Ligmincha International–Serenity Ridge Retreat Center

Ligmincha International—Serenity Ridge Retreat Center

Introduction

Ligminchi International was founded by Geshe Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche in 1992 to preserve the ancient Tibetan spiritual tradition of Bön-Buddhism as well as to introduce the religion to the western world. In 1998, Rinpoche established Serenity Ridge Retreat Center in Shipman, amid the mountains of Nelson County in Virginia. “Serenity Ridge” was originally a residential property on top of a ridge named by its previous owners who lived and loved it as a place of peace. Today, as a center of Bön-Buddhist practice, Serenity Ridge Retreat Center (SRRC) strives to bring the peace it was named after to the practitioners around its area. The Center provides retreats for people from all around the country and various religious backgrounds to meditate and learn about Bön.

About Bön

Bön-Buddhism describes itself as being Tibet’s oldest spiritual tradition. Unlike other branches of Buddhism that believe the founder of the religion to be the Buddha Shakyamuni, ancient Bön records accredit the establishment of this spiritual tradition to the Buddha Tonpa Shenrab Miwoche who had come to this world many thousands of years before the birth of the Buddha Shakyamuni. The original place where Tonpa Shenrab evangelized Bön was believed to be Zhang Zhung, an ancient dynasty surrounding Mount Kailash in western Tibet, the cradle of Tibetan civilization. Buddha Tonpa Shenrab taught the “Nine Ways of Bön”, the “Four Bön Portals and the Fifth, the Treasury”, and the “Outer, Inner and Secret Precepts”. Sutras, the traditional path of renunciation, represent the outer precept; tantras, the path of transformation, represent the inner precept; and the path of self-liberation, or Dzogchen teachings is the secret precept. Such division into sutra, tantra and Dzogchen assembles the teaching found in the Nyingma school of Tibetan Buddhism.

Bön-Buddhism includes traditional Tibetan Vajrayana Buddhist teachings such as loving-compassion and equanimity. In addition, it cherishes its highest form of teachings—Dzogchen, or the “Great Perfection”. Author of “Union of Dzogchen and Bodhichitta”, Anyen Rinpoche describes Dzogchen to be perfect because it is an all-inclusive totality that leads to middle way realization, in avoiding the two extremes of nihilism and eternalism. It classifies outer, inner and secret teachings, which are only separated by the cognitive construct of words and completely encompasses Tibetan Buddhist wisdom.1 Apart from the eightfold path of achieving enlightenment, Bön followers believe that Dzogchen is the ninth path. The importance of Dzogchen is reflected upon the logo of Ligmincha International, the Ligmincha Seal. The Tibetan letter “ཨ” at the center of the seal represents the ninth path—Dzogchen.

Ligmincha_International_logo

Figure 1. The Ligmincha Seal

 

About the Founder

Geshe Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche was born in Amritsar, India, not long after his parents escaped their Tibetan homeland in 1959 during the Chinese Cultural Revolution. At age 10 Tenzin Rinpoche was ordained as a monk at Menri Monastery near Dolanji, India. He was recognized by the head teacher Lopon Sangye Tenzin Rinpoche as a reincarnation of the famous master Khyung Tul Rinpoche, a renowned meditation master, teacher, scholar and healer who died in the mid-20th century. Upon graduating his geshe degree, he was appointed to be the Bön tradition’s representative in 1981 to the Assembly of Tibetan People’s Deputies of the Tibetan-Government-in-Exile by the 14th Dalai Lama. Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche was one of the first to bring the Bön teachings to the West. He received two Rockfeller Fellowships at Rice University, one in 1991 and the other in 1993, for his research contribution of Bön in early Buddhist Tibet and his teaching effort. He established Ligmincha International in 1992, and SRRC in 1998.

TWR70b

Figure 2. Portrait of Geshe Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche (pc: Ligmincha International website)

Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche married Tsering Wangmo in spring 2004, and currently resides in  the San Francisco Bay Area. He has numerous publications in English that have been translated into different languages. Most of them seem to focus considerably more on the Yoga of personal experiences such as sound healing and sleeping. The importance of meditations in dreams to him are reflected in some of his quotes. “Ultimately we want to use dreams to liberate ourselves from all relative conditions, not simply to improve them” is one of the examples.

Besides being outstandingly productive on book publications, Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche is also up-to-date with technology. Most of his current teaching sessions are carried out on the Internet as Rinpoche live broadcasts lessons to people all around the world.

55f9c6b56a676.image

Figure 3. Serenity Ridge Retreat Center

SRRC Constituency

            SRRC hosts retreats lasting up to two weeks for people locally and all over the country to learn about Bön. Spring and fall are usually the busiest seasons for the center, since most of the center’s meditation sessions are held outdoors. A small paid staff oversees the day-to-day operations of SRRC. The majority of the people who come to SRRC to meditate are middle aged, middle-upper class; nevertheless, there are a few young people who are interested in Bön and spend time at SRRC. The center now has a resident lama, Geshe Tenzin Yangton, who lives in the county and supports the local sangha. He plans to conduct regular meditation and practice sessions, rituals, retreats and workshops at SRRC.

