Saturday, December 31, 2011

Taking Stock

'Tis the season to be reflective, something I am rarely immune from anyway, though the change of year gives us more currency for our thoughts. While I have no complaints about my practice life, and I appreciate how the role that I have has kept me working hard, and helped me stay focused, and while I have really enjoyed getting to be a part of Young Urban Zen this year as a new and fulfilling challenge, other parts of my life have felt barren and unsatisfied in the last couple of years, and I allow this to stop me from feeling completely settled or at peace where I am. I am hoping that 2012 will be different - and I know that an internal shift would be beneficial in this regard, but I haven't been able to find a way to bring this about. Being at Tassajara helps me to see that slowing down and having the ability to appreciate each thing that presents itself is key, so perhaps I just need to work on having this same outlook in the city.
I wish you all a year that is peaceful and harmonious, stable and free from calamity, and may we practise joyfully together with all beings.

Clearer skies this morning

Friday, December 30, 2011

In-between Days

As I have observed before - and if I am going to continue into a third year of being ino, I am either going to have to be more inventive in what I write about, or trust that people either haven't read or don't remember the older posts - interim is always a spacious time, as I have three extra hours during the day. Admittedly, the last couple of days, I have spent the first of these hours asleep, but I also get to drink coffee and read the papers before breakfast, and yesterday I realised that I did not have to rush to get to Rainbow and back in time for afternoon zazen, but could bike at leisure, and then bathe until the umpan rang for dinner.
There is also the slightly somnolent feel of the building in this week between Christmas and New Year - even with our visitors from Tassajara here - though I have to be careful not to be too lulled by this, as there are many details to take care of for the events tomorrow evening and on the morning of the first, especially since it takes place over the weekend, and we are doing some things differently to the usual. Hopefully I can stay awake past midnight tomorrow - that kind of a thing is quite a stretch for me these days.

Yesterday morning's beautiful skies before breakfast
Less colourful today, but equally misty

Thursday, December 29, 2011

In The Mountains Again

It was Christmas day at the bath-house, and I realised that being at Tassajara is a little like being in sesshin: there is little to distract you, so you pay attention to those things that are around you; since these are mostly natural objects, they reward your attention. I felt deeply rested just from being there and strongly connected to the land I know so well.
The break was certainly everything I wished for - peaceful, quiet, being surrounded by lovely people, with some faces from the past including Amy, Luke, Jessamyn and Sarah. The weather was bright and clear, mornings well below freezing that turned into sunny days, the endless blue sky turning into the dense starry darkness you just don't get in the city. I slept plenty - even until seven thirty once, which only ever happens at Christmas these days - read more than I usually have time for, did some non-strenuous hiking, washed some dishes, cleaned at the bath-house, cooked breakfast, listened to and told stories, watched hawks floating overhead, played with rocks, and did not hurry anywhere.
Of course I took photographs, although I was a little hampered by only taking one memory card down; I had to restrain myself for the last couple of days. Here is a selection, and I will probably post more here later on.

The echo han
Bright sunshine on the sandstone of the Church Creek trail
A picture I have failed to capture well in years gone by
On the women's side of the bath-house
Densho and striker
Never got this view to work before
A little way up the road
On the Church Creek trail
Above the first lookout on the road, looking towards Flag Rock
The walkway from the zendo to the kitchen
New moon over the Three Treasures

Saturday, December 24, 2011

A Christmas Tale

All being well, I will be ensconced at Tassajara by the end of the afternoon. Christmas at Tassajara is a time to cherish, not least because the likelihood of hearing a carol piped over a speaker is zero;  it is also just very special to be down there at a time when there are not so many people about and almost nothing is happening apart from some communal cooking and enough work to keep the place functioning.

I have been thinking back to my first Christmas at Tassajara, eight years ago, during my first stint of living there. The trigger for this reminiscence was this, which lives on my altar with other things that also contain much resonance for me:

The card was sent, as you can see, by Amy, who had lived at Tassajara before I arrived, and whom I knew slightly before the adventures of that Christmas.
As I remember it, once the practice period ended, there was the usual mass exodus, leaving probably less than a dozen people in the monastery, and the numbers kept diminishing - eight, four, and I think for most of one day there were just three of us, before we went up to five or six for Christmas itself.
It rained incessantly. This was not a bad thing in itself, as we had warm rooms to retreat to, but I wasn't content to be completely idle. I had decided to try to rebuild a stone wall which I had always thought very shoddily put together, but which it would have been hard to convince anyone to let me work on during normal working hours. This is generally a bad thing to attempt - it would have been easier to pull the whole thing down and start afresh; trying to partially reconstruct it meant I was always working within certain limitations, and I was never happy with the outcome, for all the soggy hours I put into it. At one stage while I was outside, there was apparently an earthquake. I had no idea until someone who had been indoors told me, but Madra, the dog at the time (who has just recently died), certainly knew all about it. A day or two before Christmas, I was down by the creek, throwing stones up the slope of the bank to use in the back-fill when one of them, not larger than my hand, rolled down again. I tried to catch it, but the speed of it knocked my hand down onto another rock, leaving a sharp pain in my ring finger. I could flex it a little, so I was fairly sure it wasn't broken, and the thought that the nearest hospital was more than two hours away over the treacherous road meant I did not get it seen to; to this day the knuckle is swollen, and I have limited flexibility in that finger.
I was also, having been on the shop crew, in charge of supervising the water system and the electricity, which in those days meant getting up early to go and turn on the generator. One morning I was just about to get up when I saw flashlights on the path outside. Knowing how few of us there were, I went to investigate, and it turned out to be some young people from Carmel Valley trying to sneak in to use the baths, as sometimes happened. They were completely bedraggled, and looked totally crestfallen, probably unable to believe their luck to have got so far, and then been turned away just yards from the bathhouse, but I could have told them, if I had been feeling more sympathetic and less territorial, that they would have had a better chance of getting in undetected by monks if they had come at midnight rather than six in the morning.
Happily, the generator behaved itself throughout, but when I went to do the water readings, it appeared that this small number of people had managed to get through three thousand gallons of water. I assumed I must have made a mistake in my calculations, and didn't think more about it, but the next day, the figure repeated itself, so I realised there must be a problem. This was on Christmas Eve; when Amy arrived, just as it was getting dark, I roped her in to doing a complete tour of the cabins to see if there was a toilet running or a tap left on. We came up empty-handed.
If it had been dry, it would have been easy to see if the water main had cracked somewhere, but everywhere the ground was completely water-logged from so much rain. I had a sudden idea though - a few days before, a couple of residents had backed one of the vehicles up to the door of the courtyard cabins to load up their stuff. I knew, from having had to crawl underneath those cabins during the summer to fix another plumbing problem, exactly where the water main ran, and pacing around the area, I thought I could feel a spongier patch of ground. I stuck a stick in to mark the spot where I thought we would find the break. Amy and I spent much of Christmas morning in the pouring rain digging down to the pipe - I was only about a foot off in my guess - and then she, being an all-round superstar, did the plumbing part (though I had bodged enough pipes by then that I could have probably fixed it if she hadn't been around).
The day ended wonderfully, and more festively: Amy had a Brazilian girlfriend at the time, who not only cooked a delicious dinner for the handful of us, but also played guitar and sang afterwards (a winning combination that Chinh also pulled off a while ago here in the city, with a Vietnamese dinner and some beautiful folk singing). As I remember, Amy also took a turn at the guitar to play some of her punky songs, one of which had the unforgettable refrain "May all beings be happy - except you!"
When she sent the card for the New Year, I wasn't familiar with the phrase on it, but it deeply resonated with me, and I loved the drawing of the monks. That year, 2004, turned out to be momentous for me in many ways, and I had to look long and hard at my devotion to what I loved; in the fall, after several upheavals, I was back at Tassajara, and studying the Lotus Sutra with Linda Ruth. Having found the first few chapters pretty heavy going, I somehow really clicked with chapter sixteen (in the translation we were using), 'The Revelation of the Eternal Life of the Tathagatha', where the phrase comes from, and having been encouraged by Linda Ruth to memorise and recite parts of the sutra, as Buddha himself recommends in the narrative, I chose that chapter, which has been with me ever since - I still recite it to myself as I walk around the city, which gives it, and the walk, and everyone I pass by, a richer flavour.

