Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Doshi Door

Once while browsing in the City Center library, I came across something that had been written as a thesis some decades ago, about the use of jargon at City Center. As we all know, jargon is a language sub-set that tends to promote inclusivity and exclusivity, and this is an issue that quite rightly Zen Center tries to pay attention to. The thesis pointed out that even beyond the extensive range of zen-specific terms that can be baffling to the newcomer, but would not necessarily be so to a visiting monastic (see the glossary for examples of this), there are any number of City Center-specific terms that confuse people even when they come over from Tassajara and Green Gulch. The 'doshi door' was cited as an example of this. Because of the way Zen Center made use of the pre-existing building, the entrances to the zendo are not traditionally aligned; the door near the library is generally reserved for the doshi to enter through, although this includes the Abbot and Senior Dharma Teacher, the tanto and other senior teachers. If you say the term "doshi door" to anyone at City Center, they will immediately picture it but I don't know what percentage of the readership of this blog would be able to do the same.
This is partly a response to the comment I received on the last Stats entry. I have been sitting with this since Friday morning, and while I am keenly aware that on the internet everyone has an opinion and gets to express it - myself naturally included, since I am typing this - I was struck by the tone of this comment: someone who knows me enough to use my last name, which I don't use here, but who prefers to remain anonymous themselves, takes me to task for being "enthralled" with the statistics of this blog.
My ego is at play here in different ways; first there is sensitivity to criticism - I think this is the first time someone has bothered to write me something negative about the blog - second because a part of me is thrilled that in the space of a week, people in twenty-six different countries have been reading this.
It is helpful to me to see that while most of my American readership is California-based, and thus I can assume that a fair number of those are people who visit Zen Center, whether regularly or not. While I know that some of the people in more far-flung countries are friends, or people who have spent time here, there are going to be any number of people who cannot picture the doshi door, and I should take this into account somewhat when I am deciding what to write about and how to write it.
Feel free to pitch in with a comment.

Saturday, October 30, 2010


For the ino, any ceremony is not just about what happens but also the setting up and the taking down afterwards. I was very happy with Sejiki; for all that it is a unique ceremony with many complicated elements, yesterday was a relatively stress-free day. There were a lot of people helping, and a festive atmosphere in the building - some of it no doubt due to the Halloween party spirit, with people plotting costumes (I was asked often if I would be dressing up, and I said yes, though I was only ever intending to wear my robes - maybe next year I will put on a wig and a dress, though it is probably evident that I am not really a costume person), some of it perhaps also due to the Giants being 2-0 up (I am also not much of a baseball person, and am fond of saying that most of what I know about baseball I learned by reading Peanuts cartoons as a kid, but the sympathetic joy is quite palpable around here).
We rehearsed the less familiar parts of the ceremony in the morning, and I spent the afternoon setting up the special Sejiki altar - the regular altar is not used so as not to intimidate the hungry ghosts we are summoning and appeasing - and after dinner I dismantled it with help.
The ceremony itself had a nice number of participants; we were not packed tightly into the Buddha Hall as I remember from some years past, but there were enough strong voices to lend some real energy to the dharanis - and energy is the whole point of a dharani, which is an invocation. The orchestral invitation was also nicely done, a harmonious cacophony as it was referred to earlier in the week. As you can see from the photos, there was no shortage of entertaining costumes.

Bare altar, shrouded Buddha
Sejiki altar

Friday, October 29, 2010


I have not got my head around "The Mind itself is Buddha" today, and this mind is mostly focused on Sejiki this evening (please come and chant dharanis with us, in costume if you must), so here are some photos from the last few mornings of changeable weather.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Study Hall - Shobogenzo

I had not previously read the 'Regulations for the Auxiliary Cloud Hall at the Kannondori Kosho Gokoku Monastery' - and I will refrain from typing out the Japanese title - but as ino it makes for fun reading:
"The assembly of students in the hall should blend like milk and water to support the activity of the way. Although now for some period you are either guest or host, later you will be buddha ancestors equally throughout time. Therefore, you should not forget the feeling of gratitude. It is rare to meet one another and practice what is rare to practice...Do not waste a moment. Concentrate your effort.
Day or night, always inform the director of the hall where you are going to be. Do not play around according to your own impulses; your actions affect the discipline of the entire assembly. Who knows? This may be the last day of your life. It would be truly regrettable to die while indulging in pleasures...
Do not enter the hall intoxicated with wine. If you do so by accident, you should make a formal repentance. Do not enter the hall smelling of onions...
Wish to be serenely composed for your entire life and to practice the way free of expectations".

