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.


robertbarrer said...

...I think that would be wonderful & of much benefit if more of the senior people could/would attend evening zazen. I've experienced several practice periods led by Blanche, where she would faithfully meet people at the end of the gaitan with bows. Very touching and inspiring for someone new to practice(relatively or otherwise), to meet a senior person in this manner. Very much, "warm hand to warm hand"!

Shundo said...

Thank you Robert, I wholeheartedly agree. I would like to add that you do a wonderful job of meeting people when you are doorwatch, and I'm sure that is touching and inspiring for people too.

Dennis McNally said...

Could you tell me how to see other blogs from SFZC? The more the merrier...

Shundo said...

Hi Dennis,

Since these are personal blogs, I didn't want to link to them without permission. I'm sure Caren and Genine would tell you how to find theirs, and I can always see if they will let me broadcast them as well - are you reading this C & G? I think the third person wasn't intending me to see that blog in the first place, so I won't make life harder for her.

Shundo said...

All involved have now consented to being 'outed' here. You can link to them from the post.