So that was the Christmas of 2003 for me. I wish you all a peaceful weekend. I suspect I will have stories and photos when I return.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Study Hall

A final offering from Branching Streams Flow In The Darkness: "I don't know why I am at Tassajara: it is not for you, or for myself, or even for Buddha or Buddhism. I am just here. But when I think I have to leave Tassajara in two or three weeks, I don't feel so good. I don't know why. I don't think it is just because you are my students. I don't have any particular person whom I love so much. I don't know why I have to be here. It is not because I am attached to Tassajara. I'm not expecting anything in the future in terms of a big monastery or Buddhism. But I don't want to live up in the air. I want to be right here. I want to stand on my feet.
The only way to stand on my feet when I am at Tassajara is to sit. That is the reason I am here. To stand on my feet and to sit on my black cushion are the most important things for me. I don't trust anything but my feet and my black cushion. They are my friends always. My feet are always my friend. When I am in bed, my bed is my friend; there's no Buddha, no Buddhism, no zazen. If you ask me, 'What is zazen?' my answer will be 'to sit on my black cushion' or 'to walk with my feet'. To stay at this moment in this place is my zazen. There is no other zazen. When I am really standing on my feet I am not lost. For me that is nirvana. There is no need to travel, to cross mountains or rivers. I am right here in the dharma world. so I have no difficulty crossing mountains or rivers. That is how we don't waste time. Moment after moment we should live right here, without sacrificing this moment for the future".

A beautiful winter morning - these were taken just before breakfast

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Standing Still In The Dark

Solstice and equinox ceremonies seem to draw a more heterogenous crowd - maybe people's wish to mark the change of the season overcomes their resistance to our kind of ritual, or maybe they are hoping for something completely pagan. Either way, we had a nice candle-lit gathering in the courtyard yesterday evening, with a few first timers, as well as the more familiar faces; I was happy to see a handful of Young Urban Zen people also in attendance.
We had a bit of a doshi shortage to contend with for the ceremony - Paul is on vacation, Rosalie in seclusion with dharma transmission-related activities, Blanche was off at the airport meeting grand-daughter and great grand-daughter, Jana attending the memorial for the homeless who have died on the streets this year at City Hall, Vicki teaching yoga. Happily Tova was very willing to step in and lead us.
Dinner afterwards also had a celebratory feel; Hanukkah candles were lit, but it was notably the day that monks came up from Tassajara, so there was as always much energy from seeing old friends again after their three months of intense practice. Actually, I was impressed with how many of the folks from Tassajara sat in the afternoon, came to lecture in the evening or followed the morning schedule. This is more than I ever did when I was on vacation after practice period.

Tova and part of the assembly

Very much liking the low light capabilities of the X10

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Study Hall - Extensive Record

Winter Solstice Dharma Hall Discourse (1245):
"... Xuefeng asked a monk, 'Where are you going?'
The monk said, 'I'm going to do community work'.
Xuefeng said, 'Go'.
Yunmen said, 'Xuefeng understands people according to their words'.
Hongzhi said [about this dialogue], 'Don't move. If you move I'll give you thirty blows. Why is this so? For a luminous jewel without flaw, if you carve a pattern its virtue is lost'.

Although these three venerable ones spoke this way, I, old man Daibutsu, do not agree. Great assembly, listen carefully and consider this well. For a luminous jewel without flaw, if polished its virtue increases.
Today's first [arising of] yang [and the daylight's increase] is an auspicious occasion; a noble person reaches maturity. Althought this is an auspicious occasion for laypeople, it is truly a delight and support for buddha ancestors. Yesterday the short length [of day] departed, yin reached its fullness, and the sound of the cold wind ceased. This morning the growing length [of day] arrived, and yang arises with a boisterous clamor. Now path-robed monks feel happy and sustained, and the buddha ancestors dance with joy. How could directly transcending the realm of Awesome Sound King of Emptiness have anything to do with the seasons of spring, autumn, winter, or summer?"

