Page 1

February 2014 Volume 3, Issue 1

SOJI ZEN CENTER NEWSLETTER Chanting the Sutras and Vows: Breathing Life into the Teachings By: John Ango Gruber, Zen Priest and Soji Student

Inside This Issue Chanting the Sutras and Vows: Breathing Life into the Teachings The Power of the Chant



Chanting: The Ino’s Point of View


Chanting For Those Who Die, Chanting For Ourselves


Soji’s 2013 Winter Retreat


Coming Home


Overview and Upcoming Schedule


When we chant, we are liter-

Practicing this way, we can

vocalization while at the same

ally and figuratively breathing

give our full attention to

time listening carefully to the

life into the words and teach-

each line, to every word;

voices and expression of eve-

ings. Chanting the Heart Su-

we can place our full atten-

ryone else in the zendo. This

tra or the Four Great Vows is

tion on each syllable.

listening side of our chanting,

them or even speaking them.

When we approach our

der, of letting go, of being in

When we chant, we are in

chanting as another part of

tune with what is all around us

fact actualizing the teachings

our mindfulness and focus

brings forth the collective na-

with our very breath and be-

our attention completely on

ture of our sangha in that very

ing. The sutras we chant hold



instant. There is a constant

very profound meaning and

meaning in the words, the

and delicate adjustment of our

each time we chant them, we

chanting works on us just

own voice, fine-tuning our pace

are offered an opportunity to

like our sitting works on us.

and cadence, to allow our

experience and clarify that

There is another aspect of

voice to merge into the larger

meaning in new ways. Even

chanting the sutras as a

chanting sound. When all of us

after we have chanted them

sangha that allows us to

are really awake and open, the

many times and we have

experience the thread that

voices of the many really do

memorized the words and the

connects us all. Harmoniz-

become one voice, one single

rhythm, we can approach

ing and coordinating our

expression. There is no differ-

them as if we are hearing

many voices, we are both

entiation between one voice

them for the very first time.

chanting and putting our

and another as all come to-

individual energy into the

gether as a single sound.

A Note from Shuzen Sensei

the receptive aspect of surren-

very different from reading



The Power of the Chant By: Chris Hakurei Kulp, Mokugyo and Soji Student

“When you chant...just be the sound.”

My first actual in-person practice with other Buddhists lasted about nine months. The group has a very different practice; instead of sitting in silent meditation, they chant with

fervor. Study groups began and ended with chanting. You never heard anything as powerful as the once-amonth meeting of all regional groups, sitting together and chanting (continued on page 4)

Page 2

Chanting: The Ino’s Point of View By: Linda Shoki Bundick, Ino and Soji Student Chanting melodic sounds is the music

would be appointed as the lead Ino! In

is very easy to remember.

the beginning I tried very hard to stay

It has been some five years now and

on tone and would think about it all

one of the greatest lessons I received

the time. What if I made a mistake or

from being Ino is that the world doesn’t

forgot to start at the right time? I wor-

come to an end when you make a mis-

ried I would ruin everything, not to

take or forget what to do. You are not

When I was asked to be the backup Ino

mention being totally embarrassed.

dumb or worthless, you just made a

at Soji Zen Center several years ago, I

Whenever there was a part of the

mistake. I am learning to feel the fear

was very apprehensive and frightened.

liturgy that I had not performed be-

and do it anyway.

To be the one who leads the sangha in

fore, like at sesshin, I was gripped in

the morning service and other litur-

fear. I don’t know when it happened

gies….me, who was told I was tone

but one morning there was only

deaf and unable to carry a tune. The

chanting. There was not thinking of

fear and doubt in myself was instant

chanting or forgetting the words or

and great. I reluctantly consented not

making a mistake, there was just

knowing that within just two weeks I

chanting. When there is no thinking it

of the zendo and the Ino is the conductor. Chanting can open your heart, help you regain clarity, light, strength and peace.

Chanting for Those Who Die, Chanting for Ourselves By: Craig Shodo Bundick, Jikido and Soji Student

My wife’s brother died not too long

So every day for 49 days straight

ago and we did a memorial service for

we did the “Enmei Jukku Kannon

him. The Tibetan Book of Living and

Gyo” ritual and chant, followed by

Dying says, “The most powerful time

30 minutes of sitting meditation.

to do spiritual practice for someone

During the daily ritual, I performed

who has died is during the 49 days

my regular Jikido duties ringing the

right after their passing. It is during

gong to start our chanting and sit-

those weeks that the dead have a


strong link with this life, which makes

used different incense that burns

them more accessible to our help of

longer. We placed a picture of my

affecting their chances of liberation or

brother-in-law on the altar, which

at least a better rebirth.”

remains there today. Our hope is

We lit our altar candle and

that the chanting helped the dead

as much as it helped us.

