February 2019 Newsletter

What is the Significance of the Pine Stitch?
–  from a talk by Myoyu Roshi in the Aspects of Zen Practice class.

Know that in the remote recesses of the misty valley

There is another sacred pine that passes the winter cold.”

- Keizan Zenji in Transmission of the Lamp

 If you look at someone wearing a rakusu from the back, you will notice a stitched pattern that resembles a pine branch or twig. Some have wondered about the significance of it.  (The rakusu is the bib-like garment worn by Buddhist practitioners who have undergone a formal ceremony, called jukai, to receive the Buddhist precepts and make a commitment to the path of Buddhism.) 

When asked about it, Suzuki Roshi once said laughingly that it was simply to hold the straps of the rakusu together. When pressed further, though, he said that pine has a special significance to the Japanese people. Here is an excerpt from an article by a Ali Krusinski, a Bryn Mawr College graduate of the class of 2016:

The evergreen pine is universally known as the symbol of life. During the long and icy winter season, the evergreen does not lose its leaves nor its lush dark green color. This tree has the unique ability to withstand harsh winds and up to subzero temperatures. In Japanese culture, the pine tree is known to represent longevity, good fortune and steadfastness. It is commonly linked with virtue and long life, even immortality. The pine tree is iconic of the Japanese New Year, as a symbol of rebirth, renewal, and a bright (hopeful) future.” - commentary by Ali Krusinski '16 on Pine Branch Scroll in Bryn Mawr College collection

The author goes on to mention the Miracle Pine, in Rikuzentakata, Japan, a lone pine that survived the tsunami in March 2011 and became a beloved national symbol of hope and resilience. In 2017, the pine had to be felled due to root damage from standing water, but more pine trees were planted in its place and so its life continues to nourish the spirit of the Japanese people. Pine trees are also revered and sacred in other Asian countries, many Native American cultures, and European cultures, including early Pagan cultures.

The pine tree represents the power of practicing with the precepts in many ways. The characteristics of the pine include it's deep green beauty that continues throughout the winter. Pine trees can withstand extreme temperatures, snow, rocky soil and drought. They can live a long time. One of the oldest trees in existence is 4,850 year old “Methusaleh,” a bristlecone pine, in the rugged White Mountains of California. Pines are highly adaptable and fight to survive.  Through their collective intelligence and survival instinct, pine trees continue to adapt to changing conditions.

Bristlecone pine tree at Great Basin National Park, Nevada

When we make a vow to follow the precepts, our vow must be strong enough to withstand all of the rocky, droughty, extreme conditions of our lives. Through all of the hardships and challenges, it requires courage to continue to look through the lens of the precepts. Sometimes we would rather run away, deny or blame others. But instead of providing the relief we seek, unskillful actions like blaming, lying, stealing, greed, denial, aggression, numbing our mind through intoxication only bring more suffering to ourselves and others. It is the wisdom of the precepts that can actually bring us peace and equanimity even in the most difficult times. Like the pine, we need to be determined and persistent, staying awake and bearing witness to our thoughts, words and actions and their consequences. The roots of the pine, like our vow to take responsibility for our lives, go deep into the ground, providing stability and nourishment. In fact, it is difficulties that cause the tree to bend and shift, creating its unique beauty. Through practicing the precepts, we are able to turn the suffering of our lives into wisdom and use our struggles to benefit others.

Just as the pine never loses its rich green color, so precepts allow us to navigate the difficult times in our lives with an underlying harmony, equanimity and even joy. Just as the pine branches reach out in all directions, so do the effects of precept practice have far reaching effects beyond our own lives.

During the ceremony to receive the precepts, called jukai, the preceptor uses a pine branch to sprinkle water on the heads of recipients.


A path for those new to Zen practice. We know that it is not easy to get started in this practice.  We recommend that everyone begin with an Introduction to Zen Practice Workshop offered monthly in Palatine and Monroe.  You can then follow up with  Aspects of Zen Practice at GPZC, a series of four monthly classes  reviewing the basics and exploring various aspects of practice in more depth.  Regardless of how long it's been since you took the Introductory Workshop, you are welcome to sign up for the Aspects classes.  They are repeated throughout the year and you can take them in any order.  We'd love to see you!  Please call 608-325-6248 if you have questions.  Learn more here     

We are happy that you have chosen to receive our monthly newsletter with periodic announcements.  You can change your preferences or contact information at any time by clicking on the update preferences link at the bottom of this email and following the instructions.  

View or download our February - April 2019 Calendar

In this Newsletter:


The Buddha's Parinirvana, Gal Vihara Rock Temple , Polonnaruwa, Sri Lanka

"All conditioned things are subject to decay.
Strive to attain the goal by diligence."

- Final words of Shakyamuni Buddha
Nirvana Day Zazenkai, February 22-24

Nirvana Day Zazenkai commemorates the parinirvana of Shakyamuni Buddha. The zazenkai  begins with informal dinner at 5:30 followed by instruction. The formal retreat begins at 8 PM.  Zazenkai concludes on Sunday morning with the Gate of Sweet Nectar ceremony at 7 AM followed by informal breakfast.  Participants may attend part time if unable to be at the entire zazenkai.  Please bring non-perishable food items to donate following Gate of Sweet Nectar Ceremony. 

