News - Great Vow

Jizo Bon
Jizo Bon
August 2

On July 30 we celebrated Jizo Bon at Great Vow. Jizo Bon is a traditional celebration in Japan, and we have adapted it for our community. The activities began at 3pm and included painting lanterns, shakuhachi music, Obon dancing, dinner, a shadow play, desert, and finally a lantern procession through the Jizo Garden. The evening ended with a Ksitigarbha ceremony, and fireworks.

View more photos of the event by clicking here

Buddha's Birthday
Buddha's Birthday
May 19

On Sunday, May 8 we celebrated Buddha's Birthday at Great Vow. The celebration included the traditional ceremony of bathing the baby Buddha with sweet tea. There was also a shadow play of the story of the Buddha, and a birthday cake.

Watching the Shadow PlayWatching the Shadow Play

Shadow PlayShadow Play









Buddha's CakeBuddha's Cake

5 Precepts Ceremony at Great Vow April 24th
5 Precepts Ceremony at Great Vow April 24th
April 28

Congragulations to Jenefer, Amy, Brad and Bob on taking the 5 Precepts. May your vows and wagessa serve you well. Here are some pictures of the event.


Apr 2011 5 PCPTS GV: Hogen and ChozenApr 2011 5 PCPTS GV: Hogen and Chozen


Amy and others 5 precept 2: Hogen and Chozen Talking about the 5 PreceptsAmy and others 5 precept 2: Hogen and Chozen Talking about the 5 Precepts

Precept Takers Kneel Before the TeachersPrecept Takers Kneel Before the Teachers

Precept Takers Doing BowsPrecept Takers Doing Bows


Taking VowsTaking Vows

Bob Receives His WagessaBob Receives His Wagessa

Jennifer Recieves Her WagessaJennifer Recieves Her Wagessa

Words from Hogen
Words from Hogen
March 18

Dear Sangha,

There is so much in the news that reminds me of the first noble observation of Buddhism: that there are problems, serious problems everywhere.  From the giant catastrophes such as the earthquake in Japan, the violence in Libya and the 450,000 people displaced by civil war in the Ivory Coast to one family’s struggles with illness and joblessness. Everywhere we turn we are reminded that no one is safe from difficulty and distress.  It is almost impossible not to become anxious when we look honestly at the possible disruptions and challenges that we are facing and may have to face.  What hope do we have?  How can we live?  What can we rely upon?

One thing is certain, that when confronted with life’s very real challenges, knowing theories about timeless wisdom is no help.  When we are laying in bed at night and overwhelming anxiety wells up in our hearts, knowing how we ‘should’ respond does not help.  When we are hungry even world class photos of food are not filling.  Rocked by trauma, how we are ‘supposed’ to feel, what we ‘should’ understand, what we ‘think’ we know, is of little support.  A real catastrophe washes away all our hopes, dreams, shoulds and oughts.

For me, this is when spiritual practice becomes extremely compelling.  Usually, our spiritual and psychological lives revolve around how to be more happy, effective or successful. But when we know death is coming (and a lot sooner than we hoped) there are more urgent questions: “What is it that is alive right here?”  “Where can I turn for help?” “What is real right now?”  “Who is the one who is suffering?”  “What is the truth that is always present?”  When we are compelled to ask these questions no one else’s answers are of any use.  What we have read, believe or been told will not do!  We must know for ourselves!

Of course, writing about this matter requires words and so it seems that these questions are intellectual and require thinking.  These questions are like the finger pointing at the moon. The words only direct our attention to what is more intimate than words.  What is more intimate than words is our direct experience.  It is not a particular experience.  We naturally meet crises with an intense aliveness, a compelling demand from deep inside us to look at what is real.  It may present as anxiety, or numbness,  anger, deep depression, or curiosity, but whatever our experience our attention is caught.  It is our deepest life saying, “pay attention!”

This is what we can always take refuge in – the compelling experience of being alive.  This experience is the essence of all seeing, hearing and feeling.  It permeates all body, emotions and thought.  In fact everything that comes forward whether we regard it as magnificent or dreadful comes from the same source.  No matter what comes towards us or from within us, this is our ultimate refuge.