Wednesday, October 27, 2010


The Flag Counter people caution that you should allow 48 hours to elapse before seeing updates. It is nonetheless interesting to compare compare the map with my Google audience stats from the last week:

United States 409
Ireland 44
Russia 34
United Kingdom 16
Canada 6
Netherlands 6
Slovenia 4
Chile 3
Ukraine 3
Belgium 2

Delving a little deeper at the Flag Counter site, though, I find you can even track American visits by  state:

1.1.California92October 27, 2010
1.2.New Jersey6October 26, 2010
1.3.Texas4October 27, 2010
1.4.Illinois2October 25, 2010
1.5.New York2October 25, 2010
1.6.Pennsylvania1October 23, 2010
1.7.Wisconsin1October 24, 2010
1.8.Arizona1October 25, 2010
1.9.West Virginia1October 25, 2010
1.10.Minnesota1October 25, 2010
1.11.Idaho1October 26, 2010
1.12.Virginia1October 26, 2010
1.13.Oregon1October 26, 2010
1.14.Vermont1October 27, 2010
Unknown5October 26, 2010

14 out of 51 collected.
 Now of course I want to collect all fifty, just like with the commemorative quarters...

Study Hall - Shobogenzo

I never think that I understand what Dogen is talking about, but if I am reading with a certain amount of alertness, then sometimes things filter in and resonate in a particular way. This morning I read 'Manifestation of Great Prajna', or 'Maka Hannya Haramitsu', and 'Actualizing the Fundamental Point', or 'Genjo Koan'.
The line that I want to highlight from the former is "This monk's [a monk in Buddha's assembly] understanding was that taking refuge in all things is taking refuge in prajna that does not arise or perish", which put me in mind of the opening chapters of 'Realizing Genjokoan'. Alongside that, I offer the lines from 'Genjo Koan': "To carry the self forward and illuminate myriad things is delusion. That myriad things come forth and illuminate the self is awakening".
Interestingly, this current translation of 'Genjo Koan' is about ninety per cent indentical to the version we chant at Zen Center - rarely here, but regularly at Tassajara. I was keen to observe the changes that had been made, and how those changes themselves can also help elucidate the slippery concepts being expressed, as we can look into the gap between two similar terms and find a fresh picture there.

On an equally profound note, I find that I am drawn to the slowly increasing flag counter each time I log in, fifteen countries so far, and I know there are readers from other countries who are yet to make an appearance. Also, I reformatted the comments page, again, having seen a better version on other blogs. This current set-up also allows me to respond to the comments you leave, which somehow I was not able to do before, so please keep the comments coming, and I will do my best to provide satisfaction...

Tuesday, October 26, 2010


Chosan should not be confused with shosan. For sure they both involve everyone sitting in rows with the Abbot in the middle, but in shosan you have to get up and ask a question face to face with the Abbot, in front of everybody, and then stand there to hear the answer. In chosan you get to stay where you are, you get served tea and a treat, and asking a question is entirely optional. Actually, at Zen Center there are two kinds of chosan even. It means, as far as I understand, morning tea, and at Tassajara that usually involves small groups of people, like the kitchen crew, the doanryo, or senior staff, having tea with the Abbot in the Abbot's cabin (Abbot is shorthand throughout for Abbess or Practice Period Leader as well). It is quite formal, but usually enjoyable, although there was an occasion when no zafus were offered, and we were sitting in seiza on the tatami for an hour, which, even more than sitting full lotus, is really only to be recommended if you have been doing it since childhood. Occasionally there would be a chosan for everyone in the practice period in the zendo at Tassajara, which I mainly remember for the fiendishly difficult drum roll-down that had to coincide with the Abbot's entrance.
We don't have an Abbot's cabin here, and the other kind of chosan happens so rarely at City Center that there is no folder of instructions on the ino's computer, which has full archives going back more than ten years - I have a memory of doing it here, but the ino must not have written anything down, as the only thing I found for City Center was typewritten in a folder in one of the two filing cabinets filled with historical treasures in the ino's office. I scanned that yesterday, and started working on a hybrid of that version and my memories of the Tassajara set-up.
It is useful for me, when I start feeling stressed, to try to pinpoint exactly what it is that is causing the stress. I have Sejiki looming at the end of the week, which is a very big deal and will require a lot of preparation, some of which I have done. So throwing another unusual event into the mix, which took up a lot of thinking and planning time yesterday not only causes its own stress, but by deferring my attention to the other big event, causes the stress of not being able to focus on that.
So in itself, the chosan was not the problem, though there were a number of unknowns to work through. With much help from Joan and Tanya, we had a working seating plan and set of forms by the end of yesterday, as well as a big box of mochi, and after dinner I set up the cups, trays and other paraphenalia.
During zazen this morning, Tanya, Richard and I got the Buddha Hall set up according to plan, things carried over from the kitchen, the tea brewing and everything was coming out on time, so I started to relax. When everyone came upstairs though, I eventually realised that we had about half a dozen more people than we were catering for - evidently no-one was staying in bed this morning. This caused some running around for cups and extra treats, and some squeezing up on the tatamis, but once we were all settled, it went very well. The questions and discussion, which can be a little strained or stilted sometimes, were very rich today; the sun rose behind us as the tea progressed and Vicki and Paul fielded the enquiries and expounded the dharma for us. Surprisingly, nobody asked about the Giants' prospects for the World Series, which would have also made for some rich discussion.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Study Hall

