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  1. 2016 Annual Silent Thunder Order Conference and Precepts Retreat

    FullSizeRender 1024x768                        2015 Silent Thunder Order Annual Conference and Precepts Retreat Participants

    2016 Annual Silent Thunder Order Conference and Precepts Retreat
    Wednesday, July 13, 2016 6:00 PM -
    Sunday, July 17, 2016 12:00 PM (Eastern Time)

    Atlanta Soto Zen Center
    1167 Zonolite Place
    Atlanta, Georgia 30306
    United States
    Map and Directions

    Click here to contact Registrar Tom Pongratz or to Register

    ANNUAL CONFERENCE & RETREAT
    This year's Annual Silent Thunder Order Conference and Retreat will take place from Wednesday, July 13th through Sunday, July 17th. The retreat will include a wonderful opportunity to practice together, take part in the STO Conference and 501 (c) (3) Annual General Meeting on Saturday, July 16th and wrap up on Sunday, July 17th with Jukai & Zaike Tokudo Ceremonies. All are encouraged to attend as much of the retreat as their personal schedule allows. The conference will include morning workshops for the sharing of ideas and best practices between affiliates as well as introducing the activities presently taking place within the Board and its Committees to help all feel comfortable in participating and contributing their talents. It will include an update on the work done so far on the Matsuoka Documentary and archive. Election of 2016-2017 STO Board of Directors by active members will take place during the afternoon Annual General Meeting portion of the Conference. This Annual Conference is a great opportunity for old and new practitioners from across North America to practice, learn, and plan together.

    PRECEPTS RETREAT
    This retreat is Dharma style retreat (more rigorous than a Sangha building retreat but less rigorous than a Buddha style retreat such as Rohatsu), which is open to all and designed for those wishing to formalize their Zen practice and look deeply into the Buddhist Precepts. The retreat will follow the Dharma Retreat Schedule from Wednesday till Friday. Senior Disciples and Practice Leaders will be team teaching with Taiun Roshi on the topic of the Precepts.

    Those wishing to assist in planning, taking on working roles during the retreat, and take part in this team teaching opportunity, (as well as Practice Leaders who have members who are planning on taking the Precepts), please e mail the STO Retreat Committee to be added to the schedule and/or have preparations made for your members' Jukai ceremony.

    Fees are $50 per day full day and $20 for overnight accommodations if required. As supporting member you are eligible for a 25% discount (Apply Discount Code 'DISC25' at the Agenda page when you register). If you face financial hardship please contact the Retreat Committee to discuss work study opportunities.
  2. ART & THE EYE OF ZEN
    ART & THE EYE OF ZEN
    An Introductory Survey of the Techniques of Drawing and Image-Making
    Sunday Afternoons in June
    June 5th, 12th, 19th, & 26th
    Noon - 3:00 pm
    Daily Orientation - Brown Bag Lunch
    Homework Assignments

    Register at:
    https://www.regonline.com/builder/site/?eventid=1843135

    $60 course fee, payable at registration. $20 per session at the door. All initial materials will be provided, with additional media list at the first session, June 5th. Limit 12 students.

    Presented by Michael Elliston Roshi, MS Design, IIT
    School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and Dept. of Design, U of I Chicago

    Elliston Roshi's professional background is in art and design, including extensive experience in teaching on the college level, and decades in applied design for national accounts. His research background in new product development and marketing gives him a practical perspective on the utility and application of various creative processes that find their provenance in fine art. His fine art paintings have been represented for the past four years by Kai Lin Art Gallery, named best gallery in Atlanta repeatedly during that time.

    Course Description

    You will be introduced to a half-dozen attitudes and approaches to creating a visual image, with emphasis on dry as well as wet media. The 4-session curriculum will be presented in printed handout, with recommended materials, at the first session. All approaches and techniques are based on Sensei's training in the "New Bauhaus" - ID +IIT, and subsequent development of curricular studies at the Art Institute and Chicago Circle Campus, where he was the youngest assistant professor during his tenure.

    Homework exercises will be given to be accomplished during the three week intermissions between the four weekends, to flesh out the scope and depth of your training.

    By the end of the course, you will have a working familiarity with a vocabulary of drawing and image-iteration skills that will prepare you to continue developing your eye-to-hand acuity, as well as qualify you for taking an advanced course that sensei intends to offer.

    Art & Zen

    The connection to Zen will be made clear in introductory remarks and closing dialog, as well as critiques of the works you produce, along with the other aspiring artists. Drawing, photography, and other visual approaches are nothing more than training the eye to see reality. The point is not really to generate a body of visual documents.

