Monday, January 30, 2012


People sometimes ask me who my best friends are, and the people who come to mind are Derrick and Heather, both of whom live in London, and whom consequently I have not seen very often in the last twelve years. We all started working at the BBC around the same time, and managed to have all kinds of adventures in various countries - the fact that both of them were working in the States at one time, Derrick in Miami, and Heather in Washington, D.C., was a major factor in me being in San Francisco... but that's another story. I don't think I have given either of them a link to this blog, and Derrick in particular is notoriously bad at being in touch, but I still love him dearly and trust that he still loves me, and if I ever find out where he moved to recently, I expect I shall be staying with him on my next visit to England.
When people ask me who my best friends at Zen Center are, I sometimes think I don't have any. There are a number of people I get on well with, especially the bunch I was hanging out with the other weekend, but often, as I have said before, the nature of friendship at Zen Center seems to be very different. I don't have a group of people I regularly do things like going out for dinner or going to the cinema, though I know there are plenty of people who do these things together. What I do have is a large circle of people I feel more or less intimate with, with whom I know I could have a conversation on just about any topic, should we land in the small kitchen together, or over a meal in the dining room; to whom I know I can turn if I am feeling in need of support and to whom I extend that support when they need it.  And I feel especially connected to those people whom I shared time with at Tassajara during practice periods; when my dharma brothers and sisters and dharma peers come to visit, I am always happy to see them, but that might be the only thing expressed between us. Our connection has mostly been forged on a non-verbal level, and often manifests in that way.
Around my friends in London, because they are quite removed from the life I live now, I tend to revert to the kind of person I was when I was around them before - though hopefully without losing my mindfulness. I think this perpetuation of dynamics is inevitable to a certain extent, in the way that we always become children again when we are around our parents, no matter how old we get and how the relationship has transformed over the years. They don't especially want to hear about Dogen, and I am not as interested in telling them, as I am in enjoying the things we still have in common, which of course in England often involves alcohol.
So this is by way of a response to Mike's comment, "I am wondering what words you may have to say about friendship, particularly long-term friendships that are being tested by time, distance, and unspoken expectations. I have been probing my mind concerning this topic and it appears as a single cloud in the sky durning zazen". Happily, my long-distance friendships, though they are obviously very different to how they were when we all lived in the same city, do not seem to have suffered much; we can have a steady stream of emails or not much contact at all, and just pick up where we left off. I wonder if the key to this is 'unspoken expectations'. I would trust that a good friend of mine would feel free to voice any expectation or concern, would be ready to hear such as I might have, and that, while wanting the best for them, we have enough flexibility to allow them to be who they are and who they want to be with us.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Enter The Shuso, Enter The Dragon

So now I am starting on my third round of annual events, beginning with the shuso entering ceremony this morning. There was a full zendo for this, and all the senior people came back down from dokusan and practice discussion during the short service beforehand, so we had a real brown robe log-jam at the doshi door. There were also a few more bows in the ceremony as Konin paid her respects to the two abbots, as well as Blanche and Vicki as the practice period leaders. The exhange between her and Vicki was less scripted than usual, and thus very alive and quite funny.
As with Liping and Lien, Konin is someone I have practised with over the years, though I am not sure I have been at Tassajara when she has been there, since she spent some time in Japan. She brought back with her the kind of lightness of presence that is noticeable in others who have trained there, especially with Sekkei Harada Roshi it seems. I think of her as a true monk, even though she spent many years in the marketplace raising her daughter, and am glad to have her here embodying the practice.
At breakfast the discussion was divided between reflections on the ceremony and looking ahead to tonight's dinner: Lucy and friends have been busy in the kitchen these past few days preparing a Chinese New Year feast. I know we are already into the lunar new year, but this will be our main marker for it here.
In Chinese astrological terms, I was born a dragon, and as arbitrary as it is to slice life in this way, each subsequent year of the dragon has been notable for me: first as the sunniest and most enjoyable summer of my childhood, next as my first full year working in London after leaving college, and then as the year I moved to San Francisco to get married and to take up this practice. I have spoken of my hopes for 2012, and while it has not got off to an entirely auspicious start, I still have big ideas about the next few months...

