Tag Archive | "zen"

The Bali Connection at the Furniture Garden

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Buddha blessings

By Emily J Weitz

Zooming down 27, heading east, there’s a little patch of Zen that breaks up the frenzy.

A reclining Buddha, a massive Ganesh, and a giant Buddha head mark the entrance of the Furniture Garden in Water Mill. And as you turn down the driveway, the stone Lakshmis and the Thai Buddhas that line your path welcome you in. The people who make their way off the road and into this space often encounter intense emotional connections that they might not have bargained for. Many of the figures, sculptures, tables, and benches, all of which are imported from Bali, evoke a strong reaction.

“Sometimes people come in and are overwhelmed,” says Deanna Annis, owner of the Furniture Garden. She recalls people saying things like “I can’t speak” or “I’ve never been in a place like this.”

That reaction attests to the fact that each of the pieces is carefully selected because she was personally moved by it.

“I go twice a year and stay for a long time. I am on the road from nine in the morning to six at night every day. I’ll go to 15 places during a day and pick two or three pieces.”

And Deanna goes off the beaten path. Since the first time she went eight years ago, she has gone to Bali 16 times. She speaks Bahasa, the national language of Indonesia, and works directly with artists.

“I go to one big local market in Bali where I’m usually the only American,” she says. “That’s where I buy my Buddhas and some smaller things. But for furniture and stone I spend a lot of time in Batubulan, where they specialize in stone carvings. I go off the road to the factories where they’re being carved. I’ve established that over many years.”

Annis works with 60 different artists in Bali, but the genius behind much of the furniture in her showroom goes by the name of Jakfar.

“He had been working at one of the big galleries in Bali, designing everything and getting paid very little,” Annis recalls.

This was about five years ago, and she was just setting up a small gudang, or “factory”.

“If you saw it, you would laugh at me for calling it a factory,” she says. “Anyway, he said he wanted to work for me. This was made by him,” she points to a wide teak dining room table. “And these chairs, and that beautiful stool… He’s one of my main suppliers.”

Annis also has a business associate, a woman in Bali named Putu, with whom she feels very close.

“We went through the same drama in our lives,” she says, referring to her divorce. “She was one of the wealthiest women in Bali and was left with nothing… Now I couldn’t do our business without her.”

Annis has given up her gudang, but Putu has one, and that’s where Annis stores her treasures until they’re ready to ship. Then everything is loaded into a 40-foot container and shipped here, which takes a month.

When you walk into the Furniture Garden, it almost feels like you’re walking into an ancient temple. But the majority of the pieces are actually newly constructed. Much of the material is made of recycled teak (old houses that have been taken apart) or from the teak plantations that are common in Bali. But there are some antiques as well, including the authentic Bali bed, a gorgeous four poster with ornately carved head and foot boards.

“There’s a great sign in Bali,” Annis recalls. “Antiques: Made to Order.” She smiles, for a moment slipping into a mini reverie about the place that has clearly captured her heart.

Because of Annis’s passion for what she does, it can be difficult to watch things come and go. One of the pieces that has been with her from the beginning, a large Buddha statue that stands at the entrance, was just sold.
“This beautiful woman came in and I felt an instant connection,” Annis says. But the woman fell in love with the Buddha Annis hadn’t thought of selling. “I told her that was the one I loved.”

Annis named an admittedly high price, but one she felt reflected the value, of the Buddha to her. ($20,000 is in a different league from the $1500 you’ll spend on a magnificent table at the store).

“She called me and told me she had made the decision to take it,” Annis recalled. “I was speechless. I almost started to cry. But I am a businesswoman. And if I had to pick someone to have that Buddha, it would be her. It was an energy thing.”

It was as if she was giving up a living thing, a companion, the way she talked about letting go of her Buddha.

“My Buddha picked her,” she says. “It’s time for him to not be looking at the traffic going by, but to go to a spectacular estate in a majestic setting, overlooking the ocean. What more can I want for him?”

Perhaps that’s what makes each sale so personal and each item in the showroom so special. “It’s the touch, the feel of the furniture,” Annis says. “You can absorb what it took to make it all. It’s all made with a lot of love and caring, and picked that way. That’s the story of my business.”

East Meets West On a Zen Journey

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By Annette Hinkle

There’s an old adage that says “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” For practioners of Zen Buddhism in this country, the journey has spanned oceans, centuries and a great cultural divide. Today, though it may resemble a form that the Japanese Zen ancestors would not have envisioned, the true tenets of the practice remain.

In his 1985 book “Nine-Headed Dragon River” Sagaponack author Peter Matthiessen wrote about his own journey as a disciple of Zen Buddhism. The book is based on Matthiessen’s journals which were written over a 13 year period, culminating in 1982 — the year Matthiessen (whose Zen name is Muryo) and his teacher, Bernie Tetsugen Glassman, as well as Glassman’s teacher, Taizan Hakuyu Maezumi-roshi, traveled to Japan to pay tribute to the great living masters who represented their Soto Zen lineage.

