Sunday, December 6, 2009

Happy Rohatsu!

What a week that was! I truly do love Rohatsu sesshin (which celebrates Shakyamuni Buddha's waking up under the Bodhi Tree) or any sesshin for that matter, but that was my first Rohatsu as Ino, and it was quite an experience. As I see it, the Ino works hard so that others may have a settled experience. The Ino's experience may not necessarily be so settled, but sesshin is an offering - an offering I'm pleased to have a part in. The way the planets lined up for this sesshin it was a feast of ceremonies, including some big complicated ceremonies. To review: sesshin began November 28 with orientation. The first three days of sesshin were regular days, here is the schedule:

November 29 –
December 4, 2009

4:35 Wake-up Bell
4:50 First Bell
5:00 Zazen
5:40 Kinhin
5:50 Zazen
6:25 Densho begins
6:35 Service (Buddha Hall)
7:05 Soji
7:20 Breakfast
8:15 Break
9:10 First Bell
9:20 Zazen
10:00 Densho begins
10:15 Dharma Talk
11:00 Kinhin
11:15 Zazen
11:45 Interval
11:50 Zazen
12:15 Service (Zendo)
12:25 Lunch (Zendo)
1:15 Break
2:00 Work Meeting
2:50 End of work
3:00 Stretching (Buddha Hall)
3:45 First Bell
3:55 Zazen
4:30 Tea (Zendo)
4:50 Kinhin
5:00 Zazen
5:30 Kinhin
5:40 Zazen
6:20 Service (Zendo)
6:30 Dinner (Dining room)
7:10 Break
7:40 First Bell
7:50 Zazen
8:20 Kinhin
8:30 Zazen
8:55 Refuges

Hot drink available in kitchen.

Then things began to get kind of interesting. On Dec. 2nd, day 4 of sesshin, it was the full moon so we had a beautiful Ryaku Fusatsu (Bodhisattva Full Moon Ceremony) in the morning at morning service time. Our Shuso (head monk) Rev. Joan Amaral was the Kokyo (chant leader), and our Tenzo (head of practice in the kitchen) Rev. Shundo David Haye, was the Doan (bringing forth the voice of the bells). A very lovely ceremony to be sure. The evening of the 3rd and the morning of the 4th were the two ceremonies we do every month on those days for our founder Shogaku Shunryu Suzuki Roshi. However the morning of the 4th is the annual observance, as Suzuki Roshi died 38 years ago on December 4th, at the very beginning of a Rohatsu sesshin. So on December 4th we have the big annual ceremony and there is a procession to the Buddha Hall, and we place his portrait and Ihai on the altar, and some people in the ceremony talk to our founder, to thank him for the most part. Here's what the altar looked like.

The things in the offering tray on the right are fresh mochi from Benkyodo in Japantown. Yum! (Yes of course we ate them later, sillies!) Thanks to Rev. Konin Cardenas for picking up those and the tangerines! I certainly wasn't free to run any errands last week!

Then on Saturday, the last day of sesshin, we had a different schedule:

December 5, 2009

4:35 Wake-up Bell
4:50 First Bell
5:00 Zazen
5:40 Kinhin
5:50 Zazen
6:25 Densho begins
6:35 Buddha’s Enlightenment
7:30 Breakfast (Zendo)
8:25 Rest Period
9:15 First Bell
9:25 Zazen
10:00 Densho begins
10:15 Dharma Talk
11:15 Kinhin
11:30 Zazen
12:05 Service
12:15 Lunch (Zendo)
1:05 Cooks Jundo
1:15 Rest Period
1:45 Work Period
2:15 End Work
2:25 First Bell
2:35 Zazen
3:00 Kinhin
3:10 Zazen
3:40 End Zazen
3:45 Densho begins
4:00 Shuso ceremony
Shuso dinner following ceremony—everyone is invited.

