Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Saying Goodbye

We had a leaving ceremony for Renee today, who is heading up the coast this weekend, first to be with her family, and then to study with Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche in Seattle. It was a moving ceremony for me; laughter and tears not far apart. Jordan, her teacher, spoke of her qualities, and asked her a question, and then, turning the usual form on its head, asked her if she wanted to ask Paul something, which she did. Paul got his question in afterwards though, as well as some beautiful words of appreciation.
The fluid nature of the residential sangha here is something I have written about before; there is a constant process of intimacy and parting, continually placing our wish for connection against the reality of impermanence. I have been happy and proud to have Renee as a friend, especially through the hard times of this year; I remember when she used to come as a volunteer dishwasher in the kitchen when I was tenzo, as well as helping Diana in the bookstore that she ended up running. As Jordan said, we would be sadder, except that we know she is doing the right thing for her life right now.
We also know that people never completely disappear from our lives, especially in the Mahasangha, and of course, these days, you can always keep in touch with people on their blogs...

Renee in her element, dancing at the Pride Parade this summer

The more contemplative side, on her favourite rock in the courtyard

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Study Hall

More from Branching Streams Flow In The Darkness: "So you may ask, 'What is the real teaching of Buddha?' If you don't understand it you will keep asking, 'What is it? What is it? What does it mean?' You are just seeking for something you can understand. We don't exist in that way. Dogen Zenji says, 'There is no bird who flies knowing the limit of the sky. There is no fish who swims knowing the end of the ocean'. We exist in the limitless universe. Sentient beings are numberless, and our desires are limitless, but we still have to continue making our effort just as a fish swims and a bird flies. So Dogen Zenji says, 'A bird flies like a bird; a fish swims like a fish'. That is the bodhisattva's way, and that is how we observe our practice".

Monday, November 28, 2011

Old Notes

While reading Branching Streams Flow In The Darkness, I have come across the bookmark I left in the book the first time I read it, during my first practice period at Tassajara in 2002. It is a little index card, and written in Sharpie on one side is : "Lantern #7 - Place on the outer perimeter to the right". I have no trouble remembering what this means.
During the first sesshin of the practice period, we were due a Full Moon Ceremony, and the ino that year, Melissa, wanted to do the ceremony at the memorial site. Along with Greg, Eric and Bob, I was deputed to carry the big bell from the zendo to the site, up the steep and narrow path. There was a yoke in the shop for just this purpose - obviously it was not the first time the bell had been moved, though I don't know if it had been taken up there before. I remember the trip being a little tricky as it was hard to walk two abreast up the path, but since I was several inches shorter than the other three guys, I didn't feel like I was taking much of the weight of the apparatus.
We must have done this right after lunch, and been given the work period off, as I found myself with a stretch of free time, and for some reason I decided to head up Hawk Mountain for the first time, up to the telephone tower. It was not a very sesshin-like thing to do, but was spectacular - I only wished I had taken my camera with me.
The ceremony itself was that evening, so the note referred to the lantern I was going to carry during the procession up from the work circle to the memorial site. I remember this stately lantern-lit procession to be very beautiful. As to the ceremony itself, I recall wanting the moon to come shining over the Flag Rock ridge, which it didn't during the ceremony; afterwards I walked the last few yards up to the ridge of the Hogsback to see it shining brightly onto the Three Treasures - sound familiar?
What occurred to me this morning, as I looked at the note again, was how I would have made an effort to get the lantern in the right place when we arrived, but how Melissa, as ino, for all her organisation and effort, may have had some feeling about her vision for the ceremony not quite coming to pass - perhaps this is always the dukkha of the ino. It was, obviously, still most memorable in its manifestation.

