Friday, September 30, 2011

Study Hall

"It is important to give quality to the effort, instead of expecting the result of the effort. All you have to do is just make your best effort, being free from a label or judgment that you are capable or not or that you are good or not. Forget it and just make an enormous effort.
If while making this effort you are also competing with somebody else or with an idea of how to become a buddha, it's very difficult to give quality to your effort. We always think that we are deluded, ordinary people who will never become a buddha. Such an idea is also competition. If we practice like that it's very hard; our zazen becomes 'hell' zazen. If someone else attains enlightenment, that is their story, not yours. If someone stumbles, help them; don't think about being first. Don't compete and don't expect results. This is the best way to be free from selfishness. This is called the practice of egolessness. This is our practice" - Returning to Silence, Dainin Katagiri.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Common Ground

I got word that there were some feelings being expressed in the Young Urban Zen Facebook Group, and since I am not on Facebook, I cannot reply within that space, and as it is not an open-view group I can't link you all to it either. Here is one comment from one of our regulars, whose permission I have to re-post:
"Common ground is really important. The more I think about this, the more I realize that my beef is not with reading passages, but with the difficulty of finding common ground when everyone has really different experiences, beliefs, influences, etc. Actually, what bugs me is not those differences, but the fact that we never talk about them! I have no idea what our common ground really is. YUZ has been going for almost 4 months now and we haven't really opened up to each other in terms of our beliefs, values, feelings, etc. There are just occasional glimpses. I can tell people want to express themselves more, and I want to see more of that, but there's such a heavy emphasis on ideas that we don't get very personal. Most of what I know about anyone in the group is how they react to text. So yeah, I guess I do have a beef with the passages, because they turn our focus away from each other and into our heads. When it comes down to it, we can always read at home, but it's very rare to find a group like ours, and I feel like there are more direct ways to learn from each other".
My answer would be that zazen was always intended to be our common ground, that it is rare enough to be able to sit with people, that the act of doing that, regularly, albeit with a somewhat shifting cast, will inevitably show each of us to each other. At the very least it should foster a field of openness which will inform whatever conversation we have afterwards. It is probably true that in a varying group, some people will not want to be fully open, though the small group discussions hopefully make that easier. In my contributions to the meetings and the small groups, I often find myself suggesting that people find an answer in their hearts more than their heads, and that they use the texts as a way to clarify feelings more than to express ideas. We could certainly learn from each other by doing other things - it was true when a bunch of us played games in the park, and the times some of us have been out for a drink after meetings, and it could also be true if we did an hour of kitchen practice together, or spent an evening cleaning the conference center instead of talking. Nevertheless, what I value most in the group, as I have expressed here on several occasions, is that it gives me a forum to meet people open-hearted and whole-heartedly, and my wish that everyone in the group is able to cultivate that quality in themselves through the imperfect processes of our meeting together.

The Chocolate Index

'Tangaryo' has been a popular search word on the blog this week, no doubt because the new students at Tassajara are sitting right now, having a hot one I imagine, and probably 'quiet as lambs', as Gaelyn described one set of students to me. We have our own tangaryo in a couple of weeks, but ours is for people who have already spent some time at the temple. So our new practice period students get to be lively influences on the energy levels of the community right now.
The building certainly feels like it's buzzing this week; of course there are other factors at play, like the Indian Summer weather which settled over the city (and is currently disappearing in a fast-moving fog layer as I write)  and the classes and other practice period offerings that draw crowds in. Personally I am in good fettle as well, helped along by the heat and sunshine. I notice that I feel more settled in my spine as I sit, and that I have more energy to tackle the things that need to be taken care of. All these things interweave.
Now, the only two addictions or vices that I readily admit to are coffee and chocolate, and I usually say by way of justification that they are fairly minor in the scheme of things. I know my consumption of both can vary depending upon my mood, and I can definitely report that I don't seem to require as much chocolate to sustain me as I did a while ago. It's not that I eat so much less necessarily, but there is less craving involved.