The ceremony to mark Buddha's Enlightenment is one of the most bodacious ceremonies at Zen Center. To begin with we move the giant Taiko drum from the hallway outside the zendo in the basement upstairs to the Buddha Hall. That isn't part of the ceremony, but maybe it should be! It is really a big deal to do, and many thanks to our Work Leader Rose Auriau for supervising that! The ceremony itself has a lot of complicated choreography - procession with instruments, 5 person offering at the altar, etc. But the climax is when we all chant the Maka Hannya Haramita Shin Gyo really loud to the accompaniment of the Taiko (highly talented drumming provided by Rev. Linda Galijan and Rev. Shundo Haye) as we circumambulate the Buddha Hall. All the while throwing flower petals in the air! After 6 days of intense sitting practice this is quite an intense, ecstatic, maybe psychedelic experience! Whew! Sorry I don't have any pictures of it, but then a picture would never do it justice - you kind of have to be there. Come to think of it, maybe you kind of have to be there after having sat 6 days of sesshin!


After that I got a well-deserved break - NOT! The next thing coming up later the same day was the Shuso Hossen Shiki for our Shuso Joan Amaral. "Hossen Shiki" translates, I believe, as "Dharma Inquiry Ceremony", or is it "Dharma Combat Ceremony"? In any event, once you get past a huge amount of complicated choreography and tradition, the gist of the ceremony is that everybody gets to ask the Shuso a question one by one, first the practice period students and sesshin participants, and then all former shusos who have been invited - of whom there were about thirty at Joan's ceremony - and the Shuso responds to each in turn, showing us her mind and her practice. The Hossen Shiki is an ordeal and a rite of passage and a celebration. One of the scripted statements for the Shuso says, "Let us call forth the Dharma!" And that's certainly what happened in Joan's ceremony - we called forth the Dharma together. It was very beautiful and moving, and I know that Zenkei Roshi and Joan's root teacher Darlene Cohen, who was also there, were very proud of her. Here is a picture taken by Renee Meiffren of Joan and Roshi bowing to one another during the ceremony.

There were other parts of the sesshin that stood out for me. For a few of the periods of zazen in the sesshin we carried the kyosaku (wake up stick) in the zendo. The theme of the Practice Period was studying the teachings of Suzuki Roshi (to celebrate the 5oth anniversary of his arrival in the U.S.) and it may have been owing to that fact that Zenkei Roshi decided to do it, because as I understand it from my teacher Sojun Roshi, Suzuki Roshi carried the stick all the time! At any rate it was overall a popular decision if one were to judge by the number of people who were asking to receive it!

And even though my sesshin was very eventful, there were certainly precious moments that bespeak the experience of sesshin for me - like on the morning of the 3rd day, I recall feeling dog tired and yet so wide awake, unfolding my oryoki cloths and laying out my bowls for breakfast, and thinking "I wonder what's cooking?" What's on the menu? Just us, cooking our lives.


The day after sesshin I certainly enjoyed sleeping in. I didn't get up Sunday morning until 6:20! Then Sunday midday I was picked up at Zen Center by Ernie and Maralee, a couple I'd got to know in the process of planning their nuptials with them, and driven out to Land's End where we had a lovely intimate ceremony on the bluff overlooking the Golden Gate with their best friends as witnesses. It was like, "Wonder what I'll do on my day off? Oh, I know, how about another ceremony?" But really it was a pleasure to do, I just enjoy weddings so much. I love to see the happy couples vow their love and support to each other. Sigh. Here's the happy couple...

Hey, do you wonder where all those flower petals came from? You bet I recycled them from the day before! Why not? Frugal Ino. Now I'm heading to Tassajara Zen Mountain Center to sit Rohatsu sesshin there, which ought to be a very different experience. I mean, they'll put me to work of course - work is our core practice! But it will probably be something like chopping carrots.

See you when I get back!

Friday, November 20, 2009

I'm just going to the zendo...