So now I am primed and ready to dive into the Shobogenzo. Not only have I read all the preamble, which itself clocks in at almost a hundred pages, but I also took the opportunity provided by having Kaz in the building on Friday night, at the reception for his new art show, to have him sign my copy. Having rendered my name in kanji (beautifully, it goes without saying), he wrote "enjoy your enlightenment". I fully intend to give it a shot.
I am not promising that I am going to read the Shobogenzo straight through, though I would like to try, and I am definitely not promising not to wander off and read other things in the meantime, but we'll see what happens. I can promise to keep you posted.
By the way, if you have $500 to spare, assuming you have already sprung for the book at $150, I would recommend that you buy one of the pieces in the show, as they are all amazing. Better still, lend me $500, and I will buy one to add to my burden of riches.

Saturday, October 23, 2010


I have been telling people that this is my first free weekend in two months, but that means free from after lunch on Saturday - there was the usual seven hours of busyness first. The combination of the Full Moon Ceremony and oryoki was always going to cause timing problems; even though we finished zazen early, and had a very strong and energetic ceremony - thanks to Joan and Barbara - there was a delay getting breakfast downstairs, so we didn't get out of the zendo until 8:55. For me, that means barely time to drink coffee and pee before going back for zazen (it would be more expeditious if I didn't have to take off my okesa and koromo for the latter activity), for the meditation instructor - thanks Lien - it means having to wait before bringing people into the zendo and then having to hurry them through that part...
Joan and Barbara also did the doanryo honours for nenju, with Vicki as the doshi - with the board retreat at Tassajara, she and Blanche were holding the fort this morning. As I stood in the dining room with my head bowed, I watched everyone's feet as they passed in front of me, and thought that, although the head-lowering part is a normal gesture of respect, I like the fact that it also means that you can't necessarily see who is in front of you, so you can't start thinking, 'oh, I feel grateful to this person, but not so much to this one, and that one I don't like at all'. Except of course that in a community, it is easy to recognise someone from their footwear. Suzuki Roshi famously used to say that when everyone was wearing robes, as you do in the winter at Tassajara, then he could really see who each of them was. I had the experience there many times of just seeing somebody in the dark twenty yards away and immediately knowing who they were just from the sway of their body or the energy of their movement, and it was true as I watched people in the jundo today. Beyond the innate familiarity that comes of living and practising together, people can't help but reveal themselves in every action.
All of which brings me to blogs and links. This being the ino's blog, I try to keep it ino-related, though I know that my personality comes through in many different ways, most of which I hope I am aware of. Similarly, I wanted the blog list on the right just to be other inos' blogs. Now if Blogger were cleverer (and maybe if we move to Wordpress, as has been mooted by our web development people, this might be possible), I could divide my blog list into inos' blogs and other blogs I enjoy, most of which I have come across in the course of writing this and seeing who is reading it. For example there are some koan blogs I have discovered: the Shobogenzo Koan Workshop, and thence to the Koan Zone (where I was excited to discover the Kidlington sangha - if the dharma flourishes in deepest Oxfordshire, there is hope for us all).
More tangentially there is the Bike Snob, which is ino-related in that Greg, having mentioned the site to me some time ago, recently delighted me by giving me the book, which has been making me laugh in my off moments, and which may provide a subject for Study Hall yet.  And I would like to plug again Sandy's Witterings, which I have been finding great value for money. I don't think I need to give Brad much of a plug, but I do read him from time to time. So if you find yourself subject to a wet and dreary afternoon such as we are having here, you could do much worse than spending time with these people.


