Dear Sangha,

Week two of isolation from sangha. Our lives are turned upside down. There is uncertainty and general apprehension due to the pandemic. Just two weeks ago we were making plans for the next few weeks and now we realize that we don’t know when our lives will be semi-normal, two months, five months, a year from now? From my perspective the current isolation may be somewhat relieved in several months, but we will still be in a precautionary mode. Speaking for myself it feels like limbo, a radical restructuring of our personal and social lives. Without meeting with sangha members there is a real sense of loss. I miss everyone! See below for the measures we are taking to mitigate this seclusion.

Wednesday’s Virtual Discussion/Meditation – We will hold our first online Wednesday evening sangha gathering tomorrow, on Wednesday March 25th at 7 PM. Everyone and anyone is invited to attend. If you are Zoom competent this is the log in link If you have not used ZOOM and need some instruction, including what is ZOOM and what do I need, there is an instruction sheet at the end of this Journal.

The format will be a discussion, a very short meditation period and a dharma talk. In the future we may very well hold the actual meditation service, but that requires more hardware than we have currently. For an initial meeting we will follow the KISS principle; Keep It Simple Stupid. We can become more sophisticated as we are more proficient as we work through the glitches.

A Casualty of the COVID-19 pandemic is that we will not be observing the 15/25 anniversary of Tendai Buddhist Institute on June 20. We were looking forward to about 20 members of the Jigyodan coming from Japan to join us in this celebration. A number of the Jigyodan members are in their 60’s, 70’s and older. Community members from various faith communities were to take part in this ‘community’ celebration. The trend of this contagion is sufficiently indeterminate that we cannot ensure the safety of an assembly of about 100 people. If, and that’s a big if, assemblies are permitted by June we will probably hold a much scaled down observance with the sangha alone.

Associated with that decision is the conclusion that we will not hold the yearly soryo gyo (priest’s training) in June. Aside from the issues of potential contagion and safety for people in close proximity to each other, there is the consideration that most of the gyoja (gyo participants) will be out of work for long periods of time and probably will not be able to take additional time off from their jobs. This is the first time since 1997 that we have not held the gyo.

I am reminded that historically in addition to the morbidity and mortality resulting from epidemics there is the collateral damage; social order is disrupted. Social stability and solidarity is torn apart such that the society does not function normally and this in turn results in further death and disability. Novels such as The Plague by Albert Camus, A Journal of the Plague Year by Daniel Defoe, and the diary, the Great Plague of London by Samuel Pepys, provide all too real accounts of this type of social disorder.

As I write this, I learned that Alice, David and Amalia Ruben have tested positive for COVID-19 and David is in Saratoga hospital. Please keep the Rubins in our thoughts and prayers. I’ll keep everyone posted.

Canaan Town Supervisor, Brenda Adams, has sent out an email to the various faith and other communities in Canaan who have offered to be of assistance during this tumultuous time. This may include picking up groceries, prescriptions, and providing other essential assistance. Please contact me and let me know if you are available to pitch in.

In a similar note, there is a family from NYC who decided to ride out the sequester in at their weekend home and they are looking for a babysitter so they can continue to work. If you know of someone willing and able to babysit (I don’t know the age of the children) please let me know.

In January’s Shingi I wrote about the Asian zodiacal prediction for the new year, the year of the Metal Rat. It is interesting to look back and see what I wrote at that time:

“Self-control and kindness are not dominant feelings this year. We must carefully develop patience and compassion to avoid discord that may be aroused by unscrupulous populists whose thirst for glory and power exceeds the common interests of society. …

As we enter the New Year, it is a year of uncertainty. It is a year in which many people are anxious. It is a year of that is at a tipping point in the sustainability for humans in our environment, our democracy, racial and gender equality, religious tolerance, and our social fabric. We should do what we can in all these areas. ”

Depending on how one interprets the preceding it seems that the prediction was pretty close to the mark.

We are so obsessed with the current pandemic, and rightfully so, that issues like the environment catastrophe, racial and gender equality, religious intolerance, immigration reform, and other important issues are on the back burner. These issues were front and center in our attention before the current crisis. I am concerned that we are losing sight of these issues that require our awareness and actions.

A common root to these phenomena is that humans tend to view the world through the lens of an individual trying to control disparate influences, rather than as inhabitants of a common environment in concord with all sentient beings. Our Buddhist teachings are especially important right now. Have faith in the teachings, have faith in your sangha members and have faith that this difficult period of time will, like all things, change.

I bring this to an end for now and look forward to ‘seeing’ everyone tomorrow.

Love and gassho . . . Monshin