TRR photos by Ian Pugh

Kagayaki Karen Morris and Seiso Paul Cooper, co-founders of Two Rivers Zen, stand by the altar in the zendo.

Two Rivers Zen engages Narrowsburg community

NARROWSBURG, NY — “We’re here, we’re open to the community, that’s one of the main things we’d like people to know,” says Seiso Paul Cooper. “It kind of surprises me that although we have some outreach, people are surprised to hear about us. ‘How long have you been there? I didn’t know there was a Zen group in town.’” But there is—the Two Rivers Zen Community in Narrowsburg, co-founded by Cooper and his wife, Kagayaki Karen Morris.

Morris says they started out in Honesdale about seven years ago, “And we decided to move to Narrowsburg because I also have my psychotherapy practice here, and I’m licensed in New York State, so I wanted to move to the New York side… We decided to move the zendo at the same time. It’s great to have a Main Street location.” They’ve been in the Narrowsburg location for about a year.

According to Morris, the Two Rivers zendo, a dojo for meditation, “[offers] authentic Sōtō Zen Buddhist practice, a place to practice and study with [Cooper], an ordained priest and the Sōtō Zen tradition, which goes back to the 13th century... People have an opportunity to study and practice with a teacher, but also with a community of practitioners, so that we can study together and grow in our practice together, which hopefully benefits everyone.”

“When we first got started up here, the people who started to practice with us all had a similar experience,” says Cooper. “That they had been interested in Zen Buddhist contemplative practices and studied, but were isolated... And now they have an opportunity to function as a group, which is much more advantageous than working alone on it.”

Morris explains the challenges of understanding the practice: “I think people have a lot of preconceptions about what Zen Buddhism is, and it’s usually based on a movie, or something that they saw on the side of a bus about ‘Zen living’—it doesn’t really have much to do with the commitment that it takes to study something, and to practice something, because you have to make so many changes when you commit to anything. So I think we have a lot of people who come here one time, think there’s going to be instant enlightenment, and they go like, ‘Wow, it’s really hard to sit for two 25-minute sessions.’ That’s too much for a lot of people. I understand that. They’re interested, of course, because people are searching for something to make their life feel more meaningful to them, and we can always see down the road—but it’s not the same as walking down the road.”

“Or engaging what’s going to be further down the road that you cannot see, because there’s a curve down the road,” Cooper adds. “The practice is a lot of work, because the idea is to bring it off the cushion. I always tell people that if you don’t bring it off the cushion, you’re wasting your time. Because over the long term, even the short term, the practice is going to have an impact on us and affect how we are in the world with other people, hopefully moving from selfishness to more of a compassionate orientation towards our environment… That’s kind of what we encourage: it’s one thing to understand the concepts, but what are you going to do about it? How are you going to use this practice to inform your daily life and engagement with other people?”

That engagement comes in a number of forms: “One of the other services that we’ve offered to the community over the years is a uniquely Japanese Buddhist New Year’s Eve festival called oshogatsu,” says Cooper. “A lot of people come to that. They might not come to the zendo to practice afterwards, but what attracts them to it is the alternative to the usual [New Year’s traditions].” The alternative includes 108 bell chimes and the writing of five-line poems called waka.

“We also have a non-profit press called Three Stones Press, where we’ve published a number of books, [and] the net proceeds, 100 % of it, supports the zendo. And in a few weeks [starting in January], we’re going to have a third-Friday movie series for four months, of Zen Buddhist-oriented films. Some of them are funny, some of them are touching, some of them are deep, and we’ll be providing people with popcorn and inviting the community.”

“I’m also running a study [class] of very early Buddhism… open to the public,” says Morris, “which has been running about four or five weeks now. Mainly for people with creative interests, artists, [and] it’s called “Abhidharma and Creativity.” It’s very grounded in the very early basic doctrine of early Buddhism. And I think it’s been a very great group, very helpful with people.”

Two Rivers Zen Community is located on the second floor of 76 Main St. in Narrowsburg. For more, visit tworiverszen.org.

 

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