The more assiduous and observant among you will have noticed the flag counter at the bottom of the page - the rest of you, feel free to scroll on down. Well, all the cool kids had one, and since I am constantly gratified by how widespread the readership has been thus far, I thought it would be nice to have a record of that; five flags in the first eighteen hours is a good start (hello Chile!), and I am looking forward to seeing an array of flags sprouting up in times to come.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Sitting Cross-legged

I have heard it said more than several times that the younger you start sitting cross-legged, the easier your body finds it to adjust. Well, I started when I was thirty five, after twenty or more years of avid running and cycling, activities which do not tend to promote leg bendiness. I managed to get one ankle above the other when I first started sitting, which I heard referred to as quarter-lotus, and like most people, found that one hip was more obliging that the other, so I tended to prefer that side. I was happy enough to go along with that at the outset of my practice.
In my first winter at Tassajara, in 2002-3, my body having adjusted to the amount of sitting that we do there, I found that I could get one leg up into half-lotus for a short time, and I was very excited. I kept working at it until I could sit whole periods like that, and tried to get the other leg to co-operate as well. This was going well until the year or two of emotional upheaval that I subsequently had, when everything in my lower back and hips seemed to tighten up and not want to let go; sitting became fairly constantly painful, even when I tried to add in some serious stretching beforehand.
It was only when I returned to Tassajara in 2006 that this started to reverse itself - there were a number of occasions when I would be sitting in the zendo and I would feel a jolt of energy emanating from my lower back, or sometimes from my knee or my foot; things were releasing in my body, and eventually I could do all my sitting in half-lotus with either leg - until the last sesshin I sat there in 2008, when my left leg completely locked up after I had twisted my pelvis, probably running up and down the Tony Trail....
Recently I tried once again to sit in full lotus, and despite it having previously seemed to be beyond my capacities, found that I could do it. Again, I tried a few times for ten minutes at a time, in the ino's office, and in the last couple of weeks, I have tried it out in the zendo during second period in the morning, which is just thirty minutes, and have managed okay. I think my pelvis is still a little skewiff, and the first thing I notice about being in full lotus is how good it feels at the base of the spine, much more spacious and relaxing than half-lotus, which makes focusing on breathing and the hara much simpler.
Now none of this is to say that you should sit in full lotus to have a proper experience of zazen; it's more like - if I can do it, and it has taken me the best part of eleven years, you probably can if you want to work up to it. The benefit of the position, as has been known since before Buddha's time, is that it gives you a stable base for the upper half of your body to be upright and relaxed, and that is the most important thing. It is just as easy to be upright and relaxed when sitting in seiza (kneeling position) or in a chair, or if you have good posture, in other cross-legged positions, like Burmese with one leg in front of the other. That last sesshin at Tassajara I mostly spent lying down, which made the periods go by so much faster, but I tried to stay focused in the same way. And as I heard someone say many years ago, sitting upright does not stop your mind from spinning off into thought or going to sleep, but it is a good place to start from and to return to.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Whole Worlds Are There

The first boxed set of books I remember getting excited about was when I was six or seven, and I went to Harrods on our yearly trip to London, armed with a book token and the more formidable of my grandmothers, and came away with the complete Narnia series. There have of course been others since then, though none spring to mind so readily. Now, two come into my life almost simultaneously, as previously mentioned. In the red corner, weighing in at 4lbs 2oz, and running to something like 1010 pages, the 'Gyoji Kihan', or the 'Standard Observances of the Soto Zen School'. In the blue corner, at 5lbs 4oz, and 1270 pages, more or less, the 'Shobogenzo' or the 'Treasury of the True Dharma Eye'. Now, as we mentioned yesterday, we are dwelling in non-separation, but even in the more conventional realms, these two works really do spring from the same source - one being Dogen's own words, and the other the ceremonial traditions that sprang from his lineage -although they occupy somewhat different places in the literary and religious spectrum, one being entirely, even painstakingly practical, while the other is eminently philosophical in entirely its own way. They are definitely complementary, and not just in their tasteful brown colour schemes; armed with just these two works, you could construct your own zen establishment, and, provided that you penetrated the skin, flesh, bones and marrow of the 'Shobogenzo', expound the true dharma therein. Of course as an itinerant monk, these would be somewhat of a burden, though these days  - and I have done this myself - you can fit the 'Gyoji Kihan' on a thumbdrive, and you would still have room left for the 'Shobogenzo' too, though this I have yet to see as a pdf, alas.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010


Every now and then there is a spike in page readership - last night at 19:00 PST, someone read 31 pages, or perhaps 31 people read one page, who can say? I like to imagine it is someone sitting down with a cup of tea and ploughing through a lot of entries; then it is fun to speculate where they are. The week's top-scoring countries don't give much away on this one, though it is to be noted that Ireland drops from the number two spot for the first time since Djinn and Richard's wedding, while Lithuania makes what I think is a first appearance so high in the charts:

