Monday, February 28, 2011

A Peaceful Life

This morning I was looking ahead to Wednesday morning's service, when we commemorate Katagiri Roshi, who played an important part in the development of Zen Center. I remember Blanche commenting last year that she didn't like the photo we usually placed on the altar for the ceremony as he looked so stern in it, and she remembered him always laughing. So I googled some photos; unfortunately, trying to get a decent size for printing out limited my choice a little, but there were some wonderful old photos, that moved me in a very particular way. I think it is something to do with a real sense of presence and concentration.

These pictures came from here and here, both of which are fine places to learn more about our teachers, and I hope they don't mind.
I am also lobbying to include his poem A Peaceful Life in the service, as it is something we have chanted at noon service in the past:

Being told that is impossible
One believes, in despair, “Is that so?”
Being told it is possible,
One believes, in excitement, “That’s right.”
But, whichever is chosen,
It does not fit one’s heart neatly.
Being asked, What is unfitting?”
I don’t know what it is.
But my heart knows somehow.
I feel an irresistible desire to know.
What a mystery “human” is.
As to this mystery:
Knowing how to live,
Knowing how to walk with people,
Demonstrating and teaching,
This is the Buddha.
From my human eyes,
I feel it’s really impossible to become a Buddha.
But this “I,” regarding what the Buddha does,
Vows to practice,
To aspire,
To be resolute,
And tells myself, “Yes I will.”
Just practice right here now,
And achieve continuity,
Endlessly, forever.
This is living in vow.
Herein is one’s peaceful life found.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

The Working Week

As Jordan was doing the dedication for nenju before lunch today, I was having a flashback to standing on the engawa at Tassajara, the doors to the zendo open, and the kokyo chanting the same words, past the leader of the practice period, who would be standing on the other side of the threshold, into the empty zendo. As I have undoubtedly written before, nenju marks the end of the practice week - here more clearly than at Tassajara, where there is still an evening and a morning of sitting before the personal day begins - and is a way for everyone to offer gratitude to each other for their support in our practice.
I had just one more thing to do, sit at the newcomers' table, which was, as ever, a wonderful way to meet people. Today's conversations were quite inspiring and moving, how people's lives are unfolding and how events have brought them here today, how Mark's talk this morning spoke to people in their difficult situations.
This week has been a fairly tranquil one for me, especially after the busy-ness of last week, and compared to how it will be in a couple of weeks with Lou's funeral, which we are already planning seriously for. There were no ceremonies, no special events, though of course I went to the zendo every morning and every afternoon, and noon service every day. I had a chance to really take care of some things in the ino realm that required some focused attention, which is not always afforded me in the working day: I spent a whole morning doing the accounting for the big order of incense, breaking down the costs and apportioning them to the different areas; I managed to put eight or nine talks online, including a batch from the first sesshin of the current practice period at Tassajara; I wrote out a proposal for new sound equipment for the Buddha Hall and dining room to take into account our greater need for flexibility with events and formats, and to be able to incorporate the livestream more easily, and having taken care of those things, I feel a certain amount of relief that they are not hanging over me.
And now, since the forecast snow does not seem to be materialising, I am going to go out and enjoy myself.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Everyday Mind Is The Way

Sometimes questions and answers arrive together. There have been interesting discussions in both the Practice Committee and Senior Staff meetings this week, touching on our priorities at City Center, where we put our energies, how we manifest practice, on the one hand in regard to work practice for residents, but also about how we present it to the people who come to the temple. Was it, for example, too much of a scary proposition to tell people that the way to practise is to make it your life, and not just something to dip into?
A phrase from the Harada Roshi book came to mind yesterday when we were talking about this: "To speak of 'Everyday Mind' is to look upon your whole life from morning until evening as the way and as your practice". And then Blanche last night started her talk by quoting from a 1966 lecture on the Genjo Koan, given by Suzuki Roshi, in the days before City Center or even Tassajara:
"What I noticed here, you know, in observing your practice, you are not completely involved in practice—our practice.  Your practice is part of [laughs] you—just a small part of your life.  One hour or two hours in 12—24 hours [laughs].  That is your practice.  So instead of practicing zazen here two hours, you think you can do something—if there is something good, better—it may be better to do something [laughs]—something else instead of practicing zazen.  This is—I think you [laughs]—still you have this kind of attitude.
But Buddhism is not—our practice is not like that.  Our practice—if we are not completely involved in our practice, that is not our practice.  It is not one hour of 24 hours.  So if you—if I scold you, you may [laughs]—you may go out.  If I give you some candy, you will stay here [laughs, laughter].  I dare say you are impossible [laughs, laughter].  You are just like child [laughs], because, you know, you lack in—you lack in your confidence to study it as a whole life study.  Actually, you cannot get out of Buddhism.  It is impossible to get out of it, but still you think you can, you know, go out from Buddhism, go out from Zen—from this zendō.  Actually, once you enter, that’s all [laughs, laughter].  Some day you’ll have to come back.  I know that [laughs].  I myself tried to get out of it many times [laughs], but I couldn’t".

