September 2019 Newsletter

September 2019 Newsletter

Days grow shorter and nights cooler.   We are steadily moving toward the autumnal equinox which takes place on September 23 this year.  This is a time of balance and transition that is known in the Japanese Buddhist tradition as o-higan. Read Myoyu Roshi's comments on the meaning of o-higan here

SInce May of this year, folks have been sitting at GPZC's latest affiliate, Zen Sitting Group DeKalb.  Read John Genshin Knewitz' story about how ZSGD got started here
Beloit Zen Community Monday afternoon zazen on the Beloit College campus resumes September 2, 2019.  More information can be found here.   Professor BIll New and Roshi plan to offer a 1-credit course for Beloit College students on Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction for Generation Z next semester.   Read a summary of the curriculum here

New to retreats and ready to try one?  Register for the Beginner's Mind Sesshin taking place September 13-15, 2019 soon.  It is filling up fast.  Our next Beginner's Mind Sesshin will be in March, 2020.

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.  

Do you have something you'd like included in next month's newsletter?  Please call Roshi at 608-325-6248 or email

View or download our August - October  2019 Calendar



In this Newsletter:



Higanbana (lycoris radiata)

The Meaning and Traditions of O-Higan
by Myoyu Roshi

The Equinox occurs twice during the year, in March and September. Astronomers explain that though the name literally means “equal nights,” day and night are very close but not exactly the same length on the equinox. The September equinox actually occurs the moment the Sun crosses the celestial equator – the imaginary line in the sky above Earth’s Equator – from north to south. The March equinox is the time the Sun crosses the celestial equator from south to north. At each of those times, the tilt of the earth's axis is perpendicular to the sun's rays and neither hemisphere is tilted toward or away from the sun, unlike other days of the year. The autumnal equinox occurs on September 23 this year.

In the Japanese Buddhist tradition, the the equinox is referred to as “higan” or “o-higan,” adding the honorific prefix “o.” O-Higan is a remarkable and significant time in the Buddhist calendar, occurring in the fall and spring each year. People in Japan look for the red spider lily (lycoris radiata) – known also as the higanbana or “higan flower” – around the time of o-higan in September as a sign that summer is ending and fall is beginning. These flowers were originally planted in pre-cremation Japan to protect corpses from animals, to whom the flowers are poisonous. The flowers are also said to guide the spirits of the dead.

In fact, o-higan is thought to be a time when boundaries between this world and the spirit world are more permeable. Families take time to travel to ancestral burial grounds and perform cleaning, chanting, placing of flowers, offering of food and water and incense at grave sites. In Japan, time off work is given to allow families to participate in this tradition for the week of o-higan, spanning three days before and three days after each equinox.

In the online publication SOTOZEN-NET, Issho Fujita further explains this tradition: “According to Professor Kodo Matsunami, the six items that are indispensable when visiting the family temple and the family gravesite during o-higan correspond to the six paramitas. The items are water, powdered incense, flowers, stick incense, food and drink, and light. Therefore by offering these things to the Buddha and ancestors, one is actually practicing the six paramitas. Here is what he says about the six things.  "Water is necessary for all life and so reminds us of the importance of giving [dana]. Powdered incense may be rubbed over the body to perfume it, getting rid of bad smell and refreshing both body and mind, just as keeping the precepts does [sila]. Flowers calm the mind, assuage anger and evoke forbearance [kshanti]. Stick incense, when lit, wafts a pleasant fragrance, recalling effort [virya]. Food and drink gives us a feeling of repleteness and reminds us of contemplation [dhyana]. Light refers to candles - as light illuminates the darkness, wisdom shows us in which direction we should move [prajna]."

Higan literally means “the other shore” or “the farther shore,” and is also a time when Buddhists reflect on the six paramitas: dana (generosity), sila (precepts), kshanti (patience or forbearance), virya (effort), dhyana (meditation or concentration), and prajna (wisdom). We often translate the word paramita as perfection or transcendant perfection. Buddhist scholar Donald Lopez gives the following more complete explanation of the word paramita:

"The term pāramitā, commonly translated as 'perfection,' has two etymologies. The first derives from the word parama [Pali], meaning 'highest,' 'most distant,' and hence, 'chief,' 'primary,' 'most excellent.' Hence, the substantive can be rendered 'excellence' or 'perfection.' This reading is supported by the Madhyāntavibhāga(V.4), where the twelve excellences (parama) are associated with the ten perfections (pāramitā).

