Saturday, March 26, 2011

Sesshin Begins Now



This morning's program was remarkably mellow. With neither oryoki nor a residents' meeting, I had over half an hour free after breakfast, and managed to catch the end of a Belgian bike race online. We did not have nenju either, as there is no weekend for us this week, so we couldn't truthfully call hosan.
We woke up to torrential rain again - I have lost count of how many storms have come through in the past ten days, but it has been predominantly wet. Happily it has cleared up right now, so after doing the newcomers' table again - with the usual fascinating array of stories of what brought people here today - I popped out for a quick hour on the bike, getting in a few laps of Twin Peaks and some fresh air before hunkering down for the week. I had time to run some laundry, so I have clean sheets and jubons for the week, which feels important, and I have bathed and shaved my head, so at least I start clean-shaven: I follow the old shingi of not shaving during sesshin, so my face will be pretty fuzzy by next Saturday; hopefully my mind will be going in the other direction, from tangled to smooth, though with the shuso ceremony to organise, that may not happen.
I have a couple of hours of organising to do still, finishing off the seating chart and distributing all the information, but at least I feel somewhat well-rested and ready for the task in hand. Which is just as well, as it is heading my way regardless.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Study Hall - Shobogenzo

'Face-to-Face Transmission', 'Menju', is a lot of fun; Dogen gets personal, both for himself, and with an ad hominem section in the postscript:
"If you do not realize the fruit at this moment, when will you realize it? If you do not cut off delusion at this moment, when will you cut off delusion? If you do not become a buddha at this moment, when will you? If you do not sit as a buddha at this moment, when will you practice as an active buddha? Diligently examine this in detail...

I, Dogen, first bowed formally to Rujing, my late master, Old Buddha Tiantong, and received transmission face to face on the first day of the fifth month, the first year of Baoqing Era of Great Song (1225), and was thereby allowed to enter the inner chamber. I was able to enact this face-to-face transmission by dropping away body and mind, and I have established this transmission in Japan...

Chenggu, if dharma heritage can be attained through literature as you imply, do all those who reach understanding by reading sutras receive dharma from Shakyamuni Buddha? It is never so. Understanding by sutras always requires an authentic master's seal of approval.
Your words show that you have not yet read the recorded sayings of Yunmen. Only those who have seen Yunmen's words have received dharma from Yunmen. But you have not yet seen Yunmen with your own eyes; you have not yet seen the self with your own eyes. You have not seen Yunmen with Yunmen's eyes; you have not seen the self with Yunmen's eyes.
There are many people like you who have not thoroughly studied. Continually buy straw sandals and seek an authentic master from whom to receive dharma. You should not say that you have received dharma from great master Yunmen. If you do so, you will enter the stream of those outside the way. Even Baizhang would be mistaken if he talked like you".

Taking Care Of Business

I have heard it said that the job of the shuso is to be the friend of everyone in the practice period. One of the ways that Lien is definitely accomplishing this is by making coffee in the morning - and not just one pot, either. She makes both pots of regular and a pot of decaf, all before four thirty in the morning, by all accounts (I am not around to verify this, but I have been told it is so). No wonder that she was given a milk frother during skit night, ostensibly for her heroics in the shuso jundo olympics, but mainly as a recognition that she was performing valuable Bodhisattva activity at such an unearthly hour. I understand that said frother is now being deployed in the early morning coffee round, which means we are one step closer to having the espresso bar in the building that many of us have long been agitating for - along with the hot tub on the roof. Then there will obviously be no further obstacles on the path to enlightenment.
For people in the building, it is not just the coffee that we appreciate, but also the little notes that Lien got into the habit of leaving on the pots, so much so that when she stopped writing them, she had requests to please continue. Each day a different gem, written on white masking tape, divided into three such as 'every day / is a / good day', 'where / is / buddha?', or my recent favourite, 'raindrops / & / roses'. Such are the little rituals which, as I have observed before, illuminate our practice life together.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

And Then Again...

Of course nothing stays the same. I had a period of zazen where I didn't fall asleep, and the sun started shining during dinner. Add in a couple of conversations and emails exchanged with friends, and I feel more energised and spacious. The sky looked better just now as well:

Losing My Voice

Eager readers will have noticed that there are fewer words appearing this week. This is due to a general fatigue on the part of the ino, which is probably caused by having done a lot of stuff recently, and having a sesshin looming (sesshins always loom, I think) at the end of this week. There have not been many weekends of late...
And, for those outside of the Bay Area - there are a few of you, I know that - the weather has not been notably clement over this time period either. This was the far from spring-like view from my room at lunchtime:

This might also be a good way of letting you all down gently before next week, when there will be no postings at all.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Study Hall - Shobogenzo

Study hall has been in abeyance for the last week or so - last week I was rehearsing with the shuso, it being the only time she was free, alternating between the skit and the Full Moon Ceremony; on Monday I was too tired, and yesterday, I took advantage of clear skies to get out on my bike, as I probably won't get another opportunity for two weeks. But I have missed it.
So: "Shakyamuni Buddha said, 'Aspects of thusness are no other than the nature of thusness.'
Thus, flowers blossoming and leaves falling are the nature of thusness. 
But foolish people think that there cannot be flowers blossoming and leaves falling in the realm of dharma nature. If you think in this way, don't ask others, but just pretend  that your doubt is your expression. Repeat it a few times as if quoting from others. Then you will be able to be released from your doubt.
Such a doubt is not wrong; it merely lacks clarity. Even after you have clarity, do not let your earlier thinking disappear.
Flowers blossoming and leaves falling are no other than flowers blossoming and leaves falling. The thought that there cannot be flowers blossoming and leaves falling in dharma nature is itself dharma nature. It is thought that doubts and is released from doubt. Thus, it is thought that, as it is, is dharma nature. The entire thought of the thought of dharma nature has such a face". 'Dharma Nature', 'Hossho'.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Finding My Voice