New moon visible from my room before zazen

After breakfast

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Seasonal Affective Disorder

There has been a marked drop-off in attendance in the zendo since sesshin finished. Partly this is due to natural shrinkage, as some those who brought so much life to the building this past practice period have left; in other cases, residents seem to think it is okay to dial back their efforts. I have made a couple of announcements reminding people that interim, with its optional schedule, is not until next week, but I can't say that this had any effect at all. I don't think it is sickness now either -  everyone has had it and is pretty much over it, except for a few lingering coughs. This week the Abbot is also away, and even at Tassajara during practice period some people seemed to think it was more acceptable to sleep in if the Abbot wasn't around to notice your absence. This is only a temporary phenomenon, though, and will be more than offset by the January effect, when we get more people coming from the outside, having resolved to become more diligent with their spiritual practices, just as gyms get more custom, perhaps from the same people looking for improvements across the board.
Happily, we haven't noticed a similar decline in attendance for Young Urban Zen. I realise I haven't written much about it recently, but since October we have been getting twenty-five to thirty people consistently each week. Naturally there is some turnover - someone will come to try it out once, or come for a month and then not be so motivated to come - but at the same time a strong core group is being created, who have an increasing stake in YUZ and how it continues to develop. Plans are in place for an overnight retreat at Green Gulch in February; at a recent brainstorming session after a meeting, there was great interest in forming study groups to go deeper than we can in the Monday evening format; and we have been finding other ways to be together outside the usual meetings.
Last Friday a half-dozen or so of us went to check out the Dharma Punx local Urban Dharma group , led by Vinny and Gene on this occasion, just to see how other people are doing this. I got to sit guided meditation in a chair, something I have not done in a long time, and I enjoyed some of the dialogue that followed, which ended with a ribald Eddie Murphy joke that I was going to have Maggie or Simon repeat for us last night, though in the end the moment for it never came...
On Sunday, and last night after the meeting, some of us were also toasting Kelly's departure for Austin. She has been one of our most regular members, and since starting to come to YUZ, has also done one-day sittings and been a guest student in the building for a week - Matt is currently following in those footsteps right now as well. I mentioned in the last post how I might head off to Tassajara in September if there isn't anything compelling to keep me here, and YUZ has been one of the things that would most tempt me, as it has been a richly rewarding experience to be able to help with the group; at the same time I have no wish to be inextricably identified with it, and am happy to know that it would continue just fine if I never showed up again. Sometimes, though, as we are noticing with the enthusiasm for study which has not quite resolved itself into a time, place and subject, we need to encourage people to feel empowered to take control and make a decision. Probably it will all sort itself out after the holidays.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Ascending The Mountain

One thing that I had been thinking about the Mountain Seat Ceremony is that it was probably going to be my last big hurrah as ino, but it seems that the new plan is for me to stay on until September. After that, depending on whether there is something compelling to keep me in the city or not, I might be heading back to Tassajara.
Either way, the ceremony is going to take up a big chunk of thinking between now and February - not least because apart from the New Year extravaganza, there isn't a lot on right now, which feels very nice compared to recent times.
Naturally, as a diligent ino, not having been in attendance at one of these before (I was at Tassajara in 2003 and 2007, the last two times it has been performed), I have been consulting the files and also checking out the Gyoji Kihan. My conclusions from having done this are that we cleave pretty close to the Japanese forms on this occasion, which is perhaps not so surprising: since Suzuki Roshi handed over to Richard Baker in 1971, we haven't done the ceremony so many times, and Hoitsu Suzuki Roshi has, I think, always been on hand to guide us on the forms.
As ino I will get to have a lot of fun in the ceremony, not least leading the new Abbess on a jundo around the zendo and then doing prostrations to her. One part I will not be attending is the Inspection of the Seal, which will take place in the dokusan room. Here, I imagine the version we do will differ somewhat from the Japanese. This is from the Gyoji Kihan:

"Next, three people (senior people like the president for sure)... advance before table, burn incense, withdraw, and do 'spreading cloth twice, paying respects thrice' (a formal way to do prostrations)... At first when they have spread sitting cloths and are about to make prostration... new abbot expresses his/her opinion that they need not engage in such politeness. Thus, they immediately fold up their sitting cloths and speak the following words:
We merely wish to thave the honor of paying our respects to the abbot's dharma seat. We are distraught at having our praises rebuffed.
Next, they again spread sitting cloths and go to make prostrations... and new abbot again indicates that they do not need to go to the trouble. Thus, they immediately fold up their sitting cloths and, when finished, speak the following words:
With deferential consideration, we respectfully inquire of the Most Reverend Newly Appointed Abbot's well-being, and pray that he/she has every good fortune".
None of the versions I have of our Mountain Seat detail what is actually going to be said during this exchange, but these very Japanese phrases put me in mind of the words in the Shuso Entering Ceremony, which the Gyoji Kihan renders thus:

"Head seat (shuso) spreads cloth twice in paying respects thrice to the abbot. Upon first spread of sitting cloth, intones following words:
I am a newly ordained monk who has just entered the monastery. I am uncultivated in all the procedures. It must be by mistake that I have received your reverence's commission. An ordinary person with no responsibilities like me is intimidated in the extreme.
Next, makes second spread of cloth and says:
The weather these days is very warm. With deferential consideration for you, reverend abbot, I respectfuly inquire whether everything is going well.
Head seat makes three abbreviated prostrations; abbot also makes one prostration in reply".

Here is how we have rendered it a little more western in our version:

"Shuso says, in gassho:
I have received Buddha’s Precepts and have entered this temple, and I am deeply grateful for your teaching. But I am not yet ready to be shuso.
Shuso tries to turn away three times but is stopped by gesture from teacher each time.
At conclusion of turning away, shuso, hands in shashu, faces teacher and says:
These are beautiful days. May your good health continue. Please let me help you to continue the practice in this temple.
Teacher says:
Yes, please help me. This monastic shares our seat and our responsibility. Please give her your support".

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Study Hall

"Student: Roshi, what about focus? You said that the clouds don't know they're the children of the mountain and vice versa, but when we humans open and arrange our eating bowls, we focus on that without listening to the stream. It is a different activity.
Suzuki Roshi: It is the same activity.
Student: For me it is different.
Suzuki Roshi: That is why you get the stick. [Laughing].When you really focus, there is light and darkness together, but when you are thinking there are two sides. Now you are asking a question. When you are asking a question you are thinking, so it is hard for me to answer your question. I may have to be very angry with you. That is the only way. If you get hit you will probably stop thinking about it" - Branching Streams Flow in the Darkness.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Honoured Followers Of Zen

Another thing I have been meaning to mention about this past sesshin was the diversity of the participants: we had people flying in especially for the week from Northern Ireland, Germany and Slovenia, and, off the top of my head, also had the following nationalities represented: Australia, India, China, Japan, Mongolia, Iran (we have three Persian residents right now), Mexico, Colombia, England, Hungary, Switzerland, and France, with a Canadian running the kitchen. There were a few Americans too.

