Monday, January 31, 2011

Study Hall - Shobogenzo

"Without practice, the buddha way cannot be attained. Without study, it remains remote...
At the very moment the aspiration for enlightenment is aroused, the entire world of phenomena arouses the aspiration for enlightenment. Although the aspiration for enlightenment seems to create conditions, it actually does not encounter conditions. The aspiration for enlightenment and conditions together hold out a single hand - a single hand held out freely, a single hand held out in the midst of all being...
Now, penetrate the ten directions within one particle of dust, but do not confine them to one particle of dust. Construct a monk's hall and a buddha hall within a single particle of dust, and construct the entire world in the monk's hall and the buddha hall. In this way the human body is constructed, and such construction comes from the human body. This is the meaning of 'The entire world of the ten directions is the true human body'...
To bow all the way to the floor and to bow standing is awesome presence in motion and stillness. Painting a decayed tree and polishing a brick of dead ash continue without stopping. Even though calendar days are short and urgent, study of the way in this manner is profound and deep" - 'Body-and-Mind Study of the Way', 'Shinjin Gakudo'.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

A Dip In The Archives

The video recently posted on the Tassajara Facebook page got me going. In fact my first reaction was definitely ego-centered: call that a storm? I've been at Tassajara in bigger storms than that....
In my first winter we had a memorable series of storms in December, including back-to-back ones during rohatsu - I spent the last afternoon of the sesshin with the rest of the shop crew driving up the road to clear rocks and fallen trees. Blanche was leading her last practice period as Abbess, and as I recall, we did a shosan where we used microphones to be heard above Cabarga Creek, which was roaring alongside the zendo, but then for the shuso ceremony a few days later, when it was raining so hard we had to take the traditional practice period group photo in the zendo, we were encouraged simply to pitch our voices above the noise of the water.
I was, however, particularly thinking of what I call the tangaryo storm of January 2008, where we had about ten inches of rain in thirty six hours. The day that most of the rain fell, I drove myself up the road to check for damage, and worried that I would be blown off the ridge by the force of the wind.  I thought I might have also taken a video of the creek at its highest and noisiest, but a trawl through my hard drive revealed nothing in the realm of moving pictures, so here are some stills. The blurriness is more due to the lack of light at the end of a winter afternoon than the speed of the water:

Cabarga Creek joining Tassajara Creek beside the dining room, taken from the bridge
At the bathhouse
From the bridge to the old bathhouse
 By way of comparison, here is a picture taken two months later, from the right bank of the photo above, to the wall I was building on the left bank; the creek is at least three feet lower.

More often, the creek looks like this during the winter:

This picture is a little deceptive, as the steam is not coming directly from the hot springs that seep into the creek in other places; rather it is the warm water (which is hot springs water after it has heated parts of Tassajara on the way through) flowing out of the pool back into the creek - the advantage of this spot is that it catches the morning winter sun.

I made a practice of going in the creek every day I was at Tassajara. In the winter it was much easier to do so having got thoroughly warmed up in the steam room first, and then heading down the steps as quickly as possible for a brief immersion, followed by a reheating in the indoor hot plunge. When the creek was really running high, and you could hear the boulders rumbling along the bed, like on the day of the tangaryo storm, I would hold onto the handrail and just dip myself in from the steps. The swollen creek could push you around easily, and occasionally Bryan and I would get swept off our feet as we crossed it on our runs.

The creek at the men's side of the bathhouse in winter
In the summer, of course, getting into the creek is much more pleasurable, indeed almost a necessity when it gets hotter. I used to enjoy spending my days off hiking up and down the creek, which involves a trail for the first while in each direction, but then becomes a case of wading in the water. This is a picture that has been used a lot, and is one of my favourites, taken about twenty minutes' hike below the Narrows:

 We just had the Tassajara brochure launch party here, and we are going to be seeing more of this picture:

If you get your hands on the brochure, you will notice how much work Jim did to balance out the light and shadow and the colours - the strength of the light is something that it took me several years to adapt to in my photo taking.

Further up and down the creek, there are lovely places to be found:

 In 2007, the first summer I was back at Tassajara, the creek dried out for large stretches by the end of the season. This swimming hole round the back of the Hogsback disappeared.

 This is the same spot last summer, where I spent a very peaceful hour. The deeper part, on the right above, was about shoulder deep, and a good place to spot turtles.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Form Is Emptiness

A contingent of us went over the bridge after lunch to Emeryville for Lou's cremation. I had packed up the traveling ceremonial kit box, and brought a few other things as well, just to be on the safe side. Vicki had gone ahead to pick up Sojun, Joan had taken Blanche; family members, Sotoshu representatives and others had all gathered in a mustard-coloured room half-filled with pews. Lou lay in state in the other half. There was a little debate about whether the priests would be wearing rakusus or okesas. It felt odd to be in a ceremonial space with shoes on.
I set up an altar table as best I could, and when Sojun and Vicki arrived, we made a few adjustments; we handed out chant sheets, and Sojun explained the ceremony. Of course we didn't completely follow the script he had prepared, but everything that needed to happen happened. The family said their parting words, and we all chanted the Enmei Jukku Kannon Gyo as we circumambulated the coffin, offering incense and surrounding Lou with flower petals.
Finally we escorted the coffin into the cremation room, which was unadorned and industrial, and chanted the Heart Sutra as Lou was manoeuvred to the door of the oven; the words never seemed more fitting. There were tears, hugs, thank yous, and then we all dispersed in the bright warm sunshine.