I've been appreciating Zenkei Blanche Hartman's presence and leadership in this practice period more and more, as I mentioned previously. She has been going to nearly every period of evening zazen, and it is so encouraging! The residential Sangha at City Center are not necessarily expected to go to evening zazen- it is considered an optional thing- so it is sometimes hard to get people to go when they feel like they "don't have to" (whatever that means). I saw Blanche in the hallway up here in the evening before zazen in her robes, and I asked her, "Oh, are you the Doshi?" (officiating priest). And she just gazed at me quite compassionately for a half a second, and then said, "I'm just going to the zendo..." Ha! What a teaching. Here is a picture of Zenkei Roshi with one of her disciples, Lien Shutt. Lien is our regular Tuesday evening Doshi here, and a dear friend.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Jukai at Green Gulch Farm

I like any excuse to go to Green Dragon Temple in West Marin, it is such a beautiful place to be. We are so blessed in the Bay Area to be able to leave a heavily built up urban area, and in such a short space of time be in farmland and wilderness. After writing the last blog entry last Sunday a few of us headed over to Green Gulch Farm for a beautiful Jukai, a Bodhisattva Initiation ceremony. The preceptor was Senior Dharma Teacher Eijun Linda Ruth Cutts, and the ordinees were Patricia Sullivan, Jeff Kennedy, Devin Patel, Sarah Weintraub and Leilani Monfort. The ceremony was very lovely, and it had that quality of Men Mitsu No Kafu, loosely translated "Paying careful attention to the details of our Ancestral Way", that Linda Ruth brings to everything she does. I do love that Green Dragon Temple zendo, I always feel so welcomed there. I had a great view of the proceedings from the tan in the back. As the solemn tones of the O-Bonsho carressed my eardrums, I took the opportunity to reflect how grateful I am for this practice. Sorry to relate I got there late for the picture-taking, and too bad too, because the Autumn light was intense. Here are Rev. Steve Weintraub (Sarah's pop!), Patricia Sullivan (who appears to be memorizing her new name), Rev. Eijun Linda Ruth Cutts (Sarah's mom!), and her Jisha Rev. Tova Green, Linda Ruth's close disciple and the first person that Linda Ruth ordained as a priest, walking away from the photo opp to join all the well-wishers at the reception. It was particularly special that Tova was Linda Ruth's Jisha in the ceremony, as Jeff is a student of Tova's!

And here are Leilani and Sarah sporting Buddha's Robe in the aforementioned intense light! ("Intense Light" could maybe be a Dharma name?)

And here just for the heck of it is a picture of Sara Tashker talking to Arlene Lueck.

Best wishes to all the newly minted Bodhisattvas!!!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

What? Me Blog?

I feel like the Universe is trying to tell me to get with it with this here blog. For one thing, directly as a result of writing this blog and sharing how much I enjoy officiating weddings, I will be doing two more before the year is out! I call that encouragement to keep blogging. Also, the Universe in the form of ZC Corporate Secretary and Website Manager, Dana Velden, emailed me; "We're going to be redoing the Community Page so that our blog roll is the first thing you see and is accessible to everyone. So I just want to encourage you to keep blogging!" I call that encouragement. Too bad she sent me that e-mail about two months ago! Ulp.


