2017 Summer Ango Reflections

Written by sangha member C. E. Giyū Gillis

One approach for growing our practice is to participate in a retreat. When someone says "retreat" you may imagine people running off to the top of a mountain to escape their busy lives and find inner peace. For many years, I thought a retreat was a way to get away from everything negative happening in my life! In reality, retreats serve as a temporary container for expanding our practice, examining our habits, and confronting all that arises. Retreats can also serve as a way to renew one's vows to the Bodhisattva Path, or a way to kick start your daily meditation practice. This summer, I spent three weeks on retreat at the Village Zendo's Summer Ango with Ōshin Hoshi. 

In the Zen tradition, an extended seasonal retreat called an ‘ango’, which also means peaceful dwelling. Village Zendo offers a Summer Ango every year that typically stretches from the end of mid-July to the mid-August. The first 10 days are Dai Sesshin, an intensive portion focusing exclusively on deepening one's meditation practice. The next week is Precepts Week, which provides an opportunity to closely study the precepts with a group. This week is also the time in which new members who are formally becoming Zen students can go through Jukai. The third week, is Arts Week which blends Buddhist studies with artistic expression. Finally, the retreat concludes with 5 days of intensive meditation, called Shusho Sesshin. 

Teachers and students pose for a photograph on the last day of Dai Sesshin 2017. In the front row, left to right, Ryotan Sensei, Shinryu Sensei, Myoko Sensei, Enkyoo Roshi, Giyu Gillis. Ōshin Hoshi can be seen over Ryotan Sensei's shoulder. 

Teachers and students pose for a photograph on the last day of Dai Sesshin 2017.

In the front row, left to right, Ryotan Sensei, Shinryu Sensei, Myoko Sensei, Enkyoo Roshi, Giyu Gillis. Ōshin Hoshi can be seen over Ryotan Sensei's shoulder. 

This summer's study text is the Genjokoan, written by Dogen Zenji. The following is one selection from the Genjokoan - a selection that has defined a lot of my practice during my time at the summer ango:

A fish swims in the ocean, and no matter how far it swims there is no end to the water. A bird flies in the sky, and no matter how far it flies there is no end to the air. However, the fish and the bird have never left their elements. When their activity is large their field is large. When their need is small their field is small. Thus, each of them totally covers its full range, and each of them totally experiences its realm. If the bird leaves the air it will die at once. If the fish leaves the water it will die at once. Know that water is life and air is life. The bird is life and the fish is life. Life must be the bird and life must be the fish. You can go further. There is practice-enlightenment which encompasses limited and unlimited life. Now if a bird or a fish tries to reach the end of its element before moving in it, this bird or this fish will not find its way or its place. When you find your place where you are, practice occurs, actualizing the fundamental point. When you find your way at this moment, practice occurs, actualizing the fundamental point; for the place, the way, is neither large nor small, neither yours nor others. The place, the way, has not carried over from the past, and it is not merely arising now. Accordingly, in the practice-enlightenment of the buddha way, to attain one thing is to penetrate one thing; to meet one practice is to sustain one practice.

I remember sitting in dokusan (private interview) with a teacher two years ago at my first ango. The last week was coming to a close, and I blurted out,  "how will I ever return to DC? It seems impossible to practice in the city! I always get distracted and I'm afraid I will stop sitting." The teacher responded, "We practice where we are." At the time, I was incredibly frustrated by that response. I wanted to know how to practice without a sangha because things just seemed so easy for members of the Village Zendo. They have a large community, a bustling zendo, multiple practice periods a week, and lots of events. I returned to DC still grasping for that ideal. When I stopped sitting every day, I blamed the lack of an established sangha - thinking that if only I had that, then I would become a real Zen student. How wrong I was! 


This passage in the Genjokoan has illuminated that grasping I had been cultivating. 

