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Sunday, February 7, 2010

AZH Update by Steve Kanji Ruhl

Appalachian Zen House ( is enjoying a busy and productive season.

As part of our "Green Appalachia" program, we're involved with the Garden Starters project (please see Bill Sharp's report in this AVC newsletter), which is receiving enthusiastic interest from two other Centre County organizations that we're involved with through our "Many Paths, One Heart" multi-faith outreach -- the Interfaith Mission and Interfaith Power and Light.

Through our work with the Interfaith Mission, the Appalachian Zen House is participating in a blanket drive to help low-income people keep warm this winter; we also provide emergency fuel assistance, overnight shelter for homeless people in Centre County, recycled furniture, and other assistance. We're the first Buddhist congregation in the Interfaith Mission's 40-year history, and we've been warmly welcomed by the Christian and Jewish congregations. Kanji serves on the board, and he and Jiko regularly attend meetings. Member congregations of the Interfaith Mission have expressed interest in possibly doing Garden Starter projects at their churches.

Through our work with Interfaith Power and Light, a national organization focused on religious responses to global warming and climate change, Appalachian Zen House has helped to organize the first Pennsylvania chapter, and we are currently developing local environmental projects at Penn State and in the State College area. Kanji and Jiko serve on the steering committee and represent Buddhists in the otherwise Christian and Jewish membership. Again, our participation has been met with warm hospitality. Our Interfaith Power and Light group has expressed interest in endorsing and supporting the Garden Starters initiative.

Also, we soon will begin advertising nationally on the website of the Zen Peacemakers Order for a person to coordinate our Bald Eagle Bio-Fuels program, and also for a farm manager to run the No Harm Farm community-sustained agriculture initiative at Ahimsa Village.

We also have been in contact recently with our supportive friends and neighbors, the Mount Equity Zendo in Pennsdale, PA. The resident monk there, Daishin, is interested in our Bald Eage Bio-Fuels project. Also, the abbess, Dai-En Bennage roshi -- one of the first American women ever ordained as a Zen monastic in Japan, a major figure in international Soto Zen Buddhism, the only authorized Zen teacher in central Pennsylvania, and one of Kanji's teachers -- is featured in the current issue of our Zen Peacemakers Order electronic newsletter, "Socially Engaged Buddhism," speaking of her work in the federal prison at Lewisburg. The Appalachian Zen House is grateful for the friendship of our dharma brothers and sisters at Mt. Equity Zendo.

Jiko is currently working on projects in New Zealand and will return at the beginning of April; she'll assume directorship of Appalachian Zen House in June. Kanji, meanwhile, is training intensively for preceptorship in the Zen Peacemakers Order, assisting his girlfriend Myoki in her studies as head trainee during the Montague Farm Zendo ango period in Massachusetts, and preparing for his new job there as director of the seminary training program and the residence program, which commences in early summer.

Floating Lotus Zendo continues to offer authentic and formally authorized Zen training at Ahimsa Village each Saturday morning; all are welcome.

Garden Starters Program by Bill Sharp

Garden Starters was organized just a few months ago as a vegetable garden project to support new food gardens and gardeners. We are working with Clearwater Conservancy, Spring Creek Watershed Association, Master Gardeners, and a growing list of other groups in and around State College.

To help groups and individuals grow their own fresh food, we plan workshops on making, planting, and maintaining gardens; and cooking and canning food. We will offer mentors, a demonstration garden, and seasonal celebrations. Materials to make gardens, tools, and plants will be provided to those in need. We will present raised-bed gardens for paved areas, the less mobile, and elderly. Involvement of children, youth and families is sought.

The benefits of gardening are many including: self-sufficiency, reduced food bills, fresh vegetables at the peak of their nutritional value, secure food, improved health, a delightful past-time, and having something delicious to share and exchange with neighbors.