So I'm a Content Provider. I get it. I decided I just needed to shift my point of view a little and start considering this as part of my Ino responsibilities. Of which there are many. So here I am on a sunny Sunday afternoon just hunting and pecking away. It isn't as though I'm lacking for anything to blog about, far from it! The problem is that all that stuff is keeping me from having the leisure to blog about any of it!
Here in City Center we're in the midst of an amazing Practice Period being led by Zenkei Blanche Hartman and Shokan Jordan Thorn, with the able assistance of Shuso (Head Student) Joan Amaral, who has brought a special pizzazz to our practice life here these days. I certainly might have blogged about the death of beloved student Gi Yu Myo Shin (Loyal Friend, Luminous Heart) Michael Steingraber, and subsequent three ceremonies, the witnessed cremation, funeral, and ashes interment ceremony. I talked about it in this Dharma Talk here. The funeral was officiated by Zenkei Blanche Hartman, and that made it so special for me. She put a lot of thought into it, and it was a real joy to work with her on crafting the ceremony.
I find myself having more and more appreciation for Zenkei Roshi as this Practice Period goes on. I am very priveleged to have an office across the hallway from hers, so I see a lot of her. In fact she just now cruised by, idly wondering what I was doing in here on a Sunday afternoon, and I told her I was writing about her. Yesterday we had a one-day sitting here that was particularly joyful for me. Rev. Steve Weintraub gave the talk in the morning, which he is calling "The Luncheonette Business" wherein he shared some of his recollections of Suzuki Roshi, and it was mighty sweet. But the culmination of the day was a Shosan ceremony, a Dharma Inquiry event with Zenkei Roshi wherein every one in the sitting asked her a question publicly, one by one, and she responded to them all with grace and aplomb, certainly, but above all with great warmth and love. And people responded to her in kind, opening up and showing their true hearts with their questions, including some very painful places in some cases. Big sigh. It was so beautiful.


Another thing that made yesterday very joyful for me was to see our cherished Dharma Sister and Saturday Sangha member Michelle King walking into the building under her own speed! Wow! Michelle was in a horrendous automobile accident (she was walking, the car that hit her was not) last July 31st, and has been working hard on rehab ever since, and it has paid off big time! Here is a picture of Michelle practicing on our bells in the Buddha Hall taken on October 3.

(Insert pun here, related to Beatles song of your choice, hem-hem..)

Monday, June 22, 2009

Continuous Practice

Greetings from the Mothership! I just got back from sitting the 5 day June sesshin at Berkeley Zen Center, I believe my 7th consecutive. I always try to sit that one; it is the one that concludes the practice period at Berkeley, and so we always finish with a Shuso ceremony, in this case featuring our Shuso Rev. Dr. Ryushin Andrea Thach. She was awesome, of course. Berkeley Zen Center is my home temple, so I have warm feelings about the place, always. And of course my teacher is Sojun Mel Weitsman, Roshi, the Abbot there. For the last three days of the sesshin I was Sojun's jisha, so I was in a total bliss realm.


When I resumed my duties as Ino today, a few people remarked that I had just finished a three day sesshin on June 14th, before starting a five day, using my vacation time, on the 17th! To me that felt like a very natural and appropriate thing to do. For starters I was coordinating the three day here, while I was merely a willing participant at Berkeley. Don't get me wrong - it takes everybody's unified effort to make a sesshin happen, but I was noticing how hard the BZC sesshin director, Tamar Enoch, was working, and feeling a lot of empathy for her! And then, let me just come right out and say it: I'm a religious zealot! Okay I acknowledge that the word "zealot" has a lot of negative connotation for a lot of people, particularly when combined with the word "religious"! But I merely mean that I, like a lot of my friends in the Dharma, have a lot of zeal for practice! Zeal, meaning Diligent Enthusiasm. Those two words go great together, I think. Diligent. Enthusiasm. That's what Zen practice is asking of us.


The best thing for this monk was returning to the City Center zendo this morning after finishing the sesshin the day before. I recall having this conversation with Sojun years ago, where he emphasized that taking a break from practice (whatever that means) right after finishing a sesshin is a silly thing to do. The thing to do is continue! Take advantage of the momentum you've gained in sesshin and deepen your practice! During one of Sojun's Dharma Talks, he shared these words from Kodo Sawaki Roshi with us: "Being glared at by zazen, being scolded by zazen, being obstructed by zazen, being pulled around by zazen -- weeping our whole life away; this has got to be the happiest way of life." I could not agree more.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

No Crocodiles in our Zendo - Guaranteed!

I ran into Tim O'Connor today and he asked me if any posts were forthcoming and I felt kind of bad because, well, what's the use of having a blog that doesn't get posted to? Linda and I taught our first class that we're co-leading last night: Not one, Not Two: Relationships as a Field of Liberation, and we felt like it went extremely well. Off to a great start and to our amazement 22 people showed up. Tomorrow I'm giving the Wednesday night Dharma Talk here at City Center, so it isn't like I'm twiddling my thumbs not bothering to blog. Our Practice Period led by our Tanto, Rev. Jordan Thorn, is off to a great start! Participation in the schedule is marked by high energy and enthusiasm, and people are making new spiritual companions left and right!


