Saturday, December 31, 2011

Taking Stock

'Tis the season to be reflective, something I am rarely immune from anyway, though the change of year gives us more currency for our thoughts. While I have no complaints about my practice life, and I appreciate how the role that I have has kept me working hard, and helped me stay focused, and while I have really enjoyed getting to be a part of Young Urban Zen this year as a new and fulfilling challenge, other parts of my life have felt barren and unsatisfied in the last couple of years, and I allow this to stop me from feeling completely settled or at peace where I am. I am hoping that 2012 will be different - and I know that an internal shift would be beneficial in this regard, but I haven't been able to find a way to bring this about. Being at Tassajara helps me to see that slowing down and having the ability to appreciate each thing that presents itself is key, so perhaps I just need to work on having this same outlook in the city.
I wish you all a year that is peaceful and harmonious, stable and free from calamity, and may we practise joyfully together with all beings.

Clearer skies this morning

Friday, December 30, 2011

In-between Days

As I have observed before - and if I am going to continue into a third year of being ino, I am either going to have to be more inventive in what I write about, or trust that people either haven't read or don't remember the older posts - interim is always a spacious time, as I have three extra hours during the day. Admittedly, the last couple of days, I have spent the first of these hours asleep, but I also get to drink coffee and read the papers before breakfast, and yesterday I realised that I did not have to rush to get to Rainbow and back in time for afternoon zazen, but could bike at leisure, and then bathe until the umpan rang for dinner.
There is also the slightly somnolent feel of the building in this week between Christmas and New Year - even with our visitors from Tassajara here - though I have to be careful not to be too lulled by this, as there are many details to take care of for the events tomorrow evening and on the morning of the first, especially since it takes place over the weekend, and we are doing some things differently to the usual. Hopefully I can stay awake past midnight tomorrow - that kind of a thing is quite a stretch for me these days.

Yesterday morning's beautiful skies before breakfast
Less colourful today, but equally misty

Thursday, December 29, 2011

In The Mountains Again

It was Christmas day at the bath-house, and I realised that being at Tassajara is a little like being in sesshin: there is little to distract you, so you pay attention to those things that are around you; since these are mostly natural objects, they reward your attention. I felt deeply rested just from being there and strongly connected to the land I know so well.
The break was certainly everything I wished for - peaceful, quiet, being surrounded by lovely people, with some faces from the past including Amy, Luke, Jessamyn and Sarah. The weather was bright and clear, mornings well below freezing that turned into sunny days, the endless blue sky turning into the dense starry darkness you just don't get in the city. I slept plenty - even until seven thirty once, which only ever happens at Christmas these days - read more than I usually have time for, did some non-strenuous hiking, washed some dishes, cleaned at the bath-house, cooked breakfast, listened to and told stories, watched hawks floating overhead, played with rocks, and did not hurry anywhere.
Of course I took photographs, although I was a little hampered by only taking one memory card down; I had to restrain myself for the last couple of days. Here is a selection, and I will probably post more here later on.

The echo han
Bright sunshine on the sandstone of the Church Creek trail
A picture I have failed to capture well in years gone by
On the women's side of the bath-house
Densho and striker
Never got this view to work before
A little way up the road
On the Church Creek trail
Above the first lookout on the road, looking towards Flag Rock
The walkway from the zendo to the kitchen
New moon over the Three Treasures

Saturday, December 24, 2011

A Christmas Tale

All being well, I will be ensconced at Tassajara by the end of the afternoon. Christmas at Tassajara is a time to cherish, not least because the likelihood of hearing a carol piped over a speaker is zero;  it is also just very special to be down there at a time when there are not so many people about and almost nothing is happening apart from some communal cooking and enough work to keep the place functioning.