Study Hall

More from Harada Roshi's teishos: "Illusion means to see one thing as two things. Illusion is to see things from the viewpoint of the ego/self, to create a distance and a distinction between subject and object and to perceive as existing something which doesn't exist. Truth is your condition right now. Regardless of what that condition may be, it is the truth. Because you aren't aware that this is the truth, you look elsewhere...
Regardless of whether a person has realized the way or not, however, no-one can explain the present. It is precisely because this reality cannot be expressed in words, that we are always living peacefully in a world of nothingness. 'Now' is a condition where there is really nothing, and that is the real Buddha in his pure, undefiled aspect".
Reading words like this, I feel weight lifted from my heart.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Stepping In

Wednesday afternoon zazen is often sparsely attended - residents and practice period participants are upstairs having the practice period tea in the dining room - and today I had to do a bit of running around to get the doan jobs covered. After I had rung the three bells to begin the period, two pairs of people came in, one after the other. I didn't recognise any of them, and I could tell that they had the hesitancies of newcomers, but I was really touched to see, as they sat down in the quadrant closest to my seat, that one of each pair was demonstrating the forms to their friend to make them feel more comfortable as they took their place. I sat with a big smile on my face.

Study Hall

Having reached the end of the first volume of the Shobogenzo, I thought I would take a little break and read something else. There was something particular I have been wanting to read as well, Talks on Yoka Daishi's "Song of Realization" by Sekkei Harada Roshi. I have been interested in Yoka Daishi, or Yongjia, since I first started reading about Buddhism, and particularly his famous exchange with Daikan Eno, or Hui-neng, which I first encountered in this book, where many koan stories are brought to life.
Over the years, I have noticed that nobody here ever talks about the Shodoka, or the Song of Realization, so when I found references to it in Deshimaru's writings, or Nyogen Senzaki's, I was always curious to find out more. I even offered a class on it at Tassajara one summer, when students are given the opportunity to do such a thing, compensating for my lack of understanding with my enthusiasm for the subject. None of the translations I have found have completely satisfied, but this one and this one are the most popular.
I had never heard of Sekkei Harada's commentary on the work, but discovered this small anonymous-looking booklet in Jerome's effects, and asked if I could read it. I have enjoyed reading The Essence of Zen several times, as well as having attended study classes on it with Daigaku, who speaks of his master in the highest terms, and right off the bat, these teishos are deeply inspiring:
"Of the religions of the world we can say that many or even most are comprised of seams or knots which connect the separation between Man and God, Man and Buddha or between Man and Nature. In truth there is no such borderline, and I would like you to realize that there is no reason such a division should exist. The ego/self has created distance between self and other things and then purposely joined them together again. Consequently if the ego/self is forgotten, one becomes the origin, becomes all things. This is an unmistakable fact".

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Sounds of the Zendo

One of the great joys of doing exactly the same thing every day is that you get to be comfortably familiar with regular occurrences, and more attuned to the things that change. Right now, patches of snow notwithstanding, spring is on its way, and it is starting to get light just before the end of second period in the morning. I am also starting to hear birdsong during the morning sitting. I leave it to someone more versed in the local fauna to identify the bird in question - my usual excuse for my ignorance in these matters is that this is not my bio-region, and where I come from we don't have such specimens, or they look different, like robins, and oak trees. Anyway, I know that these birds nest around Page Street, so it is nice to hear them again, alongside the more familiar sounds.
There are always the waves of traffic coming down the hill on Oak Street, streaming through the green lights, subsiding into quietness when the lights change further west. Usually, right after I arrive in the zendo, I hear a Harley-type motorbike which makes its presence felt with a little twist of the throttle as it cruises down across Laguna Street. There is someone who lives on Lily Alley who gets in their car to go to work at six ten, just as we settle down to second period, and on Tuesday mornings, there is the Green Gulch truck, the rear sliding door clanking shut after the compost buckets are loaded. When there is fog in the Golden Gate, we can hear the deep harmonies of the foghorns on the bridge. Even in the busier soundscape of evening zazen, I measure the progress of the period by hearing church bells striking six o'clock.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Blossoms and Snow

One reason I was drawn to what you might call Buddhist philosophy for want of a better word, was that it cut through the absolute, while I always found Western thinking and writing to be circling frustratingly, and frustratedly, around it. But of course I find ample examples where the two approaches align around making sense of the human condition. Reading in the New Yorker about George Eliot (reminding me that I read 'Middlemarch' while crossing Europe in trains at the age of eighteen - having got through 'Pride and Prejudice' before I reached Paris, in the days before the Eurostar, I was glad to have something with a little more heft), the following two sections struck me: the writer of the article outlines "a notion that is at the center of much of Eliot's work: that individuals must make their best efforts toward a worthy end, but it is the effort toward a goal, rather than the achievement of it, that makes us who we are". And this: "In response to the enthusiastic reception of the first volume of 'Middlemarch', Eliot wrote, 'Hardly anything could have happened to me which I could regard as a greater blessing than this growth of my spiritual existence when my bodily existence is decaying. The merely egoistic satisfactions of fame are easily nullified by toothache, and that has been my chief consciousness for the last week'".

