Saturday, July 30, 2011

Closing The Eye

It's been fully nine months since I cracked open the Shobogenzo, and finishing it leaves me feeling at a bit of a loss. There are books it has taken me longer to read: the first time I took on The Lord of the Rings, when I was eleven or twelve, it took me a whole year to plough through it, though I managed to do it in three weeks a couple of years later, when eating and sleeping were less important; as a student I also devoted an entire year to A La Recherche du Temps Perdu, though since I spent most of that year living in Paris, I did have many other divertissements as well. When I finished that, I had an immediate impulse to start it all over again, which I didn't, and haven't since, though it still sits patiently on my shelf. I am not sure I want to go all the way through the Shobogenzo again, though I imagine I shall be cherry-picking my favourite sections on a regular basis. There are still a few paragraphs I would like to quote, so don't be surprised to see it popping up here - in fact if I get organised, I might pre-load some entries to come out during sesshin...
In the meantime, and somewhat serendipitously, a dear friend asked if I would plug her new venture:
"I am drawn to tweet the Shobogenzo.  My hope is to post the entirety of Kaz's translation, in increments of 140 characters or less.  The project's Twitter handle is @dogenzenji108
Could you mention this on your blog?  I was hoping other people might start tweeting Dogen as well and we could cultivate a sort of Diamond Sutra-style digital entwining chorus of texts".
Only too happy to oblige. I think you can land on this planet here - I am no more on Twitter than I am on Facebook. So if the passages I have posted have been too dense for you, perhaps the condensed versions might trigger something more easily. May we never be without Dogen in our lives.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Hymn To The Perfection Of Wisdom

I hadn't wanted to ask anyone to take over the Friday morning kokyo spot, which David had been doing for a long time - at least not yet. It seemed the easiest thing was to do it myself; I always enjoy being kokyo, and I know how hard it is to do the solo for the Hymn to the Perfection of Wisdom, having got my breathing all wrong one of the times I had done it in the past.
I wasn't expecting to be so moved by doing it. I noticed how much softer my voice sounded than usual; it wasn't that I was trying to channel David's way of chanting, but also, thinking of him as I chanted, I couldn't help but hear his voice, and that was more powerful than anything else.
After the closing bows, the doan slightly mis-hit a bell, and she and I looked at each other and pulled little faces, which changed the mood. And then, when I had gone back up to my office during soji, someone came to say they wanted to take on the kokyo position as an offering; I had had someone else in mind to take it over, who I knew would do a lovely job, but I had also been thinking that I should give a kokyo position to the person who was offering anyway, so it seems to fit very well.
Before service I had dokusan. After I had settled on the cushion, Paul asked, "What is Buddha mind?" I replied, "Thinking about sesshin".

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Study Hall - Shobogenzo

"There is a simple way to become a buddha: When you refrain from unwholesome actions, are not attached to birth and death, and are compassionate toward all sentient beings, respectful to seniors and kind to juniors, not excluding or desiring anything, with no thoughts or worries, you will be called a buddha. Seek nothing else" - 'Birth and Death', 'Shoji'.

Evening Assembly, Morning Assembly

It was decided that instead of the usual Wednesday evening lecture we would meet in small groups to have a chance to express how we were doing - just residents, the intensive participants, some close friends, and David's two brothers, who arrived yesterday. Seeing them and talking with them earlier allowed for uncanny flashes of resemblance with David, in their features, mannerisms, ways of speaking and the same quick dry humour, even in this situation where propriety counsels staidness.
Michael, the older brother, ended up with the group I was in with the Abbot in the dokusan room, eight of us all together, in a circle on the tatamis, a formal and sombre setting. Of the other residents, I will name Gretchen mainly to have a reason to point people who might not have come across it to her post from a few days ago. We had an hour, which allowed everyone to say what they felt they needed to say. As with last Friday's meeting, many different moods were expressed; apart from the grief and sense of loss, Michael cracked us all up with a story from their childhood. I talked about how I felt I had little space for a personal reaction with all that was going on, and also remembered a Saturday morning when we were having breakfast in the zendo a year or more ago: the server brought the pot with the miso soup, and I was waiting for them to stir it up with the ladle, to see the cloud of miso once again rise from the bottom. Only, when the soup was stirred, it remained clear. I went up afterwards and asked David, who had cooked the breakfast, about this phenomenon, and he slapped his forehead with the flustered realisation that he had made miso soup without miso, which, we both knew, was going to become one of those stories that would get told around Zen Center for years to come.
Afterwards all the groups came together in the grey light of the courtyard, a typical summer evening cool breeze blowing, to fill the space with the chanting of the Refuges.