SRRC Practices

The practice on mindfulness is common to all Buddhist traditions. Bön’s version of mindfulness practice is called “zhiné”, the calm abiding meditation. To practice zhiné, a person is to concentrate on the silent stillness and spaciousness of his surroundings. Zhiné practice is a formless repetition of mantras. The practice of zhiné develops the strong, stable attention and stillness necessary to overcome the continual movements of the mind. It is the foundation for all the other Dzogchen practices. An experienced practitioner uses zhiné to deepen and enhance the result of their daily practice and brings glimpses of profound open awareness. In addition, zhiné strengthens a practitioner’s concentration during his tantric meditation by helping him to concentrate during his visualization. Zhiné is the necessary skillful means to enhance Bön meditation.

Tantric oriented practices are common to Tibetan traditions, including Bön. For practitioners at SRRC, tantric meditations include visualizing buddhas, lamas, and yetams (one of the Bön deities), then bowing to them, and practicing with them. The goal is to realize that one is equal to those deities. In order to do so, a practitioner will start with breath practices, and focus on his interior chakras and channels. He then connects these aspects with the nature elements around him to visualize special energies and to create a tranquil mind. The ultimate goal is to experience the nature of the mind, which is the enlightened nature of the Buddha’s mind. This process is also called Bodhicitta—generating the mind of enlightenment.

Guru yoga is another form of meditation. A practitioner is to connect with a guru, an enlightened teacher, and attempt to recognize himself as an equal to the guru. The key is to collapse everything down to a simple nature without transforming any thoughts, and realize that one’s mind is and always has been at the same level as that of the guru, just like the guru’s mind is at the same level as that of a Buddha.

Dream yoga is taught at Ligmincha affiliations by Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche. The practice of dream yoga deepens the awareness during all experiences: dreams at night, day dreaming, and most importantly, the bardo experiences after death. Practitioners at SRRC deem dream yoga as a preparation for death.

All of the practices done at SRRC ultimately lead to self-healing. This is symbolic as it is not the healing of the physical body, but the healing of the current blindfolded state of not realizing the existence of the nature of a Buddha’s mind. Frequent connections of Bön practices to the surroundings such as sound, air, wind, and temperature demonstrates that Bön retains shamanic elements as an ancient religion.

 

Views

Bön Buddhism at SRRC is categorized to be Vajrayana Buddhism. Many religious views are similar to those of traditional Tibetan Buddhism. Among the nine ways to achieve enlightenment Bön shares with Tibetan Buddhism, Bön venerates sutra, tantra, and Dzogchen, naming these three the “Upper Three Ways”. While sutra is the slow path, tantra helps a person to achieve enlightenment in only a few lifetimes. Dzogchen surpasses both sutra and tantra, and is able to help one achieve enlightenment in as short as one lifetime. To naturally recognize oneself as equal to the enlightened beings, and to dedicate one’s effort toward meditations are extremely important, for one goes into practice full-hearted to gain merit, and then reflects the merit upon all sentient beings. One of the members at the community Dr. Stella Richards describes Bön Buddhism to be considerably more embodied in the human experience. Feelings, habits, longings, and the body itself are embraced with enormous compassion and understanding—and are not simply things to be transcended. The intimate connection with the surroundings is what the members ultimately strive for.

When asked about favoring Bön over other kinds of Buddhism, Dylan, one of the people who worked at SRRC said: “A lot of things taught here are true because they are actually true. They show how the world actually works in an objective sense. Studying Dzogchen doesn’t offer which physical plane on which these theories can be tested, but it makes you feel like it’s true.”

 

Connections with Other Communities

Although how SRRC is connected with institutes of other Buddhist traditions is unknown, interestingly, some members at SRRC also frequent Buddhist communities that are not of Bön tradition.

 

Future Expansion Plan of SRRC

SRRC plans to construct a large indoor yoga area for members to use during severe weather. Before, most of the yogas were done outside.

It was mentioned previously that the founder Geshe Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche frequently uses the Internet as a means of teaching. SRRC, adapting to this new way of spreading Bön Buddhism via the Internet, plans to build a new multimedia room for online teachings and live broadcasting.

 

 

Bibliography

  1. “Union of Dzogchen and Bodhichitta”. Rinpoche, Anyen. Snow Lion Publication. Print. 2006, pg.12-13.
  2. “Shipman-based Tibetan Buddhism center plans building for meditation”. Smith, Rachael. Web. Sep 17, 2015.
  3. Ligminchi International official website. http://www.ligmincha.org/index.php/en/

 

Tzu Chi Foundation Mid-Atlantic Region

The Buddhist Compassion Relief Tzu Chi Foundation was established in May of 1966 in Taiwan. “Tzu Chi” is Chinese for “compassionate relief,” and this sect of Taiwanese Buddhism functions not just as a faith based institution, but also an international service organization. The Tzu Chi Foundation’s mission is to help others achieve wellbeing, and, “to relieve the suffering of those in need, and create a better world for us all.”

Tzu Chi’s primary message is, “Love Saves,” which originates from Master Cheng Yen’s teachings: “By saving to give to others we can change the world.”