Study Hall - Shobogenzo

"Study closely Changsha's words, The entire world of the ten directions is the radiant light of the self. Study that radiant light is the self of the entire world of the ten directions" ('Radiant Light', 'Komyo').
My understanding is that this does not mean that the sun shines out of your arse.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Traffic and Congestion

The past couple of days I have been feeling poorly again, despite having felt better at the weekend; maybe even my gentle ride on Sunday was too much for a recuperating body. I sat in the zendo on Monday and Tuesday feeling blurry and a little feverish, with a streaming nose and a headache - not enough to send me to bed for the day, but enough to notice how much I just wanted to be taking care of myself and not expending energy I didn't have on other things. Today feels like I am on the mend, which is nice.
The zendo has been packed this week with the new practice period people; we also have a full complement of guest students, so the building feels busy during the day as well. All this in contrast to my own lack of vitality, and also the underlying heaviness of the losses we have been suffering.
I am aware that I have not yet written much about Lou; there is a book in the front hall for people to add stories about him, and I realise that, more than stories, I have any numbers of snapshots of him from the years I have lived in the building...
When I first lived here, I was directly above Blanche and Lou's apartment, and sometimes I would wake in the middle of the night and hear the even then old-fashioned sound of a typewriter as Lou tapped out another story; it always sounded comforting. So too was the sight of him in the corner seat in the zendo, that people still sometimes refer to as Lou's seat. I can also think of the type-written notes that would appear in different places - particularly of one that was in the tenzo's office, commenting on the toughness of the baked potatoes that day. There was the way he took care of so many things around the building, just because that was how it ought to be done, especially all the chidening - taking care of the altars, both for ceremonies but also for their use every day - and no less in the way he put out the Sunday newspapers, with the Chronicle on one table and the Times on another so that things could be found easily (I still try this each Sunday, but it only lasts until other people get up and start reading the papers, then they just get heaped up together). Finally, how the Suzuki Roshi Memorials that we did on the third and fourth of January felt incomplete, because they were the first ones I can ever remember Lou not being present for.
I have noticed that Zen Center has started a site commemorating our recent losses, as I can see on my stats that people are coming to this site from there. If you haven't discovered that, it is here - I thought it would be nice to send some traffic in the other direction as well. We are still planning events for Jerome, Darlene and Lou, so they will continue to intertwine in our lives for the weeks to come.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Study Hall - Shobogenzo

'Vimalakirti also says, "Past birth has already perished...future birth has not yet come...present birth does not abide." But past has not necessarily already perished, future has not necessarily not come yet, and present does not necessarily not abide. Even when you regard having-already-perished, not-yet-come, and not-abiding, as the past, future and present, you should clarify that not-yet-come is itself the past, present and future. Accordingly, confirmation is attained in both birth and death. Enlightenment is attained in both birth and death.
When all sentient beings receive confirmation, Maitreya also receives confirmation. Now I ask you, Vimalakirti: Is Maitreya the same as sentient beings or different from them? Answer! You said, "If Maitreya received confirmation, all sentient beings receive confirmation." If you say Maitreya is not a sentient being, sentient beings are not sentient beings, and Maitreya is not Maitreya. How is it so? Then, Vimalakirti is not Vimalakirti. If you are not Vimalakirti, you cannot make this statement.
Therefore you should say: When confirmation causes all sentient beings to exist, all sentient beings and Maitreya exist. Confirmation causes all things to be as they are' ('Confirmation', 'Juki').

Saturday, January 22, 2011

The January Effect

Today I figured that my job was mostly going to be traffic control. I tallied up about ninety people wanting to sit, and somehow managed to allocate seats in the zendo for everyone on my list. Last night at the orientation I told people it was going to be chaotic and crowded and that kinhin was going to be a slow-moving adventure.
I think there was a part of me that relaxed around the prospect of the day because it was inevitable that it was going to be complicated by the sheer number of participants. I was also grateful for the fact that I felt much better by the end of yesterday, which I mostly attribute to Cristina's chocolate pudding (that's dessert to Americans) - I know there were other things in it, but the key ingredient was definitely the chocolate. The printers were also completely compliant yesterday afternoon during the great logistical paper-fest, which reduced my stress levels as well.
So, at five ten this morning, I started showing people to their seats, and while it was a bit hectic for a few minutes, I noticed with real appreciation that everyone had arrived early enough that by the time the second roll-down happened, the zendo already felt quiet and settled, which was wonderful.
We did pack out the Buddha Hall at service as well as lecture, and for breakfast we even had people eating on the floor cushions between the tans, which I can remember having to deal with as a very inexperienced soku many Januaries ago, but which I don't remember happening since then. Nevertheless the servers did a fine job, as did the lunch crew, where we filled every single seat on the tans to fit everyone in.
I was grateful to have the opportunity to be the doshi for noon service, and to be chanting the Genjo Koan with everyone in the zendo; I felt completely focused and energised during that.
All in all it felt like a strong day of sitting - we had changed the afternoon schedule from four thirty minute periods to three forty minute periods. The mathematically-minded among you will notice that the total sitting time is the same, but that the number of times we move around is changed, and to me that lends to a more settled feeling, although my legs were getting sore as we went along, as I am sure most people's were.
I was moved to see Blanche come into the zendo during the last period. She led the evening service, which was a well-being service, and after dinner, spoke touchingly at the beginning of our Practice Period opening ceremony. We all bowed to each other, stated our intentions and chanted the Pali refuges. Thus begins the Practice Period.

Friday, January 21, 2011


This morning's ceremony was also very well attended, and the chanting of the Heart Sutra and the Enmei Jukku Kannon Gyo was strong and had a powerful effect. We used the same dedication that we had for Jerome and Darlene, and I invited people who hadn't had the chance to offer incense to do so after the ceremony.
Today I mostly have to turn my attention and my slightly limited energy to preparing for the one-day sitting, so I don't know if I will get a chance to write much more. Trevor has posted a lovely entry of reminiscences which eloquently says much of what I would say.
I have had this couplet from Dogen's 'Zazenshin' in my mind these past few days of clear warm weather:

The sky is wide, clear through to the heavens,
And birds are flying like birds.

