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.