2015-02-13 Newsletter

Auckland Zen Centre Newsletter 

26 February 2015

From Sensei

Taking Refuge in the Sangha Treasure

I take refuge in Sangha,
and in its wisdom, example and never-failing help,
and resolve to live in harmony with all sentient beings. 

What are we actually taking refuge in when we take refuge in Sangha? Sangha does not just mean monks and nuns, though it is sometimes used that way. The Sangha is four-fold, and refers to bhikkhus, bhikkhunis, upasakas and upasikas (male and female home-leavers and male and female lay devotees). But even this wider definition does not really capture the meaning of Sangha. Sangha is more of a verb than a noun, and refers to living a life that is harmonious and pure. Members of a Sangha work together to support each other in cultivating the other two treasures, awareness (Buddha) and understanding the way things are (Dharma). Living a pure, upright life is essential. You can't awaken if the mind is being disturbed by pain-producing behaviour, and you can't understand the truth fully unless you are aligning yourself with it. To participate in a Sangha is to avoid influences and activities that would cause harm to others or ourselves and to expose ourselves to things and people which open our hearts and deepen our wisdom. We take refuge in Sangha by becoming Sangha -- unselfish, upright and willing to help. 

Since we moved back to New Zealand at the end of 2003 my dream has been to facilitate the unfolding of Sangha here in Auckland. It is in part a desire to recreate here the kind of community from which I benefited so much during my years at the Rochester Zen Center. Especially when I first came back, I sorely missed not only my teacher and the training, but also my Dharma friends, with whom I had such a strong bonds of love and respect after so many years of practicing together. I also missed the beauty of the Zen Center: the lovingly cared-for old buildings, the elegant gardens, the Buddha and bodhisattva figures like old friends. Of course it is impossible to create any kind of replica of the RZC and it would be foolish to try. Not only because different conditions will lead to different results, but also because Sangha is not things or even people. Sangha is relationship -- the activity of working together harmoniously on the Great Matter of birth and death, and purifying ourselves of impediments as we go. I hope we do capture something of the spirit that informs the training at the RZC: the importance placed on upholding the precepts; the strong and compassionate discipline; the attention to detail; the emphasis on genuine realisation. It is my job to uphold to these values, but it is really up to the whole Sangha to determine exactly how we develop as a community. Now that the work of establishing ourselves at 52 Princes Street is over, we can  turn our minds to this question. How do we create a strong Dharma community that serves not only ourselves but generations to come? Which is to say, how do we best cultivate awakening in each other?

As I mentioned at the benefit concert on Sunday, one important component that we are still working on is the provision of fully-fledged residential training. We can only handle one long-term trainee and the occasional short-term person at the moment. I would like us to be able to accommodate not only those with a vocational commitment to Zen, but also other students who wish to intensify their practice for a time in a supportive environment, as well as members coming from out of town, or occasionally someone in crisis who needs a few days or weeks of stillness and quiet to regroup. There are short-term things that we can do to increase our capacity from one to two long-term trainees. But we need to consider carefully what might be possible in the long term and also work that into our plans. We'll need to get creative. If we develop the back third of Princes St, how will we fund it? Are there better ways to provide accommodation for residents? 

Creating community is not easy in Auckland, with its exorbitant property prices, dispersed population and the congested roads. It will take ongoing commitment, effort, and persistence to build on what we have achieved so far. The Sangha rests on the foundation of our zazen; both the sitting we do together in the zendo and the sitting we do at home. From these strong roots I hope our Sangha grow into a great shade tree that shelters many beings for many generations to come. 

Concert Photos

Finale of There is no Depression in New Zealand led by Don McGlashan with the Floral Clocks at the Centre's benefit concert last Sunday. Many thanks, especially to the performers who were so generous with their time and energy, and to all who helped make the night so enjoyable. Funds raised will go towards the next stage of alterations to 52 Princes Street. Below, Jinmon LangabeerBalamohan Shingade, Phil Dadson and Adrian Croucher.

-- Sensei

Coming Up Soon

Morning Sittings

There is an additional informal morning sitting now being offered on Saturdays, from 8 to 9 a.m., and it will be held even when there is a workshop. Tuesday to Friday the sittings start at 6 a.m. They are formal, with chanting, on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and informal on Wednesdays and Fridays. Breakfast is always available after the weekday morning sittings, to allow people to go straight to work from the Centre. The Sunday sitting is 8:30 to 10:30. Dokusan is offered Tuesday and Sunday mornings (as well as Thursday evenings).

Day of Renewal, aka Workshop, Part 2

We've changed to a different format for our introductory workshops, rolling the material from the Day of Renewal into a second session. Anyone who has already done a workshop and wants to recharge and refresh their practice may come to the second part of any pair of workshops. The dates for the next one is Saturday 28 March. Book here.

Rakusu Sewing Circle

Wondrous is the Robe of Liberation
A treasure beyond form and emptiness
Wearing it I will unfold Buddha's teaching
For the benefit of all sentient beings

Anyone who is Sensei's  formal student may sew a rakusu to receive at Jukai in June or January, along with a Dharma name. Making the rakusu is a devotional act, and you need to give yourself plenty of time to cut out, sew, and to unpick/resew when necessary. There'll be sewing sessions after the sitting on Sundays, starting this Sunday (1 March). It really helps to have others to sew with, and there'll be a made-up rakusu to follow, as well as guidance from Sensei and Helen. Kits with the pattern, ring, fabrics, etc. are available at the Centre for $40.