I have been thinking back to my first Christmas at Tassajara, eight years ago, during my first stint of living there. The trigger for this reminiscence was this, which lives on my altar with other things that also contain much resonance for me:

The card was sent, as you can see, by Amy, who had lived at Tassajara before I arrived, and whom I knew slightly before the adventures of that Christmas.
As I remember it, once the practice period ended, there was the usual mass exodus, leaving probably less than a dozen people in the monastery, and the numbers kept diminishing - eight, four, and I think for most of one day there were just three of us, before we went up to five or six for Christmas itself.
It rained incessantly. This was not a bad thing in itself, as we had warm rooms to retreat to, but I wasn't content to be completely idle. I had decided to try to rebuild a stone wall which I had always thought very shoddily put together, but which it would have been hard to convince anyone to let me work on during normal working hours. This is generally a bad thing to attempt - it would have been easier to pull the whole thing down and start afresh; trying to partially reconstruct it meant I was always working within certain limitations, and I was never happy with the outcome, for all the soggy hours I put into it. At one stage while I was outside, there was apparently an earthquake. I had no idea until someone who had been indoors told me, but Madra, the dog at the time (who has just recently died), certainly knew all about it. A day or two before Christmas, I was down by the creek, throwing stones up the slope of the bank to use in the back-fill when one of them, not larger than my hand, rolled down again. I tried to catch it, but the speed of it knocked my hand down onto another rock, leaving a sharp pain in my ring finger. I could flex it a little, so I was fairly sure it wasn't broken, and the thought that the nearest hospital was more than two hours away over the treacherous road meant I did not get it seen to; to this day the knuckle is swollen, and I have limited flexibility in that finger.
I was also, having been on the shop crew, in charge of supervising the water system and the electricity, which in those days meant getting up early to go and turn on the generator. One morning I was just about to get up when I saw flashlights on the path outside. Knowing how few of us there were, I went to investigate, and it turned out to be some young people from Carmel Valley trying to sneak in to use the baths, as sometimes happened. They were completely bedraggled, and looked totally crestfallen, probably unable to believe their luck to have got so far, and then been turned away just yards from the bathhouse, but I could have told them, if I had been feeling more sympathetic and less territorial, that they would have had a better chance of getting in undetected by monks if they had come at midnight rather than six in the morning.
Happily, the generator behaved itself throughout, but when I went to do the water readings, it appeared that this small number of people had managed to get through three thousand gallons of water. I assumed I must have made a mistake in my calculations, and didn't think more about it, but the next day, the figure repeated itself, so I realised there must be a problem. This was on Christmas Eve; when Amy arrived, just as it was getting dark, I roped her in to doing a complete tour of the cabins to see if there was a toilet running or a tap left on. We came up empty-handed.
If it had been dry, it would have been easy to see if the water main had cracked somewhere, but everywhere the ground was completely water-logged from so much rain. I had a sudden idea though - a few days before, a couple of residents had backed one of the vehicles up to the door of the courtyard cabins to load up their stuff. I knew, from having had to crawl underneath those cabins during the summer to fix another plumbing problem, exactly where the water main ran, and pacing around the area, I thought I could feel a spongier patch of ground. I stuck a stick in to mark the spot where I thought we would find the break. Amy and I spent much of Christmas morning in the pouring rain digging down to the pipe - I was only about a foot off in my guess - and then she, being an all-round superstar, did the plumbing part (though I had bodged enough pipes by then that I could have probably fixed it if she hadn't been around).
The day ended wonderfully, and more festively: Amy had a Brazilian girlfriend at the time, who not only cooked a delicious dinner for the handful of us, but also played guitar and sang afterwards (a winning combination that Chinh also pulled off a while ago here in the city, with a Vietnamese dinner and some beautiful folk singing). As I remember, Amy also took a turn at the guitar to play some of her punky songs, one of which had the unforgettable refrain "May all beings be happy - except you!"
When she sent the card for the New Year, I wasn't familiar with the phrase on it, but it deeply resonated with me, and I loved the drawing of the monks. That year, 2004, turned out to be momentous for me in many ways, and I had to look long and hard at my devotion to what I loved; in the fall, after several upheavals, I was back at Tassajara, and studying the Lotus Sutra with Linda Ruth. Having found the first few chapters pretty heavy going, I somehow really clicked with chapter sixteen (in the translation we were using), 'The Revelation of the Eternal Life of the Tathagatha', where the phrase comes from, and having been encouraged by Linda Ruth to memorise and recite parts of the sutra, as Buddha himself recommends in the narrative, I chose that chapter, which has been with me ever since - I still recite it to myself as I walk around the city, which gives it, and the walk, and everyone I pass by, a richer flavour.

