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Practice and Study in Japan

Rev. Issan Koyama continues to split his time between the US and Japan.  When he is in Japan, there are opportunities for sangha members to join him, by invitation, to study, practice and visit sites related to Dōgen and his lineage.  To follow Issan and the sangha's travels check the Facebook page: New York Zen Community for Dōgen Study.

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February 2-22, 2024

Dogen Pilgrimage Tour 

Issan Koyama, Michele Sevik, Louise Geurin, Paul Boos, Catherine Amendolara

These are some of the sites we visited: -Tokyo -Asuka Village: *Kitora Tumulus & Ishibutai Tumulus (Japan’s pre-Buddhist burial site) *Asuka-dera (Japan’s first Buddhist temple) -Nara *Tōdai-ji *Kōfuku-ji *Hōryū-ji -Kōya-san (overnight stay) Shingon School’s main monastery founded by Kúkai -Eihei-ji (overnight stay) Sōtō School’s main monastery founded by Dōgen -Kyoto *Ken-nin-ji founded by Yōsai where young Dōgen studied with Myōzen *Ryūan-ji with world renouned stone garden *Kōzan-ji founded by Myō-e of Avatamska School *Enryaku-ji, in Hiei-zan, main monastery of Tendai School where Dōgen was ordained *Kōshō-ji, Dōgen’s first temple (restored) *Byōdō-in – Pure Land/Tendai School temple -Fukuoka/Hakata *Myōkō-ji where Sawaki Roshi used to teach *Shōfuku-ji, Japan’s first Zen Temple built for Yōsai *Dazaifu, Japan’s ancient embarkment/dismemberment *Tenmangu Shrine -Nagasaki *Atomic Bomb Museum *Dejima Island -Kanazawa *Daijō-ji founded by Gikai

Dōgen Pilgrimage Japan Tour 2024 - My Experience, by Michele Sevik


Maybe it’s not like this for all gaijin visiting Japan for the first time, but for me it was a bit like being born again. 


Like all those new to the world, one of the first things I had to learn was how to use a toilet. The first time I tried, jets of warm water shot up to the ceiling and rained down on my head like a baptism. After that, I had to learn how to bathe. The proper way to share a steaming cauldron of hot water with a group of new acquaintances is not something I had mastered in a previous life. 


I had to train unskilled fingers to grapple with unfamiliar utensils in order to eat. Capturing and transporting a beguiling variety of delicious shapes and textures all the way from bowl to mouth could be precarious and challenging. Trying to make myself understood while lost in the Kyoto train station with a microscopic repertoire of words and gestures was humbling as well.


I hadn’t struggled with so many basic life skills in decades so for me being in Japan was like an unexpected re-birth. The self image that functioned well enough in the mountains wasn’t always adept at responding to situations in Japan. This led to questioning old assumptions and considering new possibilities. The result was a surprising broadening of perspective in a very short period of time. Even though this was probably beneficial, it was not always a happy process….. 


The darkest hour occurred the night I returned to NY City from Tokyo. 


I couldn’t return to my place in the green mountains of Vermont until the next day so Catherine invited me to spend the night in her guest room in Brooklyn. I was very grateful because the room is often reserved months in advance.


Catherine’s husband, Don, picked us up at JFK and I listened from the back seat as Catherine slowly reconnected to her “pre-Japan” life. Aside from telling her about the exploits of their cat, Che, Don spoke about his creative projects, events in the lives of their children, house renovations and the comings and goings of their many loved ones and human friends. It was clear to me that Catherine’s life was enriched by an astounding variety of living connections.


I woke up at 3:30 AM and thought about how the only connections I was returning home to were with a dog and a cat. Staring into the darkness, I felt like a spider who had failed to build a web. It was very bleak.


For 14 years I have lived alone at the end of an unpaved dead-end road on top of a mountain in a place where even the postal service doesn’t deliver. I dress in rags, sleep with animals, grow beans, drink water from a well and heat the house with wood, the old-fashioned way. We all do. Around here, we only hang out with our neighbors when there’s a catastrophic natural disaster, like Hurricane Irene in 2011. That’s all the socializing we need. I have gone weeks without seeing anyone. And for a long long time I was OK with that.


During a 7-hour trip home on an antique train the next day, I decided it might be time for me to stop living like a hermit and move back to New York City. This would be a radical turning point in my life that I hadn’t been expecting to make anytime soon. But it suddenly seemed right.


A few days later, talking with you and Catherine on zoom, I spoke about my plans  to move back to the city and how I felt a new desire to make connections with members of my own species for the first time in many many many years.


But even as the words were leaving my mouth, a little voice in my head had come up with a problem: If I was already connected to all beings throughout space and time as an integral part of Indra’s Net, wasn’t it ridiculous to think I needed to build a web of my own? 


How much more connected could I be??


This bothered me and I worried that someone might question me and I wouldn’t know how to answer. Then, out of the blue, the kōan at the end of Genjōkōan popped into my head. It was about a Zen master called Baoche on Mount Magu waving a fan.


A monk approached Baoche and asked, “The nature of wind is ever present and permeates everywhere. Why are you waving a fan?”


This seemed very similar to the question I was asking myself!


If I am already part of Indra’s Net and connected interdependently with all other existences throughout space and time, why should I have to make an effort to build connections myself?


Master Baoche replied to the monk’s question by saying, “You know only that the wind’s nature is ever present – you don’t know that it permeates everywhere.”


The monk said, “How does wind permeate everywhere?”


The master just continued waving the fan and the monk bowed deeply.


I laughed because this was the answer to my question as well.


Indra’s Net, with its innumerable connections, doesn’t exist apart from me in the same way that the wind doesn’t exist separately from Master Baoche’s fan. Even though everything in existence is part of Indra’s Net and I’m already connected with all beings throughout space and time, I still need to make and nurture connections with others if I want them to grow into relationships that are mutually interesting, enjoyable and beneficial. I can’t expect to enjoy those kinds of relationship if I keep waiting for them to come knocking at my my door in my current location. I must be a vehicle for connection. That’s how connections take place.


Sometimes I focus on “form is emptiness” and forget the enormous significance of “emptiness is form”. This is one of the most important things I’ve learned by studying Dōgen and his lineage with you and practicing with this Sangha for the past 3 years.


Dōgen concludes Genjōkōan by describing the situation clearly: 


“To say we should not wave a fan because the nature of wind is ever present, and that we should feel the wind even when we don’t wave a fan, is to know neither ever-presence nor the wind’s nature. Since the wind’s nature is ever present, the wind of the Buddha’s family enables us to realize the gold of the great Earth and to transform the [water of] the long river into cream.”


Because connections grow naturally between people, I can move to New York City and have the opportunity to participate in an endless variety of relationships. Instead of sitting in my rocker talking to the dog and cat for the rest of my life, I can participate in what’s going on between humans once again as well. It’s very exciting and inconvenient….. 


Arigatō gozaimasu,


Michele. Gassho

October1st to December 17th, 2024

Rev. Koyama

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February- March 2025-


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