There are many ways to be a sangha, and many ways to lead one. It is, in some ways, a delicate balance of giving and receiving. Recently, the Board of the sangha where I had been living and teaching for the past two years came together to address a problem of financial sustainability. At that time I made my recommendations, which included a shift to part-time teaching, rather than full-time residential teaching in New Rochelle. Together the Board and I decided that this was the course of action that would be most likely to support Empty Hand to continue, and support my desire to pursue more monastic practice. I wrote to the group, letting them know about my decision and the context for it, as well as describing basic next steps. That letter is included below, so that you might have a better sense of the events that transpired. This is a new beginning for everyone involved, one that affirms each of our practice visions as valid, and yet different. I hope to share more about the vision for our own sangha at Ekan Zen Study Center in the coming days, as well as some musings on my travel visiting various sanghas across the country. In the meantime, please remember that I value our practice together as the Ekan ZSC sangha, no matter where we are.
Provision by W. S. Merwin
All morning with dry instruments
The field repeats the sound
And in the wall
The dead increase their invisible honey
It is August
The flocks are beginning to form
I will take with me the emptiness of my hands
What you do not have you find everywhere
August 29th, 2017 (date sent to the Empty Hand Zen center sangha)
Dear Empty Hand Zen Center sangha (the sangha in New Rochelle, NY where I have been living),
First, I offer my sincere gratitude for your generosity and for your practice. Recently you organized a gathering in recognition of my leaving, and it was a joyous event, full of giving and laughter and warmth. Thank you.
It is hard to believe that two years have passed since my arrival from California. Together we have sat, walked, bowed, and chanted. We have spoken to each other and listened to each other. We have welcomed new babies into the world, and we have remembered loved ones who have passed. We have conducted the study of the Way with one body and mind, with many bodies and minds. For this, I am truly, truly grateful.
As a teacher, I view my role as one of strengthening and inspiring your practice. During my stay at Empty Hand, I have done my utmost to fulfill that role, no matter how it was received. I have tried to be of service and to lead skillfully. Zen asks a lot of us, that we might give up our limits and be as vast as all things. This time has been no exception.
Now that time is complete, and we can see the results of our practice together. They must be accepted for what they are. At this moment, the Empty Hand sangha has some wonderful attributes, including a group of committed practitioners and a place of its own in which to practice. However, this sangha has been unable to provide the financial and energetic support necessary to keep offering the Dharma as fully as we are presently. Though many people would like it to continue as it is, that is simply not possible.
Thus, although I will continue to support you, it is time for me to relieve you of the responsibility of supporting a full-time monastic teacher. This should ease a bit of the financial pressure that is now on the sangha, and open up new possibilities for use of the space. I believe I've fully met the expectations that the Board and I had two years ago. Even so, I hope you will forgive any mistakes I have made. Also, it's important to know that there has not been any abuse or failure by anyone within the sangha or by me. It is simply a matter of having to change the way things are done, so that they can be more appropriate to this sangha's particular practice.
Beyond the basics of having completed my commitment, I feel a deep sense of connection to and hope for all of you, one that is based in the certainty that you can realize the Way. Therefore, my leaving is with the sincere aspiration that it will cause a deep movement in the hearts of you who comprise this sangha. Please let it generate a resounding response, one of greater stability and generosity toward each other.
Will you say, "Yes, I will"?
With nine bows,