So that was the Christmas of 2003 for me. I wish you all a peaceful weekend. I suspect I will have stories and photos when I return.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Study Hall

A final offering from Branching Streams Flow In The Darkness: "I don't know why I am at Tassajara: it is not for you, or for myself, or even for Buddha or Buddhism. I am just here. But when I think I have to leave Tassajara in two or three weeks, I don't feel so good. I don't know why. I don't think it is just because you are my students. I don't have any particular person whom I love so much. I don't know why I have to be here. It is not because I am attached to Tassajara. I'm not expecting anything in the future in terms of a big monastery or Buddhism. But I don't want to live up in the air. I want to be right here. I want to stand on my feet.
The only way to stand on my feet when I am at Tassajara is to sit. That is the reason I am here. To stand on my feet and to sit on my black cushion are the most important things for me. I don't trust anything but my feet and my black cushion. They are my friends always. My feet are always my friend. When I am in bed, my bed is my friend; there's no Buddha, no Buddhism, no zazen. If you ask me, 'What is zazen?' my answer will be 'to sit on my black cushion' or 'to walk with my feet'. To stay at this moment in this place is my zazen. There is no other zazen. When I am really standing on my feet I am not lost. For me that is nirvana. There is no need to travel, to cross mountains or rivers. I am right here in the dharma world. so I have no difficulty crossing mountains or rivers. That is how we don't waste time. Moment after moment we should live right here, without sacrificing this moment for the future".

A beautiful winter morning - these were taken just before breakfast

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Standing Still In The Dark

Solstice and equinox ceremonies seem to draw a more heterogenous crowd - maybe people's wish to mark the change of the season overcomes their resistance to our kind of ritual, or maybe they are hoping for something completely pagan. Either way, we had a nice candle-lit gathering in the courtyard yesterday evening, with a few first timers, as well as the more familiar faces; I was happy to see a handful of Young Urban Zen people also in attendance.
We had a bit of a doshi shortage to contend with for the ceremony - Paul is on vacation, Rosalie in seclusion with dharma transmission-related activities, Blanche was off at the airport meeting grand-daughter and great grand-daughter, Jana attending the memorial for the homeless who have died on the streets this year at City Hall, Vicki teaching yoga. Happily Tova was very willing to step in and lead us.
Dinner afterwards also had a celebratory feel; Hanukkah candles were lit, but it was notably the day that monks came up from Tassajara, so there was as always much energy from seeing old friends again after their three months of intense practice. Actually, I was impressed with how many of the folks from Tassajara sat in the afternoon, came to lecture in the evening or followed the morning schedule. This is more than I ever did when I was on vacation after practice period.

Tova and part of the assembly

Very much liking the low light capabilities of the X10

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Study Hall - Extensive Record

Winter Solstice Dharma Hall Discourse (1245):
"... Xuefeng asked a monk, 'Where are you going?'
The monk said, 'I'm going to do community work'.
Xuefeng said, 'Go'.
Yunmen said, 'Xuefeng understands people according to their words'.
Hongzhi said [about this dialogue], 'Don't move. If you move I'll give you thirty blows. Why is this so? For a luminous jewel without flaw, if you carve a pattern its virtue is lost'.