We meet twice monthly at Clearwater Conservancy. All are welcome. If you would like information please contact Bill Sharp at

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Reflections on Green Buddhism Talk by Bill Sharp

I had the pleasure of attending a presentation by Steve Kanji Ruhl on Green Buddhism at Ahimsa on December 12, 2009.

For those who may not know Kanji, allow me to draw briefly on his biography. Kanji, born and raised in Central Pennsylvania, has roots in this soil. His academic prowess was evident: He has a MA in Divinity from Harvard. He is a writer and poet. He is a lifelong Zen practioner who has trained in Japan, studied with John Daido Loori Roshi at Zen Mountain Monastery in New York, is a graduate of the Maezumi Institute's Zen House Seminary for Socially Engaged Buddhism and currently a novice minister training with Roshi Bernie Glassman of the Zen Peacemakers. He and Rosalind Jiko Kisan McIntosh opened the first Appalachian Zen House, based at Ahimsa Village last year.

It is impossible to give more than a glancing impression of the experience of his talk and I can do so only from the perspective of how it filtered through my own nervous system. Kanji gave a brief but concise history of Buddhism as it evolved across India, China and to Japan. He related the history of that tradition with that of the West and with our collective ancestor’s reverence for the Earth, trees and animals. I found this intriguing because, although I was brought up in a Christian faith, which is perhaps more focused on life after death than the experience of the real miracle of life between birth and death, I have always had a deep reverence for the Earth; perhaps as a result of growing up in a rural environment and due to my Celtic and Native American blood. But he also brought home the lessons I learned from the Japanese while once stationed in a remote area of Kyushu where I had my first direct encounter with both Buddhism and Shinto and my first real spiritual awakening.

Over my lifetime there has been a gradual, albeit limited, return to a more earthy religion. As Kanji pointed out, in the dim history of all our faiths, at the root of all of our civilizations, there were religious and spiritual traditions that reverences earth, air, fire and water and the flora and fauna that gave life to the world of matter and energy. As a longtime resident of the Southwest, and familiar with its Native cultures, I am reminded that the food we grow has been reverenced by our forbearers. Such traditions live, if barely, in forms such as Holy Communion where bread and wine are used as symbols of our deepest reverence. More and more people are returning to a sense of the sacred in growing, sharing and eating good foods.

Kanji talked about the spiritual people who retreated to the countryside in China and Japan, and also St. Francis. I’ve toured both Zen and Christian monasteries and marveled at the beauty and simplicity of life withdrawn from the bustle of city life. I find the best of the monastic traditions, both East and West in the times they were self-sufficient. Such highly disciplined and focused lives give the residents of these places an opportunity to sharpen their spiritual perceptions and may, I would hope, allow them to more completely focus on the here and now such as celebrated by the Buddhist.

Kanji talked about the Bodhisattva path, the deep compassion felt by great souls for all living things and the commitment by them to foregoing final enlightenment until all have been brought to fulfillment. He brought the spiritual dimensions of the environment movement up to date with examples of Green Buddhist leadership such as that of the Dali Lama and Thich Nhat Hahn but he also gave due credit to Pope Benedict, who just a couple of weeks ago denounced the world leader’s failure at the Copenhagen Climate Conference, and mainstream Protestantism and Christian evangelicals such as Rick Warren and Jim Wallis. I have worked with faith-based groups for a number of years and I am delighted to see a resurgence of interest in spiritual stewardship which needs to be encouraged.

There are important lessons for us in Kanji’s talk and his mission. I believe we are experiencing one of those times in human history like those that gave rise to its great spiritual traditions. We need, I am convinced, to more deeply reflect on our reality and flame that spark of compassion that assures us not only of personal salvation but the well-being of all that lives on this Earth.

Bill Sharp lives in State College. He is retired from a career in education, public service and business. He is active in developing more sustainable communities, is affiliated with the Transition Towns movement and chairs the Garden Starters group that meets twice monthly at ClearWater Conservancy. Bill can be reached at