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The Raleigh News and Observer newspaper (called “the N and O” around these parts) sent a crew to our annual Buddha’s Birthday celebration this year and posted a wonderful story, with many photos and a video. The ceremony was indoors this year (rain! and below normal temperatures).

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There has been incremental progress on our garden renovation project during the fall and winter. The large koi that have been with us for over 15 years were moved to a holding pond while the old pond was demolished and a new one took shape. Great care was taken to make sure that the temporary pond had the same biology as the one they had lived in all their lives. Fortunately they made the transition and have come through the winter in fine shape.

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Gradually the old concrete pathways and flagstones were demolished and removed and the new stream and pond took shape.

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IMG_0159Finally, in the past 10 days, the new pump was activated and you can hear and see the result! We will be re-introducing the fish to their new and improved home – the new pond is deeper and more natural, with rocks and pebbles in the bottom and sides. New plants will follow soon, and a stone bridge over the stream to access the new central steps to our entryway.

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Donations toward the remaining costs for this project are needed and gratefully accepted….

 

On Sunday March 5 three disciples of Buddha – Andrea Ashdown, Sheldon Clark, and Craig Adamski – received the 16 Bodhisattva Precepts from Josho Sensei in the ceremony of Zaike Tokudo. Unable to join the group on this day, Bruce Miller received the precepts in a second ceremony on March 17, supported by fellow ordainees and members of the sangha. Each sewed their rakusu with the guidance of sewing teacher Jakuko Mo Ferrell over many months and years. Tokudo is always a joyous occasion for celebration – congratulations to them all!

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On Saturday, June 4, Choro Carla Antonaccio and Bunkai Stephen Tracy celebrated their marriage in a Zen ceremony of vows and precepts, attended by many sangha members and friends. Great joy, greatly supported.

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Vows

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The sangha witnesses.

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Malas exchanged….

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Together.

LInoleum block print by Bunkai

LInoleum block print by Bunkai

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Wondrous cake by sangha member Andrea Ashdown.

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Bunkai, sister Elizabeth, brother in law Doug (in from California), Choro

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Choro and childhood best friend Melissa Bessey.

We were very fortunate, and are very grateful, to have had the opportunity of a teaching retreat (genzo-e) with Shohaku Okumura Roshi, from August 5-10. Taking the form of a traditional meditation intensive (6 am to 9 pm, for five days, with formal zendo meals and many periods of meditation), this sesshin featured two, two hour periods of teaching each day for all five days. Roshi shared with us his translations and commentary on two fascicles of Soto Zen’s founder, Dogen Zenji: Mitsugo, or “Secret/Intimate Words”, and Dotoku, “Expression”. Planned for two years, more than 30 people participated, including from Florida, Virginia, Indiana, and elsewhere. (All photos courtesy of Kevin Heffernan.)

 

One of many pages of characters and terms....

One of many pages of characters and terms….

Shohaku Roshi

Shohaku Roshi

The group

The group

Much progress in recent days, despite quite a bit of heat, humidity, and sometimes ferocious rain.

The new steps are in and the old ones demolished. Cable railings and ipe wood rails are nearly done.

Today a temporary pond for the two large koi that have been in our pond for nearly 17 years was put in place. Once the biology is right, they will be transferred for the duration of the garden renovation – probably a period of months.

Meanwhile, the current pond is at its seasonal best. We will transfer more of the plants to the new pond shortly. The garden work should begin in earnest any day, too.

Please consider donating to support the renovation! thank you for your generosity.

The July 4 holiday and recent rainy weather have not assisted the progress of the ramp and steps project, but a sense of the renovation is still possible from the images.

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New bell and han structure

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Looking down the ramp: new steps will align with front door

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Posts for new railings

On the Sunday after Rohatsu sesshin concluded, we celebrated Buddha’s Enlightenment with the sangha, and as is our custom, the kids played a major part. Josho gave a talk directed at them, they each lit a candle and offered it to the Buddha, and then we circumambulated the zendo chanting the Heart Sutra 3 times, while the kids threw flower petals in the air. Homage to Shakyamuni Buddha!

The pansies on the altar are gifts for the children.

The pansies on the altar are gifts for the children.

When the candles were all burning before the altar, one of the kids whispered, That’s a LOT of candles. And I thought of something: during Rohatsu, as part of our daily morning service we were reading Dogen’s fascicle “Only Buddha and Buddha” as the sutra. This includes the sentence (Kanahashi trans.): “When you realise the Buddha dharma, do not think: ‘This is realisation, just as I expected’. Even if you think so, realisation always differs from your expectation. Realisation is not like your conception of it. Accordingly, realisation cannot take place as previously conceived.” Though we had sat for a week, mostly silent and facing our walls, while walking and chanting with the entire community, treading on the flower petals of scores of arrangements from the previous year, is when those words appeared in my mind in a different way.

Always, the reception manifests, without fail.

Always, the reception manifests, without fail.

 

Sangha chats.

Sangha chats.

We used to use the term jukai for our lay precepts ceremony, but now we usually call it zaike tokudo, ‘staying home and accomplishing the way’. Jukai can refer to a ceremony in which one receives five precepts and a kind of stole called a wagesa, whereas zaike tokudo involves the Sixteen Bodhisattva Precepts, and sewing a rakusu by hand. Several of our ceremonies are a variation on this form  – marriage and death included – where giving and receiving the precepts is our response to many occasions.

On Sunday, September 28, two disciples, Elliot Shafer and Conal Ho, received buddha’s robe (rakusu) and lineage papers as well as their new names in this ceremony. Elliot is Myoshin Eido, ‘Clear Mind, Endless Path’; and Conal is Kanshin Jikishu, ‘Generous Heart, Direct Practice’.

Josho sensei told us that these were the 50th and 51st lay persons to whom she had given the precepts.

As usual, after the ceremony we had a wonderful potluck spread. Thanks to John Paredes for the photos.

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On Saturday evening, June 28, Head Monk or shuso, Jakuko “Mo” Ferrell, completed the Dharma Inquiry ceremony which is the culmination of a formal practice period in Soto Zen (ango). The ceremony includes all participants in the practice period, who each ask a question of the shuso in rapid succession and receive a direct answer, punctuated with a sharp strike of the shippei, a staff of bamboo. Thus the head monk directly meets everyone in the immediate moment. It is considered a kind of trial or test of a teacher in the making.

The ceremony began with a procession that includes clappers and a drum as well as the traditional hand-carried bells. After the usual three bows, we chanted the Heart Sutra very slowly to the beat of the wooden mokugyo while the Abbess incensed a copy of the Book of Serenity, which was carried in a slow circumambulation of the room by her attendant and given to the shuso. At the end of the chanting, the shuso read a case, the first one in the book, about Bodhidharma and Emperor Wu. She then returned the volume to the Abbess and after bowing to her and to the assembly on both sides, she received the shippei and returned to her seat. The benji, or shuso’s attendant, read a poem composed for the occasion, and after a formal statement, Jakuko called out, “bring me your questions!”.

The last question came from the former shuso, Kuden Paul Boyle (who returned from Canada for the occasion). Upon making a statement on the case she read earler and a ritual apology, Jakuko returned the staff and exchanged more bows with the Abbess and assembly, then resumed her seat for statements of congratulation. After the procession ending the ceremony and a round of photographs, we all enjoyed two kinds of cheesecake, the dessert requested by the shuso, and wonderful handmade chocolates provided by some of the participants.

Congratulations to Kengan Jakuko on this momentous occasion!

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