Auckland Zen Centre Newsletter

15 May 2015


Brainstorming Session this Sunday on Nurturing Community and Developing Residential Options 

11 p.m. this Sunday 17 May (after 8:30 sitting and tea)

Bring your ideas, big and small, on ways to strengthen our Sangha.

From Sensei

Nurturing Sangha

The Buddha once said that "admirable friendship" was the whole of the holy life. By admirable friendship he meant association with people who are admirable; people who are generous, virtuous, and wise. If we sincerely admire someone it is likely we will be moved to emulate him or her. Master Dogen said it is like walking in mist. Your clothes get damp without your even noticing it. A big part of Sangha is the opportunity to be around people who are walking the same path -- working on the Great Matter -- and able to encourage us to go beyond our self-imposed limitations.

This Sunday we are meeting to talk about Sangha. I often hear from people about the difficulties they experience living in Auckland; the pressures and unhelpful attitudes at work, the congestion and travel distances, and the expense of housing narrowing options. On top of this there is the knowledge that collectively we are on an unsustainable economic and social trajectory. Can we turn this crisis around and be galvanised into making wise and compassionate choices which will transform the way we live, without adding still more busyness? After some to-ing and fro-ing, one of the difficult decisions we made years ago during our lengthy search for a home for the Centre was to stay in the city. The reasoning was that we wanted to be where the people are; to remain as accessible as possible and to keep our carbon footprint as low as possible. Of course there are big trade-offs. In being accessible we've had to sacrifice access to the silence and spaciousness that we might have got with a rural location. And as Auckland property prices go up and up people wanting to live near the Centre have been constrained financially from doing so. Our meeting will be a chance to explore what practical steps we can take to nurture our community and deepen our friendships and connections. How can we build on what we already have and continue to create a genuine sanctuary, an island of sanity, in the midst of the city?

The format for the meeting will be as follows:

Introduction from me, saying a little bit about the three questions we will address:

1.    In what ways can we support each other to practice at the Centre and at home and to live the Dharma throughout our day?

2.    Is there the interest in, and what could be done to create, a Sangha intentional community in proximity to the Centre?

3.    How can we create and fund more short-and long-term residential training options at the Centre?

If we have sufficient numbers we'll then break into three groups (select the topic you are most interested in) to do a mind-mapping exercise. The groups will then report back, and we'll look at next steps.

-- Sensei

P.S. In the last Newsletter I also talked about the importance of Sangha, and my wish to be able to accommodate more people for residential training. See my article here. Apropos of residential training, we received the following from Kathryn Argetsinger (who, by the way, will be here in August for sesshin and some weeks of residential training):


Reflections on Residential Training

Recently I heard about an initiative concerning expanding possibilities for residential training in New Zealand. I am very excited about this and would like to add a voice of support.

There are not that many residential Zen Centres in the West, and it was certainly my great good karma to have stumbled across the one in Rochester, NY, and there to have experienced first-hand the gifts that such a centre can offer to its community and to the world.

From the time that I first began to practice, I found myself deeply inspired by the many ways in which the residents of the RZC offered material and spiritual support to the rest of the Sangha -- taking meticulous care of the physical grounds and buildings, tending to the altars and offerings, and above all providing an example of a life devoted to practice and to realising the Dharma. Staff members were always there, too, to offer advice or support for my own practice.

For me, one of the most interesting things was that although those in residential training were living a life which incorporated important elements of traditional Buddhist monastic training, these people were not monastics, but lay residents who had committed to the training for shorter or longer periods of time, as suited their life circumstances. This meant that the training was open to anyone who felt called to go deeper in the practice, and who could use the support of fellow-trainees and practitioners to do so.

I believe that this semi-monastic style of residential Zen training is one of the most important developments and offerings of Western Zen. Certainly it is thanks to Amala-sensei’s experience of such a centre that the AZC has always aimed to offer residential training and has developed its own small training program. I have benefited from that program as have others, especially Helen. But both Helen and I (not to mention Sensei) have also experienced the difficulties of carrying out this style of training when only one or two people are in residence and there is not the possibility for more. A residential community is a key source of support not just for the larger Sangha, but for our teachers and priests as well.