This morning we had the first of what will be seven memorial services, to take us through the traditional forty-nine day period. During the Dai Hi Shin Dharani, everyone stood up and took a turn to offer incense as we chanted. I am not sure where we got the dedications for these services from; each makes an appeal to a different buddha or bodhisattva, and the phrasing is unlike anything else we use. I was moved by these lines this morning:
Kindly we pray that in the realm of life and death this one person Seizan Yushin, 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.
Afterwards, at breakfast, the almonds in our third bowls were still crackling as they cooled.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Study Hall - Shobogenzo

It seems like a mistake to take excerpts from 'Only a Buddha and a Buddha' ('Yuibutsu Yobutsu'), since the whole fascicle is completely wondrous, but time is limited, and I don't have anything else to say:
"When you realize buddha dharma, you do not think, 'This is realization just as I expected'. Even if you think so, realization inevitably differs from your expectation. Realization is not like your conception of it. Accordingly, realization cannot take place as previously conceived. When you realize buddha dharma, you do not consider how realization came about. Reflect on this: what you think one way or another before realization is not a help for realization.
Although realization is not like any of the thoughts preceding it, this is not because such thoughts were actually bad and could not be realization. But since you were seeking elsewhere, you thought and said that thoughts cannot be realization.
However, it is worth noticing that what you think one way or another is not a help for realization. For this reason, you become cautious not to be small-minded. Indeed, if realization came forth by the power of your prior thoughts, it would not be trustworthy.
Realization does not depend on your thoughts, but comes forth far beyond them; realization is helped only by the power of realization itself. Know then that there is no delusion, and there is no realization".

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Give Over

When I was sixteen, a couple of school friends of mine declared, after, I imagine, much thought, that the meaning of life was that everything was a container. I thought then, and still do, for why else would it have stuck in my mind for thirty years, that the idea has some merit, while perhaps not being the definitive answer.
Here at Zen Center we are fond of using the word in its more abstract forms, especially the container of practice and the container of community, and both of these have been particularly to the fore this past week. As this second week of the intensive has got underway, I can feel myself settling into the schedule, as I hoped I would be able to, and giving over to what comes next.
This morning during service I looked at the candle on the altar, and saw that Gretchen had taken care of it, in the way that she described recently, and words from Dogen's Tenzo Kyokun came to mind: "Day and night things come to mind, and the mind attends to them". I have always liked this sentence, for its utter simplicity, and when I was tenzo, and we chanted from the Tenzo Kyokun every day, I would get to reflect on it frequently. This morning I realised that I hadn't thought about that line for a long time, and that my feeling of late is that while I have been attending to things as best I can, the doing has been accompanied by the sense that these things are a chore and are taking something out of me. With the nice number of hours we are getting to sit during the intensive, feeling my body relax and release tensions, it feels much more like I can just attend to things, be nourished by the attending, and keep moving forward to the next thing. This is how I understand the idea of being held by the container of practice.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Study Hall - Shobogenzo

I read this fascicle a few days ago, but it is fit for the moment: "Taking refuge in the three treasures, you nurture yourself wherever you are, birth after birth, world after world...The power of taking refuge in the three treasures will never decay...
Initiate this vow aspiring for enlightenment, the fruit of buddhahood. Even though your body-mind is born and dies moment by moment, your dharma body surely grows and attains enlightenment.
'Taking refuge in' means returning and relying upon. 'Returning' is like children returning to their parents. 'Relying upon' is like citizens relying on the king. This phrase implies that you are liberated by doing so.
You take refuge in buddha because he is a great master. You take refuge in dharma because it is good medicine. You take refuge in sangha because it is an excellent friend" - 'Taking Refuge in Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha', 'Kie Bupposo'.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

The Benji Poem

Friends and family continue to leave moving comments on the various posts from the last few days, and I encourage everyone to read them. I am happy to be able to offer this as a forum for people to express themselves, and today I would like to share this - the benji poem that we referred to on Friday, which was passed on to me. As a bit of context for those not familiar with the set-up, the benji is the attendant - I think side-kick might sum it up best in David's case - to the shuso, the head monk for a practice period. They work together, cleaning toilets, at Tassajara taking care of the trash, recycling and compost, and perform ceremonies together. The shuso meets every student for tea, one by one usually, and the benji prepares the tea and bakes the cookies or other treats - Ren was commenting on the beauty of David's tea arrangements a day or so ago. At the end of the practice period, the shuso ceremony is the chance for the shuso to meet every student's question with dharma words. It is always a special occasion, and the benji pretty much kicks off the proceedings with the poem, which are designed to encapsulate the intimacy of the preceding months.

Ren the shuso - and photographer - and David the benji after the shuso ceremony

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Mindful Of Transiency

There was a big crowd at the talk this morning - Liping had brought her qigong students for a visit, as she does from time to time - and I have also been thinking about the big crowd that was not in the room. The sangha here has many forms and layers, residents, former residents, friends, families, people who are just interested or curious, and we are all touched at times like this. This blog has received many more visitors than usual around the deaths that have happened in the past eight months, and since yesterday morning there have been 750 visitors to the first post that I wrote about David. One life spreads out and affects so many others, in a way that none of us can fully dream of.
Paul's talk was perfect for the occasion. When I got up to make the announcements afterwards, I found that I was quite emotional - I had been thinking about nenju, and its purpose of allowing each of us to express in bowing our gratitude to one another for our practice during the week, and wanted to encourage those who didn't want to do that as part of a ceremony just to take the opportunity to express gratitude to each other anyway, and connect with other people who were here today.
For the ceremony itself, which did draw a larger number of people than usual, I was the kokyo, which is always one of my favourite things to do. I was looking back at old posts, and it seems I have posted this before, but it has been a while, so here it is again. Today the words contained for me more energetic significance than they commonly do, and I could feel the emotion coming out again in my voice:

Carefully listen everyone.
24 centuries 97 years ago the Great Tathagata entered nirvana.
When this day is gone, your life also decreases.
Like a fish in a puddle, what pleasure is there here?
We are to practice constantly, as if to save our head from fire.
Mindful of transiency, pursue the path with diligence and care.
Throughout Hosshinji the Dharma safely resides,
      bringing all peace.
Everyone in ten directions knows an increase in joy
      and growth in wisdom.
Thankfully we recite the names of Buddha.

Sunset from the roof last Sunday night

Friday, July 22, 2011

Sitting and Talking

This morning's intensive class turned into a chance for us all to reflect and to express ourselves, our grief, our understanding, our lack of understanding. One thing that was said by several people was that David didn't know, or couldn't properly take in, how much he was loved, and I know how this was true; he would deflect such talk, and perhaps laugh nervously. He was loved because he had such a big and genuine heart, as many people have said today, along with the sharp brain that caused him to suffer. One person followed this up with a wish that we all allow ourselves to believe this of ourselves, that we are loved, just for who we are, no matter what we may think.
I was glad that we got to go back to the zendo at the end of the morning and in the afternoon, allowing ourselves to settle on the cushion. Other than that, my day involved giving lots of hugs, which I found easier to do, and perhaps more mutually beneficial, than trying to give voice to my feelings.
This evening, a community meeting in the dining room. We formed a circle of chairs like we do for residents' meeting, only there were maybe eighty of us, and we made an unwieldy shape filling the room. Which did not stop it being a very intimate ninety minutes, sharing our presence and holding our experiences together. We do intimacy very well here, but as was pointed out, this does not prevent us sometimes being too busy to stop and connect with each other in a meaningful way, ways that can make a huge difference to the person on the receiving end.
For me the most touching moment was when Ren read out the wonderful benji poem that David had written for her, which someone had printed out; I was in the zendo at Tassajara when David read it, three and a half years ago, and I heard his voice and saw his mannerisms. Paul spoke last, more personally than abbatially, and reiterated what he said at service: isn't this what we do - sit, be open and raw? We ended with a refrain from Leonard Cohen, a big favourite of David's, and then of course the Refuges, deep and sonorous in the circle.

The old Birdhouse, where David lived at Tassajara

The Morning Schedule

Last night those of us who were up were mostly sombre; this morning the tears and distress were to the fore. At the end of the jundo I invited people who wished to assist with the ringing of the densho; Paul and Blanche did the first prostrations and strikes, and after I had taken my turn, I was deeply moved to see a long line of residents along the hallway, each of us affected by what has happened. We sat through the two periods as it didn't seem right to get up for kinhin while the bell was ringing.
At the beginning of the service, the same that we have already done several times in the past year, Paul addressed the assembly with some simple and effective words; chanting the Enmei Jukku twenty one times had its own power and effect, and I could hear people crying as Tova did the dedication:

He has entered solitude with his karmic forces.
He has gone into a vast Silence.
He is borne away by the Great Ocean of birth and death.

Everyone had the chance to offer incense afterwards. I think many of us were very aware that usually on a Friday morning, David would be the kokyo as we chanted the Diamond Sutra, after which he would come in with a solo rendition of the Hymn to the Perfection of Wisdom, which he always did very sweetly and beautifully with a soft voice that often moved me.
After the bows in the kaisando, Paul, Tova and I consulted and felt that it would be helpful if we had a community meeting tonight for people to be able to share their feelings and support each other. It had been felt that oryoki would not be right this morning, as it would have taken people away from the service, so we all ate silently in the dining room together.  After the work meeting senior staff checked in with each other in Tova's office, each expressing how we were feeling, and helping each other to stay strong, not just for ourselves, but for others who would be looking to us for help and leadership. I am aware that some of those who are just here for the intensive might be feeling a little on the outside of this community grieving, and as Paul said, we continue to practise, mindfully, because this is why we practise.

The first part of David's dharma name, given to him at Tassajara, was Blue Mountains. These were his mountains.

