Every spring, members of the Western New York Zen community welcome a master teacher for a weekend to inspire and instruct people interested in meditation.
This year, as people who attend the events seek to quiet their minds, a bit of their hearts will be across the world with the people of Nepal, which was devastated by an earthquake April 25.
The area that is now Nepal was the birthplace of the historical Buddha, said Ray Eigen Ball, coordinator of the Buffalo Zen Dharma community. “The teacher and teachings originated there and then spread out,” he said. “Our roots are in that section near the Himalayan plateau.”
Any extra money raised by the events led by Ron Hogen Green of the Mountains and Rivers Order, will be donated to help those affected by the earthquake, said Ball. “We have no idea what we will be gifted with in the way of donations, but a significant portion will be channeled directly to those in need in that country.”
Fittingly, the weekend’s theme will be “Taking Refuge in the Three Treasures,” or the three jewels of Buddhism, which inspire many people who meditate. In a statement, Green explained the three treasures as “Buddha, our intrinsically enlightened mind; Dharma, the manifestation of that clarity as we meet life’s circumstances; and Sangha, the virtue of living in harmony with one another.
“At their heart, the teachings of Buddhism are practical and pragmatic,” said Green. “They aim to provide us with an understanding of who we are and the means to live with integrity, clarity and compassion.”
The principles are helpful for anyone, even those who do not identify as Buddhists, said Marguerite Battaglia, facilitator of the Peaceful Heart Mindfulness Community in Buffalo. “Meditation can be a part of any religious path you are on,” she said. “I have been at retreats where Catholic nuns come and meditate. Like monastic or cloistered practice, it’s just a way to get more connected with the divine.”
Green, who has worked as a podiatric surgeon and a pharmacist, is a longtime practitioner and teacher with more than 35 years of Zen training.
Ball said that meditation is designed to help people live a more satisfactory and authentic life, free of anxiety about the future and regrets about the past.
“The practice of meditation allows you to step out of the busy-ness of life and turn your attention inward,” he said. “We have a lot of newcomers who come and sit down and are quiet, and they are amazed at how hard it is to stop talking to ourselves. If you stop that internal dialogue, there is calmness, and it’s not a matter of forcing that to happen, it’s a matter of letting the clutter fall aside. When a body of water, a pond or lake, gets stirred up, you can’t see through it. But if you leave it alone and let it settle, the silt falls to the bottom.
“The natural order of things is for the water to be clear and then we can see deeply into that clarity. It’s the same with the mind. That’s the purpose of meditation, to let the silt settle and reveal what has been obscured to us through our busy-ness.”
The weekend’s events, which run from Thursday through Sunday, include zazen, or Zen meditation, as well as lectures and question-and-answer sessions. All will be held in the Ministry Center of the Episcopal Diocese of Western New York, 1064 Brighton Road, Tonawanda.
Green will speak on the Three Treasures, then take questions from the audience, from 7 to 9 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday. A $12 donation will be asked per lecture, or $30 for the set. Thursday’s focus will be on Buddha, Friday on Dharma and Saturday on Sangha.
Saturday’s workshop, “Introduction to Zazen,” from 9 to 11:30 a.m., is accessible for beginners but helpful for people with any level of meditation experience. It will be followed by a half-day meditation intensive from 1 to 5 p.m., with six 30-minute periods of seated meditation interspersed with walking meditation. A $20 donation will be requested for each session, and registration at contact@BuffaloZen.org is asked for the afternoon intensive.
Sunday’s events, which run from 9 a.m. to noon, start with a liturgical service, followed by two rounds of sitting and walking meditation followed by a talk by Green. An informal communal lunch for all participants will follow. A $10 donation is requested, and lunch is included.
Green also will make the usual Friday morning visit to the Wende Correctional Facility, where he will visit with inmates who practice Zen Buddhism as part of the prison’s religious services program, which is led by local students of the Mountains and Rivers Order.