In 2007, we did the Annual Suzuki Roshi memorial at the memorial site - but we didn't bring the big bell

Looking down the path that leads up to the site
The even steeper trail leading up Hawk Mountain - this is also from 2007

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Speaking In Public

My talk on photography with the Gay Buddhist Sangha at Hartford Street went reasonably well; I was certainly made to feel most welcome, and people expressed their appreciation afterwards during the tea and cookies as they leafed through the albums I had brought along.
The only experience I have of talking in public for that long has been giving way-seeking mind talks, so I started with some biography just to get me grounded, as well as to introduce myself more fully - though I had been impressed that Albert remembered every detail from my biographical blurb when he introduced me at the outset. I felt like I set off strongly, then floated a bit vaguely in the middle before wrapping it up well enough with some quotes that worked at the theme from different angles, and luckily that was at about the time I was supposed to end. I have a feeling the audio may be posted online eventually, and I may get curious enough to listen back to it one of these days. To save you the trouble of that, here were the three closing quotes:

There is no closed figure in nature. Every shape participates with another. No one thing is independent of another, and one thing rhymes with another, and light gives them shape. - Henri Cartier-Bresson

In some photographs the essence of light and space dominate; in others, the substance of rock and wood, and the luminous insistence of growing things... It is my intention to present - through the medium of photography - intuitive observations of the natural world which may have meaning to spectators. - Ansel Adams

Dongshan asked Yunyen, "Who can hear the teachings of the insentient?"
Yunyen said, "It can be heard by the insentient."
Dongshan asked, "Do you hear it, Master?"
Yunyen said, "If I heard it, then you would not hear my teaching."
Dongshan answered, "That being the case, then I do not hear your teaching."
Yunyen replied, "You don't even hear my teaching, how could you hear the teachings of the insentient?" Dongshan was enlightened on hearing this and responded in verse:
    Wondrous! Marvelous!
    The teachings of the insentient are inconceivable.
    If you listen with the ears, you won't understand.

   When you hear with the eyes, then you will know.

It was a beautiful morning this morning - perhaps not quite this bright before the sun came up, but I'm still getting the hang of settings on the camera

A little later

Thursday, November 24, 2011

In A Holiday Mood

I will dust off my usual disclaimer about not being culturally attached to American holidays, but I also really appreciate the mood here the past twenty-four hours. There have been a number of people sick in the last couple of weeks, and people are tired, so the zendo has been far from full, but yesterday was one of those days where everyone was working harmoniously together to prepare for a celebration. Senior staff had volunteered to put together the Thanksgiving Eve dinner - we wanted it yesterday so that people could have two complete days off, which I am most grateful for - but in the kitchen there was a lot of activity from all quarters. My role was to make mashed potatoes, which I do have a cultural attachment to, and I managed to do that between setting up for the Thanksgiving service and the service itself.
We had just about the right number of people for both service and dinner - a full house without being overcrowded - and the food turned out delicious all round. We followed this up with a skit night, to which a lot of people contributed entertainment, including multi-media happenings and Genine's Half-Moon Ceremony, as well as the usual inspired silliness, poetry, music, singing and dancing. I took the opportunity to try out my new camera, though playing with the settings meant some of the pictures didn't turn out so well.
I can't say that I slept in much this morning, but it was nice to get up and just drink coffee and read the papers, and then help Myoki, who was making gingerbread muffins for everyone for breakfast. Ordinarily I would look on having two days off as a chance to get in two bike rides, but since it is throughly damp out there, and I am still wanting to let my wrist heal (riding on Sunday in even wetter conditions was not a great deal of fun), I am going to have a completely unscheduled day, something that happens very rarely, and seems very long and spacious.

Genine was one of the MCs for skit night

P, who observed "It's a potato", watching Renee demonstrating her iSpud

Tova said that skit night would not be complete without some Bach
Roger and Richard in 'R&R's 24-hour jiko service'

The finale: Richard's 'mosh pit', dancing to 'Billie Jean'

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Study Hall

Continuing with Branching Streams Flow In The Darkness; the second talk has a section that I know well, as there is a beautiful calligraphy version of it on the third floor here. This excerpt starts near the end of that version, which is about ki as potentiality:
"Ki sometimes means the 'interrelationship between someone who helps and someone who is helped'. This is also called jihi. Ji here means to encourage someone. Hi means to give happiness. Jihi is usually translated 'love'. Love has two sides. One is to give joy, yoraku, and the other is to lessen suffering, bakku. To lessen someone's suffering we suffer with them, we share their suffering. That is love.
So if someone is very good, we can share the joy of practice with them by giving them a good cushion, a good zendo, or something like that. But a zendo doesn't mean anything to someone who is suffering too much; whatever you give may not be accepted. Someone may say, 'I don't need it. I'm suffering too much. I don't know why. Right now to get out of suffering is the most important thing for me. You can't help me, nothing can help me'. When you hear this, you should be like Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva - you should become like the one who is suffering, and you should suffer as that person suffers. Because of your innate love, your instinctive love, you share the suffering. That is love in its true sense".

