Earth Day Celebration at AZC – Online Ceremony

Ceremonial Expression of Commitment to our Mother the Earth

Join us in our celebration of the 50th anniversary of EARTH DAY! 

All are invited to participate by offering words of gratitude, intention, and vow with regard to our commitment to our Mother the Earth on paper ‘ema,’ (plaques): in-person or online. Blank plaques will be available for the few days approaching Earth Day (beginning this Sunday). Please feel free to either submit an intention online below, or to stop by in-person (at the self-serve station at the base of the large post oak in the front yard of AZC) to write your wish or intention. 

*** Please take this as an opportunity to purify body and mind before writing your intention, both physically and mentally. ***

On Wednesday April 22nd at 6:45pm we will hold our Earth Day ceremony *online*. Following a ritual purification of the space, we will offer bows, incense, and chanting of an excerpt from Dogen Zenji’s Mountains and Rivers Sutra – during which time the ema will be ceremonially hung from the great oak in the front yard. The oak tree, which was symbolically ordained in 2014, reminds us of our unfathomable and absolute mutual interconnection with all things, and specifically that our natural world greatly deserves and needs our utmost respect, care, and stewardship.

Interested in participating in pre-ceremony preparations?

  • Help care for the space by raking the front gravel (rakes are on the corner of the Carriage House at the back of AZC).
  • Make a few Shide at home and either hang them in your home or around the front yard of AZC.
  • Download the Mountains & Waters chant to familiarize yourself with beforehand.

Question: What is the significance of the rope tied around the large Post Oak tree and the zig-zag paper strips hanging from it?

Answer: The Austin Zen Center is a Soto Zen Buddhist temple with roots in Zen, which upon its arrival to Japan became heavily influenced and even interwoven with the dominant Japanese indigenous religion and culture of Shintoism: “the way of the kami.” Shinto is a system of prehistoric nature worship that imbued every mountain, every stream, and even rocks and trees with a spirit. These deities, known as kami, were considered cheerful and friendly to humans. If kept satisfied, they would watch over human affairs and refrain from causing natural disasters. Many Japanese people practice both Shintoism and Buddhism, and Shinto shrines are often found at Buddhist temples in Japan. The reverence and respect for nature is an integral part of our Zen practice, woven into our life of practice at a basic, almost primordial, level. On Earth Day we hail back to these ancient traditions of deep and sustaining respect, care, and stewardship of our planet Earth and the natural world, both as a manifestation of our Bodhisattva Vows and as acknowledgement of our mutual interconnectedness.

Shimenawa are lengths of laid rice straw or hemp rope used for ritual purification in Shinto. They are believed to act as a ward against evil spirits and are often set up at a ground-breaking ceremony before construction begins on a new building. They are found at Shinto shrines, torii gates, and sacred landmarks and can vary in diameter from a few centimetres to several metres, often festooned with rope tassels and zig-zag paper streamers called shide. A space bound by shimenawa indicates a sacred or pure space.

They are also used around yorishiro (objects capable of attracting spirits and being inhabited by them). Shimenawa ropes surround yorishiro to make their sacredness manifest. These notably include certain trees, in which case the inhabiting spirits are
called kodama, and cutting down these trees is thought to bring misfortune. In cases of stones, the stones are known as iwakura. Hanging white paper shide delineates a sacred space or object, and is an indication that spirits or gods are present.

If you appreciate the teachings and activities offered at the Austin Zen Center, please consider making a donation or becoming a member today. We rely on the generous support of people like you to enable us to continue offering a full schedule of stillness and activity that helps all of us deepen our understanding of Zen practice and our own humanness.

One very tangible way to support AZC in our efforts towards a greener & more sustainable future is to make a restricted donation towards a few *urgent* updates of 2 major appliances. Thankfully we have a donor who will match donations up to $8000, through May 1st.

Read more HERE.

Ryushin Paul Haller sent us this poem today, Earth Day.

Prayer for the Great Family 

By Gary Snyder

Gratitude to Mother Earth, sailing through night and day—
and to her soil: rich, rare and sweet
in our minds so be it.

Gratitude to Plants, the sun-facing, light-changing leaf
and fine root-hairs; standing still through wind
and rain; their dance is in the flowering spiral grain
in our minds so be it.

Gratitude to Air, bearing the soaring Swift and silent
Owl at dawn. Breath of our song
clear spirit breeze
in our minds so be it.

Gratitude to Wild Beings, our brothers, teaching secrets,
freedoms, and ways; who share with us their milk;
self-complete, brave and aware
in our minds so be it.

Gratitude to Water: clouds, lakes, rivers, glaciers;
holding or releasing; streaming through all
our bodies salty seas
in our minds so be it.

Gratitude to the Sun: blinding pulsing light through
trunks of trees, through mists, warming caves where
bears and snakes sleep— he who wakes us—
in our minds so be it.

Gratitude to the Great Sky
who holds billions of stars— and goes yet beyond that—
beyond all powers, and thoughts
and yet is within us—
Grandfather Space.
The Mind is his Wife.
so be it.       

–  Gary Snyder, Turtle Island (after a Mohawk prayer)