Although these three venerable ones spoke this way, I, old man Daibutsu, do not agree. Great assembly, listen carefully and consider this well. For a luminous jewel without flaw, if polished its virtue increases.
Today's first [arising of] yang [and the daylight's increase] is an auspicious occasion; a noble person reaches maturity. Althought this is an auspicious occasion for laypeople, it is truly a delight and support for buddha ancestors. Yesterday the short length [of day] departed, yin reached its fullness, and the sound of the cold wind ceased. This morning the growing length [of day] arrived, and yang arises with a boisterous clamor. Now path-robed monks feel happy and sustained, and the buddha ancestors dance with joy. How could directly transcending the realm of Awesome Sound King of Emptiness have anything to do with the seasons of spring, autumn, winter, or summer?"

New moon visible from my room before zazen

After breakfast

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Seasonal Affective Disorder

There has been a marked drop-off in attendance in the zendo since sesshin finished. Partly this is due to natural shrinkage, as some those who brought so much life to the building this past practice period have left; in other cases, residents seem to think it is okay to dial back their efforts. I have made a couple of announcements reminding people that interim, with its optional schedule, is not until next week, but I can't say that this had any effect at all. I don't think it is sickness now either -  everyone has had it and is pretty much over it, except for a few lingering coughs. This week the Abbot is also away, and even at Tassajara during practice period some people seemed to think it was more acceptable to sleep in if the Abbot wasn't around to notice your absence. This is only a temporary phenomenon, though, and will be more than offset by the January effect, when we get more people coming from the outside, having resolved to become more diligent with their spiritual practices, just as gyms get more custom, perhaps from the same people looking for improvements across the board.
Happily, we haven't noticed a similar decline in attendance for Young Urban Zen. I realise I haven't written much about it recently, but since October we have been getting twenty-five to thirty people consistently each week. Naturally there is some turnover - someone will come to try it out once, or come for a month and then not be so motivated to come - but at the same time a strong core group is being created, who have an increasing stake in YUZ and how it continues to develop. Plans are in place for an overnight retreat at Green Gulch in February; at a recent brainstorming session after a meeting, there was great interest in forming study groups to go deeper than we can in the Monday evening format; and we have been finding other ways to be together outside the usual meetings.
Last Friday a half-dozen or so of us went to check out the Dharma Punx local Urban Dharma group , led by Vinny and Gene on this occasion, just to see how other people are doing this. I got to sit guided meditation in a chair, something I have not done in a long time, and I enjoyed some of the dialogue that followed, which ended with a ribald Eddie Murphy joke that I was going to have Maggie or Simon repeat for us last night, though in the end the moment for it never came...
On Sunday, and last night after the meeting, some of us were also toasting Kelly's departure for Austin. She has been one of our most regular members, and since starting to come to YUZ, has also done one-day sittings and been a guest student in the building for a week - Matt is currently following in those footsteps right now as well. I mentioned in the last post how I might head off to Tassajara in September if there isn't anything compelling to keep me here, and YUZ has been one of the things that would most tempt me, as it has been a richly rewarding experience to be able to help with the group; at the same time I have no wish to be inextricably identified with it, and am happy to know that it would continue just fine if I never showed up again. Sometimes, though, as we are noticing with the enthusiasm for study which has not quite resolved itself into a time, place and subject, we need to encourage people to feel empowered to take control and make a decision. Probably it will all sort itself out after the holidays.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Ascending The Mountain