Thursday, January 20, 2011


About the time I started writing that last entry, the order of events was decided - we would do a memorial service in the zendo after afternoon zazen, because it would be strange not to. There would be a taiya ceremony, which would normally be done with the body in the room, in the Buddha Hall after dinner; this had been drafted earlier in the day following previous examples done for deceased priests. Sewing class and the evening sitting would be canceled and people invited to come to the ceremony. In the morning we would do the transition ceremony as we had for Jerome and Darlene, which would give everyone another chance to be present and commemorate Lou. There will be sitting with the body at hospice until Sunday.
I didn't really sit the afternoon period, but came back upstairs to finish writing up the three ceremonies. At dinner, finding people to fill the positions, which was not difficult, then printing up the chant sheets and marking up the bells as I thought they would be, as the format of the taiya was not completely standard.
Sojun Roshi had come over from Berkeley earlier to help with body; he was the doshi. The Buddha Hall was full, many senior people coming, even those who had been sick in bed. Sojun read a passage from 'The Record of Transmitting the Light' and spoke to Lou, telling him his spirit filled the whole building now, just as Suzuki Roshi's had when he had died. We bowed and made an offering of tea and sweet water; we chanted the Ten Names of Buddha, the Heart Sutra and the Dai Hi Shin Dharani. The script did not get exactly followed, but it was very moving.
Shosan was the kokyo, and this  was part of the first dedication:

The round moon of wisdom reflects the myriad waves;
the great boat of compassion carries all across.
Looking at the moon, the ground drops away;
tracing the moon one embodies authentic light.

Lou passes

I announce to the great assembly: wind and fire have pressed in together on Reverend Shu-un Mitsuzen Lou Hartman, and he has been unable to avoid them.

I was out buying a cake for Dogen's birthday, and I came back to find everyone was looking for me, and the densho was ringing.

The Height Of The Moon

I went up on the roof during soji (bad, I know, I should be helping to clean the temple) because I had seen during service that it was another beautiful day. This is why I love living in California...The sky was indeed beautiful, but what I hadn't expected was to catch the full moon setting right beside the Italianate church on Fell Street that features in many of my sky photographs.
Happily I don't feel any sicker today - I perked up last night in time for the ceremony. I missed the precept groups as I had to print up more chant cards and set up the microphones for the live streaming. Laura told me there were sixty people listening through the whole thing, so I hope the sound wasn't too awful. It is hard for me as a sound engineer to just leave things running without checking the levels or the balance at all.
We had a sizeable crowd in the Buddha Hall as well, which felt great. Michael was the kokyo - the first person I asked had been too busy to rehearse, and the second person I thought of has been sick, and I was thinking I might end up doing it myself, but Michael volunteered when he heard about this in Practice Committee. We only got to rehearse once, and he fully manifested doing it his own way. We also heard that some people were performing the ceremony at the same time in Lou's room over at hospice
Afterwards I was happy to see Dale, who had been the tenzo when I worked in the kitchen at Tassajara (I also saw Erin, the fukaten that practice period, at the jukai the other day). I had many reasons to be grateful for his example when I became tenzo, not least his reactions to the occasions when I completely fucked up. He didn't get angry, but immediately tried to figure out where we needed to go from where we were at that moment, adapting to the circumstances. His wife, Melissa, had also been ino in my first winter at Tassajara, and I particularly remember the first full moon ceremony of the first practice period, which we did up at the Suzuki Roshi memorial site - I helped carry the big bell up there with three other people on a yoke. It was magical, with the sole disappointment that the moon did not shine on the space during the ceremony. I have had people asking me to do the ceremony on the roof here some time, and although it is not ideal in terms of layout or acoustics, this morning's bright setting moon got me thinking that we could do it up there one morning...

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Sitting With Lou

It is thought that Lou is slipping away, and Blanche invited residents to come and sit with him across the road at Zen Hospice this morning; a few of us went after work meeting, cross-legged around the raised bed, with the purring and pulsing of the medical machinery; others were coming in as some of us left. I was glad to have the opportunity to be with him, and to support Blanche who has been at his bedside constantly for days.
City Center feels a bit depleted at the moment; many people are out with a flu-like sickness, including some senior people. We had just four of the regular six in our senior staff meeting this morning. I feel like I might be getting sick myself, which came on yesterday, so I am trying to take it easy today, in the hope that I won't succumb and have to leave organising the one-day sitting to someone else. I am also hoping to save my energy to be at the Full Moon Ceremony tonight.
The weather has been fine and clear these last few days, and the almost-full moon was out just before afternoon zazen yesterday; this was the view from my window:

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Prayer Flags

I don't need much of an excuse to go burrowing through my old photos. So after mentioning the flag on my altar, I thought I would follow up on the idea of showing the different places where I was involved in putting up prayer flags at Tassajara.
The first place is Flag Rock, of course. In archive pictures of Tassajara, you can see a huge Stars and Stripes flying from this peak, which is, one could reasonably assume, where the name came from. Recently there has been a tradition of having prayer flags up there, and I have put several sets up myself over the years. They are just about visible from Tassajara itself, as Tassajara is just about visible in this first picture, and I always felt that Flag Rock seemed naked without them. I think this first set was one that Mark K had brought back from Tibet, which had been blessed in an auspicious way:

In due course, prayer flags end up looking like this, as they are supposed to:

Other sets replace them:
This set was offered by Steph to be put up right after the fire:

 When I went back last summer, I couldn't see any flags from Tassajara - it turned out that this set needed re-attaching, which I let Jim do this time, as doing so always felt very precarious to me - there is daylight under the big rock on the right in one or two places.