The cost of this retreat is $75 and includes overnight accommodations Friday and Saturday nights as well as all meals. 

Dates for Upcoming Retreats and registration links: 



Serving all beings through socially engaged activities:   In alignment with the eighth of GPZC's foundational principles, many of our members participate in community-based projects promoting social justice, human and animal well-being.  Great Plains Zen Center and Beloit Zen Community are participating in actions and advocacy with WISDOM Wisconsin's Beloit-based affiliate group Justice Overcoming Borders (JOB).  You are invited to join us in showing up for these impactful events coming up in February and March. For more information, contact Ruth at JOB here.

Mass Supervision in Wisconsin - Wed,  Feb. 13, 10 AM at the State Capital, Rm 411 South, Madison    Presentation about Columbia University Justice Lab's report on Mass Supervision in Wisconsin, with testimony by impacted individuals and advocacy training.  Mass  Supervision refers to the large increase in the number of people on probation, parole or "extended supervision."  These individuals are unable to vote and do not have the right to due process before being returned to prison for a crimeless rule violation.  

Leadership Training - 5 week series, Feb 21-March 21, Thursdays 6-8 PM in Janesville, WI    Learn community organizing techniques and leadership skills from seasoned activists.  Each week is a different topic and it is preferred but not necessary to attend all five sessions.  

Madison Action Day 2019 - Tuesday, March 26 from 9-3 beginning at the Madison Masonic Temple, 301 Wisconsin Ave., Madison  WI.   Over 1,000 are expected to participate in this important nonpartisan event.  Learn about WISDOM Wisconsin's core values:  Beloved Community, Radical Inclusion, Reconciliation/Making Past Harms Right, and Living for the Seventh Generation.  Visit state representatives to educate and advocate about important issues including health care, immigration, criminal justice reform, child poverty, transportation access, environmental issues and more.  More information and an opportunity to sign up for buses to the event from all over the state can be found here.  Great Plains Zen Center will be participating with our local WISDOM affiliate, Justice Overcoming Borders.  Registration fee of $25 for this event includes lunch and a T-shirt.  

Movie: Dark Money, Thursday, March 28 - 6 PM  in the Community Room of Beloit Public Library.  The movie reveals how dark money in US elections impacts us.  Discussion and light refreshments following. 


We mourn the passing of Zen Peacemakers International founder Bernie Glassman on November 4 2018.  A memorial service for Bernie Roshi will be held on Sunday afternoon, February 17th, 2019 at Greyston Foundation in Yonkers, NY USA. More details will be disclosed soon.  Check the ZPI website for updates. 



Writing and Zen: Creativity and Obstacles
a workshop with
 author Bonnie Myosen Nadzam
Sunday May 19 2019 9:00 - 4:00

You and your life are fundamentally creative—arising spontaneously and intelligently. The writing process can lend itself quite well to revealing some of the obstacles that can freeze up, block, and derail this force. In so far as we bring awareness to these obstacles on the page, we bring the awareness to our lives, and insofar as we bring awareness of such obstacles in our lives, we bring awareness of them to the page. In this 1-day workshop, writing assignments, discussion and Zen meditation will present opportunities to investigate each of our own obstacles with, hopefully, a little urgency and honesty.

Participants can expect to finish with workshop with several short pieces that might be lengthened or revised independently, and with new tools and strategies for navigating and working with the obstacles that arise during the writing/creative process. 

Bonnie Nadzam is an American writer whose work has appeared in Harper’s, Granta, Orion, Iowa Review, Kenyon Review, Epoch, and many other journals. Her first novel, LAMB, has been translated into several languages and was recipient of the Center for Fiction’s First Novel Prize, and made into an award-winning independent film. Her second novel, LIONS, was a PEN Literary Prize finalist. Her third novel, 31, is forthcoming. She holds degrees in English Literature and Environmental Studies from Carleton College, an MFA from Arizona State University, and an MA and PhD from the University of Southern California. She is a long-time practitioner of zen and a student in the White Plum asanga.

The workshop takes places at Great Plains Zen Center, W7762 Falk Rd., Monroe.  Cost is $75 for members, $90 for all others. Student or senior scholarships available. Register here.


Introduction to Zen Practice Workshops:

Great Plains Zen Center offers monthly Introductory Workshops especially for those new to practice.  The workshops provide basic, practical information including how to do zazen (Zen meditation), how to establish a home practice, how to make everyday activities practice, the aims of practice, and what programs are available for practice through GPZC. 