Morning sun on the third floor

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Study Hall

"Whatever you do, wherever you may be, you are doing it in the Buddha's world. Buddha's world means the universe. The universe is nothing but the total manifestation of the truth by which all sentient beings are supported, upheld, naturally, if we open our hearts. If we don't open our hearts, it's a little bit difficult. Difficult means it takes a long time" - Returning to Silence, Dainin Katagiri.

Jinen's rakusu on the roof this morning during soji

Monday, September 26, 2011


I think it is safe to say that without my love of bicycles, I would never have come to live in San Francisco (and if you haven't heard that story yet, you will probably have to ask me in person, especially if you want the version that starts with a skiing trip I didn't go on in 1984), so to have a whole weekend where riding a bike is the primary focus of attention and Buddhism is the backdrop, is my idea of an all-round good time.
Having just scrolled back through the archives, I don't seem to have referenced the Buddhist Bike Pilgrimage, (update - well I did, but I couldn't remember for a while where I had, and the search function failed to find the word pilgrimage for some reason) but that was how I spent my weekend. Last year it was deemed that my place was in the ino's seat for the one-day sitting that begins the Fall Practice Period, but this year more lenient forces were at work, and I am grateful that Joan took over as ino for the day. I still had to put everything for the sitting together on Friday, with a few potential wrinkles with our new online registration system causing a little concern, and a late request that we have some assigned seating for the practice period also adding to my weekend workload.
I didn't have time to think about packing for the pilgrimage until eight-thirty on Friday night, and I was due to be out of the door at four-forty the next morning, so it wasn't until we actually got to Spirit Rock just as the new moon was peeping through the clouds that I started to be present for what was about to happen.
Eugene Cash gave a nice introductory talk about approaching the event with 'don't know' mind, which was rendered most poignant by the fact that he had a bad crash about twenty miles into the ride and had to be taken to hospital with some broken bones. I had been riding along talking with him just a little while before that, but we got separated on a climb, and then he crashed on the tricky descent.
Obviously, with the news spreading quickly by the time we got to the next rest stop, it cast a pall on the day, and the whole event, but there were many joys as well. It is a very social event, and having done it two years ago, I recognised a number of people, and met a few more, and got to hang out with some good friends, either riding together, or sitting in the pool on Saturday afternoon, and at meals.
On Sunday we started with perhaps unprecedented damp weather, but since the temperature is often nudging a hundred degrees out on the roads, it wasn't so bad, and the sun was out before too long. We got to experience some different styles of Buddism along the way, though I confess I felt like taking the weekend off meditation and ceremony, and didn't attend all the dharma offerings.
Today, though I am still feeling a bit tired myself, City Center is buzzing with the energy of a dozen new residents and the extra events associated with the practice period.  I expect the Young Urban Zen meeting tonight will give me a much-needed shot of vitality.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Study Hall

More from Returning to Silence: "Repentance is to realize exactly the oneness of merging all sentient beings and buddha, delusion and enlightenment. All sentient beings are allowed to live, and are, from the beginning, forgiven for living their lives in this world. Everything, whatever it is, has some reason why it exists: evil, good, even something neither evil nor good. You cannot destroy devils just because you don't like them. Even though you don't like monsters, still there is some reason why they exist. Everything is entitled to live in the world in peace and harmony beyond our judgment, our evaluation. This is the first condition we have to realize - everything is buddha.
The second condition we have to realize is that the self must readily accept the compassion of Buddha's world. 'Buddha's world' means the Truth, or the same and one ground, or that which is beyond good and bad. Whether we like it or dislike it, we have to accept this. What is meant by readily accepting Buddha's compassion? It means that we must actualize Buddha's compassion in our everyday lives. We have to live our lives in the complete realization that we are already forgiven, that we are already allowed to live, and that we, ourselves, must make our lives come alive...But who is it that lives? We live by our effort, but this is a narrow understanding, so we have to live our lives with the understanding that we are allowed to live. This means we should appreciate our life. Then, if we appreciate our life, we can make our life come alive. To do this, we must not only be passive, but also active. Someone may say, 'The universe takes care of me, so I don't have to do anything'. Of course this is true, but it does not mean we can take a nap in the universe. The universe is always working with us, so if we become lazy, the universe appears as laziness. Then very naturally we are confused. So, constantly, we have to take the initiative. When we do gassho, we have to practice gassho with the forgiving universe, with appreciation for our lives, making gassho come alive. This practice is not a matter of discussion".