So one summer I had the idea of putting flags up on other high points around Tassajara. The next obvious candidate was Hawk Mountain, above the hill cabins and the solar panels, where the telephone tower stands (somewhat charred these days). This is a steep and hard climb - you can just about make out the start of the trail in the picture above, above the rock on the right - but on this particular day we assembled a crack team, including Rocky, pictured below; the camera got set to 'saturated colour' by mistake, but it didn't really harm the pictures. The flags were donated by Dave G, and as I remember, he had picked them up at a base camp of Mount Everest:

Of course there was a little debate within the team as to where exactly the flags should go. This is me attaching one end of them:

By the next spring, it having been a stormy winter, this was all that remained of that endeavour:

The third spot was the summit of the Tony Trail, still quite a hike uphill, but not quite as arduous as the first two:
Before the fire, I was up at this spot quite a lot, and took this picture, which just about captured the eeriness of the smoky skies one evening:

Nothing of this remained after the fire:

The final spot was one I am going to remain vague about - it is down the creek some way, and after I had discovered it in my first summer, I asked around, and only one person knew of it. I decided it was best kept mostly secret, but I took a couple of people there that summer, and we hoisted some flags:

I doubt anything remains of these either, though I have not been back to check on them since the fire.

Monday, January 17, 2011

What's In A Name?

While the other stats are somewhat incremental these days, the search keywords are constantly renewed and entertaining. 'Ino's desire' is still making an appearance, which makes me think that it refers to something else out there, and now I find my own name being searched for - that is, what I am used to calling my Christian name, my surname and my dharma name, in that order.
I have had many names over the course of my life...there is of course the family name, and my first name. In my family we don't go much in for middle names, so by American standards I am bereft there. I had a baby nickname, which was used by family members for the first six or seven years of my life.
When I went to my high school equivalent, I acquired a nickname that had previously been bestowed on my older brother, supposedly as a sign of his stupidity, and which was deemed even more appropriate to me as it sounded similar to my first name. I co-opted it, and it lasted right through my college years, and some of the friends I have from that time still automatically use it. When I joined the BBC, a colleague created another nickname, which was also meant to be derogatory, but had the virtue of being double-edged, so I took that one on, and that still gets used by my friends from those years.
I was always aware of these names as signifiers for a particular persona, that my friends called me whichever name it was at the time, and expected a certain kind of behaviour to go along with it, which was not exactly the same as my own self-image, but which allowed me a certain separation from that -  I got to play a slightly different, and sometimes more interesting character.
On top of that, I was never that enamoured of the name I was given, which seemed to relate less to me as a person. At Zen Center there have always been a few men with my name, even one whose last name started with the same initial, so my full name got used quite a bit. Even when I went to stay at Great Vow, out of a community of twenty people, there was another who had the same name, and since most of the residents who had taken the precepts used their dharma names, I thought it would be easier to use mine, which I had had for two and a half years by that time.
I liked the way it sounded, and so decided to adopt it when I went back to Tassajara a couple of months later, which is a little over four years ago now. For a while, some people at Tassajara consistently forgot to use my dharma name, even when they saw me and heard it every day, and even now that still happens occasionally. When people from my early years at Zen Center return, they also use my given name, which is normal, but otherwise I don't hear it very much.
I took the precepts with Gaelyn, who was the director of Tassajara when I went down there. I had been working with Paul in the city before that, but hadn't felt ready to start sewing a rakusu. She gave me the name Shundo Kennin, which she translated for me as 'Way of the Fleet Steed, Building Human-Heartedness'. The last two characters in the name were the same as hers, and she also translated the last as 'benevolence', and 'the highest virtue', though I see from the Houston Zen Center page that she has it there as 'establish love'. You get the idea though. As for the fleet steed, she never explained this to me; I imagine it was based partly on the fact that we were both people who loved to run the trails around Tassajara. There is also the reference from one of the Buddha's teachings:
'In the Samyutta Agama sutra, the Buddha told of “The Parable of the Four Horses.” He explained: “There are four kinds of horses. The first horse gallops merely at the sight of a whip. The second horse gallops when the whip touches its hair. The third horse gallops when the whip touches its skin. The fourth horse only begins to gallop when the whip touches its bones".'
Either way, I have been proud and happy to use the name. At my tokudo, I think Paul was under a certain amount of pressure not to change it, as this would just confuse everyone, though he amended the second half to Gennin, or 'manifesting  virtue'.
So, now I am mostly Shundo, unless I am in England when one of the other names applies. So I wonder if the person who looked for me using three of my names found who they were looking for. Here I present myself in a certain way, so just reading this you would get something of an impression of me, in the Shundo realm at least, but still a partial view, as they all are.
On a not-unrelated note, I went to Green Gulch last night to attend a jukai that Reb was officiating, with eight new Bodhisattvas in the making. I thought I was only going to know one of the people receiving a rakusu, but it turns out that I knew a second person, the partner of someone I had been at Tassajara with, who accurately remembered my name, and where we had met (driving down there one time, in a car that broke down just short of Jamesburg). So there were many people to say hello to before and after. I found that the names Reb chose for the people I knew were lovely and appropriate - of course it is the teacher's job to see clearly who you are, and give you a name that reflects that.

Altar Space

After Chris' question the other day, I was prompted to look through my files to see what pictures I have taken of my altars over the years. The oldest digital one I could find was this, from my first practice period back at Tassajara in 2006, when I was living in the Gatehouse. I am assuming it was a personal day, as my oryoki bowls are unwrapped, so I must have been washing the cloths.

Other conspicuous objects are my first kechimyaku, a picture of my great-great grandfather James, a jizo from Great Vow, a Manjushri that was given to me when I left the kitchen as fukaten in 2005, and above all of those, a calligraphy that Daigaku did for me of the kanji 'sho jin', or diligence. You will see most of these things in subsequent photos.
Fast forward a year or so, to cabin 14:

 I think I took this picture mainly for the cherry blossom branch, but in the gloom you can make out most of the same objects, as well as the wrapped oryoki, and some of my favourite stones.
Next, having moved down to less luxurious summer quarters at Tassajara:

Now, we are back in the city, in the other corner room, one of the rooms that has this sweet small shelf that is just right for a basic altar:

The two smallish calligraphies came from an artist in Pacific Grove - one of them came from a wonderful machine called 'Art By The Inch', a converted cigarette machine, where, if you inserted something like $3.50 in quarters, you could buy an artwork. The one on the left is the kanji for faith; the one on the right I found in an empty room at Tassajara, and is the kanji for horse (I will explain the appropriateness of this sometime). The calendar below was by Ninsho, who also did a drawing I have on the altar in the ino's office right now.