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

A New Eye

After a little over three and a half years, and some twenty five thousand pictures (doing the maths, it comes to about twenty pictures per day), I have replaced my well-loved Canon G9, in favour of a spanking new Fuji X10. This is my third digital camera - the first was also a Fuji, an E900, bought at the end of 2005, which never really recovered from being dropped in the creek at Tassajara. It remains to be seen if my photos get any better; I haven't taken one so far that is worth putting up here. And it certainly won't help me write the talk I am due to give this Sunday at Hartford Street...

Monday, November 21, 2011

Study Hall

I was moved this morning to pick up Branching Streams Flow in the Darkness, and enjoy once again how Suzuki Roshi can say that most profound things without even seeming to. I found a good passage for Young Urban Zen tonight, and also, a page or two later, this:
"When you feel you are somebody, you have to practice zazen harder. As you know, it is difficult to sit without thinking or feeling. When you don't think or feel, you usually fall asleep. But without sleeping and without thinking, just to be yourself is our practice. When you can do that, you will be able to speak without thinking too much, and without having any special purpose. When you speak or act, it will be just to express yourself. That is complete self-respect. To practice zazen is to attain this kind of self-respect. You must be strict with yourself and escpecially with your tendencies. We each have our own unique personal tendencies. But if you try to get rid of them, or if you try not to think, or not to hear the stream during zazen, it is not possible. Let your ears hear without trying to hear. Let the mind think without trying to think and without trying to stop it. That is practice.
More and more, you will have this rhythm as the power of practice. If you practice hard you will be like a child. While we were talking about self-respect, a bird was singing outside. Peep-peep-peep. That's self-respect. Peep-peep-peep. It doesn't mean anything. Maybe he was just singing. Maybe without trying to think he was just singing, peep-peep-peep. When we heard it we couldn't stop smiling. We cannot say that it is just a bird. It controls the whole mountain, the whole world. That is self-respect".

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Notes From A One-Day Sitting

As breakfast dragged on, I began to wonder if I was going to get to leave the zendo before I had to come back. It was a close-run thing in the end: although the zendo was not quite as full as on the last couple of one-days, there wasn't enough cereal in the pots, so the servers had to keep making round trips to fill in the gaps, and I was watching the time just slip away and noticing how stressed I got. At lunch, by way of a contrast, since there is always something of a break no matter how long the meal goes, I was completely relaxed.
Other things that I noticed today: the Self-Receiving and -Employing Samadhi certainly sounds better with a few periods of zazen inside you. I haven't felt fully connected with it during our noon services this practice period, but today felt different.
While my wrist still got a little sore holding the mudra over time, my legs were doing just fine on the whole - perhaps they were glad not to be the centre of attention. During the afternoon, my brain became less of a solid obstacle, and the information in my spine was more readily accessible.
It was wonderful to have a full zendo chanting the Dai Hi Shin Dharani before dinner, and the Refuges at the end of the evening. Also wonderful to put a call out for people to help with evening dishes, and to go into the kitchen to see half a dozen people working away to get things done. Together, the sitting happens. Then we go our separate ways in the rainy evening.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Study Hall - Extensive Record

"The true Dharma eye treasury transcends brightness and darkness. Patch-robed monks' nostrils disregard both enlightenment and delusion. So it is said, 'A broken mirror does not illuminate or reflect. A fallen flower does not jump back onto the branch'. Why is this so? Great assembly, do you want to understand this clearly?
After a pause, Dogen said: Buddha's children abide in this land, and this is Buddha's fulfillment. Always remaining among them, [Buddha] does walking meditation, sits and lies down".

