Inspiring the Discovery of a Wiser World

Our Sangha's Contribution to Dharma

Sangha & Inclusion, Service & Engagement, Sitting & Ritual, Study & ArtsGuiding TeacherComment

To all of the Ekan Zen Study Center sangha, a review of 2017...

 Norma Fogelberg, Board President with Guiding Teacher and Secretary Rev. Konin Cardenas

Norma Fogelberg, Board President with Guiding Teacher and Secretary Rev. Konin Cardenas

Dear Dharma Friend:

Thank you for your involvement with EZSC during 2017,

Ekan Zen Study Center continued to be a vibrant presence in the Dharma during the past year, both here in the United States and abroad. Our Guiding Teacher Konin Cardenas traveled to Japan for ceremonies at Eiheiji and Sojiji, acknowledging her as a Dharma Heir in the Soto Zen lineage. This enables her students to practice in Japan as well, and to feel confident in the training that she is passing on to her heirs. On that trip Konin also visited Thailand, and taught at the Little Bangkok Sangha. Later, in the fall, she visited eight Dharma centers, Zen, Theravada and pan-Buddhist, around the US and Canada. Online classes continued, with Konin leading the study of “Dogen: On Personal Transformation” and “Meeting the Self: Here, There and Everywhere.” The year also saw her teachings reach much broader audiences, as she wrote for the Buddhist magazines “Lion’s Roar” and “Buddhadharma.” Finally, and most importantly, it was a year of deep personal connection as Konin offered the bodhisattva precepts in jukai ceremonies with two wonderful women practitioners. In 2017 Ekan Zen Study Center created profound practice encounters with a broad, diverse Buddhist sangha.

All this was made possible because of your participation and donations to Ekan Zen Study Center. Every sangha member makes a significant difference, and we work hard to ensure that funds are put to the best possible use for everyone's benefit.

There is much more work to do in 2018. Curriculum planning is underway for our first offerings in Spanish, new podcasts and, of course, more online classes. Konin continues her writings with a contribution to an upcoming book by American Zen women teachers, blogging, and more magazine articles. Also, Konin was invited back to teach at many Dharma centers, including her upcoming workshop in Atlanta and possible return visits to Japan and Thailand. With continued support, we at EZSC can keep sharing the Dharma with the world.

Eihei Dogen Zenji taught, “Whether it is of teaching or of material [things], each gift has its value and is worth giving.” Your gifts to Ekan Zen Study Center are immeasurably valuable. We deeply appreciate the gifts of your presence and generosity, and we hope you are deeply nourished by what we share with you.

With a bow and appreciation from the Board of Directors,

Norma Fogelberg, President ~ Choro Carla Antonaccio, Treasurer ~ Konin Melissa Cardenas, Secretary and Guiding Teacher

Sharing the Light

Sitting & Ritual, Sangha & Inclusion, Study & ArtsGuiding TeacherComment

For me, nothing can compare with the joy of seeing someone commit to a life of Dharma, a life of exploring how wisdom and compassion can come into the world through oneself. It's a happy, moving occasion and one that is a milestone for the practitioner.

 L to R: Dana Elliott, Konin Cardenas, Norma Fogelberg

L to R: Dana Elliott, Konin Cardenas, Norma Fogelberg


A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of offering the Buddha's robe and the bodhisattva precepts to my student Dana Elliott, whose long years of dedication to Buddha, Dharma and Sangha have now led her to jukai, the lay bodhisattva initiation ceremony. I am very glad to be Dana's preceptor. Having spent the past year studying the precepts and sewing the rakusu together, we'll now take another year to explore what it means to put the precepts into practice. May all beings benefit!


Thoughts on the Bhikkhuni Life

Sangha & Inclusion, Sitting & Ritual, Study & ArtsGuiding TeacherComment
 Becky, Ayya Anandabodhi, Ayya Ahimsa, Anagarika Shannon, Ayya Santacitta, Guiding Teacher Konin

Becky, Ayya Anandabodhi, Ayya Ahimsa, Anagarika Shannon, Ayya Santacitta, Guiding Teacher Konin

It was a little over a year ago that I wrote to Ayya Santacitta, one of the two founding monastics of Aloka Vihara. We’d known each other for several years, and I had always enjoyed her presence and practice. I wrote telling her of my deep longing to come out for a visit to the Vihara, an unassuming home in Northern California, set at the top of a broad meadow where deer feed in the twilight hours. We agreed that a visit could be arranged for a time before the winter retreat began in January, but the airfares were simply too costly, and I had to defer. Respecting the retreat time of the monastic community, we arranged for me to come in May 2017.