Love Saves

In the mid-twentieth century, a Buddhist nun, her disciples, and thirty housewives in Taiwan witnessed people suffering and wondered how they could help. The nun, Master Cheng Yen, believed that if each woman saved two pennies each day and made a vow to do good deeds, then a lot could be accomplished. That day, each housewife took home a coin bank made of bamboo and vowed to save her money, “the essence of their love and good wishes,” and to do good. Members of the Tzu Chi community believe that “material deprivation as well as ‘spiritual poverty’” causes suffering, “so Tzu Chi not only provides physical relief, but also advocates the development of altruistic love for others, and selfless giving through volunteering.”

Debbie Cheng, one of Master Cheng Yen’s followers, founded the New Jersey chapter of the Tzu Chi Foundation in 1992, one of the first chapters in the United States. Their facility is 27,000 square feet, and includes a bookstore, prayer areas, many classrooms, storage space, their charity food pantry, and ample parking. IMG_1644 IMG_1643 FullSizeRender

Master Cheng Yen was born in Taiwan in 1937. Throughout her childhood, she witnessed the suffering of World War II, of her mother and brother who both were very ill, and of her father, who died suddenly. The suffering she experienced and saw in others led her to pursue a more fervent commitment to the Buddha Dharma. When she was twenty-five years old, she was ordained as a Buddhist nun. Her spiritual mentor, Master Yin Shun, instructed her to, “‘remember always to work for Buddhism and for all living beings.’ And this is precisely what she has been doing ever since, with self-discipline, diligence, frugality, perseverance, and at root, expansive love for all.”

“In founding Tzu Chi, her wish was to give ordinary people the chance to actualize their compassion, and find inner peace and joy while saving the world.” – Biography of Dharma Master Cheng Yen

Master Cheng Yen’s interpretations of the Lotus Sutra and the Sutra of Immeasurable Meaning have greatly influenced Tzu Chi ideology. In understanding the Lotus Sutra, Cheng Yen focuses on the Four Infinite Minds: loving kindness, compassion, joy, and equanimity. In her writing and teaching, she talks about how Dharma is as expansive as the ocean, and how we can use skillful means to walk the Bodhisattva Path from our afflictions to the opposite shore. The Four Infinite Minds help to accept the Dharma into our hearts and to listen, contemplate, and practice as the Buddha instructed. Cheng Yen teaches that infinite loving kindness is a great love in our hearts for all, and that practicing loving kindness means creating blessings so others may attain happiness and, “giving according to the needs of sentient beings.” Infinite compassion is having sympathy for all those who suffer, and working to enable others to attain liberation of the mind. Infinite joy is delight in seeing others attain joy and open their hearts to the Dharma, despite all challenges. Infinite equanimity means respecting all beings, daring not look down on others, and seeing no distinctions between people so as to not develop hate or aversion.

Further, Cheng Yen teaches that the weakening of a sentient being’s spiritual aspirations is letting their Bodhi-seedling wilt, and instead it must be nourished by the Dharma as water. Her teachings allow members of the Tzu Chi community to coexist with everything else in the world, like many lamps that together produce the greatest brightness, for every person has a pure Buddha heart. “The saying ‘Our mind is clear and translucent, and our vows are as vast as the endless void. Our conviction is unwavering for countless eons,’ is the foundation of the Tzu Chi dharma teachings.”

Tzu Chi is of the Mahayana order of Buddhism. There are eight main tenets of Tzu Chi’s global mission: charity, medicine, education, humanist culture, international relief, bone marrow donor registry, environmental protection, and their volunteers, all of which are founded in Buddhist philosophy and teachings.

“We strive to act morally, be mindful and self-aware, and seek to attain ultimate wisdom, or enlightenment (“bodhi” in Sanskrit). Our goal is to awaken great compassion for all beings in our hearts, and to walk a loving path of selfless action serving others.”– Tzu Chi Teachings

Members of the Tzu Chi community in New Jersey and around the world, “cultivate sincerity, uprightness, faith, honesty, precepts, samadhi, and wisdom.” They have “karmic affinities” with Tzu Chi, having “nurtured enlightened love” in past lives and bringing that love yet again as they encourage others to become living bodhisattvas, “and walk the Tzu Chi Path to serve for the greater good.” Tzu Chi volunteers live frugally, nurture and cultivate spirituality and compassion, and “walk together on the path of compassion and wisdom.”

“We believe that all beings are equal and everyone has an innate Buddha-nature. Practicing kindness and compassion, one can see Buddhism clearly.”– Master Cheng Yen, April 2008

aboutus3

Chapters of the Tzu Chi Foundation have contributed to many large scale and local charitable efforts. Internationally, Tzu Chi Foundation has worked to provide relief to those displaced by nature disasters, most notably in South America. In the United States, Tzu Chi members donated to the families of those affected by 9/11. In New Jersey, after the devastation of Superstorm Sandy, Tzu Chi volunteers “worked with 12 different local townships and distributed $2,141,700 to 3,605 families, benefitting 11,708 people.”