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Offering Incense

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Study Hall - Extensive Record

In addition to the photo assignment I mentioned yesterday, I did a similar job a couple of weeks ago for another friend for their website, and got paid handsomely for my time. Having long wished to add it to my collection, I went to the bookstore on Saturday and picked up Dogen's Extensive Record. This is something I intend to dip in and out of rather than read front to back, but here is a selection:
"Seeing Buddha, we make prostrations to Buddha; riding an ox, we search for the ox. Why is it like this? This is the reality of our practice. Where wisdom does not reach, totally avoid speaking. If you speak, horns grow on your head.
Dogen held up his whisk and said: Horns have even now grown on our heads, and we have been speaking. Already there are horns. Is this an ox or a horse; Gautama or Bodhidharma? Wind whistles through the branches; rain breaks up the clumps of earth. Toads croak and earthworms cry out. Simply see that peach blossoms open by the mountain huts. A thousand gates and ten thousand doors face the valley streams in spring.
Dogen put down his whisk and descended from the seat".

Moon rising last night
A misty autumnal morning

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

On The Mend

That I didn't go to Young Urban Zen last night points to the difference between physical pain and emotional pain. There have been a couple of occasions these past five months - not least the very first meeting - where my mood on the day did not seem conducive to being in the group, but I found on each occasion that allowing myself to be with the people who were there not only eased my mental afflictions, but sometimes completely transformed them.
Yesterday did not feel like that. I tried working in the morning, but soon realised that typing emails and rifling through old Mountain Seat folders for useful information was not helping my wrist at all. Happily, I had previously arranged for a friend to come by after lunch: I took pictures of her for her website, and in exchange had an awesome shiatsu massage. After which I wasn't much good for anything. I sat afternoon zazen, but was deeply tired, and felt that my body just needed to rest. While I had fun playing with being right-handed - though trying to serve myself mushrooms at dinner using tongs reminded me of one of those fairground grabbers in my chances of success - I decided that I didn't have enough energy to bring to the meeting, and took myself upstairs for an early night.
I got a solid eight hours of sleep, which is a rare enough tonic itself around these parts, and felt markedly better this morning. The swelling is down, movement and grip are better and my body feels more settled. What I did find hard was keeping my mudra in zazen, but then I noticed how having my arms in any other position really completely changed my experience of sitting. As it happens, the passage I had chosen for YUZ last night was from Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind, and it started "The most important things in our practice are our physical posture and our way of breathing".

Monday, November 14, 2011


We are always telling people how practice is a question of dealing with the situation you find yourself in, and I find myself in an interesting situation right now. Yesterday, close to the end of a nice long ride to the Bovine with Clay, we reached the near end of Golden Gate Park, and were waiting to cross Kezar for the final charge down Oak Street. I reached out to a barrier to balance myself, sat back, and the next thing I knew, I was flat on my backside: the bolt holding my saddle to the seat-post had sheared off. Several people stopped to help and check as to my well-being; luckily the fleshy parts had taken much of the impact, but I had also put my left hand down instinctively, and I could feel that my wrist was going to be hurting.
We gathered up all the bits and rode the last mile or so home, me unable to sit down, but it wasn't far enough to make that uncomfortable. I put an ice pack on my wrist right away, and also, over the course of the day, rested, compressed and elevated. I had most of the usual movement in my hand, but I didn't have any grip strength. The one thing I did that was less advisable was take my other bike and ride down to the Mission in the evening, as a friend of mine was hosting an event I did not want to miss, but it was quite painful trying to hold onto the bars.
I suspected I might not sleep so well, and so it turned out, waking many times to try to find again a neutral position for my wrist where it was not so sore. This morning, the person who was supposed to be stepping in as fukudo had obviously forgotten, but I found I couldn't get dressed fast enough to get downstairs in time to run the wake-up bell myself, and was worried as to whether I would be able to hit the han or carry the bell - since I normally do all these things left-handed. Luckily I came across Jay, who is one of the people here most likely to say yes to whatever request is made of him, so he was able to take care of it.
Sitting zazen was not difficult, and I managed to put on my okesa and spread my zagu, just more slowly and clumsily than I am used to. Gassho was not so easy, as I didn't want to press my palms together hard or bend the wrist back. At breakfast I was offered arnica and other remedies, and everyone expressed their concern. I am finding typing easy enough, but we will see what else I am able to do in this cack-handed state today.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Sitting Out