I just wanted to take this opportunity to clear something up: there are NO crocodiles in the City Center zendo, nor have there ever been! Our zendo has been 100% crocodile free since 1969!

I'm just saying.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

"That's the point."

This evening at zazen time Jim Shalkham was on door watch duty when a young couple who had never been here before came in the Laguna St. door in search of a meditation experience. One of them told Jim she would prefer to have a guided meditation if we offered that, and Jim informed her that we do not. She said she didn't think she could practice just sitting, that her mind was too busy, and Jim said, "That's the point. That's why we sit."

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Leave Home

Mission accomplished! There they are, from left to right: The Reverends Trevor Maloney, Steven Davidowitz and Shundo David Haye. This lovely photograph was taken by our official photographer for the event, Catherine McPhee. Thanks Catherine! Thanks everybody who helped with the ceremony and reception! Thank you ordaining teachers! Thank you sewing teachers! Thank you lineage of Buddhas and Ancestors! What a lovely day it was last Saturday. What a lovely ceremony.

Here's a shot of our Abbot Ryushin Zendo Paul Haller shaving the head of his disciple Shundo. The woman holding the shaving gear so carefully is Lucy Xiao, Paul's attendant. Our sources tell us that Lucy is sewing an okesa now, and she'll probably be the next to ordain. Also spotted in the assembly were Steph Wenderski, Thiemo Blank and Bryan Clark from Green Gulch Farm, who will soon be ordaining with Tenshin Zenki Reb Anderson. It makes me so happy, and fills me with so much school spirit, to think about how San Francisco Zen Center is doing our part to help address the world-wide shortage of Zen Buddhist priests. Not that I think everybody should ordain! Far from it. I'm also very proud of Zen Center for never forgetting to support the path of the lay practitioner, and I'm mighty fond of our lay teachers like Leslie James, Ed Sattizahn and Laura Burges. But I guess because I'm a priest myself I just love this ceremony and this career path.

The Rev. Dr. Linda Galijan has often told me that clergy usually rank highest in career satisfaction surveys by category. Just check out this excerpt from a University of Chicago website that I found after about 30 seconds:

Across all occupations, on average, 47 percent of people said they were very satisfied with their jobs and 33 percent said they were very happy. The top three jobs for satisfaction were clergy (87 percent reporting being very satisfied), firefighters (80 percent) and physical therapists (78 percent). Other top jobs, in which more than 60 percent of the respondents said they were very satisfied were education administrators, painters and sculpters, teachers, authors, psychologists, special education teachers, operating engineers, office supervisors and security and financial services salespersons.

Rev. Cynthia Lindner, Director of Ministry Studies at the University of Chicago’s Divinity School, isn’t surprised by the finding. “Persons engaged in ministry have great opportunity to live and work out of their deepest convictions, oftentimes in the midst of communities of faith who share their concern for meaning, compassion and justice,” she said. “This congruence of belief, values, and actions in one’s daily work can be immensely satisfying.”

We beat firefighters! Whoo-hoo!!!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

My Second Favorite Ceremony

I am keeping crazy busy gearing up for a Shukke Tokudo ceremony this coming Saturday at 3:00 p.m. here at City Center. Shukke Tokudo means, well, I'm not sure I know what it means now...