Henry Higgins has a line in the opening scene of 'My Fair Lady' - the film version that is, it doesn't appear in the original play - where he declaims: "An Englishman's way of speaking absolutely classifies him / The moment he talks he makes some other Englishman despise him". This was a sentiment I felt acutely sensitive to when I was younger; aware that I sounded posher than many, and not wanting to be burdened with the concomitant associations. In the States, of course, I just have an English accent, sorry a 'British' accent, one that in my case many Californians are unable to distinguish from an Australian one - something that may well be due to my attempt to flatten out the accent I grew up with.
I was reflecting on my 'performance' during my way-seeking mind talk, particularly how muted I sounded when I listened back to a portion of the recording. It is not that I have much of a fear of public speaking these days: a year of making the announcements after lectures on Saturday has been very beneficial in this regard, though as I noted earlier, I have the usual distaste for hearing my own voice as others hear it, which led me to keep the sound system turned down quite low on Thursday.
About a year after I arrived at Zen Center, I was asked to be the morning kokyo. I had been enjoying the role of fukudo for some time, as I got to hit the drum and make lots of noise, but the idea of leading the chanting was a little intimidating, and brought up my old stories about my voice; this was exacerbated one morning just after I had started, when Teah, who was the tanto at the time, came across to me as she was leaving the Buddha Hall after service to give me a piece of feedback. The content of the feedback was nothing controversial - indeed I have since given many other kokyos the same instruction - but it played into my insecurities about how I sounded and reminded me of how much I had closed my voice down.
I worked my way around this by realising that what I was chanting was not me, it was the dharma - I was not responsible for it, nor did it reflect on me in any way - and this allowed me just to be the vessel for some vocal energy. So I enjoy having the opportunity to be kokyo these days, even if I am not necessarily convinced that my voice sounds good. The same also holds good for the announcements -  I am just channeling information, so as long as I can remember most of the things I am supposed to say, and can manage to form complete sentences, I am happy enough. The way-seeking mind talk, on the other hand, was all my own work, and telling a personal story - okay, we can argue that the story is still not me, but I am definitely more involved in it, and this caused the reticence, which I really hadn't expected to manifest. Still clinging to the self...

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Letting Our Hair Down

It is probably a given in sociological circles that laughing in the company of your friends is a beneficially bonding activity. This makes skit night a valuable event in the community, and last night was a great example of this (note for the English  - a skit is what we call a sketch, of the comedy variety). I had already had the opportunity to make people laugh during my way-seeking mind talk, which, happily, they did, and mostly where I intended there to be laughs.
Another joy of skit night is to get a different view of the people you usually see in formal surroundings, and to see how people can inhabit different roles. Lien was particularly game to show her funny side last night: she and I and David Z and Anna did a skit about a form addicts' recovery meeting, and she also starred in the hilarious 'shuso jundo olympics' (most skit night humour does not really work outside the immediate surroundings of your peers, who are going to get the references); this morning she was back on shuso duty, doing the jundo, being the kokyo for the Full Moon Ceremony, opening the zendo, doing the posture adjustments with me during zazen. Last night Abbot Steve was playing the guitar and singing old Zen Center favourites, accompanied by Jamie, who had more of a starring role last Friday, but who also has past form in the realm of music; today he was giving a very moving lecture - okay, he sang at the end of that as well, but he was in robes this morning. We also had poetry, dance, story-telling, a martial arts demonstration, and juggling, all generously appauded as we got to reveal ourselves to each other.

Friday, March 18, 2011


I confess that during my early years at Zen Center, hearing my colleagues gush, as they would from time to time, (puts on exaggerated American accent, elongating the 'so') "Oh, I'm just so grateful for this practice", always set my teeth on edge, triggering my inbred English cynicism about Americans and their brash insincerity. Even if that was not a quality I typically found in people around Zen Center.
My first attempt at a cure for this was towards the end of my first practice period at Tassajara, one evening when zazen seemed to be particularly endless. I thought about the person sitting next to me, whom I had been sitting next to for hours every day over the previous three months, which was enough to go through many tides of irritation and je-m'en-foutisme, and think, "well, he's not so bad really; I do appreciate the way he ....". I don't remember what it was exactly I appreciated, but anyway I turned my attention to the person on the other side of him, and thought about something I appreciated this person for, and so on until I had gone round the whole zendo in my mind and thought of at least one reason to be grateful for each person who was there.
Fast forward the best part of ten years, and I find that I can always think of reasons to be grateful for this practice, though I haven't quite mastered the art of saying so in that American accent. All of which is a roundabout way of coming to express my ongoing gratitude to the people who keep the zendo running every day, especially those people who don't live in the building and are doing so entirely of their own volition.
The other Thursday I came down to afternoon zazen and saw Roger, Dennis and Robert sitting on the bench by the door having a natter, and I realised, these three guys are the cornerstones of the afternoon doanryo. Each of them take on several jobs a week, and, as chronicled over the past year, most recently here, are also imbued with the practice spirit that has them saying yes to requests for more help. I thought of trying to get a picture of the three of them together, and it has taken a few weeks to make it happen, but yesterday, with our new lighter afternoons, I dragged them all outside for some shots. So, thank you gentlemen, I am so grateful for your practice; we couldn't do it without you.

