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Shohaku Okumura  cuke page

Shohaku Okumura writes:

The Buddha has moved to Bloomington; and I will follow him.

I am writing this in Minneapolis at 6a.m. on the New Year Day of 2003. Here we have unusually warm winter. It seems that, in these day, weather is always unusual everywhere. Before I came back to Minneapolis, we had a lot of rain in San Francisco. Probably, to be unusual is not unusual any more. This is quite unusual.

When I went to Bloomington last month for the Sanshin Rohatsu sesshin, I put the statue of Shakyamuni Buddha, that have been enshrined at Kishin Zendo in LA and in my room at SFZC after moving to SF as the main Buddha of Sanshin ZC, in my back pack and took it to Bloomington. So the Buddha has already moved to Bloomington and I will follow him this year.

Not putting a cart in front of the horse

For last twenty years, in Japan and in America, I have been making efforts to create a practice place where I can practice zazen following my teacher Uchiyama Roshi’s style, study Dogen Zenji’s teachings and work on translation of their writings with Western people.

When three of his students including myself started to create the Pioneer Valley Zendo in Massachusetts in 1975, Uchiyama Roshi gave us an instruction: "Do not try to collect people or money, but just quietly practice zazen and deepen your own practice." We did follow his instruction at Valley Zendo. And the policy has been maintained until today. So, Valley Zendo is still small and unknown practice place. The Uchiyama Roshi style 5-day sesshin has been quietly practiced each month for more than 30 years since the zendo was established in 1973.

This policy is not Uchiyama Roshi’s personal but came from his teacher Kodo Sawaki Roshi. When Sawaki Roshi was pretty old (probably in his 70s), his (mainly lay) students tried to make an organization that support Sawaki Roshi’s teaching activities. When Sawaki Roshi heard of that plan, he got really angry and rejected it. For Sawaki Roshi, zazen was simply a practice for each individual to devote oneself to the Dharma. And he knew all religious organizations without exception lose the sight of most essential spirit of practice including Dogen Zenji’s own sangha. That was why Sawaki Roshi never had his own temple or monastery, he was always alone and traveling all over Japan to teach.

The instruction of Uchiyama Roshi has been important to me while I have been making efforts to create my own practice place after went back to Japan from Valley Zendo in 1981. I have been trying not to put the cart in front of the horse. That was why I did not have my own temple in Japan. I just lived at a small temple as a caretaker where I was allowed to practice with Westerners. My belief was that if I continued to practice with people, a sangha would be naturally formed and a place would be given without seeking after it. Continuing practice and study wherever I was allowed to do so, have been primary importance to me.

I am deeply grateful to Sawaki Roshi’s and Uchiyama Roshi’s strict teaching regarding this point. I think I could have been practicing zazen and studying Dharma without making big mistakes because of their teachings regarding what is most essential although I have been making numberless small mistakes.

Now, I am writing this because I wish all people who practice with me at Sanshin Zen Community keep this point deep in their heart. I have been talking and writing this point many times, so probably to many people this might be unnecessary repetition. This is also a caution to myself. Whenever you find that I deviate from this point, please let me know.

Sanshin Zen Community Practice Center

In a sense, to incorporate Sanshin Zen Community and work on establishing its own practice center including fund-raising is contradicted with Uchiyama Roshi’s admonition. If I want to continue to practice in that way, I know how to do it. Just find a small place, a way to support my family and sit quietly as we did at Valley Zendo.

But while I practiced at Valley Zendo, I had a question. "What is the point to practice in America, if we practice in the way many American people cannot practice?" I believed and still believe that Uchiyama Roshi style 5-day sesshin is the most refined way to practice Dogen Zenji’s shikantaza. But for many American people to sit 14 50-minute periods /day for five days is very difficult. Particularly for lay people, to find such a long time for practice itself is not possible.

Once Uchiyama Roshi criticized the way some Pure-land Buddhist teachers preached to their believers. He said that their teachings are wonderful but what they say was meaningful only to the people who already have a deep faith in Pure-land Buddhist teachings. They don’t discuss how people who have no faith in Buddhism yet can understand and attain the same faith in that teaching of Amitabha’s power of vow to save all living beings and accept them to his Pure-land. Uchiyama Roshi said it was like a lofty building from the second floor but without a stairway to get to the second floor from the first floor.

When Sanshin Zen Community was formed, I wanted to practice and study with practitioners in a little bit different way from I practiced at Antaiji and Valley Zendo. I would like to make a gateway to the Lofty building of just sitting. If I want to practice in the same way as Antaiji and Valley Zendo and wait for people who have already determined to practice in that way, I don’t need to be in America. I can do it in Japan.

I believe Sanshin Zen Community was formed not from my desire to establish a religious institution, but it is a natural fruit of people’s wish and aspiration to practice, study and deepen our way of life based on the Buddha’s and Dogen Zenji’s teachings.

But still when it is incorporated and owns its own property as a practice center, we cannot ignore the aspect of being an organization or an institution. And we should make every effort to make Sanshin ZC healthy and wholesome organization without forgetting that the life of practice center is nothing other than practice, not organization. An institution or a practice center is simply a tool for practitioners to get together and practice and study each other as a community.