A little bleak and wintry - by Bay Area standards - at the moment

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Sound Of Silence

Since today's was going to be the last koan class of the year, with both Paul and Lucy going away this week, we had breakfast at Paul's house afterwards. Talk turned to sesshin, and the different approaches of different traditions; Paul is interested in the way Gil Fronsdal sets up his Vipassana retreats, he and a few people from here having attended one a month or so ago. Simon and I had both heard from someone who just did a retreat with Adyashanti: more than three hundred people, who were instructed not to write a note unless they needed to go to the hospital. Apparently, only one note materialised in the entire week.
I had been meaning to say something about my continued surprise at how many notes landed on my cushion, on my desk, at my door or simply in my hand, almost every time we got up from sitting. It was, I suppose, better than the alternative of having a conversation about each topic. I had also intended to set up this photograph, so this morning I got around to it:

Monday, December 12, 2011

Study Hall

"Student: You said that for an enlightened person it's very true, and for a non-enlightened person it's just talk.
Suzuki Roshi: What's missing? Practice is missing. Only when you practice zazen hard is it true. At the same time, even though you practice hard, your practice will not always be complete. There may be a big gap between the truth and your understanding or actual experience. Your intellectual understanding may be high, but your practice may be low. To have an intellectual understanding is easy, but practicing with emotions is difficult because we easily stick to something emotionally. So we say, 'It is easy to understand nothingness', and 'It is easy to destroy an intellectual understanding'. But to deal with emotional difficulty is as hard as splitting a lotus in two. Long strings will follow and you cannot get rid of them. The strings remain. With intellectual difficulty, it is as easy as breaking a stone in two. Nothing is left" - Branching Streams Flow in the Darkness, discussion after the sixth talk.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Arc Of Sitting

As is often the case after sesshin, I am prevaricating about what to say, and as part of that humming and hawing, I looked back at last year's stuff (and helpfully found this picture, which I had wanted to link to as the same okesa came out again, only this time nobody had a camera on hand).
The dates for Rohatsu were different to last year's so that on the first day we had the fortieth annual Suzuki Roshi Memorial, and on the last day Buddha's Enlightenment. We also had a shosan to wrap things up, and I asked Paul whether going from Suzuki Roshi to Buddha was going forwards or backwards. Actually, I had a much better question - or rather a more alive one - but I bottled it. The tanto and the ino traditionally ask the first two questions at the ceremony, so Rosalie and I went to the zabutons put out on either side of the central row of tatamis in the Buddha Hall to do our prostrations, and we carefully laid out our zagus and did the bows in unison, which felt nice. I thought back to some ten minutes previously, when Paul and I, in our kimonos, had been simultaneously pissing in adjacent cubicles before the ceremony started, and wondered if one activity was really any less of a full expression of the Buddha way than the other...
A shosan is always intimate, as we often get to see what is close to people's hearts as they express themselves; what I noticed this time was we got to hear for the first time the voices of people who had come for the sesshin. I had been impressed with the strength of sitting that many of our visitors had demonstrated, and made a point of talking to most of them at dinner afterwards to tell them so. In return, I got some compliments about my handling of the many things, and people all noticed my firmness, or as Dougald from Belfast most astutely labeled it, perhaps with a more practised ear for English tonalities, my tetchiness, which went along with a more caring side...

The Memorial on the first morning was a great way to start - albeit one that had caused part of my pre-sesshin stress. People got to make statements to Suzuki Roshi, Blanche starting by recalling that morning forty years ago. We had two young priests from Japan in attendance as well, and I thought they might be nervous having to say something in English in front of everybody, so I whispered to Jinen, who was next to me, that he should make his statement in Japanese - since Suzuki Roshi would understand that just as well - and it sounded great. As we also heard from Lucy, who comes from China, and Shindo spoke of reading about him in India, we had a nice manifestation of the phrase we often use - transmitting the lamp through four countries.

Once we got past that opening morning, I did get to settle a bit, and mostly enjoyed the sitting. Unlike some other recent sesshins, I was not inspired to sit more at night, but on the last night of sesshin, even though I had been feeling tired during the evening, I felt a little ashamed not to be even attempting to emulate the bone-smashing feats of our ancestors, feeling more like a jobsworth ino ("look mate, once we're done with the refuges, I'm off the clock. I've done my time on the cushion, organised all the ceremonies. You want me to concentrate as well - for the same money? You're having a laugh..."). Once we came upstairs from the refuges, Lucy whacked me on the shoulders with a long-handled zafu brush, and I felt motivated enough to go down for a little while...

We also threw in a Full Moon Ceremony on the morning of day six for good measure, and as part of my cunning plans to keep stress levels to a minimum, I had decided to be kokyo myself, which I haven't got to do since I have been ino, with Anna as the doan - we did one quick run through in the week before sesshin, just to check we had our timings down, and I was happy to forget about it until it came around. It was one of the highlights of the week though, as I felt pretty focused through the whole thing, and came away thinking I had done it as well as I ever had.

As usual, I was conflicted about taking photos during sesshin, but couldn't resist on a few occasions. Things tend to look so beautiful during sesshin. Well, some things, some of the time.

Chocolate-covered strawberries on day six - yes it is December, but it is California as well
Not too long after the first picture was taken
At the risk of turning into one of those food blogs - tangerines for the offering tray for Buddha's Enlightenment ceremony

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Head On Fire

As expected, there were a lot of things to wrap my head around for sesshin, and before I tackled it all this afternoon, it felt like an amorphous mass to to try and get into shape. I noticed the familiar symptoms of stress - a tightening feeling in my head, and of course in my shoulders - and found myself making mistakes: last night as doshi, I picked up my zagu after the first three prostrations, before realising where I was - my concentration was much sharper after that. For nenju today, as kokyo, even though I felt fully present, I managed to leave out the line "We are to practise constantly as if to save our heads from fire". Maybe because my head was already on fire.
Nonetheless, after lunch and a good dose of coffee, I sat down and pretty much sorted all the lists out in two hours, before turning to the myriad other details - wrapping new oryokis, distributing doan instructions, making sure all the chant sheets are in the right place... right now, sitting down for a moment after dinner, there are just a few loose ends to straighten out, though I will have to bathe and shave my head after the Refuges tonight.

Here is the list of attendance variables that I had to work with - as you can see, I was exaggerating slightly before; this is just over twenty people out of the sixty...

Sat, Sun, Mon, Tues 
Away Monday
Friday Saturday
Kitchen Sunday, Fri am
Missing Mon Tue pm, Thurs am, Fri pm
Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday
Monday, Wednesday Thursday pm
Mornings only
Mornings, Friday Saturday
Not  Tues am or Friday all day; kitchen pm
Not evenings
Not Saturday
Not Tues am or Friday pm
Sunday Tuesday Saturday
Sunday, Saturday, weekday mornings
Tues - Sat pm kitchen
Tuesday evening - Saturday
Two days of work somewhere
Wed, Thurs, Fri, Sat 
Wed, Thurs, Fri, Sat 
Wed, Thurs, Fri, Sat

With all that, I haven't had the head space to prepare myself for the fact that I am mostly going to be sitting a lot for the next seven days. Maybe once we get past the first day, it will start to sink in, and I will get a little chance to settle before I need to start preparing for Buddha's Enlightenment.
Back in a week...