Now we are onto the room I have just moved out of. The incensor I bought from Richard Urban at his previous show in the art lounge; the fan, which the eagle-eyed among you might spot furled in an earlier picture, is a memento from my last practice period at Tassajara - the teacher traditionally gives all the students a piece of art to commemorate their participation. The Buddha statue was a tokudo present, as was the piece of manzanita. The blue cloth is an old prayer flag - I think I told someone that I found it on Flag rock after the fire, but then I wasn't sure if that was the case; I think I gave that one to someone else. In any case, it was a remnant of a set of prayer flags that had been hanging somewhere high over Tassajara - one summer, I was part of a plot to put up flags on the highest points around Tassajara in various directions. I suspect they all got burned in the fire - maybe I will post those photos sometime...
And so to the present. The lotus picture was another practice period offering by Linda Ruth, you can see various scrolls of poems and picures that people have given me over the years; the mountain painting was another tokudo present, and there is also the mala I found at Tassajara that nobody claimed, and my current rakusu sitting on top of the old blue one, as well as the current selection of stones, which come from Canada, Tassajara, Ocean Beach and Cornwall to the best of my memory.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Old Friends

Another full Saturday morning...Currently at City Center we are hosting the Lay Zen Teachers' Conference, about thirty senior laypeople from around the country, many of whom joined us for the morning program. If it's any consolation to our newcomers, these distinguished guests demonstrated that our zendo and Buddha Hall forms are not self-evident, doing many of the things I was recently listing.
This morning's service was a memorial for Rev. Dr Martin Luther King Jr, and Tova also spoke movingly during the lecture of her experience of being present at his famous 'I have a dream' speech in Washington. We had a very large crowd, some of it due to Liping bringing her students along to experience a morning at Zen Center. This was a bit of a shock for Mark, who had taken over, selflessly since it is his birthday today, offering zazen instruction as the scheduled person is sick. Mark is additionally standing in as acting tanto as Jordan is also sick; I jumped at the chance to relieve his burdens and to sit in with the Saturday Sangha at lunch today, where this group of experienced laypeople were treated to a presentation of the dhyanas, or states of concentration, from one of its members.
Tova also addressed the community's recent losses, spoke of Jerome and Darlene, and also spoke of Lou, whose health is declining. I have not mentioned this to date as I know that both he and Blanche are asking that there be no fuss. The Saturday Sangha ended its session by chanting the Enmei Jukku Kannon Gyo for Lou, and one of the residents asked me if we can do the same every day, to keep him in our hearts and minds.
I have been asked if I had nice photos of Lou, so I have dug out my old photo albums again, and found these; he was not much of a one for posing for the camera.
This first is from 2000:

  Then, from 2003, I think, at an ordination:
 I also came across these pictures from Tassajara, on the occasion of Sonja's shuso ceremony; first, Tova with Darlene:
Finally, from the same day, Lien, who is due to be the shuso for the upcoming practice period here, with David Z:
Lien and I arrived at Tassajara at about the same time - indeed Ren took a picture of me taking all my stuff down to my room, and Lien is in the background - and we worked on cabin crew together that first summer. I look forward to having her here in the building again.

Friday, January 14, 2011

This Very Beginner's Mind

I enjoyed the Thursday evening group a little more this week, as I had not been running around training people how to be chidens right before going to the zendo. Actually to call it a group would perhaps be lending it an unwarranted air of cohesion - about half the people who were there last night were there last week, and I am not yet sure if they come every week. Once again, the conversation in the Art Lounge afterwards was rewarding - in fact this is my favourite part of my job at the moment, meeting people in circumstances like this, or the newcomers' table.
One person asked about the rakusus that two of us were wearing; I spoke about what they signify, and asked the other person, an older woman whom I was sure I must have seen once or twice before, who had given her her rakusu. Suzuki Roshi, she replied simply. Sure enough, when she turned it around, there were eight lines of beautiful, neat calligraphy, which neither of us could decipher, but which were undoubtedly his dharma name, hers, the date and the place of the ceremony, and a four-line gatha. So the conversation encompassed everything from a new sitter's experience of feeling their body opening up during zazen, to memories of coming up from Tassajara for a jukai here in the earliest years of City Center, more than forty years ago. As I said the other day, we are all swimming in the same ocean of enlightenment.

Study Hall - Shobogenzo

"Even if you make hundreds of plans, and create thousands of means to save yourselves, in the end you will turn to dust in the tomb. Furthermore, driven by a king of a small nation and his retainers, you run around east and west, with thousands of hardships and myriad sufferings of body and mind. You give your life over to loyalty, even to the extent of following your king to the grave. A future driven by worldly obligations is clouds and mists of darkness. Many people since olden times have been occupied by minor pursuits and have given up their lives. Those human lives might have been saved, as they could have become vessels of the way.
Now that you have met the true dharma, study it even if you have to give up the lives of hundreds and thousands of kalpas. Why would you give up your life for worthless petty people instead of devoting yourself to the broad and profound buddha dharma? Neither those who are wise nor those who are not should hesitate in making this decision. Think quietly. When the true dharma is not spread, you cannot meet it even if you want to give up your life for it. Wish now for the self that meets the true dharma. Be ashamed of the self that would not offer your life for the sake of the true dharma. If there is anything to be ashamed of, it is this" - 'Continuous Practice', 'Gyoji', part two.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Fame and Fortune

