Eco-Dharma at Great Wave Zen Sangha

Gendo Roshi
John Gendo Wolff, Roshi
It’s hard to imagine how Zen might live on beyond my lifetime if it were to be deprived of its ancient affinity with the natural world.  So much of Zen’s heritage is an attempt to convey an essentially wordless experience in naturalistic metaphors and poetry, language that reaches for the truth through an acute awareness and appreciation of the seasons, plants, trees, birds, fish, flowers, waters, and wind.

But the more I read about our current climate crisis, the more I am convinced that the historically comfortable relationship we have had with nature is in grave danger.  Many experts believe that we are fast approaching an unavoidable period of catastrophic environmental change for which we are politically and socially unprepared—and that is to say nothing of the lack of spiritual preparation that must necessarily precede any substantive change of course.

Deer seek refuge from the flames of a forest fire.

In saying this, I don’t wish to create a sense of despair about the future of our planet or to dismiss the good that many of us do by recycling, by not wasting resources, by simply appreciating what we have.  Again, however, many credible experts believe that those efforts, positive as they are, will not be enough to avert an environmental disaster—so I am concerned about what more might be done.  Of course, I am no environmental expert, and I have no way of knowing what the future holds.  What I do know, however, is that we are alive right now, and, “like fish in little water,” we can make sure we live like we appreciate that fact, especially as a manifestation of the universal interdependence that supports all life on the planet.  That is, I hope I might urge you to consider, with some level-headed urgency,  your relationship to the natural world and what you think our collective role in protecting it ought to be.  When I say “urgency,” I mean a kind of deeply spiritual determination to “practice the Way as though saving your head from fire.”  Today, some environmental activists might suggest, as global warming is now reaching

Dust plumes over India and Pakistan. (NASA)

truly unsurvivable levels in southern Asia and the mideast, that that “fire” may be more literal than metaphorical.

To help begin reflection and discussion on the climate emergency and how other Buddhists are shaping the “eco-dharma” movement in response, I hope you might sample at least one or two of a long list of resources that I have compiled.  I do not claim that the list is all-inclusive or that all items are perfectly valid, but they are all reasonably well-informed and intelligently expressed.  You’ll find this list at   If you know of other resources that really ought to be added to the list, please add them in a comment to this post.

Then, beginning with the August 2019 Gate of Sweet Nectar sesshin (August 7 – 13), I will be providing important context for a series of eco-dharma events that are currently being planned by Kevin Muzo Holohan, myself, and others.  Using teisho, mindful walking outdoors, book discussions, and other activities, I hope to bring more focus on the spiritual crisis that lies like the greater mass of an iceberg below the surface of our current environmental woes.  If there is any way that you can attend this retreat, I hope you will register very soon.

While most of our future eco-dharma events are expected to be scheduled for 2020, the first one will take place next month (August), and I hope you will participate.  It is a beach sweep, organized in conjunction with the Adopt-A-Beach program of the Alliance for the Great Lakes.  Our beach sweep will

The Lake Michigan shore.

take place near the spectacular Nordhouse Dunes Wilderness Area, just north of Ludington, on Sunday, August 11, from 9:00 – 11:00 AM.  To register for this event, please visit  (Note, if you have already registered for the August sesshin, during which this beach sweep takes place, you will still need to register separately for the sweep.  This helps the Alliance for the Great Lakes maintain its database of Adopt-A-Beach events.)

As we finish planning other events, they will, as always, be announced on the Great Wave Zen Sangha’s website, its Facebook page, and its Twitter feed.

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Many of you know that the first of the Four Bodhisattva Vows is “Sentient beings are numberless; I vow to save them.”  This vow should never be allowed to dissipate into mere rhetoric, “dead words.”  We live in a time when the mahasangha must produce the miraculous salvation it has promised to fulfill.  Please practice diligently so that that possibility becomes an actuality.

Finally, thank you for reading this long post.  I hope you will respond by posting your thoughts in a comment below.

In Gassho,
Gendo Roshi

Dokusan at Kyoseikan Dojo, July 17, 2019

For those of you in, or near, Grand Rapids, I will be giving dokusan tomorrow evening during the regular zazen period, 5:30-6:30 PM, at Kyoseikan Dojo (located at the northwest corner of US-131 and Hall St., in Suite B-148). Dokusan is the private interview tradition by which Zen students get individual questions answered and work through practice issues or obstacles with a teacher.  It is an indispensable part of Zen practice.

Note that, because I will be in Grand Rapids tomorrow, the regularly scheduled Wednesday evening zazen at Myogenji in Ludington is canceled.

I hope to see you at Kyoseikan tomorrow!

Gendo Roshi
John Gendo Wolff, Roshi


August 2019 Gate of Sweet Nectar Sesshin

Great Wave Zen Sangha is pleased to announce the 2019 Gate of Sweet Nectar Sesshin.  This sesshin will take place at the beautiful Hall Family guest house at Hamlin Lake, just north of Ludington, from Wednesday, August 7, at 7:00 PM through Tuesday, August 13, at approximately 9:30 AM.  We hope you will join us!

Participants will have an opportunity to deepen their practice of zazen; hear talks by, and receive private instruction from, Gendo Roshi; go on a mindful nature walk in one of the many Lake Michigan parks in our vicinity; and participate in service ceremonies. This particular sesshin will conclude with our annual Kanroman (Gate of Sweet Nectar) ceremony, one of the most beautiful and stirring ceremonies that we perform. The Kanroman is associated with the Japanese festival of lights, or Obon.  As always, everyone who has received an orientation, regardless of experience, is welcome to attend this retreat.

We ask that you complete the Event Registration Form as soon as possible as seating and accommodations are limited. (Both full- and part-time participation options are available.) Once you are registered, you will receive an email with further details about this retreat.