United States 361
Germany 29
Ireland 19
Lithuania 14
Brazil 13
United Kingdom 11
Russia 11
Canada 8
France 8
South Korea 6

Faits divers

I was distracted, when I signed in, by Trevor's latest post, and experienced just the tiniest twinge of envy that Peguin didn't ask me to give a plug to the manga life of the Dalai Lama - but that wasn't what I was going to write about, as I just cracked open a new book myself: I blew most of my wages on the two-volume Shobogenzo translation that has just come out (actually, I think I remember Trevor plugging this a couple of months ago, but anyway), and started leafing through it this morning after koan class. There was a nice feeling for me of recognising many of the names involved in the project, which is hardly surprising since Zen Center has been helping to support Kaz Tanahashi with this work for many years; I felt grateful that I have been able to study with some of these people over the years here. The book is so vast I am a little intimidated about getting stuck in, and today I stopped on the first page of the Editor's Introduction: "If we were to summarize Dogen's teaching in one word, it might be 'non-separation'". So there you go, I've just saved you $150....
When I was at Tassajara I did try to work my way through the Nishijima and Cross translation during study hall, but a combination of ongoing deep tiredness, the density of the text and my own lack of understanding made it heavy going, and I gave up after a volume and a half without feeling like I had penetrated anything...
None of which is what I was actually thinking I was going to write about, but since we are dwelling in the non-separate, amongst the myriad things going on in the ino's world: I felt very tired after the one-day sitting, but my legs are feeling strong, which is nice, and for those who don't live in the Bay Area, there has been an accelerated passage in the space of less than a week from a very warm Indian summer to the season of mists and mellow what-nots, via a spell of rain which almost entirely coincided with my bike ride on Sunday, which means we have the heating on in the building now, and hopefully you won't hear me complaining about sweating in my robes for a little while.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Sitting Long, Getting Tired

I know it is unreasonable to expect an event that involves upwards of sixty people and unfolds over sixteen hours to go without a hitch, and looking back, none of the things that end up being less than ideal are really a problem. There is a certain pattern to these things: someone calls at the last minute, just after I have breathed a sigh of relief that I have printed and copied all the bits of paper with the various informations on them, hoping to be included; someone else isn't sitting in their assigned seat, and when I ask them about it, says they were not planning on sitting, and had told the Abbot and the Tanto so, but luckily agrees to do the job that I had assigned them; people appear unexpectedly, people disappear unexpectedly, people want to talk to me, people want to talk to each other.
As before, a certain amount of pressure on the ino is lifted once we get through the morning program, though there are still the meals to pay attention to - they were all a little long yesterday, so less break time than scheduled - but this time, once we settled into the afternoon schedule, I found my legs were already sore. Happily they remained just sore, so I got to focus on trying to sit upright. For the last period, at eight thirty, Paul asked us all to sit facing out; for me that is no different, but the room feels much smaller when everyone's attention is directed into the room rather than towards the wall. It is always nice to end the day with the Refuges; there was a lovely deep tone in the room as we chanted, which brought everything to a harmonious close, and I went straight to bed, thinking about today's ride - no organisational stress, less pain in the legs, and only the traffic and the rain to contend with.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Words and Pictures

I feel like there have been lots of words and not enough pictures on here of late, so to redress the balance a little, a photo of the sky after breakfast from the roof of City Center - it is beautifully warm again today, with very little wind, and unusually still clouds.

Also, a picture I was tempted to use as my profile picture for a while, a sheet of forms (looking at it, I guess it is describing either an entering or a leaving ceremony), distorted by the stain from my coffee cup:

Study Hall

One last entry from 'Branching Streams Flow in the Darkness', something that feels quite relevant to me as ino:
"The secret of the perfect Zen statement is 'it is not always so'. As long as you are at Tassajara, this is our rule, but it is not always so...Even though you think you are practicing Buddha's way, you are liable to be involved in selfish practice when you say 'the way should be like this'. You should definitely say 'this is our Tassajara way'. But you should be ready to accept another way too...To be just yourself is to be ready to accept someone else's opinion too. Each moment you should intuitively know what to do. But this does not mean that you should reject the opinions of others".

