(Original Email Version)

Newsletter for August 2015
If what you’re mostly after is the sitting schedule, scroll down a tad.

Zenwest Fall Harvest Potluck November 7
At the Harvest Potluck, Eshu might very well overcome his innate shyness and grab a microphone. (He’s done it before.)
Saturday, November 7,  5:30 – 9:00
Oaklands Community Centre


Friends, feast and festivities: the three treasures of our
Annual Zenwest Fall Harvest Potluck.

But wait—there’s more! Just when you thought the fun quotient couldn’t get any higher, Kyoku’s band Sugartime will tantalize with tunes! (It will be a scaled-down, more acoustic version of what is normally a full-on rock band.) The talent show is back with the Bearded Lady Singers! Your Zen-Alive-35-themed centrepieces will adorn the tables in the running for unspecified prizes, and your tasty offering lingers on the lips of all. Your laughter. Your sangha.

This event is open to all members and associates. If you currently are not an associate, this event alone is worth the paltry $10-a-month associate cost.  (Contact Seizan at registrar@zenwest.ca.)

Bring your talent, a dish to share, a Zen-Alive-35-themed centrepiece, and your friends and family. (Completely goofy talents are most welcome, as well as the other kind. But then, as your humble layout guy Kyōkū dares to inject, everything is goofy. So just let ‘er rip, eh?)

If you have some time to spare with set-up, cleaning, or other small chores, connect with Seishin at sledingham@gmail.com  Please RSVP to the same address. See you there!

Kyōkū will also battle his extreme shyness at the Fall Harvest Potluck.

Nov 1: Sangha Sunday  (Kokizan-ji)
Nov 3: Tuesday Evening (UVic)
Nov 8: Mondo Zendo (Kokizan-ji)
Nov 10: Tuesday Evening (UVic)
Nov 11: Wednesday Zendo (Roseberry)
Nov15 : Half-Day Zendo (Kokizan-ji)
Nov 17: Tuesday Evening (UVic)
Nov 22: One-Day Intensive (Kokizan-ji)
Nov 24: Tuesday Zendo (UVic)
Nov 25: Wednesday Zendo (Roseberry)
Nov 29: Half-Day Zendo (Kokizan-ji)
Special Events
Nov 7: Zenwest Fall Harvest Potluck 6—10pm
Nov 21:  Volunteer Work Day at Kokizanji
Kokizanji Training Period 3 continues right through November
Nov 29—Dec 7 Choboji Rohatsu Sesshin

Meet A Member: Kozan Nishigaya

When did you start on the path? And where?


     If you mean formal Zen Buddhism with a teacher as a “path”, this began for me about eight years ago here in Victoria with Zenwest (the Victoria Zen Centre, back then). However, I’ve been interested in zen for a very long time, since my early twenties when I started to read about it. Before that, my father being a Nichiren priest, I lived in a Buddhist temple until the age of three, so I’ve been exposed to Buddhism from a very early age. I’ve been seeking after the meaning of life in one form or another since a very early age. I remember taking myself to a Southern Baptist temple at the age of eleven by myself, and have been a member of various organizations and groups over the years. But Zen has been in my life the last eight years and is now a foundational part of my life.


What, in terms of life challenges, brought you to the practice of meditation?


     I started sitting at home after reading Brad Warner’s first book. Nothing in terms of life challenges really brought me to the practice of meditation, I started it on my own because I was curious and full of tales of enlightenment and thought that it would be really great to achieve that myself. So I started sitting at home on a pillow, staring at the wall. I did not start sitting with a group, however, until I had a mountain biking accident and broke my back. I decided then that life was short and I really needed to get serious and find a real teacher and find out what zen was really about, and so I found myself in the Orientation to Zen Buddhist Practice course with Eshu.
Why do you continue?


     It’s funny. I continue because I have faith that this practice works and will keep working and that I am benefiting from it. I have never had any mystical experiences, entered any higher states, or even noticed that much has changed at all. But my life is radically different from where it was eight years ago, and I am stepping into my life more and really engaging with things in a way that is surprising. So maybe it is all working, but it is so gradual that I don’t notice anything changing. I am the frog sitting in the slowly boiling pot of water. So without noticing any change, it seems crazy to continue—where is the proof? So I guess I am doing it because I have faith in this practice that is thousands of years old, and my gut is telling me to continue.
What do you find, at this time, is your greatest challenge in walking the way?