Our full week is done now. We had our Full Moon Ceremony on Friday morning, and a one-day sitting yesterday, neither of which I feel I have anything interesting to say about. Yesterday we finished with a shosan where Michael, Great Dragon, made quick work of people's stuck thinking, turning over concepts with a phrase, and in one case, a great shout.

In the realm of changes, California winter weather rarely disappoints. I have overused these past ten years the line 'rough winds do shake the darling buds of February' in writing to my family. A fortnight ago, we were basking in eighty degree weather; last weekend I was taking pictures of the crowds in the sun at Crissy Fields, and wishing I had taken my camera for the sunlit blossoms at Green Gulch. Today the happy crowds were up on Mt Tam, where the soaking of the last week left snow on the ground on the upper slopes. When I went out on my bike this morning, glad that the skies had cleared, I soon realised that I just had to go and pay it a visit. Luckily the higher roads were closed to cars, so there were just hikers and cyclists out testing their grip, along with the deer and coyotes - I thought of going to the summit, but ice on the road by the amphitheatre made that seem like a bad idea. It was wonderfully liberating to be out there with the quiet of the snow, with the familiar feeling of flatness once you descend to where the ground is bare. This snow will be even more fleeting than the blossoms.

The snow on Mount Tam reflecting the rising sun, as seen from the roof

Friday, February 18, 2011

Study Hall - Shobogenzo

Dogen was really on a roll in 1243, just before he took his monks off to Echizen province to start constructing Eiheiji. Here is 'Bodhisattva's Four Methods of Guidance', 'Bodaisatta Shi Shoho': "When you leave the way to the way, you attain the way. At the time of attaining the way, the way is always left to the way. When treasure is left just as treasure, treasure becomes giving...
To launch a boat or build a bridge is an act of giving. If you study closely, you see that to accept a body and to give up the body are both giving. Making a living and producing things can be nothing other than giving. To leave flowers to the wind, to leave birds to the seasons, are also acts of giving".
Apart from giving, the other methods of guidance are kind speech, beneficial action and identity action: "'Identity action' means nondifference. It is nondifference from self, nondifference from others".

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Standard Observances

I have been distracted from Dogen by delving into the 'Gyoji Kihan' again. This started when Blanche was trying to remember if the shuso should be doing her morning jundo with her hands in gassho or whether she just does a gassho bow at the beginning of each tan. Now, to many of you, this may seem both esoteric and trite, but we take these things kind of seriously, and of course, when we don't know what to do, we have two options: we ask other people who might know such a thing what their opinion is, or we go and look at the definitive Japanese version.
It was easy to find the right section, in fact it was right up there on page five: 'Head Seat Tours Hall' (you have to read the Gyoji Kihan with your mental thesaurus open - the 'head seat' here means the shuso, whom I have also seen referred to as the 'chief junior'). Unfortunately, the eleven lines of text which outline the form for the head seat touring the hall do not include any mention of whether her hands are in gassho or not.
Still, I enjoyed reading other little snippets while I had the book down off the shelf. Just above that paragraph, in the section called 'Sequence for Entering Hall', I read "Coming early is acceptable, but coming late is especially admonished", which I shall certainly be using in some of my upcoming pep talks...

I also discovered that our form of hitting the densho eighteen times during the first period of zazen is actually an abbreviated version of a pattern of 108 hits that should be done, in three rounds of 36. What is more useful to me is the instruction that the shoten, or 'bell manager' as they are referred to here, "mentally recites Verse for Bell Ringing while striking bell. Verse for Bell Ringing is as follows:

May living beings of the dharma realms,
Stifled and mired in bitterness
In the three painful destinies and eight hardships
Hear the sound and awaken to the way".

We have this verse on the densho in kanji, and a translation of it hanging on the wall, so I have added this to the shoten instructions.

Finally on this trawl, instructions for the meal drum, which we do at breakfast as we offer food to Manjushri: "Using drumsticks in tandem, three sequences of great pounding. For opening beats, progress from light pounding to great pounding".
On the current instructions we call it a crescendo. When I first lived here, and was the fukudo, repsonsible for playing the drum, I definitely gave it a great pounding, as I enjoyed hearing the drum reverberate around the corridors. At Tassajara, where the drum is outside, you don't get that same resonance. I was determined to hit it just as hard though, the problem being that the drum is directly outside the zendo windows, just a shoji screen away from some people's ears. Having received a bit of feedback, I went to ask Blanche if she thought my drumming had been too loud. "Well, the important thing is the crescendo" she replied, which I understood as her polite way of telling me, yes, it was way too loud.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011


Parinirvana always makes me cry. Even when I have to organise the whole ceremony, there is something about sitting in the darkened zendo with everyone facing in, a votive candle lit on the mealboard in front of each person, listening to the text being read, that brings tears. Jordan always does a fine job with the reading; this year we had brought the drum into the zendo, and Joan put a lot of energy into the noise-making and the big hits, which had quite an impact on people as well.
"And the gods in all the heavens uttered verses, and the deer from the hillsides came to watch in rapt attention, and the stars and the planets shone brightly, and the small plants turned their leaves a little to the north, the trees arched more closely toward the sky, foxes slowed down in their loping, frogs ceased their croaking for a moment, birds perched, and children in their beds turned over and awoke in wonder.