“We started with nothing when Tzu Chi was established in 1966. Acting on the belief that innate love resides in everyone, I encouraged my followers to save 50 cents (US$0.02) in a bamboo bank every day to help the needy. We started our mission of charity from this humble beginning.” – Master Cheng Yen, June 2013

The Tzu Chi chapter in Cedar Grove, New Jersey was integral in the relief efforts made for families affected by Superstorm Sandy in 2012. Today, this chapter continues its dedication to helping local families. Volunteers at the Cedar Grove Tzu Chi chapter work with the township of Cedar Grove to assess the needs of the community and how they can best contribute. The Tzu Chi food pantry is one of the most successful initiatives that the community sponsors. They work with the Community Food Bank of New Jersey, which feeds over nine thousand people every year. Further, the Tzu Chi chapter in Cedar Grove hosts an annual interfaith service every Thanksgiving. They translate local news from English into Chinese and post it on their website, making it more accessible to members of the community.

The Tzu Chi chapter in Cedar Grove services the Mid-Atlantic Region (New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, West Virginia, the Dominican Republic, and Guatemala), with a particular emphasis on local families. Their food pantry, one of their most effective programs, provides food to all kinds of families in need, called “care recipients.” Care recipients are people of all ages and national origin, who speak any language. Many non-Buddhists receive assistance from Tzu Chi through the food pantry, which serves as a bridge to the rest of the community. Volunteers show people how much they love and how they can to learn to love too. Similarly, the community does not constrain access to just Taiwanese, Buddhist, or Chinese speaking people. While the constituency is mostly composed of Chinese speaking Americans, recruitment only asks about what languages a volunteer speaks, and education produced by this community focuses not on members’ ethnicity, but on non-judgment. One interview features a white man named Chris who got involved because he was, at first, just interested in Buddhism. In his interview, he discusses how Buddhism fostered within him a spirit for caring for people. He believes, because of his time spent volunteering at Tzu Chi, that when you look at a person deeply, he or she has an inner pureness there no matter their personality.

Before they established positive relationships with other members of the Cedar Grove community, Tzu Chi developed from humble, somewhat controversial roots. Debbie Cheng recounts Tzu Chi’s first meeting, where over four hundred people gathered, and continued to gather for weekly tea and sign language practice. In the nineties, her home was constantly bustling, so much so that neighbors complained and involved attorneys. They worked to find a location big enough for their growing community and to get the township’s approval for religious and educational use. One member, Jackson Chen, recounts that fifteen years ago, there was no Buddhism and no Chinese presence in Cedar Grove. Now, Tzu Chi services more than four thousand families every year.

Tzu Chi is an incredible Buddhist community and charitable organization that works to reduce suffering locally and internationally.

“With open hearts and helping hands, our volunteers are here to serve you.”– Tzu Chi Foundation

 

Sources:

The World of Tzu Chi, “Mid-Atlantic Region,” updated 2016, http://www.tzuchi.us/region/mid-atlantic/

The World of Tzu Chi, “Global Tzu Chi History,” updated 2016, http://www.tzuchi.us/history/

The World of Tzu Chi, “Biography of Dharma Master Cheng Yen,” updated 2016, http://www.tzuchi.us/blog/biography-of-dharma-master-cheng-yen/

The World of Tzu Chi, “Master Cheng Yen’s Teachings,” updated 2016, http://www.tzuchi.us/teachings/

The World of Tzu Chi, “Our Mission,” updated 2016, http://www.tzuchi.us/mission/

The World of Tzu Chi, “How It All Began,” updated 2016, http://www.tzuchi.us/lovesaves/?locId=418dyd59186

The World of Tzu Chi, “The Heart of Tzu Chi,” updated 2016, http://www.tzuchi.us/video/videos/the-heart-of-tzu-chi/

Master Cheng Yen, “The Vow of Tzu Chi Commissioners,” published April 28, 2008, http://tw.tzuchi.org/en/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=281&Itemid=289&lang=en

Tzu Chi Foundation, “Tzu Chi Dharma Teachings (Sutra of Immeasurable Meanings), published May 25, 2007, http://tw.tzuchi.org/en/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=309%3Atzu-chi-dharma-teachings-sutra-of-immeasurable-meanings&catid=101%3Aphilosphy&Itemid=265&lang=en

Tzu Chi Foundation, “Great Love and Lasting Compassion,” published March 4, 2016, http://www.tzuchi.org.tw/en/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=1368%3Agreat-love-and-lasting-compassion&catid=116%3Atzu-chi-path&Itemid=324&lang=es

Tzu Chi Foundation, “Living Worthwhile Lives,” published June 12, 2013, http://www.tzuchi.org.tw/en/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=1111%3Aliving-worthwhile-lives&catid=82%3Amiscellaneous&Itemid=326&lang=es

 

Minnesota Zen Meditation Center

Link

The Minnesota Zen Meditation Center (MZMC), just off the Eastern shore of Lake Calhoun, not five miles from downtown Minneapolis

By: Colin Weinshenker

Lineage

Smack in the middle of flyover country and blisteringly cold for almost half the year, Minnesota ranks understandably low on lists of ideal locales for Zen Buddhist masters. But as Tomoe Katagiri remembers it, that is exactly why her husband, Dainin Katagiri, founder of the Minnesota Zen Meditation Center, wanted to go. In Andrea Martin’s biography of the master, Ceaseless Effort: The Life of Dainin Katagiri, Tomoe recalls Dainin Katagiri saying, “‘If I can go, I want to go [sic] the place where nobody wants to go'” (Martin 11).

