About our Sangha and Place of Practice

By Taiso Hannya Byran Bartwo Roshi, ZRS Head Priest, excerpted from the October 2018 ZRS newsletter


In this article, I want to briefly explore the meaning of Sangha, with a perspective which departs a little from the usual. Ultimately, the place of practice is “no-where” which is every-where, but we do benefit with a place to gather in mutual support.

Our first vow is, “However innumerable all beings are, I vow to serve and liberate them all.” …Traditionally, “Beings are numberless, I vow to free them.” This is the crux of the Mahayana movement in Buddhism, which is the great “river” through which we approach zen practice. Appending the phrase “in my own mind” is attributed by his contemporaneous followers to Hui Neng, the Sixth Patriarch of Zen.

What does this have to do with Sangha? Sangha is the cradle for our practice and one of the three refuges or jewels which are the essence of Zen Buddhist practice. In the simplest sense, serving and freeing innumerable beings is a daunting matter. I try to approach this using, “what’s at arm’s length” as a lens. Our friend Tonen reminded me of this once when I expressed the sorrow of seeing all the suffering in the world… of course, I only see pictures of suffering that isn’t in immediate experience – and what can be done is necessarily a matter of immediate action. Tonen helped me to recognize that wallowing in my sorrow could be pitfall of romantic indulgence and inaction. Still, we must be careful not to use this as an evasion of the vow; rather as a springboard for actualizing this instead of freezing.

In one sense, we come together as a Sangha to support the transformation of our mutual interest in salvation and cessation of suffering with the bodhisattva vow – with the taste of awakening… when all being(s) finally transformed, “I” too will pass through.

Gate, Gate, Para Gate, Parasam Gate, Bodi Swaha!

Reishin, with the help of many others in actualizing this vow, has given a tremendous gift to support our Sangha. She personally took on the mortgage and serves as our landlord. The mortgage contract she holds for the building where we practice together comes due in June of 2020. On June 7 this year, Reishin asked us to consider whether we are ready to assume this role as a Sangha. She sent the board of ZRS this simple and humble request:

“I would like to simplify my life and hope that ZRS can purchase the building by June 2020 when the current mortgage expires…If possible, I would like to know your decision by December 2019 so that I can figure out how to refinance the building, if necessary.”

And she has assured us this is not an ultimatum, she is willing to try to continue in her service to us as landlord, if this is needed.

As we have begun to announce in our meetings, we are planning to meet as a Sangha to consider this on November 3rd after our regular practice. In this article, I wanted to share this part of how I see our challenge. Sometimes we think of Sangha in terms of what we may offer the community as a place of refuge, and as a small group, we don’t do as much as some much larger groups we sometimes admire. Still, our practice is open to all who want to practice the vow of liberation for all being(s), and particularly for us in support of practice together, and even more particularly… “in our own minds.”

I don’t know if we will find that we are ready to assume the responsibility for the building, but I understand Reishin’s invitation through this lens, and I am deeply grateful for the opportunity to contemplate this with you.

With Love and Respect,