Feeding the Fire

Drodzy przyjaciele, pozdrowienia z Polski—Dear friends, greetings from Poland! Kannon Sangha is happy to contribute to Mountain Wind, with news of the past year and a review of how our practice is maintained here in the heart of Europe.

For many Mountain Wind readers, contact with the Polish Sangha is limited to meetings with Kannon members who visit Sonoma Mountain for extended practice. Such meetings don’t allow for much talk, so perhaps the history of Kannon and its current development are not well known. Kannon was created upon a visit from Kwong Roshi to Warsaw in 1987 together with his wife Laura (now Shinko), where he gave a talk to a group of psychology students at the university. Since then, the community has grown beyond Warsaw, with branches in Gdańsk, Poznań and Nowa Sól (including Zielona Góra). Our practice is led by Hoshi Mikołaj Uji, Ewa Sanko and Jurek Kuun. All three were present at that original talk in Warsaw and their constancy allows for Kannon to flourish.

On that note, we would like to commend Roshi’s recently proposed Dharma Transmission for Mikołaj Uji. We see this recognition as another sign of Kannon’s evolution. For two years, we have grown accustomed to Kwong Roshi’s withdrawal from active teaching in Poland. In the summer of 2013, during Roshi’s last visit, he announced the formation of a Kainin Council to take ownership of all decisions on behalf of the sangha. The Kainin include our three Hoshi and Jarek Kaiin. Their empowerment has led to important changes.

First, we transferred the main governing board from Warsaw to Gdańsk, where Ewa Kaian serves as President. The move was designed to revitalize and streamline our leadership. Two proposals of note include providing stipends for Hoshi so they can travel more and teach, and the creation of a scholarship for students who want to practice abroad. That means more Polish visits to Sonoma. Do zobaczenia—see you soon!

Prominent on the board’s list is management of Kąciki. As readers may know, Kąciki (“Little Corners”) is the location of our rural zen center, 45 kilometers southeast of Warsaw. The site is maintained by Dharma Guard Jacob Bankyo. In February of 2014, Bankyo’s hermitage went up in flames while he was walking his two dogs. The fire occurred at the same time Roshi was being admitted to a hospital for a torn aorta. It was a shake-up period. In Kąciki, Bankyo lost his home, his mementos, and most his material belongings. But hanging in the zendo, with just a little dust on the sleeves, remained his robes and rakusu.

The fire proved to be transformative. Sangha leadership decided to stay, clean up the mess and stand on our own legs. For days following, people came with donations and gifts. Many came from outside the sangha, including strangers from nearby villages. What might have been a tragedy transformed into a beautiful social action to maintain the center and establish its grafting within the local community.

Building at Kąciki continues. Bankyo has a new cabin, which while not a Slovakian hut still manages to keep him warm. Thanks in part to a gift from Bogna Genju, we made the following additions: women’s guest house, dining room, equipped kitchen, tool shop, carport and outdoor toilet. Additionally, we replaced a water pump and fortified our adobe cottage, which serves as basis for summer workshops in traditional clay and straw construction. In warm seasons, we have running water, two showers and places for tents. The zendo holds 20 sitters. And the regenerated soil where once stood Bankyo’s hut has been planted over with a garden. All these actions have been made possible by assertive decisions of the Kainin Council.

With the turn of spring, we continue to feed the fire of Kąciki. Weekend sesshins are scheduled monthly, April to October. For the second year, Kąciki will house the final week of summer Ango. This means more outdoor zazen and mondo, with the scent of living pine and lumber piles nearby.

Yearly practice is maintained by our city zendos. Regular sittings are scheduled two evenings per week, plus once on weekends. Morning sits occur one to two times per week. Meditation workshops, led by Hoshi, are offered to beginning students about once every two months. With the stipend fund, Hoshi are better enabled to visit centers and give talks. In Warsaw, Hoshi dharma talks are scheduled once per month. Additionally, in Warsaw and Gdańsk, senior students are asked to give talks monthly. The regularity of talks draws members back to the zendo hub that clarifies a sometimes muddled urban existence.

All four branches come together for summer Ango and winter Rohatsu. This is a special time for Kannon, as members from all over Poland reintegrate, often using vacation time to practice together. To nurture this spirit, we have added all-day sittings and weekend sesshins to the regular calendar. From February to April, seven such practice periods were conducted, from Zielona Góra to Gdańsk to Warsaw to Kąciki. Our hope is to take advantage of all our resources and make extended zazen available throughout the year. With more sitting, we can develop ‘calluses on our ears’ and understand Kodo Sawaki Roshi’s phrase that ‘zazen is good for nothing’.

Kannon Sangha has grown steadily since Kwong Roshi’s first visit in 1987. The dharma has taken root in Poland and finds the soil rejuvenating. Of course, the dharma was here before and will be here after we are gone. But without people, who can cultivate it? Buddzie, Dharmie, Sandze!

To keep up with the Polish Sangha, please visit us at: kannon.pl, pustka.pl, and Pustka Emptiness on Facebook. Or do better—come practice with us in Poland! Chances are, there will be a sesshin scheduled ☺

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