What Myo said, eh? Anyway it is a priest ordination ceremony; Shundo David Haye, Steven Davidowitz and Trevor Maloney will be ordained as priests in our order by our Abbot Paul Haller, Dairyu Michael Wenger and Kosho McCall, respectively. A very XY affair! I don't have time to spend writing about it much. But the joke is that in several meetings such as senior staff and practice committee, I have checked in about how excited I am to be involved in this ceremony as Ino, and then said "It's my favorite ceremony! No, wait it's my second favorite ceremony. My favorite ceremony is a wedding where I'm the officiant!" I'm quite surprised at myself for having this public forum (not that I'm kidding myself that very many people are reading it!) and not having yet mentioned how much I love to do weddings! So if you're planning on getting hitched, and you think you may want a Buddhist service, think of me! The jolly Zen wedding officiant! I can provide references.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Death Row

Yesterday morning I drove over to San Quentin State Prison to try to visit an inmate some sangha members had requested I go see, if possible. I say if possible because this fellow is in segregated housing. Previous to this my ministry at San Quentin has consisted solely of going to the weekly Sunday evening meetings of the San Quentin Buddhadharma Sangha, under the leadership of Seido Lee deBarros, for the past three years.


How interesting that the first time I should do any cell to cell ministry I went in about as far as you can go! San Quentin is several different prisons within one 275 acre complex. I have been on North Block before, which is a level II facility where most of the guys in our program live. They are mostly lifers and term-lifers and considered by administration well-behaved, so they get privileges like coming to chapel and working in Prison Industries. North Block looks like you might imagine from a prison movie, tier upon tier of tiny cells about the size of a bathroom with two guys in each cell, and very old and funky. East Block was where I went yesterday, and it is a whole different story! It is where most of California's 637 or so condemned prisoners live, one person to a cell, under extremely tight security. The man I went to visit is not a condemned prisoner, but is in segregated housing. As I understand it he is waiting to be transferred to another facility elsewhere in the state, but in the meantime, because he is also not considered a threat they put him to work cleaning cells in East Block, so that's where he is currently living. Before I was getting set to leave yesterday I got a call from Lee saying he wouldn't be able to go with me because his foot which he broke a month ago was bothering him, but Lee urged me to go ahead and have a try.


I was very lucky when I got there because I found Rabbi Carole Hyman in her office and she called over to East Block and arranged for the man to be brought down for a visit. She had to go with me as an escort because my "Brown Card" security clearance is not high enough to be there unescorted. I got the picture when we went inside East Block through several more iron doors with armed corrections officers present, and signed in and then was requested to don a bullet-proof vest. I put the vest on over my hippari, but put the rakusu over the vest! They wouldn't allow me to go up on the tier to see the guy in his cell, but instead had brought him down and put him in a "holding cell" which was a cage slightly larger than a phone booth where he stood up while I stood outside and talked with him for well over half an hour. I must say that given the bizarrely unnatural conditions prevalent, the C/O's (they don't like to be called guards I've heard) were very respectful and civil to us and Carole gave us our space and we had a very nice chat given the circs!


We talked about many things, including his meditation practice. He had a misconception that a lot of people on the outside share, which was that he could use meditation practice as a means to insulate himself from his troubles. So we talked about that, and where real equanimity comes from. He was grateful to have a job, as most prisoners who do are, and he explained that he was kept real busy cleaning the place. He said East Block is the cleanest part of San Quentin because it comes under a lot of international scrutiny, as this is where the condemned live and die, and many civilized people consider this cruel and unusual punishment. Many thanks to Rabbi Carole and everyone else who helped make that happen. It certainly made his day, and made an impression on me that I won't soon forget!

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Sesshin (Gathering the Heart/Mind)

Well what's the use of having a blog if I never post to it?! I have been one very busy Ino to be sure. Last week was the 7-day sesshin that ended our Spring Practice Period. Sesshin means (roughly) gathering the heart/mind. It is a traditional time for more concentrated and intense practice, a time to get very settled and very quiet. This was my first sesshin as Ino, and although I can certainly say it was intense, on the other hand for this monk it did not feel especially settled! There were so many details to be concerned with! But that after all is the practice of the Ino. The Ino works real hard so that others can have a settled experience. No problem!

The theme of this Practice Period was Vow, and every noon service we chanted the Eihei Koso Hotsuganmon, the beautiful vows of our Founder in Japan, Eihei Dogen Daiosho. Sometimes when I chant this I get so happy! so allow me to share that happiness with you here...