Term Intensive

Each autumn and spring there is a chance to join others in a period of intensified formal and informal practice in the midst of one's everyday life. Our autumn TI will begin next Tuesday evening, 3 March, and last for four weeks. For more about Term Intensives see here, or talk to Sensei in dokusan.

One-Day Sitting

Our first one-day sitting for 2015 will be on Sunday 8 March. It will start at 8:30 a.m. and continue until 9 p.m., and will also be the first day of the Centre's annual "working sesshin." Lunch and Supper will be provided. Note the later than usual start and end times. As always you may come to all or part of the day, and you only need to sign up if you will be at meals. A donation is appreciated.

Working Sesshin 8-13 March

Once a year the Centre offers what we call a working sesshin. During a working sesshin participants maintain their usual work schedule during the day but commit to attending sittings at the Centre every morning and evening for the whole week. People have found that this type of sesshin provides an excellent way to work on integrating the fruits of sitting into one's daily routine.The week will kick off on Sunday (8th March) with a one-day sitting, and continue until Friday evening. Breakfast and a light supper will be provided each day. Sleeping over is an option for a limited number of people. 

When I Die...

In the October newsletter Sensei wrote about preparing for death. There is a template here which can be used to create instructions for your family and friends about what you'd like them to do when you are dying, and how you'd like your funeral to be conducted. There is also a webpage about bequests and planned giving, if you'd like to include the Centre in your will.

On the Horizon

Sangha Book Club?

Is anyone interested in forming a Sangha book club? The group would pick a Dharma book or video and meet regularly to discuss. Grant George is willing to coordinate if there is sufficient interest. If you are interested contact Grant by emailing grant@aucklandzen.org.nz, and indicate times to meet that would suit.


Tea with Wu De

Tea drinking and tea ceremonies of various flavours go hand-in-hand with Zen practice. At our sesshins we open the event with a silent tea ceremony -- after the buzz and bustle of getting everything ready for the sesshin, talking and eating supper together, we step into the zendo and sit. The server pours tea and when he or she has finished, we sip the tea, the cups are collected, and we continue sitting. This simple ceremony marks the transition from our normal busy lives into a spacious silence. On seven-day sesshins a second tea ceremony is held at the start of the final night of sitting, as a way to pause and re-dedicate ourselves to the practice. 

Recently the Zen Centre hosted a tea teacher and Zen priest who goes by the name of Wu De (also known as Aaron Fisher, born in rural Ohio). We sat two rounds of zazen together, and then Wu De began a tea ceremony at a low table placed in the zendo. Using spring water (rather than Auckland tap water), he brewed a blend called "Five Elements" tea and poured it into tea bowls that were passed out to the thirty or so people present. This dark liquor had a rich and multi-layered flavour. After people had been served, he talked about the connection between Zen and tea, and how tea can serve as a bridge between zazen and daily activity. 

While the art of tea can get frighteningly complex (with the need to understand types of teas, brewing, water and so forth), the simple art of brewing tea with care and attention provides a training vehicle for meditative awareness in action. Indeed, at home recently, after a morning busy with computer work, I decided to stop, and brew and drink some tea mindfully. After the tea I had some domestic chores to attend to, and I felt as if the attentive presence infused into the work. So, tea can indeed serve as a bridge between our daily meditation practice and habitual actions. While it is not so much the tea itself as the presence one cultivates that is important, by choosing an activity and doing it mindfully, we can train ourselves to bring fresh awareness to the most mundane and repetitive tasks.

--Sally McAra

Volunteer/Dana Opportunities 


Dharmagear, the Centre's meditation supply business is going well, which means Helen needs regular help to get orders ready, and there's also some repair and maintenance work to be done on the building. So, we're planning occasional group samu (work practice) sessions on Saturday mornings, 9 o'clock to 11:30. The first will be on 7 March. Let Helen know if you'd like to participate.

Working with the Dying

Amitabha Hospice will be offering its next Caregivers' Course from 4 March to 22 April -- eight consecutive Wednesday evenings form 6:30 to 9:00 p.m., in Avondale. See www.amitabhahospice.org/public/splash/trainin1.php for all the details, or call 828 3321.

Bulletin Board

Buddha's Relics Coming to Auckland

Our Sangha has been invited to attend  a free public exhibition of ancient sacred relics from the historical Buddha and many other over 40 other Buddhist masters from India, Tibet and China. The exhibition will be held over the weekend of  20-22 March, with the opening ceremony on Friday 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., and viewing Saturday 10 a.m. to 7 p.m and Sunday until 5. The purpose of the event is to promote loving kindness and peace in the world. Sensei will be speaking at the Opening Ceremony so let her know if you'd like a ride from Onehunga.
The venue is Sri Lankaramaya Temple, 11 & 13 Pukeora Road, Otahuhu. For more details see Facebook.

Board of Trustees

The Centre is a charitable trust and is governed by a board of 5 trustees who meet every couple of months. If you have any matter you wish to bring up with the trustees, here are their email addresses:
Wayne Frecklington, Chair                    wayne@aucklandzen.org.nz 
Grant George, Treasurer                        grant@aucklandzen.org.nz 
Richard von Sturmer, Secretary           richard@aucklandzen.org.nz
Adrian Croucher                                      adrian@aucklandzen.org.nz 
Sally McAra                                              sally@aucklandzen.org.nz