Born in Osaka, Japan, on January 19, 1928, Dainin Katagiri–known alternatively as Katagiri Roshi (master)–was the youngest child of a large family. Katagiri first encountered Buddhism through his parents, who were devotees of Shin Buddhism (2). At fifteen, following the death of his mother, Katagiri joined the Japanese air force amidst the Pacific battles of World War II. Having failed his pilot’s exams, Katagiri never saw combat. Instead he served eighteen months as an airplane engine mechanic. Toward the end of his service, Katagiri was tasked with final inspection of kamikaze planes. He recalled “Privately…crying for the…pilots” (2).

 After the war, Katagiri returned home to find his family’s restaurant turned to rubble. To support his aging father and siblings’ families, Katagiri took work as an engineer. In their own ways, the violence, confusion, and hunger of post-War Japan were an introduction to Buddhism.”‘I felt,'” Katagiri later recalled, “‘how transient and fragile human life was.'” One day, Katagiri visited a Shin temple. Attracted to the tranquility of monasticism, in contrast to the chaos of his daily life, Katagiri decided to seek ordination at a nearby Zen Temple (2).

Many years later, having studied Soto Zen extensively, married, moved to San Francisco to promote Buddhism, and earned the title of Roshi (supervisory training master), Katagiri found himself courted by an enthusiastic group of Minnesotan Zen practitioners. With none of the resources of Zen communities on the U.S. coasts, these Minnesotans had been teaching themselves Zen guerilla style. Relying on published lectures and popular Zen literature such as Phillip Kapleau’s The Three Pillars of Zen, they had developed a practice. Now they felt ready to start building an organized sangha base, with an official community center and a dharma master at its head.  On January 27, 1973, The Minnesota Zen Meditation Center became the first Soto Zen Buddhist community with a resident master between California and New York (12). Originally, the Katagiri family’s apartment doubled as zendo, but a growing number of members led the MZMC to purchase the Lake Calhoun house (pictured above) in 1978 (14).

Since his death, Katagiri Roshi has been succeeded by a series of leaders, including some of the fourteen men and women he ordained (18). The active leader, Tim Burkett, took position as Guiding Teacher in 2002 (“About”). Since 2010, the MZMC congregation has grown to roughly 175 active members (McKenzie). Compared to Wat Munisotaram, a Khmer temple in Hampton, MN, with a majority membership from Minnesota’s large Hmong enclaves, the MZMC’s congregation is relatively metropolitan. There is a diversity of ethnicities represented and no clearly dominant group. The MZMC website even points out that, “Visitors who may be expecting to find an exotic group of people at MZMC are sometimes surprised to find that the sangha is made up of average, householding Americans who are simply committed to Buddhist practice” (“About”).

Teachings 

Many newcomers arrive at the MZMC with a dim concept of the principles of Buddhism. To accommodate novices, the MZMC’s beginner and intermediate courses of study survey Buddhist doctrine across many traditions. Introductory courses cover the Four Noble Truths, the Bodhisattva path in the Mahayana tradition, basic Soto Zen precepts, Soto Zen ritual, and the practice of mindfulness. Intermediate courses of study place special emphasis on the refinement of practice, the cultivation of mindfulness and insight, and understanding of total emptiness through Nagarjuna’s Middle Way. Advanced students add to this repertoire readings from the original Pali canon; critical koan studies; and the writings of Dogen Kigen, the founder of the Soto school (“Zen Studies”).

Doctrinal Positions

The MZMC’s core doctrinal positions are informed mainly by the Soto Zen principles Dainin Katagiri brought from Japan. A subset of issues on which the Soto stance deviates from common Zen principles, or on which the MZMC has a special stance, are covered.

