One Step. One Breath.

Dear Beloved Sangha!

This simple instruction for walking meditation has been my constant mantra since Bread Loaf Mountain Zen Community started to consider purchasing a home for our practice. It has come in handy in the past two weeks especially, as a very active team of friends and sangha members have been navigating the winding way through the complex inspections, permitting issues, and ongoing negotiations. Thank you for being patient – I’m sure many of you have been wondering how it has been going.  We still aren’t all the way home yet on this endeavor, but we are getting very close.

Here are a few updates:

  • We are under contract to purchase. The seller is very happy to be working with a Buddhist group. She is an older Vietnamese woman (The “Lotus” of the Willow and Lotus B&B), and she has been very willing to work with our complicated and emergent process. We are grateful.
  • We have completed the inspections. In general, the house is a very strong and well constructed building. Built in 1810, there are some expected items that need to be further assessed and addressed. We are working on that now.
  • We are in the midst of moving through town permitting requirements. This is perhaps the most complicated item we are working on. I feel enormous gratitude to the team of lawyers, architects, engineers, neighbors and local residents advising and guiding us on this.
  • The financial resources are close to being all in place and structured correctly. Since this is a large purchase, and since we aren’t done until we get through all of the inspections and permitting, there are some necessary steps to take to ensure that people’s gifts and loans are done right, especially the largest of these.
  • We are continuing to raise money for ongoing stewardship of the buildings because we want to be responsible owners of this precious resource. We would like to have a bit more of a buffer in the bank for the inevitable expenses associated with a start up and to address any unanticipated repairs that might be needed over the winter. While giving to the reserve may not sound glorious, in my experience as a nonprofit executive it is often one of the most important things that allows an organization to flourish quickly.  If you are in position to help with this, send me an email and I can help you make a gift easily. I can also send you a link to give online. 

The next update you will get from me, barring no major developments or twists of fate before then, is December 8th (auspiciously, the Buddha’s Enlightenment Day). By then we will know if all of the pieces of the puzzle have come together – inspections, town regulatory assurances, and funding. We hope to report on that day that we can sail into the closing, which is scheduled for December 20th.

A final reflection: Last week I completed a period of voluntary homelessness leading a street retreat in San Francisco. A group of us lived on the sidewalks, relying on the kindness of passersby, eating at the soup kitchens in the Tenderloin, and making friends with some of the 7,500 people in San Francisco who are chronically unsheltered. As you might expect, the juxtaposition of these two realities –  homelessness and buying a home for Bread Loaf Mountain Zen Community – was really something to work with. It seemed at times like a dividing line between worlds that will never meet one another.

One’s mind wanders during practice, whether on the cushion or on the streets. Sometimes during the  cold wet nights on the sidewalk, when I would be awake and talking to other “travelers” –  people who live this way every day, wearing hefty bags as raincoats and torn shoes, walking aimlessly up and down the block or on a mission looking for a conversation with another human being, a smile from someone, a reassurance, a bite to eat, or something to ease their pain – I would often flash on complicated thoughts. But one that stuck with me was this: that living the Dharma is about choosing to live in an ever-widening circle of inclusion – making the dividing line permeable, letting worlds leak into one another. It is about dismantling the barriers that exclude.

Relationship, kinship, sangha, or whatever you want to call that sense of belonging to every part of the world we inhabit, is a game-changer. It is the jewel in the pocket that we talked about a few weeks ago at the Dharma Talk in Middlebury. We think that this kind of connection is beyond our reach, yet the Dharma challenges this status quo way of thinking. It pushes against complacency that keeps us from knowing that we all belong together. It nourishes the realization that worlds can come together, that our lives can leak into one another, that we inhabit a world of oneness, holding unimaginable diversity, and where oneness and diversity are in harmony with one another. In the famous Zen koan that asks about dogs and Buddha Nature – two seemingly separate things –  the answer is “Mu”… endless dimensions, universal love.

Dogen writes: “Do not ask me where I am going as I travel this limitless world, where every step I take is home.”

I titled this update, One Step One Breath. Every step we take in this limitless world is a step toward making everyplace our home. Endless dimensions. Universal love. Imagine any place – Cornwall Vermont and the streets of San Francisco or New York; the trailer homes that dot the rural landscape of the Champlain Valley as well as the Bread Loaf Mountain Zen campus; the beauty of the Green Mountains as well as the giant island of plastic floating in the ocean; the many places of refuge as well as the Texas congregation that endured unbearable gun violence last week; the places where love abides and where it doesn’t; the rich and the poor that are our neighbors; the halls of the town select board, the Statehouse, Congress and the White House; the bright spots and the dark places of our own own minds. It is a limitless world, and every step we take is home.

May it be so.

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