Monday, June 09, 2014

Dai Bosatsu Zendo

During our Memorial day weekend visit to the Beaverkill Valley our hostess suggested a tour of the International Dai Bosatsu Zendo Kongo-ji, located a few miles from the house where we were staying. She phoned, and was told we would be welcome. On a rainy afternoon we rode along a two lane road that followed the course of the Beaverkill for several miles, then turned off onto a narrower, rougher road. We were on this for some time and our hostess, who was driving, thought we had missed the entrance. A short way further we came to a large Japanese style arched entrance way spanning a two rut dirt road. If the approach to the entrance gate seemed long, the driveway seemed interminable. At last we saw a pond ahead of us, the road curved to the left, and on a hillside ahead was the monastery (photo above).

We went in, removed our shoes and, as instructed, rang the bong twice. Within moments we were greeted by a woman resident, who made us feel welcome and at ease. 
This magnificent Buddha figure sits in the hon-do, or main hall, on a dais flanked by paintings of guardians. Below are photographs of people who have been associated with the monastery. Immediately to the right of the small guardian figurine near the bottom right of the photo above is a photograph of the late Peter Matthiessen, writer, naturalist, frequent visitor to Dai Bosatsu Zendo, and uncle as well as namesake of Peter M. Wheelwright, author of As It Is On Earth.
This is the zen-do, the room in which residents and visitors practice zazen, or Zen meditation. Some use one cushion; others prefer two. 
Just beyond the zen-do there was a view from a window of a Japanese rock or dry garden, sometimes called a Zen garden.

What is Zen? It's easiest to say what it is not. It's not a religion. It is a practice involving disciplined meditation that is intended to lead to self realization. It is non-theistic, but neither atheistic nor anti-theistic. I have known Christians and Jews who practice Zen, including one who is both Roman Catholic and a Republican. 

On our way out, we stopped in the monastery's gift shop, and I bought a copy of Zen Flesh Zen Bones: A Collection of Zen and Pre-Zen Writings, compiled by Paul Reps and Nyogen Senzaki. The sixteenth of the "101 Zen Stories" that begin the book is about a student who visited the Zen master Gasan and asked if he had read the Christian Bible. Gasan said no, and asked the student to read to him.
The student opened the Bible and read from St. Matthew: "And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow. They toil not, neither do they spin, and yet I say unto you that even Solomon in his glory was not arrayed as one of these....Take therefore no thought for the morrow, for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself."
Gasan said: "Whoever uttered those words I consider an enlightened man."
While Zen is associated with Buddhism, its practitioners do not necessarily consider themselves Buddhists. According to the foreword to the 101 Zen Stories, early Zen masters "instead of being followers of the Buddha, aspire[d] to be his friends and to place themselves in the same responsive relationship with the universe as did Buddha and Jesus." As Reps points out in the preface to the book, the origins of Zen may pre-date the Buddha's life. The book includes "Centering, a transcription of ancient Sanskrit manuscripts" that "presents an ancient teaching, still alive in Kashmir and parts of India after four thousand years, that may well be the roots of Zen." I can add that "centering prayer" is a discipline taught and practiced at my own Grace Church in Brooklyn Heights.