Eihei Koso Hotsuganmon

We vow with all beings, from this life on throughout countless lives, to hear the true dharma; that upon hearing it, no doubt will arise in us, nor will we lack in faith; that upon meeting it, we shall renounce worldly affairs and maintain the buddha-dharma; and that in doing so, the great earth and all living beings together will attain the buddha way.

Although our past evil karma has greatly accumulated, indeed being the cause and condition of obstacles in practicing the way, may all buddhas and ancestors who have attained the buddha way be compassionate to us and free us from karmic effects, allowing us to practice the way without hindrance.

May they share with us their compassion, which fills the boundless

universe with the virtue of their enlightenment and teachings. buddhas and ancestors of old were as we; we in the future shall be buddhas and ancestors. Revering buddhas and ancestors, we are one buddha and one ancestor; awakening bodhi-mind, we are one bodhi-mind. Because they extend their compassion to us freely and without limit, we are able to attain buddhahood and let go of the attainment. Therefore, the Chan Master Lung-ya said:

Those who in past lives were not enlightened will now be enlightened.

In this life, save the body which is the fruit of many lives.

Before buddhas were enlightened, they were the same as we.

Enlightened people of today are exactly as those of old.

Quietly explore the farthest reaches of these causes and conditions, as this practice is the exact transmission of a verified buddha. Confessing and repenting in this way, one never fails to receive profound help from all buddhas and ancestors. By revealing and disclosing our lack of faith and practice before the buddha, we melt away the root of transgressions by the power of our confession and repentance. This is the pure and simple color of true practice, of the true mind of faith, of the true body of faith.

Any merit I may have accrued by posting these uplifting verses on-line I hereby dedicate to the 2.3 million men and women living behind bars in America today. Also I have a secret hope that this may be an impetus to our getting the rest of our liturgy uploaded to our website. That reminds me that during the course of the sesshin some folks set up a camera in the Buddha Hall and made a video of our Abbot Paul Haller offering zazen instruction which should soon be on our website, and I've only been whining about that for 2-3 years... next, oryoki videos!


This Practice Period and sesshin were co-led by Zen Center teachers Vicki Austin & Michael Wenger, and they brought their own special teaching style to it. During the sesshin they had practice discussion with each person in the sesshin, one by one meeting Michael & Vicki at the same time! I have never heard of that being done before. Also, we had a Precept Ceremony for the Shuso that was pretty informal but so intimate and very warm-hearted. I told them at one point that I had learned something very valuable from them, which is that kindness is more important than any ceremony.

Here's a picture of Vicki and Michael I took from behind my desk in the Ino's office. I'm pretty sure the calligraphy above their heads says "Turn Off Cell Phones"

Just Kidding!!!

Working with these two was a real joy.

That's all, folks!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009


In my last post on this blog (my first post on this blog!) I included a link to Ango, a Japanese word meaning "Peaceful Abiding" which is a Zen monastic training period, usually known around these parts as a Practice Period, typically lasting 90 days as it says in the Wiki entry. However, not every practice period in Zen Center lasts 90 days. In Tassajara they do, or at least they try to. The Practice Period currently in progress at Tassajara will be 88 days. The Practice Period currently in progress here at City Center will be 62 days long. Practice Period is a time in which Zen students practice intensively together. The historical origins of Practice Period are in the “rains retreats” of the early Buddhist monks and nuns when they could not travel due to heavy rains. During that time they settled down for more intensive practice. The Sangha making a mutual commitment to intensified practice and study is the main mark of a Practice Period. Another such mark is the leadership of a Shuso, or Head Student/Head Monk. While not every Practice Period at City Center has a Shuso, we are blessed in this current one to be enjoying the kind leadership of Shuso Bernd Bender, whose Dharma name is Kichu Chika, meaning Joyful Devotion, Wisdom Song.
Bernd was invited to be Shuso shortly after the beginning of the Practice Period by the co-leaders of the Practice Period, Gigen Victoria Austin and Dairyu Michael Wenger, in a moving ceremony usually referred to as the Shuso Entering Ceremony, wherein the Shuso-to-be always says, "This responsibility is too great for me!" and basically tries to get out of it, but in the end is always prevailed upon to accept the position and then takes a place in the Zendo facing outward next to the Practice Period leader for the remainder of the Practice Period.