Thursday, March 17, 2011


I wasn't especially impressed with my talk this morning; it felt very dry to me, and while I did talk about some of the things I felt I needed to cover, I also felt like I left a lot out, not least due to time constraints. Nevertheless people lined up afterwards, as we do every week, to bow and thank the speaker for sharing. Some people said it was good that I was so open and vulnerable, although that was not my own impression of what I said.
As the sun was shining after a fashion this morning, I took some time off to ride up Mount Tam. It was not as cold as the last time I was there, but it was nonetheless much chillier up top than it was in the city, and about as grey as it had looked on Sunday. My breathing was still a little awkward, which gave me an excuse not to push myself too hard. I am not really fit enough to go attacking the mountain right now; it was enough just to be up there - it was beautifully quiet, with one vocal red-tailed hawk above my head, and the usual chattering of crows at the east peak - and to feel depleted from the effort afterwards.
This afternoon I had tea with the guest students, which in the past has been an occasion to trot out a few of my practice history stories. Today, obviously, they had heard all my good stories, so there was an opportunity to delve a little further into some of the subjects. I found that I enjoyed this much more than giving the talk, as I had time and space to explain myself, and also it was easier to connect with the person asking the question than with the whole room this morning. All about meeting people again.
On the way out of the city on my bike, I was practising my trackstands at the red lights. On a fixed-gear, a trackstand can be fairly easy to master, once you have the sense of where the balance point on your bike is, as you can apply equal pressure pedaling forwards and backwards to maintain the equilibrium. It is something I enjoy doing whenever I can, even though I sometimes fail. With a free-wheel bike, it is not so easy, and requires more attention. What I noticed this morning is that it requires you to stop thinking about going forward - which is the bicycle's natural state really - instead you have to allow yourself to roll backwards just enough that you can apply forward pressure to stay balanced. It occurred to me as I was waiting to cross Geary that this is pretty much what Dogen asks us to do in the Fukanzazengi.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Light And Dark Oppose One Another

There is inevitably a kind of hangover after a period of busyness and intense activity; I felt pretty tired on Monday, and I also noticed how empty the zendo was. I would have happily taken half a day off to get outside on my bike, but the weather has not been co-operative in that regard, grey and damp since the clocks went forward. And of course there are other things that require my attention, which during the busy times I postpone, thinking, oh, I'll have plenty of time to take care of that next week, and then find I have filled the week with projects, meetings and trainings.
The clock change definitely affects the feel of the schedule: now it is dark through the morning sitting, and almost to the end of service since the sun is not making an appearance, and at the other end of the day, it is light (well, grey) for the entire afternoon period.
My mood has been fluctuating a lot as well, for a number of reasons; one is that on Saturday I pulled or pinched a muscle in my back, which is not much of a problem except during service - I notice it when I bow, and it is uncomfortable to inhale deeply, which I tend to do when I am chanting. Without being able to do this, I feel flat and breathless, when usually I am energised by the activity.
In other news today, I discover that Plan B is not going to happen, which feels like a relief; I will perhaps say more about that later when things are more public. And then in work meeting this morning, since there was no-one signed up for tomorrow's way-seeking mind talk, the shika suggested that I should do one, which suggestion seemed very popular with the assembly. I have been feeling that I have avoided doing one since I came back to the city, so it would have been ungracious to decline. I am slightly worried about how to approach a few topics though (which I also avoid addressing here), but otherwise I am fairly calm about the prospect, for all that I hate speaking with a microphone. The good thing is that Lien had previously requested that I not let the talk run on too long, so that we could have time to have a skit rehearsal meeting over breakfast before she has to go off to work, so I have an excuse to be brief.
People who know me well can attest that I love playing with rocks, and this is something that has been sorely lacking since I left Tassajara - apart from brief constructions in Cornwall last year. With Marcia's undertaking the reworking of the courtyard garden, though, I had an opportunity today to move a beautiful big rock, and in concert with Will, we did what our ancestors did on a larger scale thousands of years ago, and rolled the thing across the courtyard on old wooden stakes. Thus:
Deeply satisfying it was too, though I suspect I shall be sore tomorrow. I hope we do not incur the wrath of Suzuki Roshi by rearranging what was already there.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Study Hall - Shobogenzo

"The buddha way does not appropriate the voice of sentient beings and apply it to the voice of insentient beings. Insentient beings do not necessarily speak dharma with a voice heard by the ears. Similarly, sentient beings do not speak dharma with a voice hear by the ears. Now ask yourself, ask others, and inquire, 'What are sentient beings? What are insentient beings?'
In this way, concentrate and study what insentient beings always speak dharma is. Foolish people may think that the sound of trees, or the opening and falling of leaves, is insentient beings speaking dharma. Such people are not studying buddha dharma. If it were so, who would know and hear insentient beings speaking dharma? Reflect now: are there grass, trees, and forests in the world of insentient beings? Is the world of insentient beings mixed with the world of sentient beings? Furthermore, to regard grass and trees as insentient beings is not thoroughgoing. To regard insentient beings as grass, tress, tiles and pebbles is not enough". 'Insentient Beings Speak Dharma', 'Mujo Seppo'.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Gate, Gate