My wife’s brother left a message on our answering machine the day before he died saying he was feeling fine after his surgery. My wife saved the message and did not delete it. The message and sound of his voice became a spiritual chant from brother to sister.

Page 33 Page

Soji’s 2013 Winter Retreat

Coming Home

Soji Zen Center’s annual winter ses-

Sesshin has always been kind of a

nothing to accomplish. I had no expec-

shin was held between December 26

rollercoaster for me in the past. I had

tations at all. Just go and sit, that’s all.

and 31, 2013 at the Malvern Retreat

the high of the excitement in anticipa-

It was the most effortless sesshin I ever

House which has a beautiful campus

tion in the prior weeks. To the low of

attended. This was the first sesshin I

in Malvern, PA.

A total of 23 partici-

dread, knowing that painful knees and

felt like I had come home to the true

pants joined in part or all of the six

frustrating boredom would eventually

intimacy of practice.

day retreat led by Shuzen Sensei.

creep in. I had the attitude of wanting

meant I no longer felt the lingering lone-

Each morning we were on the cush-

all the great results without the true

liness and separation that pervaded

ion by 5:20 am followed by sitting,


much of my mind.

services, dokusan, work practice,

sesshin I would have some great spir-

meant that the practice of the sangha

meals, dharma talks and more sitting

itual awakening. Well, to state the obvi-

became my practice as I sat each

until we ended the day at 9:00 pm.

ous, the big enlightenment experience

round of zazen. Each person with their

Sitting together at the end of the year

never happened. Just disappointment. I

wholehearted practice, whether they

provides a special opportunity to go

would then think to myself, “This is

knew it or not, guided me home. Show-

deeper in our practice as expressed

pointless. Why am I doing this?” But yet

ing me I was really never alone to begin

by Soji student Mark Shigen Peterson

here I am doing it again. In hindsight I

with. And all I had to do to see this was

in his reflection of Coming Home.

had the expectation of trying to get

to let go and just be, be present, be

somewhere, of trying to accomplish

here. Just like this.

By: Mark Shigen Peterson, Soji Student

Thinking just because it was

Coming home

Coming home

something. It was all self-centered thinking, always living up in my head. Sensei always tells me, “You know what your biggest problem is, you think too much!” And it can be a bit lonely up there. Living in your head makes everything seem so foreign, like there is no home to find rest.

For this support I am deeply grateful for the sangha, knowing that each person is in this journey coming home with me. For showing me that my true home is never that far away.

Thank you for

being my guides. And as Dogen wrote, “If you are unable to find the truth right where you are, where else do you ex-

But this sesshin was different, I finally realized there was nowhere to go and

pect to find it?”

Page 4

Soji Zen Center Newsletter

THE POWER OF THE CHANT (continued from page 1) “Nam-myoho-renge-kyo” with unbeliev-


able speed and intensity.

I found, however, that I missed zazen.

One-Day Retreat at Soji Zen Center—February 15, 2014

Basics of Meditation-February 22, March 1, March 8, 2014

ANGO-March 9, 2014—June 10, 2014

Fusatsu–March 20, 2014

Xing-Yi Qi Gong and Tai Chi Workshop-March 29, 2013

Even though I enjoyed the rhythmic power and human intent behind the chant, I still felt the need to sit silently afterward. When I came to Soji and committed myself to this practice, I hesitated to chant at home.


though we chant in our liturgy, I did not do it much on my own. Little by little, I

Soji Zen Center is a contemporary Buddhist center providing instruction in Zen

was encouraged by fellow students

meditation, philosophy and contemplation techniques for training the mind. We

and Sensei to add chanting to my sit-

are guided by our founding teacher, Sensei Jules Shuzen Harris.

ting practice.

Sensei especially en-

couraged this when my father was

Soji Zen Center is part of the White Plum lineage which brings together elements

back in the hospital. When you chant

of Japanese Soto and Rinzai traditions of Zen Buddhism to teach intensive

for others, you find yourself really put-

awareness sitting practice (Zazen) and koan study to beginners who want to

ting your all into it.

learn about meditation, as well as to experienced practitioners of Zen Buddhism to strengthen their technique.

So when I’m in the car these days,

Weekly Schedule

instead of finding some loud music to blast my ears out like before, I find


Meditation & Dharma Talk

9:30 AM



7:30 PM



7:00 PM


Study Group

7:00 PM


Meditation & Dokusan

7:00 PM



8:30 AM

myself often taking refuge in the Prajna




Gate, Gate, Paragate, Parasamgate, Bodhi Svaha.

Contact Information Soji Zen Center 2325 W. Marshall Road Lansdowne, PA 19050 Teacher: Editor: Contributing Editor: Layout & Publisher:

Sensei Shuzen Harris Abby Jingo Lang Michael Daitoku Palumbaro Brenda Jinshin Waters

Soji Zen Center Newsletter  
Soji Zen Center Newsletter