Those monks who had not yet let go of their desires wept, and tore their hair, raised their arms, threw themselves down, twisting and turning and crying out, “The light of the world has gone out! But those monks who were free of clinging endured mindfully and clearly aware, weeping softly and saying:

All things in this world break up
Even the Buddha without peer,
This day has passed on. 

And they remembered the Buddha’s last words:

If you have doubts about the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha or about the path or the practice, ask other monks. Do not afterwards feel remorse. Let one friend ask another. Encourage each other in the way.
It may be that you will think the teacher’s instructions have ceased, but it should not be seen like this. For what I have taught shall be your teacher, all living beings shall be your teacher, this bright world, and your very mind itself, shall be your teacher.
Be as lamps unto yourselves. Light your dharma candle and pass on the light throughout the generations and to everyone in this world

After this part, we go up to the Buddha Hall. I talked everyone through the circumambulation yesterday, and that went very smoothly today, but the incense offering went a little slowly, and we had to start a third round of the Dai Hi Shin Dharani while the last people made it back to their places, and I could feel the energy of the chanting flag a little. I tried to make the eko as rousing as possible:

Buddha manifests body and all beings are saved;
All beings saved, the Buddha body is manifested.
This morning having collected ourselves in our sitting,

we have offered light, incense, flowers, sweet water, rice and tea,
and have chanted the Heart of Great Wisdom Sutra
and the Dharani of Great Compassion 

­     We now commemorate Shakyamuni Buddha’s great and perfect nirvana

      and enter the merit stream of the Buddha’s Teaching Body, 

      which transcends desire and uses this body to liberate all forms of delusion. 

With boundless gratitude we vow to practice the Way of Buddha.

It is a dramatic morning out there - the past few weeks of warm sunny weather gave way to a stormy week. After breakfast, a flash hail storm, a fleeting rainbow. I suspect Buddha's hand in this:
Around eight o'clock
Half an hour or so later

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Study Hall - Shobogenzo

"Although there are originally no flowers, there are flowers such as peach, apricot, plum, and willow. So we say that a plum tree did not blossom yesterday, but blossoms in spring.
Thus, when the time comes, flowers open. This is the moment of flowers, the arrival of flowers. At this very moment of flowers arriving, there is no other way. Plum and willow flowers unfailingly bloom on plum and willow trees. You see the flowers and know plum and willow trees. You understand flowers by looking at plum and willow trees. Peach and apricot flowers have never bloomed on plum and willow trees. Plum and willow flowers bloom on plum and willow trees. Peach and apricot flowers bloom on peach and apricot trees. Flowers in the sky bloom in the sky in just this way. They do not bloom on other grasses or trees...
Those who assume that flowers in the sky are not real and other flowers are real have not seen or heard the Buddha's teaching. To hear the words that the sky originally had no flowers and assume that the flowers in the sky that did not exist do exist now is a lesser view based on shallow thinking. Step forward and think deeply" - 'Flowers in the Sky', 'Kuge'.

Monday, February 14, 2011


I have never much been one for planning my future. Which is just as well: if I had had any plans for myself eleven or twelve years ago, I would probably not have taken the opportunity to move to Zen Center when it arose. At the time I had a nice life in London, a great job, a lovely flat, a steady group of friends, and a jazz band - but I always had the idea in the back of my head that something else would happen. I just didn't know what.
These days I have formulated something like a five year plan, which includes connecting with the sangha in England, with a view to eventually moving back there, more time at Tassajara, and, when the time comes, being shuso - or as Konin says, perhaps from her Japanese training, doing shuso. All of which sounds very nice, and is perfectly plausible. Except that I have recently been presented with something of a Plan B, which does not completely fit with my Plan A. So, since Paul is in town from Tassajara for a few days, I asked for dokusan with him.
There we were, face to face at six o'clock this morning. There is always a moment, once I have settled on my cushion, robes tucked neatly, sleeves under control, mudra in place, where I exhale deeply and look up to meet Paul's eyes, and in that moment of meeting, I try to figure out which of us is going to speak first. Today he got the first word in, noticing that my brow was furrowed - it's true, I usually need a few minutes to really settle with the situation, and this time I had my opening speech all prepared, and wanted to get to it.
We discussed Plan A and Plan B, and mused as to whether one would be better for my path of practice than the other. There were no conclusions, but I was happy that at least we both knew where we stood at the moment, and now I get to see what unfolds in the next weeks and months, and how attached I am to things turning out the way I want them to.

