Auckland Zen Centre Newsletter
It is over seven months since I last wrote an e-newsletter. We have got into the habit of sending out shorter smart-phone-friendly reminders about upcoming activities at the Centre, having learned that people don't always read all the way through long newsletters. We will continue to send the short reminders, and newsletters will now be less frequent, but with a greater focus on articles by me and others (though the reminders about events will be there too, in brief.) Among the many things which have happened since the last e-newsletter went out was Hanya's ordination in February. About 20 members of Hanya's family participated and 50 or so Sangha. The Centre was also visited in March by Ven Master Chi Boon, teacher at Gwan Yin Chan Lin in Singapore, and some of his disciples. Many decades ago, master Chi Boon hosted Philip Kapleau in his home and he also has strong ties to Tangen-roshi, so the karmic connections and sense of rapport were strong. The group delivered a lovely scroll of Avalokitesvara , a gift from Centre member Michael Tan (not able to join the group due to study commitments). Another member of the group, Lichun has since sent us a beautiful Bodhidharma Scroll, painted by a fine Polish sumi-e artist living in Japan, Ven. Nyogen Nowak. Look out for the scroll at the next Bodhidharma Day. Gasshos for the generosity of our Dharma brothers and sisters from Singapore.
A joyful gathering of Sangha and family after Hanya's ordination Ven. Master Chi Boon and his disciples with the Guan Yin scroll.
If we are honest about our own lives and the suffering of sentient beings, there is always more work to do. Or, as Shunryu Suzuki-roshi put it, "Everything is perfect, but there is a lot of room for improvement." Another striking feature of the survey was the high rate of engagement by respondents in volunteer work of many kinds -- this on top of responsibilities for family, work and a regular sitting practice -- people are contributing a lot to their communities.
The results showed that there is a sizeable group of people who reasonably happy with the the Centre's current range of sittings and other activities. Some of the positive comments made in the survey were sent out with donations receipt letters in April and these have also been added to our website here. There are some areas where we could make improvements. We could do better with letting newcomers and occasional visitors know about all that the Centre has to offer. For example, some people did not know that Tuesday to Friday there is an informal sitting (10 to 10:30 a.m.) at the Centre that anyone is welcome to join, or that besides advertised sitting times people are welcome to use the zendo at any time during our opening hours (Tuesday to Friday 7 a.m. to 4 p.m., Saturday 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.). We learned that some beginners want more opportunities for intensive practice, while some would like more explanations about what we do, and that many people (47%) would like to sit more at home. We could also do better at attracting and retaining under 35's. Opportunities to get to know other Centre members and Dharma study were areas where some people wanted to see more activity. The full survey report is available here.
We'll have already addressed some of these issues. We've added a third 7-day sesshin this year to provide more opportunities for intensive practice, and plans are underway for some winter "Dharma DVD" evenings which will offer a combination of Dharma discussion and socialising. For those who don't have access to the formal structure and group energy offered by the Centre, Kathryn Argetsinger, who has done a lot of solo practice at her home in Massachusetts, has agreed to act as mentor for a "home practice support group" -- email her email@example.com if you would like to join. We will also be putting some home practice tips on the website and/or our Facebook page.
Last December we decided to try out no longer purchasing dairy or eggs for the Centre. Like our mother temple, the Rochester Zen Center, and many Zen, Chan and Seon centres and monasteries around the world, we already have a policy of not consuming flesh foods at the Centre. Of course it is up to each person to decide what to eat, and people's needs vary greatly, but choosing not to eat flesh can be a powerful way of cultivating a heart of compassion, and of strengthening the habit of non-harm. It is quite straight forward; to avoid flesh foods is to reduce the demand for meat, and therefore to reduce the need for animal slaughter.
Unfortunately buying dairy products and eggs also involves encouraging animal slaughter and suffering. In dairy production calves are separated from their mothers soon after birth, and the male calves are all either sent off to the meat works immediately or sold on for meat production. The cruelty to bobby calves that was exposed in the media last November has led to prosecutions, but that will not stop the killing that is an intrinsic part of present dairy industry practice. Similarly in the egg industry, whether the eggs are free range or not, most male chicks are killed soon after hatching.
So our decision to no longer purchase dairy products and eggs is undertaken in the spirit of reducing harm to sentient beings -- reducing, but not eliminating. It is important to acknowledge that to be alive is to be caught up in killing and devouring. Except for salt, more or less everything we eat was or is alive; moreover tilling the soil, growing, and harvesting also inevitably involve killing. Food production often involves human suffering as well, due to unfair trade practices, unsafe agricultural methods, and unjust labour laws. In our meal chant we say, "This meal is labour of countless beings, let us remember their toil" -- hopefully we can come to fully appreciate the true costs of the food we eat, and eat with gratitude, wasting as little as possible. The Centre buys organic and fair trade products where we can reasonably do so within budgetary constraints, as a way of supporting sustainable agricultural and trade practices.
With dietary matters it is easy to fall into attachment to correctness and purity, so in recognition of that and with the awareness that many Centre members are not vegan, food containing eggs and dairy will continue to be gratefully accepted and eaten at the Centre. I have not myself become completely vegan, but am working towards it. On the days when I am, it is something to rejoice about. In sesshin we have experimented with serving coconut cream "yogurt" for breakfast, adding quinoa to the brown rice, and serving nuts in various forms for extra protein. The sesshins were not adversely affected by the absence of eggs and cheese. Vegans do need to regularly take a vitamin B12 supplement as there is no reliable non-animal source for this, but otherwise, with creativity, care and sound nutritional knowledge, it is possible for many people to enjoy and thrive on a plant-based diet. Thich Nhat Hanh has said that we are here to awaken to the illusion of our separateness, and the decisions we make about how we nourish ourselves can play a big part in breaking down that illusion. In the long run, if our well being is at the expense of others it is not genuine and cannot last.