Wednesday, October 13, 2010


I am grateful that Wendy, who puts the Sangha-e newsletter email together every week, is a fan of my photos, so I often get to see my work there. This week was a picture I had rather forgotten about, but which I enjoyed seeing again; it is about that time of year when the sun is shining far into our rooms after breakfast, which inspired this shot:

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Study Hall

This was in the same talk on the Sandokai that I quoted yesterday, but I wanted to look at it separately, as it deals with the fundamentals of practice from a slightly different angle. I have heard it said that we practise in order to come to terms with our fear of death, and this is how Suzuki Roshi talks about this:
"Most questions and problems are created by human-centered, selfish ideas. 'What is birth and death?' That is already a very self-centered idea....When we say 'birth and death', we mostly mean the birth and death of human beings. When you understand birth and death as the birth and death of everything - plants, animals and trees - it is not a problem anymore. If it is a problem, it is a problem for everything, including us. A problem for everything is not a problem anymore".
I find that comforting to read; of course an intellectual understanding of this does not take away the deep fear of dying. I remember Reb telling someone at Tassajara that letting go of the fear of death does not necessarily mean completely accepting it, but it can mean going from a tightly clenched fist to a less tightly clenched fist. That is still letting go. Another time at Tassajara I realised that part of my own fear of death was the idea was that 'me, now' would die, when of course the 'me' that will die is the 'me, now' of a different time, who might have different ideas about it. This does not mean that the 'me, now' of this time can ignore the issue, but I can recognise it as a fear of something that is not happening now, and that helps diminish the fear.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Study Hall

Michael Wenger made the point in his talk on Saturday, that Suzuki Roshi was skilled at explaining the complex ideas of Buddhism in very simple language, and I came across this example in my reading this morning: "So when you encounter things, you should know that right there the true teaching reveals itself. You should know that place".
These two sentences are so simple that it is easy to gloss over them, but to my mind today, they encapsulate the fundamental point of our practice, and nothing more need be said. Indeed he closes that talk by apologising for saying too much. 
This talk was dealing with the lines from the Sandokai that read:
          "Each of the myriad things has its merit according to function and place.  
           Phenomena exist, box and lid fit; principle responds, arrow points meet",
but it also brought to mind Dogen, and his phrase shoho jisso or 'all things are ultimate reality', and also "here is the place, here the way unfolds" from the Genjo Koan.
Suzuki Roshi goes on to caution his students about how they understand this point: "Usually, even though you say 'I see things-as-it-is', you don't. You see one side of reality and not the other. You don't see the background, which is ri; you only see things in terms of ji, the phenomenal side of each event, and you think each thing exists only in that way, but it is not so".

Wake-up Bell

I should have known something was wrong when I didn't see this morning's fukudo in the bathroom when I got up, as I usually do. When I didn't hear the bell, I went downstairs, already in my full robes, and rang it - wouldn't you know that it was warm again this morning...
I had already found a note left in the middle of the night by the light-up chiden saying she couldn't sleep and didn't think she would be around this morning. I had figured that I could pass that job onto my new head doan, Tanya (who was also the fukaten when I was tenzo, so we have a good working relationship), and she was on her way as soon as I could get the instructions printed out - which the computer was reluctant to do, and which occasioned some swearing on my part, as I am not good at dealing with too many things not going smoothly that early in the morning...
It also turned out that our shoten was missing, so the fukudo, who appeared, apologetic, right after the wake-up bell, after an alarm failure, ended up having to do double duty for the first period of zazen, before I drafted in a replacement. All this before six o'clock.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Residents' Meeting

Generally, City Center residents meet one Saturday morning a month to spend time together, hear information, share news and generally act like a community. I haven't attended a whole meeting in a while; both as tenzo and ino, I have been in the position of making a short report about what was happening in my area - as tenzo this often involved talking about the food in season, as well as reminders about various details of kitchen practice for everybody, as ino it tends to be about signing up for the next one-day sitting - and then heading off to work. Yesterday, apart from encouraging everyone to sign up for the next one-day sitting (next Saturday, please sign up before Wednesday, as that gives me a chance to get on top of the logistics before Friday night), I offered some words from 'Not Always So', introducing them by saying that since I seem to spend a lot of time correcting people's form, and that can sometimes be a drag for both parties, here was something that showed it wasn't personal:
"This morning when we were bowing in the zendo,  we heard a big noise overhead, because upstairs in the dining room people were pushing chairs across the floor without picking them up. This is not the way to treat chairs, not only because it may disturb the people who are bowing in the zendo underneath, but also because fundamentally this is not a respectful way to treat things.
To push the chairs across the floor is very convenient, but it will give us a lazy feeling. Of course this laziness is part of our culture, and it eventually causes us to fight with each other. Instead of respecting things, we want to use them for ourselves, and if it is difficult to use them, we want to conquer them. This kind of idea does not accord with the spirit of practice...
When we pick up the chairs one by one carefully, without making much noise, then we will have the feeling of practice in the dining room. We will not make much noise of course, but also the feeling is quite different. When we practice this way we ourselves are Buddha, and we respect ourselves. To care for the chairs means our practice goes beyond the zendo".
Of course it is pretty cool to be reading this in the dining room that Suzuki Roshi is talking about, on my way to the zendo. I said I would be listening out for the end of the residents' meeting from downstairs, and when it came, the noise overhead reminded of me of nothing so much as being in the Tassajara zendo and hearing the rain falling gently on the corrugated roof...
This is quite a well-known anecdote at Zen Center, and it is always interesting to be in the dining room and to see who does practise picking up the chairs every time, whether because they have heard it mentioned and remembered it, or whether they naturally think of not making a noise. Actually, when I spoke about this passage with Blanche recently, she said that she, to her shame, had been one of the people making the noise with the chairs; naturally, since that time, she has always lifted her chair quietly...

