Our environment is manifesting in some strange ways in the middle of this pandemic. That is not to say it is a result of the plague; maybe coincident, maybe totally unrelated. For the first time since we have been in East Chatham, NY there are no migrating bats making an appearance this year. Bats have been decimated by White Nose Syndrome and possibly other causes for several years. Maybe it is just that, as terrible as it might be. The number of migrating swallows seems to be down. Black bears are more active in our neck of the woods, there are also more rabbits as well as coyote packs. Songbirds of various types are also singing more than in past years. Are these changes a warning sign of something more profound in our local ecosystem? Would I be as sensitive to these changes if we were not living in strange times?
The Washington Post gathered data on protests across the country which document that the protests following George Floyd’s brutal murder by police in Minneapolis are the largest demonstrations in U.S. history. A New York Times article provides polling results that suggest between 15 – 26 million Americans have participated in protests in over 550 cities, not including small cities like Great Barrington, MA or Chatham, NY. More people have protested in more cities than at any other time. One of the most significant aspects of these protests is that they are truly multiracial, multiethnic and have the support of a majority of Americans. This may be a turning point in racial attitude in this country. Along with this groundswell of support we have seen a new sensitivity to symbols of racism as unacceptable in the 21st century.
America’s struggle with confederate statues has played out over several years and recently expanded beyond just the confederate memorials. The confederate battle flag has long been a symbol of more than just an ode to southern heritage. It has been a symbol of white supremacy and the oppression of slavery since its inception.
Growing up, in grade and middle school, I lived part of the time in the southern tip of West Virginia, Raleigh and Summers Counties, and part of the time in Albany, New York. From high school on I lived in Albany, NY. During the time I lived in the south it was partially segregated. It was not fully de-segregated until 1964, after I left, and the segregation laws were not taken off the books until 1994. A statue of Thomas Jonathan “Stonewall” Jackson, a Confederate general who was born in present-day West Virginia still stands in front of the State Capital.
When I was living in the north (with a southern accent and mannerisms) I was a Rebel, a pejorative term for being not so smart and backward. When I was living in the south (with a northern accent and mannerisms) I was a Yankee, a derisive term, not to be mistaken for a fan of a baseball team. Deep in my brain the southern accent still dominates, though my vocalizations are definitively northern university.
Living in the south the Confederate flag was ubiquitous, flown alongside the American flag in front of many houses, churches, and as decals on cars and store windows. If I were aware enough to ask about the flag at 12 years of age, and being white, in Pipestem, West Virginia, I would have been told it represented ‘our’ heritage. A symbol of the brave men who fought and died to protect the South from Northern aggression. In high school, over 50 years ago, I began to see it as something less benign. As years went by I gradually, realized that if the Civil War was the war of Northern Aggression to many Southerners, the Confederate battle flag was the flag of Southern Oppression to African Americans, Native Americans, and people of conscience anywhere.
What would it be like to be African American and play a sport, or in the orchestra, for Robert E Lee High School, or walk past a statue of Jefferson Davis in the town square? I imagine it would not be so different for me if I had attended Adolf Eichmann High School, or had to walk past a statue of Hermann Göring.
Confederate memorials and the flag are not symbols of a romantic past. They are representations of past oppression, cruelty, hatred, and treason. Used today they represent white supremacy, racism, bigotry, and divisiveness. To have anyone, even and especially the President of the United States, defend them is to encourage the worst aspects of the American experience.
Each morning as Shumon, Kairen and I walk into the hondo we are greeted by the fragrance of the incense and the aged wood. The calm space receives us as we prepare for the morning’s Daily Service. The subdued light provides an atmosphere of the sacred. There is a sense of humility that permeates us as we recite the Sanborai (I mindfully prostrate in the ten directions of the Dharma Realm in which the Triple Gem is revealed). The Doshi (leader) performs Goshimbo and other ritual for the wellbeing of all sentient beings. We proceed to continue the service and are rewarded with the purity of the repentance, devotion of Kaikyoge, clarity of reciting sutra, satisfaction of the Yakushi Nyorai mantra, profound gratitude in recognizing the ancestors, and harmony as we finish with Soeko (Transference of Merit). To me place is an especially important component of Buddhist faith and tradition.
We acknowledge that a sangha, the people, who along with Buddha and Dharma are essential. In Buddhism we can sacralize any space, Many places, objects, and natural features, are recognized for evident sacredness; trees, rocks, valleys, mountains, streams, a small hut. One’s Butsudan (household altar) embodies sacredness in the residence.