The maple tree in the courtyard probably peaked yesterday

Friday, December 2, 2011

I Feel A Sesshin Coming On

Rohatsu begins tomorrow night, and as we all know, this is perhaps the most important event on the Buddhist calendar, commemorating as it does Buddha's whole-hearted sitting that brought him to enlightenment. It's always busy here at City Center. People ask me how many people are sitting, and I can honestly say I have no idea, though I am guessing around seventy. I could say that I haven't done any preparation for it at all, though that would not be entirely true - I have gone and bought bowls, spoons and chopsticks for new oryoki sets; ordered monju from Benkyodo for the offering at the annual Suzuki Roshi memorial ceremony, which will be on Sunday morning - it is now forty years since he died, which does not make him any less present here; rehearsed the drummers for Buddha's Enlightenment ceremony on the 10th, and asked the garden to make sure we have dried flowers and herbs to toss around the Buddha Hall as we circumambulate.
What I have not yet done is tackle any part of what are going to be very thorny logistics. I have been getting a stream of notes, emails and calls over the last month, from people who want to sit, but who can't sit the full seven days. It would be nice - or rather, convenient for me - just to say, it's all or nothing, but life in the city is not like that. People have appointments they need to keep, events to attend, work to take care of, but they still would like to sit as much as they can, and I have been saying, sure, we can accommodate that. So I would guess more than half the people coming are not going to be there for the whole thing, and I have to make sure I have seats for everyone, as well as viable serving and cleaning crews for each meal and so on.
I could have started trying to wrap my head around this earlier in the week, but I was feeling pretty under the weather. It is a given in a community like this - and even more so at Tassajara at the beginning of a practice period - that if a bug comes around, it goes around. Many people have been out of the schedule in the last couple of weeks, and it continues to spread. Generally I don't get sick very much; I am grateful for a good genetic constitution and a robust immune system. So this week, when I felt off colour from Monday through to Wednesday, was as bad as it has been for me in several years. Happily, getting outside on Wednesday on a wonderfully sunny day started to put me on the road to recovery - it is warm enough to be sitting typing this in a T-shirt right now, which is a reason to love California.
When I worked at the BBC, I had a simple criterion for whether I was too sick to go to work: if I couldn't face the five-mile bike ride to Bush House, I was too sick. I know for many people there is a lot of pressure to keep showing up even when they are not well, and it happens here too, even though we encourage people to take care of themselves. I feel a certain expectation that I should be in the zendo if possible, and while I felt rather out of it, especially on Tuesday, I was able to sit. On the other hand, I had no problem with resting during the day rather than attending to all the things in my inbox and on my desk, including sesshin planning. My brain felt too foggy to deal with all the details, and I knew that there would be a lot of changes before today anyway.
I hadn't planned to write about this, but after Mike's comment yesterday, I felt like I wanted to say something about practising with being sick. I remember at Tassajara, when I was on the  kitchen crew, I found myself really struggling with tiredness, from the combination of the tough schedule and the physical activity. I talked with Reb about it, and he asked what I was doing during break times. When it's time to rest, he recommended, you should rest. I have tried to abide by this guideline ever since; the ino's schedule can be pretty strenuous, and if I rest when I can, it makes it easier to have the energy to get through the remainder of it. This is one thing I always notice when I am feeling ill - I appreciate, from the lack of it, how much energy it takes to get through a normal day. I also find something comforting in feeling the effort my body is making to fight off the virus: I enjoy a good sweat, especially when it ends up breaking the fever. So can we appreciate being sick? Can we say, when it's time to be sick, just be sick? Perhaps, if we can take it as a message from our bodies to slow down and take care of ourselves, pause from our usual activities - if we are able to do so - and also be thankful for people's offers of medicine and help: I received a thermos full of delicious fresh ginger tea with lemon and honey, which Blanche brews up for people who are suffering, and which, along with the good wishes, was a great tonic.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Study Hall

"If you can appreciate each thing, one by one, then you will have pure gratitude. Even though you observe just one flower, that one flower includes everything. It is not just a flower. It is the absolute, it is Buddha himself. We see it in that way. But at the same time, that which exists is just a flower, and there is no-one to see it and nothing to be seen. That is the feeling we should have in our practice and in our everyday activity. Then, whatever work you do, you will have a continuous feeling of pure gratitude" - Branching Streams Flow In The Darkness, Suzuki Roshi.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Saying Goodbye

We had a leaving ceremony for Renee today, who is heading up the coast this weekend, first to be with her family, and then to study with Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche in Seattle. It was a moving ceremony for me; laughter and tears not far apart. Jordan, her teacher, spoke of her qualities, and asked her a question, and then, turning the usual form on its head, asked her if she wanted to ask Paul something, which she did. Paul got his question in afterwards though, as well as some beautiful words of appreciation.
The fluid nature of the residential sangha here is something I have written about before; there is a constant process of intimacy and parting, continually placing our wish for connection against the reality of impermanence. I have been happy and proud to have Renee as a friend, especially through the hard times of this year; I remember when she used to come as a volunteer dishwasher in the kitchen when I was tenzo, as well as helping Diana in the bookstore that she ended up running. As Jordan said, we would be sadder, except that we know she is doing the right thing for her life right now.
We also know that people never completely disappear from our lives, especially in the Mahasangha, and of course, these days, you can always keep in touch with people on their blogs...

Renee in her element, dancing at the Pride Parade this summer

The more contemplative side, on her favourite rock in the courtyard

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Study Hall

More from Branching Streams Flow In The Darkness: "So you may ask, 'What is the real teaching of Buddha?' If you don't understand it you will keep asking, 'What is it? What is it? What does it mean?' You are just seeking for something you can understand. We don't exist in that way. Dogen Zenji says, 'There is no bird who flies knowing the limit of the sky. There is no fish who swims knowing the end of the ocean'. We exist in the limitless universe. Sentient beings are numberless, and our desires are limitless, but we still have to continue making our effort just as a fish swims and a bird flies. So Dogen Zenji says, 'A bird flies like a bird; a fish swims like a fish'. That is the bodhisattva's way, and that is how we observe our practice".