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The World-wide Web

Tipping the hat in various directions today:  The zen beginner has a great post that I had to look at a couple of times to get straight, as I couldn't believe at first that such a product existed. I guess it does. I prefer his version though.
Second, a new blog for the roll: the aforementioned Michaela and Koji are about to head out from here to land sooner or later in New Orleans. According to the numbers crunched by the stats department, only seventeen people in Louisiana have ever read this blog (the same is true of Belgium incidentally), but I wish for them the support of the wider sangha as they undertake this great venture.
Finally, earlier this week, David Coady's aunt and uncle stopped in at City Center, visiting from Florida; I had the chance to say hello to them, and they said that they were regular readers of this blog, and had found it helpful to read about the community he lived in. I was touched to hear this, and wish them all the best during this painful time.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Study Hall

We are looking for texts to use at Young Urban Zen if we start talking about the precepts, and at Tim's suggestion, I picked up Katagiri Roshi's Returning to Silence. As he said, it is very dense, which also means it is very powerful, and I feel the effect more having not really been studying so much in recent weeks. It is hard even to extract one part of what he writes, but this paragraph ties in nicely with themes that have been floating around this past while:
"Put value on the Dharma, not on individual experience and feeling. This means to put value on the bigger scale of the world, and to open our hearts; even though you may feel pensive, open your heart. Then when you have to help, help; when you have to take care of your life, take care of your life. Whatever you feel, pensive or not pensive, like or dislike, open your heart, and then do what you have to do. From this way of life, you can really take care of individual feelings and experience; your life will bloom. It really helps".

Monday, September 19, 2011

Out And About

We certainly got lucky with the weather for the residents' retreat: Mark, the manager of the Point Reyes Hostel, where ten of us stayed the night, said there hadn't been a weekend like this since June. It probably would have been fun even in the fog, but the clear skies helped; I enjoyed the warm weather, and it was hard not to take good photos with the stunning light.
On Saturday, we all arrived in time to drive down to Limantour Beach and walk along as the sun was setting, returning to find that Gretchen had got dinner mostly prepared. We ate well, looked at the stars, hung out in the lounge of the building we had to ourselves, played games and slept soundly. In the morning a group of us hiked down to the ocean, came back to make brunch, joined by two more car-loads of residents, then we split into two parties - half going off to Abbot's Lagoon and for a swim in Tomales Bay, the rest of us staying local for a different hike to the beach.
I think all of us enjoyed getting out of the city to such beautiful surroundings and some peace and quiet. Like all Zen Center social events, we know each other well enough that interactions are very relaxed. While we were supposedly off-duty, there was something wonderfully joyous about doing the meal chant together before dinner and brunch, as we reflected on the effort that had gone in to making this all happen and looked forward to feasting together.
I'll let the photos tell more of the story.

Tanya and Heather on Limantour Beach

Richard and Martha walking back

Renee in the sunset

Taking over the hostel dining room

The meal chant at brunch
Once more onto the beach, dear friends

Saturday, September 17, 2011

An Opportunity To Give

This was a line from 'Old Plum Mountain', about the Berkeley Zen Center, which was shown last night in the dining room. It was a joy to watch, for a number of reasons: tantalisingly brief colour footage of Suzuki Roshi, most of which was shot at Tassajara; glimpses of familiar faces from the sangha, and familiar activities; a real affirmation of the joy and value of devoting oneself to practice and of building a solid community.
Naturally it acts as a mirror, and I wonder how I am doing with my vows right now. It has been a rich week in many ways. I noticed that I did almost the full selection of zendo jobs in afternoon zazen this week: kokyo, fukudo, doan and doshi, and it was only in the last that I felt dissatisfied - my chanting and energy didn't flow in the way I usually expect them to. I have been watching the unfolding of the tensions in my mind between worldly desires and monastic desires, the personal and the beyond-personal, and feeling how that also plays out in my body. I have been trying to settle more firmly on my cushion to deal with the physical imbalances that have been troubling me these last few weeks. I have caught up with long-procrastinated tasks - going to sewing class on Thursday night to make repairs to my okesa that I have been needing to do for months, and putting my oryoki set back together after a few weeks of gathering dust, which felt good. I have taken care of most of the things that needed taking care of. I also have been out several times for ice cream and coffee with friends, not to mention the ball-game, and enjoyed the sociability. There is more to come this weekend with the residents' retreat, though I will book-end this with hours on the bike alone with my thoughts riding to and from Point Reyes.
On balance, it feels like I am holding back more than I am giving, and in that is the rub of unease that we call dukkha.