Last night I stuffed a zafu and zabuton into my bag and rode down Market Street to join the sitting being offered by Green Gulch residents. There was an interesting debate last week on the Facebook wall about whether Zen Center was endorsing the Occupy movement by promoting this event, and I don't think I have anything intelligent to add to the views already expressed. This was my first time down in that part of town since the Occupy movement started; there was a certain visual incongruity of seeing the encampment along the Embarcadero - and also outside the Federal Bank where we were sitting - but then I also found the illuminated snow flake decorations along Market Street pretty incongruous.
I thought I was late, but when I arrived, I found only Laura and Jamie - the Green Gulch contingent were down listening to the general assembly, so by the time Johan, Qayyum, Maria, Rihanna and the others came along with the candles and cardboard to sit on, I was already settling into some sitting. There were some people agitated at what was supposed to be a gas leak a block away, which turned out not to be anything to worry about. I watched people walking by, city dwellers, camp dwellers, many of whom went to and fro several times. There were security guards on the other side of the barriers, and I guess they would probably be fired if they were seen to be sitting down; they paced up and down, chatted and joked with each other to pass the time, and only came over after a woman who was reading the sign tripped over the leg of a barrier and fell flat on her face. There was the noise of the building's air conditioning, the rumble of streetcars and of skateboards; a saxophone across the street played 'Lara's Theme' from Dr Zhivago and other doleful tunes. I reflected how just a day before I had been sitting out on the roof at sunrise, and here I was sitting on the pavement, looking up at people just as beggars do. Only we were not begging for anything, just being there, sitting together for all beings, as the sign says. Afterwards, we gathered into a circle and chanted the Loving Kindness Meditation, and I remembered chanting it before the Pride procession started, just a few blocks away. When Qayyum intoned a long, hand-written eko, I wondered if it sounded like a manifesto to the people walking past.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Currency Of Ideas

I recently took an unprecedented step: although one of the perks of living in community is almost guaranteed access to other people's New Yorkers, when I was sent an unsolicited offer of a subscription at what seemed like a paltry price for something that is my main source of mental nourishment, I though it was only decent to fork out for my own copies (which I can then make available to others).
In the first issue I received, I was taken with an article on the Iliad. For all my fancy education, I have not read it (nor the Odyssey, come to that, though I did make it through Ulysses over the course of one summer a few years ago), and I am not so animated by the topic of different schools of thought on authorship and translation that was the point of the article - though of course there are interesting parallels, as with anything that old, with the authenticity of Buddhist sutras and whether or not it matters.
The one thing that most captured my imagination was this: "the verbs and pronouns used in the scene are of a special type called the 'dual' which can be employed only for pairs of things (eyes, legs, oxen, etc)". What an amazing linguistic concept - one which, me being me, brought to mind Dogen, and his notion of 'only a Buddha and a Buddha': "Buddha dharma cannot be known by a person. For this reason, since olden times no ordinary person has realised Buddha dharma. No practitioner of the lesser vehicles has mastered Buddha dharma. Because it is realised by Buddhas alone, it is said only a Buddha and a Buddha can completely master it" (Yuibutsu Yobutsu). We were saying something not so dissimilar in Young Urban Zen this week - while you have to do the work yourself to develop your wisdom and compassion, it doesn't amount to anything until you are meeting another person face-to-face.

Gratuitous moon shot from before afternoon zazen

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

My Fifteen Seconds

I didn't manage to get much work done today: we had a film crew coming to shoot various things, so I was on hand to let them in at 5:30, right after the jundo. I had not quite anticipated that there would be five people and a couple of dozen big cases - when I worked in radio, our field recordings were always done with such a nimble set-up that I forget that adding pictures to the process makes life so much more complicated.
It wasn't exactly arduous though: my first job was to sit zazen on a platform on the roof as part of a time lapse sequence involving the solar panels (the project is about religious communities and alternative energy, and is being made by the people who made The Cove). I managed to sit still for a while,  and had the bonus of getting to see a beautiful sunrise from outside for once. I also got filmed hitting the big bell in the Buddha Hall, being doshi for noon service, and playing the han and densho downstairs. None of these things is hard for me to do, but it is interesting how knowing I was being filmed brought an extra immediacy and presence to each activity, even with the inevitable numerous takes that were involved for each shot set-up.
Additionally I was asked to say a few words on camera about how our practice and alternative energy intersect. This was a little harder to do convincingly, but I have learnt from my years in radio that if you talk to someone for fifteen minutes, you are probably only going to use fifteen seconds of that; I trust that the producers can find at least that much usable material.
Of course I was getting a certain amount of teasing about being in the spotlight, and of course I noticed how my ego was responding to being the centre of attention. In truth, my left arm is probably going to get more exposure than the rest of me.