  • Karma and Rebirth:
    • In the earliest Buddhist traditions, karma and rebirth are foremost among issues that inform practice. While Dainin Katagiri certainly interprets karma and rebirth literally, his writings take a somewhat secular bent on the matters. Rather than emphasize the hells that await transgressors, Katagiri focuses on facing karma as a therapeutic measure. In Each Moment Is the Universe, Katagiri advises, “Whoever you are, whatever karma has accumulated in your life, however you feel about your life, just accept it and make repentance to the Buddha” (Katagiri 202).  Katagiri’s view on karma frames it as cause of the conditions under which one pursues enlightenment and the opportunity for free action that will inform future circumstances.
  • Emptiness and Mind:
    • The MZMC’s view on emptiness is taken from Nagarjuna’s system, which teaches Zen Buddhists to “deconstruct all conceptions to show how [the] thinking mind limits…contact with the infinite” (“Zen Studies”). By practicing logical deconstruction and koans (a transplant from the Rinzai tradition, koans are riddles with deliberately paradoxical answers), Zen students come to recognize the futility of the intellect. They then work to turn away from the intellect and its tools–language and logic–in order to achieve enlightenment.
  • Monastic Conduct
    • Dainin Katagiri recognized that the circumstances of life in the U.S. would inform the views and practices of American Buddhists, and he welcomed these natural transformations (Martin 18). At the MZMC, men and women share equal status and opportunity for advancement through the monastic hierarchy. Karen Sunna, one of Katagiri Roshi’s twelve dharma heirs, succeeded the master after his death.
    • Soto Zen traditions include both celibate and non-celibate monastic practice. Katagiri himself was married with children, and MZMC teachers decide for themselves whether to be celibate.
  • The Nature of Enlightenment
    • Soto Zen embraces the Mahayana concept of the bodhisattva way and promotes seeking enlightenment for the benefit of all beings rather than mere escape from cyclic existence. Compassionate activity is a keystone of the MZMC’s practice.
    • Sudden enlightenment, as opposed to its gradual counterpart, is the official position of the Soto school. As opposed to Buddhist traditions that frame enlightenment as a state one obtains permanent tenure in, Soto Zen’s version is inseparable from practice. Gaining and sustaining enlightenment is thus a daily endeavor. This constant effort may make Soto Zen’s enlightenment seem like no enlightenment at all,  but in the words of Shunryu Suzuki, the founder of the San Francisco Zen Center, “This is not so…when your practice is calm and ordinary, everyday life itself is enlightenment” (Suzuki 777).

Practices

The central practice of Soto Zen, and thus MZMC members, is zazen, or daily meditation. Zazen begins with the zabuton, a thick square mat placed against the wall. Meditators sit up straight on the zabuton and face the wall. Placing left foot on right thigh, meditators maintain posture while clearing their minds of objects and thoughts. The goal, practically speaking, is to free the mind from distractions, from within and without. A mind free of distraction can attain full awareness of life’s emptiness and transience (“How to Do Zazen”). Between zazen sessions, Soto Buddhists also practice kinhin, or walking meditation. Rising from the zazen position, meditators walk clockwise around the room holding their hands clasped in front of their chests.

Meditation sessions are open to the public by donation on Monday through Thursday and weekends in the morning, and Monday through Wednesday in the evenings. Each meditation session includes both zazen and kinhin, and a chant book available on the MZMC website lists all the Buddhist sutras recited regularly. Some meditation sessions are punctuated with “work practice,” or care for the zendo as a means of applying Zen teachings. Mopping floors and scrubbing sinks, MZMC members strive to develop a Zen attitude toward household chores, seeing them not as the unwelcome distractions from “real” life but as parts of real life itself (“Work”).

MZMC teachers hold regular classes that explore both the breadth and depth of the Buddhist canon, including teachings outside Soto Zen. More advanced students, or those who have questions or concerns about the Zen practice, can arrange meetings with senior teachers or other members of the community’s leadership (“Zen Studies”).

As an extension of its Mahayana attitude toward compassion, the MZMC also hosts programs for the benefit of the community at large. Through MZMC, members can participate in Habitat for Humanity, family events, and volunteer with adults in correctional facilities.

Ties to Other Buddhist Communities

Not long after ordaining his first dharma heirs, Dainin Katagiri began to think that his initiates could benefit from training in Japan. In August 1983, Katagiri, his wife, and three initiates traveled to Japan in search of a monastery. On the trip, Katagari reconnected with Tsugen Narasaki, a monk with whom he had studied as a novice. This was the beginning of a transfer program of sorts. The next year, Narasaki visited the MZMC and the the San Francisco Zen Center, where Katagiri had worked and trained before moving to Minnesota. In 1985, Narasaki’s elder brother, Ikko Nakarashi Risho, led a training program at the Hokyoji Zen Practice Community, another Buddhist community Katagiri founded in Eitzen, Minnesota in 1986*. Inspired by MZMC’s successful gender equality, Nakarashi Risho decided to reopen Kyushu’s Shogoji temple as a training center for both men and women (Martin 19). Since 1983, many of Katagiri’s initiates and initiates of their own have studied in Japan. But Katagiri felt that American Buddhism should be allowed to develop independent of Japanese tradition. Toward the end of his life, he took a neutral stance on the registration of American priests and temples with Sotoshu, the Japan-based global organization for Soto Zen Buddhism.

MZMC maintains ties with Japanese Soto communities, the San Francisco Zen Center and other Minnesotan Buddhist communities.

*Once a single organization, MZMC and Hokyoji Zen Practice Community have since split amicably (Martin 14).

Works Cited

“About MZMC.” Minnesota Zen Meditation Center. N.p., 2016. Web. 18 Nov. 2016. <http://mnzencenter.org/index.php>.

“Classes, Practice Periods, and Ongoing Groups.” Minnesota Zen Meditation Center. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Nov. 2016. <http://mnzencenter.org/classes.php>.

Cook, Francis H. “Enlightenment in Dogen’s Zen.” HeiJournals. Peeters Publishers, n.d. Web. 21 Nov. 2016. <https://journals.ub.uni-heidelberg.de/index.php/jiabs/article/viewFile/8591/2498>.