A Death In The Family

Roger knocked hard on my door last night just as I was thinking of going to bed; David C had been found dead. Down on the second floor, I hugged one of his closest friends, and she sobbed on my shoulder for a while. People were down in the Buddha Hall chanting, she said, but she wanted to stay up here closer to his room. I went to join the chanting, the Dai Hi Shin Dharani and the Sho Sai Myo, and fetched a chant sheet from a recent memorial service so that we could close with the usual dedication.
I made the decision that we should ring the 108 bells in the morning so that everyone would have a chance to participate, and went around putting together the elements for that, and finding the service that we did the morning after Jerome's death, and Lou's; we found his dharma name, and I put name cards and photos on the altars. When the body left the building with the medical examiner, about twenty of us accompanied it onto the street, softly chanting the Enmei Jukku over and over until the ambulance had turned the corner, then we returned inside with our arms around each other.
I practised with David for a number of years, first at Tassajara, and then here. He was always so likeable, easy-going, smart, with a line in self-deprecating humour, beneath which was a deep and ongoing struggle around self-worth. I used to think of him as being like one of the monks in the great assembly of the koan stories - not the ones the stories would be about, but one of those practising diligently and hoping for their own breakthrough. Recently things had been hard for David, not finding a job despite having recently finished a couple of years at school. I had talked to him last week about things that were coming up for him, an offer from a friend to go and live back on the east coast that he was conflicted about. There had been a lot of discussion this week among senior people about how we could support him through these challenges, but in the end, all the support and the good-will of a close community cannot always be enough if someone's mind is not at ease.

David at the work circle in Tassajara

David as benji after Ren's shuso ceremony

David with Stephen on the Stone Office lawn, a picture I always felt summed up life at Tassajara in the winter

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Work Period

While I am sitting in my office waiting for the hours of audio to process, down in the side courtyard zafus are being stuffed. I went up onto the roof to take this picture:

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Abiding In This Phenomenal World

Once, as kokyo for breakfast at Tassajara, I mischanted the first line of the final chant, which normally goes, "Abiding in this ephemeral world, like a lotus in muddy water, the mind is pure and goes beyond; thus we bow to Buddha". It was probably the most exciting thing that happened at Tassajara that day, and I had several good-natured comments about it. The funny thing was that, not long afterwards, another kokyo made the same mistake, and then, in the same time frame, I did it again myself. There was agreement that it was a nice mistake, and a not inappropriate one to make.
So on Sunday evening as I was settling in for evening zazen, I saw a phenomenon in the zendo that I had never seen before - a patch of sunlight near the doshi door. I resolved to investigate further; Monday turned foggy, but last night, there it was again at seven thirty, and as surmised, the sun was reflecting off a window on Laguna Street, through the last upper window on Lily Alley, and reaching diagonally across the entire zendo…it probably only happens for one week every year.

More direct sunlight when I came upstairs from breakfast just now - it is a beautiful summer day here:

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Study Hall - Shobogenzo

"Clearly know that there are always buddhas in the past, present and future. Do not say that past buddhas had a beginning or did not have a beginning. To fall into such theoretical discussion is not the study of buddha dharma. Instead, to make offerings to past buddhas, leave the household and follow them is a crucial way to become buddhas.
You become buddhas by the merit of making offerings to buddhas. How can a sentient being who has not made offerings to even one buddha become a buddha? There is no becoming a buddha without cause...
Making offerings to buddhas does not mean providing buddhas with what they need. It is dedicating moments of your life to buddhas without wasting any moment. What use can buddhas make even if gold and silver are offered? What benefit can buddhas receive if incense and flowers are offered? However, buddhas receive the offerings with great compassion to help increse the merit of sentient beings" - 'Making Offerings To Buddhas', 'Kuyo Shobutsu'.

Monday, July 18, 2011

A No-Win Situation

I was distressed to read Zen Beginner's post about Saturday. I had seen the conversation taking place, and the resulting exit, but had no idea who had been the protagonist of the situation or that it was having such an impact. My first reaction was that I needed to have a conversation with the other party, which I managed to do today. I listened to what they had to say, and then put forward a couple of ideas of my own.
I once sat next to someone for a sesshin who was in a chair; sometimes they were very still, sometimes they were very fidgety. One period, feeling particularly irritated - I had a fidgety person on the other side of me as well, and was not settling - I decided to count how many times this person moved. My intention was to be able to wave this in their face after sesshin. The total ended up being around ninety distinct movements in thirty minutes of sitting, and I suddenly realised that there was a lot of suffering causing this to happen - I didn't say anything to that person in the end, but I did stop feeling irritated by them.
So my feeling about this story from Saturday was that the other person, who has some years of practice under their belt, should have tried to keep a compassionate mind towards the newer student, and if that was proving too hard for them, then maybe they needed to go and sit in the gaitan to have some peace.
One of the things I try very hard not to do as ino is reinforce anyone's idea that they may be a failure. I am sure that I have managed to make more than a few people feel bad, and sometimes, for someone who is in residential practice, that might be a helpful thing, but I can see how easily dynamics and perceptions can be reinforced and co-created. As Paul mentioned in his talk on Saturday, when you start to sit, it is common for these kinds of feelings to become more prominent as you are paying more attention to them, and with something as slippery as our practice, it is easy to think that everyone else must be doing it much better than you are. It simply isn't true; no-one is failing and no-one is succeeding. We trust that we are all trying our best, even if it sometimes doesn't look like it or feel like it.

