September 30, 2010

A gathering of friends

Here is the schedule for our October 30th Korinji Shinbokukai, or "Gathering of Friends":

1) 10:00 AM : 500 suburi (martial art training/sword cuts...non-martial artists are welcome to watch)
2) 11:00 ~ 11:30 Zazen (meditation)
3) 11:30 ~ 12:00 Zazen (meditation)
4) 12:00 ~ 12:30 Zen ceremony, dedicating our building on this occasion of the first formal Zen practice there.
5) 1:00 ~ 4:00 PM : Samu (work practice): general site clean up, equipment maintenance and storage and any other final work needed to prepare Korinji for winter.
6) 5:30 PM Group boat excursion through the famous scenic river gorges of nearby Wisconsin Dells (since it's Halloween weekend, this will be a themed "Haunted Boat Ride").
7) 7:30 PM Group dinner, location TBA.

Please RSVP to Korinji, and bring your family and friends (recommended age for the boat excursion is 10 or older).

September 27, 2010

Images of progress

We just spent our first autumn work weekend of the year at Korinji, continuing to finish off the interior framing supporting our roof. The maples and birches are just beginning to turn. A few of us spent evenings around a campfire shaking off the chill and enjoying our view of the brilliant, nearly full moon.

Here is a new video showing the dramatic progress made over the past two months; thanks to Greg Dekker for being our cameraman.

The next work weekend is October 16-17th, and then our final wrap-up week will be October 26th-31st. On Saturday the 30th, we'll have our first formal group zazen in our new building, followed by a brief dedication ceremony and end-of-season party. All are welcome!

September 20, 2010

Katsujinken: the sword that gives life

This past weekend saw the visit of T.K. Chiba Sensei, an Aikido master and Zen practitioner, to Chicago. Though Chiba Sensei is not in our particular Zen lineage, he is nevertheless one of the important and immensely powerful teachers whose energy has made Korinji's development possible. More than this, in fact, I can say very definitely that without Chiba Sensei, there would be no Korinji.

This may be a surprise to many of you since Toyoda Sensei, another Aikido master and one of our original teachers, is most often mentioned in this regard. Certainly it was Toyoda Sensei's dream of a rural Zen training monastery that was the seed of Korinji, and his work to plant both Zen and traditional martial arts in the West that set the tone for our practice. Toyoda Sensei was one of those who labored to transmit the spirit of Omori Roshi's training, and all of us now endeavor to do the same.

But it was Chiba Sensei who, during the difficult time immediately following Toyoda Sensei's sudden death, stepped in and encouraged many of us - in the true meaning of the word - to continue with our work. Had he not done this, I can say for sure that Korinji would not be happening. None of the resources currently going into Korinji, and none of the many hands building Korinji (belonging almost entirely to Aikido students, interestingly) would be here.

This was no coincidence. Toyoda Sensei and Chiba Sensei had a relationship rooted in their common ties to Aikido, Zen and misogi training, and their common work of transmitting these mind-body practices to westerners. In supporting us now with his energy and advice, one could perhaps say he is following through on the intentions behind that relationship.

Leaving aside "reasons" and "intentions", however, we can also simply say that Chiba Sensei is a good and wise teacher who has been immensely kind to us. We therefore count him among the key persons whose groundbreaking efforts have made everything in the future possible for Korinji. As we watch Korinji take physical shape, we should remember such remarkable individuals - a network of energy and intention stretching back through generations - who continue to be the benefactors enlivening our work.

September 14, 2010

Sesshin in Bavaria

I was grateful this past week to have the opportunity to travel for sesshin to Laufen, in southern Germany on the Austrian border. Our organizers, Raymond Schroder and Anselm Stahl, are among a group of long-time Zen practitioners with whom we've had connection for some time. They are also martial artists, and many of their community are bodyworkers.

Beautiful Bavarian weather, just starting to feel of autumn, greeted us in Laufen. The sesshin venue was an old Capuchin monastery just outside the medieval city gates. Built in the early 17th century, it was for centuries an important residence for Catholic monks observing the rigorous Capuchin rule. Though the last friar left in the 90's, inevitably something of their spirit seems to remain. Walking in the cloister garden, or doing zazen near the monastery cemetery during free sitting time in the evenings, we caught some sense of the atmosphere of intense devotion and simple, silent discipline that must have prevailed in that place.

Our rooms, interestingly, were originally the monk's cells...with the difference that two cells are now cobbled together for each modern single guest room. A few cells have been kept in their original state, however, with straw mattresses and worn writing desks being the sole evident luxuries. Our zendo was the room formerly used by the monks for chanting, and we practiced our own okyo there with an appreciation for that history (and for the acoustics). Perhaps the place bearing the most powerful feelings from the past, however, was the small prayer chapel nearby, barely 10 feet on a side, where we met for dokusan.

In short, I found myself over our few days of practice feeling a strong sense of appreciation for these monks, whose humble grave stones crowd a small courtyard just off the main garden and whose orchard still displayed for us some of the literal fruits of their labor.

Not less is the appreciation felt for our friends from Germany and Austria, who so obviously take very seriously the call in our lineage to physically embody Zen. I now gratefully know something also of Bavarian hospitality and cuisine. Many thanks to these training brothers and sisters in Europe, who are doing so much to bring alive the Zen teachings in a truly relevant and concrete manner.