Afterwards we drift back to the dining room to view Watching the Rock Grow, a documentary film about the Monastery’s early days and its evolution from Zen arts center to a Zen monastic training center. That metamorphosis came about because the residents and students asked for it. They dreamed it up and Daido Roshi responded. His model of molding the practice to the needs of the sangha still fuels the Monastery’s unfolding intention, and we are here this afternoon to take up that tradition for the first time without him.
Some sixty students and practitioners— many residing in the mountain communities surrounding the Monastery, others practicing at the Zen Center of New York City or in the Order’s far-flung affiliates and sitting groups—as well as the teachers, monks and residents living at the Monastery, assemble in the dining room. Our first task is to decide how to proceed. Unlimited imagining is a tall order and can easily fill the allotted four hours we have to plot the future. We draw up a list of topics that seem most urgent or obvious, and out of a web of lines and imperatives, eight subjects emerge. We break into small groups to tackle single topics and bring back suggestions for Daido Roshi’s dharma heirs, Shugen Sensei and Ryushin Sensei.
Reconvening in the dining hall, one by one the presenters for each group come forward to offer the dreams they have collected. And one by one others of us come up to the microphones to ask questions or present musings of our own. Our minds insist on worrying about resources—time, money and all those other pragmatic details we’ve been asked to forget. The teachers sit facing us, mostly silent, making notes, listening. Below the articulated surface of our longing is a taut net of dualities: individual and community; monastery or church; young sangha, aging sangha. Within an imperfect framework, we attempt the unending task of redefining ourselves, wrestling with realities we dare not ignore.
There are so many areas where sangha wants to be engaged: consumerism, violence, bias and intolerance, and all issues surrounding food. Some see the gardens as a natural focus in the city as well as the mountains. They would like our gardens to be more central to our training, cultivating commitment through a garden committee, the creation of a growing manual and the education of gardeners for community outreach.
We hear the words passion and empowerment repeatedly. The vital tension between individual and community takes center stage. While many feel they practice right action through lifestyle choices and participation in their neighborhoods, there is also a palpable eagerness to do projects together, as a sangha.
If the sangha wants right action to carry more weight, individually and institutionally— what would that look like? One suggestion is to have it be mandatory for ango participation, an activity you commit to in writing on the ango commitment form, just like body practice or art. That begs the question: Is it the Monastery’s role to create and/or sanction right action projects for the sangha as a whole?
Delving into that inquiry brings up the alive possibility of a school. With growing numbers of Buddhist families practicing at the Monastery, there is lots of interest and lots of questions too: Would it be a nonsectarian school? Or would it represent the Monastery?
The Monastery and the Temple
The second presenter comes forward, her group’s hopes and concerns scrawled on a legal pad. “The desire is to maintain a harmonizing sangha,” she tells us. Some in the group described a feeling of being pulled between Monastery and Temple. There is a pervasive longing for more fluidity between the two. For many it’s the dilemma of their teacher living in one place and they in another. Certain students find this difficult while others relish the chance to work with both teachers. Similarly those wishing to become MRO students must first go before Guardian Council at the Monastery; new students who continue training at the Temple feel a jolt of disconnection. How do we keep that bond flexible and enduring?
Daido Roshi’s persistent dream of a residential right livelihood practice at Dharma Communications arises as a bridge. Aspects of publishing always considered isolated to the Monastery can now operate laterally, thanks in large part to computers. So one unfettered scenario goes like this: Buy an office building in the city, make an extension of DC there and have a right livelihood scholarship resident from the Monastery living at the Temple. This would give Monastery residents more time to dedicate to some of the ideas kicking around today— the school, a farm, a hospice.
Most situations discussed fall under the heading of Growing Pains. On Sundays the Temple is often overflowing, and residents and city students must hustle to make room for everyone. They fear the lack of space is making newcomers feel unwelcome. Reality aside, is there a possibility of a larger building? The Temple sangha yearns for greater outreach to the neighborhood, expressed by the longing to practice with a sangha as diverse as the community outside the Temple doors.
Looking for solutions in the present, the role of the daojin comes up. Could they not serve as a welcoming committee in the city? The ongoing daojin practice was created by Daido Roshi as an oblate program for lay practitioners wanting to make a deeper commitment to the Monastery. In turn daojin lighten the workload of monks and residents. If daojin training was extended to the Temple, they could provide, among other things, extra sets of hands on Sundays. And moving back and forth between the two locations would help to sow a seamless sangha.