Study Hall - Shobogenzo

It seems like a treat to have an hour scheduled for study every day during the intensive, even if I usually do that by myself anyway. There is something about going to the dining room with a simple purpose, to sit quietly and read - except that most of the intensive participants did not know what was involved in study hall, and I sent them away to get dharma books to read. It also seems like I will get to the end of the Shobogenzo in the next couple of weeks, and I wonder what I will pick up after that. Today's fascicle is 'Four Horses', 'Shime', which of course has a resonance with my dharma name, though frankly, given how I came to Buddhism, I feel more like the last kind of horse than the first kind. And in case you are wondering, it felt disruptive to bring my laptop downstairs, so I am back in my room typing.
"Ancestor Nagarjuna said, 'When a phrase of guidance is spoken, an excellent horse sees a shadow of the whip and gets to the right path'.
To encounter various situations and hear the dharma of birth and beyond birth, and the teaching on the Three Vehicles and the One Vehicle is to see a shadow of the whip and get to the right path, instead of the common tendency to follow the wrong path.
When you follow a master and encounter a true person, there is no place a guiding phrase is not presented; there is no moment when you don't see a shadow of the whip. Whether you see a shadow of the whip right away, or after innumerable eons, you are able to enter the right path".

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Swings and Roundabouts

It turned out that the answer to the question 'Who can I get to ring the wake-up bell on Sunday?' was 'me', since the person who had kindly agreed to do it did not materialise in time. As I have mentioned before, if I end up ringing the wake-up bell it usually puts me in a bad mood for two reasons: first that things are not happening the way they are supposed to, and we are inevitably running behind schedule, though I wasn't so concerned about that part this morning, and second, that I will spend the rest of the morning schedule feeling sweaty and clammy, with Sod's Law dictating, as it did today, that I will have put on a clean jubon especially for the occasion. But, when I caught up with the person later, and they apologised, I said, 'Well, the rest of it went well'.
The whole weekend has been like that, good or bad depending on what kind of spin I choose to put on it: yesterday could be said to have gone pretty smoothly considering the numbers involved. I became aware of a number of mistakes I had made in the planning, a consequence of feeling overloaded during the latter part of the week, but we worked around them. Things mostly happened without drama. I didn't really get to settle into sitting, and I felt very tired and more sore than usual, which put me in a slightly odd mood by the time we got to the opening ceremony for the intensive after dinner, after which I wasn't good for much of anything apart from staring into space.
I still woke up at four this morning, as I have all week, which is not helping. Apart from the wake-up bell, the morning sitting and service were nice, and the tenzo had put out a lovely breakfast. Mark Cavendish won another stage at the Tour; I was starting to feel relaxed. I had planned to go off to Mount Diablo, and found I had a flat tyre just as I was leaving for the BART, and then, once that was fixed and I was on a later train, we were delayed by engineering works. None of that mattered once I was on the mountain, though - as always in such a place, life boils down to finding a rhythm for climbing and then seeing if I can keep the rhythm all the way to the summit  (you can add your own analogies here).
I am not sure that I feel fully rested yet, but I have made enough plans that we should be able to get through the first couple of days of the intensive, and then we shall see what happens after that.

Friday, July 15, 2011

An Ocean of Bright Clouds

A big evening followed by a big morning, with not much sleep in between - and it's going to be a long day today. I'm pretty happy though: after all the testing, the different technical elements worked nicely with no hiccups, we had a good crowd for the reading, and I got to say hello to some old friends as well as enjoying having Graham and Mako here. As we were milling about after the reading, I reminded them about the Full Moon Ceremony, and was delighted to see them coming downstairs in their okesas at 6:30 this morning - and we all bowed together in the kaisando afterwards as well, which was a rare treat for me. The ceremony was also smooth and successful; I think my favourite moment was at the end of the Bodhisattva vows, when the chanting stopped, everyone in unison, and there was just the sound of the small bell resonating through the Buddha Hall.

Most of the panel after the reading: Kim, Graham, Mako, Colleen, Abbot Steve, David
During afternoon zazen I had the idea of running a slide show of post-fire pictures before and after the reading. This is Tassajara from Flag Rock after I had put some flags back up there.

Thursday, July 14, 2011


I will own to feeling rather tired and stressed this week. This is largely due to anticipation of the one-day sitting on Saturday which heralds the three-week intensive. There is a lot to organise, and there are many unknowns. I woke up much earlier than I needed to this morning and my first thought was 'Who can I get to ring the wake-up bell on Sunday?'
I know that, once we get into the intensive, I will enjoy being on that schedule, having a lot of sitting and study time (after the Tour de France finishes each day... and, by the way, I am very happy that a Manxman and a Welshman are making headlines), but in the meantime I am finding it hard to settle. Apart from full days, taking care of the usual details, rehearsing for tomorrow's Full Moon Ceremony, I have activities on each evening this week - Young Urban Zen on Monday (which I did find hugely energising again), a meeting about the Five Wishes document on Tuesday, the talk last night, the reading for Fire Monks tonight (this will be the first time we have run the new sound system in the dining room, and we have spent quite some time working on the video live-stream set-up, and haven't even sorted out the projection part of it yet), and on Friday night we will be into the intensive. After that I don't have a free evening for another three weeks...
After the talk last night I decided to go up on the roof for a moment, and found Tanya there, relaxing with a cigarette; we looked at the almost full moon together and chatted, and I could feel myself unwinding as well. I remembered the quote from Uchiyama Roshi which I have posted before: "Only when I look up at the sky does it preach that there is a world in which we do not need to be excited". Everything is alright as it is. Even the stressful stuff.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Buddhas and Ancestors