When you find your place where you are, practice occurs, actualizing the fundamental point. When you find your way at this moment, practice occurs, actualizing the fundamental point; for the place, the way, is neither large nor small, neither yours nor others. The place, the way, has not carried over from the past, and it is not merely arising now.

The practice happens exactly where we are. Maybe it is actualized when we sit in the morning in our apartment, or while we are standing in the grocery line, or perhaps when we are driving in traffic. When we return to the moment, as it is, our practice is present. Doing every day life with sincerity is the beginning of brining our practice home. 

I finally realized that even if a sangha is still forming, like ours, it does not make our practice any less sincere. We come to No Barriers Zen as we are. We sit. We practice. We leave, and we still practice.  It can be so easy to fall into the trap of grasping onto the container that a retreat offers -- to not want to return home, to face our daily struggles, bills, rent, and stressful relationships. But eventually we all have to come down from the mountain, and get into the muck with everyone else.

Members of Village Zendo stand along a river bank during the Obon ceremony honoring people who passed away.

Members of Village Zendo stand along a river bank during the Obon ceremony honoring people who passed away.

Oshin with NBZ and VZ sangha members in Bolivia

Ōshin is with members of NBZ sangha and the Village Zendo sangha in Bolivia for a sesshin and a series of special events commemorating 25 years of Bolivian Zen!

NBZ and VZ sangha members are joining Dojo Phajjsi Qollut Jalsu, the Bolivian Zendo, for a momentous sesshin and variety of speakers on special topics in La Paz, Bolivia.

Poster image description is below the image.

NBZ 25 Years of Bolivian Zen Poster

Image description: A poster advertising for a series of talks. The poster is white with a minimal design, Across the top of the poster is the title "Ciclo de charlas Sobre meditacion zen" and an image of a long branch. The rest of the poster reads: "Celebrando 25 años de prática zen en Bolivia." There is a headshot of Oshin and the text underneath it "Martes 27 de Junio 'Zen y el arte de la discapacidad' Monje zen Hoshi Oshin Jennings del Village Zendo en Nueva York. Hora: 19:00." Then a headshot of Shinryu Sensei, and the text under that reads "Miercoles 28 de Junio 'La luna redonda se levanta por encima de la montaña: 25 años del Zen en los Andes' Sensei Shinryu Thomson. Maestro del Centro Zen Phajjsi Qollut Jalsu en La Paz y del Village Zendo en Nueva York. Hora: 19:00." Then a headshot of Dr. Neil Soten Theise, and the text under that reads: "Martes 4 de Julio 'Quiénes somos? Células Madre, Complejidad u Coencia del Ser' Dr. Neil Soten Theise Médico, Investigador cientifico y practicante del Village Zendo en Nueva York. Hora: 19:00" Below those images and text there is more text that reads "Lugar de las charlas: Centro Integral Ser Libre, Julio Patiño 1042 Entre 16 y 17 Calacoto Teléfono: 2792247 Aporte: 50 BS www.zenbolivia.com." Below that there are 5 tiles images at the bottom of the page: "Informes 78931331 76291372 67108106" Then an image of a moon rising above a mountain, "Centro Zen Phajjsi Qollut Jalus, 25 Años, Practica Zen en La Paz Bolivia".

Buddha's Birthday 2017

The LGBT Rainbow Flag crossed with the Buddhist Flag

The LGBT Rainbow Flag crossed with the Buddhist Flag

The NBZ Sangha commemorated Buddha's birthday this year on April 15th.
April 15th also happened to be during Gallaudet University's COLORfest weekend; a celebration of Deaf LGBTQ+ communities. It was also a simply gorgeous spring day in DC. The campus was just in bloom in so many ways! What a wonderful day it was to gather as a community and celebrate what is blooming in our heartminds!

The hana mido, flower altar, with a statue of Baby Buddha surrounded by spring flowers.

The hana mido, flower altar, with a statue of Baby Buddha surrounded by spring flowers.