Today it feels like we mark not just the first day of late afternoon light, but also the end of a period of mourning here that began with Jerome's death on a Sunday three months ago. There has undoubtedly been a feeling of heaviness in the community, and I think a number of people have been thinking that Lou's funeral would be the transition point away from this.
It has been a long day - see below - but also a very satisfying one. I returned to the city in time to help with the set-up, and then a long and full rehearsal, at the end of which I still had time to eat some toast, reprint the ceremonies and get dressed. There were a lot of details to take care of but there was also a huge number of people helping to take care of things. Once I had done my part in marking out the reserved places in the Buddha Hall - there were always going to be more people coming than we could fit in there, and I was glad I was not one of the ushers who had to steer people to the dining room to watch the livestream - I felt that I could just let everything unfold, which it then proceeded to do, pretty much without mishap. There were many distinguished guests, from Zen Center and beyond, a number of whom spoke very movingly about how Lou had affected their lives. At the risk of being selective, I particularly loved Norman Fischer's pithy encapsulation of Lou's lectures, which provoked much laughter of deep recognition.
I didn't manage to take many pictures, but this was a view into the Buddha  Hall just before the ceremony as I was running around with last minute things:
Last night with the boys' group at Green Gulch went smoothly enough. We had better weather than we had had doing the same thing in December, so we were able to go to the beach in the evening, in the light of the half moon, watching for newts and listening to frogs. Not only that but there was a fire still burning in one of the pits, though the boys were all keen to light their own, and we had ample smores (for those on the other side of the Atlantic and elsewhere, I understand this is typical American fare, marshmallows toasted on a stick, then eaten with a piece of chocoate and a Graham cracker - I had it for the first time at the very same spot on Muir Beach a couple of years ago as part of a City Center's residents' retreat). We didn't sleep in the zendo this time, as we thought the wake-up bell would end up being too early, with the clock change, and although in the yurt we didn't have the zendo's calming effect on the boys, we did have a nice fire going in the stove, and I got a reasonable amount of sleep, which was one aspect of this whole weekend I was worried about. The boys were not very excited to be woken at six (new time), and taken on a hike to Hope Cottage for a sunrise that did not materialise, but I was pleasantly surprised at how engaged they were when we started to discuss the precepts with them after breakfast, especially hearing how tired they claimed to be as we started. Maybe one of them - actually I hope all of them - will end up being as esteemed and loved by their community as Lou was by his.

Mount Tam and Highway 1 on a grey Sunday morning, from above Green Gulch

Saturday, March 12, 2011

One Thing At A Time

Waking up early this morning, I noticed how light it was getting before the wake-up bell began. I went up on the roof to take a picture, and remembered doing the same thing exactly a year ago. A different kind of day today though:
 The shuso twisted her ankle yesterday, and we decided last night to have someone else ring the wake-up bell. I had a note on my door this morning saying she didn't want to do the jundo even. I opened the zendo for her after breakfast, which I never mind as it gives me an extra few minutes to drink my coffee after oryoki - and no-one senior had showed up for breakfast, so I had to open the zendo then as well.
Arlene gave a very sweet talk to a full Buddha Hall, which I cannot link to as I quickly realised that there was nothing being recorded - I guessed that in dismantling the equipment to test for the funeral, I had managed to inadvertantly disconnect the record feed, and since she started the talk with a request for silence for the victims of the earthquake and tsunami, I couldn't start pulling the cabinet out and rummaging in the back for a stray cable. Laura was particularly upset that this prevented us from livestreaming as well, not least since Arlene had people expecting to hear her over the internet.
The newcomers' table was mostly filled with students from CIIS, some of whom had some very insistent questions that I did my best to confound, but as always I enjoyed meeting the people who came. 
Then another test of equipment, in the brief window of time before the EPP programme took over the Buddha Hall for the afternoon - and to my joy, with a minimum of fuss and almost no swearing, we managed to do a complete transmission chain from camera to laptop to livestream to laptop to projector and sound system. 
Now it is time to put another hat on - I go over to Green Gulch for an overnight with the Coming of Age group before coming back for the funeral rehearsal tomorrow morning. I sat in the bath, shaved my head and gave some thought on how to present the precepts to twelve year olds, and whether I bought enough chocolate to make smores on the beach tonight.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Pancakes For Breakfast