Upcoming Introductory Workshops at GPZC, W7762 Falk Rd, Monroe, WI 53566:

 All workshops take place  8:30-11:30. Register here:

Upcoming Introductory Workshops at Countryside UU Church, 1025 N. Smith St., Palatine, IL:

All workshops take place 8:30 – 11:30 followed by vegetarian lunch. Register here:


Aspects of Zen Practice at GPZC  This series of four classes helps those who have taken an Introductory Workshop review the basics and continue to learn about the various elements of practice and ways to participate at Great Plains Zen Center.  Classes are held once per month in Monroe and in Palatine and may be taken in any order.  The class series repeats throughout the year, so you can take a class you missed the next time it is offered. These classes provide a great way to continue learning after the Introductory Workshop.  All classes are 1 hour with optional zazen following. Saturdays at 9 AM in Monroe and Sundays at 5:30 PM in Palatine.  The cost of each class is $5. 
Forms of Practice Review the basics of zazen (body, breath and mind), zendo procedures, and the teacher-student relationship. 3/10 (Palatine)3/16 (Monroe)
Liturgy and Lineage:  The role of ceremony and ritual in Zen, our teaching lineage, an overview of services (including prayer list, memorials, baby blessings and weddings) and the Gate of Sweet Nectar.  4/7 (Palatine)4/20 (Monroe)

Everyday Life Practice:  
Practicing the precepts at home, at work, in the community and throughout our lives.  Sharing practice with our children and families.  5/5 (Palatine)5/11 (Monroe)

Being a Part of the GPZC Community:  Shared stewardship circles and opportunities for volunteering and leadership, Council Practice and GPZC Vision, Mission, Guiding Principles and Practices.  2/10 (Palatine), 2/16 (Monroe)  Next series: 6/23 (Palatine)6/15 (Monroe)

Fusatsu (Renewal of Vows)

All are welcome to join us for monthly Renewal of Vows ceremonies.  We begin with a short meditation followed by a council circle.  Council is a practice that teaches us to speak and listen from the heart. Fusatsu ends with a chanting ceremony.  Pre-registration not required. Upcoming dates are as follows:

  • February 3 7 PM (Palatine)
  • March 10  7 PM (Palatine)
  • April 11  7 PM 7 PM (Monroe - at start of sesshin but open to all)
  • May 5 7 PM (Palatine)
  • June 20 7 PM (Monroe - at start of sesshin but open to all)

Gate of Sweet Nectar

In this ceremony, the main liturgy of Zen Peacemakers, we offer nourishment to those who are forgotton, marginalized and not cared for.  The ceremony includes raising the Bodhi Mind and inviting all those who hunger to partake in a meal to ease their distress and includes singing, chanting and musical instruments.  Participants are asked to bring non-perishable food items which will be taken to the local food pantry after the ceremony.  Pre-registration not required. Upcoming dates are as follows:

  • February 24 7 AM (Monroe - at end of zazenkai but open to all)
  • March 24 7 AM (Monroe - at end of sesshin but open to all)
  • April 14 7 AM (Monroe - at end of sesshin but open to all)
  • May 19 7 AM (Monroe - at end of zazenkai but open to all)
  • June 23 7 AM (Monroe - at end of sesshin but open to all)

Teisho (Public Talks by Myoyu Roshi)

  • January 26 10:30 AM (during Sesshin but open to all)
  • February 23 10:30 AM (during Zazenkai but open to all)
  • March 31 7 PM (Palatine)
  • May 18 10:30 AM (during Zazenkai but open to all)
  • June 9 7 PM (Palatine)


No registration or fee is required to attend weekly sitting at any location.  

Great Plains Zen Center, Monroe, WI

  • Zazen at 5:30 AM and 7 PM on Fridays
  • See calendar for classes scheduled on Saturdays
  • Chanting service at 8:30 AM followed by Zazen at 9 on Sundays
  • For those new to practice, a brief orientation is offered during the first sitting period.

Palatine, IL at CCUU

  • Zazen at 7 PM on Sunday nights. Periodic special events (see calendar). For those new to practice, a brief orientation is offered during the first sitting period. 
  • Beloit Zen Community meets every Monday from 4:15 -5:30 PM.  Schedule as follows: 
                4:15 zazen (sitting)
                4:45 kinhin (walking meditation)
                4:55 short talk/discussion
                5:10 zazen (optional)
  • All are welcome to come and participate, not only those affiliated with the college.  Whatever your religious affiliation (or if you have none), experience or interest in meditation, we'd love to have you. 
  •  Instruction provided for those who are new to meditation. 
  • Held in the Spirituality Room in the basement of Pearsons Hall. 
  • For more information, please contact Bill New

Logan Square Zendo, Chicago
  • Zazen every Tuesday night at 8 PM.  For those new to practice, a brief orientation is offered during the first sitting period.  
  • For further information, please visit the Logan Square Zendo website here.


Several types of membership are available.  More information about membership can be found here.

Support our community by making a donation here.

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You can also ask to join the Facebook Group, Great Plains Zen Center Sangha


Phone:  (608) 325-6248

E-mail:  myoyu.roshi@greatplainszen.org

Our postal mailing address:

W77962 Falk Rd • Monroe, WI  53566

Website: http://greatplainszen.org/


Recognizing that systems of power, privilege, and oppression have traditionally created barriers for persons and groups with particular identities, ages, abilities, and histories,  Great Plains Zen Center strives to foster a climate of purposeful inclusion of all people. We pledge to do all we can to replace such barriers with ever-widening circles of solidarity and mutual respect. We strive to be a Sangha that truly welcomes all persons and commits to structuring our community in ways that empower and enhance everyone’s participation.