One thing that I had been thinking about the Mountain Seat Ceremony is that it was probably going to be my last big hurrah as ino, but it seems that the new plan is for me to stay on until September. After that, depending on whether there is something compelling to keep me in the city or not, I might be heading back to Tassajara.
Either way, the ceremony is going to take up a big chunk of thinking between now and February - not least because apart from the New Year extravaganza, there isn't a lot on right now, which feels very nice compared to recent times.
Naturally, as a diligent ino, not having been in attendance at one of these before (I was at Tassajara in 2003 and 2007, the last two times it has been performed), I have been consulting the files and also checking out the Gyoji Kihan. My conclusions from having done this are that we cleave pretty close to the Japanese forms on this occasion, which is perhaps not so surprising: since Suzuki Roshi handed over to Richard Baker in 1971, we haven't done the ceremony so many times, and Hoitsu Suzuki Roshi has, I think, always been on hand to guide us on the forms.
As ino I will get to have a lot of fun in the ceremony, not least leading the new Abbess on a jundo around the zendo and then doing prostrations to her. One part I will not be attending is the Inspection of the Seal, which will take place in the dokusan room. Here, I imagine the version we do will differ somewhat from the Japanese. This is from the Gyoji Kihan:

"Next, three people (senior people like the president for sure)... advance before table, burn incense, withdraw, and do 'spreading cloth twice, paying respects thrice' (a formal way to do prostrations)... At first when they have spread sitting cloths and are about to make prostration... new abbot expresses his/her opinion that they need not engage in such politeness. Thus, they immediately fold up their sitting cloths and speak the following words:
We merely wish to thave the honor of paying our respects to the abbot's dharma seat. We are distraught at having our praises rebuffed.
Next, they again spread sitting cloths and go to make prostrations... and new abbot again indicates that they do not need to go to the trouble. Thus, they immediately fold up their sitting cloths and, when finished, speak the following words:
With deferential consideration, we respectfully inquire of the Most Reverend Newly Appointed Abbot's well-being, and pray that he/she has every good fortune".
None of the versions I have of our Mountain Seat detail what is actually going to be said during this exchange, but these very Japanese phrases put me in mind of the words in the Shuso Entering Ceremony, which the Gyoji Kihan renders thus:

"Head seat (shuso) spreads cloth twice in paying respects thrice to the abbot. Upon first spread of sitting cloth, intones following words:
I am a newly ordained monk who has just entered the monastery. I am uncultivated in all the procedures. It must be by mistake that I have received your reverence's commission. An ordinary person with no responsibilities like me is intimidated in the extreme.
Next, makes second spread of cloth and says:
The weather these days is very warm. With deferential consideration for you, reverend abbot, I respectfuly inquire whether everything is going well.
Head seat makes three abbreviated prostrations; abbot also makes one prostration in reply".

Here is how we have rendered it a little more western in our version:

"Shuso says, in gassho:
I have received Buddha’s Precepts and have entered this temple, and I am deeply grateful for your teaching. But I am not yet ready to be shuso.
Shuso tries to turn away three times but is stopped by gesture from teacher each time.
At conclusion of turning away, shuso, hands in shashu, faces teacher and says:
These are beautiful days. May your good health continue. Please let me help you to continue the practice in this temple.
Teacher says:
Yes, please help me. This monastic shares our seat and our responsibility. Please give her your support".

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Study Hall

"Student: Roshi, what about focus? You said that the clouds don't know they're the children of the mountain and vice versa, but when we humans open and arrange our eating bowls, we focus on that without listening to the stream. It is a different activity.
Suzuki Roshi: It is the same activity.
Student: For me it is different.
Suzuki Roshi: That is why you get the stick. [Laughing].When you really focus, there is light and darkness together, but when you are thinking there are two sides. Now you are asking a question. When you are asking a question you are thinking, so it is hard for me to answer your question. I may have to be very angry with you. That is the only way. If you get hit you will probably stop thinking about it" - Branching Streams Flow in the Darkness.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Honoured Followers Of Zen

Another thing I have been meaning to mention about this past sesshin was the diversity of the participants: we had people flying in especially for the week from Northern Ireland, Germany and Slovenia, and, off the top of my head, also had the following nationalities represented: Australia, India, China, Japan, Mongolia, Iran (we have three Persian residents right now), Mexico, Colombia, England, Hungary, Switzerland, and France, with a Canadian running the kitchen. There were a few Americans too.