It was so pleasant, the warm familiarity of good Dharma friends Ayyas Santacitta and Anandabodhi contrasted with the newness of meeting (then Samaneri, now) Ayya Ahimsa and later Anagarika Shannon, as well as learning how the details of daily life reflect the pāṭimokkha or monastic rules of early Buddhism. I felt drawn to this way of living Buddhism together with women, and there was something more. I experienced a spaciousness and sincerity about practice at the Vihara, a sense that there is room for a whole human life, room for a practice that is as big as all things.

The three of us were sitting on the floor in Ayya Santacitta’s room, talking quietly about how we were and how my stay was going, when I asked about a longer visit. I knew that my term at Empty Hand Zen Center, in New York, was coming to a close. I thought that three months would give me a taste of this Theravada life governed by the Vinaya, and enough time to plan next steps, whether here or in a Zen practice setting. The Sisters agreed, and I was really pleased. 

Still, I had my doubts. The monastic rules of Theravada Buddhism are very strict. They call for complete sexual abstinence, refraining from all entertainment and alcohol, no meal between Noon and dawn of the next day, and many other forms of renunciation and virtue. Would I be willing to set down everything in order to focus exclusively on practice?

Some of this territory is familiar. I have been celibate for many years now, and practicing brahmacarya for the past two years. I have lived at remote places, like Tassajara Zen Mountain Monastery and Hosshinji, where there were no televisions or computers with which to watch any form of entertainment. And I have gone for long periods of time eating only twice per day and not having a drink. Yet the commitment of this entire group of women to these and other renunciate forms of practice as the basis for a peaceful life is an invaluable support.

Now I have been living at the Vihara since October, and the weekly rhythm has become familiar. Just as it is at the Zen monasteries in which I have lived, this life is full. There is early morning and evening community sitting and chanting called puja. There are regular times in which to contemplate the early Buddhist teachings, and to hear a Dharma talk by someone in the community or a recorded talk by someone far away. There are regular gatherings to check in about how we are feeling, and to divvy up the work of cooking and cleaning and maintenance. Visitors come and help out, and then go back to the larger world. Everyone contributes with work. Everyone participates in sitting.

The activities are familiar, but the way in which they are held is quite different. Here there is no wake up bell; each person is responsible for monitoring their own attendance and yet there is no one who forgoes the pujas for more than a day or two. During retreats, 10 day periods of focused practiced with only minimal work, the sitting is arranged in two or three hour blocks of time. People move about as they wish, sometimes sitting with the group, sometimes alone, sometimes walking. The walking meditation is relaxed. People move at a slow but natural pace, without any mudra or pattern, just moving back and forth. It feels as though there is room enough for each person to find their own pace.

Also, I find it interesting and inspiring that, rather than a doctrine, much of what we chant here is appreciation for the Buddha, Dharma and the early Sangha. It is a sharp contrast with the Zen liturgy, which is primarily concerned with teachings about emptiness. The chants and teachings here strongly emphasize ethics as a part of the Buddhist path, and virtue as an attribute of those who have embodied it deeply. I have come to realize that this is an important part of what drew me here. This is a place where there is an understanding of monastic ethics as a support to, and container for the practice of discovering the wisdom of non-self. It feels so right. It has been true for me that each time I have chosen to live a more ethical life, it has led to greater clarity of mind and fewer difficulties in life. Now I can live among women for whom this is also true.

And what of the differences in the teachings of Zen and Theravada Buddhism? First, I must admit to being surprised at how similar these paths are.  For example, although the Mahayana rhetoric is that ours is the stream of Buddhism that concerns itself with practice for the benefit of all beings, my experience of the Theravada is that we chant for the benefit of all beings at meals and other times during the day. Some days we chant the "Loving Kindness Meditation" that I learned at San Francisco Zen Center, which is actually a teaching from early Buddhism, one which predates Zen by centuries.