A more creative yet widely reported etymology divides pāramitā into pāra and mita, with pāra meaning 'beyond,' 'the further bank, shore or boundary,' and mita, meaning 'that which has arrived,' or ita meaning 'that which goes.' Pāramitā, then means 'that which has gone beyond,' 'that which goes beyond,' or 'transcendent.' "

The understanding of “the other shore” as being the world of spirit or place where those who die go is therefore part of the ohigan tradition as discussed above and leads to the tradition of honoring ancestors who have passed on by visiting their graves and performing observances as explained by Dr. Matsunami. The other shore can also mean the enlightened world. So crossing to the other shore can also mean seeing the true nature of reality. Dogen Zenji talks about this understanding in the Shobogenzo chapter entitled Bukkyo, the Buddha's Teachings. He says:

Paramita means 'arriving at the other shore' [of enlightenment]. Although the other shore does not have the appearance or trace from olden times, arriving is actualized. Arriving is the fundamental point. Do not think that practice leads to the other shore. Because there is practice on the other shore, when you practice, the other shore arrives. It is because this practice embodies the capacity to actualize all realms." (Treasury of the True Dharma Eye-Zen Master Dogen’s Shobo Genzo vol.1 Edited by Kazuaki Tanahashi).

Since Dogen Zenji's writing can be challenging, here is a translation by Nishijima and Cross of the same passage: “The meaning of paramita is the far shore having arrived. The far shore is beyond the semblance or trace of going or coming, but its arrival is realized. Arrival is the Universe: do not think that practice leads to the far shore. Practice exists on the far shore; therefore , if we are practicing, the far shore has arrived – because this practice invariably is equipped with the power of realization of the entire Universe.”

In these powerful words, he expresses beautifully what paramita is about. He says: “The far shore is beyond the semblance or trace of going or coming, but its arrival is realized.” In other words, our existence, this life is already the perfectly transcendent life – there is nothing to compare it to, nowhere to come or go – it simply is exactly what it is. “But its arrival is realized,” he says. In fact, we have to realize it. How? By practicing the paramitas. “Do not think that practice leads to the other shore.” In other words, this practice is not a means to an end, a way to become something else. “Practice exists on the far shore; therefore , if we are practicing, the far shore has arrived – because this practice invariably is equipped with the power of realization of the entire Universe.” The paramitas are the manifestation, the unmistakeable proof or verification of the presence of the other shore, right here, right now. When we practice these paramitas – generosity, precepts, patience, effort, concentration and wisdom – we make visible the transcendent perfection, the other shore right where we are. That we do practice these paramitas flows from the fact of who we already are.  Our life is already the Buddha's life.

This reminds me of the final words of Stephen Batchelor's translation of the Metta Karaniya Sutta that we chant, “Let your love flow outward through the whole universe, to it's full height, depth, and broad extent. Then, as you stand or walk, sit or lie down, as long as you are awake, strive for this with a one-pointed mind: your life will bring heaven to earth.”

The Chinese scholar and monk Shan Tao (613–681), was one of the Seven Great Masters, or Seven Ancestors, who helped develop Pure Land Buddhism. To help us understand what “reaching the other shore” means, Shan Tao used a parable called the “The River of Fire and Water.” In the Buddhist periodical Tricycle, Rev. Earl Ikeda tells the parable in this way:

In this tale, a traveler suddenly discovers that he is being chased by vicious beasts and demons. The traveler runs as fast as he can, but soon encounters a river that blocks his escape. The only way to cross is to take a very narrow path where the water is shallow. On one side of the path there are rough waves and on the other side there are great leaping flames. The traveler is conflicted: to remain on this shore means certain death, but to go forward may mean a terrible end, too.