Thanks to Kate, who put my entry on Darlene on the Zen Center Facebook page, I had over three hundred visitors on Wednesday - which is not exactly the Huffington Post, but is a lot for this blog. If any of the three hundred are back for more - welcome again. Djinn happened to be up from Tassajara on Wednesday evening, and I had to convey to her the sad news that her wedding was not longer the most viewed post on the blog.
  Wednesday was another big day all round really. We had a rich staff meeting, which started off with us all saying how stretched we felt, how much work we had and how tired we were, and which ended with a very powerful conversation in the group about the values of living in the temple. So powerful in fact, that Anna, the director,  asked us to contribute to her Wednesday evening talk. Luckily this was not one of those talks where I felt like I was about to fall asleep, so when she invited us to step up and say something towards the end, I was right there, feeling sharply focused. Just like when I had to speak in the zendo on New Year's Day, I had an idea of where I was going to start and at least one other point I wanted to make, but I have no idea what came out in the end; the difference is that this time we were recorded, so if you have ever been curious as to how I sound  (I never have been, which is why I was a sound engineer and not a presenter - the same goes for preferring to be behind the camera rather than in front of it), this is your chance to find out, though I leave it to you to figure out which one is me.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011


I was lighting the altar in the zendo this morning when Jordan came in; this was notable since he is the doshi doing the morning jundo now that Paul is at Tassajara. He came over to tell me that Darlene had died at 1:15 this morning.
I didn't get back to my seat, but went to set up for the 108 bells, which we did after the jundo. Almost everyone from the zendo came out to offer incense, bow and strike the densho in her memory. We also did the same service that we had done the morning after Jerome's death, with the Heart Sutra and the Enmei Jukku Kannon Gyo. Everyone was in a sombre mood.

Again, I leave it to others who knew her better to tell of her life. I remember her in dharma talks reminiscing about how she came to Zen Center, in the early days, and how she met Tony, her husband. One of my favourite memories was from Tony's shuso ceremony, first with her question:
"Yes, dear" replied Tony almost completely deadpan.
"What is the secret of a successful marriage?"
Tony came right back without a pause: "Knowing when to say 'yes, dear'".
Later in the ceremony, as the former shusos offered their traditional compliments to the new shuso, usually about their wisdom and insight and skillful answers during the dharma inquiry, she purred: "'re very handsome!"

A couple of photos as well: the first is a picture I took in the old days of 35mm, Darlene with Joan on the day of Joan's tokudo in September 2004. The second is a picture that Ren kindly sent on to me after I had previously written about not having any recent pictures of Darlene. This was from the ceremony at the tail end of last year where she was presented with a new ceremonial okesa.
I remember being at Tassajara when she did her dharma transmission with Michael. As is traditional, after the midnight ceremony, she came to the zendo the next morning (less than four hours later, that is), to give a dharma talk. My memory is that she started by looking at her new brown robe and saying "What do I do now that I look like a giant truffle?" I wonder how she described herself in that beautiful lilac okesa?

Photo courtesy of Ren Bunce

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

In The Beginner's Mind There Are Many Possibilities

We are still experiencing the New Year boost in attendance; not so much for early morning zazen, but definitely in the afternoons.
I was thinking during this afternoon's period, when I wasn't falling asleep on the cushion, of the tell-tale signs of a new person in the zendo. This is not at all meant to be disparaging, because as I have said before, most of our forms are not self-evident, so there is no reason for people to know them unless they have been shown beforehand. Now, we always encourage people to start with the Saturday morning zazen instruction, so that they are shown beforehand, but of course everyone is free to come whenever they want to and try it out. Maybe this can be a little cut-out-and-keep guide for newer people, and you can check off each one you have successfully mastered.
So the first sign of a new person is if I can hear whispering in the gaitan - this usually means that someone is checking in with the doorwatch about what they should do, and that's a good sign because at least they are concerned about getting it right.
Next is the one that is always the most in my face, bearing in mind where I sit - someone entering the zendo on the right-hand side of the curtain. Again, this is a matter of convention more than anything else, and if you follow the natural line offered by the zabutons in the gaitan, you end up on the right anyway.
Then there is the bow - which should be two steps forward and then a gassho bow to the room. People bow before the threshold, at the threshold, towards the altar - someone even bowed to me today, which was embarrassing. A surprising number of people, even those I think have been around long enough to know better, do a shashu bow instead. Some do not even bow at all.
Hand position is the next clue - the perfect zen student always has their hands in shashu inside the zendo, not in their pockets or swinging at their sides.
Number five, the one that seems to upset most people, the person takes a left turn and walks across in front of the altar. The upset is definitely a conditioned response - if you know it is wrong to do it, it looks bad when someone does. If you don't know, there is no reason why you would worry about it. I have learned to be relaxed about this, though I notice the lurching feeling, which sometimes comes from the doan wanting to run over and grab the person to prevent them from committing this heinous act. I usually grab the doan first, hopefully before they have leapt from their seat.
The one that I do cringe at is the ascent of the tan. New people may or may not do the correct gassho bow to the cushion, a clockwise 180 degree turn and a gassho bow to the room. But instead of sitting back down on the zafu which they have previously pulled towards them so that it is perfectly placed to receive their backside, some people go head on, climb on the tan - feet on the mealboard for good measure, because there is no way to guess what purpose that strip of wood serves, and stand up on the zabuton before sitting back down . This one always looks bad to me, just because the person is towering over everyone else.
Once seated, of course, everyone is swimming in the same ocean of enlightenment...

