As Tricycle’s contact for the Dharma Directory, I had the unusual privilege of speaking with practitioners from dozens of Buddhist communities across the country in the weeks following the September 11th attacks. From my conversations and correspondence I began to get a sense of the ways in which practice had shifted as a result of the disaster—as well as the ways in which it remained reassuringly steadfast. In the end, practice was revealed to be exactly what we say it is: a matter of life and death.

In the immediate aftermath of the catastrophe, vows were renewed and communities strengthened in some unexpected ways. “Our building, along with much of the neighborhood, was closed by city directive for about a week,” writes Jonathan Ryokan Miller of the Village Zendo (four blocks from Tricycle’s office). “The day after the attacks, we sat together in Washington Square Park and joined a vigil around the fountain. Through our Internet site we established a virtual zendo, inviting everyone to sit together, wherever they were. When we were allowed back into the building, we had a Day of Reflection and Council, and then resumed our regular schedule. The zendo was filled to capacity.”

© AP Photos/Amit Bhargava
© AP Photos/Amit Bhargava

Teachers across the country rose to the occasion. In a dharma talk I attended in Brooklyn several days after the disaster, Bonnie Myotai Treace Sensei of Fire Lotus Temple gently reminded her shaken community, “In many ways, this is the moment we have been practicing for all these years.” Haju Sunim of the Ann Arbor Zen Buddhist Temple confided, “9/11 has certainly awakened people here to the great matter of life and death much more effectively than I ever could have.”

Above all, teachers called on their students to practice. According to The Mirror, the newspaper of the International Dzogchen Community, IDC practitioners “responded quickly to the [news] with Shitro practice [a Vajrayana practice to help ease the transference of consciousness] to assist the thousands of innocent people who died.”

“Practice was more helpful than discussing the event or trying to understand, reflect upon it, or philosophize about it,” related Kimberly Kaiserman of the Tibetan Buddhist Center in Philadelphia. She added that even watching TV after the attacks “became a constant practice of generating compassion.”

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