Study Hall - Shobogenzo

"Shakyamuni Buddha said, 'Buddha's true dharma body as it is, is open sky. In response to things, forms appear. Thus is the moon in water'.
The thusness of Thus is the moon in the water is the moon in water. It is water thusness, moon thusness, thusness within, within thusness. Thus does not mean 'like something'. Thus means exactly.
Buddha's true body is the as it is of open sky. This open sky is the as it is of buddha's true dharma body. Because it is buddha's true dharma body, the entire earth, the entire universe, all phenomena, and all appearances are open sky. Hundreds of grasses and myriad forms - each appearing as it is - are nothing but buddha's true dharma body, thusness of the moon in water.
The time when the moon appears is not necessarily night. Night is not necessarily dark. Do not be limited to the narrow views held by human beings. Even where there is no sun or moon there is day and night. Sun and moon are not day and night; each is as it is" - 'The Moon', 'Tsuki'.

"Thusness is to accept what is as it is" - 'Flowers in the Sky', 'Kuge'.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Fun in the archives again

As part of recent conversations about the 2008 Tassajara fire, Colin, who is now at Austin Zen Center, sent me this picture which I had never seen before, and which shows me at the wheel of the Isuzu, about to set off as part of the final evacuation which turned out not to be a final evacuation. It was one of the more memorable times I went over the road.
So that gave me a flimsy excuse to root around in my old photo folders for other fun times on the road. Such as the time the previous winter when it took us two days to get the tanto out. The first day, he and I drove up as far as the bathtub in one of the Suburbans before the fallen snow started getting treacherous. I slid the vehicle into the water run-off ditch on the rocky side of the road and couldn't get it out again. My solution to that was to run back down to Tassajara to get some snow chains and to return with Bryan in the lumber truck, which also had a winch, just in case. Jordan had managed in the meantime to extricate the Suburban, but we didn't get much further - the drifts below the ridge were too deep. We did get some use out of the winch though:
With some careful reversing down to Ashes Corner, we returned to Tassajara, and resolved to set out the next day. In the meantime, a number of trees had come down and blocked the road in about half a dozen places between the bathtub and Chew's Ridge; the tanto spent much time on the chain saw, and Jess and I hauled many tree limbs and branches off the road. The last tree we just winched out of the way.
Having deposited the tanto and the lumber truck at Jamesburg some hours later, Jess and I returned in the more nimble Landrover. As you can see, the Jamesburg side of the road was well rutted, and there were streams coursing down each rut:
We dodged round the tree we had winched, perilously close to the edge of the road:
As often was the case, lower down the road there was no snow at all, though that day it was raining pretty fiercely. This is the view to Flag Rock from the first lookout; I didn't get out of the car to take it...
I have already covered the tangaryo storm. Here are a couple of the pictures I took from that journey up and down the road, though they really can't do justice to the wildness of the weather:

Once I had been at Tassajara a certain amount of time, I was asked to do some of the personal town trips, where one person goes out to buy supplies, mostly chocolate, that the monks ask for. Several of the trips I made were quite beautiful - on the road, you get sunrises and sunsets such as you rarely see deep in the valley itself.

These last two were from perhaps the most spectacular sunset I ever saw at Tassajara; there had been a fire up at Morgan Hill, I think, and this caused the amazing light and colours that I enjoyed all the way back into Tassajara. I waited for probably half an hour at Lime Point to watch the last light diminishing.

I used to try to claim that I had been up the road more times under my own power than I had in a vehicle; as time wore on, I think that was no longer the case, but in the summer I used to love riding a bike up and down the road, and I would run it, as well as the trails, winter and summer. The eagle-eyed among you will notice that the bike is not actually on the Tassajara Road, but the road leading to the Church Creek ranch. 
I don't remember why I brought my camera on this particular run, but it was one of the occasions where Bryan and I ran to the ridge and in doing so, climbed above the low clouds that were hanging over Tassajara and into clear blue sky, which always seemed like a pretty epic thing to do. This was taken on the way back down, as we descended into the clouds once more.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Study Hall - Shobogenzo

'Undivided Activity', 'Zenki', harks back to some of the imagery from 'Genjo Koan': "Quietly think over whether birth and all things that arise together with birth are inseparable or not. There is neither a moment nor a thing that is apart from birth. There is neither an object nor a mind that is apart from birth.
Birth is just like riding in a boat. You raise the sails and you steer. Although you maneuver the sail and the pole, the boat gives you a ride, and without the boat you couldn't ride. But you ride in the boat, and your riding makes the boat what it is. Investigate a moment such as this. At such a moment, there is nothing but the world of the boat. The sky, the water and the shore are all the boat's world, which is not the same as a world that is not the boat's. Thus you make birth what it is, you make birth your birth.
When you ride in a boat, your body, mind, and environs together are the undivided activity of the boat. The entire earth and the entire sky are both the undivided activity of the boat. Thus, birth is nothing but you; you are nothing but birth".