Study Hall - Shobogenzo

From 'Continuous Practice', 'Gyoji', part one: "Even when you are uncertain, do not use this one day wastefully. Do not compare it to an enormous jewel. Do not compare it to a dragon's bright pearl. Old sages valued this one day more than their own living bodies. Reflect on this quietly. A dragon's pearl may be found. An enormous jewel may be acquired. But this one day out of a hundred years cannot be retrieved once it is lost. What skillful means can retrieve a day that has passed? No historical documents have recorded any such means. Not to waste time is to contain the passage of days and months within your skinbag without leaking. Thus, sages and wise ones in olden times valued each moment, each day and each month more than their own eyeballs or the nation's land. To waste the passage of time is to be confused and stained in the floating world of name and gain. Not to miss the passage of time is to be in the way for the sake of the way".

Sunday, January 9, 2011

The View From Here

I spent yesterday afternoon and evening relocating. I had intended to spread the task out over the weekend, but once I was underway, it seemed to make more sense just to get the whole thing done. Distance-wise, it was the easiest move I have ever done  - and I have moved many times within Zen Center, especially at Tassajara, every summer and winter - since it was just to the next-door room. Most of the time was spent giving my new room a good clean, and it was mainly the windows that needed it. There was not so much furniture to move out of there, and I don't have so much to move, a futon, low desk, chair and footstool, two footlocker trunks and a full tall bookcase, plus a few drawers full of clothes, and, trickiest part of the process, two closets' worth of stuff that I had to squeeze into one closet. Things are getting pared down a little, which is no bad thing.
For those who don't know City Center, it is shaped like an H. I had previously been on the lower right leg, looking in over the courtyard, and I am now at the bottom of the same leg, looking in two directions, over the courtyard and east over the city. I had previously lived in the equivalent room on the left leg, looking south and east, and while there is extra traffic noise to contend with - which takes some getting used to, especially on a Saturday night when you can add drunken singing to the ambience  - I love the extra light and the views. Right now I can see across to the Oakland hills and the shoulder of Mount Diablo - it being a particularly clear day, and the sun is setting on the tall buildings downtown - the AAA and Fox Plaza, the new Four Seasons on Market, the first tower of the Bay Bridge, City Hall, the Bank of America building and the Trans-America pyramid, the Federal building, and the towers on top of Nob Hill and Russian Hill, as well as the myriad buildings whose names I do not know. In other words, much the same view as in the 'skies' pictures I have been posting, only one floor lower. I enjoy being able to look out in this way - it definitely feels less insular. I also get to enjoy seeing crows making mischief around the neighbourhood - it's their city too.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

The Ino's Desire

This title came from one of the search keywords that popped up in the stats - actually what was written was 'inos desire', so who knows if they ended up in the right place (as for 'сежики', another search term, maybe someone who understands cyrillic can tell me if they might have found what they were after - Google Translate came up with something about a snowplough... okay, it was actually 'snowplow', being American and all).
Maybe they do mean me; but what desires could I possibly have, apart from that everyone shows up and does their job? We had a lot of juggling around this morning's doanryo - the kokyo has been sick and didn't have a voice, so yesterday I suggested that she take over the vacant doan slot for today, but then she was not well enough to be up this morning. I had someone else lined up as kokyo, but they were asked to be nightwatch last night, so they were out, and the soku was also sick, so we had to do some internal promotions in the serving crew to get that to work.
Nevertheless, it was a pretty smooth morning. Even if the residents are a little thin on the ground still, with sickness and vacations, in the zendo at 9:25, and especially at the talk, we had more people than usual, which I attribute to the power of resolution; we typically get a little boost in January, and I hope I can help encourage our new visitors to keep showing up and to get more involved. Maybe we can call that another desire of mine...

Friday, January 7, 2011

The Counting Game

This week Robert very kindly gave me the gift of a book called 'The Undying Lamp of Zen - The Testament of Zen Master Torei'. I was excited about this, as I had not heard of the book, and couldn't really place Torei in zen history. Now of course it is invidious to read anyone alongside Dogen, but Torei, being a successor of Hakuin, has a Rinzai vigour that serves him well enough in this respect. I read a footnote near the beginning which explained: "The 'seven branches (or limbs) of enlightenment' are discernment, energy, joy, relief, relinquishment, stability, and mindfulness". My mind immediately went to about what I written on 'Thusness' earlier today, and I thought, well I got two out of seven.

Then you throw away the numbers and start again.
As I believe I said in the zendo on New Year's Day, showing up and being present is dropping away body and mind.

Study Hall - Shobogenzo

From 'Thusness', 'Immo': "You are an accoutrement that exists in the entire world of the ten directions. How do you know it to be thus? You know it because your body and mind are not you; they appear in the entire world of the ten directions.
Your body is not you; your life is transported, moving in time without stopping even for a moment. Where has your youthful face gone? When you search for it, there is no trace. When you ponder deeply, there are many from the past whom you cannot encounter again. The pure mind does not stay; it comes and goes in fragments. Even if there is truth, it does not stay in the boundary of yourself...
Without knowing what buddha dharma is and without having heard it, one does not look for it and wish for it. But upon hearing dharma, one regards obligations as less weighty and forgets about oneself. It is because the body-and-mind that has wisdom is no longer the self...
Huineng, Zen Master Dajian of Mount Caoxi, once instructed Nanyue, who would later become Zen Master Dahui: 'What is it that thus comes?'
Study thoroughly his statement that all things are invariable what, as what is beyond doubt, beyond understanding, but, just what. Study thoroughly that the one thing is no other than what. What is not to be doubted. What thus comes".
Reading this on a morning where two periods of zazen had just begun to take the edge off the tension and stress I was feeling, I felt deep joy in my body, a sense of relief and allowing. No need to understand.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