Monday, November 28, 2011

Old Notes

While reading Branching Streams Flow In The Darkness, I have come across the bookmark I left in the book the first time I read it, during my first practice period at Tassajara in 2002. It is a little index card, and written in Sharpie on one side is : "Lantern #7 - Place on the outer perimeter to the right". I have no trouble remembering what this means.
During the first sesshin of the practice period, we were due a Full Moon Ceremony, and the ino that year, Melissa, wanted to do the ceremony at the memorial site. Along with Greg, Eric and Bob, I was deputed to carry the big bell from the zendo to the site, up the steep and narrow path. There was a yoke in the shop for just this purpose - obviously it was not the first time the bell had been moved, though I don't know if it had been taken up there before. I remember the trip being a little tricky as it was hard to walk two abreast up the path, but since I was several inches shorter than the other three guys, I didn't feel like I was taking much of the weight of the apparatus.
We must have done this right after lunch, and been given the work period off, as I found myself with a stretch of free time, and for some reason I decided to head up Hawk Mountain for the first time, up to the telephone tower. It was not a very sesshin-like thing to do, but was spectacular - I only wished I had taken my camera with me.
The ceremony itself was that evening, so the note referred to the lantern I was going to carry during the procession up from the work circle to the memorial site. I remember this stately lantern-lit procession to be very beautiful. As to the ceremony itself, I recall wanting the moon to come shining over the Flag Rock ridge, which it didn't during the ceremony; afterwards I walked the last few yards up to the ridge of the Hogsback to see it shining brightly onto the Three Treasures - sound familiar?
What occurred to me this morning, as I looked at the note again, was how I would have made an effort to get the lantern in the right place when we arrived, but how Melissa, as ino, for all her organisation and effort, may have had some feeling about her vision for the ceremony not quite coming to pass - perhaps this is always the dukkha of the ino. It was, obviously, still most memorable in its manifestation.

In 2007, we did the Annual Suzuki Roshi memorial at the memorial site - but we didn't bring the big bell

Looking down the path that leads up to the site
The even steeper trail leading up Hawk Mountain - this is also from 2007

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Speaking In Public

My talk on photography with the Gay Buddhist Sangha at Hartford Street went reasonably well; I was certainly made to feel most welcome, and people expressed their appreciation afterwards during the tea and cookies as they leafed through the albums I had brought along.
The only experience I have of talking in public for that long has been giving way-seeking mind talks, so I started with some biography just to get me grounded, as well as to introduce myself more fully - though I had been impressed that Albert remembered every detail from my biographical blurb when he introduced me at the outset. I felt like I set off strongly, then floated a bit vaguely in the middle before wrapping it up well enough with some quotes that worked at the theme from different angles, and luckily that was at about the time I was supposed to end. I have a feeling the audio may be posted online eventually, and I may get curious enough to listen back to it one of these days. To save you the trouble of that, here were the three closing quotes:

There is no closed figure in nature. Every shape participates with another. No one thing is independent of another, and one thing rhymes with another, and light gives them shape. - Henri Cartier-Bresson

In some photographs the essence of light and space dominate; in others, the substance of rock and wood, and the luminous insistence of growing things... It is my intention to present - through the medium of photography - intuitive observations of the natural world which may have meaning to spectators. - Ansel Adams

Dongshan asked Yunyen, "Who can hear the teachings of the insentient?"
Yunyen said, "It can be heard by the insentient."
Dongshan asked, "Do you hear it, Master?"
Yunyen said, "If I heard it, then you would not hear my teaching."
Dongshan answered, "That being the case, then I do not hear your teaching."
Yunyen replied, "You don't even hear my teaching, how could you hear the teachings of the insentient?" Dongshan was enlightened on hearing this and responded in verse:
    Wondrous! Marvelous!
    The teachings of the insentient are inconceivable.
    If you listen with the ears, you won't understand.

   When you hear with the eyes, then you will know.

It was a beautiful morning this morning - perhaps not quite this bright before the sun came up, but I'm still getting the hang of settings on the camera

A little later

Thursday, November 24, 2011

In A Holiday Mood

I will dust off my usual disclaimer about not being culturally attached to American holidays, but I also really appreciate the mood here the past twenty-four hours. There have been a number of people sick in the last couple of weeks, and people are tired, so the zendo has been far from full, but yesterday was one of those days where everyone was working harmoniously together to prepare for a celebration. Senior staff had volunteered to put together the Thanksgiving Eve dinner - we wanted it yesterday so that people could have two complete days off, which I am most grateful for - but in the kitchen there was a lot of activity from all quarters. My role was to make mashed potatoes, which I do have a cultural attachment to, and I managed to do that between setting up for the Thanksgiving service and the service itself.
We had just about the right number of people for both service and dinner - a full house without being overcrowded - and the food turned out delicious all round. We followed this up with a skit night, to which a lot of people contributed entertainment, including multi-media happenings and Genine's Half-Moon Ceremony, as well as the usual inspired silliness, poetry, music, singing and dancing. I took the opportunity to try out my new camera, though playing with the settings meant some of the pictures didn't turn out so well.
I can't say that I slept in much this morning, but it was nice to get up and just drink coffee and read the papers, and then help Myoki, who was making gingerbread muffins for everyone for breakfast. Ordinarily I would look on having two days off as a chance to get in two bike rides, but since it is throughly damp out there, and I am still wanting to let my wrist heal (riding on Sunday in even wetter conditions was not a great deal of fun), I am going to have a completely unscheduled day, something that happens very rarely, and seems very long and spacious.

Genine was one of the MCs for skit night

P, who observed "It's a potato", watching Renee demonstrating her iSpud

Tova said that skit night would not be complete without some Bach
Roger and Richard in 'R&R's 24-hour jiko service'

The finale: Richard's 'mosh pit', dancing to 'Billie Jean'

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Study Hall

Continuing with Branching Streams Flow In The Darkness; the second talk has a section that I know well, as there is a beautiful calligraphy version of it on the third floor here. This excerpt starts near the end of that version, which is about ki as potentiality:
"Ki sometimes means the 'interrelationship between someone who helps and someone who is helped'. This is also called jihi. Ji here means to encourage someone. Hi means to give happiness. Jihi is usually translated 'love'. Love has two sides. One is to give joy, yoraku, and the other is to lessen suffering, bakku. To lessen someone's suffering we suffer with them, we share their suffering. That is love.
So if someone is very good, we can share the joy of practice with them by giving them a good cushion, a good zendo, or something like that. But a zendo doesn't mean anything to someone who is suffering too much; whatever you give may not be accepted. Someone may say, 'I don't need it. I'm suffering too much. I don't know why. Right now to get out of suffering is the most important thing for me. You can't help me, nothing can help me'. When you hear this, you should be like Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva - you should become like the one who is suffering, and you should suffer as that person suffers. Because of your innate love, your instinctive love, you share the suffering. That is love in its true sense".