We look forward to practicing with you!

New Affilliate Sitting Groups Forming


I wanted to write one more time to those of you who participated in the Zen Fundamentals course this spring to let you know that Great Wave will now be sponsoring a new affiliate sitting group at Kyoseikan Dojo in Grand Rapids.

Kevin Muzo Holohan

Postulant priest Kevin Muzo Holohan will provide informal leadership for this new group.  Meetings will take place on Wednesdays, from 5:30 – 6:45 PM, starting on June 19.

Another delightful outcome of the Zen Fundamentals course is that our Cadillac, Michigan, participants have begun to arrange for a half-day Introduction to Zen workshop, tentatively scheduled to take place on July 7, from 1:00 – 5:00 PM, at the First Congregational Church in Cadillac.  Here too we are hoping that an affiliate sitting group will take shape and continue meeting on a weekly basis.

Volunteer efforts to create and sustain affiliate sitting groups like those at Kyoseikan and in Cadillac go a long way toward helping Great Wave Zen Sangha fulfill its mission to perpetuate the Buddha-dharma.  I’m grateful to all of you for helping to make these things possible.

Of course, it is also important for all of us to sustain the organization through regular danaDana is the first of the six Buddhist paramitas (or “perfections”), a practice of generosity, or giving, that helps us see through our self-clinging.  When dana is directed toward a Zen center such as Great Wave Zen Sangha, then the sangha has the means to offer practice opportunities to everyone who wants them, including those who cannot afford even nominal workshop, retreat, or course fees.

Dana also helps us support our practice by enabling us to purchase necessary office supplies such as paper, printer cartridges, staples, folders, and so on.

And dana is, of course, what enables us to purchase cushions and other meditation and practice supplies that we need to support our practice.  I hope, therefore, that those of you who are chartering and participating in new sitting groups in Grand Rapids and Cadillac will consider becoming members of Great Wave Zen Sangha.

Great Wave currently allows for different membership levels—two are most applicable here: for those of you who have requested (or wish to) that I be your teacher, pledging dana at the “Practicing Members” level is appropriate (and allows for significant discounts on retreat and workshop fees); for others who hope to be coming to one of the new affiliate sitting groups, the appropriate membership level would be “Affiliate Member.”

If you are a student, or are on disability income, or otherwise find regular dana financially difficult, you may want to opt to become a member of GWZS at the “Friendship” level.  (Note: No one will be turned away from GWZS practice opportunities because of a lack of ability to pay.)

To set up regular dana payments, please visit our membership page at

Thank you so much for your practice.

In gassho,

Gendo Roshi

Fragrant Grasses Zazenkai

Decorative image of grass with the following caption:

One day Chōsa went for a walk. When he retuned to the gate, the head monk said, “Oshō, where have you been strolling?” Chōsa said, “I have come from walking in the hills,” The head monk said, “Where have you been?” Chōsa said, “First I went following the fragrant grasses, and now I have returned in pursuit of the falling blossoms,” The head monk said, “You are full of the spring.” Chōsa said, “Better than the autumn dews falling on the lotus leaves.”

—Case 36, Blue Cliff Record (Sekida, trans.)

To practice Zen is to return to your true home. It is also to appreciate your life, just as it is.

We hope, therefore, that you will follow in Zen master Chōsa’s footsteps and join us at Kyoseikan Dojo in Grand Rapids, Michigan, for the Fragrant Grasses Zazenkai. This retreat will take place on Sunday, June 9, 2019, from 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM. Practitioners of all levels of experience are encouraged to attend this day that will be rich with opportunities for meditation, scripture recitation, teisho, and dokusan with Gendo Roshi. A vegetarian lunch will be included.

To participate, please complete our Event Registration Form by no later than June 5. Your timely registration and payment allow us to plan a menu and make other arrangements.

We look forward to practicing with you!

In Gassho,
Gendo Roshi

Gendo Roshi

Zen Fundamentals Course Offered in Grand Rapids

Image of the Buddha Family Mandala. (Image by Aloka. Originally published at The Buddhist Center.)
Buddha Family Mandala. (Image by Aloka. Originally published at The Buddhist Centre.)

What is Zen?  What is meditation all about?  The answers to these and other questions about the Zen Buddhist tradition will be answered in a four-part introductory course, which will take place at Kyoseikan Dojo, in Grand Rapids, Michigan, on four consecutive Sundays, starting May 12, 2019, from 10:00 AM to 12:00 PM.

Participants will receive instruction in the fundamentals of Zen practice, including breathing meditation, an introduction to Buddhist scripture and ceremony, the central importance of the Buddhist precepts, and the student-teacher relationship. Discussion, refreshments, print materials, and a class certificate will be offered.  Most sessions will be led by Rev. John Gendo Wolff, Roshi, resident teacher at Great Wave Zen Sangha.

As a culminating event, a traditional zazenkai (one-day retreat) will be offered at Kyoseikan Dojo on Sunday, June 9. (Please register for the zazenkai separately by visiting our Events Calendar where you can find more information about this retreat.)

Seating for the Zen Fundamentals course is limited.  Please complete the online Event Registration Form by no later than May 8.

2019 March Winds Zazenkai

Image by Gendo Roshi

Great Wave is pleased to announce the  2019 March Winds Extended Zazenkai which will take place March 22-24.  This retreat will give participants an opportunity to deepen their practice of zazen, hear a teisho, receive private instruction from Gendo Roshi, and participate in service ceremonies. As always, everyone who has received an orientation, regardless of experience, is welcome to attend this retreat.

We ask that you complete the Event Registration Form as soon as possible as seating and accommodations are limited. Once you are registered, you will receive an email with further details about this retreat.

We look forward to practicing with you!