From the time of Shakyamuni Buddha, the sangha assembled for the purposes of meditation, reciting vows and sutra, study, and discourse. Where they assembled was particularly important. So much so that we are provided the setting of most of Shakyamuni Buddha’s teachings, such places as Deer Park and Vulture Peak. Buddhist pilgrimages walk to places considered especially sacred.
While our sangha has been restricted from gathering in our humble hondo out of necessity, we have been disconnected from a place and the personal discourse that is a blessing to many of us. We have been Zooming (has it become a verb?) as a surrogate for the real thing.
Zooming has also demonstrated the degree to which people who do not live near a Tendai sangha may participate in our various activities. These include the weekly Wednesday night zoom gathering, and the Tuesday Makashikan tutorial, as well as the monthly Sutra class. While place is important, the Dharma teachings and other activities are equally important. The issue then becomes how can we do both effectively.
Several months ago I spent several days investigating how we might stream the services and discussions from the Hondo. Try as I might, I realized the difficulties in doing so, while not insurmountable, are expensive. When Kairen came as temple assistant. I asked him to examine how it might be done, without letting him know what I had already determined. My thought being that maybe I was missing something and that Kairen is more technically adept than I. In the meantime, Hōsei Richardson did the same without being asked. Tenko David Rubin provided us with an estimate of what it would take to provide appropriate ‘miking’, or sound reproduction.. We all came to the same conclusion. The short answer is that it would cost somewhere between $20,000 – $80,000 to do what we thought would produce worthwhile results. That is beyond our financial capacity.
It leaves me to speculate that we think that technology can do wonders, and it can. We also have an expectation that can be done without very much expense. To do it right. It cannot be done inexpensively. To produce quality video and audio also requires a person whose job is to operate the ‘control booth’. Then there are the disruptions that those technologies can have on the space in which the sacred is taking place.
So we consider Plan B. There are several factors involved in this planning. When can we reoccupy the Hondo and in what fashion in Phase 4, change once again when we are able to go back to semi-normal? What happens if there is another surge of the Covid 19 pandemic in our area, etc.?
Our knowledge of SARS-CoV-2, the disease we refer to as Covid 19, increases not in a linear fashion, but in bits and pieces that occur through recent experience, as well as prediction and research. The most recent information is that we have not one but several mutations of the original Covid 19 virus in America right now. The term novel in relation to this virus means a virus never knowingly encountered before. We find new and rediscovered symptoms and courses of treatment on a daily basis. Thus, planning for our reopening becomes problematic. What we plan today may need to change tomorrow as we have new information. Having provided this disclosure, we are planning to start gathering in the hondo the beginning of August.
The New York State Forward Business Affirmation and Safety Plan has been completed and submitted as required for reopening. We have a set of protocol to insure everyone’s safety. These protocol will be made public in the next Shingi, releasing them now may be premature because they may need to be changed in the next few weeks.
As we have thought through the process of Zoom, reopening, making the Hondo space safe, and all the ramifications I am planning a phased process. Up until last April we started the Wednesday evening gathering with a discussion at 6 PM in the kuri (Abbot’s residence). At about 7 PM everyone moved into the hondo for the Daily Service, meditation, Dharma talk, etc., then returned to the kuri for potluck dinner around 8:10 PM.
We intend to continue the discussion both in person and on Zoom. We are making provisions to hold the service, meditation, etc. in person in the hondo starting at 7 PM and ending a little after 8 PM. We will make the service and meditation available using YouTube the next day so people at a distance can participate from their homes. We are still working out the logistics. As the dimensions of the pandemic changes, we will modify our plans and everyone will be notified with enough time to plan ahead.
‘What is Tendai Buddhism’. This is a YouTube interview that I did with Yojiro Seki several weeks ago and became available on June 20th. I hope you find it informative, the link is: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k0YRd0F8jRA&feature=youtu.be . Seki san is doing a documentary called Carving the Divine. This is one of a series of videos from different schools of Buddhism in preparation for the release of the documentary.
Soon, likely mid-summer, the Tendai Buddhist Institute / Jiunzan Tendaiji will complete construction of a columbarium located next to the hondō (temple).
For those who are not familiar with this, a columbarium is a place for the storage of urns holding cremated remains. Interesting to note the Chinese term is naguta (“bone-receiving pagoda”) and in Japanese it is nokotsudo (“bone-receiving hall”).