Last Monday morning I was honored to share tea with the Shuso and my Dharma Sister Rev. Carol Benjamin, with whom I practiced at Tasssajara. Having tea with all of the students in the Practice Period is something the Shuso always does. Because space seems to be at a premium in City Center these days due to the vast smorgasbord of Dharma offerings available here, we wound up having tea in the Abbot's dokusan room, which made for an especially unique and intimate experience. The Shuso was a very gracious host, exemplifying what I believe is sometimes referred to as Old World charm. The conversation was civilized and stimulating. Bernd asked me about my experience as Shuso at Tassajara. I was Shuso at Tassajara Jan-April 2005 with my teacher Sojun Roshi leading that Practice Period. I told him it was one of the happiest times in my life! He asked me what I thought the most important job of the Shuso was, and I said, "Just to love everybody." When I said that he got a very cute smile on his face.


Our Shuso is also our Shissui, our Work Leader, another one of the six traditional administrative officers of a Zen temple mentioned in the beginning of Dogen's Tenzokyokun. Only around here we don't say Shissui we just say Work Leader. As Work Leader, Bernd runs our Guest Student program, gives out soji (temple cleaning) assignments in the morning, and leads our morning Work Circle each day. I truly appreciate that part of Bernd's Dharma name is Joyful Devotion, because more often than not, at the end of our Work Circle meeting, he wishes us all a "joyful day." We are very lucky to have a Shuso like Bernd.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Brian Ino

I know the name of this blog is dead boring, but I couldn't think of anything else at the time. I came real close to calling the blog Brian Ino, but I just couldn't quite go there, not as the name of the blog. My friend Brad Warner says he can't hear the word Ino without thinking of Brian Eno. (By the way Brian Eno and David Byrne have a new album out, with a title that is pretty dang zen, and it's killer!)

But what is an Ino, you say? It is the title for one of the traditional temple officer positions of a Zen temple or monastery. According to the Eihei Shingi, Dogen's Pure Standards for the Zen Community, "The Ino [a term derived] from the Sanskrit, here [in China] is called yuezhong [giver of joy to the assembly]." As you can see in the photo, a former Ino, Mark Lancaster, printed out this quote and posted it next to a sign outside the Ino's office on the 2nd floor of the building at 3oo Page. Since my last practice position at Zen Center was Treasurer/CFO, I like to joke that I've gone from being the bearer of bad news to the giver of joy. Well, hopefully giver of joy. My job, as I see it, is to keep things running smoothly in the Zendo and Buddha Hall in order to help create and sustain a space for practice, and to encourage the Sangha in their practice.

I have now been Ino at Hosshin-ji, Beginner's Mind Temple, which is San Francisco Zen Center's city practice place, for the past 12 days. Wow. It has been a very intense learning curve, particularly as I assumed this practice position in the midst of an ango, or practice period, already in progress at City Center. I am learning so much about this temple! And I am continually asking people for their help and feedback. I have told several people that my experience of the last few days has been somewhat akin to mosh pit surfing. What? Okay, maybe not, but it has been intense. Nonetheless I am enjoying it, and my practice intention is to share that with the community. The previous Ino, Kosho McCall, made a certificate for me which I am proudly displaying on the wall behind my desk.

Why an Ino's Blog? My intention is to use this as a skillful means to share something of my love for the Buddhadharma, the practice of the Ino, what's going on at City Center, maybe some helpful hints about forms and ceremonies around here, and no doubt, in the tradition of blogs all over teh interwebs, whatever the heck is on my tiny little mind!