The moon rising over the city last night

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Words And Phrases

Amongst our visitors from Tassajara this week is the tanto, and my predecessor as ino, Greg. Not content to swan around on vacation, he gave the talk last night, based around Dogen's fascicle on 'All-inclusive Study', 'Henzan', and the story of the exchange between Huineng and Nanyue. This is a great one to chew on, as Nanyue did himself for eight years. In the new translation of the Shobogenzo, Nanyue says, after he has come to his realisation, 'Speaking about it won't hit the mark'.
This morning in service we chanted the Song of the Jewel Mirror Samadhi for the first time in a couple of months, our Thursdays having been given over to the memorial services for David. When we got to the line, 'Although it is not fabricated, it is not without speech', I actually stopped chanting and tried to think how that line and Nanyue's line meet each other. Give me eight years and I will perhaps come up with an answer.
Over breakfast we were discussing this. Renee liked that Greg highlighted the line from the Full Moon Ceremony, 'To expound the dharma with this body is foremost', which as regular readers will know, I am partial to myself, and which, as I don't think I have mentioned, Lou had on the back of his rakusu. "How else are you going to do it?" I chipped in, "To expound the dharma with this iPad?" Gretchen said she had some friends who might advocate for Second Life at this juncture, and we started riffing about the qualities of virtual zazen, since I understand there is a zendo in Second Life - it is undoubtedly less painful, and perhaps less of a time commitment. Nonetheless, I think we mostly tend to think around here that it's better to focus on this first life. "I feel a blog post coming on", I said. "Is that like feeling the flu coming on?" Gretchen wondered. "It's more like feeling a poem coming on, or a painting", replied Greg. Thanks Greg. I promise to put your talks online soon.


It shouldn't really come as much of a surprise in a community as close-knit as this one, that moods tend to circulate and be infectious. It can be quite noticable during the check-ins we do at the beginning of senior staff meeting, that several people feel edgy or irritated, or as was the case this week, buoyant. Probable proximate causes for the upswing this week are having the vacationing Tassajara people here, bringing their sense of relief that the summer has come to a close, or the fact that there was an outing to the ballgame planned, and the resident's retreat coming up this weekend, a little lull before the practice period begins, - or of course it could just be planetary alignment.
In the end there were about thirty people connected with Zen Center at the Giants game yesterday, with almost everybody from development, other staff and residents, good friends and a couple of young ones. I had my camera with me, but none of the people shots were universally flattering enough to be posted here, so here are some more generic pictures. Compared to the last outing, it was a monochromatic day - though the game itself was perhaps more lively - except for the food offerings...

Not my idea of lunch

Lincecum was on great form
Hardly a patch of blue sky all day
Six of us got there and back by bike, which was most civilised

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Rock The Bells

I have a pretty strong internal clock. I usually attribute this to twelve years of working in live radio, with the days largely consisting of transmissions that were generally thirty minutes long. At the designated time, the red light would go on, and the studio would be live - whether you were ready or not - and twenty-nine minutes and fifty-six seconds later the red light would go off - whether you were finished or not. So these days, if I give any thought to when the doan is going to ring the bell to signal the end of zazen, I am often only off by ten or fifteen seconds.
This morning I had the feeling that the first period had reached its end, but the doan, sitting next to me, was not moving to pick up the bell, There are other indicators - often someone comes through the Laguna Street door just before we get up to do kinhin, and I also had the sense of one or two people shifting on their cushions - perhaps the fukudo, on the other side of the curtain, was looking at their clock and wondering why the bell didn't ring. We have clocks with LCD displays, which I know from experience are difficult to read in the low light of the zendo, especially if I am craning my neck round from the adjacent seat to verify the time, so I didn't move.
I was running a great internal dialogue: I am pretty sure the bell should have been rung by now, but the doan is sitting there in deep samadhi. The practice is to sit until the bell rings. But I am in charge of the zendo, I can reach over and grab the clock if I want to, or nudge the doan. Or I can just sit here. We should run to the schedule, to the second even. That's part of the beauty of practice. It's okay for things to go a little awry. Some people need to leave promptly as they have lives outside the building. Another minute or two won't kill them. It's not as if my legs are hurting. We can just keep going.
In the end the bell was five minutes late - we've had longer overruns. Nobody died, as we used to say after our broadcasts if things hadn't gone according to plan.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Presence and Absence