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Words and Phrases

I have cunningly deduced that the "ino's desire" is some kind of game, as people insist on looking for it, and many people seem to want to play it, as evidenced in the search keywords: "ino's desire игра" and "play ino’s desire". I can only feel sorry for the people that somehow land on this site, which Google insists on putting at the top of the list for those keywords, unless it somehow turns out that the blog is all part of the game too, and no-one let me in on the secret.
Other visitors who I suspect may have left disappointed, if not entirely empty-handed, were those looking for "hardcore zen". I mean Brad and I are in the same general field, but this blog is mostly PG-rated, beyond the odd piece of salty language. And while I would have liked to oblige the person who was looking for "tassajara bike graphics", I don't think I have any here. As for the person who typed in "the aspiration for enlightenment & conditions hold out a sin", perhaps someone else would like to take a guess at what they meant, and perhaps Google can explain to me how they ended up here...
Perhaps more pertinently, I found the phrase "what does the enmei jukku kannon gyo mean?" in the search keywords the other day. I don't believe the answer to that question is elsewhere on the blog, but I could say that it is a chant that revolves around Avalokiteshvara, the Bodhisattva of compassion, and is chanted for protecting life. I tend to think of it more as a dharani, an invocation where the power resides in the chanting and not in the meaning. I did, however, chant an English version of it at Great Vow when I was there a few years ago, and this is what appears in their chant book:

Chant of Boundless Compassion
Absorbing world sounds
Awakens a Buddha right here!
This Buddha the source of compassion!
This Buddha receives only compassion!
Buddha, Dharma, Sangha – just compassion.
Thus the pure heart always rejoices!
In the light recall this!
In the dark recall this!
Moment after moment the true heart arises.
Time after time there is nothing but THIS!

Speaking of co-opting things from other sanghas, someone asked me today if we could include the people of Egypt in our noon service dedication. I wrinkled my nose at that, as I couldn't think how to fit it in there, but then I decided we could just make our evening service a well-being service. I was just re-wording our usual dedication before zazen when Kathryn came into the ino's office, and on hearing what I was up to said, oh, we had a lovely dedication at Santa Cruz Zen Center that Katharine Thanas wrote for the Burmese monks, whereupon she went back to her room and emailed it to me. I added a line about Egypt and had it printed out and downstairs by the time the han started. The consensus afterwards was that it was a very nice dedication, and a good idea. (Update, the next morning: well, perhaps it helped...):

May all awakened beings manifest through the Three Treasures their luminous mirror wisdom;
having chanted the Enmei Jukku Kannon Gyo for protecting life,we dedicate this merit and virtue to:

­        The people of Egypt in this time of turmoil and transition in their nation
        The peace and well being of all those injured by acts of violence.
       All world leaders so they may exercise wisdom and care in their actions.

May the words of this sutra and dedication heal this world of suffering and confusion.
May we with our acts of body, speech and mind dedicate ourselves to wholesome action,
   so that the power of goodness may free beings from ignorance and violence.
May we and all beings find solace and strength in Buddha’s way.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Intimacy of Self and Other

When I first lived at City Center, ten years ago, Blanche was the Abbess, and would frequently be at afternoon zazen. She had a habit of leaving the zendo after service, then coming round to the end of the gaitan to bow to everyone. I always cherished those moments, as it was my first experience of being completely met with love in a practice context. I heard that Suzuki Roshi used to do the same thing at the end of zazen, back in the days at Sokoji, and that was how many people met him for the first time.
Recently I have had many occasions to lament that senior people are too busy to make it to the afternoon sitting. Having Lien coming every afternoon as shuso has been a boon; it feels like I have an ally in the zendo, sitting facing out and watching over everyone with me.
Last Friday afternoon, Blanche came down for zazen, just as Greg described (it is sweet and fitting that Lien is in that photo as well). After service I lingered in the gaitan, as I wanted to talk to Liping, who had shown up, about her participating in the funeral procession. I got to see Blanche coming round and taking her place, and watched from behind her as she bowed and met people, who all seemed happy to be met.

On Monday morning we celebrated Bodhidharma's birthday. This is an occasion when we get to do a bit of play-acting, recreating the scene from the first case of the Blue Cliff Record. Preparations had been somewhat overshadowed by the funeral, so I asked the cast to assemble during the second period of zazen on Monday. Unfortunately, my choice to play Bodhidharma was nowhere to be seen - it turned out that his alarm clock had stopped - but as luck would have it, Jamie was standing in the hall; he was willing to be roped in, and did a fabulous job.
Once we had rehearsed the procession and the reading, I was about to go back to the zendo when I heard giggles coming from the kitchen. Genine, the breakfast cook, and Caren, who was putting out the bag lunch food, were both doubled over with laughter, which was apparently caused by the juxtaposition of Caren finding cupcakes being offered as part of bag lunch, and Anna walking through the kitchen wearing her costume as Emperor Wu - a yellow silk jacket and a distinctive piece of head gear.

