All posts by Sojun Mel Weitsman

Circular Sangha

Dear Sangha,

If someone were to ask me what would make me happy, I would say sitting together with a diverse group of people from all corners of the world, even though, because the world is more or less round, there are no real corners. We all belong to this great circular form whirling in space. Ever since I can remember I have been either thrilled or brought to tears experiencing people from diverse cultures or orientations working together in loving harmony.
When we opened the zendo in 1967, I thought of it as a grassroots endeavor where people from around here could find a zazen practice that they could devote themselves to for however long or short a time worked for them. Over time this vision has developed, and little by little a diverse group of members from all over the world have found their way here. We have folks from the deep midwest USA to Afghanistan and Japan.
I went through the BZC directory to verify all of this, and this is what I found. Our sangha includes members from both emigration and heritage, and here it is: Iranian, many Jews, French, Native American, African, English, Japanese, German, Korean, Norwegian, Irish, Chinese, Scottish, Finnish, Afghani, Italian, Mexican, Latino, East Indian, Spanish, Swedish, Danish, Dutch, Turkish, Filipino, diverse Europeans that are hard to classify, diverse Asians, multiple mixes, and many unknowns. ALL EQUAL AND EACH ONE UNIQUE.
A teacher’s meeting space is called the Hojo. It is Vimalakirti’s 6 x 6 room where multitudes of beings fit comfortably and there is always space for more. My teacher Suzuki Roshi’s Hojo was his vast compassionate mind, which could expand to encompass the entire universe with all its beings. This is what I wish for all of you. It’s not as hard as one might think.
I feel honored to have been able to practice with you all these years and to continue to practice with you in this wonderful inconvenient time, figuring it all out together and expressing our mutual support.
From this small corner of the circular world let us set an example for those around us. Please remember to make the best of this present situation and don’t get caught wondering when it will be over. The characteristic of our practice is to find our uprightness in our present topsy-turvy situation, moment by moment. If you find your balance in this moment, you can find it in the next. As Adam said to Buddha, “Here am I.”

—Sojun Roshi

COVID-19 – A Message from Sojun Roshi

Message from Sojun Roshi

The persecutions of Buddhism in the Tang Dynasty in China forced
Zen monks to flee to the mountains where they thrived. Today we are
forced to find our monks’ life in semi-isolation. What a great
opportunity to practice zazen and various forms of contemplation. This
wonderful opportunity is bringing forth our creativity as a sangha,
setting up the guideposts for the future. This present situation,
dangerous and uncertain as it is, must be an inescapable field of
innovative practice for all of us. Let’s continue to make good use of
this opportunity.

Practice Has No Gaps

Dear Sangha,

Being that we are so well informed, the state of our virus situation needs no more information from me. But what I do wish to talk about is how we manage, or practice as a Zen student in this trying time. We always talk about how in this Saha world (of suffering), facing our trials and difficulties is the ground where our personal dramas are played out. What we are dealing with now is no exception. This is a great test for our practice.

Every one of our lives has been altered. Some will not go back to the way it was and for them life will never be the same. Others will not be so affected. For many of us, both the present and future are tragic and unknown. For some, the shut-down is a kind of blessing; a relief from the day-to-day grind, and a chance to lay down the burden while the curtain is open.

Whatever the circumstances, at this time we all share the imposed condition of personal confinement. The Zen temple, the center of our shared practice with its AM and PM schedule, the talks, interviews, classes, and the immovable bedrock that we are sure is always there suddenly has exploded. The pieces have scattered, and a complete piece has landed in your lap and my lap. For now, each one of us is on our own, confined to our personal hermitage.

We are used to practicing all together in one space in the Japanese fashion. Now we need to adjust to the solo meditation way as is done in other countries. I suggest that you set up an altar where you sit if you don’t already have one, and offer flowers or incense before you sit. When you make a meal, do an offering. This is a good time to study one of those Buddhist books that has been taking up space on your shelf and flashing at you every time you walk by. The fundamental thing is to not dwell on when you are going to be released, but to completely live your life situation right here, one moment at a time.

This is a time to look at the tide pool of your environment and let those things that have always been there but you rarely see, reveal themselves. Everything is significant. This is how we do zazen continuously.

Instead of seeing this confinement as an imposition, it can be seen and be experienced as an opportunity. It’s great that we have Zoom and other forms of communication, and that our practice leadership is working hard to keep the ship afloat. Another suggestion is that we take advantage of the practice leaders’ offering of dokusan and practice instruction. So there are two sides; one is to keep the lines of communication flowing, and the other is to enjoy our solitude.

Blessings to all, and I am always open to your call.

Sojun Mel

from my cozy full service zendo

Letter from Sojun Roshi

Dear Sangha,

I want to express my gratitude to all of you and wish you a satisfying and healthy year in 2020. Although I have nothing against happiness, I avoid using that word here, and maintain that a healthy and satisfying life is a happy one.
I am greatly encouraged by the constancy of your practice and the way the temple has been taken care of while I was on sabbatical last year, and during my recent illness since mid-September. I want to express my gratitude to our board of directors and the leadership of the Vice Abbot, who pay attention to the maintenance, infrastructure, finances, and major issues that effect all of us.
I want to thank all of you members for your willingness to pay your dues and to make contributions: the support that keeps us rolling along. And of course the balance of daily participation among the practice leaders and members willing to take positions, have dokusan and practice discussion, attend classes, dharma groups, and
teisho (lectures). All of this has made for a strong sangha based on mutual encouragement, which has been a great support for me at this time.
Currently I have been tolerating my chemotherapy without side effects, which enables me to move around easily and continue my practice at the zendo. Given the situation of being a 90-year-old with cancer, I do need my fair share of rest. So I sleep a bit late most mornings and have been attending afternoon zazen. I see members mostly semiformally in my office, or informally. I make appointments online.
I remember Suzuki Roshi saying that when what you have to do and what you want to do are the same, your discriminating mind is under control. This is shikantaza: just doing, and a secret of happiness.