New Year’s Greetings, 2011
As we welcome the New Year 2011 in the Western calendar, the Year of the Rabbit in the Chinese Zodiac, I invite everyone first of all to take a deep breath, right there as you read this page, and appreciate for yourself the blessing that you are. And as we do so, in that same breath, each of us can also appreciate the blessing that we are to one another as sangha, the community of those who walk the path of awakening together.
According to Chinese tradition, the Year of the Rabbit is one wherein we are to catch our breath and calm ourselves. It is a time for deliberation and consultation. We are enjoined to resist the temptation to force issues through, as this way of going about things will lead to failure. This is a time to focus on home, family, our immediate circle of loved ones, our relationships with one another and with the Earth.
In this spirit, I would like to focus my remarks on our practice community, and also focus my own time and efforts for this coming year on continuing to walk with everyone in developing our sense of sangha, our com-pan-ionship in this path of Zen practice. As we all know, the word “com-pan-ion” comes from the Latin which means “those with whom we break bread together.” My primary role as your teacher is of course to continue to walk with each of you individually in this path of awakening. I value the time we actually spend together sitting in the same zendo in one another’s physical presence, as I also value the precious moments I can meet with you individually in dokusan. From this year on I would also like to be more engaged in matters that will be conducive to building sangha spirit, promoting our sense of being community together. Allow me to outline below some concrete steps I intend to take in this regard.
I will work closely with our co-teachers at Maria Kannon Zen Center, namely Valerie Forstman, Helen Cortes, Maria Habito, and Lee Ann Nail, so that we can help one another as a team in being your guide in this path. Incidentally, I take this opportunity to convey to you what I announced at the Rohatsu sesshin of 2010 held in Chico, Texas, that I have formally appointed Lee Ann Nail as Assistant Teacher of the Maria Kannon Zen Community. Based in Salem, Oregon, where a group of practitioners look to her for leadership and guidance, she will continue to practice with me toward cultivating her own gifts of helping others in this path.
I will also work more closely with the Board of Directors, your duly elected representatives who take care of the logistical matters that support our shared practice, including our finances, our facilities, our venues for practice, as well as our public persona and legal responsibilities as a non-profit organization in the State of Texas. The Board has recently initiated some steps in canvassing the views of sangha members on our vision for the future related to our Hunnicut facility, and I will cooperate with them in this venture. Helen Cortes, at the service of the entire sangha as our Executive Director, works with the Board on the above matters, and we are all grateful to her in the various services she renders to the sangha. In addition to her work with the Board, she also continues to assist me in practice matters as Head Monitor (working with Chris Runk), in our regular orientation sessions that provide instruction for beginners who wish to take up this practice (together with a team whom I myself will designate and guide more closely in this important work), and also in giving talks and presentations on themes related to our practice to the wider public.
I will continue walking with and look forward to deepening the bonds begun with the MKZC Precept Study group, an ongoing group of around 50 members (including around 10 “distance participants”) who have committed to come together monthly for a sixteen-month period to study the Sixteen Bodhisattva Precepts together under my guidance. This group study will hopefully not only bolster and deepen our individual practice, but also strengthen our bonds to one another as sangha, we learn together and from one another and challenge one another on the concrete and practical implications of living as a Bodhisattva (a being-towards-awakening) and embodying this in our own communities and the wider society. I will also work with individuals and small voluntary groups who seek ways of embodying our practice vis-à-vis the wider community, so please be in touch with me regarding initiatives in this regard.
Now I would like to make an appeal to each of you as a member of this Maria Kannon Zen sangha, especially those who live within reasonable proximity of our facility, our MKZC Hunnicut Zendo. Our practice, needless to say, entails taking time to sit in silence in our day to day schedule on an individual basis. I would also like to invite you to commit to a time that suits your own life rhythm, to come and sit with the community at the Zendo on a regular basis, during those given times group sitting is provided on our schedule. I especially would like to invite you to make an effort to be present at our regular monthly zazenkai, and lend your presence on this occasion as your way of enhancing your own sense of belonging and connecting in a deeper and more palpable way to the entire sangha.
I conclude this message with the invitation to each one, once more, to take a deep breath, in gratitude for the sangha that we have in one another, for the support we continue to receive from one another, as we walk together in the path of awakening, toward transformation of self and of society.
With earnest wishes that the Year of the Rabbit be an auspicious one for each of you, with palms joined in reverence and gratitude,