Ōshin gave a Dharma talk about the Buddha's birth and life, during which he encouraged us each to see, "what is being born in this very moment." He also told us how while collecting flowers just outside the campus chapel, to supplement our hana mido --or flower altar-- he observed a beautiful moment. He witnessed a father teaching his son how to ride his bike in the middle of the campus quad. With the training wheels strewn in the grass the boy and his bike wobbled free of his father's hand and pedaled independently for the first time amid cheers from on-lookers. "Will this young boy also grow up to be a great sage?", Oshin asked. "What causes and conditions of our lives have lead us here to to this place? And how lucky are we to have our sangha and this space to be able to practice together! And what are we fostering in our lives and communities to to awaken our collective Buddhanature?"

The sangha took turns "bathing" the Baby Buddha statue, and afterwards we shared all kinds of sweets before signing and singing "Happy Birthday Buddha" and cutting a large cake decorated with flowers. Certainly today our hearts were awakened and new friendships were born.

A composite image of the Hana Mido, Sangha members ladling tea over the statue of Baby Buddha, Mo and Erica hugging, and Oshin and Mo in front of a Pride Flag, with the text "Buddha's Birthday 2017" overlaid. 

A composite image of the Hana Mido, Sangha members ladling tea over the statue of Baby Buddha, Mo and Erica hugging, and Oshin and Mo in front of a Pride Flag, with the text "Buddha's Birthday 2017" overlaid. 

Retreat: What is a Sesshin?

NBZ Sangha member, Erica Mulford, shares a reflection on sitting her first sesshin. We so often get asked what is the purpose of our practice, what do you hope to achieve from a week of Zazen? Accompanying her reflection are photos by A. Jesse Jiryu Davis of NBZ sangha members on retreat with the Village Zendo:

"This is it" we heard time and time again. "This is it" stood for days of excitement, the days of fatigue, the days of laughter, the days of sorrow.
"This is it, what else can I tell you?" With this statement a young man once upon a time got "it" after years of struggle, years of search, he woke up and saw the truth. The Year End Sesshin provided the opportunity to directly experience what exactly "it" is. In a room flooded with silent stillness and a permeation of deep wisdom, most of the takeaways were skillfully implanted under the radar of mental comprehension. The Year End Sesshin was a lovely and powerful way to celebrate/enter the new year. 

Image description: A black and white photo of Giyu, Oshin, Erica, and Mandy smiling, facing the camera, sitting at a long dining table.

Image description: A black and white photo of Giyu, Oshin, Erica, and Mandy smiling, facing the camera, sitting at a long dining table.

For a while I did not know what my practice was. What exactly are we practicing in meditation? What are we trying to obtain? After speaking with several teachers throughout the retreat, the message was clear--don't try to get anywhere or to become anything, just come back to your breath time and time again, come back to your actual experience of this moment, for "turning away and touching are both wrong."  This answered another question of mine from when I was a little girl "mom, why do we desire not to follow our desires?" perhaps the message disclosed by the teaching is that the deepest desire lies in neither turning away nor touching such a desire, but coming back to what's actually real now. 

This one week retreat of distractionless stillness as well as the guidance of loving teachers, is an experience that will continue to emanate knowledge as it abides within; constantly revealing snippets of vast understanding. This is it, what else can I tell you. 

Image description: black and white photo of Giyu, Oshin, Mandy, and Erica sitting huddled together on stone steps in front of an old building. They are smiling and their hands are draped on each other.

Image description: black and white photo of Giyu, Oshin, Mandy, and Erica sitting huddled together on stone steps in front of an old building. They are smiling and their hands are draped on each other.

Conference Report!

