by Sid Simpson and Ray Estabrook
The New year at SMZC has gotten off to an exciting start beginning January 8 with our traditional New Year’s One-Day Sitting followed by a visit from the Sonoma Academy January 13 in which 18 students attended an all day Introduction to Zen program led by Shinko. January 15-21 we hosted the Annual Hollow Bones Retreat which is always a pleasure and provides exposures us to a somewhat different spiritual tradition.
The month of February was taken up by our Winter Practice Period known as Ango. The 27-day period included six daily sittings, 108 prostrations, formal oryoki meals, study, chanting and work practice to enhance mindfulness. Our Shuso, or Head Student, for the month was Joe Jogan Richards. His theme was “If we don’t find Nirvana within Samsara there is nowhere we can find Nirvana” taken from Shohaku Okumura’s new book, Realizing Genjokoan. It was a very inspiring experience due in large part to Joe’s insightful, quiet and gentle guidance.
Winter Ango participants after Ango sesshin – Feb. 20, 2011
Included within Ango was a seven-day sesshin of intensive sitting involving 10 periods of zazen a day and interviews, or dokusan, with Kwong-roshi. It all concluded on Saturday, February 26 with the traditional mondo, or Revealing the Self Ceremony. in which the participants had the opportunity to ask dharma questions of Shuso Joe designed to reveal the truth of practice.
One of the “extras” that emerged from this year’s Winter Ango was a series of meetings in which Roshi met with his disciples and senior students to discuss and prepare the groundwork for the continuance of Zen practice in all three of our Sanghas - not just on Sonoma Mountain but in Poland and Iceland as well - assuring the perpetuation of the “Everyday Zen” taught by Kwong-roshi and his teacher Suzuki-roshi.
On March 4-5, we had an overnight visit by 18 students of Professor John Nelson from the University of San Francisco who participated in our Saturday program. That turned out to be a very busy weekend as we also hosted an all day Introduction to Zen Workshop led by Nyoze Kwong. It provided an introduction to Zen teachings, forms, ritual, instruction on zazen and basic Zen concepts as a foundation for Zen practice.
On the heels of that came the Spring Study Group for six weeks commencing March 8. Kwong-roshi and Shinko headed the Tuesday evening discussions of Suzuki-roshi’s Branching Streams Flow In The Darkness.
Another One-day Sitting, focusing on “Actualizing Now-Moment,” occurred on Saturday, March 12, followed by our Annual Spring Workfest on March 26. If you have never participated, your missing out on a wonderful experience as Sangha members, families and friends come together in a traditional “Barn-Raising” effort which provides, not only a wonderful opportunity to put your Zen in gear but, lots of fun together with lots of good food and snacks!
We recently began a series of monthly discussion groups. On March 10th Mark “Seiyu” Adams led us in a spirited session of sharing about our practice and how we came to Zen. We brainstormed ideas for future meetings, including oryoki, form in the zendo, maintaining your practice at home and in your daily life, and sharing videos and information about our Zen history and practice. We hope to make these meetings responsive to the needs and interests of the participants as we encourage each other to continue and deepen our practice. These meetings are not dharma talks or study groups; they are more an opportunity to engage in discussion and ask questions of each other. The next two meetings are scheduled for April 14th and May 12th.
Please join us!
Still to come at this writing, Buddha’s Birthday Sesshin, April 6-9, culminating with our big Buddha’s Birthday Celebration on Sunday, April 10, from 1-4 p.m. The ceremony takes place from 1-1:45 p.m., and will be followed by an Outdoor Reception from 2-4 p.m. You will want to bring prepared food ready to serve and flowers for offering.
April 15-17 we will again be hosting the Shambhala Drala weekend which will bring us to Saturday, April 23 and our Sangha Day Potluck. There will be a short period of zazen followed by an opportunity for not only new members but everyone to renew their vows and to offer incense in the zendo. We hope everyone will be able to join us for the Sangha meeting and potluck. This will be an important meeting. At the last meeting, we discussed some of the impact that roshi’s decreased presence has had on the Zen Center. There have been several very positive moves that the Zen Center has made to support the dharma on the mountain since then. We will report on some of those, such as the Wisteria Wind meeting, the developing mentor program, and the monthly discussion group. The question we want to work with at the meeting is, “What can we at SMZC do to more fully support you in your practice?” Please come and engage in the ongoing dialogue with your sangha and share your thoughts and suggestions.