The pilgrimage was important, not because of the physical distance it covered, but because of the distance it covered symbolically. The trip represented a multi-generational meeting of minds and the point at which Zen itself moved from East to West — a passing of the mantel to a new generation of practioners dedicated to carrying on the tradition.

Photographer Peter Cunningham went along to Japan in 1982, and has just published his images from that trip in “Are We There Yet? A Zen Journey Through Space and Time.” The new photography book, which was co-edited by Sensei Michel Engu Dobbs, Matthiessen’s student (or “dharma successor”), also includes passages from “Nine-Headed Dragon River.” Dobbs, who lives in Sag Harbor, represents the next generation of Zen Buddhism and he explains how the book came about.

“I became friendly with Peter [Cunningham] who said, ‘I’d love to publish these photographs,’” says Dobbs. “He thought maybe we could do a book. So we collaborated. I looked at what Peter had written in ‘Nine-Headed Dragon River’ and saw what would fit into it.”

“It was interesting because the collaboration was much more fun than actually seeing the book,” adds Dobbs. “In some ways I think it was a way of paying tribute to my own teacher.”

Dobbs, who is now a Zen Buddhist priest himself, first came to know Matthiessen at his Sagaponack Zendo in the mid-1990s after moving to the East End from New York City.

“I was looking to move out of the city and one of the things I was interested in was a place where there was an active Zen community,” recalls Dobbs. “I heard of this one, came and sat and liked it.”

“I started practicing and after a while, I went to Peter and said ‘I’d like to take the next step,” he recalls. “Eventually I ordained, which was very unlikely. I’m from pretty radical atheists who still bang their head when they think about it.”

Dobbs explains that the bond between Buddhist teacher and student forms over time, years, in fact, and because lives change and people move on, it isn’t something that is decided upon early in the relationship. Rather, the transmission process is ever evolving and happens organically.

“Generally it takes a while before you actually enter into a relationship with the teacher and they make that commitment to you,” explains Dobbs. “At a certain level it happens when both of you know it. Or a teacher may see certain things about you that you don’t see.”

“The transmission is really an understanding. When you become a teacher, you make a vow that you won’t let the lineage die,” adds Dobbs who likens the process to a long apprenticeship. “It’s not a religion where you look for converts. It’s about developing trust and rapport. It’s not complicated. It just takes time.”

As part of his own spiritual journey, 25 years after Matthiessen’s 1982 pilgrimage, Dobbs traveled with Glassman (his “dharma grandfather”) back to Japan to retrace his teacher’s steps. He found that much had changed in the intervening years. Many of the Japanese masters had since died, and both women and lay teachers were able to take part in the trip.

“Visiting the monasteries was amazing,” notes Dobbs. “In Japan, Zen Buddhism is the religion concerned with venerating your ancestors. If you’re a Buddhist priest and walking around wearing the robes in Japan they think someone’s died.”

“In Japan it’s a religious institution with many rules and guidelines. People in that institution mostly make a living doing funerals and memorial services,” he explains. “The living tradition in Zen to be free is lost if you’re chanting around cemeteries all day long.”

Dobbs notes because of that, the Zen teachers in Japan have had a difficult time attracting new disciples. Which is why, more than 50 years ago, they began establishing temples in the United States where they found the time was ripe for a new form of spirituality.

“Most came to the West Coast where there where there was a community of Japanese people,” explains Dobbs. “It was almost considered a bad posting. But for Sunryu Suzuki-roshi, who came to San Francisco and wrote ‘Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind,’ hippies and all these other people showed up and it kind of clicked.”

“In this country in the ‘60s, a lot of people were interested in finding what the tradition had been – there was radical freedom and awakening,” notes Dobbs. “I think there weren’t many people interested in doing that in Japan. Here, the priests were freed from the rigid structure of that. It remains to be seen whether it will continue and how it grows here. There’s no Zen institution in this country now, which is what gives it it’s freedom. But it’s also difficult to know a true teacher.”

But Zen is also meant to evolve as people and societies do, otherwise, it risks becoming static. Which is why the religion was brought to this country in the first place. It also helps to explain Glassman’s reasoning for taking Matthiessen and Dobbs back to Japan where the practice was born.

“Bernie’s aim was to show Peter and then the rest of us that this is what the tradition looks like,” explains Dobbs. “But not by any means do we need to stay with it.”

“In Japan people don’t identify as Buddhist,” he adds. “instead, they often say they’re Shinto at birth, Christian at marriage and Buddhist at death. I think that’s wonderful. I’m not looking for definition — then people can pigeonhole you.”

“Peter once said this isn’t about becoming a Buddha, it’s about becoming you — yourself,” says Dobbs. “This is it, this is your life, so take the chance and live it fully.”

On Friday, December 17 at 6 p.m. Canio’s Cultural Café (290 Main Street, Sag Harbor) celebrates the publication of Peter Cunningham’s book “Are We There Yet? A Zen Journey Through Space and Time” with a talk by Peter Matthiessen and Michel Dobbs.