Lay Practice and Affiliate Sitting Groups

The first topic of discussion is the affiliates. The possibilities we envision have everything to do with what happens next on the website. There’s a genuine need to communicate what’s going on within the various affiliates—when, where, and how to get involved. This resurrects the debate about web access and content: how would affiliate information be posted, and who would post it—the Monastery or the group?

We need a clear organization plan for affiliates. Confusion about training within the outlying sitting groups remains. “The biggest cry we heard,” the presenter explains, “was for more support. More lay senior students involvement in supporting lay practice.” The desire for greater access to the monastics, lay seniors and each other could be served by a sangha directory (again, on the new and improved website).

All these ideas could come to life through committees. The sangha wants a greater hand in running the Temple and the affiliates. “What exactly would these committees do?” one student asks. A senior student who has practiced at both the Temple and Monastery reflects on this trend toward committees. “Committees are a way for us to spend time with each other and support one another.” There it is again: the thread of connection. The desire to be woven together, inwardly and outwardly, as one community. I am reminded that we are a relatively young sangha, only thirty years old, and still finding our way.

The Eight Gates

Programming content and workshops begin the conversation. Art as upaya was the seed of the original MRO, and we hope the new sangha house with its designated performance, gallery and studio space will help expand our appreciation of the arts. There’s a call for longer workshops—fiveday retreats for instance—and also one-day retreats that can accommodate lay practitioners’ schedules. The sangha would like art retreats offered at different levels: beginning and intermediate. Could seniors with expertise be available for students who are floundering? What about initiating an artist-inresidence program to mentor students? Some wish to see body practice more integrated into retreats, and even included in sesshin. And how about an advanced Introduction to Zen Training Weekend—a sort of ZTW2 for those who’ve been practicing and want to revitalize their eight gates practice? We long for more retreats on the dharma from our teachers. Again a request is put forth for more participation by senior monks and lay practitioners. Daido’s dream of a lay practice teacher is resurrected briefly.

The Monastery library is a repository for recordings of past retreats. If those could be put on the web, it would make for greater accessibility, if not for the general public then at least for students. Could we use the website’s interactive capacity for online chats with specific topics and times?

We can’t seem to stop worrying about what it will take for all this to happen. A senior student comes to the microphone to make an impassioned plea for the natural resources of a volunteer sangha. “People would be willing to [create a website or work on a database for the library], if they knew what to volunteer for and how to connect.”

Silver Dragons

The presenter, an elderly student, is pleased to inform us that their group ranged from young to old. She urges us to address physical issues for an aging sangha such as poor acoustics in the zendo, lack of grab bars in the showers, no handicap accessibility at all, and the steep sets of stairs at both the Monastery and the Temple.

There also needs to be some way for older sangha to keep in touch, especially when they can no longer make it to the Monastery. “Where are the church ladies?” a senior student raising a family in the neighborhood bemoans. “We know what we’re here to do in terms of our individual training as a monastery. But there’s also this functioning as a church. I just wonder what is our role with that?”

This circles us back to passion and empowerment. The sangha remains unclear about the boundaries between lay practitioners and the Monastery. A lay practitioner poses the question: “What’s the relationship between the sangha getting together and doing a project and wanting support from the Monastery—as opposed to the Monastery’s institutional structure, which Daido was always very clear about: it’s about the dharma.”

We jump from that debate to the subject of hospice. Having now undergone Daido Roshi’s death, we must first consider our aging monastics. The conversation weaves into right action, right livelihood, and the role of the daojin. The sangha recommends a task force be formed of students and practitioners with hospice care expertise to examine three areas of practice that the MRO could support. One would be outreach to sangha who are homebound. Another is end-of-life support and care for monastics on a planned basis. And thirdly, the possibility of an MRO hospice, on-site or off, that could integrate practice with right livelihood.

The prospect of an on-site hospice comforts sangha members without family. “When I go,” a longtime student from the city declares, “it would mean everything to me to be able to give my death to someone who practices.”