It turned out that we didn't do a leaving ceremony this morning; when I checked back through my records, I discovered that the person in question had missed our last tangaryo, and thus had never officially entered. With impeccable logic we say, no entering ceremony, no leaving ceremony. We got to compensate for that lack though. As I was settling into my seat before zazen, someone handed me a note detailing the huge earthquake in Japan and the fact that the tsunami was due to hit San Francisco at seven o'clock. I wasn't quite sure what to do with that information, but decided that since we did not need to evacuate the building, the morning schedule could continue as usual, and we did a well-being ceremony for the victims for our noon service.
I am still mostly focusing on the funeral; today we had some new gear arrive, and it was gratifying to get from opening the package with Laura, and pulling out a video camera, to livestreaming from the Buddha Hall in about twenty minutes. We discovered that the mic built into the camera did a better job of picking up the sound in the Buddha Hall than the wireless hand-held mics I was thinking we would use; I know that is a job they are not really designed for. Now we just need to figure out if we can use the livestream to show proceedings via a laptop, projector, screen and the other sound system in the dining room on Sunday.
While we were testing that out, we - that is, mainly the work leader -  were also setting up for the Lay Entrustment this evening. I did manage to take the time today to have a bath and do my laundry, without having to combine the two operations. Then I came downstairs at five fifteen to three messages on my phone. I already knew that the fukudo was going to be late for zazen, and a replacement had volunteered herself. The messages were from the doshi, the doan and the kokyo respectively, all saying they were too busy to make it. This is where I am always grateful to people like Roger. Roger happened to be passing by just after I had heard this news, and was happy, as always, to be drafted. The person who was covering the han was able to be kokyo, and I was doshi, using the extra ten minutes before I needed to go to the zendo to print out some stuff for the evening ceremony.
During afternoon zazen I started worrying whether we should have planned a memorial service for the earthquake victims for our evening service, then I noticed how clenched my jaw was, and let go of the idea.
After dinner I was helping get people oriented for the Lay Entrustment, then when I came to do the usual ino spiel to let everyone know what was going to happen, I find that I hadn't really taken the details on board, and had to borrow a program to remind myself. As before, it was not so strictly formal, but it had the wonderful quality of old friends meeting and supporting Jamie as a new teacher. Jamie has been a great support to me since I first arrived, just by being who he is. Before the ceremony Michael offered me the chance to make a congratulatory statement if I wanted; in the end I didn't, but I would have said something along the lines of, many people can teach the dharma through their knowledge and their actions, but not many can also explain the 4-4-2 formation and how the offside trap works.
Finally, since Lien emailed me to say she had seen me out in the courtyard after breakfast and wondered why I hadn't posted any photos, here is one of the budding maple tree in the morning light. We were all in a wonderful mood then, since the tenzo had given us such a treat for breakfast.

Study Hall - Shobogenzo

"Endeavor of the way in the practicing community, and the practice of sitting zazen, is unquestionably a buddha sutra from beginning to end and from end to beginning. In this way, you inscribe sutras on bodhi leaves, and you inscribe sutras on the surface of the void...
Know that as there are many aspects within the treasury of the true dharma eye, you cannot fully clarify it. Yet the treasury of the true dharma eye is expounded. There is no way you cannot have trust in it. Buddha sutras are like this. There are a number of them, but what you receive with trust is your one verse or your one phrase. Do not try to understand eighty thousand verses or phrases...
There are no voices or forms that are more beneficial than buddha sutras. Voices and forms delude you, and yet you tend to seek them and be greedy for them. On the other hand, buddha sutras do not delude you. Do not slander them with your lack of trust in them". 'Buddha Sutras', 'Bukkyo'.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Ceremonies and Dedications

This could end up being a five ceremony week. They don't all involve bessu, but yesterday's ceremonies both had amazing ekos. We did the annual Mahapajapati memorial in the morning. The nice thing about doing these things as ino for a second time, is that I don't just automatically feel like I have to do it the same way we did before. Just as I got to be creative with the Katagiri memorial, it made sense to me, that since we were honouring Buddha's foster mother, the founder of the lineage of nuns, we should chant the list of women teachers that we usually have alongside the male lineage, which had not been a part of the service before. We didn't go the whole hog and do the dramatised reading of Gotami's Story, which Linda Ruth likes to do, but the dedication of merit is quite dramatic:

In the pure reality body, there is no coming or going,
    no female or male, no silence or sound.
From this solitary body, myriad awakened ones appear to teach,
    responding to beings like the moon shining in water.
In brightness, the Buddha’s foster mother appeared in this world
    with compassion and wisdom vast and wide.
Today in honor and celebration of her life, we have offered light, incense,
    flowers, sweet water, rice and tea, and have chanted
    the Great Compassionate Mind Dharani.
We dedicate the merit and virtue of this ceremony to: 
     Acharya Mahapajapati Gotami, who set forth on her path
      two thousand five hundred years ago,
      establishing the wholeness of the home leavers’ way.
     With red heart and steadfast resolve, she encourages beings
      to find their own voice and realize Buddha Dharma.   
May her pure practice and devotion dissolve barriers to understanding
     and awareness, and may we and all beings practice together endlessly.

In the evening we did a 49th day memorial for Lou; people from the practice period tea and the people from the zendo filled out the Buddha Hall, and after chanting the Sho Sai Myo and the Dai Hi Shin Dharani, this was the dedication:

The immaculate light reaches everywhere, leaving no place unilluminated,
    embracing all emptiness in tranquility.

Returning from oneness into the world of discrimination,
    the activities of the ordinary world are seen as but a dream.
Humbly we pray that the Three Treasures will look over us.
Respectfully we have offered flowers, incense, light,
    and we have chanted the Sho Sai Myo Kichijyo Dharani for removing hindrance
    and the Great Compassionate Mind Dharani.
We offer this accumulated merit for the sake of  Shu-un Mitsuzen Lou Hartman
    on the occasion of the 49th Day Memorial service.
We entrust our intention to the Great Being:
        Yakushi Nyorai, Great Medicine Buddha
        who releases all beings from suffering,
        and we especially seek your benevolent protection for our dear one
        during this precious time.
Kindly we pray that in the realm of life and death this one person,
Shu-un Mitsuzen Lou Hartman, like the precious Dragon Jewel,
will shine as the emerald sea, clear and complete,
as the clear blue sky, in the Dharma everywhere,
and will serve as a guide for the world in ascending the path to enlightenment.