This attention to the source of life is a refuge available at all times, in every place.  But we must practice and recognize it.  Initially we have to learn to turn our attention away from our thoughts and conceptual mind.  We let the churning of our minds still, like allowing the mud to settle so we can see the water.  But, then we turn our awareness to seeing both mud and water, to seeing thought and the space in which it is held.   We experience life and creation, death and destruction and the space in which they are held.  We see ourselves respond completely too each changing condition.  And whether our responses are skillful or unskillful they are all held in the dreamlike nature of our own life.  This is the essence of practice.  This is refuge.

Hogen Bays
Co-Abbot Great Vow Zen Monastery


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A Letter to Japan
A Letter to Japan
March 16

As the unbelievable pictures come in on our computer screens, our hearts are filled with sadness and prayers for those tens of thousands who have died, those who are injured and those who grieve.
An entire nation turned upside down. What can we say?

In ancient times, entire villages were wiped out by earthquake and tsunami. Maybe only the few people who survived could tell about it and remember it. But now we all can see it, the ferocious power of nature, of the sea. Those huge waves carrying away a vast jumble of tens of thousands of cars, houses, trucks, boats, greenhouses, human bodies, buses, all the accumulated human junk and treasures, grandmothers, babies, even an entire University. We will never forget it.

And then, for the only nation on the earth that has suffered attacks by nuclear weapons, to be under the threat of a nuclear disaster. It is unbelievable.

As Buddhists we cannot take refuge in this being part of God’s inscrutable plan, or even in the notion of God’s wrath for a planet not cared for. We take refuge in something that is hard for many to understand. We take refuge in the truth of impermanence. As the Buddha said to his weeping disciples as he lay dying, ” All compounded things will fall apart and be gone.” Over centuries, or in a flash. When our lives rest on that foundation, on the strange and strong foundation of constant change, then our lives are anchored in truth.

“Vast ocean of dazzling light, marked by the waves of coming and going, being born and dying.” We chant this at our memorial services. This week we have all seen it in action. We practice to be able to balance wisdom and compassion.

The wisdom eye sees constant change, even tsunami, as normal, as expected, as part of how IT IS. At the same time our tender hearts feel acutely the pain of human suffering on an unimaginable scale, and we are moved to do what little we can to help. The small blessing of a natural disaster is that there is no one to blame. The earth shrugged, a huge amount of water was displaced, and it flowed where it could. With no energy wasted on blame, everyone can work together to help.

At least know that we are chanting every day for those who have died and are suffering. We will also donate through various organizations including Red Cross and Soto Shu, to help in any small way.

We had a young monk visiting here for a month at the monastery. He flew home last week, arriving on the day of the earthquake. His home temple is in Fukushima. We have no news about him or his family.We have no news of Abe-san and his temple members, who worked with us on the Jizos for Peace Project.

Our thoughts are constantly with everyone in Japan.

In love and sadness,


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Jukai Ceremony
Jukai Ceremony
March 6

On Sunday, March 6, 2011 a Jukai ceremony was held at Great Vow Zen Monastery. DeAnne Lightfoot, Rollie Smith, and Sam McCree received the precepts from co-abbots Chozen and Hogen Bays. DeAnne received the dharma name "Seiryu", Rollie received the dharma name "Gisan" and Sam the name "Gentoku".
























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Pagoda Unveiling
Pagoda Unveiling
February 27

On February 27th the pagoda at Great Vow was unveiled. The ceremony took place during the

Sunday Program, and came at the end of the Pari-Nirvana sesshin. During the ceremony

participants circumnabulated the pagoda, chanting and ringing bells, while the pagoda was unveiled. Once the fabric was removed everyone placed offerings of flowers on the pagoda.


Pagoda at Great Vow
December 5

The Peace Pagoda at Great Vow is well underway.

Holes have been drilled in each section, and the center pole has been created.

At the very bottom of the pagoda there is a urn holding prayers for peace and other sacred objects.

A cement foundation was poured - a challenging and exciting task!

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