As he fearfully contemplates his fate, he hears a gentle voice encouraging him to go forward and telling him that there is nothing to fear. Still doubtful, he looks ahead at the other shore, where he sees the Amida Buddha with open arms beckoning him to come forward. To remain here on this shore means certain suffering and death; to go forward may mean suffering and death, but also provides hope. The traveler seizes the opportunity. Entrusting in the beckoning of Amida Buddha, he takes the first step, then the second. With each following step the narrow path miraculously widens, allowing the traveler to safely reach the other shore.”

This reminds us of the passage in the Gate of Sweet Nectar Ceremony in which we say “Those who realize the way first, please vow to liberate all others through all space and time.” Amida Buddha is one who beckons to others to take those steps and Shakyamuni Buddhas are the ones in the world who guide others forward.

I love this telling of the story, because it speaks of the ultimate need to go forward without knowing one's destination or even how the journey will proceed, simply to take each step with faith and determination. This is a practice -- actually, a life --  beyond control and outcome,  of taking step after step without knowing, without anything to hold on to.  It takes tremendous courage.  As we take each step, the other shore is revealed to us as the very ground beneath our feet. But without taking the step, we will not see it.

Memorial stars at Annual Gate of Sweet Nectar, August 17, 2019

Introducing Zen Sitting Group DeKalb
by John Genshin Knewitz


Roshi asked me to share a bit about the Zen Sitting Group DeKalb – how it came about and what we do there. This group has been together for only a short time so there is relatively little history. But, because I am so appreciative of the opportunity to steward this group, I am happy to share what I can with you.

Though I have a long-standing interest in Zen, I came to formal Zen practice pretty late in life. As a result, I have never considered pursuing becoming a Zen teacher. However, I do view life through the lens of a serious Zen practitioner and enjoy sharing my love of this practice with others whenever I have the opportunity. Teaching Introduction to Zen Practice and Aspects of Zen Practice classes has afforded me this opportunity and given me confidence that I can share this practice in a meaningful way. Having observed over the last few years that Great Plains Zen Center member Matt Shingetsu Hellige stewards a Zen sitting group in Chicago (Logan Square Zendo), I began thinking about the possibility of doing something similar.

I live about 15 miles from DeKalb, Illinois – the home of Northern Illinois University. Through general observation and research, I became aware that DeKalb had no formal Buddhist presence. When I was a graduate student at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale back in the 80’s, a few of us had an interest in Zen but there was no place to practice formally. I felt that DeKalb, being a university town, might be fairly fertile ground for starting a sitting group so I approached Roshi with this idea in January, 2019. She encouraged me to look into it and I was enthusiastic about doing so.

Because our Sunday night sittings are housed at the Countryside Unitarian Universalist Church in Palatine, I have become aware over the last few years of the openness of the Unitarians to different perspectives and spiritual practices. My first thought, then, was to approach the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of DeKalb (UUFD) to see if they would be receptive to allowing such a group in their facility. To my pleasant surprise, I found that one of their members, Virginia Wilcox, who was also head of the UUFD Buddhist Study Group, had previously taken an Introduction to Zen class in 2017 taught by Roshi. I also sat in on the Intro class that day and had a chance to meet Virginia. Since she knew me, she agreed to sponsor the group and thus all facility fees at UUFD, except for a small monthly donation, were waived. Virginia is a Professor of Economics at NIU and has become a regular participant in Zen Sitting Group DeKalb (ZSGD).

ZSGD began formal sitting twice per month in May, 2019. We generally meet on Thursday evenings on a variable schedule depending on my availability and that of the facility. I am very clear with the group that I am not a Zen teacher and do not give dokusan (individual instruction) or Teisho (formal dharma talks).  I am a steward and instructor, much in the same vein as the role I play in the Intro and Aspects classes. I did some preliminary instruction at the beginning of the group and, since then, we have done two periods of formal sitting along with chanting the Four Vows and making Three Bows each time we meet. Then, in an informal setting, we will typically listen to ten-to-twenty minutes of a dharma talk or a piece of writing by Roshi or another Buddhist teacher such as Joko Beck, Norman Fischer, Shuzen Harris, or David Loy and have a brief discussion. This way, participants get the opportunity to engage locally in some formal Zen practice and expand their knowledge of the dharma.

