Posts Tagged ‘sangha’

On August 19th, 2010, dropping all thought of “here” and “there”, an unusual event took place over the Internet, when three of the members of the virtual Threeleaf sangha lead by Soto Zen priest Jundo Cohen, were ordained as novice priests, all by the book, in the traditional manner. People from all over the world could stream  the ceremony (now available on YouTube). It was performed simultaneously on three continents: while the teachers (Taigu and Jundo) were perched in front of their laptops in Japan, the three ordainees were located in Canada, Germany and Sweden, linked via the Internet. Torbjörn or Fugen, as he is known at Treeleaf, was one of the three novices receiving ordination, connecting with the others from his flat in Tibro, Sweden. In a number of emails we exchanged shortly after the event took place, I asked him a few questions about the ceremony itself and his thoughts on becoming a priest in training. Here I publish them in one post (with Fugen’s permission), just as they are. A lot of snow came down since August but better early in winter than never…

– Fugen, do you remember when the idea of becoming a Zen priest first crossed your mind?

I had no thought of becoming a Zen priest, but I was asked by Jundo on December 22nd last year if I would consider it, and here we are. Now, for me, becoming a Zen priest is no big thing, I don’t really see me as any different or having become any different, and I didn’t seek any of honorifics some people sometimes seek and call themselves by. I’m really just me, being here, doing this.

That being said, for me, becoming this is a good practice and it enables me to help more people in the process.

– This particular ordination is unique in that it was conducted entirely online. I guess I want to ask you if it felt real?

First up, what is real? I am not a Zen teacher and only in training as a priest, and as such is not to be viewed as an authority of any sort in the matters of Buddhism and Zen Buddhism, but according to Buddhism the world you think is real isn’t really as you think…



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The two comments to my one of my previous posts on community have been most thought-provoking (thank you Casey and Nathan!) and triggered in me some further reflection on what tribe I want to belong to and what I can contribute with. One of the questions that came up for me was: at what point does a group of people become a sangha? What’s a sangha? Then came the webinar with Dosho that so promisingly was entitled “Ingredients of Community”:

The quotes from Zen ancestors that Dosho offered in the presentation left me with no answers as to what made a community of practitioners and were more about unskillful ways to relate to others in the community (don’t-do-this-be-nice-and-drop-the-judgements). I think if we have a shared intention, we will figure out the ways to be around each other that would be in tune with that intention.

One of the teachers whose teachings and methods resonate with me, Ken McLeod, offers the following words on Sangha:

“…More generally, the Sangha consists of all individuals who practice the Dharma with the intention of waking up into the mystery of being. The Sangha is the community based on shared intention, not on a mutual dependence. Just as the term Buddhism incorrectly implies belief, so does the term Buddhist incorrectly implies believer. A person who practices the Dharma is, more accurately, a follower or traveler of a path, the path that Buddha Shakyamuni discovered.

The path is far from easy… Fellow travellers, companions on the path, provide us not only with support but also with the benefit of their own experience and understanding…” (Ken McLeod, “Wake Up to Your Life” p. 44-45)


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Well, maybe the new way will not be better. But it surely will be different. In retrospective I find that it is definitely worth trying: an external shift makes it easier to take a new perspective which is always enriching. Besides, it’s a great opportunity to learn something new about my own reactivity and resistance to change that I don’t approve of.

For a while I was at a loss: should I encourage my sangha-friend to open up to this change and at least give this new way a try? I noticed how my thoughts went in different directions almost simultaneously: one side of me was concerned with my self-image (how will this influence how others see me?); another side was glad the person spoke up; yet another one wished he had said something in the line of  “I feel uncomfortable and disconnected from the sangha by splitting into groups for the discussion but I am willing to give it a try”. A friend and sangha-member helped me out by voicing the need she sensed coming from the person, that of connection, which I heard in the beginning but lost when it did not make sense to me (splitting into groups is not the same as splitting the sangha!)

Suddenly I felt the tiredness of the last few weeks coming down on me. I saw the person next to me, also quite tired and obviously very uncomfortable. I backed off, invited everyone to rejoin the circle and do it the way we used to do. I felt relieved as the peace in the room was restored and we could finally turn to the poem which,  incidentally, was about impermanence and not clinging to the solid picture of the world we carry with us.

During the discussion one person said that he thought we did not have to be shaped only by “some immense storm” but in fact could allow every little thing influence us. Back then that comment didn’t strike a chord with me but as I am writing this I can see how our everyday lives here in the West are not that stormy but still consist of countless situations in which we can allow ourselves to get softer, let go of holding on to the ways we are comfortable with for the moment. A sensitive soul can feel the touch of a breeze…


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“Put those things that naturally go on a high place onto a high place, and those that would be most stable on a low place onto a low place; things that most naturally belong on a high place settle best on a high place, while those which belong on a low place find their greatest stability there.”

Dogen’s “Instructions for the Zen Cook” with commentary by Uchiyama Roshi, p. 5.

yesterday evening I facilitated the discussion at the gathering of my local meditation group. As a topic I chose a very rich in imagery and symbols poem by Rilke “The Man Watching”. I have been carrying it with me for about a month now, letting it incubate and listening in. There is still a lot in the poem that doesn’t make sense to me but there was a lot that struck a chord. Here’s how it starts:

The Man Watching

by Rainer Maria Rilke

I can tell by the way the trees beat, after
so many dull days, on my worried windowpanes
that a storm is coming,
and I hear the far-off fields say things
I can’t bear without a friend,
I can’t love without a sister

The storm, the shifter of shapes, drives on
across the woods and across time,
and the world looks as if it had no age:
the landscape like a line in the psalm book,
is seriousness and weight and eternity.

What we choose to fight is so tiny!
What fights us is so great!
If only we would let ourselves be dominated
as things do by some immense storm,
we would become strong too, and not need names.


We had a very fruitful discussion that was deeply rooted in our personal experiences rather than trying to understand the meaning of all images. Or maybe we were trying out how the poem fit our personal experiences? Some of us initially reacted to the lines like “let ourselves be dominated” because we automatically translated it into “giving up”. After some reflection we came to the conclusion that it meant “surrender”  and not “giving up” and to us the poem was about surrendering to Life itself  based on trusting it and being willing to be shaped by the storms on our journey.

The following lines especially resonated with me:

When we win it’s with small things,
and the triumph itself makes us small.


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