     Integrating zen practice so that it is not just thirty minutes a day, but rather the entire enchilada, is my greatest challenge. Bringing practice into each moment, and remembering to do so, is very hard. I am also finding that new life challenges and commitments are requiring me to choose between those things and being directly involved with Zenwest sits and sangha events. I used to be on the path toward eldership, but now have stepped into the role of being a householder. Redefining yourself in terms of practice and commitment to practice can be very hard when you have to discard or change roles. But life is constantly changing, so this too is very good zen practice.


If you could share one bit of practical advice about sitting zazen what would it be?


     Keep at it! Even though it may hurt, the body will adapt, so keep at it! If sitting is relaxing and grounding, keep at it! Once the busy mind is starting to slow down and gives you room to just be, stuff may start coming up that will be hard and painful. This is the stuff you need to get through, so keep at it! If you find you sit day after day after day and nothing at all comes up, keep at it! There is nothing to do or expect—just sit.
Finally, in three words can you express what Buddha, Dharma, Sangha means for you?


     No, I can’t.

XYZen: A Transformation for Zenwest’s Women’s Social Group

   Ah . . . the fall season: back to school and back to the routines that come along with it. For several of our members and associates, that routine includes a healthy dose of regular socializing outside of the formal structures of zen. October 2nd was a fresh start for that regular gathering which we’ve come to call the Zenwest Women’s Social . . . or the Zenwest Women’s Group . . . or the Zen Ladies’ night . . . okay, we admit it—the name has been overlooked until now. 

   The group, headed by Rev. Soshin McMurchy and Seishin Ledingham, has been meeting approximately monthly for two years now. At the inaugural meeting, our intentions were simple yet undefined: we’re interested in socializing outside of the prescribed “informal part of the evening” and we happen to all be women who, more often then not, are outnumbered in the zendo. 

   Past gatherings have run the gamut from making pottery inspired by Rengetsu to yoga lessons, but one thing is always certain: there are snacks involved. The most recent gathering was held at the Roseberry Zendo and was a delightful gathering of both new and familiar faces, which held to traditions tightly . . . we had a potluck. 

    After catching up and digging in, we got down to business: we discussed how the gatherings may be perceived as gender exclusive and how that may affect transgender men (and women) who are associates, members, or prospective newcomers. After each expressing input on the topic at hand, the resounding conclusion was made that trans men are more than welcome to join our regular gatherings (transgender women already being included). 

     Our intentions are to build social support in the Sangha, not to exclude those who feel they do not conform to our heretofore unfortunately named group. To that end, Elder Hoyu Boulter topped off the night with her eloquence and wit, suggesting a name that sealed the deal: XYZen. XYZen will meet again soon with the intent to develop a mission statement; interested members should contact Rev. Soshin or Seishin.   

Film Review: This Changes Everything
     From time to time, people in Zenwest organize informal social events open to the Zenwest community but not official Zenwest events. In that spirit, ten people connected to Zenwest went to see the film This Changes Everything when it premiered in Victoria in mid-October.

The film focuses on climate change as medicine for the interconnected ills of capitalism, colonialism, and control (the delusion that humans are the masters of all creation). As we are now aware, this approach is not only unethical but also unsustainable. As one speaker in the film said, “That old paradigm will be forced to change. Either by the environment or by us.”

The film didn’t shy away from the reality of climate change as a crisis, with graphic footage of the devastation caused by flooding, fire, ocean acidification, melting glaciers, drought, and toxic smog and oil spills. The film was also upfront about the social injustice of the crisis, pointing out that people in affluent countries, comprising less than 20% of the world’s population, are responsible for over 70% of global emissions and that the people who are the most affected by climate change have the least responsibility for creating this crisis in the first place. From Beaver Lake Cree communities living on the frontline of the tar sands to villagers in Andhra Pradesh fighting to save the wetland that is the basis for their sustenance fishing, the people most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change are also the people who have long been considered most disposable.