Setting up the shot on the roof
Shooting on the roof at sunrise - photo courtesy of Adrienne
Lighting the han
Oh, and we have a Full Moon Ceremony tonight

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Out Front

I did not expect Paul to have the eko for the tree ceremony ready ahead of time - indeed when I went down to check out front half an hour beforehand, he was busy planting the wisteria - but I had also been fairly relaxed about the preparations, getting stuck into some chidening, which somehow felt more worthwhile than sitting answering emails. The densho was already ringing when he passed me the hand-written words, and I duly passed them on to Tova, as I was going to be wielding the strange but wonderful inkugyo (somehow I thought Greg would have mentioned this back in the day, as it was one of his favourite things, but since he didn't, and since searching Google actually gets you nowhere - try it for yourself -  I will just say that it looks like a two-headed inkin, only one half of it is a mini-mokugyo. Just like it sounds really, and just what you need for an occasion like this).
We had a nice little crowd on the pavement (that's the sidewalk for you folks), and the obligatory passing sirens, street-cleaning trucks, curious passers-by, and the less common election day convoys hooting horns at everybody, but we stood firm, chanted the Enmei Jukku and read tree-related poems. We did not, as we had been joking this morning, ordain the trees, but Paul sprinkled them with wisdom water, and we all wished them well in their new home.

The new look in front of the building

The altar for the tree ceremony
Technically not such a good picture, but I like the feeling of it
Tova reads a poem

Rocking The Bells

The big bell in the Buddha Hall is quite a temperamental beast. Its counterpart at Tassajara can be a little tricky to get used to, but then is pretty docile - if you strike it well, you will most often get a deep resonant sound - I used to love sitting at the doan seat there and feeling the vibrations coming up from the floor after a successful strike, and hearing how the sound collected and filled. The one in the city has a wide band near the top which, if the bell is struck wrong, will give you some pretty harsh harmonics (or are they overtones - I'm sorry not to be more musically accurate).  With both bells, people over the years have tried to pinpoint the sweet spot on the rim which gives you the best chance of a good sound. We had a spot that we were using here for some time, but the bells get moved around a lot - recently for both the jukai and Sejiki. A different spot had been tried in the last few months after one such move, and was adjudged to sound okay.
This morning the doan was sick, so I happily took on bell-ringing duties. In the Buddha Hall I noticed that the bell was lined up in a different place again - there are kanji engraved around most of the top of the bowl, so it is somewhat easy to spot this. I was amazed not just to get a decent sound, without too much clanginess, but also to have a real build-up of bass frequencies the times I got to hit the bell consecutively, something I have never really heard or felt with this bell before. This made me very happy.
Maybe it's just going to be one of those days: I came out of the Buddha Hall and saw Robert, the president, newly returned from a retreat in Nepal, sweeping the courtyard with his sleeves rolled up. That made me happy too. We had a joyful koan class, where the cinnamon rolls we were going to have for breakfast afterwards were a sub-theme of the discussions, and where we sang Happy Birthday to Tova, who is celebrating today, and Shindo, who just had her birthday.
As we sat together in the dining room after the class, eating the said rolls with much pleasure, we were talking about the ceremony we are going to do at lunchtime for the new maples that have been planted in front of the building. I expect I will write more about this after the fact. How auspicious, as Linda Ruth used to say at Tassajara.

None of the pictures I have of the big bell give you a decent sense of its size, so here is something more impressionistic

Monday, November 7, 2011

Dark Matter

The rain did come on Thursday to usher us into the end of Daylight Savings Time (what we somewhat optimistically call British Summer Time back home). On Friday morning it was almost competely dark until breakfast, and Saturday evening brought the full sodden storminess of winter. In a moment of idleness recently, I read again what I wrote at this time last year - and indeed on Friday I sat in the zendo with my hands wrapped in my sleeves, listening to the click and clank of the heating pipes. Happily the rain moved on; this morning the zendo was growing lighter during second period, and the sun shone into the dining room for breakfast. By the time I came down for zazen this afternoon however, I had already closed up the kaisando and turned on the hallway lights; the zendo was gloomy and I encouraged the doan to turn up the lights, as the gentle morning penumbra doesn't seem appropriate for the afternoon, though the gathering dark outside always makes for more intimate sitting.
It occurred to me that we do ceremonies to mark the solstices and equinoxes, but the days that the clocks go forward or back are much more notable in their impact on our lives, especially ones as closely time-tabled as those we live here.
The sky on Friday morning
Sunday morning

