The buddha-dharma is alive and well in Poland!
I returned late last Tuesday night from what was likely the most eventful and intense trip of all my twenty years traveling to that country, a month-long visit that marked the 40th anniversary of our sangha there.
First, as usual, we had sesshin. So much collective heart and effort funneled into making those 7-days in July a powerful experience for the several dozen who participated. Sesshin: whatever we go through during it—and usually we go through a lot—it invariably clears the way for a fresh start in our life and Zen practice.
On Sunday, the morning after sesshin ended, three back-to-back ceremonies: a New Students’ ceremony, Jukai/Receiving the Precepts, and a rakusu ceremony, when ten people received dharma names and rakusus (the Zen abbreviated robe worn around the neck). The incense hadn’t yet burned down from the previous ceremony before the next stick was being inserted into the brass burner on the altar.
Over the following week, all energy went into getting things ready for the next weekend’s historic celebration of the sangha’s 40th anniversary. So much work went into it, mainly by the three staff members living at the center in Falenica, on the outskirts of Warsaw, and a few others who pitched in.
One center member transformed the entire place by hanging his large, wondrous collection of hanging scrolls (kakejiku), a task that took hours to complete and which eventually covered the wide walls of the summer zendo, as well as walls all around the patio. This set the perfect backdrop for the many events offered over the weekend by staff and members: an extensive slide show of old photos marking the Bodhidharma Sangha’s decades of history, a presentation on the intricate art of Japanese scrolls, a beautiful healing-gong and drum concert, and dynamic, engrossing aikido and kyudo (Zen archery) demonstrations.
The room next to the zendo, used as a dokusan waiting-line room during sesshin, was transformed by staff into a place to really feel the past life of the sangha, with a collection of old center publications and photo albums, art and artifacts, as well as a wall covered with a colorful chronological history of the center from 1974 to the present.
With a total of about 130 people attending, a number of them from other dharma groups, much food was prepared and consumed over those two days. The center kitchen was perpetually abuzz with activity, and many volunteers pitched in to help with the on-going clean-up.
On Saturday evening, as the warm day was winding down, a storm arose and lightning struck with a deafeningCRACK that burnt out the center’s internet and telephone connections for the remaining three days of my trip. What normally would have posed a real inconvenience seemed to have little effect on the rest of the weekend, except to quiet things down a bit.
On Sunday we did zazen and chanting, followed by an ‘eco-panel,’ with the focus on the connection between our minds and practice and the earth, with some members speaking about their work on behalf of rivers, forests and animals.
Later, various musicians performed for us in the zendo, raffle prizes were given out with light-hearted ceremony, and candles were blown out on the special cake offered up to commemorate this 40th Anniversary of the Dharma in Poland, when Roshi Philip Kapleau first visited — the first Dharma teacher to appear in that country. We ended, inevitably, by joining our voices to sing the exuberant Polish celebration song, “Sto Lat” (‘100 Years’).
What a privilege to be a part of the blossoming of the Bodhidharma Sangha over these two decades, and what a joy to taste and celebrate the wondrous fruits of this Tree planted by my own teacher so long ago. May the Three Treasures continue to flourish on Polish soil for a very long time to come!