Today is a pivotal day, a turning point in my path of practice. As some of you may have heard, I am taking up the role of Guiding Teacher at Empty Hand Zen Center in New Rochelle, New York. I write this post from the plane, as I travel from California to New York. I’ve packed all of my belongings – the books, altar items, and the clothes of a nun. I’ve sent those things ahead, boxes traveling across the mountains and plains on their way to the eastern shores of the US.
However, even if those things did not arrive at the Zen Center, I’d still have everything I need. For, as the poet Basho so eloquently put it,
I set out on a journey of a thousand leagues, packing no provisions.
That is to say, I meet that which arises in the moment, with a fresh eye, not reliant on the physical supports but on the ability to respond.
I’ve bowed the many bows, given and received many hugs, and even shared some tears with my local Dharma family. It’s a big family – the students, faculty and staff of the Institute of Buddhist Studies, the Graduate Theological Union, the nuns of Aloka Vihara and Karuna Buddhist Vihara, and the residents and students of San Francisco Zen Center and of Berkeley Zen Center. The many streams of Buddhism are related, all part of the Great Ocean, but they need to remain independent of each other in order to nourish the land.
In the end, what does this move mean for you, the readers of Jakuen Zen?
For some it means that you were my local sangha, and are now my long-distance sangha. We continue to practice together, but it will be a practice of staying in tune with each other’s words and voices, more than with each other’s bodies. It may mean that the blog becomes more important, a taste of the teachings of the moment as seen from afar. In a way, reading any sort of dharma is like this. It is a window into another person’s practice. You can look in the window and relate it to your own experience, and you may or may not be living something similar.
For some it’s not much of a change, you were part of the mahasangha (“greater,” as in broader, sangha) and you will continue to be.
For still others, you may find that we are now local sangha, sharing the space between the brick walls of the Zen Center, sitting, standing, or walking. With the local sangha, we will carry out the traditional forms as they find their expression in our particular place and time. Our practice will be inevitably informed by American culture and the English language, but it will also find expression in Latino culture and in Spanish. I hope that we will find the points of contact with tradition to be many and varied. And I’d like to take practice out of the zendo (meditation hall), and into the world through service and dialogue with those who are looking for connection.
Empty Hand Zen Center Zendo
Generally, for everyone, this change means that there will be many more opportunities to practice with me. By taking up the Guiding Teacher role, I am committed to the life of a temple priest – sitting zazen and chanting daily, offering Dharma talks several times a week, and leading workshops on Zen arts such as sutra copying and gardening.
Given this opportunity for greater focus, I plan to continue writing and to begin to offer online study groups. Please pay a visit to www.ekanzenstudycenter.org for future blog posts and more information about how to study with me.
Finally, I want to share gratitude for my teachers Shosan Victoria Austin and Sekkei Harada Roshi, both of whom have shown unwavering confidence in the Dharma as it expresses itself through me. It is my pleasure to repay the teachings by continuing to share the practice of Zen. I may not be packing any provisions, but I am prepared to pick the fruits and be nourished by them.