One of the things I miss about not being at Tassajara is that here in the city we do not chant the names of the Buddhas and Ancestors every day - we do half of the male list and the women ancestors on Mondays, and the full male lineage on Saturdays.
When I first went to Tassajara, I enjoyed the process of memorising the two lists of names, not least because I felt a clear distinction between those who had been there for some time and who knew the names by heart, and those who did not, and I wanted to be seen as one of the former. These days there is less ego involved in the process, and I mostly find joy in the sonorities and rhythms of the chanting. A number of times as ino I have encouraged people to keep the tempo up while we chant, as otherwise it seems like a dirge to me, and we are, after all, ackowledging our debt to all these people who devoted their lives to practice, as a result of which the dharma is available to us today. As the dedication afterwards spells out: "We dedicate our practice to all the great teachers from whom we have received immeasurable benefit", and it ends "May our life reveal their compassion; let us honour their true being", phrases which always just seem to slip by, but which are huge requests to make, if we stop and think about it.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Study Hall - Shobogenzo

With the Tour having a rest day, I start on the undated fascicles:
"If you receive kindness, aspire to return the kindness. If you give kindness, to not expect the kindness to be returned...
As the World-Honored One says, once wholesome or unwholesome actions are created, they will not perish even after one hundred, one thousand, or ten thousand eons. One receives the results when the causes and conditions meet. However, unwholesome actions disappear or turn to lighter results by repentance. Wholesome actions increase by rejoicing. This is called never perish. It is not that they do not have effects" ('Karma in the three periods', 'Sanji Go').

Sunday, July 10, 2011

The Feast of Maximum Occupancy

'Good disciple of Buddha, the source of mind is still; the ocean of Dharma is profound. Those who realize this are liberated immediately'.
These words jumped out at me when I was going over the tokudo ceremony on Friday - the title of the post comes from somewhere else; bonus points if you know where. It was a big and joyful day. Rather than go on about what happened, apart from the fact that the 150 people who Daigan said would be there all showed up, we'll just move on to the photos. I enjoyed having my ringside seat to all the action, and was glad to be part of such an occasion in the community:

Friday, July 8, 2011

Vajrachedika Prajna Paramita Sutra

I love reciting the Diamond Sutra on Friday mornings, and often find myself moved by what I am reading. In recent weeks that hadn't been happening, but it was there again today:
"What do you think, Subhuti, is the extent of space in the East easy to measure? Subhuti replied: No indeed, O Lord. The Lord asked: In like manner, is it easy to measure the extent of space in the South, West, North, downwards, upwards, in the intermediate directions, in all the ten directions all around? Subhuti replied: No indeed, O Lord. The Lord said: Even so the heap of merit of that Bodhi-being who unsupported gives a gift is not easy to measure. That is why, Subhuti, those who have set out in the Bodhisattva-vehicle, should give gifts without being supported by the notion of a sign".

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Self Indulgence

I have been watching the number of followers slowly creeping up recently, and yesterday it had reached the auspicious number of 108; I wanted to make a comment about it, but already number 109 is on board...timing is everything.
Also noted is that the stats have been running for a whole year now, and that June was the most popular month so far. This is mostly due to Kate sticking me on the SFZC Facebook wall whenever she feels like it these days. Thanks, Kate.
The ten most popular posts over the past year cover a range of topics. Top of the list is the one about Darlene's death, with over twice as many views as the next one, which is more on a meta-level, about the Ino's Desire phenomenon - something I never really got to the bottom of, and which seems to have fallen out of fashion anyway. Number three is Djinn and Richard's wedding, and if I had known so many people were going to see that one, I would have put more photos on it. The photos on this post seem to have taken on a life of their own, and I hope Alison forgives me for it; people all over the internet seem very interested in head-shaving...
Pride is a new entry, but definitely boosted by Facebook. More pictures surfaced this week on the sangha-e newsletter this week if you want to see more. I am also happy that recent posts on the Young Urban Zen group and the Full Moon Ceremony are right up there as well. The more mundane parts of the ino's job are represented by the post on what it takes to put up the dharma talks, and the cycle of birth and death is completed by two posts on Lou's death and cremation.
I still also enjoy seeing what search words bring people to this blog, my recent favourite being "Tokudo - steaming hot". If you want one of those, by the way, stop by on Saturday afternoon and we will be serving up some fresh home leaving.