“How to Do Zazen.” How to Do Zazen. Sotoshu, n.d. Web. 21 Nov. 2016. <http://global.sotozen-net.or.jp/eng/practice/zazen/howto/index.html>.

Katagiri, Dainin. “Turning a New Leaf.” Each Moment Is the Universe. Ed. Andrea Martin. Boston: Shambhala Publications, 2007. 200-07. Print.

Martin, Andrea. Ceaseless Effort: The Life of Dainin Katagiri. Minnesota Zen Meditation Center. N.p., 10 Oct. 2016. Web. 19 Nov. 2016. <http://mnzencenter.org/katagiri/bio_pdf/katagiri_biography.pdf>.

McKenzie, Sarah. “Sharing the Benefits of Mindfulness.” Southwest Journal. N.p., 20 Apr. 2016. Web. 21 Nov. 2016. <http://www.southwestjournal.com/focus/2016/04/sharing-the-benefits-of-mindfulness/>.

Suzuki, Shunryu. Ed. Donald S. Lopez. The Norton Anthology of World Religions: Buddhism. Ed. Jack Miles. 1st ed. New York: W.W.Norton, 2015. 770-77. Print.

“Zen Studies at MZMC.” Minnesota Zen Meditation Center. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Nov. 2016. <http://mnzencenter.org/studies.php>.

Losel Shedrup Ling Tibetan Buddhist Center

Status

By Clara Kobler

The Losel Shedrup Ling Tibetan Buddhist Center of Knoxville, Tennessee is easily missed by an unassuming driver heading down the busy road of Kingston Pike in the western part of the city. Nestled behind store fronts and a tiny barbeque joint, this center for the people of the Buddhist faith is much like the community it serves: small and hidden, but still welcoming and warm as ever. The front of the building gives nothing away as to what lies inside the one-room establishment; the only clue to its contents is the string of small, colorful prayer flags draped between the front door and a neighboring fence. Upon looking closer, a small sign indicating the center’s name can be made out underneath the flags, worn but unwavering.

Losel Shedrup Ling Center: Outside

The front door is a plain gray color, but the windows on either side hint at the color and comfort contained within. Inside, the floor is lined with carpets and cushions, with plenty of room for seated meditation whenever needed. Along the wall hang several depictions of Buddhist deities that teach traits important to the practice of this small but proud Buddhist center. In the center of the front wall hangs a portrait of the Buddha himself, seated in the traditional meditative position.

Losel Shedrup Ling Center: Interior

The Losel Shedrup Ling Center was founded twenty-three years ago on May 17, 1993 by a small group of Knoxville natives desiring a place to practice their faith together. For the over two decades of its life, the center has remained rather the same, remaining in its original location to this day. Despite the city’s position in the center of America’s famous Christian Bible Belt, the Losel Shedrup Ling Center has continued to thrive as a small, self-preserving community inside this small, welcoming space. Members who frequent the center come together in variations of their belief in Tibetan Buddhism; while the community might not hold exactly the same beliefs, the center is clear that all are welcome to explore their relationship with the Buddhist faith through this center. The center’s online introduction states:

“Membership is available to any individual who desires it regardless of race, age, gender, marital status, or national origin, provided, however, that the directors may decline to admit any person who is hostile to Buddhism as a religion, creed, or philosophy. The corporation does not require a member to renounce affiliation with or membership in other churches or religious orders. Tolerance is a leading ethical precept of Buddhism.”

Through various activities and exercises that occur on a weekly basis, the center’s promise on tolerance is cleanly executed through practices dealing in varying levels of secularism. Events occur four days out of each week, with two practices taking place on Sunday morning.

The first event on Sunday begins at ten o’clock in the morning, and is designed for people already familiar with Buddhist practices and texts. The exercise involves a deity practice, in which the focus of the meditation and activities are derived from a rotation of various Buddhist deities that exemplify important Buddhist traits. Typically, these deity figures involve a Tara, or a female embodiment of the Buddha that is associated with metaphors for Buddha virtues. In this center specifically the Green Tara, that of enlightened activity, is particularly important for the intense visualization practices that take place throughout this weekly exercise.

The center's portrait of the Green Tara of Enlightened Activity.

The center’s portrait of the Green Tara of Enlightened Activity.

The concept of using Tara so often in the center’s Buddhist practice stems from Buddhism’s Mother Aspect: the belief that, at some point, all people in the world have been your mother. By involving this point of view in meditation, all anger and resentment towards others are refuted by the conscious acknowledgement of past love, care, and support of you carried out by the person at hand. This, in turn, provides a sense of compassion for all others – a fundamental element in Tibetan Buddhism.

At the conclusion of the ten o’clock practice, a form of the Gelugpa School is carried out at the eleven o’clock meeting. This time is designed for individuals less invested in intense visualization, and thus is easier for people new to Buddhism to attend. Gelugpa is the youngest form of Tibetan Buddhism, and means “School of the Virtuous.” It is also the largest branch of Tibetan Buddhism, and the branch to which the traditional Dalai Lamas are attached. Created in the fourteenth century by a monk named Tsongkhapa, this school enforces stricter monastic policy than past Tibetan Buddhist schools, and allows Tantric and magical rites only in moderation. The main goal of the Gelugpa School is to arouse your bodhisattva, or the inner Buddha-nature that lives inside each individual. Compassion, too, is key in the practice of Gelugpa Buddhism, and thus is a factor in accessing the bodhisattva through meditation and intense concentration.