Save The Date

So now we officially have our next abbess, Christina Lehnherr, waiting in the wings, and we have a definite date for Paul's Stepping Down (February 11th), and the Mountain Seat Ceremony (February 12th). By Zen Center standards, we are apparently running a little behind schedule, but I am glad at least that things are not happening as they did in the dream I had last year. We have our first planning meeting about it this afternoon, and from what I can tell, although I will be intimately involved, there will be a number of senior people taking care of a lot of the details.
I am very happy that Christina will be leading us. She was tanto when I lived at City Center in 2005, and it was impossible not to be moved by how she was able to ground everything in deep abiding love. That didn't stop her from really kicking my arse a couple of times, but these things are easier to deal with when you also feel held with that kind of care. If you have never heard her give a talk, I encourage you to browse through the archives for one of her lectures, and if you are unsure what she looks like - as she hasn't been around Zen Center quite so much these past few years - here is a picture from the April jukai - she is on the left of the back row:

Friday, November 4, 2011

Study Hall

"Every person has the potential to achieve enlightenment. You already have a certain level of intelligence, insight, and compassion that you can develop further, all the way to realization. Trusting that is extremely important. If you lack confidence in yourself, then the experience won't come. If you sit down with the attitude of 'Well, I'm sitting, but I know I'm not going to get anywhere today', then you'll probably be right. The best approach is to sit without any expectations, without any hope or fear about the result. Sit with an attitude of openness that admits the possibility instead of shutting the door" - Rebel Buddha, Dzogchen Ponlop. There are a few people in particular who come to mind when I read this, and I hope some of them may see it for themselves.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

The Doshi Walk

I have been thinking that I need to re-learn how to walk. And to stand for that matter. I was just reading an article from the New York Times about 'barefoot running', already convinced as I am that, should I return to Tassajara, where I would take up running again for want of anywhere to play on a road bike, I would go with some kind of 'barefoot' shoes, and effectively learn how to run again from scratch. My guess is that this would not be so hard at Tassajara where the gradients are such that I often ran on the balls of my feet anyway.
I was about to say that I did manage to run in the 'conventional style' for the best part of thirty years without injury, but in my final practice period at Tassajara I did hurt myself - a twisted pelvis that locked my left leg up during my final sesshin, the effects of which still come and go in differently manifesting aches and pains.
At the newcomers' table last Saturday, I was trying to convince people at the table that zazen was in fact a body practice, and I was glad to hear Paul affirm this in his talk last night. Most of my zazen time at the moment is spent paying attention to different muscles in my back and shoulders as I try to stay aligned. Some days there is releasing, other days there is tension - Monday was bad for this, though whether this was caused by the stressful day or vice versa I could not say.
When I am doshi, I have noticed that I have a particular way of walking. This is partly dictated by the robes; I have renounced climbing stairs two at a time as a matter of course mainly because if I do so I am likely to trip over my kimono or my sleeves. When I do go upstairs in my robes, I am generally more upright, whereas I would usually lean forward. When I leave the zendo as doshi, my carriage is perhaps more grounded than it might me at other times; I am aware that I am playing a role, or rather, embodying a role. So I try to bring this to bear walking down the hallways at other times of day, or walking down the street. I hope I can extend the practice of balance and uprightness to standing and walking as well as sitting - I think I have mastered the lying down part well enough.

It's supposed to rain today, but it doesn't seem so feasible right now...