    In Zen, we are training the entire mind and body. As Master Dogen tells us in Shobogenzo Bendowa, our ability to transcend the limitations of the mind depend on how far we take our development of the eye of practice.
  3. ART & THE EYE OF ZEN
    An Introductory Survey of the Techniques of Drawing and Image-Making
    Sunday Afternoons in June
    June 5th, 12th, 19th, & 26th
    Noon - 3:00 pm
    Daily Orientation - Brown Bag Lunch
    Homework Assignments

    Register at: https://www.regonline.com/builder/site/?eventid=1843135

    $60 course fee, payable at registration. $20 per session at the door. All initial materials will be provided, with additional media list at the first session, June 5th. Limit 12 students.

    Presented by Michael Elliston Roshi, MS Design, IIT

    School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and Dept. of Design, U of I Chicago

    Elliston Roshi's professional background is in art and design, including extensive experience in teaching on the college level, and decades in applied design for national accounts. His research background in new product development and marketing gives him a practical perspective on the utility and application of various creative processes that find their provenance in fine art. His fine art paintings have been represented for the past four years by Kai Lin Art Gallery, named best gallery in Atlanta repeatedly during that time.

    Course Description

    You will be introduced to a half-dozen attitudes and approaches to creating a visual image, with emphasis on dry as well as wet media. The 4-session curriculum will be presented in printed handout, with recommended materials, at the first session. All approaches and techniques are based on Sensei's training in the "New Bauhaus" - ID +IIT, and subsequent development of curricular studies at the Art Institute and Chicago Circle Campus, where he was the youngest assistant professor during his tenure.

    Homework exercises will be given to be accomplished during the three week intermissions between the four weekends, to flesh out the scope and depth of your training.

    By the end of the course, you will have a working familiarity with a vocabulary of drawing and image-iteration skills that will prepare you to continue developing your eye-to-hand acuity, as well as qualify you for taking an advanced course that sensei intends to offer.

    Art & Zen

    The connection to Zen will be made clear in introductory remarks and closing dialog, as well as critiques of the works you produce, along with the other aspiring artists. Drawing, photography, and other visual approaches are nothing more than training the eye to see reality. The point is not really to generate a body of visual documents.

    In Zen, we are training the entire mind and body. As Master Dogen tells us in Shobogenzo Bendowa, our ability to transcend the limitations of the mind depend on how far we take our development of the eye of practice.
  4. Iqualuit Soto Zen Group
    The Iqaluit Soto Zen Group is located in Iqaluit, Nunavut, Canada. I had started the group for a very simple reason: to continue deepening my practice and to maintain personal discipline around it, something I had resolved to do after Jukai initiation, then later Zaike Tokudo with the Halifax sangha of the Atlantic Soto Zen Centre. It is in this capacity as a disciple, since 2010, that I have been offering regular zazen meetings to the community. The format has varied over the years, but essentially we try to have a range of approaches that will answer the needs of our diverse practitioners. Many come never having tried group meditation, while others have attended long retreats; and among these, very few have more than a passing knowledge of Zen or Buddhism. Expectations and experiences may vary, so we keep a focus on the shared encouragement of group practice.

    Each Sunday meeting, based around a monthly schedule, explores the teachings and practices of our tradition from various approaches. We always keep the newcomer as well as the experienced practitioner in mind. There is a beginner session, a longer meditation session, a Dharma service session and a study session based on the STO reading assignments schedule. A comprehensive monthly newsletter is sent out to keep our members informed of our schedule. Additionally, starting this year, we have been offering a second weekly meeting time for zazen, a sort of more informal "drop-in" session. All activities are available in English and French, save for the service, which I am working on finding adequate French translations (down the road, it would be interesting to have these translated into Inuktitut as well). We have occasionally offered other activities outside of this schedule. Some years ago, we have held a full-day zazenkai for the New Year, something we hope to do again soon. More recently, we have offered a parent-child meditation session. We have also held a movie night, during which we watched the Korean film "Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter... and Spring," followed by a group discussion. In all, these many circumstances seem to fit the needs of the group well.

    In this location, thousands of kilometres from the closest Zen group, I have kept two objectives in mind: to competently offer Zen activities in respect of our lineage, and to discover how Zen could find its home here. Certainly, it is no small thing to bring a Far Eastern tradition and hope it will take root in the Arctic tundra. Iqaluit is a unique town: founded by the American military during the 2nd World War, it is interestingly not a traditional Inuit community. Another particularity is that, as it became a regional centre, then the new territory's capital, the population has dramatically increased. The trappings and consequences of clashing civilisations quickly followed: colonisation in the form of residential schools and government on the one hand, and Christianisation and the acquisition of modern means of survival on the other, brought to the Inuit a period of transition that is still running its course today. Here, it should be noted that 65% of Iqaluit's population is Inuit, the remainder being many Qallunaat or "Southerners" who have come to seek their livelihood here. Save for a few, they are very transient and many leave after but a few years, some taking with them their important contributions to community development. Many tragic hardships are also encountered here: suicide, drug abuse, domestic violence and so on occur at rates many times higher, if not a dozen time, the Canadian average. Finally, because of the Christianization of the Inuit, Christian faiths exert a considerable hold on the culture, so that a group practicing meditation might be negatively viewed.