Friday, October 8, 2010


The stats continue to amuse and amaze, as well as bringing people unexpectedly to this site (see the comment from Sandy here - and I recommend his Witterings wholeheartedly), and frustrating me as I try to cut and paste the table format they come in.
Here are some search words from the past week that brought people onto the site:

ino's blog 6
"great is the matter of birth and death" "green gulch"1
allison head shaving 1
east block san quentin 1
inos cleaning service 1
seido lee debarros 1
shuso 1
ινος blog 1
I am happy to see some Greek in the mix there, and can report that the ino's cleaning service, with the help of some of the practice period students, has been hard at work tidying up the capacious closets in the ino's office, which contain all kinds of miscellaneous and occasionally unidentifiable treasures.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Study Hall

I have owned several copies of 'Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind' over the years, but have ended up giving them to other people, so I haven't read it for a while. I looked through 'Not Always So' in advance of the Beginners' Sitting a couple of months ago, and enjoyed hearing Suzuki Roshi's distinctive voice again, so after finishing with 'Taking Our Places', I decided to drop back in to 'Branching Streams Flow in the Darkness', which still has in it notes and bookmarks from my first Practice Period at Tassajara eight years ago, and which I have probably read twice since then. Again, I appreciate reading the way that Suzuki Roshi approached things for the audience he had - the tone of this is more advanced than the other two books, since they were talks given at Tassajara, but his way of expressing himself is not actually different. Here is a passage I liked because it seems he is explaining reality in the same way that Shohaku Okamura did in 'Realizing Genjo Koan':
" 'Grasping at things' means to stick to the many things you see. Understanding that each being is different, you see each one as something special, and usually then you will stick to something. Yet even if you recognize the truth that everything is one, that is not always enlightenment. It may be enlightenment, but not always. It is just intellectual understanding. An enlightened person does not ignore things and does not stick to things, not even to the truth. There is no truth that is different from what each being is. Each being is itself the truth. You may think that there is some truth that is controlling each being. This truth, you may think, is like the truth of gravitation. If the apple is each being, then behind the apple is some truth working on the apple, like gravitation. To understand things in that way is not enlightenment. To stick to beings, ideas, even Buddha's teaching, saying 'Buddha's teaching is something like this'  is to stick to ji [the phenomenal, as opposed to ri, the noumenal]. This is the backbone of the Sandokai".

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

A Tip of the Hat to Trevor

Trevor has a way of dealing with things that I do enjoy, especially since in my mind I am hearing them in his voice, and his last two posts are both excellent

Monday, October 4, 2010


I wouldn't claim that the readership of this blog is anything but modest, but I do enjoy looking at the stats. This morning I saw that there was a spike in page views in the middle of the night local time - someone read 48 pages in one go, it looks like. The global spread for page views of the last twenty-four hours is equally intriguing:

United States       97
Hungary              14
Russia                 14
Germany               5
Poland                  3
United Arab Emirates 2
United Kingdom    2
Ireland                  2
Mexico                 2
Bolivia                  1