So far the group has gone well: besides myself there have been between three to six participants at each session and it appears we have a core group of about four or five regulars. I feel very grateful for the early development of the group and  look forward to it continuing for years to come. I am very grateful as well to Roshi for giving me this opportunity – the responsibility of stewarding ZSGD has strengthened my own practice and commitment to the dharma. 



Beloit College professor BIll New

Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (for Generation Z) We plan to offer this class at Beloit College, during the second semester of the 2019-2020 School Year.  Bill summarizes the course as follows:

"This course will enable participants to develop a sustainable mindfulness practice, in the tradition of Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction (MBSR) developed by John Kabat-Zinn, refined for use with teens by Gina Biegel, and adapted here for use by young adult college students, members of Generation Z. MBSR has proven to be an effective means to enhance mental health for a broad range of individuals, including those with acute and chronic problems with anxiety, depression, and other psychological maladies. Members of Generation Z — those born around the turn of the century — are experiencing stress beyond that of previous generations due to diminishing economic opportunities, and existential threats such as climate change, gun violence, racism and other forms of discrimination, rapid technological change, and the dehumanizing effects of global capitalism. Students in this class will learn how to meditate and to how to bring mindfulness to their everyday lives, as well as how to engage skillfully with the environmental, social justice, and political issues that form the contexts of their lives. To complement the development of mindfulness practice and the active nurturing of mental health, we will also investigate the neurophysiological processes underlying stress and trauma; the dynamics of psychological development in young adulthood; and the systemic, institutional factors that produce anxiety and stress."



Oryoki Instruction for Beginner's Mind Sesshin participants

Beginner's Mind Sesshin, September 13-15, 2019

This is a great opportunity to sign up for your first retreat. It includes periods of zazen (seated meditation), chanting services, Teisho (a talk by Roshi) silent meals using oryoki (traditional eating bowls), and work practice, with instruction and guidance throughout for those new to retreats. Experience the benefits of sustained and focused practice with support from experienced practitioners in a beautiful, rural setting. Experienced practitioners are welcome too. Come for the entire retreat or just for part.

Participants should plan to arrive on Friday in time to attend the informal dinner at 5:30 followed by instruction in procedures. The formal silent retreat begins at 8 PM. New students will also meet with Roshi Friday evening to allow time for questions about their practice. The suggested donation for this retreat is $75 which includes overnight accommodations Friday and Saturday and all meals. Sesshin ends with the Gate of Sweet Nectar ceremony on Sunday morning. Register here.  

Dates for Upcoming Retreats and registration links: 


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. 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.11/ 9 (Monroe), 11/17 (Palatine)

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.  12/15 (Palatine), 12/21 (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.  9/28 (Monroe), 9/29 (Palatine)

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.   10/13 (Palatine), 10/26 (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:

  • September 8 (Palatine) 7 PM
  • October 17 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:

  • September 15 7 AM  (Monroe - at end of sesshin but open to all)
  • October 20 7AM  (Monroe - at end of sesshin but open to all)

Teisho (Public Talks by Myoyu Roshi)

  • October 6 7:30 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 during the Beloit College academic year.  The schedule is 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
  • 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.


Zen Sitting Group DeKalb (ZSGD), a new affiliate of the Great Plains Zen Center, continues to meet at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of DeKalb, 158 N. 4th Street. The steward for the group is John Genshin Knewitz, a student of Myoyu Roshi. ZSGD meets twice monthly on a variable schedule which can be viewed on the Zen Sitting Group DeKalb Facebook page.   There will be no dokusan or teisho offered on a regular basis, but there will be regular formal sitting and some instruction regarding basic Zen practices and philosophy. If you have interest in this group, please check out the ZSGD Facebook page, or feel free to email John directly at for further information. 

  • Variable schedule.  Check Facebook Page:  @zendekalb
  • Meets September 5 and 26 this month.
  • Meets on  at UU Fellowship of DeKalb.
  • 6 PM Instruction, 7 PM Sitting followed by discussion. 
  • For more information, contact John Genshin Knewitz 


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

Support our community by making a donation here.

Like us on Facebook: Great Plains Zen Center
You can also ask to join the Facebook Group, Great Plains Zen Center Sangha


Phone:  (608) 325-6248


Our postal mailing address:

W7762 Falk Rd • Monroe, WI  53566



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.