I often encounter threads like this, that begin with the historical Buddha and continue right through to present day Zen in America. The Buddha said that the sangha should be harmonious, “blending like milk and water,” which was later quoted by Eihei Dogen and later quoted by Shunryu Suzuki, and is now regularly quoted by Greg Fain, the Head of Practice at Tassajara.

I also find that the way that language is used is very different, as you might expect, but what is being described is similar or the same. For example, Tiantong Rujing clarified that Dogen’s “body and mind dropped off,” while Theravadan Teachers say, “there is no one who attains jhana” not because it’s not possible, but because that meditative state does not include the sense of one’s personal body and mind. These are very simple examples but, for me, they are emblematic of the shared values of these two traditions.

One key difference, however, is the emphasis that these Western Theravada practitioners place  on leading a simple, disciplined life, one that steps out of most of the trappings of contemporary America. This is seen as necessary and beneficial, not just for the residents of the monastery, but for everyone with whom they come in contact. That is, the practice of the Vinaya is a demonstration that these monastics are "all in" and have devoted their entire life's energy to the practice of awakening. This gives the rest of the sangha confidence in the leaders of the sangha, and perhaps an appreciation for how much effort they are investing and the Dharma they are sharing.

It is different from the Zen view that even the ordained sangha can participate in secular life, which was particularly strengthened in the mid-1800s by Japan’s “Niku Jiku Sai Tai” law. This law allowed Buddhist clergy to eat meat and marry, and they also began growing their hair and drinking alcohol. Surely there were political reasons behind the passage of the law, but it was also a recognition of the fact that some members of the Japanese Buddhist clergy were already doing those things. As for the value of the renunciate life, so far my experience has borne out its usefulness. The simplicity of this form of monasticism, as structured by early Buddhist texts, brings the practice and one's personal responsibility for it into sharp focus, while ensuring that the lay and ordained sangha clearly understand their inter-dependence. It leads to some lovely relationships.

I wonder why Dogen chose not to bring to Japan the pāṭimokkha rules of the Vinaya that I understand were practiced at Mount Tiantong and other Chan practice places. His teachings that all beings are expressions of Buddhanature, and therefore fundamentally enlightened, did not obstruct his teachings about the necessity for realization of this fact. Thus, at times, Dogen was clearly able to acknowledge the ultimate and the conventional at once. It therefore seems that he could have upheld the conventional value of the Vinaya precepts, just as Chan monastics do up to the present day. However, he chose to create a tradition in which only the 16 Bodhisattva precepts are taken. This is something that I hope to understand better in the future by studying the history of the Zen precepts and the Eihei Shingi, the monastic code of conduct that is specific to Soto Zen.

At this moment I can honestly say that there is no other place I would rather be practicing. Aloka Vihara is becoming my new home, in my heart, body and mind. Much more of this path is unfolding too, and there is much for me to learn and to share with my new community. It is my intention that the Noble Eightfold Path continue through me. And it’s my plan to stay on here at the Vihara for a much longer period. The whole community has welcomed me with open arms and I embrace them too. This decision also means that I will be taking the Vinaya precept vows, as a complement to the Zen vows I have been upholding for the past 13 years. I am truly grateful for the opportunity to practice this way, and I look forward to sharing this journey with all of you. May it be of benefit to all beings.

The Three Flavors of Awakening

Study & ArtsGuiding TeacherComment

A dialogue with Master Changcha, as recorded in the Essentials of the United Lamps of our  [Zen] School and featured in the "Unfathomable Depths," a contemporary Zen text on an ancient Chinese poem.

Snail with raspberry.jpg

Konin’s Introduction:

The Master speaks of the monk’s sword, but it is his own that cuts thoroughly. The monk reveals his inquiring mind, but ends with a thump. All the fog in the world couldn’t soak his robes, so it’s best that he follow the path. How about you? Can you taste all the flavors at once?


A monk asked, “I am not yet clear about the right opportunity for enlightenment. Please give me instruction.”

The master replied, “In the uneven pine and bamboo grove, the fog is thin; because of the many layers of mountains, the moon comes out late.”

