Dear Sangha,

It was the great pleasure of Zen Buddhism Ireland to host Zen teacher Brad Warner as guest teacher at its autumn retreat last September. Brad’s trip to Ireland was the first stop on his European tour, promoting his latest book, Don’t Be a Jerk, a paraphrasing of Master Dogen’s Shobogenzo – a highly recommended read.

As guest teacher, Brad offered two days of teachings at Jampa Ling Buddhist Centre in Cavan, our usual host venue, and he was also available for Dokusan. It was a pleasure to practice with him and see him lead services. His personal recollections of Master Nishijima were particularly enlightening, offering a valuable chance for us to find out more about our recently deceased root teacher. The retreat also saw the auspicious setting out of Joko and Eido on the Bodhisattva path, as both men undertook Jukai, with Brad acting as supporting preceptor for the ceremony. It was a memorable occasion all told.

One of Brad’s Dharma Talks to the Sangha is available here.

In other news, I am happy to report that our move to the Harvest Moon Centre on Baggot Street, Dublin, is proving a success. After practicing in the Lantern Centre on Synge Street for our first two years, the Sangha needed to move because of the unsuitability of the space being offered to us for practice. Our new home at Harvest Moon is very comfortable and welcoming to our practice, and the city centre location has meant that numbers at our weekly Monday evening Zazen are up. I hope we will be able to stay located at Harvest Moon for a long time to come.

Other Sangha developments, as you’ve seen at this stage, are our beautiful new website, developed by Sangha member Conor Hughes. Sincere thanks to Conor for all his hard work. And, of course, our new Online Community Forum (accessed via our website), which will allow the Sangha have greater interaction, act as a platform for study, and bring geographically isolated Sangha members closer to the life of the community: especially as the Forum will support our Online Zazen and other online activities. I encourage all Sangha members, near and far, to fully engage in the Online Forum. In our busy lives, it will really facilitate our Sangha in its growth.

Also worthy of note, is Binsen’s hard work in the background on our Constitution and By-laws. The hope is that Zen Buddhism Ireland will be set up as a proper legal entity soon: an Association with charitable status. The aim is that the Constitution and By-laws be in place by January, and that the first Board of Directors be elected shortly thereafter. This new set up will also allow us open a Bank Account, publish proper accounts and take donations. In the long-term, this is vital work for the growth of the Sangha, creating a vehicle for it to be carried forward in the years ahead.

Before signing off, I’d also like to draw attention to our forthcoming Zazenkai at the Common Ground centre, in Bray, Co Wicklow. Happening on December 4th, it is the Sangha’s opportunity to mark Rohatsu, the Buddha’s Enlightenment Day (traditionally held on December 8th).  In a day of silence and Zazen, we will remember the day that Shakyamuni first had his great awakening over two-and-a-half millennia ago. It is an opportunity to refocus our lives on our Buddhist values, in a world that needs these Buddhist values now more than ever. In the darkness of these times, we must be lamps that light up the world with awakening, bringing the Precepts and the Metta that comes from our practice to all whom we meet.

This message was to the forefront of everybody’s minds at the recent Soto Zen Buddhist Association conference that I attended in Minnesota, in the United States. It was a greatly uplifting experience, to share practice with the leading Zen teachers of Western Zen for a few days, as well as to take part in the Dharma Heritage Ceremony, welcoming recently transmitted teachers into the Sangha of recognised teachers of Zen in the West – a huge honour and a truly moving experience.

Leaving Minnesota, I felt renewed in my commitment to see Zen take root here in Ireland. I felt inspired that our fledgling Sangha was not alone, and that we had brothers and sisters across the world to draw on for support and inspiration. These resources of hope will allow us to continue, despite the difficulties that face us, offering us strength as we face the increasing tide of racism, intolerance and violence we see all around us.

With this inspiration supporting us, I’d like to wish you all a peaceful Rohatsu. As the days draw in dark and cold, may the fire of our practice warm all those that come in contact with it, and may its luminosity light the way, so that we can all find and share an increasing joy, despite the somber climate of these dark days.

With palms together,