Having returned from Bolivia, Ōshin and a few No Barriers Zen sangha-members almost immediately transitioned into Summer Ango practice with the Village Zendo. Ōshin will spend the rest of the summer in residence with VZ in upstate NY where four NBZ sangha members have also immersed themselves in residential sesshin practice. Some have come for one week, some for up to 3 weeks. Reflecting on the whirlwind trip through South America, and Bolivia specifically, Ōshin offered these impressions of the journey from Upstate New York:
"The Sandokai teaches us:
'...If you do not see the Way,
You do not see it even as you walk on it.
When you walk the Way it is not near, it is
...We certainly don't need to travel thousands of miles to practice 'the Way', but sometimes there are amazing practice opportunities in far away lands. I feel blessed to have been able to again travel to Bolivia to practice Zen there. Now, I say 'practice Zen' and I guess I mean that both in the limited sense –of being able to do another sesshin in La Paz– but also in the broader sense, of being able to be of service to the people of Bolivia, and to learn from them.
The sesshin was held in La Paz, a retreat commemorating 25 years of continuous Zen Practice in Bolivia. I was also asked to give a public talk a week before the sesshin began. I was asked if I could speak on 'disability' and how that integrates with Zen practice. Now, this is always a tricky topic to speak about, even if just speaking from one's own experience and culture. Bolivia is currently undergoing a massive paradigm shift around the ways it views disability rights, and the topic seems exceptional poignant and powerful, although tricky to speak about with all of my American privilege in tow. However, I have had multiple opportunities to work with the Deaf community in Bolivia over the last half-dozen years, so I was able to speak to that experience specifically, through American Deaf and engaged Buddhist eyes. Additionally, I spoke about the spiritual tools inherent in disability, and the powerful voices that come from outsider perspectives, which the audience seemed to really appreciate. The whole talk was given in American Sign Language which was then interpreted by my interpreter into English. Shinryu Sensei interpreted the English to Spanish, and a Bolivian Sign Language interpreter interpreted this into LSB, (Lenguaje de Señas Bolivianas).
I also spoke more specifically about the paradigm shift currently going on around disability rights in La Paz. Most people in the audience were aware of the struggles, others still were surprised to hear about some of the situations that have unfolded over the past few years. There have been massive demonstrations that have happened in the city, with many marches taking place in Plaza Murillo where disability rights protestors have been encamped now for almost two years. Some of these protests included police using violence against the protestors. In short, the government has used water-cannons, truncheons, and pepper spray against protestors which included wheelchair users and people with intellectual disabilities. Many of these incidences unfolded on prime-time TV, truly shocking to witness. Unfortunately, it seems that these actions had at least temporarily crushed the spirits of the protestors and many disbanded, leaving the movement somewhat deflated. Then in a shocking turn of events, the government started to slowly introducing some changes to meet the demands of protestors. We pray for wisdom, courage and fortitude for all those who are putting their bodies on the line.
My public talk seemed well-received overall; some were powerfully moved, others felt emboldened to act and asked for resources, wanting to be able to support the cause. One couldn't hope for a better response. Many local Sordos (Deaf people) and Hipoacusicos (Hard-of-hearing people) were in attendance as well. In fact, my ASL interpreter and I were invited to attend two different Deaf club meetings later in the week. We were thrilled to be able to attend both. In fact, we were really struck to see these clubs in action. Deaf clubs have all but disappeared in American Deaf culture, so it seemed all at once to us like a time capsule of Deaf culture from days of old, but these clubs both proved to be uniquely Bolivian experiences. We found it fascinating to see that Bolivian Deaf clubs were what we recognize as a standard expression of Deaf culture, but also their own unique mixture of Andean gathering and Bolivian union meetings. I took photographs and filmed a few personal interviews for a later project. Sadly nearly everyone I interviewed, when asked to talk more about their experience, either boiled over in anger or broke down into tears. Injustice and oppression were universal themes. It was powerful to bear witness to these stories and I hope to be able to amplify their voices with a later project. Stay tuned!
Additionally, we had the chance to meet some Deaf people at these meetings who were wholly without language. Language deprivation is not uncommon in rural areas of the country as well as in the cities of Bolivia, as it is in many parts of the world for Deaf people. One young Deaf girl we met, who was in the second grade, only knew a handful of spoken words, and could not read or write. The community rallied around the mother, educating her in the virtues of sign language and the possibilities it would open up for her daughter, while my interpreter and I taught her dozens of signs in LSB, which the young girl greedily gobbled up as mom looked on. Connecting across thousands of miles through this language in our hands was so very humbling. However, like many of our encounters we felt a mixture of being energized and disheartened, incredibly hopeful and completely drained. The textiles shop where one particular meeting was held proved to be a wonderful backdrop; the young girl pulled us around the shop, pointing at the images on the walls, wanting to know how to sign the things she saw in the tapestries. She became suddenly so alive with language and possibility. The weavings were full of Bolivian scenes of daily life; mountains, the moon, and many animals. Her first signs were 'llama' and 'Bolivia', sign language 'homophones'.
Mother and child, and this monk, were all irrevocably changed.
During the sesshin I lead a chanting workshop where we worked with the many cultures present and the four languages we were using during the sesshin: English, Japanese, Spanish, ASL. It felt like a culmination of the journey for us and a way to honor all the languages and cultures bouncing around in our heads and pulling at our hearts. Here for you are some snap shots of our 'taller' and the Four Great vows in English, Japanese Kanji with Romaji, and Spanish. Jallalla!"
Sentient being are numberless; I vow to save them.
衆生無辺誓願度 SHUJO MUHEN SEI GAN DO.
Por numerosos que sean los seres, hago el voto de ayudarlos a todos.
Desires are inexhaustible; I vow to put an end to them.
煩悩無尽誓願断 BON-NO MUJIN SEI GAN DAN.
Por inagotables que sean las ilusiones, hago el voto de eliminarlas a todas.
The Dharmas are boundless; I vow to master them.
法門無量誓願 学 HO MON MURYU SEI GAN GAKU.
Por ilimitados que sean los Dharmas, hago el voto de obtenerlos a todos.
The Buddha Way is unattainable; I vow to attain it.
仏道無上誓願 成 BUTSU DO MUJO SEIGAN DO.
Por inalcanzable que sea la Vía del Budha, hago el voto de alcanzarla.