Buddhists were the first ones to build columbaria in Ancient Asia. Typically, they were very elaborate structures patterned after traditional Buddhist temples. Today, a columbarium is either attached to or a part of a Buddhist temple or cemetery. This practice allows for the family of the deceased to visit the temple for the conduct of traditional memorials.
Inurnment in the columbarium is available to the sangha members of the Tendai Buddhist Institute / Jiunzan Tendaijii, and members of any Tendai Buddhist Institute affiliate, as well as those who consider themselves Tendai. Internment is also being made available to the neighboring community (defined as those towns in New York and Massachusetts that adjoin the Town of Canaan).
The columbarium consists of 36 niches arranged in three rows (12 niches per row). Each niche is 12″ X 12″ X 12″, which may hold up to five urns. See the example below of a columbarium very similar to the one being constructed.
The niche is “leased” for an unlimited time through a signed agreement between the purchaser (individual or family) and the Tendai Buddhist Institute. The lease is to be paid in full at the time the niche is reserved.
The cost for one niche in this first offering is $ 1,650 which includes the costs of maintaining the columbarium. The cost of the niche can be paid in installments. Additional costs for the urn(s) and engraving the granite cover plate are NOT included.
Niches will be allocated on a “first-come” basis.
The numbers in red indicate niches that have already been reserved
The columbarium is administered by the Paragate Association. Its Board of Directors consists of seven sangha members, of whom some are also on the Board of the Tendai Buddhist Institute. Its officers are: President Chorin Peter Donahoe, Treasurer Hōsei Michael Richardson, and Secretary Koshin Bower. Copies of the Paragate Association by-laws and columbarium policies are available on request.
To initiate your application, please contact Hōsei Michael Richardson at this e-mail address: email@example.com to schedule a time for a telephone conversation.
For more information, you may also contact Monshin Paul Naamon at firstname.lastname@example.org and/or Chorin Peter Donahoe at email@example.com.
We look forward to hearing from you.
The Paragate Association of the Tendai Buddhist Institute
In Columbia County over 10% of our neighbors live at or below the poverty line, including nearly 2,000 children and many senior citizens. The government subsidies they rely on are not always available and when they are, they cover only 60% of food costs. Additionally, the pandemic has closed many school meal programs. But we can help. The CAIC encourages everyone to support the local organizations that work hard to provide meals and groceries to families suffering from food insufficiency. Please consider donating to one or more of the following organizations that depend on our generosity to help them fulfill their mission to provide food to those who need it.
“The parish family of St. James and our sister churches are proud to support an interfaith effort to provide food and other resources to organizations that provide for underserved people in need.”
~ Father George Fleming, St. James Church, Chatham
“The first of the 6 Perfections is Dana, translated as Perfect Generosity. When we practice Dana it is to benefit others without expectation of recognition or reward. This is a great opportunity to practice Buddhist teachings by giving money to provide meals to families.”
~ Rev. Monshin Paul Naamon, Abbot, Tendai Dharma Center, Caanan
“Some of the most enjoyable times we have in life are spent sharing a meal with the ones we love. The CAIC has identified an urgent need for food for some of our residents and developed this fundraiser to help. God will smile on us all as we feed our neighbors.”
~ Pastor Gloria Jimpson, Payne AME Church, Chatham
“In a time of great and urgent need, it is incumbent on us to help others nourish and sustain themselves. Thank you to the organizers of this campaign for their vision and diligence!”
~ Rabbi Or Rose, The Chatham Synagogue
There is so much more I would like to share with you. But this missive is already unwieldy. Let me just conclude with a short statement.
Our lives seemed to have been highjacked by an unseen threat, a virus. At the same time, we are living through a tumultuous period of social unrest as a result of our heritage of racism and police brutality that accompanies it. Both situations have been intensified by a political atmosphere that is toxic. If that were not enough, we are not paying sufficient attention to the degrading environment and the economic disaster that looms around us. I could go on – nah that is enough to contemplate. When it seems like there is just too much remember . . .
You have been given a precious gift to be born and to experience whatever life has to offer. Each day of our lives requires us to learn new ways of being, to be reborn again and again, each and every day. Each day be prepared to live the day to its fullest. Living though this time is living . . .
You are in my thoughts and prayers just as you are.
Love and Gassho … Monshin