A little bleak and wintry - by Bay Area standards - at the moment

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Sound Of Silence

Since today's was going to be the last koan class of the year, with both Paul and Lucy going away this week, we had breakfast at Paul's house afterwards. Talk turned to sesshin, and the different approaches of different traditions; Paul is interested in the way Gil Fronsdal sets up his Vipassana retreats, he and a few people from here having attended one a month or so ago. Simon and I had both heard from someone who just did a retreat with Adyashanti: more than three hundred people, who were instructed not to write a note unless they needed to go to the hospital. Apparently, only one note materialised in the entire week.
I had been meaning to say something about my continued surprise at how many notes landed on my cushion, on my desk, at my door or simply in my hand, almost every time we got up from sitting. It was, I suppose, better than the alternative of having a conversation about each topic. I had also intended to set up this photograph, so this morning I got around to it:

Monday, December 12, 2011

Study Hall

"Student: You said that for an enlightened person it's very true, and for a non-enlightened person it's just talk.
Suzuki Roshi: What's missing? Practice is missing. Only when you practice zazen hard is it true. At the same time, even though you practice hard, your practice will not always be complete. There may be a big gap between the truth and your understanding or actual experience. Your intellectual understanding may be high, but your practice may be low. To have an intellectual understanding is easy, but practicing with emotions is difficult because we easily stick to something emotionally. So we say, 'It is easy to understand nothingness', and 'It is easy to destroy an intellectual understanding'. But to deal with emotional difficulty is as hard as splitting a lotus in two. Long strings will follow and you cannot get rid of them. The strings remain. With intellectual difficulty, it is as easy as breaking a stone in two. Nothing is left" - Branching Streams Flow in the Darkness, discussion after the sixth talk.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Arc Of Sitting

As is often the case after sesshin, I am prevaricating about what to say, and as part of that humming and hawing, I looked back at last year's stuff (and helpfully found this picture, which I had wanted to link to as the same okesa came out again, only this time nobody had a camera on hand).
The dates for Rohatsu were different to last year's so that on the first day we had the fortieth annual Suzuki Roshi Memorial, and on the last day Buddha's Enlightenment. We also had a shosan to wrap things up, and I asked Paul whether going from Suzuki Roshi to Buddha was going forwards or backwards. Actually, I had a much better question - or rather a more alive one - but I bottled it. The tanto and the ino traditionally ask the first two questions at the ceremony, so Rosalie and I went to the zabutons put out on either side of the central row of tatamis in the Buddha Hall to do our prostrations, and we carefully laid out our zagus and did the bows in unison, which felt nice. I thought back to some ten minutes previously, when Paul and I, in our kimonos, had been simultaneously pissing in adjacent cubicles before the ceremony started, and wondered if one activity was really any less of a full expression of the Buddha way than the other...
A shosan is always intimate, as we often get to see what is close to people's hearts as they express themselves; what I noticed this time was we got to hear for the first time the voices of people who had come for the sesshin. I had been impressed with the strength of sitting that many of our visitors had demonstrated, and made a point of talking to most of them at dinner afterwards to tell them so. In return, I got some compliments about my handling of the many things, and people all noticed my firmness, or as Dougald from Belfast most astutely labeled it, perhaps with a more practised ear for English tonalities, my tetchiness, which went along with a more caring side...

The Memorial on the first morning was a great way to start - albeit one that had caused part of my pre-sesshin stress. People got to make statements to Suzuki Roshi, Blanche starting by recalling that morning forty years ago. We had two young priests from Japan in attendance as well, and I thought they might be nervous having to say something in English in front of everybody, so I whispered to Jinen, who was next to me, that he should make his statement in Japanese - since Suzuki Roshi would understand that just as well - and it sounded great. As we also heard from Lucy, who comes from China, and Shindo spoke of reading about him in India, we had a nice manifestation of the phrase we often use - transmitting the lamp through four countries.