Last weekend Gallaudet hosted two different conferences, the Liturgical Interpreting Conference and the sixth annual President's Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge. Members of the No Barriers Zen sangha were able to attend both conferences, and join the many interpreters, clergy, and chaplains on campus. Oshin was able to attend both conferences as well as having a well attended presentation on the last day of the Liturgical Interpreting Conference. He share these pics: 

Rev. Dr. Kirk VanGilder, Eboo Patel, and Rev. Oshin Jennings

Rev. Dr. Kirk VanGilder, Eboo Patel, and Rev. Oshin Jennings

Fellow Zen Buddhist Chaplain Rev. Jikyo Bonnie Shoultz and Rev. Oshin Jennings

Fellow Zen Buddhist Chaplain Rev. Jikyo Bonnie Shoultz and Rev. Oshin Jennings

A double image of Oshin presenting, the left image Oshin can be seen signing "Buddhist".

A double image of Oshin presenting, the left image Oshin can be seen signing "Buddhist".

Liturgical Interpreting Conference, Sept. 23-25 2016

Liturgical Interpreting conference poster, showing interpreters in a church and mosque setting.

This week is the Liturgical Interpreting Conference! And at the time of this posting there is still room for participants! For registration and more information you can visit the website:
www.liturgicalinterpreting.com 
Oshin will be presenting at the conference on interpreting Buddhism. He will be joining a diverse panel of presenters, who represent a wide array of religions and are focused on many diverse topics.
The conference is being hosted at Gallaudet University and includes lunches and not to mention CEU's! We are looking forward to this conference and hearing what Oshin and the NBZ sangha learn from their experience.

A second Liturgical Interpreting Conference poster, with head shots of each of the 6 presenters and information about the conference and the website www.liturgicalinterpreting.com

Oshin Jennings named Dharma Holder

Oshin smiling, wearing a brown rakusu, standing in front of a large rock.

Rev. Oshin Jennings has been named a Dharma Holder by his teacher Enkyo O'Hara Roshi! 
While away on summer retreat Oshin and his Dharma brother, Tokuyu, were named Hoshi, or assistant teachers in the White Plum lineage. They were given brown rakusu in a private ceremony on August 14th, and look forward to serving in their new role. This is exciting news for the No Barriers Zen community and for the future of accessible Buddhism. 9 bows!

Away on Retreat

Eli Kozan and Oshin sitting at a cafe table.

Oshin and Mandy sitting on the Grail's porch.

Oshin and members of the No Barriers Zen community are away on retreat in upstate New York with the Village Zendo. 

Oshin has been working with members of our community and many interpreters to help make the Dharma Accessible. They are looking forward to sharing all they have learned when NBZ resumes services in September. 

Jennifer and Oshin standing outside of the Grail.

Buddha's Birthday / Hana Matsuri

A composite image of the Hana Matsuri celebration. Showing the baby Buddha statue being bathed by participants with a bamboo dipper, challah bread, and flower pot shaped cake.

Last Saturday, May 7th, members of the NBZ sangha gathered for zazen and to celebrate Buddha's birthday. The Hana Matsuri ceremony is a simple ceremony that comes to us from our Japanese tradition, people take turns ladling sweet tea over a statue of the baby Buddha. Rev. Ōshin told us the story of Buddha's birth and life. Afterwards the sangha shared their own aspirations for the spring time, then we sang and signed "Happy Birthday Buddha" before the whole sangha blew out candles and cut whimsical flowerpot-shaped cake. 

Sangha members brought wonderful home made foods to share, including freshly baked sweets and even a home made sweet challah, brought to us from the leader of the campus Hillel organization. A wonderful day of community and fun, a great way to wrap up the semester on campus and herald in the spring!

Inryu of All Beings Zen Shuso Hossen

Dairyu with his Hossu and Inryu with her fan.

Our neighboring DC Sangha, All Beings Zen, just celebrated their resident priest's Shuso Hossen ceremony on April 24th, 2016. A small contingent from No Barriers Zen Temple was in attendance to help mark the occasion. 

