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Sheltering in Place in the Monastic Refuge of Great Vow Zen Monastery

On Friday March 13th the Zen Community of Oregon closed its doors for the first time since we opened Great Vow Zen Monastery and Heart of Wisdom Zen Temple. Knowing that these spaces, the Dharma teachings offered here and the community are deep refuges for so many beings, this was a difficult decision to make but it seemed necessary in light of the pandemic. Thanks to Hogen Roshi’s kindness, vow and vision - the Zen Community of Oregon went on-line. Within 24 Hours of canceling all public programs, we were up and running with an on-line community, offering meditation and teachings every night of the week and Sunday mornings.

Here at the monastery, we went in our first resident’s sesshin, which we live-streamed - also a Great Vow first.

It was a poignant experience to practice the first week in seclusion in silent meditation retreat — as the news of the pandemic grew residents sat with their own reactivity, anxiety, fear and grief—providing a stable place of silence and peace in the midst of a world on fire. Chozen Roshi said afterwards, “We were truly hearing the cries of the world…”

For the residents it was an opportunity to face their own mortality, the poignant questions of life and death and what really matters. When stripped away of the future that the mind had concocted —we were thrust more imminently into the present. What is this life? What is most essential? What is worth putting our life energy into?

We emerged from sesshin, humbled, grateful and ready for action. What action? Hogen Roshi asked the residents to consider —what is our work, when we no longer can have people attending retreats? Residents put their heads together, offering suggestions for more we could do on-line —how can we continue to support our Sangha? What is our Bodhisattva activity? And we were off. Residents dug trenches and planted 200lbs of potatoes, prepared garden beds for beets and planted countless lettuce, kale and chard sprouts. Plans to plant squash, corn and beans are in the works. ZenWorks started sewing masks for our local community including the Amber Assisted Living and local hospital. Those of us in the office got to work on our media and on-line offerings and began what Hogen Roshi already started contacting Sangha members, checking in, finding ways to connect in this circumstance that has us sheltered at home.

I am reminded again and again —the Dharma is continuous it is relevant in any situation. The Dharma reminds us to stay calm, to open the heart. The Dharma gives us the tools to look into the nature of anxiety, the nature of any form of suffering. We know how to let go of thoughts of anxiety, doubt, fear —to feel the feelings directly and to trust the resourcefulness that rests truly in the present.

Now is the time to lean into the practice. To remember the still point in the middle of the storm. To practice gratitude for this life. To turn the heart towards loving kindness and compassion, equanimity and even joy. We are in this together. We are all facing great change and are sitting on the cusp of many pandemics—some of us face the anxiety of getting sick, of dying, of losing loved ones, some of us are on the front lines of this crisis as healthcare workers or those who work with vulnerable populations, some of us are jobless, fearing the loss of housing, some of us are separated from partners, loved ones, some of us are experiencing loneliness, some of us are facing overwhelm, some are in difficult living situations.

Where can we go for stability, support and truth? Can we find these qualities in our own hearts? Can we make the space to sit down, to get present to what its like to be alive right now, to the simple act of being alive? Can we appreciate this life? Can we share this appreciation with others? Can we allow the heart to be transformed in the presence of our not-knowing? Can we trust the Dharma and live the life we have?

At Great Vow we hope to offer a space of presence, stability and calm on the web. The residents are committed to sitting from 6AM - 9:30PM for the next week. Please tune into to our live streaming channel and join us.