Once we got past that opening morning, I did get to settle a bit, and mostly enjoyed the sitting. Unlike some other recent sesshins, I was not inspired to sit more at night, but on the last night of sesshin, even though I had been feeling tired during the evening, I felt a little ashamed not to be even attempting to emulate the bone-smashing feats of our ancestors, feeling more like a jobsworth ino ("look mate, once we're done with the refuges, I'm off the clock. I've done my time on the cushion, organised all the ceremonies. You want me to concentrate as well - for the same money? You're having a laugh..."). Once we came upstairs from the refuges, Lucy whacked me on the shoulders with a long-handled zafu brush, and I felt motivated enough to go down for a little while...

We also threw in a Full Moon Ceremony on the morning of day six for good measure, and as part of my cunning plans to keep stress levels to a minimum, I had decided to be kokyo myself, which I haven't got to do since I have been ino, with Anna as the doan - we did one quick run through in the week before sesshin, just to check we had our timings down, and I was happy to forget about it until it came around. It was one of the highlights of the week though, as I felt pretty focused through the whole thing, and came away thinking I had done it as well as I ever had.

As usual, I was conflicted about taking photos during sesshin, but couldn't resist on a few occasions. Things tend to look so beautiful during sesshin. Well, some things, some of the time.

Chocolate-covered strawberries on day six - yes it is December, but it is California as well
Not too long after the first picture was taken
At the risk of turning into one of those food blogs - tangerines for the offering tray for Buddha's Enlightenment ceremony

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Head On Fire

As expected, there were a lot of things to wrap my head around for sesshin, and before I tackled it all this afternoon, it felt like an amorphous mass to to try and get into shape. I noticed the familiar symptoms of stress - a tightening feeling in my head, and of course in my shoulders - and found myself making mistakes: last night as doshi, I picked up my zagu after the first three prostrations, before realising where I was - my concentration was much sharper after that. For nenju today, as kokyo, even though I felt fully present, I managed to leave out the line "We are to practise constantly as if to save our heads from fire". Maybe because my head was already on fire.
Nonetheless, after lunch and a good dose of coffee, I sat down and pretty much sorted all the lists out in two hours, before turning to the myriad other details - wrapping new oryokis, distributing doan instructions, making sure all the chant sheets are in the right place... right now, sitting down for a moment after dinner, there are just a few loose ends to straighten out, though I will have to bathe and shave my head after the Refuges tonight.

Here is the list of attendance variables that I had to work with - as you can see, I was exaggerating slightly before; this is just over twenty people out of the sixty...

Sat, Sun, Mon, Tues 
Away Monday
Friday Saturday
Kitchen Sunday, Fri am
Missing Mon Tue pm, Thurs am, Fri pm
Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday
Monday, Wednesday Thursday pm
Mornings only
Mornings, Friday Saturday
Not  Tues am or Friday all day; kitchen pm
Not evenings
Not Saturday
Not Tues am or Friday pm
Sunday Tuesday Saturday
Sunday, Saturday, weekday mornings
Tues - Sat pm kitchen
Tuesday evening - Saturday
Two days of work somewhere
Wed, Thurs, Fri, Sat 
Wed, Thurs, Fri, Sat 
Wed, Thurs, Fri, Sat

With all that, I haven't had the head space to prepare myself for the fact that I am mostly going to be sitting a lot for the next seven days. Maybe once we get past the first day, it will start to sink in, and I will get a little chance to settle before I need to start preparing for Buddha's Enlightenment.
Back in a week...