A Knock On The Door

Genine knocked on my door last night after lecture, in the mistaken belief that she was on the floor below and was knocking on Sam's door. Undaunted, she continued with her mission, which was to share a quote from Moby-Dick which Valorie's talk had brought to mind for her, and which seemed to her a wonderful description of zazen. Unfortunately, even with much thumbing through already well-thumbed pages, she was unable to find the right page in her copy of the book, so we googled it, with 'disport' being the key search word:
And thus, though surrounded by circle upon circle of consternations and affrights, did these inscrutable creatures at the centre freely and fearlessly indulge in all peaceful concernments; yea, serenely revelled in dalliance and delight. But even so, amid the tornadoed Atlantic of my being, do I myself still for ever centrally disport in mute calm; and while ponderous planets of unwaning woe revolve round me, deep down and deep inland there I still bathe me in eternal mildness of joy.
Now that word disport immediately reminded me of the opening lines of the Bendowa:
All buddha-tathagathas have been simply transmitting wondrous dharma and actualizing anuttara samyak sambodhi for which there is an unsurpassable, unfabricated, wondrous method. This wondrous dharma, which has been transmitted only from buddha to buddha without deviation, has as its criterion jijuyu zanmai.
For disporting oneself freely  in this samadhi, practicing zazen in an upright posture is the true gate. Although this dharma is abundantly inherent in each person, it is not manifested without practice, it is not attained without realization.
I confess that I have never read  Moby-Dick, which is not perhaps as highly ranked on school reading lists in England, but I read the Bendowa in my early years at Tassajara, and it made a very deep impression, even if I never felt like I actually understood it.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011


At the beginning of Senior Staff meetings on Wednesdays, we usually do a check-in, letting the group know where we are in terms of our state of mind, how much work we have on our plates and so on, and an appreciation, which I think is a great practice, as you think of something positive and express it to everybody, which tends to brighten the energy in the room. Even when I am not feeling so up, there is always something to appreciate - sunshine, coffee, a good night's sleep, people's support and kindness. Today I had a clear moment in mind: before work meeting I was walking back to my room; both of the doors to the fire escape were open and the sun was pouring in. I stepped out onto the fire escape and immediately lines from the Eihei Koso Hotsuganmon popped up in my head:
We vow with all beings, from this life on throughout countless lives, to hear the true dharma; that upon hearing it, no doubt will arise in us, nor will we lack in faith; that upon meeting it, we shall renounce worldly affairs and maintain the buddha-dharma; and that in doing so, the great earth and all living beings together will attain the buddha way.
Although our past evil karma has greatly accumulated, indeed being the cause and condition of obstacles in practicing the way, may all buddhas and ancestors who have attained the buddha way be compassionate to us and free us from karmic effects, allowing us to practice the way without hindrance.
May they share with us their compassion, which fills the boundless universe with the virtue of their enlightenment and teachings. buddhas and ancestors of old were as we; we in the future shall be buddhas and ancestors. Revering buddhas and ancestors, we are one buddha and one ancestor; awakening bodhi-mind, we are one bodhi-mind. Because they extend their compassion to us freely and without limit, we are able to attain buddhahood and let go of the attainment. Therefore, the Chan Master Lung-ya said:
Those who in past lives were not enlightened will now be enlightened. In this life, save the body which is the fruit of many lives. Before buddhas were enlightened, they were the same as we. Enlightened people of today are exactly as those of old.
Quietly explore the farthest reaches of these causes and conditions, as this practice is the exact transmission of a verified buddha. Confessing and repenting in this way, one never fails to receive profound help from all buddhas and ancestors. By revealing and disclosing our lack of faith and practice before the buddha, we melt away the root of transgressions by the power of our confession and repentance. This is the pure and simple color of true practice, of the true mind of faith, of the true body of faith.
The view from the fire escape another time

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Light And Dark Oppose One Another

For whatever reason, I have been taking a lot of pictures around the place, catching the light of the long sunny days, so following on from yesterday morning's crop, here are a few more:

Last night's fireworks from the third floor fire escape
Dining room lit up by the evening sun
The iconic dining room chairs
A rare alignment of evening sun through the kitchen window to illuminate this
Stained glass in the hallway
I love my bessu, as I have said before
Courtyard Buddha
Courtyard Jizo
Courtyard Jizo
Bougainvilla and chairs in the courtyard

Study Hall - Shobogenzo

I was a little surprised to go from one fascicle dated 1246 to the next, 'Eight Awakenings of Great Beings', 'Hachi Dainin Gaku', which is dated 1253, right at the end of Dogen's life. And it is poignant that for this last written teaching, he is mainly quoting from Buddha's final sutra, the Parinirvana Admonition Outline Sutra. The words are all beautiful and inspiring; here are the eight awakenings spelled out:
"The first awakening is to have few desires. To refrain from widely coveting the objects of the five-sense desires is called 'few desires'...
The second awakening is to know how much is enough. Even if you already have something, you set a limit for yourself for using it, so you should know how much is enough...
The third awakening is to enjoy serenity. This is to be away from noise and confusion, and stay alone in a quiet place. Thus is it called 'to enjoy serenity in seclusion'...
The fourth awakening is diligent effort. It is to engage ceaselessly in wholesome practices. That is why it is called 'dligent effort'. It is refinement without mixing in other activities. You keep going forward without turning back...
The fifth awakening is not neglecting mindfulness. It is also called maintaining right mindfulness. This helps you to guard the dharma so you won't lose it. It is called 'to maintain right mindfulness' or 'not to neglect mindfulness'...
The sixth awakening is to practice meditation. To abide in dharma without being confused is called 'stability in meditation'...
The seventh awakening is 'to cultivate wisdom'. It is to listen, contemplate, practice and have realization...
The eighth awakening is not to be engaged in hollow discussions. It is to experience realization and be free from discriminatory thinking, with the thorough understanding of the reality of all things. It is called 'not to be engaged in hollow discussions'...