As I have said on perhaps too many occasions, a lot of the ino job is sitting behind a desk, a fair chunk of it is sitting on a cushion, and let's not forget sitting in meetings, but there is also a surprising amount that consists of catching people for necessary communications, which often happens at meal times. This evening was spectacularly productive in that regard - between the end of evening service and getting back to my room just now, I had probably half-a-dozen conversations which took care of many outstanding matters, and I feel most positive as a result.
This afternoon's fukudo had warned me that they might be late, and I was able to use our standard back-up plan, which is to send the doan out to hit the han. I was happy to play the mokugyo for service, as it really helps to keep my hand in at that kind of thing, and to see how fast we can push the chant - much faster than I suspected was the answer tonight. It also helped that new tanto Rosalie, who has been coming regularly to afternoon zazen since she took over, was on hand to be doshi as the scheduled doshi also did not materialise.
Over dinner Dennis was asking about Young Urban Zen, and I realised I haven't written about it for a few weeks. I would say that it continues to go from strength to strength - and perhaps some of the regulars there who are also regulars here might add their opinions. We tried a new thing last week, since it was Labor Day, having an evening in Koshland Park across the street from here, playing whiffle-ball and kick-ball, which were both new entertainments to me, before repairing to a local cafe for refreshments and chatter. We had enough of the regulars to make it a fun evening, and of course it is always enjoyable seeing people you are getting to know in fresh contexts.
Last night I invited Michaela to come and join us. During the recent sesshin I had had the thought that it would be fun to have an 'Awesome People' series for YUZ, and Michaela was one of the first people I thought of. I got to know her at Tassajara a few years ago, and she was also involved in the Coming of Age program last year. More to the point she is the youngest priest at Zen Center, and I thought it would be valuable to have someone in the same age range as our YUZ people talking about how they came to practice and what it means in their life. From my perspective, Michaela completely fulfilled the brief, talking about impermanence and her love of New Orleans, and just by being completely herself; she also brought along a section of the Parinirvana Sutra to talk about, serendipitously enough, as we had been previously looking at the Four Noble Truths, Buddha's first teaching, and now we were getting his final words. As usual, the lively conversation continued after the meeting had bowed out, and that is also one of the fun parts for me - we covered Camus and string theory in a remarkably short space of time.
There have been a few light-hearted suggestions as to other groups we could set up: Mid-life Crisis Zen is a popular one right now, and Genine has proposed Old Rural Zen as the counterpoint, though wags would have it that Green Gulch already serves that function.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Back In The Day

Following last week's dip in the archives, this morning I happened to catch the tail end of a visit by two women who used to live here before it became the Zen Center - back when they were eighteen, they said, and they were now in their seventies. They seemed delighted to be able to see the place again, talked of how the director's office and the art lounge had both been lounges where they could receive gentlemen, and how the Buddha Hall was a large living room with a very small TV in it.
I couldn't find any pictures of that in the Zen Center archives, but here is another picture I had thought of using, and two others I hadn't really seen before.

The zendo as lounge

The stage on the west side of the zendo

A ceremony in the zendo - probably a jukai - with the stage behind Suzuki Roshi
As a little twist in the story, neither woman was actually Jewish - apparently in the latter days of the residence, since it was harder to find women who wanted to live there, the doors were opened more widely. As one of them remarked, it was a choice between this center and the Catholic one on Haight Street, only there you had to be back inside by 10pm, whereas here, if you gave them 75c, you could get a key to the front door...