I suspect both Genine and Caren will have blogged about this incident. I have been noticing how reading other people's blogs about life here offers a nicely different perspective on things, and even on myself. As Blanche was fond of saying at Tassajara, everyone can see how you are, you might as well see it for yourself.  She didn't use this exact phrase in her talk last Wednesday, but she did talk about the intimacy of practising in community.
Recently I had an email exchange with someone in the building, and noticed that under her signature was a link. Being a naturally curious person, I clicked on it to find her blog, the latest entry in which was describing an encounter with me.
My version of this story would be that the tanto and I had been chatting about recent entries on the tenken pad, where people write their reason for not being in the zendo, and we had both noticed one from this resident that was out of the ordinary, as it involved 'excess', and if I were to describe this person, I would call her diligent and mostly sensible, with a fine streak of humour. So we both noted this as an unusual seeming event, and I think we might have said, very lightly, oh, we should ask her about it.
It happened that, later in the day, the tanto and I left the dining room at the same time, and came across said resident, so somewhat conspiratorially, we sidled up to her to hear more, assuming she would not take it as an inquisition, whereupon she did tell us a fuller version of the story.
Of course as she tells it on her blog, our approach set off all kinds of alarm bells, and she discussed the feelings that the whole conversation brought about for her, mainly a worry that she might be in trouble for slacking. She also noted wryly that her self-perceptions are not always borne out by third parties. This can be true for all of us, which is why a community can be a wonderful mirror. I got to see myself and the tanto described as Tweedledum and Tweedledee, which obviously got me feeling defensive as well as making me laugh.

This blog is intentionally parochial in its outlook, and I am not convinced that I need to add my opinions about anything to the gigabytes of them that already exist out there. That said, for the past few days I have been trying to figure out what to say about this announcement. I take a look at Hardcore Zen quite often, and when I have the time and the stomach for it, sometimes wade through the comments as well, so I was alerted last week to the story that led to it; and of course I also read a certain amount about Eido Shimano recently, but chose not to bring it forward here.
This is what I am going to say:
I have my misgivings about the Big Mind process, mainly about the way it is sold, but that mostly reflects my own distrust of anything that is being heavily marketed.
Sexual energy is a powerful and often disruptive force in spiritual communities; I have had my own tangles with this over the years, and it is something I still have to wrestle with.
A teacher sleeping with his students is never a good idea.
Confession and repentance seem to be an appropriate place to begin to respond to ethical violations.
If you want to read more opinions, you could check one of these. I would also highlight this one.

Study Hall - Shobogenzo

Dogen has had to take a back seat to trainings after breakfast this week, but today we have 'Painting of a Rice Cake', 'Gabyo': "Do not use the measure of oneness of difference as the criterion of your study. Thus, it is said, 'To reach one thing is to reach myriad things'.
To reach one thing does not take away its inherent characteristics. Just as reaching does not make one thing separate, it does not make one thing not separate. To try to make it not different is a hindrance".

Saturday, February 5, 2011

An Offering of Tea

I checked my email before the lecture this morning and discovered that the Green Gulch contingent would not arrive until one thirty, which scuppered the idea of a rehearsal at one o'clock.
This did allow me the opportunity to have a brief sit down after lunch. It was always going to be a big day, with Jerome's funeral coming after the usual Saturday program of zazen, service, oryoki, zazen, lecture and nenju.
When Tenshin Roshi and his attendants arrived, I followed them into the dokusan room and sat with him as we looked at a change he wanted to make that we had spoken about on the phone after lecture, at the versions of the dedications that he had brought with him, and at who would say what. His anja had brought him the cup of green tea that he had asked for, and I was watching the space between knowing that there were a dozen or more people outside waiting to rehearse the procession and other parts of the ceremony, and wanting to allow our most senior teacher to have a chance to drink his tea.
It was as well that we did rehearse; the procession had seventeen people in it; apart from the three doshis, attendants and the people playing instruments, there were the people carrying Jerome's ashes, his portrait, the ihai (the wooden memorial tablet), and other ceremonial objects that belonged to him; all these things had to be placed on the altar with reverence. In the Buddha Hall there were many other details which Tenshin Roshi fleshed out for us carefully; I was nervous about the time, as people were arriving and waiting outside - of course I would have liked to have had the opportunity to take the amendments, re-write the script I had, and print it out nice and neat for everyone. What I realised I would get to do instead was make a copy of the new dedications for myself, the kokyo and the doan, pencil in a few things, and trust that we had people with the experience to make it happen smoothly. We came out of the rehearsal at two fifty; the densho should have begun at two forty-five, though luckily I had told the shoten not to begin until he got an okay from me. I told him to begin it at three; it was another opportunity for me to try to manage the dynamic of the moment - I didn't want us to be too late starting, but I also knew I was making it tough for people, including Blanche, who needed to go and change, and would have no time to rest before we got under way.
In the end, the ceremony was strong and beautiful. Of course there were a couple of things that didn't happen per the script, but they were somewhat imperceptible. I learnt a new form as well: during the ceremony, the ino is supposed to invite each of the doshis in turn to make offerings, of sweet water, tea, and then for the flame mudra. I was shown how to bow formally with my zagu draped over my hands, and having to do something unfamiliar kept me fully present in the ceremony,  just like when I am at the tsui ching, and made for three powerful moments for me, meeting the doshis with these bows.
I have seen the flame mudra done before, years ago, and I remember feeling disappointed that here in the city, with our tatami mats, we use a paper flame. This time, accompanied by drum crescendos and invocations by Tenshin Roshi, it felt deeply powerful, the crux of the ceremony.
The assembly was offered the opportunity to come to offer incense and make statements to Jerome. The people who came up covered the whole range from those who had practised with him, here or at Tassajara, thirty or forty years ago, and who remembered touching and distinctive moments with him, to people who had known him just a few years, but whom he had helped, or touched, or nurtured along the path. Liping made me cry with a reprise of Moon River, which many of us sang along with softly. It felt like just the right number of people got to speak.