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

A New Eye

After a little over three and a half years, and some twenty five thousand pictures (doing the maths, it comes to about twenty pictures per day), I have replaced my well-loved Canon G9, in favour of a spanking new Fuji X10. This is my third digital camera - the first was also a Fuji, an E900, bought at the end of 2005, which never really recovered from being dropped in the creek at Tassajara. It remains to be seen if my photos get any better; I haven't taken one so far that is worth putting up here. And it certainly won't help me write the talk I am due to give this Sunday at Hartford Street...

Monday, November 21, 2011

Study Hall

I was moved this morning to pick up Branching Streams Flow in the Darkness, and enjoy once again how Suzuki Roshi can say that most profound things without even seeming to. I found a good passage for Young Urban Zen tonight, and also, a page or two later, this:
"When you feel you are somebody, you have to practice zazen harder. As you know, it is difficult to sit without thinking or feeling. When you don't think or feel, you usually fall asleep. But without sleeping and without thinking, just to be yourself is our practice. When you can do that, you will be able to speak without thinking too much, and without having any special purpose. When you speak or act, it will be just to express yourself. That is complete self-respect. To practice zazen is to attain this kind of self-respect. You must be strict with yourself and escpecially with your tendencies. We each have our own unique personal tendencies. But if you try to get rid of them, or if you try not to think, or not to hear the stream during zazen, it is not possible. Let your ears hear without trying to hear. Let the mind think without trying to think and without trying to stop it. That is practice.
More and more, you will have this rhythm as the power of practice. If you practice hard you will be like a child. While we were talking about self-respect, a bird was singing outside. Peep-peep-peep. That's self-respect. Peep-peep-peep. It doesn't mean anything. Maybe he was just singing. Maybe without trying to think he was just singing, peep-peep-peep. When we heard it we couldn't stop smiling. We cannot say that it is just a bird. It controls the whole mountain, the whole world. That is self-respect".

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Notes From A One-Day Sitting

As breakfast dragged on, I began to wonder if I was going to get to leave the zendo before I had to come back. It was a close-run thing in the end: although the zendo was not quite as full as on the last couple of one-days, there wasn't enough cereal in the pots, so the servers had to keep making round trips to fill in the gaps, and I was watching the time just slip away and noticing how stressed I got. At lunch, by way of a contrast, since there is always something of a break no matter how long the meal goes, I was completely relaxed.
Other things that I noticed today: the Self-Receiving and -Employing Samadhi certainly sounds better with a few periods of zazen inside you. I haven't felt fully connected with it during our noon services this practice period, but today felt different.
While my wrist still got a little sore holding the mudra over time, my legs were doing just fine on the whole - perhaps they were glad not to be the centre of attention. During the afternoon, my brain became less of a solid obstacle, and the information in my spine was more readily accessible.
It was wonderful to have a full zendo chanting the Dai Hi Shin Dharani before dinner, and the Refuges at the end of the evening. Also wonderful to put a call out for people to help with evening dishes, and to go into the kitchen to see half a dozen people working away to get things done. Together, the sitting happens. Then we go our separate ways in the rainy evening.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Study Hall - Extensive Record

"The true Dharma eye treasury transcends brightness and darkness. Patch-robed monks' nostrils disregard both enlightenment and delusion. So it is said, 'A broken mirror does not illuminate or reflect. A fallen flower does not jump back onto the branch'. Why is this so? Great assembly, do you want to understand this clearly?
After a pause, Dogen said: Buddha's children abide in this land, and this is Buddha's fulfillment. Always remaining among them, [Buddha] does walking meditation, sits and lies down".

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Offering Incense

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Study Hall - Extensive Record

In addition to the photo assignment I mentioned yesterday, I did a similar job a couple of weeks ago for another friend for their website, and got paid handsomely for my time. Having long wished to add it to my collection, I went to the bookstore on Saturday and picked up Dogen's Extensive Record. This is something I intend to dip in and out of rather than read front to back, but here is a selection:
"Seeing Buddha, we make prostrations to Buddha; riding an ox, we search for the ox. Why is it like this? This is the reality of our practice. Where wisdom does not reach, totally avoid speaking. If you speak, horns grow on your head.
Dogen held up his whisk and said: Horns have even now grown on our heads, and we have been speaking. Already there are horns. Is this an ox or a horse; Gautama or Bodhidharma? Wind whistles through the branches; rain breaks up the clumps of earth. Toads croak and earthworms cry out. Simply see that peach blossoms open by the mountain huts. A thousand gates and ten thousand doors face the valley streams in spring.
Dogen put down his whisk and descended from the seat".

Moon rising last night
A misty autumnal morning

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

On The Mend

That I didn't go to Young Urban Zen last night points to the difference between physical pain and emotional pain. There have been a couple of occasions these past five months - not least the very first meeting - where my mood on the day did not seem conducive to being in the group, but I found on each occasion that allowing myself to be with the people who were there not only eased my mental afflictions, but sometimes completely transformed them.
Yesterday did not feel like that. I tried working in the morning, but soon realised that typing emails and rifling through old Mountain Seat folders for useful information was not helping my wrist at all. Happily, I had previously arranged for a friend to come by after lunch: I took pictures of her for her website, and in exchange had an awesome shiatsu massage. After which I wasn't much good for anything. I sat afternoon zazen, but was deeply tired, and felt that my body just needed to rest. While I had fun playing with being right-handed - though trying to serve myself mushrooms at dinner using tongs reminded me of one of those fairground grabbers in my chances of success - I decided that I didn't have enough energy to bring to the meeting, and took myself upstairs for an early night.
I got a solid eight hours of sleep, which is a rare enough tonic itself around these parts, and felt markedly better this morning. The swelling is down, movement and grip are better and my body feels more settled. What I did find hard was keeping my mudra in zazen, but then I noticed how having my arms in any other position really completely changed my experience of sitting. As it happens, the passage I had chosen for YUZ last night was from Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind, and it started "The most important things in our practice are our physical posture and our way of breathing".

