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!