The maple tree in the courtyard probably peaked yesterday

Friday, December 2, 2011

I Feel A Sesshin Coming On

Rohatsu begins tomorrow night, and as we all know, this is perhaps the most important event on the Buddhist calendar, commemorating as it does Buddha's whole-hearted sitting that brought him to enlightenment. It's always busy here at City Center. People ask me how many people are sitting, and I can honestly say I have no idea, though I am guessing around seventy. I could say that I haven't done any preparation for it at all, though that would not be entirely true - I have gone and bought bowls, spoons and chopsticks for new oryoki sets; ordered monju from Benkyodo for the offering at the annual Suzuki Roshi memorial ceremony, which will be on Sunday morning - it is now forty years since he died, which does not make him any less present here; rehearsed the drummers for Buddha's Enlightenment ceremony on the 10th, and asked the garden to make sure we have dried flowers and herbs to toss around the Buddha Hall as we circumambulate.
What I have not yet done is tackle any part of what are going to be very thorny logistics. I have been getting a stream of notes, emails and calls over the last month, from people who want to sit, but who can't sit the full seven days. It would be nice - or rather, convenient for me - just to say, it's all or nothing, but life in the city is not like that. People have appointments they need to keep, events to attend, work to take care of, but they still would like to sit as much as they can, and I have been saying, sure, we can accommodate that. So I would guess more than half the people coming are not going to be there for the whole thing, and I have to make sure I have seats for everyone, as well as viable serving and cleaning crews for each meal and so on.
I could have started trying to wrap my head around this earlier in the week, but I was feeling pretty under the weather. It is a given in a community like this - and even more so at Tassajara at the beginning of a practice period - that if a bug comes around, it goes around. Many people have been out of the schedule in the last couple of weeks, and it continues to spread. Generally I don't get sick very much; I am grateful for a good genetic constitution and a robust immune system. So this week, when I felt off colour from Monday through to Wednesday, was as bad as it has been for me in several years. Happily, getting outside on Wednesday on a wonderfully sunny day started to put me on the road to recovery - it is warm enough to be sitting typing this in a T-shirt right now, which is a reason to love California.
When I worked at the BBC, I had a simple criterion for whether I was too sick to go to work: if I couldn't face the five-mile bike ride to Bush House, I was too sick. I know for many people there is a lot of pressure to keep showing up even when they are not well, and it happens here too, even though we encourage people to take care of themselves. I feel a certain expectation that I should be in the zendo if possible, and while I felt rather out of it, especially on Tuesday, I was able to sit. On the other hand, I had no problem with resting during the day rather than attending to all the things in my inbox and on my desk, including sesshin planning. My brain felt too foggy to deal with all the details, and I knew that there would be a lot of changes before today anyway.
I hadn't planned to write about this, but after Mike's comment yesterday, I felt like I wanted to say something about practising with being sick. I remember at Tassajara, when I was on the  kitchen crew, I found myself really struggling with tiredness, from the combination of the tough schedule and the physical activity. I talked with Reb about it, and he asked what I was doing during break times. When it's time to rest, he recommended, you should rest. I have tried to abide by this guideline ever since; the ino's schedule can be pretty strenuous, and if I rest when I can, it makes it easier to have the energy to get through the remainder of it. This is one thing I always notice when I am feeling ill - I appreciate, from the lack of it, how much energy it takes to get through a normal day. I also find something comforting in feeling the effort my body is making to fight off the virus: I enjoy a good sweat, especially when it ends up breaking the fever. So can we appreciate being sick? Can we say, when it's time to be sick, just be sick? Perhaps, if we can take it as a message from our bodies to slow down and take care of ourselves, pause from our usual activities - if we are able to do so - and also be thankful for people's offers of medicine and help: I received a thermos full of delicious fresh ginger tea with lemon and honey, which Blanche brews up for people who are suffering, and which, along with the good wishes, was a great tonic.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Study Hall

"If you can appreciate each thing, one by one, then you will have pure gratitude. Even though you observe just one flower, that one flower includes everything. It is not just a flower. It is the absolute, it is Buddha himself. We see it in that way. But at the same time, that which exists is just a flower, and there is no-one to see it and nothing to be seen. That is the feeling we should have in our practice and in our everyday activity. Then, whatever work you do, you will have a continuous feeling of pure gratitude" - Branching Streams Flow In The Darkness, Suzuki Roshi.