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 (email@example.com) 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.
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.