We pray for his peace, his contentment, and for his freedom.
May he together with all beings realize the Buddha Way .

Tomorrow we may be having a leaving ceremony in the morning, and we will definitely be having Jamie's Lay Entrustment in the evening, and of course we are knee-deep in details for Lou's funeral on Sunday. I am wearing my sound engineer hat as well as my ino hat as we try to figure out audio and video needs for the Buddha Hall and the dining room so that the 150-200 people we are expecting can all follow the proceedings.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Study Hall - Shobogenzo

"Demonstrating reality is having the entire world hear the phrase the reality of all things and having the entire world attain the way. It is to let the entire person understand the meaning of the reality of all things and let the entire dharma emerge". 'The Reality of All Things', 'Shoho Jisso', though I prefer the "All Things are Ultimate Reality" version of the title.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Turning World

There is a sweet symmetry in sitting in the zendo at the moment: in the morning, during second period, the room fills with light - it does seem to make the space more palpable, more full. Then, during the afternoon period, the reverse happens; there is an emptying, a desolidifying, a settling into darkness. I am enjoying it, while being aware that as soon as the clocks go forward this weekend we will lose this little pattern.
Yesterday was another day when the doshi was moving faster than a good number of residents in the morning. Even after the post-jundo influx, the sitting felt rather sparse. In the afternoon I went over to the Art Institute to offer some zazen instruction and words about Buddhism to a group of the students there who are taking a course on religion. Like the newcomers' table and other similar occasions, I found that I enjoyed doing this, meeting people, fielding their questions and sharing something of the dharma, so even with an intervening ride through rush-hour drizzle back from Russian Hill, I came to the afternoon period - rather late - feeling quite settled and happy, a change from a solipsistic outlook that has been dogging me for the last little while. I couldn't believe how full the shoe rack was - there were at least thirty people in the zendo, and it felt great to sit down with everyone already there as the last of the grey afternoon light dissipated.
This morning I went out into the damp courtyard to ring the umpan for breakfast. I noticed that the maple tree is starting to bud, and while I waited, a hummingbird zipped by to take its breakfast from the blossoming fuschias (thanks Marcia for helping me in my ignorance). Spring is coming.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Study Hall - Shobogenzo

"In the same way that Shakyamuni Buddha studied with Kashyapa Buddha, masters and disciples exist to this day...Those who do not study this, do not correctly see the treasury of the true dharma eye, the wondrous heart of nirvana, which has been authentically transmitted by buddhas and ancestors. They groundlessly call it the 'Zen School'. They call ancestors Zen ancestors, and then title the teachers Zen masters. Or, some people call themselves Zen students or the House of Zen. These are branches and leaves rooted in mistaken views...
Even if it is Zen meditation, you should not call yourselves the 'Zen School'. Realize that Zen meditation is not the entire practice in buddha dharma...
Do not think that there is buddha dharma in those who call themselves the 'Zen School'. Who started calling themselves the 'Zen School'? None of the buddhas and ancestors called themselves the 'Zen School'....
What the World-Honored One entrusted to Mahakashyapa was I have the treasury of the true dharma eye, the wondrous heart of nirvana. There is no record of his saying, 'I have the 'Zen School'. This is entrusted to Mahakashyapa'...
Those who look for genuine practice in the way of clouds and water should neither give it any thought nor bother to remember the differences in styles of teaching. It is the same with the Three Mysteries, the Three Essentials, the Four Positions of Subject and Object, the Four Positions of Illumination and Function, and the Nine Ties of Teaching. The same can be said of the Three Phrases, the Five Ranks, and the Ten Equal Wisdoms...
For this reason, upon authentically succeeding in the work of studying buddhas, do not attempt to learn the names of the schools. What buddha and ancestors entrust and authentically transmit is the treasury of the true dharma eye, unsurpassed enlightenment. All the dharma that belongs to buddha ancestors has been entrusted by the buddhas. There is no new extra dharma. This is the bones and marrow of the way". 'The Buddha Way', 'Butsudo'.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Lebowski Koans

Things were a little different this Saturday. Bernie Glassman and Moshe Cohen were giving the talk as part of their weekend workshop. When I came up from the zendo at ten, I was worried on two counts - one that perhaps nobody had shown them the form for entering the Buddha Hall, and all the other ritual that precedes a dharma talk, and then, once I saw that the previous session of the workshop was still in full swing in the dining room, that we wouldn't have time to get this all straightened out and still start on time. Plus I had to figure out a multitude of microphones for the video livestream as well as for the audio for the people who were actually here.
Happily I realised, once the two of them were waiting for me outside the Buddha Hall,  that it was clear that the thing for me to do was let go of my usual ideas and just enjoy the unfolding of the event. As Bernie said, they don't really plan anything. I have just watched the first few minutes of the video, and you get a sense of how it was - Mary the jiko and David the doan did an admirable job of going with the flow as well. Luckily the ancillary comedy routine of Mary and I trying to disentangle all the wires is off-camera...
Normally I am not big on clowns - I fall into the snooty category that Moshe mentions in the talk - but I was laughing a lot during this, and also deeply appreciating the points that were being raised. We need people to shake us out of our usual frames of reference from time to time. Watching the way they offered incense and did the bows and the 'backwards gassho', I felt how closely it cleaved to the strict formality we are used to in such circumstances, and which is such a big part of my job, while shining a fresh light on it all. And the 'Lebowski koans' that were invoked by Bernie, notably 'new shit has come to light' are not separate from anything we do. As he said, new shit is always coming to light.
Anyway, if you want to know how it was, watch the video, it is much funnier than I am.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Bessu and Bees