The Third and the Fourth

As anyone connected with Zen Center knows, these are the days of the month when we commemorate Suzuki Roshi's death, with a ceremony on the evening of the third and on the morning of the fourth. It does happen, of course, that these dates fall over the weekend, as they did this month, and usually that means not so many people in attendance. Last night I think was the most intimate-sized ceremony I can remember. Blanche of course was there to be doshi, and when our chiden did not appear, she also helped me to set up by making the tea offering. Vicki showed up, and was drafted to be doan as the person I thought had agreed to do it also wasn't there. Joan started as shoten, but then got promoted to jisha, and Quang stepped in as shoten. Jay was there as kokyo, plus, Lou, of course, and Martha was the other member of the great assembly. Still it was a very sweet ceremony.
This morning, naturally, we had many more people, as it was part of the morning schedule. During the chanting of the Harmony of Difference and Equality, I noticed that Blanche was leaning on the radiator in the kaisando; I tried to catch Joan's eye, as she was next to Blanche, but the next thing that happened was Blanche sliding down to the floor. I dashed out to get a chair while several people came to her rescue; all the while the chanting continued. It was one of those moments where we take care of what needs to be taken care of, and somehow still manage to keep the container of the form. I know Blanche does not like to be fussed over, and would not have wanted us to stop; she was suffering from a normal reaction to her morning medication, and was not in serious difficulty. It underlines the point she made at the beginning of her talk on Saturday - we are all of the nature to get old, or as another teacher once put it, we are all only temporarily able-bodied.

Study Hall

A final excerpt from 'Taking Our Places', not least because it corroborates something I asserted here a few months ago: "One friend who practices Zen with me studied a long time ago with Suzuki Roshi. He told me: 'I came to Zen Center just a few months before Suzuki Roshi's illness. But in those few months I made such a strong connection because I felt so completely met by him. No one else in my life, before or since, has ever met me that thoroughly. He seemed to be always ready and waiting for me in every encounter - wide open, yet unassuming and quiet. It touched me deeply'. I have heard this comment from many other people who practiced Zen with Suzuki Roshi. So many of them still think of him almost every day and feel as if in some strange way he is continuing to meet them even now".

Sunday, October 3, 2010


With this jukai under my belt, I think I only have a few big events left on the ino's calendar for the year - Sejiki, Rohatsu, Buddha's Enlightenment and the New Year. I learnt again this weekend that most of the work is not in the ceremony itself but the preparation, and of course the cleaning up afterwards, some of which I still have to do before tomorrow morning. I had another pair of long days on Friday and yesterday; I think that even allowing for the fact that we had five preceptors and ten initiates, I wouldn't have been too stressed, except that Gretchen, my head chiden, was one of the people receiving a rakusu, and so couldn't help with vital parts of the set-up. As a result, between the end of the rehearsal after lunch, and the ceremony, a little more than an hour later, I was running around a lot, and getting more frazzled than usual. Luckily several people helped me out a great deal, notably Keith, Lucy and Joan, so I did get to calm down a little, and we did have everything in place by the time the densho started - and I still had time to pee and put on my okesa and bessu....
Everyone agreed that it was a beautiful ceremony; not that everyone knew exactly the moves they had to make, or what they had to do, but the spirit of the event was very warm and joyful. One perk of being ino is that I always get a good seat at these things, and I had the chance to take a few pictures during and after:

Blanche, Jordan and Lucy
Tom receiving his rakusu
Gretchen receiving her rakusu
Angela receiving her rakusu
Joe receiving his rakusu
Mayra and Joe

Jana and Benjamin

How did Lucy get so tall?

The whole group - preceptors and initiates

Friday, October 1, 2010

Standard Observances

A few mealtime conversations led last night to an ad hoc group of Blanche, Vicki, Kathryn and myself gathering in the ino's office (there were so many events going on last night it was pretty much the only room free) and reading from the Gyoji Hikan, or the 'Standard Observances of the Soto Zen School'. Since Vicki wanted to do a review of morning service this morning, we read through the sections dealing with this, and discovered things that were familiar, things that we have obviously adapted from the traditional Japanese style, and things that we do which are expressly not advocated - for example "in worshipping buddhas and patriarchs, basic principle is for great assembly together to make prostrations; for abbot alone to make prostrations does not accord with proper procedure", whereas when we chant the lineage of ancestors on Mondays and Saturdays, only the doshi is prostrating.
On one hand, this can seem very rigid and esoteric, but on the other, there is a palpable flavour of the cohesiveness and dignity of the rituals described which, for an ino at least, is very nourishing. We also looked at some of the ekos used, and one expression I particularly enjoyed was this:

"We pray for peace in the land, harmony among all nations,
prosperity and longevity for donors throughout the ten directions,
tranquility within the monastery, and peace and happiness for the oceanic assembly;
may sentient beings throughout the dharma realm equally perfect omniscience".

Amen to that, you might say.
I also discovered that October 1st is an important day for the ino, or 'rector' as it is translated here:

"Part 1: regular observances 253

— October 1 —

Section One: Change of Curtain in Sangha Hall [200]
Rector checks weather, takes down cool screens inside sangha hall, hangs dark screens (curtains)".