Study Hall

With the Vuelta a Espana done and dusted (and it was great to have two English riders on the podium, tantalisingly close to winning at times), I can turn again to Torei's The Undying Lamp of Zen. Today I was mostly struck by a footnote by Thomas Cleary: "This refers to the three periods of teaching - genuine, imitation and terminal. A genuine teaching meets the needs of its time, an imitation mimics in hope it will work; a terminal teaching is a token. According to the Scripture of the Great Demise, the defining characteristic of the last age, or the terminal era, is when the teaching is sold in pieces like a commodity".
We are fond of joking here that when things are not done well, it is indicative that this is the age of decline - another term for the final period, 'the last time, the last epoch, the last five hundred years, at the time of the collapse of the good doctrine', in the more melodic words of the Diamond Sutra, but I was tempted to think that Cleary was having a little dig. I am also tempted to point to some flagrant examples of the teaching being sold in pieces like a commodity, and I expect most of you readers could do as much, but since we just renewed our vows with the Full Moon Ceremony this morning (shout out to Renee for being an extremely powerful kokyo), I should probably refrain. And as I think about it a little further, it could be said that these periods are like the concept of rebirth - not necessarily sequential, but all capable of manifesting at any moment. I think there is some Buddhism in America that meets the needs of this time, and there is some imitation dharma, and some counterfeit dharma as well. Hopefully, if you care about these things, you will be able to discern which is which.

The moon last night and the sun this morning - or mabe the other way round

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Room Cleaning

At Tassajara, where everything is scheduled, as you will know if you have been following this for long enough, there is half an hour set aside for room cleaning. This half-hour is at the end of work on three-and-eight days, and is followed, after bath time, by nenju, which marks the end of the practice week. The idea is that your room is clean for you to enjoy on your personal day - the four-and-nine days. For someone like me, for whom cleaning my room is never at the top of my to-do list, it was nice to have time allocated to the task, and half an hour is long enough to get most things done, and short enough not to have it feel like a major undertaking.
Here in the city, as you also doubtless know, we don't have the luxury of a four-and-one schedule. After the regular five-day week, we have the Saturday morning program, and, in theory at least, a one-and-a-half day weekend. I have got into the habit, when I can, of cleaning my room at the end of the afternoon on Saturdays, and ideally, following that with a leisurely bath before dinner.
I know that the next two weekends I am going to be away, next weekend on the residents' retreat at Point Reyes, and then on the Buddhist Bike Pilgrimage, and in October I think I have maybe one free Saturday afternoon, so I was quite motivated to get some cleaning done today.
Actually I could have been occupied this afternoon, as Abbot Steve was receiving a new okesa from his teacher Sojun Mel Weitsman, but I wasn't required to be there, which was as well as I had made plans to meet a friend for ice cream. For once I was willing to brave the line at Bi-Rite for their salted caramel, and since it was not especially sunny the line was not interminable, after which we had fun watching archetypal San Francisco crowds milling around Dolores Park. I had to come back for a Full Moon Ceremony rehearsal, ahead of the thing itself on Monday morning, but that was scheduled to allow me the time to do all the dusting and vacuuming I needed before the amazing lasagne and tiramisu dinner we had to mark Kathryn's impending departure.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Reinventing The Wheel

