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 www.tenpyozan.org. 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!
I've been working on the typography after reading a post on Medium, "Your Body Text is Too Small," by Christian Miller. This resulted in an increase in the body text. I tried a variety of sizes, from 20px to 26px, and I think for our layout 20px is best. That way, the size of the scaled up headings don't become too gargantuan. Our former body text size was 16px, which is an older standard. I think it will be easier to read on mobile devices as well. There is a lot of information about typography on the web in this article. I also increased the line height to 1.5X the font size, or 30px for the body text. As people begin to beta test for us, I will be interested in how they feel about it. The article argues that people are perfectly accustomed to scrolling, so we should not be afraid of text-heavy pages even at these larger sizes. I tend to agree. People will bail if it gets to be too much and they can always return to read more. I am not a fan of sending them to another page to read more unless it is like a book chapter, which is not the case for us.
I am heartened by a shift I am seeing, in the way we treat illness and affliction. Once it was taboo to talk openly about them. In some cases, people did not even tell their closest relatives and friends that they were suffering from a serious condition like cancer, high blood pressure, heart disease. Even more taboo was any mention of psychological or emotional conditions such as depression or anxiety. It wasn’t considered “polite,” it made us appear vulnerable or broken, and it made people “uncomfortable.”
People who were afflicted feared being shunned or pitied, dreaded the “help” that wasn’t really help, consoling words that were empty, and “care” that wasn’t really caring. People avoided those with serious conditions because they didn’t know what to say, or what to do. And, after all, it wasn’t their condition. They would inquire politely of a friend or relative, “and how is poor Steven?” So the person with the “problem” was rather isolated, both through self-censorship and through the social norms of what was considered appropriate to talk about.
But real life is insistent, it is sometimes bloody and naked and raw.
We have come to a turning where it is now a common practice to share what were once too intimate details about our health and our psyche. There are even websites (thank you, Caring Bridge!) where those details can be widely shared on a regular basis as a person’s healing or dying journey unfolds.
It may cause some discomfort, but the really amazing thing is how it has connected us at a deeper and more genuine level. Rather than being shunned, those who share with us their struggles allow us to bear witness and offer mindful, energetic, and appropriate care—appamada. And more and more, these folks are seen as resources for learning how to meet our own suffering, and that of those we love, with some grace and presence and curiosity.
It is painful to witness the suffering of others, it breaks our hearts, but as is often said, it breaks them open. We celebrate the victories of the afflicted, no matter how small, in treatment and ordinary living, and we are present for the dark moments on that path, knowing that between the well and the afflicted there is no true boundary. What a profound offering we receive from those who are willing to be vulnerable in sharing their journey. Our practice is to receive this offering fully and gratefully and to respond wholeheartedly with our Buddha heart and mind.
This week, two of our sangha members had good news on their path of meeting cancer, one of our sangha members faced a shooting in his own school, one of our sangha members saw his beloved dog killed by a car. Please know that this formless field of benefaction, this container we call sangha, is boundless; it can hold all of that and more. I am so deeply moved that we can share our lives so intimately, bear witness to all that is moving in us, and that we are privileged to offer each other the healing nectar of presence and care.
I'd like to begin loading classes and intensives, starting with this year and then going back to 2015. I don't know how far I will get before I go to Chicago. I should check on when v. 8 of Concrete 5 will show up.
This afternoon I uploaded the rest of the 2015 Dharma talks, all of the Way-Seeking Mind talks, and about half of the 2015 inquiry talks. If Version 8 breaks this site, I will be really hosed. But perhaps everything will transition smoothly. One can hope.
Welcome! These programs are open for everyone.
Monday—Friday 6:30-7:30 AM
Sunday 8:00-11:00 AM
Zazen, service, and dharma talk
Sunday 8:00-9:00 AM
Tuesday 12:30-1:30 PM
Wednesday 7:30-8:45 PM
Wednesday evening program
More activities can be found on the Appamada Calendar
913 East 38th St
Austin, TX 78705 (Map)
Please be mindful of our neighbors. Additional Parking is available in the Cafe Hornitos parking lot at the corner of 38th St. and the I-35 frontage road, one block east of Appamada.×