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In gratitude for the Hokyoji community – Winter 2007

Dear Friend,

I write to you today with deep gratitude. This is Hokyoji Zen Practice Community’s first newsletter. It is the result of long, steady, joyful and yet sometimes tearful efforts of many beings. It reaches far back into the distant past. Most recently it includes the group of people who invited Dainin Katagiri-Roshi to come to Minnesota to teach them something about Buddhism, and then, a few years later, a group that searched for land with him to find a place to establish practice a little ways away from the busy, grinding life of cities.

A setting was found in 1978. From then on there have been countless beings who have given so much to Hokyoji. It includes people who set up the army tent for sesshins, taking on the impossible mission of scouting out a twenty by forty foot patch of ant-free ground, those who cooked oatmeal on camp stoves in cold spring rains, and those who served it. It also includes cows, long gone now, who standing a few yards away, offered encouragement, by gazing straight into the eyes of the sincere Zen practitioners as they sat shivering, sometimes agitated and at times doubting just what and who this little man from Japan was all about and why they did what he asked them to do. Sometimes the cows would bellow out “Moo” which turned the Zen people on their heads and they didn’t know whether to run, “Moo” back or just to continue to sit still. Again they followed their teacher and continued to sit quietly.

More people came and together they planted new, tiny, pine trees no bigger than their hands. People skidded felled oak trees and milled the logs into boards and put the boards together to form structures. There were carpenters, welders and cooks and the rest who didn’t know how to do very much with things like hands, land and buildings. But they learned a little from those who did and tried their best to help.

Practice periods began. Teachers and practitioners came from all over the world to study Buddha’s way together, transcending cultures and becoming friendly with each other. Katagiri-Roshi’s life was in full bloom. He smiled and laughed often, walked and worked with vigor and vitality, and happily enjoyed mowing the pasture with the gray Ford tractor. He taught wholeheartedly and enthusiastically asking for deeper and deeper commitment from his students, paving Buddha’s way into their hearts. However, not very much time went by and the blooming flower of his life faded and he died. Lost in confusion and pain, everyone suffered. He was gone.

Some, valiantly and courageously, stepped forward to offer the effort of their practice and work, but within the confusion it was difficult to talk together to find a way to receive this effort and this in turn created more hurt. The cycle continued and fifteen years passed. Still, within these difficult and challenging times, love for Hokyoji and Katagiri-Roshi did not end. A few who had been witness to these events began to talk with each other and to ask what to do. The talking was quite different. It was quiet and respectful. It contained listening deeply and caring for what the other felt and said. In the beginning of the talking, none had the same opinion as the other. Still, a way was found to move forward, step by step, together. For two and one-half years the talking continued, and on July 14, 2007, the Minnesota Zen Meditation Center donated Hokyoji to a newly-formed group of people called Hokyoji Zen Practice Community. The “Community” in our name is important. Katagiri-Roshi said, “I wish to build a place and an environment to promote the quiet sangha life in unity.” Environment means to live harmoniously with all of nature’s diverse rhythms and manifestations. We experience heat, cold, full moon, no moon, sunrises, sunsets, breezes, thunder, lightening, stars, deer, turkeys, ticks, mosquitoes, beetles, lightening bugs, lilies and stinging nettles with equanimity, without evaluation, just as they are, neither loving one nor hating the other. The quiet life means practicing concentrated stillness in zazen and the extension of it to the gentle manner of mindfulness in which we move from one activity to another in caring for our daily living. Sangha unity means relying on each for support. It is the awareness that we need support from our friends that both helps us to be strong when we become weakened, and to weaken us when we experience and develop too much strength. Ananda said to the Buddha after he had had a very dynamic and invigorating dharma experience talking with one of his good friends in the sangha, “Lord, good friends are half of the holy life.” The Buddha responded, “Do not say so, Ananda. Do not say so. Good friends are the whole of the holy life.”

Many of us in our tradition have learned how to sit still for long periods of time. We can fearlessly face hours and hours of sitting silently not twitching a single muscle. Yet, when circumstances arise in which it is necessary to have a respectful conversation about a difficult matter with a close friend, we do not know how to do it. We feel afraid because we are not sure we can completely trust our friend or ourselves. To venture courageously into this realm with full conscious awareness is the other side of the silent relinquishment of consciousness while sitting zazen. This is finding completeness, wholeness and true intimacy. This is the life of sangha. This is community.

Now those tiny pine trees reach magnificently over our heads and tower far into the sky. Hokyoji has had many beautiful lives that are fondly remembered. Now it is reborn. It is a newborn baby with a brand new life.  Infinite manifestations are possible for this tiny, new being. And, at the same time, it is foolish to not recognize how fragile this new born life is. Without proper care and nurturing it may easily die or not reach full, healthy development. It lies cradled in high hills that surround and help protect it from some of the troublesome noise and dangers of the world. But it needs much more than this to continue to live and thrive. It needs love and attention.

Hokyoji invites you to come to it. For this brief moment in time, Hokyoji is just our own lives that practice being here. However, its magnificence is so great and reaches so far beyond that it can never belong to anyone. It only seeks to create intimacy for those who care for it. It asks that you open your heart, let go of past and future, enter this moment and listen to it as the jewel-mirrored treasure.

In gratitude,

Dokai Georgesen