Monday, November 14, 2011


We are always telling people how practice is a question of dealing with the situation you find yourself in, and I find myself in an interesting situation right now. Yesterday, close to the end of a nice long ride to the Bovine with Clay, we reached the near end of Golden Gate Park, and were waiting to cross Kezar for the final charge down Oak Street. I reached out to a barrier to balance myself, sat back, and the next thing I knew, I was flat on my backside: the bolt holding my saddle to the seat-post had sheared off. Several people stopped to help and check as to my well-being; luckily the fleshy parts had taken much of the impact, but I had also put my left hand down instinctively, and I could feel that my wrist was going to be hurting.
We gathered up all the bits and rode the last mile or so home, me unable to sit down, but it wasn't far enough to make that uncomfortable. I put an ice pack on my wrist right away, and also, over the course of the day, rested, compressed and elevated. I had most of the usual movement in my hand, but I didn't have any grip strength. The one thing I did that was less advisable was take my other bike and ride down to the Mission in the evening, as a friend of mine was hosting an event I did not want to miss, but it was quite painful trying to hold onto the bars.
I suspected I might not sleep so well, and so it turned out, waking many times to try to find again a neutral position for my wrist where it was not so sore. This morning, the person who was supposed to be stepping in as fukudo had obviously forgotten, but I found I couldn't get dressed fast enough to get downstairs in time to run the wake-up bell myself, and was worried as to whether I would be able to hit the han or carry the bell - since I normally do all these things left-handed. Luckily I came across Jay, who is one of the people here most likely to say yes to whatever request is made of him, so he was able to take care of it.
Sitting zazen was not difficult, and I managed to put on my okesa and spread my zagu, just more slowly and clumsily than I am used to. Gassho was not so easy, as I didn't want to press my palms together hard or bend the wrist back. At breakfast I was offered arnica and other remedies, and everyone expressed their concern. I am finding typing easy enough, but we will see what else I am able to do in this cack-handed state today.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Sitting Out

Last night I stuffed a zafu and zabuton into my bag and rode down Market Street to join the sitting being offered by Green Gulch residents. There was an interesting debate last week on the Facebook wall about whether Zen Center was endorsing the Occupy movement by promoting this event, and I don't think I have anything intelligent to add to the views already expressed. This was my first time down in that part of town since the Occupy movement started; there was a certain visual incongruity of seeing the encampment along the Embarcadero - and also outside the Federal Bank where we were sitting - but then I also found the illuminated snow flake decorations along Market Street pretty incongruous.
I thought I was late, but when I arrived, I found only Laura and Jamie - the Green Gulch contingent were down listening to the general assembly, so by the time Johan, Qayyum, Maria, Rihanna and the others came along with the candles and cardboard to sit on, I was already settling into some sitting. There were some people agitated at what was supposed to be a gas leak a block away, which turned out not to be anything to worry about. I watched people walking by, city dwellers, camp dwellers, many of whom went to and fro several times. There were security guards on the other side of the barriers, and I guess they would probably be fired if they were seen to be sitting down; they paced up and down, chatted and joked with each other to pass the time, and only came over after a woman who was reading the sign tripped over the leg of a barrier and fell flat on her face. There was the noise of the building's air conditioning, the rumble of streetcars and of skateboards; a saxophone across the street played 'Lara's Theme' from Dr Zhivago and other doleful tunes. I reflected how just a day before I had been sitting out on the roof at sunrise, and here I was sitting on the pavement, looking up at people just as beggars do. Only we were not begging for anything, just being there, sitting together for all beings, as the sign says. Afterwards, we gathered into a circle and chanted the Loving Kindness Meditation, and I remembered chanting it before the Pride procession started, just a few blocks away. When Qayyum intoned a long, hand-written eko, I wondered if it sounded like a manifesto to the people walking past.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Currency Of Ideas

I recently took an unprecedented step: although one of the perks of living in community is almost guaranteed access to other people's New Yorkers, when I was sent an unsolicited offer of a subscription at what seemed like a paltry price for something that is my main source of mental nourishment, I though it was only decent to fork out for my own copies (which I can then make available to others).
In the first issue I received, I was taken with an article on the Iliad. For all my fancy education, I have not read it (nor the Odyssey, come to that, though I did make it through Ulysses over the course of one summer a few years ago), and I am not so animated by the topic of different schools of thought on authorship and translation that was the point of the article - though of course there are interesting parallels, as with anything that old, with the authenticity of Buddhist sutras and whether or not it matters.
The one thing that most captured my imagination was this: "the verbs and pronouns used in the scene are of a special type called the 'dual' which can be employed only for pairs of things (eyes, legs, oxen, etc)". What an amazing linguistic concept - one which, me being me, brought to mind Dogen, and his notion of 'only a Buddha and a Buddha': "Buddha dharma cannot be known by a person. For this reason, since olden times no ordinary person has realised Buddha dharma. No practitioner of the lesser vehicles has mastered Buddha dharma. Because it is realised by Buddhas alone, it is said only a Buddha and a Buddha can completely master it" (Yuibutsu Yobutsu). We were saying something not so dissimilar in Young Urban Zen this week - while you have to do the work yourself to develop your wisdom and compassion, it doesn't amount to anything until you are meeting another person face-to-face.

Gratuitous moon shot from before afternoon zazen

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

My Fifteen Seconds

I didn't manage to get much work done today: we had a film crew coming to shoot various things, so I was on hand to let them in at 5:30, right after the jundo. I had not quite anticipated that there would be five people and a couple of dozen big cases - when I worked in radio, our field recordings were always done with such a nimble set-up that I forget that adding pictures to the process makes life so much more complicated.
It wasn't exactly arduous though: my first job was to sit zazen on a platform on the roof as part of a time lapse sequence involving the solar panels (the project is about religious communities and alternative energy, and is being made by the people who made The Cove). I managed to sit still for a while,  and had the bonus of getting to see a beautiful sunrise from outside for once. I also got filmed hitting the big bell in the Buddha Hall, being doshi for noon service, and playing the han and densho downstairs. None of these things is hard for me to do, but it is interesting how knowing I was being filmed brought an extra immediacy and presence to each activity, even with the inevitable numerous takes that were involved for each shot set-up.
Additionally I was asked to say a few words on camera about how our practice and alternative energy intersect. This was a little harder to do convincingly, but I have learnt from my years in radio that if you talk to someone for fifteen minutes, you are probably only going to use fifteen seconds of that; I trust that the producers can find at least that much usable material.
Of course I was getting a certain amount of teasing about being in the spotlight, and of course I noticed how my ego was responding to being the centre of attention. In truth, my left arm is probably going to get more exposure than the rest of me.

Setting up the shot on the roof
Shooting on the roof at sunrise - photo courtesy of Adrienne
Lighting the han
Oh, and we have a Full Moon Ceremony tonight