In the last e-newsletter, back in October, we reported that a Building Task Force consisting of Grant George, Helen Gallagher, Peter Christensen and me had been convened to explore possible permutations for creating residential accommodation in the extra warehouse space we have beyond the dokusan room, as well as how to fund the project.
The idea was to partner with Peter Christensen, who has a lot of development experience, to build several apartments to sell/license which would help fund some accommodation for trainees. We did not come up with a satisfactory plan for this, the stumbling blocks being the high base costs involved in the Resource Consent process and uncertainty about the outcome, as well as limitations imposed by parking requirements under the new Unitary Plan, and design constraints created by the orientation of the building and its proximity to neighbours. Since abandoning building out back for now, the Task Force has decided the best option was for Peter to look at independently building affordable apartments close to the Centre, sustainably constructed and with attractive common spaces, which members of the Sangha and others could then buy, and again with the possibility of incorporating some trainee accommodation as well. In this scenario the Centre's involvement would be limited to participating in the design process, helping to create a body-corporate charter that would be in harmony with Sangha values, and possibly raising funds to purchase space in the building for trainees. The search is on for a suitable piece of Onehunga land. For a while the Task Force was looking at a site with a lot of potential not far from the Centre on Princes Street, but this option is stalled.
Coming full circle, we will again be looking at making some changes to the garage/loft area, presently our Dharmagear hub.
Some things need to be done as soon as possible for Health and Safety reasons, and we want to do these alterations in a way that enhances the space and allows it to be used for a variety of different functions. For example for Hanya's ordination the garage became a food serving area and at Vesak it was used for a taiko drumming workshop. We have applied for a building permit to replace the roller door with windows and bi-fold doors which will enable us to connect the space with a pocket courtyard outside, next to our carparks.
On the strengthening of local community front, three Sangha members have recently moved to Onehunga, and two more are coming soon.
People may be aware that Richard has not been at sittings for a while. He has had a very painful recurrence of an old sacroiliac joint injury from a fall during sesshin at Bella Rakha in 2012. He is on the mend now but still needing to be very cautious about sitting still for long periods.
Robin Gardner-Gee in the Dharmagear work area.
The recent Vesak celebrations at AZC where a great success again for our family. We have been attending regularly over the last few years. A wonderful way of introducing children and newcomers to the dharma, while giving seasoned practitioners the chance for celebration and being mindful of the roots of the practice.
Everyone went away with special imprints on their minds. The skillfully told life story of Gautama Buddha, beautiful craft activities, an introduction to mindfulness meditation, the special ritual of bathing the Baby Buddha and of course the ever popular dharma story of the Sleeping Sage kept everyone captivated for the whole morning. The birthday cupcakes and treats were so yummy.
Our boys Alex (10), Marcus (7) and Lucas (4) had a great time appreciating the different spiritual practices which enrich our household (Buddhist/Catholic). This year we also brought an adult friend who wanted to learn about mindfulness and meditation.
Many many thanks and best Dharma wishes from Sabine Hemmingsen-Jensen
Sabine with Marcus and Alex in 2010.
As mentioned above, our survey revealed that not everyone is aware of all the sitting options offered at the Centre. See here for the Centre's daily schedule, and here for a weekly or monthly calendar of sittings and other events. Call 550 4384 if you have questions.
The Centre has one accessible car space right outside the front door. Please leave the space free as it makes it easier for people to get in and out the front door, but if you're very late, it is OK to park there at the last moment, as we don't presently have any regular sitters EXCEPT ON SUNDAY who need an accessible spot.
The Kannon Network is a basically a list of people who are willing to be contacted if a Sangha member is in need of help. The types of things people have done in the past are: cooking and delivering food, visiting someone at home or in hospital, giving someone a ride to an appointment, organising a bereavement card and collecting signatures. Let Hanya firstname.lastname@example.org know if you'd like to go on the list -- this committee doesn't have meetings!
Th Events Committee does have a couple of meetings a year, which are relaxed affairs that involve sharing food together as well as planning for upcoming events. This committee is for you if you like to cook for others, plan and organise parties, or help out with decorations and other preparations for ceremonies and Sangha occasions. Contact Robin email@example.com if you'd like to be involved.
We are soon to start on the first phase of transforming the Council land behind 52 Princes Street into an oasis of vegetation for local birds and humans to enjoy. We received a grant from the Maungakiekie-Tamaki Local Board for the purchase of mostly native shrubs and trees, a park bench, and mulch. The trees we have ordered are being delivered bit by bit by Peter McQuarrie, who is also contributing many plants he has been growing at home for the project. We've set aside two upcoming Sundays (19 & 25 June) for working bees to plant, 11 a.m. to to 1 p.m. Please bring a spade, boots and gloves. Sitting as usual at 8:30, morning tea at 10:30. Families and friends welcome.
Amitabha Hospice Service provides free care to the elderly and to people with life-limiting illness in every area of Auckland for a few hours a week. It needs more volunteer caregivers, and offers excellent (free) training. The next course starts 7 July and is given on 8 consecutive Thursdays from 7:00 - 9:30 p.m. in Avondale. For more information please or call 828-3321 or go to: http://www.amitabhahospice.org/public/splash/trainin1.php