Issue 16: Winter 2011/12

Sangha Update

Dancing Mountains Zen Sangha (Totnes)

By Francis Anryu Chiu

As in life, Sangha is a continually changing phenomenon here in Totnes. We meet each Tuesday evening for two 30 minute periods of Zazen, walking meditation (kinhin) and chanting. We begin with the Robe Chant and Purification and close with the Heart Sutra and the Refuges in Pali.

Over the last few years our coming together has evolved. Nowadays, we try to keep talking to a minimum both before and after Zazen and only meet once a month for tea, biscuits and conversation.

Until now, the format is not one of a study group but more of a sharing of aspects of our lives we feel comfortable in voicing.
Perhaps the difficulty in giving up a smoking habit, finding accomodation, frustrations at work, the training for roles in the Zendo, retreats experiences in other traditions, the meaning of Sangha and how this varies from person to person.

This last aspect can be quite complex as I suspect for some of us our motivation for "Sitting" together is not always clear.
In this respect, Reb's guidance for us to practice with the Bodhisattvas Vow to save all beings as our Koan, points the way towards a clarification of our intention. Initially, we may feel that this Great Vow makes no sense or is unfeasible or impossible but according to Suzuki Roshi, it is precisely for this reason we should dedicate ourselves to it.

As I write this, I'm becoming more aware of how many of us tend to place more emphasis on our altruistic actions while hoping that they will result in beneficial outcomes. However, according to Reb, it is in the dedication of our efforts to save all beings which frees us. That is, it is the Vow rather than any results of our actions which liberates us.

Recently, we welcomed Ingen Breen, a Zen teacher from Zen Centre San Francisco who received transmission from his teacher Norman Fisher in 2009. Ingen arrived on the Tuesday prior to the weekend retreat we had invited him to lead.
He flew from his hometown of Dublin to Bristol and then took the train to Totnes, arriving at lunch-time. The same evening, the Sangha sat together and later shared an informal meal with Ingen who responded to questions. During the week, he offered practice talks with members of the Sangha, familiarised himself with Totnes town, sampled local coffees while generally offering advice on how we might strengthen our sense of community.

We rented the local church hall as a venue. Early Saturday morning (Nov. 19th) many of us who would be sitting together over the weekend, transformed the rather bare space into a warm intimate setting for the next two days ahead.
On both days, twenty people attended, some just for one day, but most for both days. The central location meant
that several people could simply come on foot, and the 10:00 start and 18:00 finish, judging by the feed-back, seemed very convenient. During each day Ingen was available for private practice conversation, a question and answer period, as well as giving a talk.

Having spent several days prior to the retreat in Totnes and having shared some time with members of the Sangha, Ingen seemed to have his "finger on the pulse" of people's unspoken needs and his talks, I believe, reflected this. In speaking with others who have shared time with him, I feel there is a sense of Ingen being a teacher of great warmth, openess and genuine compassion, and we wish him well for his future life in San Francisco if that is to be. However, were the Universe to conspire otherwise in his life, perhaps we will all meet again in a not so distant future.

At the moment, he is scheduled to lead the "Rohatsu" sesshin in Venice, Italy in December. I hope I can speak on behalf of our Sangha in wishing him a safe and fruitful journey.
At this point, I would like to personally thank everyone who participated in the planning, organisation, publicity and everything it took to host this event. Together over the months and even years of practicing together, I have been so deeply moved by the kindness and compassion of many people who have participated in our small local Sangha.
For those who read this article, I hope our sharing brings as much happiness and meaning to your lives as it
does to mine.

Deep bows,

Francis Anryu Chiu

Back to front page