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Located in Creston, British Columbia, Sakuraji is a lay practice Soto Zen temple that offers a weekly practice schedule and includes daily morning meditation, service and dharma talk, evening meditation and classes and six week-long retreats each year. These retreats usually coincide with the six earth-based spirituality holidays.

The retreat schedule is built around two training terms: one that begins on Feb 2 (candlemas) and ends on June 21 (summer solstice) and another that begins on September 21 (fall equinox) and ends on December 21 (winter solstice.) After the winter solstice retreat a Festival of the Buddha's Enlightenment and Winter Solstice Celebration are attended by up to 60 community members.

Retreats are held at the opening and closing of each training term and half way through them on Mar 21 (spring equinox) and in the last week of October. Each training term, students make vows of practice and study a sutra or a contemporary text under the guidance of practice leader, Kuya Minogue. Term students travel to the Mission Mountain Zen Centre in Montana to join Zenku's sangha for the O'higan retreats at the equinoxes.

In addition to Zen practice and retreats, Sakuraji offers a weekly qigong class and two yoga classes. The centre is often rented to the community for workshops and acoustical musical presentations and has two residence rooms that are available for full time students and for out of town retreatants.

During the summer break (July and August), Kuya stays at the Sakuraji hermitage and runs a weekly practice schedule there. The hermitage overlooks Kootenay Lake and can accommodate up to six retreatants. The August week-long retreat is held at the Sakuraji Hermitage.
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Kuya comes into town twice a week to tend to Sakuraji's garden, which is a large part of samu practice during spring, summer and fall retreats.
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Since its founding in 2007, eight students who have studied at Sakuraji have taken precepts, the most recent being Zea Friesen whose Jukai is featured in last month’s newsletter. Sakuraji has six distant students who sometimes attend the evening classes via telephone or Skype. Six students regularly attend weekly practice events and week-long retreats and up to 25 people show up for Sakuraji’s community events which they learn about from Kuya’s bi-monthly column called, “Zen’s Eye View” which is published in the local newspaper. Her most recent column series has been a two-year commentary on Dogen’s “Mountain and River’s Sutra.” Here is an example.

Drop the Bucket List

If we really enter this moment and are truly here in our lives we can be fully present with our experiences. But usually, we are not. If we look deeply into our own minds, it’s shocking to realize that there is a constant undercurrent of desire and dissatisfaction. It’s as if we are always searching for something. Identity and ego are a constant feature of our thinking. If we look past ideas about who we are and part the weeds of every thought to see what is behind each one, we find an expression of desire and self interest. It’s an ongoing thing that is always present. “I want to be kind; I want to be loved; I want to be justified; I want to be important: I want to be alive; I need this; I don’t want that. All these things are constant in our minds, even when we don’t know they are there. Thoughts about self are, in fact, behind everything.

This means that as long as self-centred thoughts occupy any aspect of our consciousness we are not fully present. The underlying stream of desire causes us to see mountains and rivers in a two dimensional way. And this underlying stream goes on all the time; even when we practice diligently. Self-centred concerns never go away completely. We need them to survive. But when we see through them, and know them for what they are, we can be fully present, here, in this moment. And when we are fully present, everything that manifests is the Buddha’s expression of profound truth. As Dogen says in his essay, “Mountains and Rivers Sutra,” “Mountains and waters right now are the actualization of the buddhas and ancestors.”

The phrase, “right now” is actually the most significant phrase in this sentence. It has to do with the fact that this moment is not an isolated moment of time that passes away. It does pass away, but the energy that brings it forth has brought the previous moment forth and will bring the next moment forth. This energy is the energy of impermanence. It has always existed, it exists now and it will always exist. Dogen is saying that every moment of passing time is, in itself, eternal. Eternity is not something that happens later. This moment is it.

And that’s wonderful, because it means that you don’t need to go anywhere. Most of us like the idea of a bucket list. I always wanted to do this; I have to do that before I die or my life won’t be complete. But according to this teaching, even if you never left your room you would be everywhere, and you would be able to participate fully with everything, because every moment is complete. That is the profound truth of this teaching.

Suggested Practice: If you have a bucket list of things you are hoping to do before you die, notice how often it seduces you away from present moment awareness.

First published in the Creston Valley Advance, 2015.