The eleven o’clock service also includes some factors of traditional Mahayana Buddhism, or “The Great Vehicle” Buddhism. This Buddhist tradition believes in one, resolute path to achieving enlightenment, and thus features the attainment of bodhisattva in conquering this goal. Aside from the strictly Buddhist faith-based practice and meditation, the hour-long service also incorporates historical accounts of the Buddha’s life and steers clear of the intense visualization used in the earlier service.

On Monday evenings, the center holds a more secularized meditation group. Officially called “Insight Meditation,” this group of individuals from around Knoxville gathers for guided meditation lead by a different member each week. Unlike the practices on Sunday, this group contains individuals of strict Buddhist faith, people who are questioning, and people who merely enjoy the secular comfort of ritual meditation. Like all practices in Losel Shedrup Ling Center, this group is open to the public.

Tuesday nights feature a weekly book group, in which members read and discuss various Buddhist texts. Featuring both original Buddhist writings as well as more modern texts from the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, the group uses these readings as a guide for proper Buddhist practice in meditation and in life as a whole. Suggested readings from the group include Sleeping, Dreaming, and Dying by H.H. the Dalai Lama; Tara, the Feminine Divine by Bokar Rinpoche; and Atisha’s Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment, translated by Ruth Sonam Rinchen.

Thursday evenings are the second-most important ritual of the center’s traditional Tibetan practices where, for one hour each week, a Chenrezig practice is carried out. Chenrezig is a Tibetan Buddhist deity known as the “Buddha of Compassion.” Like in the center’s previous practices, this use of compassion in meditative practice and intense visualization highlights the complete importance this center places on the use of compassion in Buddhist faith and in everyday living. The interior of the Losel Shedrup Ling Center features a portrait of the deity on the wall across from the front door so that upon entering, this figure is one of the first to be seen. This Thursday night practice dedicated completely to Chenrezig incorporates loving-kindness meditation with that of basic compassion to further the uncovering of the inner-bodhisattva of each individual practitioner.

The center's portrait of Chenrezig, deity of compassion.

The center’s portrait of Chenrezig, deity of compassion.

Because of Knoxville’s small Buddhist population as a whole, the Losel Shedrup Ling Center opens their temple on Friday evenings to be used by members of the Teravada Buddhist tradition, the oldest tradition of Buddhism in the world whose name means “Doctrine of the Elders.” While this sharing of space asserts a sense of camaraderie in the Buddhist community of Knoxville, members of Losel Shedrup Ling generally claim a sense of autonomy amongst the various sectors of the Buddhist faith in eastern Tennessee. Jay Meeks, a member of the center’s Board of Directors, states that the small size and vast cultural differences of the various traditions make it hard to establish one firm, solid Buddhist community. While the various centers constantly assert good relations between each other’s temples and practices, the diversity of Buddhism ultimately sustains the center’s Buddhist autonomy.

The congregation of Losel Shedrup Ling itself is quite diverse as a whole. While mostly comprised of Westerners searching for a religion more fitting for themselves outside of the norm, the ages, occupations, and reasons for joining vary greatly across the participants. People of all ages regularly attend weekly practices at the center but within the core membership, a large age gap emerges between those of retirement age and the millennial population. This age distinction, Jay Meeks says, is fairly recent and was a little disconcerting for the original members of the center. Over time, however, this age gap has settled into a “new normal,” and those practicing enjoy the inter-generational interaction that stems from their shared love of Buddhism. As for what brings them to the center in the first place, Jay Meeks speaks from a personal place. “I’ve been coming here for about three years now, after my wife gave me a book about Buddhism and I got very interested in it. I love the communal and social aspect of the center, and the emphasis we place on compassion, especially during the time we live in.”

The small, simple room of the Losel Shedrup Ling Center in Knoxville, Tennessee is successful in providing a safe haven for those practicing the Buddhist faith in the foothills of the Smokey Mountains. Through their diverse weekly meetings, deeply asserted tolerance, and opportunities to learn and practice compassion, this small Tibetan Buddhist Center supplies fundamental support and resources for each individual’s Buddhist-faith journey.

 

Bibliography:

Losel Shedrup Ling of Knoxville. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 Nov. 2016. <http://lslk.org/>.

 

“Tibetan Buddhism.” ReligionFacts.com. 20 Nov. 2016. Web. Accessed 24 Nov. 2016.             <www.religionfacts.com/tibetan-buddhism>

 

“Who Is Chenrezig?” The Chenrezig Project: Infusing Western Life with Tibetan Buddhist Compassion. N.p., 11 Mar. 2008. Web. 25 Nov. 2016.             <http://www.chenrezigproject.org/chenrezig.htm>.

 

Jay Meeks, personal communication, 21 November 2016