I love my bessu. I mean I love my sitting robes and my okesa as well, but I have a special fondness for the bessu. We wear them on ceremonial occasions, which means I get mine out quite often: this week I have had occasion to wear them three days running, for the Katagiri Roshi memorial and the Suzuki Roshi memorials. The very fact of putting them on helps put me in the ceremonial frame of mind, as a material reminder of what I am doing, something I also get from feeling the smoothness of my freshly shaved head. There is something about the way the bottom of my kimono swishes against them as I walk that is very satisfying, and my feet always feel inadequate and naked when I take them off.

There is a phrase I am fond of in the Shobogenzo fascicle 'Flowers in the Sky', which I have in my memory as "It is the time of flowers, and flowers have arrived". Well, here at City Center it is the time of bees, and bees have arrived. This gives me an excuse to pull out some pictures of the miraculous time at Tassajara, which is perhaps happening now, when the blossoms are abundant and the trees buzz.

This bee may have missed the mark. Or maybe not.
Actually we just heard from Keith that with the recent cold and stormy weather at Tassajara, a sycamore fell by the women's side of the bathhouse, damaging the fence but just missing the steam room. At the base of the trunk, which had been damaged in the fire of 2008, a colony of bees was found, and efforts are being made to keep the colony viable.
To celebrate the arrival of the bees here in the city, we had a ceremony of course, transplanting our noon service to the roof. Marcia, the City Center gardener and environmental steward, who is overseeing the operation on this end, had passed on some excerpts of sutras which mention bees, found by Marshall, and we chanted a couple of those alongside the Loving Kindness Meditation. Here is one of the pieces.
"All of you Bhikshus, you should receive various kinds of food and
drink as if you were taking medicine. Whether they be good or bad,
do not take more or less of them, but use them to cure hunger and
thirst and to maintain the body. Bhikshus should be the same way as
bees gathering from flowers, only taking the pollen without harming
their form or scent; receive peoples' offerings to put an end to
distress, but do not seek to obtain too much and spoil their good
hearts. Be like a wise man, who having estimated the load that suits
the strength of his ox, does not exceed that amount and exhaust its
strength." (Sutra on the Buddha's bequeathed teaching).

It was nice to have Alan, who has looked after the bees at Green Gulch for many years, and whom I met when I was tenzo through his supplying us with amazing local honey, on hand for the ceremony. The weather was pretty balmy and very suitable for being on the roof with the new hive, and we had a good-sized crowd chanting along. We even got to sing 'Happy Birthday' to Alan afterwards.

Paper Anniversary

I was vaguely aware that I started writing in this blog last March; yesterday I went to check, and discovered that today is the anniversary of my first foray into this. I know that on the ceremonial level, starting my second year as ino has involved a greater level of comfort and confidence with how things go, and I hope that on the level of writing this, I do not descend further into dullness and repetition.
By way of a celebratory retrospective, I am going to take a dip into the stats again, which I still like to check and do find constantly enlightening, particularly the search keywords people use to arrive at this blog, and also the sites they come from.
Who would guess for example, that the ino's blog would be found on this list:

Apart from the fact that the name of the site makes we want to whistle that rousing hymn "Online Christian Colleges", I wonder if there is an Buddhist blog somewhere with a list of the best fifty Christian blogs, and I somehow suspect that there isn't.

Regular readers will know about the whole 'ino's desire' malarkey. Here are some other gems from the last few weeks:

'stress ino' - well, there is no denying that stress does play a part in my life as ino from time to time.
'inos coffee' - the same goes for coffee, yes, but not to the extent that I am marketing my own brand.
'aufgabe des ino beim sesshin' and 'als ino auf sesshin' tells me that a German-speaking counterpart, perhaps much stressed, came for help in knowing what they had to do for a sesshin - and Germany is the number one non-English-speaking country in terms of visitors, stats fans.

'stop sitting cross-legged' and 'full lotus relaxing' make for an interesting combination. It makes me wonder why people are looking for some of these things online, let alone on this blog.
"sudden enlightenment" - the quotation marks here are in the original enquiry, which could signify a lot of things, but the implied distance between self and object suggests that the person is merely googling it and is not actualising it.
'lurching feeling when falling asleep' may be the way to attain the sudden enlightenment. I remember several conversations at Tassajara where we debated whether the internal mechanism that generally stops you from toppling over on the cushion, though not always, was the same as the "person of no rank" -  you must remember that sources of entertainment at the monastery are severely limited. 
Some of the searches make sense only in a certain context. The answer you would find here to the question 'what's the height of the moon ?'  would of course be "the depth of the drop", as that is what Dogen tells us in the 'Genjo Koan', though I don't remember quoting that myself. I suspect that the person was hoping for a more statistical answer.
As for 'old pictures of hell', that just completely mystifies me - how did anyone end up here looking for that?