I did manage to get a fair amount of reading done over the holiday weekend, and not of the study hall kind - a friend gave me Les Trois Mousquetaires a while ago, and I took the opportunity of last week's spaciousness to really immerse myself in that. I also read the recent New Yorker that featured a long profile of an English thinker called Derek Parfit "thought by many to be the most original moral philosopher in the English-speaking world", as the article dubs him.
The article starts with some philosophical questions about the nature of self - I am chagrined that I cannot link to this, as things being what they are these day, you have to subscribe to read the whole thing, and linking to the abstract is not worth the effort - and draws the conclusion that "the self, it seems, is not all or nothing but the sort of thing that there can be more or less of".
At which point I, as I suspect some of you might, rolled my eyes and wondered where the orginality lay.  The author continues, "Parfit's view resembles the Buddhist view of the self, a fact that was pointed out to him years ago by a professor of Oriental religions. Parfit was delighted by this discovery"; the tone of the article seemed to suggest that this was just validation of how brilliant he was to have thought of it, which led me to that uneasy feeling I often get reading about Western thinking that, to paraphrase the blunt words I heard someone use about another 'original thinker', here's another white guy thinking he is at the pinnacle of evolution.
For me, part of the consolation of philosophy, when it comes to Buddhist thought, is that people have been struggling with the same concepts of what it means to be human ever since there was enough leisure time to devote to thinking, and for the most part, the ideas that were first circulated about 2,500 years ago are still relevant and have not been improved upon (though I could charitably concede that Buddha always urged people to find this out for themselves).  Bernd gave a talk here last night on the self that ably covered much of the same ground, without any of the fanfare.
From reading the article it is clear that Derek Parfit has quite a distinctive mental framework, but I could only sigh again at the end when the author mentions that Parfit is currently grappling with ideas around time, and wonder if anyone has suggested that he save himself the trouble, and just read Dogen's 'Uji'.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011


It's easy to get the idea that nothing much changes around Zen Center, job rotations notwithstanding, but occasionally we get surprised. When I was dropped of at the corner of Page and Laguna after the drive back from Tassajara last Friday, I immediately noticed a difference, which brought to mind the picture from the archives, of the building brand new in 1922:

Fast forward forty-seven years, to the time when the building was bought by Zen Center, and some changes are visible:

I love this picture from the same time, of Suzuki Roshi standing on the corner, which I think Scott used in a recent mailing; it's partly to do with the cars, but also it really anchors Suzuki Roshi here, in a way that pictures of him in the Buddha Hall or dokusan room don't quite:

So now we are back to this unfenced look at the front, and with it, a view of something I had never before noticed - the cornerstone:

And before you ask, I haven't yet heard what the letters represent.

A New Boss

As usual, once we get back into the regular schedule, the ease of last week recedes into the past very quickly, and we get immersed in sitting and meetings again. This morning though, I added to my tally of irregular ceremonies, as we performed a tanto seating.
We might have done this yesterday, as that was when the switch officially happened after several months of anticipation, but the Abbot was only just back from his travels the night before, so we delayed a day so that everyone could attend.
I was happy to get the tsui-ching out again, more so as this ceremony involved two jundos: first I took Jordan around, and thanked him with a form of words that Paul had passed to me after kinhin, and then I took Rosalie around, showed her to the tanto seat and announced her as the new tanto. What with that, and Paul's thoughtful words to both of them, we ended up running longer than I had expected, but that is the kind of thing that only the work leader, the breakfast cook and the ino need to be concerned about.
So now I have a new boss, and I look forward to Rosalie flourishing in her new role.

I am also going to stick my neck out again and say that it looks like we might be having some fine weather ahead - last time I said that I was definitely premature, but I live in hope. This was the view on the roof after breakfast:

Friday, September 2, 2011

Where The Light Is

Back in the fog after a few lovely hot days at Tassajara. As always, just arriving there felt good, and then there were friends, stars, the bathhouse, sitting in the zendo, being in the creek, climbing mountains,  seeing lizards, sleeping deeply, reading in the sun, taking photographs and staring off into space - oh, and playing with rocks. If you want a little more detail on what it is like to be there at the moment, try reading Brad's account (and if you do that, read the previous post as well, along with the comments, for another angle on the question of 'Am I a monk?').
In the meantime, a quick selection from the thousand-odd photos I managed to snap in three days:

A swimming hole upcreek I had not really paid attention to before  

Getting abstract at the bathhouse

Itasonten at the Gatehouse altar

Jizo close-up

Never really got a picture of the kaisando that I liked

Lantern and shadow

The path to the Narrows

Quiet moment before morning work meeting

Ren's prayer flags

At the new retreat center, taken through the window, complete with reflection

Taken out of the window of the town trip truck on the way in

Ren's prayer flags at the top of the Tony Trail

Scarlet Bugler on the Tony Trail

Looking over Tassajara from the Tony Trail

Work Meeting