In 2009, We saw substantial growth of the Sangha, in Atlanta as well as at Affiliate centers. We have been able to offer training in Zen meditation to more people than ever before, and our Disciple group has been greatly expanded, welcoming sincere students of Zen from all walks of life.
We have just finished editing the final segment of a 10-segment television program, The Eightfold Path to Daily Enlightenment, with Atlanta Interfaith Broadcasters, which will be fine-tuned and produced as a set of DVDs for distribution to Affiliates and public.
We also saw the advent of the Silent Thunder Order (STO), the network of Disciples of the Matsuoka lineage, founded by myself with the aid of the Organizing Committee. The mission of the STO is the propagation of Soto Zen training in the West.
The Silent Thunder Order now numbers over 50 active Disciples, who have undergone Zaike Tokudo, and are qualified to train for formal Novice Zen Priest Ordination (Shukke Tokudo). We are one dharma family, and our family also includes the heirs of Kosho Uchiyama Roshi, through Shohaku Okumura Roshi, my Transmission Teacher (Honshi), and those of Suzuki Roshi through Seirin Barbara Kohn, my Preceptor. Of course, families are not always harmonious. As we implement a more organized approach to preserving the living legacy of Matsuoka Roshi, it is important that we come to regard all Disciples as family: dharma parents, children, siblings and cousins.
In 2010, with your support, we will work to enhance the practice program at the Atlanta training center as well as those offered through our Affiliate network. 2010 will see the launch of programs to improve the organization, implementation and delivery of services to its Affiliates, as well as to the public. For example, we are enhancing the content, regularity and dependability of on-line Affiliate video conferencing, and are developing a web site for STO that will offer a centralized location for communications between Disciples in particular, and for Initiates and members of Affiliates.
Affiliate Practice Leaders perform the vital functions of leading Affiliate practice programs, providing continuity and dependability to their Sangha. At their invitation, I and other senior teachers of the network provide guest teaching, visiting and leading retreats and performing ceremonies as needed. All Affiliate Practice Leaders and Disciples in good standing are authorized to perform Initiation (Jukai) for new members as appropriate. Thus, the formal membership of an Affiliate can grow on a local basis, and the training center headquartered in Atlanta can offer more intensive events such as Buddha's Enlightenment Sesshin (Dec 1-8, Rohatsu) and Practice Period (Ango).
Winter Ango – Head Student in Residence — Three Sesshin
This Winter quarter (January through March) of 2010, ASZC will host a 90-day Ango. Ango harks back to India, when the members of the Order would retire to the caves during the rainy season. It offers a once-a-year opportunity for deepening one's practice.
During the 2010 Ango, Zenku Jerry Smyers, Practice Leader of the Chicago Zen Buddhist Temple, (CZBT) will be in residence as Head Student (Shuso). Jerry will arrive January 5th (if all goes as planned – he is driving from Montana!) and be installed as Shuso Sunday, January 10th, at the end of the first Sesshin of the Ango.
During his tenure as Shuso through March, Jerry will be available for practice discussion over lunch or breakfast. Please arrange to meet with him at least once, to discuss your practice, as well as his background and experience with Matsuoka Roshi and Kongo Roshi in the history of CZBT, which just celebrated its 60th anniversary.
Sangha Sesshin — January 5-10
The evening of his arrival, January Sangha Sesshin (week-long retreat) begins, headed by Mettai Cherry Zimmer as Guest Teacher, in which Jerry will train as Work Captain. The first Sesshin ends with Jerry's installation as Shuso the following Sunday. Following his installation, he will be offering morning meditation from 6:30-7:30 each weekday, for commuters on the way to and from work, and a series of meditation and talks on the regular Thursday evenings, beginning January 14th. He will give his first formal dharma talk on Sunday, January 17th. Please plan to attend as many of these events as you can.
Dharma Sesshin — February 2-7
In February we will host a second, Dharma Sesshin, led by Joriki Marcus Barlow, which will feature in-depth study and chanting of the Lotus Sutra. This sutra is of special interest, as it transmits the last teachings of Buddha. Jerry will train as Innkeeper for this Sesshin and will give his second formal dharma talk on Sunday February 21st.
Buddha Sesshin — March 2-7
In March we will offer the final of the three, Buddha Sesshin, led by Shiho Gareth Young. It will emphasize "just sitting." Daily dialog will be in the form of hossen, "dharma combat," thoroughly investigating experience on the cushion. For this last sesshin of the Ango, Jerry will train as Retreat Leader.
Jerry's third and final formal dharma talk will take place on March 7th. On Sunday March 21st we will perform his Ordination as a Novice Priest (Shukke Tokudo – if all goes as planned — anything can happen!). On Sunday March 28th, his final Shuso ceremony will be held, followed by a farewell lunch. Please attend all events.
EYE ON THE BALL
In addition to attending events related to our guest Head Student, during Ango you are offered a unique opportunity to ramp up your daily and weekly practice. At some centers, members sign a commitment contract, outlining what they intend to do to increase and enhance their practice during Ango. For example, you might commit to coming to each and every morning and evening meditation session, "bookending" your work day. Or you might commit to coming every weekend during the 90 days. Attend as much of the three Sesshin as you can manage, for another example. If you are able to do so consistently for the entire three month program, it will have an inestimable effect on your regular practice. And if you are unable to live up to your commitment, you will learn a valuable lesson from that.
We are not asking you to sign a written commitment, but to approach this Ango in that kind of spirit. Make a personal commitment to yourself — raise the bar on your practice a bit. Looking forward to three months, it looms large. Looking back on it, it will seems diminishingly small. Time exhibits a perceived Doppler effect, compression and extension, much like sound, or light. Don't let it fool you.
We will not be holding another Ango this year, and may be unable to in 2011 or for the foreseeable future. So while this unique opportunity presents itself, please take advantage of it. You won't regret it, I can guarantee that.