The flag counter throws up some exotic locales these days - Mauritius, the Northern Mariana Islands, Mongolia, Albania. Closer to home we are up to 47 states - with much scouring of lists (since I wasn't forced to memorise them at school, as perhaps you are in this country) I have deduced that Louisiana, Mississippi, North Dakota and Wyoming are the heavenly realms where no-one needs concern themselves with the dharma. Not surprisingly California is the number one state, with about two thirds of the total of U.S. vistors, but who would have guessed that there are more readers in New Jersey and Texas than New York and Oregon, which fill out the top five?
The number of followers creeps up from time to time, which is also gratifying, though I know it bears no reflection on who is actually reading anything. Still, I hope that you all continue to manage to get something out of this blog, even if it is only the realisation that I still spell in the English way, and that there are a lot of Japanese words in our life here at Zen Center.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

The Second Roll-down Of The Han

I still try to get to the zendo early, though I am not quite as punctual as I was last year, and I don't often get to bow with Lien as she comes back upstairs. Time was, I would generally be the first person in the zendo, which was a feeling I enjoyed; now there are usually a couple of people already sitting when I arrive. The first few minutes are quiet and dark - the doan is instructed to turn on the lights and light the altar before the han starts at five ten. Sometimes they don't make it in time, and I get up with a little sigh and do it myself. Otherwise I just sit at my seat by the door as people come into the zendo. At first it is just a trickle, but after the first roll-down, at five seventeen, the flow becomes more steady.
In my early days, I used to take the first roll-down as my cue to go to the zendo. The pattern for the han is fifteen minutes long, divided into three rounds of seven, five and three minutes repectively, so the first roll-down is about half way through. When I did my practice period on the doanryo at Tassajara, we were instructed to be in the zendo by the first roll-down even when we didn't have a job that day. The next practice period, when I was the head doan, seeing that Linda, the ino, was always in the zendo before the han started, I decided to support her by doing the same, and since then I have always liked to be early. It was harder when I was tenzo and had to wait to check in with the breakfast cook - and I would get very impatient if they didn't arrive by five past five as requested.
While the han is going on, the morning doshi is doing the round of various altars in the building, starting with the kaisando, and including the kitchen and the hallway altar, before they go to the Buddha Hall. The difference between City Center and Tassajara is that at Tassajara the first and second roll-downs were timed by the doan, who would signal the person hitting the han, and then there would be a longer period before the third roll-down while the doshi completed their round. All the students would be expected to be inside and seated by the second roll-down, after which the shuso enters the zendo to do their jundo, inspecting to make sure everything is in order. In other words, you always knew how much time you had before the second roll-down to get to your seat at the last minute, if you were that way inclined - and it is invariably the same people who come early and the same people who come late every day...
Here in the city this is a more high-risk strategy, in that the signal for the second roll-down is given by the chiden who hits the big bell in the Buddha Hall as the doshi does their prostrations, so the time between the first roll-down and the second is entirely dependent on the speed that the doshi moves around the building. People get used to how long the Abbot takes when he is here, but during this practice period, a number of different people are being doshi during the week - Michael, Vicki, Jordan - and this morning Blanche was doing it, and obviously caught more than a few people out - instead of the increasing surge of people coming into the zendo before the second roll-down, there was a big influx after the shuso and Blanche had finished their jundos and the three bells were rung to begin the period of zazen. I might need to do some finger-wagging at some of the habitually late people, especially as I invoked the Gyoji Kihan at the residents' meeting last Saturday. 

(If you are new to this,  and all these Japanese words made you glaze over, you might want to refer to the glossary)

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Returning To Silence

I was very happy with the Katagiri Roshi memorial this morning, in that everything went smoothly, and people seemed to enjoy the inclusion of the Peaceful Life poem. Michael also reminded us, at the start of the ceremony, of my favourite story about Katagiri, when he is asked to say some inspiring words at a big dinner of donors and potential donors, and starts off by saying, "You're all going to die".
At breakfast there were more memories of him invoked over amaranth and apple muffins. Blanche spoke about some of the episodes in his earlier life, and also mentioned an exchange he had with Lou, saying a little pointedly, "Everyone wants to be my student, but nobody wants to move to Minnesota". This phrase goes directly to the point of how much are you willing to give up for your practice, which all of us have been confronted with in one form or another.
I have not read Returning to Silence for a few years; when I read it early on in my practice, I found it a little too severe; coming back to it a few years later it made more sense. I pulled it down from the shelf this morning after my renewed rendez-vous with Dogen, and alighted upon this:
"Zazen is not a method. If you think so, then zazen becomes a toy. If you are going to use zazen as a toy, it's not necessary to do zazen; there are lots of other toys that are better.
Those who do not have faith will not accept zazen, however much they are taught. If you don't trust this silence and the vastness of existence, if you do not soak yourself in this realm, how can you trust yourself? How can you trust others? How can you deal with human life? No matter how long you try to study the sutras or Zen, you will never understand. Even though you say, 'I understand', that understanding is not understanding".

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Study Hall

A last dip into the Harada Roshi teishos. I notice that there are only a few references to the Shodoka, which is not untypical - I can think of many practice periods at Tassajara where the classes and lectures only glancingly referred to the text we were supposed to be studying. His words are inspiring just the same: "What we call a Buddha doesn't exist in some special way. It is a matter of you taking care of yourself. It is your problem, a concern of yours alone. If it isn't this teaching, then we can't call it the Buddha's zen".