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2016 SZBA conference

A report on Peg's trip to the Soto Zen Buddhist Association conference

10/05/16 01:16:pm

Dear Sangha-

I’ve just returned from the Soto Zen Buddhist Association conference in Maple Lake, Minnesota, and wanted to fill you in on this trip. Soto Zen Buddhist Association is an organization for Soto Zen priests and dharma transmitted teachers in the U.S. The setting was Camp Courage in the beautiful woods of Maple Lake, which were just beginning to be kissed by color. The conference theme was “Hearing the Cries of the World.”

Most of you know I was scheduled for two presentations there, the opening plenary session on Right Use of Power and the second-day plenary vision planning with the organization using Appreciative Inquiry. With 84 Zen teachers and priests from all over the country there, you can imagine I was rather anxious! I’ve read and studied and heard about so many of these distinguished teachers. Both presentations went very well and people were genuinely excited to learn about both of these topics. It was really marvelous to see them engaging in the experiential exercises, which were new to the conference.

We also learned about a new Japanese training temple complex, Tenpyozan, being built in California on the traditional Japanese plan. Akiba Roshi, the bishop of Soto Zen here talked about this dream, which has been shared by Suzuki, Maezumi, and Katagiri roshis, as well as the Japanese Soto Shu for many years. It is a 100-year building project, but they will have the main building completed in the next year or two, with some additional funding. Then they will begin offering training, in English, with programming adapted to American students. To raise funds, they have a roof tile naming project. If you make a contribution of $35, your name will be inscribed on a roof tile by the master tile maker, who is coming from Japan in March. If you are interested in learning more about this remarkable building project, or to contribute to it, the website is It was clear that the Soto Shu has great respect for the widespread sincere practice of Zen in America, and they really want to support us.

David Loy gave a brilliant talk on the environmental crisis and our Buddhist response from the Bodhisattva Vow. So Gaelyn Godwin from Houston Zen Center and I collaborated to invite him to come to Texas and give some talks and workshops in April. I’m really excited about this wonderful opportunity for our sangha!

We saw numerous other presentations and breakout sessions, which I am still absorbing. There was also a book signing for several books written by and featuring women teachers. I will leave them on the table in the study in case you are interested.

There were several ceremonies as part of this conference, including an opening ceremony, a memorial ceremony for members who died in the past two years, a women’s-only Ananda ceremony, the Dharma Heritage ceremony, and a closing ceremony. These ceremonies were in full robes, as was morning zazen. The rest of the time we wore rakusus. So there were a lot of costume changes! But morning zazen was marvelous sitting among so many Zen teachers, like sitting in the midst of a majestic mountain range.

The women’s only Ananda ceremony was created many hundreds of years ago by Buddhist nuns who kept it secret for fear the priests would take it away from them. It’s only in the last two hundred years or so that it has become known and celebrated openly. The ceremony expresses our gratitude to Ananda for convincing the Buddha to ordain women. In it, we learned and sang a song of 14 verses about Ananda’s life and death, made many bows, and recorded the ceremony to document it.

The Dharma Heritage ceremony was extremely moving. This ceremony formally and institutionally recognizes participants’ Dharma Transmission in the Soto Zen School. There were 24 of us participating this year, and I was happy to see a range of ages. We entered and did three bows, then a jundo (where you walk in procession, bowing, in front of everyone else, while they bow to you). Then we offered lavender buds (in place of incense), and chanted “The Merging of Difference and Unity” while the rest of the assembly circumambulated around us three times. We returned to our places in the assembly and then received our formal certificates one by one. Finally we chanted the Heart Sutra together and did three more bows. You can see me in formal robes receiving my Dharma Heritage certificate from Hozan Alan Senauke below.

I really appreciate all of your support for my representing our sangha in such distinguished company! Appamada is truly on the Zen map in an important way. Throughout the conference many people came up to me and asked whether I would bring the Right Use of Power or Appreciative Inquiry work to their sanghas, and I had opportunities to talk over meals and breaks with many others who were curious about and appreciative of our sangha’s organization and approach to Zen. I am grateful for our sincere and dedicated practice together!


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