The monk intended to say something else, but the master said, “Before using your sword and armor, your body has already been exposed.”

The monk asked, “What do you mean?”

The master replied, “The good knife does not cut the bamboo before the frost comes. The ink painting can only praise the dragon on the sea.”

The monk circled the master’s seat and then left.

The master said, “If you close your eyes and eat a snail, it will at once be sour, tart, and bitter.”

Konin’s Brief Commentary:

A monk asked, “I am not yet clear about the right opportunity for enlightenment. Please give me instruction.”

– Is there ever a wrong opportunity? Get off your duff!

The master replied, “In the uneven pine and bamboo grove, the fog is thin; because of the many layers of mountains, the moon comes out late.”

– When caught by differences, you will find yourself up to your hips in mud.

The monk intended to say something else, but the master said, “Before using your sword and armor, your body has already been exposed.”

– What’s the use of a sharp tongue when you’ve already bared your backside?

The monk asked, “What do you mean?”

– At least he hopes his breath isn’t wasted.

The master replied, “The good knife does not cut the bamboo before the frost comes. The ink painting can only praise the dragon on the sea.”

– A hot hand won’t help you now. Another kind of rice cake isn’t any more tasty.

The monk circled the master’s seat and then left.

– He’d better pack a spare pair of sandals.

The master said, “If you close your eyes and eat a snail, it will at once be sour, tart, and bitter.”

– There are not two sides to this coin; this delicacy is lost on many.

Konin’s Prose Commentary:

Master Changcha’s student reveals his particular form of delusion in the opening question. It seems this fellow feels there is some magic moment that will arise from his practice. So he’s waiting around for something special, and in the meantime, he happens to encounter the teacher. At least he’s found a clear one. Changcha tries to tell him not to get caught up in differences. That is, though there are people of varying colors and practices, the magic moment is every moment, since all things are expressions of the original function. Experiencing things in this way, just drinking tea is an awakening moment.

The awakened way doesn’t wait for an opportunity that seems right. Still, if it doesn’t feel right, you will always make faces when eating snails.

Even so, it seems the monk is stuck and before he can continue Changcha does him a favor, telling him that he can see the monk’s confusion. In good faith the monk persists, asking about the Master’s teaching, but ends up walking out. It seems his magic moment hasn’t arrived when, in fact, it’s already here. That could be a long road for him. Yet Changcha goes the extra mile, leaving him with one last, skillful word. Three flavors in one, all discernable yet the eyes are closed. This is the flavor of enlightenment in the midst of the bland world, all the while infusing our delusions. with the freshest of scents. At the time of this dialogue I doubt that snails were a delicacy, but Changcha has now made it so.


Understanding Dukkha ~ A Foundational Buddhist Teaching

Study & ArtsGuiding TeacherComment

Guiding Teacher Konin Cardenas recently participated in a panel discussion for the Buddhadharma magazine. The panel included Venerable Thubten Chodron, Bhikkhu Bodhi, and Reverend Mark Unno, and covered a wide range of issues related to the teaching of "dukkha" which means dissatisfaction or suffering. It's always a pleasure to have these kinds of talks with Dharma friends, a reminder of how vast the Dharma truly is.

You can find the Buddhadharma article online here.

The Abbot Sets the Robe Down

Sangha & Inclusion, Service & Engagement, Study & ArtsGuiding TeacherComment

Recently Konin was invited to give a talk at the Aloka Vihara, a Theravada women's Buddhist monastery in Northern California. The talk addresses envy and indignation in the public discourse and in oneself, using a story from the biography of the 6th Chinese Ancestor of Zen Huineng. The talk is entitled, "The Abbot Sets the Robe Down." It's on their talk archive here:

Aloka Vihara Dharma Seed

Please consider making a donation to Ekan Zen Study Center in support of Guiding Teacher Konin Cardenas. Thank you.


Passing the Torch at Empty Hand Zen Center

Sangha & InclusionGuiding TeacherComment

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 enable Empty Hand to continue, and to support my desire to pursue more monastic practice. I wrote to the larger 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, the sangha of Ekan Zen Study Center, 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 Ekan Zen Study Center sangha 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
Of rain
From memory
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 this letter was 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,