The funeral altar in the Buddha Hall
Afterwards, as I approached the doshis in the hallway, Tenshin Roshi turned to me and said, "Suzuki Roshi used to say to the ino on occasions such as this 'You have done a good job'; thank you, you have done a good job", which compliment I was honoured to receive.

The doshis after the funeral: Tenshin Roshi, Abbot Myogen, Zenkei Roshi
I didn't last long at the reception, though I had a chance to thank many of the people who made the occasion a success and who made my day easier. I went to take a bath, after twelve hours of feeling hot in my robes, and when I emerged, I saw that the sky was luminous in all directions. Though I barely made it outside all day, it has been another beautiful warm day here in the city.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Levels of Stress

I think I may have already quoted the lines from the Hsin Hsin Ming, 'Seek rest and no rest comes instead', and I know I have already written about how stress comes not necessarily from having a big event to organise - such as Jerome's funeral on Saturday - but feeling that there are other things that are taking up my time and preventing me from fully devoting myself to preparing for this more important thing (though I'm damned if I can find that entry now). Such was how I had been thinking of today, when I was scheduled to go over to Green Gulch for an Environmental Committee meeting - and getting the minutes from the last meeting redrafted into a legible form had been another thing on my plate the other day that didn't even make that list ...oh, that was yesterday.
Of course it is a failure of perspective to see some things as being 'in the way of doing something else more worthwhile', and especially so since we are studying the Genjo Koan this practice period. Each event and each state of mind is your life at this moment; while feeling stressed, like feeling sick, is not something one looks forward to, when it happens, it is best to just be able to accept that this is what your life looks like at this moment. I think of my first practice period at Tassajara, where at the end of the first month I realised that I was cold, tired and hungry most of the time (and probably at least one of those three all of the time), and I also realised that the point was to practise with being cold, tired and hungry as those were the conditions of living at Tassajara during a practice period, and I had, after all, signed up for it.
This was all brought home to me today in a way that even I could absorb when it became clear that going to Green Gulch, rather than taking me away from preparing for the funeral, actually afforded me the opportunity to sit down with Reb and discuss some of the details, which was worth hours of me poring over the ceremonial forms by myself.
Not only that, the experience of riding over to Green Gulch was itself a great treasure, since it was another beautiful day, and the feeling of being warmed by the sun, and of working my legs and getting my heart moving for the first time since I have been sick, was enormously beneficial. As was being at the meeting, and getting to say hello to a few people over there. And it was while I was riding down the hill, paying close attention this time, that I decided that the best way to spend my evening would not be to try and squeeze in a DVD, or to try and find some entertaining sustenance online, but rather to sit down at a time when I would not be disturbed, and put together the program for the funeral; having decided that, it became a restful activity (the vagaries of Word notwithstanding), rather than a chore, and I feel more relaxed than if I had tried to 'switch off'. And I still have time to check out Trevor's latest post before I go to bed.

Study Hall - Shobogenzo

"There is no liberation other than the expression of the dream within a dream. The dream is the entire great earth; the entire great earth is stable" - 'Within a Dream, Expressing the Dream', 'Muchu Setsumu'.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Full Circle

I have many things on my mind this week - mostly Jerome's funeral on Saturday afternoon, but also the two Suzuki Roshi memorials, Bodhidharma's birthday ceremony next Monday, tweaking the doanryo to find places for the new practice period people, training new people for noon service doan jobs, figuring out the oryoki serving crews for the month, ordering new fabric and bowls for oryoki sets, finishing up the January tenken (attendance) reports, putting the latest talks online and trying to figure out the glitch that has stopped recent talks being fed to iTunes, and planning new audio equipment for the Buddha Hall and dining room.
This morning, though, was the shuso entering ceremony, and that is a little milestone for me, as it was the first ceremony I did as ino exactly a year ago. I can still remember feeling anxious about my role in it and reminding myself that I did not need to rush and that I could do my parts at my speed. Ironically, I haven't done the ceremony since then, so I felt pretty rusty when we did a rehearsal yesterday morning, and the nagging feeling in my head that I didn't have all the choreography memorised did not leave me. It was, though, a lovely ceremony this morning. Someone said they counted seventy people in the zendo, which would not surprise me; it was hard manoeuvring round everyone during the jundo.
What was most intimate was to see Blanche, who was doing the full morning schedule for the first time in several weeks, and Lien having their interchange, which, although basically scripted, allowed for the connection between the two of them to shine out as they spoke, and then bowed - on the final bow the teacher rises from their seat, and bows to the shuso as the shuso bows to them, which I always marvel at.
As Lien said, these are beautiful days in San Francisco.