discussion brought to light the challenges of creating sangha and the need for more awareness of the bias and confusion that are part of being conditioned, cultured beings. We all need to be brave and stay open, to stay vulnerable and genuine when we hesitate or blunder, trusting with openness and integrity.
On Sunday the Monastery and virtual sangha honored MLK Jr. with an event created by Black sangha members, Awakening Justice, to bring into the room an awareness of on-going struggle. Sangha member Carmen Phelps organized a reading of over 155 names of Black people murdered by police from January to August of 2020—and the acknowledgment of others yet unnamed—was a stark reminder that racial bias is still a dynamic source of trauma and pain. We honor all who work to change systemic bias and to uproot racial violence and hatred.
The morning included dharma words from Hojin Sensei and Shugen Roshi and featured a short video created by Yama Faye and the planning committee showing the stark reality of neighborhood inequity in food, housing, policing and green spaces in a five mile ride from Yama’s home in Brownsville to Boerum Hill where the ZCNYC Temple is located, giving a visual experience of these differences in real time.
Aware of these persistent inequities and our Bodhisattva vow to alleviate suffering, an increasing number of sangha members are engaging in social justice as an integral part of their dharma practice. More than half of last ango’s participants engaged in study sessions on anti-racism work as dharma practice, many for the first time but also many with experience spanning decades of engagement in social justice and personal study. Some may be studying on their own, and the teachers and the sangha want to encourage everyone who has not yet taken up this bodhisattva practice and study to step in.
It is important—imperative—for the MRO sangha to be creating a shared, public dialogue across the silences with events of this kind, and study such as “What is Whiteness,” exploring the harm of entrenched, persistent inequity and bias. Our different experiences and unique circumstances need to be clearly understood and expressed, regardless of where we are coming from. Together we take up this living vow to bring an end to all suffering, trauma and injustice.
Being an affiliate of the Mountains and Rivers Order, the Buffalo Zen Dharma Community gets outstanding support not only in terms of spiritual direction and leadership, but also in practice opportunities. Since Zen Mountain Monastery was founded by John Daido Loori in 1980, it has continued to grow and meet the needs of all who visit. One of the most recent and significant developments is the building of Jizo House.
In order to accommodate the aging members of its sangha (near the monastery and abroad), it became clear that new facilities needed to be created. The old Jizo House as pictured above was showing its age. Infirm structures and poor moisture control were problems that could not be corrected. So a funding drive for a new Jizo House started and was successful in providing the funds for its construction. Below is a picture of the new Jizo House built just in time for the colder and wetter weather.
With this new building the square footage has markedly increased, to 4800 square feet, allowing for three bathrooms instead of one, and significantly more beds for retreatants. It will also offer specified accommodations for end-of-life care for monastics, which Zen Mountain Monastery did not have before. It also offers improved mobility options which did not exist before, allowing those with ambulation difficulties the ability to continue to participate in retreats. This project also includes the creation of a lift in the main building, which was sorely needed to also improve participant mobility. This new Jizo House will have a larger multipurpose room than before, and now it will also offer a full finished basement for monastic projects and activities. The new Jizo House will also have a kitchenette and dining area, which was not in the old Jizo House.
The sangha members of the Buffalo Zen Dharma Community have had a long history of frequent trips to Zen Mountain Monastery to participate in its various programs and residencies. Now, with the building of this new Jizo House, the sangha members have the option of going there as they age and have aging challenges.
With this new residence our elder sangha members, as well as retreatants with disabilities, will now have the opportunities to participate that were not available before due to design limitations at Zen Mountain Monastery. The modern facilities will broaden the ability of those with limitations to continue to study, practice, and socialize with the wider sangha membership well into their later years.