Dream becoming reality

Now my dream of creating a practice center is becoming a reality. And the reality requires a lot of work. We need to work to establish a healthy place to practice. And this cannot be done by one person. Specially, I am a foreigner who is ignorant of how American society function. I don’t know not only how to make money but also how to spend money wisely. I have no talent to be a manager of an organization. I only know what I want to practice and study and how to do it from my experience as a practitioner for more than 30 years both in Japan and in the USA. I need much help and support from many people in the community.

Of course, many people have been already helping Sanshin, that is why Sanshin can be exist as a practice community and ready to build a practice center. I am deeply grateful for all those people for their support and practice both in America and in Japan.

As someone, if my memory is correct David Thoreau, said, "When we own a house we are owned by the house." When we own a practice center, we need to take care of it. Please continue to support Sanshin Zen Community and help me and my family.

Plan for moving

I plan to move to Bloomington, Indiana in April, 2003. And my family will move there in June after children’s school is over. My daughter, Yoko is fifteen years old and going to Watershed High School; a high school of the Waldorf School where she graduated. She wants to continue to go to the school even after her family move to Bloomington. If we can afford and if we can find a safe and caring place for her to live separate from her family and go to school, I and my wife would like to support her wish.

Our son, Masaki is eleven years old. He is going to Waldorf school also. And he is still saying that he does not want to move. But he is too young to live separate from his parents.

When I had a meeting with Rohatsu sesshin participants and people in Bloomington in December, Russ Levitt said that he used to be a professional mover and he would drive a truck from SF in April and from Minneapolis in June. I really appreciate his offering and I would like to ask him to do so.

I don’t have much stuff in SF beside books. But we need to move the Monjshiri and its altar donated to Sanshin by Taiken’s father Rev. Shoken Yokoyama. Taiken also would like to donate zafu and zabuton he used when he had a zendo in Iowa City.

In Minneapolis, we have more things to move but I think it is less than usual American families have.

One thing we need when we move to Bloomington is a car. The car we have in Minneapolis is not in a good shape. I don’t think we can take the car to Bloomington. And unfortunately, we don’t have financial resource to buy a new (used) car. I appreciate if some donate an old car.

After moving, I think my family and I need some time to settle down. I would like to have monthly 5-day practice event (sesshin, retreat etc.) from September, 2003. About my plan of practice at Sanshin practice Center in Bloomington, please read another letter attached to this email. For five months from April to September, I wonder how I can support my family.

If it is possible, I would like to be a full-time priest. My wife has been making zafu and zabuton for MZMC. She is interested in continuing make them and other things she can make for sale through Sanshin Zen Community. I think it might be a good idea to have some small business as a way to support our practice. In order to organize practice and work, we need a person who organizes such activities. I have no talent to do such things at all.

Anyway, we need to think many things and do a lot of work. Any idea, advice, help, support will be deeply appreciated.

I wish your life is peaceful, enjoyable and fruitful in the year of 2003.


Shohaku Okumura

Sanshin Annual Practice Event Plan

I used to think to have monthly (or 10 times/year) Uchiyama Roshi style sesshin and various workshops or reatreats at Sanshin Practice center. But I found that is too much to organize so many events at least in the beginning. So, now I think to have 10 5-day practice events a year. My idea is as follows.

*No practice event in February and August.

*2 Uchiyama Roshi Style sessshins (14 50-minutes period/day)

*2 Modified sesshins (40-minute period, 10-minute kinhin, 10-minute break, optional zazen after each meal, with or without Yoga session)

*2 Genzo-e retreat (2 lectures/day, several period of zazen, with or without work period)

*4 Community Retreats :

1 community building retreat: several periods of zazen, lecture or discussion, work period.

1 Precepts Retreat : If we have people who wish to receive precepts, we will have a precepts ceremony on the last day, other wise I will give lectures on precepts.

2 community retreat: zazen, lecture, work period

*Annual 5-day practice events schedule might be as follows.

March: Community Retreat

April: Modified Sesshin

May: Genzo-e Retreat

June: Uchiyama Roshi Style Sesshin

July: Precepts retreat

August: no practice event

September: Community Building Retreat (with annual board meeting)

October: Modified Sesshin

November: Genzo-e Retreat

December: Uchiyama Roshi Style Rohatsu Sesshin

January: Community Retreat

February: no practice event

*5-day practice event will be usually from the first Wednesday evening of the month to the next Monday noon.

*We will have a summer practice period from April to June. I will try to stay during this 3 month in Bloomington.

*Sanshin will take caro of these 5-day practice events and daily morning zazen and service.

*Zen Center of Bloomington will take care of evening zazen etc. I will help them when I am available.

*I don’t have any clear idea yet about weekend gathering on Saturday or Sunday morning. I will talk with local people and think about it after moving.

*I will try not to travel during the summer practice period from April to June. In other months I will travel to teach one weekend a month, two weekends every two months, or so. Rev. Teijo Munnich volunteered to make my schedule in order not to make me too busy. I will ask people or group who want to invite me to teach, to get contact with Teijo.

*I may need to rethink this plan depending upon my financial situation after moving to Bloomington.

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