Monday, January 17, 2011

Altar Space

After Chris' question the other day, I was prompted to look through my files to see what pictures I have taken of my altars over the years. The oldest digital one I could find was this, from my first practice period back at Tassajara in 2006, when I was living in the Gatehouse. I am assuming it was a personal day, as my oryoki bowls are unwrapped, so I must have been washing the cloths.

Other conspicuous objects are my first kechimyaku, a picture of my great-great grandfather James, a jizo from Great Vow, a Manjushri that was given to me when I left the kitchen as fukaten in 2005, and above all of those, a calligraphy that Daigaku did for me of the kanji 'sho jin', or diligence. You will see most of these things in subsequent photos.
Fast forward a year or so, to cabin 14:

 I think I took this picture mainly for the cherry blossom branch, but in the gloom you can make out most of the same objects, as well as the wrapped oryoki, and some of my favourite stones.
Next, having moved down to less luxurious summer quarters at Tassajara:

Now, we are back in the city, in the other corner room, one of the rooms that has this sweet small shelf that is just right for a basic altar:

The two smallish calligraphies came from an artist in Pacific Grove - one of them came from a wonderful machine called 'Art By The Inch', a converted cigarette machine, where, if you inserted something like $3.50 in quarters, you could buy an artwork. The one on the left is the kanji for faith; the one on the right I found in an empty room at Tassajara, and is the kanji for horse (I will explain the appropriateness of this sometime). The calendar below was by Ninsho, who also did a drawing I have on the altar in the ino's office right now.

Now we are onto the room I have just moved out of. The incensor I bought from Richard Urban at his previous show in the art lounge; the fan, which the eagle-eyed among you might spot furled in an earlier picture, is a memento from my last practice period at Tassajara - the teacher traditionally gives all the students a piece of art to commemorate their participation. The Buddha statue was a tokudo present, as was the piece of manzanita. The blue cloth is an old prayer flag - I think I told someone that I found it on Flag rock after the fire, but then I wasn't sure if that was the case; I think I gave that one to someone else. In any case, it was a remnant of a set of prayer flags that had been hanging somewhere high over Tassajara - one summer, I was part of a plot to put up flags on the highest points around Tassajara in various directions. I suspect they all got burned in the fire - maybe I will post those photos sometime...
And so to the present. The lotus picture was another practice period offering by Linda Ruth, you can see various scrolls of poems and picures that people have given me over the years; the mountain painting was another tokudo present, and there is also the mala I found at Tassajara that nobody claimed, and my current rakusu sitting on top of the old blue one, as well as the current selection of stones, which come from Canada, Tassajara, Ocean Beach and Cornwall to the best of my memory.


Sandy's witterings said...

I enjoyed this wee nosey at your various alters through the years - seeing the connections between one and the other. It's a bit like getting a good look at somebodys bookshelf - they're more than just places to store books - they're little stories in themselves.

My ex kept an alter - a very interesting thing it was too with her magical tool and crystals and general stuff pertaining to her pagan beliefs. Me, well I'm a spiritually interested type, but being quite secular in my outlook I don't keep one - or maybe I do. The last picture a couple of blogs ago ( ) perhaps is, once you take away the tea and notebook. It's got little things of significance - some pictures of favorite art, a couple of chips of sandstone from the sculpture symposium, 3 pine cones my 6 year old daughter asked me to look after for her last year and loads of other things. Just as many of your things would seem to be personal reminders rather than particularly Buddhist things (do cut plants like St Peters Ale)

Shundo said...

Oh I love looking through people's bookcases - and record/CD collections, though these are pretty thin on the ground these days - you can't really ask someone if you can scroll through their iTunes in the same way, can you?
As for your personal altar, I think the tea and the notebook would be integral parts of it, but the other things sound just right as well. Things of significance indeed.
I wondered about telling the story of the St Peter's Ale - it was the last beer I drank on the way in to Tassajara in 2006, and I kept the bottle as it is such a distinctive shape. The flowers seem to enjoy it too.

Chris said...


Rightly or wrongly, I feel very honored to have inspired a post on your blog. Thank you for sharing your photos. Here is a photo I took of my altar (still quite early in development). I do really like the Japanese minimalist approach, but also I have very little to put out on it (I keep my rakusu underneath inside the cabinet section). The bell was purchased at Zen Center Los Angeles. I bought the buddha statue in a shop on 4th ave in my hometown Tucson AZ (bohemian sector of town... and I mistakenly thought it was a statue commemorating the lotus flower incident on vulture peak, only to find out much later this is actually 'medicine buddha') along with the incense burner. It's not traditional, I know, and the yin-yang is Taoist. But it and the sage wand in back is a manifestation of my fondness for eclecticism. I did the crayon drawing. The buddha outside, inside, and in negative both inside and outside the radiant pink outline. I called it Cosmic Buddha.

Shundo said...

Minimal and eclectic at the same time - a nice beginning.

Jeannie said...

I really like the fan!

I also enjoyed the picture of your great great-grandfather. As a volunteer genealogist, I would be happy to assist you with any family research, if you have such an interest. Please see my blogs if are indeed interested.

And thank you again for your suggestion from the other day. Hope you don't mind if I hang out on your blog for a while.


Shundo said...

Hi Jeannie,

Feel free to hang out and browse through the archives - I forget what is there myself sometimes. Thanks for the genealogy offer - in fact, that side of the family is very easy to trace as they lived in the hamlet in Cornwall that bears our name for the best part of six hundred years, and left a lot of records behind. I became very interested in all this when I was cleaning out the cellars of the family law firm twenty or so years ago, and now my sister has done all the online work to flesh out many different branches of the family. I have my own version of the Buddhas and Ancestors lineage which goes back fourteen generations I think.