Monday, July 4, 2011

The Third And The Fourth

For the ino, the fourth of July means first of all a Suzuki Roshi Memorial service (as a non-American, it does mostly mean an extra day off for me, though I don't make myself so popular around here for saying that). I have written before about how tricky it can be to get the quorum necessary to perform the ceremony when it happens over the weekend; this time we had lined up a certain number of people for the key positions, and they all showed up, which was a great start, and people who had offered to help, even though I hadn't given them a specific role ahead of time, were also there to fill in. I was also pleasantly surprised at the number of residents who attended as well, so it all felt good, even if I was sweating just from standing in my robes.
I had been marginally grouchy in that I had been over-ruled on the time for this morning's service, and it took place at eight fifteen rather than seven fifteen as I would have preferred. The person who made the decision correctly pointed out the reason for my attachment to the earlier time - so I could get out on my bike earlier. When the weather is this fine, I like being out as early as possible, and yesterday was on the bridge by seven on the way to Mount Tam, where I happened to meet Zack, who may have got an even earlier start than me. So it was a little frustrating for me to have to hang around so long, having woken up at five anyway, and a number of other people seemed to be ready for action at seven as well. It was already warm enough to make me realise that my planned climb of Mount Diablo would be very hot work by the time I got there, so I adjusted my plans to a shorter ride up Mount San Bruno, which gives me the added opportunity to visit the beach at the end. While I was waiting, I took some photographs, as it is nice to have time to do that with this strong morning light, and watched the Tour de France - I was worried that the stage ending would co-incide with the ceremony as well, but when we came out they were just in the last kilometre, and I was happy to see Tyler Farrar winning his first stage at the race - I think he was happy it was the fourth of July as well.

Sunrise this morning from my room
Courtyard maple
Buddha Hall big bell
The umpan - rung to announce meals

Sunday, July 3, 2011

You're Gonna Need A Bigger Boat

Aside from study time after breakfast, which right now is under threat from the Tour de France, I don't really get much time for reading - though perhaps that should be I don't really make much time for reading. This doesn't stop people giving or loaning me books, as I have mentioned, including a couple of authors who practise here. Fire Monks, though, is less tangential to my life than either tango or the Grateful Dead, as I am a bit player in the story that it dramatically tells, and I contributed to the telling of it.
David Z gave the talk on Saturday revisiting themes from the book, which started stirring it up in my mind, three years on. It was nice to have Colleen in attendance at the talk as well; I had her sign a copy of the book for me before she left, and since my original plan to spend the afternoon at the beach was hampered by lingering fog, I spent a good chunk of time instead in the hammock on the roof getting into the book, before polishing it off after dinner.
It is somewhat disconcerting to read about yourself in the third person, especially in constructed dialogue, but I had already got a little inured to that from reading extracts she had sent me to check over - and since I seem to keep making appearances in other people's blogs, and no, I am not going to link to them here, I shall probably have to get more used to this. I have my own version of the events of that time, particularly the diary entries I wrote while I was there, a redacted version of which I shared with Colleen, but of course those are very partial, for all that I can extrapolate and parse what I was thinking. What I enjoyed most about the book was getting to have other points of view laid out, to have a sense of what was going on in other people's minds  - the title of this post comes from Colin, who remembered the line from Jaws as the scale of the fire became more apparent, which was certainly the funniest moment in the book for me - though other people I have spoken with appreciated most how the dharma is skillfully woven into the narrative. Certainly I came away at the end thinking the tale had been as fully and accurately recounted as one could wish.
I have a good visual record of the experience as well, unsurprisingly, so this was an excuse to go through and look at some of the pictures. I did a disc for people who were down there at the time, and there were more intimate and more mundane shots that I haven't shared, but it is the colours of the sky that mostly stand out now:

Looking up the road from the Tony Trail, June 29th
Climbing Hawk Mountain, July 2nd
Helicopter taking water from the Narrows, July 2nd
This photo gets used a lot without the fire context; Junipero Serra, July 5th
Pluming to the west, July 6th
View from the Solar Panels, July 8th
Fuel - as mentioned in the book
The Indiana Crew and residents, as mentioned in the book, lunchtime, July 9th
This was the view I thought looked like death, central area, 3:45pm, July 9th
Carrying out the Buddha, 5:45pm, July 9th
Airtankers douse the road for the evacuation, 6pm July 9th
The view from Lime Point during the evacuation, 6:10pm July 9th
The view back towards Tassajara as the others were deciding to return, 6:30pm, July 9th