So it is that we are asking how we can help our programme to grow and blossom. It is important to realise that, aside from the AZC’s small programme, there is currently no year-round residential Zen Centre in New Zealand, nor, as far as I am aware, in Australia either. That means that people who want to do residential training in the Zen style must travel overseas. How wonderful if we could lay the foundations of a programme which would allow New Zealanders to train at home -- and which would, I am certain, attract practitioners from all over the world as well.

-- Kathryn Argetsinger

Additions to the Weekly Schedule

Chanting for Syria

Every Thursday morning after the 6 a.m. sitting we are dedicating our chanting to the people of Syria and environs who have been killed, injured or displaced by the war. About 4 million people have fled the country and are camped mainly in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt, and another 7.6 million are sheltering within Syria. If you would like to place an image on the altar or make a monetary offering to to be passed on the an aid organisation you are most welcome to do so.

North Shore Sitting

Kate and Robin are offering a 6 a.m. Wednesday morning sitting in Bayswater. Contact the Centre if you are interested in attending. 

Coming Up Soon

Teishos on the Precepts

In preparation for Matariki Jukai, Sensei will devote the next few teishos to the Precepts. The talks will be on Tuesday evenings, 19 May, 2 June and 16 June.

One-Day Sitting

Our next one-day sitting is next Sunday, 24 May, and will start at 6 a.m. with a tea ceremony and informal talk, and end with chanting at 3:30. There is also the option of joining in at the usual sitting time of 8:30. See here for details. The Centre will provide breakfast and lunch, and the day is offered in the spirit of dana, with donations gratefully received.

Matariki Jukai Decorating

On Thursday evening 18 June, we'll finish the sitting a little early and decorate the Centre with pine boughs for Jukai. 

Matariki Jukai

Our annual mid-winter Jukai (Taking-the-Precepts) Ceremony will be at 5:30 p.m., with the Centre open from 4:00 for informal sitting. Details here. The rakusu ceremony will happen right after Jukai. Sensei needs all completed rakusus by 12 June at the latest.

On the Horizon

  • One-Day Sitting on Sunday 5 July -- schedule TBA.
  • Winter Sesshin 1-8 August at Bella Rakha.
  • NOTE EARLY START for our Summer Sesshin at Aio Wira, which will begin the evening of 2 January 2016.


Patch of Green Adopted by the Centre

As part of our Earth day celebrations we cleaned up a small piece of Auckland Council land behind the Centre. We started by removing years of accumulated junk, and by planting a row of small hibiscus bushes that will eventually grow into a hedge along the south edge of the carpark the land surrounds.  Zoe Carafice has made a planting plan for us and we will make an application for funding to the Council to purchase plants to beautify the area.


Each year, on the first Sunday in May, we celebrate the Buddha Shakyamuni's birthday, with offerings, story-telling, chanting and a simple bathing rite, followed by cake and activities for children. Below, the Sleeping Sage tells a Jataka Tale and Kannon watches over children intent on art-making. For more photos see here and here.

Ceremonies of Aid

Thanks to everyone who contributed to our collections for Earth Day, the Vanuatu storm and Nepal quake. The funds have been passed on to and Oxfam NZ.

Wish List

  • Got an old Mp3 player or tablet you are not using? Please consider passing it on to the Centre's library -- this would enable us of offer a big selection of teisho and talk files for listening. Currently only CDs of older talks are available.
  • Blankets and duvets (single) -- if in good condition we'll use them at the Centre and Sangha House for sesshins. If past their use-by date, they are still useful as mat substitutes for our AUT sitting group, where we don't have room to store mats.
  • Toys for a Centre toy box. Sometimes parents with small children drop in, and it would be great to have a few items stashed away for children to play with.