Bobbi Inryu Ponce-Barger was shuso (head student) for this recent ango (practice period). She led her community through this recent practice period which culminated in a ceremony to mark her transitioning to senior student. Her teacher, Dairyu Michael Wenger, came from California to guide the ceremony and celebrate with the sangha. During the ceremony Ōshin stepped in and served as Shoki, or as the SFZC lineage calls it, the MRFS, "the most recent former shuso"! The lineage differences are always most apparent in the liturgy, but Ōshin embraced his duties and under Dairyu-sensei's guidance the ceremony was permeated with playful energy.

Rev. Ōshin and Rev. Wakoh stand beside Rev. Inryu, the new senior student.

Our own Rev. Ōshin had sat with Dairyu Wenger-sensei over a dozen years ago, and thoroughly enjoyed seeing him again. Once ceremonial duties were over Dairyu and Ōshin had a chance to celebrate together and catch up.

Also in attendance was Rev. Wakoh from Baltimore and NBZ's own Connor Giyū Gillis, who helped with interpretation duties for Ōshin. Inryu's new senior student status is a wonderful addition to the greater DC sangha, and the city as a whole. Congratulations, Inryu-san!

The All Beings Zen sangha, friends, and family.

Soto Zen Administration responds to climate crisis

To leave flowers to the wind, to leave birds to the seasons are the activity of dana/giving.

The Soto Zen Buddhist Association has just released their letter in response to the current climate crisis. This position, which is backed by scientific research and firmly rooted in the Buddhist teachings, is a call for all of us to look carefully at our relationship with the planet. Waking up to our interconnectivity, waking up to each other and this planet, because this is our principle concern as practitioners of The Way. How can we care for this earth and stop the damage we are doing to this planet? It will take all of our efforts as individuals, and as a community, to heal our earth. Skillful compassionate action, deep mindfulness is required of all of us. Please read this important address: 

Press Release: A Western Soto Zen Buddhist Statement on the Climate Crisis

New woodwork in the shop!

4 wooden rakusu rings against a black background.

A great new addition has been added to the shop! Rev. Ōshin has carved some wonderful new rakusu rings in a variety of exotic woods. Currently being offered are rings hand-carved from; lacewood, mora, gonçalo alves, zebrawood, and bubinga. From striking to subtle, there's quite a selection, at a great price. In addition he will take custom orders and special requests as well. We may soon be expanding our shop! 
Contact us through the website for more information.

New ASL Dictionary Entries

Screen Shot of NBZ's list of ASL Videos

Screen Shot of NBZ's list of ASL Videos

We just uploaded our first 6 entries into our ASL Buddhist Dictionary here on the website! The site is starting to really come together, and front and center is this great new educational page; our dictionary! Our hope for this dictionary is that it helps to create a culture of education and access. With study and communication being two of our Five Expressions, it is vitally important to continually foster the study of our languages. Our communication, or how we express the Dharma in our lives, and how we connect with each other while doing it, is an important piece of our spirituality!

Added to this new dictionary are ASL signs for: "Buddhism", "Buddhist", "Nirvana", and three sign variations for "Buddha". With many more signs to come in the near future. If you have questions about these signs, or you would like to offer feedback, please contact us.

Our first post!

Monju Bosatsu resting on a matching walnut platform

This is our first blog post!
We wanted to share a nice little piece of news with the sangha, and what a better way than to test out a new area of our website. Our altar has a wonderful new addition! Zen practitioner, master woodworker, and friend of the NBZ sangha, Eric Shokei Manigian has donated a wonderful altar platform to us! Seen above and below in some sample pictures, this handsome platform matches our Monju Bosatsu or Manjushri Bodhisattva statue.

Monju Bosatsu on the new altar platform with incense koro, candle, water offering and flowers.

Crafted by hand in his workshop in Brooklyn, NY, this walnut platform will serves us well for years to come. Shokei sends his best wishes and loving support to our burgeoning community.


And we thank Shokei for his generous dana, and skillful work.

If you would like to see more of Shokei's work, you can see his online portfolio here:
Eric Shokei Manigian