And this is where I found the film inspiring and energizing. For it is these same people who are coming together in creative, strong, brilliant ways to stand up for the earth and their communities, not only in stopping earth-harming resource extraction and standing up to corporate money and power, but also restoring Indigenous economies, creating community-based cooperatives that meet real societal needs, and building movements for social, environmental, and economic change. There are so many exciting demonstrations of hope in action, including decolonization and reconciliation, food justice, sustainable housing, renewable energy, alternatives to policing and the prison-industrial complex, community-based health care, etc. (https://solutions.thischangeseverything.org).

Climate change is not just a crisis—it’s also an opportunity. The film builds up to the question, “What if confronting the climate crisis is the best chance we’ll ever get to build a better world?” This is the same message of One Earth Sangha, which emphasizes “the curious potential of climate change to heal our delusions and set us in Right Relationship with all other beings.”

The film opened with the filmmakers saying, “Films don’t change the world; people do.” Since seeing the film, the folks who attended have been talking about ways to bring about the changes we wish to see. These are just the beginnings of the discussion about what it means for Zenwest to be socially and environmentally responsible as an organization and a sangha. I look forward to more to come!

Buddhist resources on climate justice:
One Earth Sangha: https://www.facebook.com/1earthsangha
Buddhist Climate Action Network (BCAN): https://www.facebook.com/buddhistclimateactionnetwork
Buddhists for Climate Action: https://www.facebook.com/BuddhistsforClimateAction
Buddhist Peace Fellowship: https://www.facebook.com/buddhistpeacefellowship
Sangha In the Streets (SITS): https://www.facebook.com/groups/275668409133744

Volunteer Update

     Sunday October 4th, after our Sangha Sunday Sit (say that ten times fast!) and a wonderful social with a potluck spread of snacks, eight of us changed into our work gear and prepared to dig in.

The sun shone and levity was in the air as we climbed atop the piles of mulch waiting to be spread on the grounds and our developing kinhin trail. It was lovely to see how naturally the workload was split up and executed. We had the Hermitage Team up top, consisting of Anabelle, Doshu, Kendo and Soshin and down below the Trail Team of Hoyu, Renée, Sonya and myself. The duelling wheelbarrows kept a pretty even pace, although Kendo had a close eye on which team moved the most mulch.

Practicing Zazen with the Sangha is one of the most powerful experiences of my life. In silent agreement we hold the form, share time and space, and call and respond in harmonious fashion. When we volunteer together to develop and maintain our community, the same buzzing harmony is sung. It is different from our work practice (Samu) in the sense we are able to get to know each other a little bit off of the cushion and get a sense of how each of us takes our practice out into the world. We have a wealth of experience and talent in our Sangha; it barely seems like work as we puzzle out how to solve problems and get the job done.

Upon checkout, the most common feelings were happiness and hunger! Deepest gratitude to all who participate. Please stay tuned for the next opportunity to volunteer.

Janine Theobald
Volunteer Coordinator

Practice Opportunities: Densu—Preparing The Space

This aspect of team practice requires much attention to detail with the butsudan (altar) setup, laying of zabutons (black rectangular mats) where the zafu (cushion) or chair resides and then leading the chant with voice and the large bell. The Densu also trains the upcoming Densu, referred to as Shoden. 

Seizan explains stepping into the shoes of Densu: 

“As in anything one does, particularly something new, there is the experience of anxiety and trepidation. I, like most, do not like the spotlight shone on me when what I am doing is unfamiliar. When taking on an officer role, no matter the position, it’s natural to have those feelings. For me, the role of Densu has taken me to the very edge of my element when it comes to comfort. While uneasy, it’s still a good place to go, and it challenges me on many levels. It’s part of my practice and is no different than zazen or kinhin.  With me working on the role, the continuous practice of ringing the bell and guiding the chants for members to join into brings more joy as I dive deeper. Consider stepping up and taking on an officer role! With practice—and as part of practice—it brings a sense of joy and peace.”

If you wish to engage further with our Zenwest Sangha on a Zendo team, members and associates are welcome to contact Rev. Soshin McMurchy for more information at ruthmcm@shaw.ca—or feel free to talk to her at a Tuesday night sit.

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