Message from Board Member Colleen Jishu Brown

Community-Engaged Zen practice can take so many forms. For me, one of the ways is to serve on the board of directors at Bread Loaf Mountain Zen Community. I’ve done this since the beginning of BLMZC in 2017, when the idea of a physical Zen center in our community was a dream shared by myself a few other spiritual friends.  Now I marvel at how the community has grown,  evolved and served the larger community since that time.

Board service is an act of love. I mean that in the best possible way, and I embrace it as an important part of my practice and expression of the dharma. I feel like it’s one important way for me to use my skills to serve and support the local sangha, the many guests who come to Gather each day, as well as the many hundreds of people who are part of the wider network of the Bread Loaf Mountain Zen practice community.  For me, I feel a lot of joy when I see how BLMZC opens its doors to dozens of guests for daily sits and the weekly dharma talks. While the numbers of people at a dharma talk has dramatically grown, Joshin often reminds us that “how many” is not the “metric” of success for us. Rather, the real thing to look at is how we modeling the Zen Peacemaker precepts on the ground, close to home, in our communities. This is the best marker of awakening to the Oneness of Life, and I try to bring that understanding to my work on the board of directors. I hope that my service on the board arouses in others the a sincere and determined commitment to be kind, caring, and to make peace.

It also warms my heart to look back at the many “skillful means” over the past five years or so. The Rutland Cafe, the Street Greens truck, the pop up food distribution events in neighboring towns, the quilt making project and so many other activities that manifested our Zen peacemaker values. And now, we have Gather, where I also serve and enact my commitment to community-engaged practice as a coordinator and a host.

When we purchased the building that now is a home to our Vermont style Zen peacemaker monastery, there were, of course, a thousand hurdles to jump – raising money, legal reviews, delicate zoning hearings. At times it seemed that it would never happen. Joshin reminded us to move at the pace of insight and opportunity – one breath, one step at a time. As a board member, it was scary and difficult at times, but we held steady in our practice and our values. This is what held us, and holds us still, as we make critical decisions on behalf of the sangha.  In particular, we return again and again to Don’t Know Mind,  to Bearing Witness, and to Compassionate Healing Action. We become clearer over time of what it means to let in the needs of those around us and to manifest the vision that has inspired us since the beginning – to practice a form of Zen that is accessible, brings comfort to the afflicted, and holds as a sacred Zen practice the simple act of opening the door and welcoming whoever is there just as they are. Joshin has said that the most important thing we can do is keep the front porch light on so people who are searching can find there way here. As a board member, I see our job as keeping the lights on by maintaining financial best practices, ethical operational practices, compassion-informed strategic decision making, and maintaining under all the changing conditions of the world within which we operate, a culture of care.

I can say, without hesitation, that I have always gotten back more than I have put in, to this Board and organization.  It is an honor to be part of it.

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