The Ino's Life

It is of course always a little hard to re-adjust to the normal schedule after a fairly long break. For a month before Christmas I was awake well before the wake-up bell every morning; now I am being dragged from deep dreams by my alarm. People are still away on their vacations, so the morning schedule has been a bit sparsely attended, and my zazen somewhat drowsy.
Getting back into the flow of work has been a little tough too. After the day-long meeting on Tuesday, there was the usual staff meeting through the morning yesterday, and I had a lot of admin to take care of - setting up a chiden training, revising the doanryo, setting out the oryoki serving crews for the month, mailing out request for people to cover zazen instruction and the beginners' sittings, and tabulating the responses.
What did I do today? First of all I cleaned the ino's office from top to bottom - it hadn't been on the list of places to get cleaned before the New Year, and it had been a bit of a dumping ground during interim. Having done that, I then trashed the place again by unpacking all the incense from our order to Japan, which arrived right before Christmas. There were roughly two thousand boxes of incense, a mixture of short and long, and I wanted to make sure that they had all been delivered, and then I needed to divide them into five piles - for the temple supplies and bookstores here and at Green Gulch, and for a stock that we distribute to emerging sanghas. It made me glad that Kathy decided Tassajara has sufficient from previous years, and did not add to the total. It turned out that we were shorted about a hundred boxes of each, so now I need to figure out who I can approach to explain the situation in Japanese to the manufacturer - actually I have a good idea who I am going to ask, but I feel I need to be diplomatic in my approach. Having divvied up and re-boxed everything according to its destination, I set off in the Zenmobile to collect some candles.
When I was tenzo, I used to love my periodic visits to Economy Restaurant Supply, down at the bottom of Potrero Hill. It was the kind of place that I never would have gone near were it not for being tenzo, but I really enjoyed wandering round this huge warehouse full of familiar kitchen implements - it was easy to see where most of our supplies had come from over the years  - picking up new hot pads, salad spinners, glass plates, whatever was needed. The best part of it was the always impeccable customer service, which really lifted me each visit. Once or twice, I even went by bike, when I knew I was only picking up small things. The ino equivalent to this is Kaufer's Religious Supplies, another, more hushed, warehouse, way out at the back of Potrero Hill, in the midst of some very poorly paved roads. I have ventured out here by bike a few times, to pick up candles - most of the rest of the store is devoted to Christian vestments and other paraphernalia which we have no use for, but which are curiously fascinating to inspect. Today, I reluctantly took the car, not for convenience or speed, but because I rightly judged that two dozen 12" x 2" beeswax candles would be a bit of a shlep on the way back.
I did get time for a break and a bath before taking on the afternoon session in the zendo. After dinner, I managed to convey the essence of chidening - cleaning and taking care of the altars -  to four people out of the eight who need to be trained, before going back to the zendo to look after the Thursday evening group. Susan has been running this recently, but she has gone off to do the Green Gulch Intensive, and Diana, who had previously been on that seat, was unavailable. I tried emailing a few other practice leaders to see if they wanted to take on this opportunity for the rest of the month, and was saddened not to get a single response, not even a 'no, sorry'. It was nice to get to sit some more, and we had a small and quite new group of people, almost all of whom came upstairs afterwards for a cup of tea and a wide-ranging discussion that kept me on my toes, until I realised it was getting towards bedtime. Tomorrow is going to be a full day as well...

Study Hall - Shobogenzo

"Daowu, who would later become Zen master of the Tianhuang Monastery, visited the assembly of Shitou, Great Master Wuji, and asked, 'What is the fundamental meaning of buddha dharma?'
Shitou said, "Not to attain, not to know.'
Daowu said, 'Is there a further turning point in going beyond?'
Shitou said, 'The vast sky does not keep white clouds from flying.'...
Shitou said, Not to attain, not to know. Understand that in buddha dharma the fundamental meaning is in the original aspiration, as well as in the ultimate level. This fundamental meaning is not to attain. It is not that there is no aspiration, no practice, or no enlightenment. But simply, not-attaining. The fundamental meaning is not to know. Practice-enlightenment is not nonexistent or existent, but is not to know, not to attain." ('Going Beyond Buddha', 'Bukkojo Ji').

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The Great Assembly

Yesterday was a bit of a long day: in the morning we had a leaving ceremony for MacNeill, and the monthly Suzuki Roshi Memorial, and then right after breakfast a number of us headed down to Fort Mason for the next twelve hours. Abbot Steve had organised a day-long meeting for what I could lazily call sixty of Zen Center's finest - teachers and senior staff from all three practice centers, with the addition of a few members of the Board, and people from the development department.
The theme of the day was looking at Zen Center's ongoing financial stability, which is obviously a rich topic in these economic times, and I am not really going to talk about that here. For a lot of people, much of the joy and value of the day was in having everyone in the same place for once. A few precedents were cited, from recent years - and from previous decades, by those with long enough memories - but I don't think I have ever spent the day with close to sixty practice friends like that. Looking around the room, I estimated that I had probably sat sesshin with all but about eight people there, not to mention the countless hours of zazen we have all sat together. It was also the last day before a portion of the assembly headed back to Tassajara for the winter practice period, so there was a chance to catch up and say hellos and goodbyes, as well as having everyone putting their heads together on the topic in hand.
I took a number of photos just to capture the occasion, but since I hadn't asked everyone's permission beforehand, I won't put them up here. Except for the two participants who won't be able to vocalise their objections, and who probably got more loving attention than anybody else, on a day where that was not in short supply - Mati, Nancy and Olivia's dog, and Frankie, Jiryu and Sarah's delightful eight-month-old.

Study Hall - Shobogenzo

Back to Dogen after the Christmas break, and I feel how my mind is rusty trying to absorb the words and what is beyond the words. Today, 'The Point of Zazen', 'Zazenshin': "Who are beginners? Are there any who are not beginners? When do you leave the beginner's mind?...When you reflect on your life's activities, are they intimate with zazen or remote from it? Is there in enlightenment in zazen, or is there delusion? Is there one whose wisdom penetrates zazen?"

Monday, January 3, 2011

What The Hell, More Old Photos

For want of any dharma activity at this slow time of year (tonight's Suzuki Roshi Memorial notwithstanding), a few more pictures of the Wind Caves, contrasting the snowy day with other times; in the latter case, a post-fire view.