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Study Hall

"Usually, when we want something, instead of looking at the desire itself - the pure energy of longing or craving - and connecting to that experience of mind, we fall into ordinary patterns of thought. We miss the original moment, the opennesss, energy and brilliance that precedes the start-up of our habitual patterns. That happens over and over, whether our desire is on a grand scale, or we simply long for an ice-cold Coke. Thanks to all our thoughts of good and bad, before we even reach for the Coke, we have denied ourselves the pleasure of drinking it. It has too much sugar and too many calories; caffeine is bad; this soda wasn't bottled locally, and so on. Our head says, 'Don't drink it', but our taste buds are going 'Mmm'. The point is to see our neurosis in all its fullness, in its rawest and most fundamental state, just as it's arising - when we're looking at that can of cold Coke and our whole being is drawn to it. Our passion for that Coke lights up our mind, and there's a moment of wakefulness, pure pleasure, and satisfaction before the onslaught of thought begins. We can fall back asleep in that moment to get away from the intensity and brilliance, or we can back away and pick up some organic carrot juice. Or we can join that moment with enlightened pride, the wisdom of emptiness. Whether we drink the Coke or not is somewhat beside the point; it's a question of how we work with our mind when the desire strikes" - Rebel Buddha, Dzogchen Ponlop.
I am not aware of Dogen using Coke as a teaching tool anywhere in the Shobogenzo, but I suspect if it had been around in his day, he might have made a similar point to the Rinpoche.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Spreading The Word

For those of you who don't follow stuff on the Zen Center website so closely, I wanted to pass on that the dharma talk this Wednesday will be ASL-signed. This is down to some hard work by Keith, and it is hoped that this is the first of many. I suggested that it would be a great thing to have on video for the Livestream channel, but the decision was that we wanted to see how it goes over live this time round. So if you, or anyone you know, would benefit from this, and are able to be here tomorrow night, come on over. Or if you would definitely want to see this offered on our video stream, do let me know.

A few of us came out of zazen this afternoon noting that this would be the last week of daylight sitting. For sure we have had to turn the lights on the last couple of weeks as it is getting darker by dinnertime, and yesterday I was musing that perhaps we should start Sejiki later, as it doesn't seem as evocative to begin while the sky is still blue, even if it was pretty dark by the time we had finished. Certainly this week winter seems far away (apologies to anyone reading on the East Coast, for whom it has been somewhat more tangible), as the balmy weather continues, with stately sunrises during morning service. I just went over to the sewing room to put some long-promised stitches in a new zagu for Linda Ruth, which Tova is just finishing off, and there were warm breezes blowing about the courtyard.
We had a special guest kokyo this evening as well; the regular Tuesday person was away, and as Ren had come in early before sewing class, I offered her the chance to do it. Her voice filled the zendo seemingly effortlessly, and she led us in a strong rendition of the Heart Sutra. She was the head doan (and Tova the ino) at Tassajara back in 2004 when I was on the doanryo, and as she commented afterwards, it's like riding a bike - you never forget. As it happens, Keith was the doshi, as he is every Tuesday; we have worked out a way for him to be cued for all the bows by the doan, so it is probable that many attending the service would have no idea that he hadn't heard any of it.

Hungry Ghosts

I don't mind confessing that I wasn't in the most festive of moods for much of yesterday. Even with an almost entirely relaxing weekend consisting of bikes, books and beaches, I was still feeling the effects of the long day on Friday. I remember well setting up for Sejiki last year, so I knew I just had to keep plugging away through the day and it would all get done, which it did, but I was kind of cranky until late in the afternoon, especially as almost everyone seemed to want to know what costume I was going to wear.
It was only when I stood in front of the assembly - at least those who were there on time, there was a continual stream of people arriving as the ceremony went on - to explain what was going to happen, that I made an effort to hit the switch and be 'on'. And I had a good time - the rehearsal of the Kan Ro Mon in the morning paid off, as it sounded harmonious and strong, and all the other elements fell into place nicely. I felt relaxed and present for the last part of the dedication, which I hadn't really looked at before, and that wrapped it up nicely.
Even better, I had a dedicated bunch of people offering to set the Buddha Hall back to its normal state, so that went smoothly. After a big noisy dinner, the small gaggle of YUZ people who had come for the ceremony went out for refreshments, which was a positive end to a long day. Of course now I have to clean up the ino's office, which had not had a chance to recover from Friday night, and is now deluged with paper, ceremonial objects and noisemakers.

Offering food for the hungry ghosts

Sejiki incensor with rice instead of ash

The sejiki altar