    For perhaps such reasons, perhaps others, our group has had few long-term members. A shifting core of three or four individuals, in addition to myself, has made up the heart of the group. In contrast, we have had many, many visitors. There have also been collaborations with community organisations, such as with a mental wellness survey coordinated by the Embrace Life Council and another one with the Réseau des services en santé francophones du Nunavut ("The Nunavut Network of French-language Health Services"); a contribution to a research project exploring the effects of waste management in the Arctic; a calligraphy workshop en français with the Association des francophones du Nunavut for their Semaine de la francophonie (a series of cultural events celebrating Francophone culture); a workshop on zazen meditation in the classroom for the Nunavut Teachers' Association territorial and regional conferences; and interviews on Iqaluit Francophone community radio CFRT 107.3FM and on CBC North. Zen has also found itself on my own radio show, "Hurlements sur la toundra" ("Death-screams on the Tundra"), on which I twice explored the relationship between Buddhism and Black Metal, a sub-genre of extreme heavy metal music often dealing with themes of cultural decay, personal dissonance and natural savagery. Finally, in the future I am interested in exploring collaborations with other community organisations, such as the Qimaavik Women's Shelter, the Iqaluit Humane Society and the Baffin Correctional Center.

    I of course must mention a very personal activity, two exhibitions of my drawings at the local museum and art gallery, the Nunatta Sunakkutaangit Museum. Entitled "Lessons from Town and Tundra: Zen and the Art of Living in Iqaluit" (2010) and "Finding a Path: Zen Practice, Iqaluit Life" (2013), both series documented my encountering of Zen lessons within my adapting to living here. Each drawing, rendered as a kind of visual koan, illustrated an occasion for the opening of the Self that occurred to me as a result of my being a student of Zen and of Iqaluit (is there a difference?). These I then shared with my fellow Iqalummiut, who enjoyed seeing their unique town and local life, especially the wily ravens, in such a fresh, new light. Many also appreciated the honest depiction of discomforting issues. The greatest value for me, however, was discovering the quiet dignity expressed in the life's everyday struggles here: patient sled dogs, ravens caught in a blizzard (or worse, in a bad situation caused by hunger!), the migration of snow buntings, alcoholism, pollution, meagre housing—all this speaks to this dignity, which is there as a lesson for those who will listen.

    So, after many years and diverse activities, the group has endured. I will dare say it is thriving. This year, two members, Murielle and David, have brought a true support to the group by volunteering their time and efforts to time-keep or lead introductory sessions when I as practice leader was unavailable. They have also shown great interest in the readings, and their contributions during Dharma talks cannot be underestimated. What is more, these two members have expressed their intentions to go through Jukai initiation, something that is currently in its final stages of planning. As for myself, I fully intend on pursuing my Zen path. I do make my annual "pilgrimages" to the Halifax sangha and maintain a good relationship with its practice leader Tesshin James Smith, whose guidance as my senior brother in the Dharma has been an immense encouragement, especially now as I am leading into priesthood. I do also keep contact with my transmitted teacher, Abbot Taiun Elliston, whose experience and openness have been of great service for this Arctic explorer. His wise words and humour still profoundly resonate within my practice. But beyond this, my path is truthfully to be found right here, in the pathless tundra. If enlightenment can be found right where we are, as Dogen reminds us, then here I will find it, encountering the Buddha of survival and joy, the Dharma of bones and rocks, and the Sangha of ravens and people—an Arctic Zen.

    En gasshô,

    Shogon François Ouellette
    Iqaluit, 22 April 2016
  5. Are We What We Think We Are?!
    5-Day Sesshin - "Are We What We Think We Are?!" - Seminar at the Watershed Retreat Center in North Carolina
    Tuesday, April 5, 2016 7:00 pm Eastern Time to Sunday April 10, 2016 1:00 pm Eastern Time

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    Studying Self and Other through Zazen Practice 

    In Zen tradition, the sense of self and the sense of separation between self and other is vigorously studied by the method of zazen meditation. Master Dogen speaks to this in his famous poem:
    To Study the Way is to Study the Self
    To Study the Self is to Forget the Self
    To Forget the Self ... is to Remove the Barrier from between Self and Other...

    During this Sesshin practice session we will use the stillness of zazen to investigate Buddhism's Five Skandhas: Form, Sensation, Perception, Intention, and Consciousness  with the aspiration of finding a clearer view of what our self actually is, and what it is not.


    Please join us for this 5-day meditation retreat in the mountains just north of Georgia in April. Watershed Retreat Center is located on 60 acres in a pastoral farm setting highly conducive to finding, or returning to, our true nature, in the warm embrace of Mother Nature awakening in the Spring.

    Click Here for More Information and to Register