Fog still burning off after breakfast

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

More Attitude

Feedback came from several quarters at the end of last week to the effect that I seemed relaxed and spacious, which, under the circumstances, was kind of them to think. As I noted to one of them, though, the effect was mostly due to an external shift - as opposed to the internal kind I was recently musing about, and as we learn all too well as we practise, external circumstances are inherently unreliable and unworthy of confidence, which is what happened in this case, with a concomitant slump in my outlook after the weekend. I have also been waking up unnecessarily early for the past several days, which seemed to make it harder to find joy in the midst of the subsequent tiredness.
Pretty much the only thing I enjoyed on Monday was Young Urban Zen, again glad to be able to cast aside pre-occupation and be present with the thirty-five or so people who filled the room with some uplifting energy. Yesterday, I was delighted to be able to find an online version of Chapter 16 of the Lotus Sutra, which Vicki wants to chant on Wednesdays for noon service; she indulged me in my preference for this version of the verse, being the one I have memorised, over the official Soto Shu translation. I am really looking forward to chanting this out loud.
This morning we had the pleasure of doing morning service in a partly renovated Buddha Hall, as half of the new tatamis were delivered yesterday. They are a strikingly different colour, though eventually they will dry out to the same golden hue, and have a lingering smell of grass, like good green tea. It was probably the most fragrant service we have done for many years. In addition they are firmer underfoot, and it felt nice as well to be the first person to bow on the mat where I was standing. Having celebrated Dogen's birthday yesterday - another joy was to be chanting the Genjo Koan as part of that - we did the well-being service this morning, and as we were chanting the Lovingkindness Meditation, I was thinking of the friends who have been telling me of their own predicaments, most of whom I have not had the space and time to respond to in the last few days, and opening up to them. Settling, settling.

Not hard to see the difference between the new and the old

Monday, January 23, 2012

Study Hall

"The magic of words has killed many people, and spoiled many sorts of business. Zen students, therefore, never depend on words, and warn each other to escape from the danger of this magic. Silence is their safeguard.
According to Madame Guyon, there are three kinds of silence. She said:
Silence from words is good, because inordinate speaking tends to evil. Silence or rest from desires or passions is still better, because it prompts quickness of spirit. But the best of all is silence from unnecessary and wandering thoughts, because that is essential to internal recollection and because it lays a foundation for a proper regulation and silence in other aspects.
Zen not only admires silence but lives in it. When one lives in silence, one does not recognize silence. Thomas Carlyle admired silence and said:
Looking around on the noisy insanity of the world - words with little meaning, actions with little worth - one loves to reflect on the great Empire of Silence, higher than all stars; deeper than the Kingdom of Death! It alone is great; all else is small.
A beautiful expression!  But he spoke too much, and broke the silence. I rather prefer Cicero, who said that there is not only an art, but an eloquence in silence. He must have experienced the true silence, otherwise he would not have used such a word" - commentary on case thirty-six, from Nyogen Senzaki's Eloquent Silence.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

The Seventh Pot

Having been ino for this long, I have become a bit blasé about one-day sittings, and don't prepare much for them before the Friday. This week I did go out and procure all the necessaries for oryoki sets, and spent time on Thursday scrubbing all the sticky labels off the bowls, spoons and chopsticks, which  is perhaps my least favourite ino activity. But it was only on Friday that I had a sense of exactly how big the sitting was going to be. January is always the most popular month, as I have referenced before, and, once we had collated all the lists, we were looking at hosting a hundred people. Well, 104 once we added in the teachers.
I know there have been sittings that big before, but certainly not in my time as ino. We filled every seat in the zendo, and the floor, and I had a lot of residents sitting in the gaitan. Nadia made sure we had extra seats in the hall as we did for New Year, which were certainly occupied for the 9:25 sitting. So Friday was another fifteen hour day making sure everything was done on the logistical front, and happily I think the initial sticker shock was the worst part of it.
There were some interludes to the preparations -  among our new residents, Alison duly arrived from London bearing a packet of Tunnock's as well as some English newspapers, which I hope to have time to read one of these days. I can report that the tea cakes are quite as I remembered. I was very happy to be able to give a couple to Jana, ahead of Burns' night, and she was thrilled to see some of her native foodstuffs again. I was also able to return at least some of the kindness of two of my regular chocolate donors.
On the more sombre side of things, we also commemorated the one-year anniversary of Lou's death: we ended evening zazen early, and came up to the Buddha Hall. It was full with old friends and residents, and people here for the practice period and the sitting. A number of us spoke to Lou first, remembering his great practice and not forgetting his crotchedy side, then we chanted the Dai Hi Shin Dharani, before offering incense at the end.

Today was much more relaxed than I had been imagining it might be. There was a bit of shoe-horning going on, especially in the Buddha Hall for service, and for meals. The residents who ended up in the gaitan didn't seem to mind being asked to forgo oryoki today, and amazingly we got through breakfast only five minutes behind schedule thanks to some classy serving, and the introduction of an unprecedented seventh pot for serving. Most importantly, the tenzo had prepared enough food for everyone. I counted seventy-five people eating lunch, all the upper and lower tans, and ten people on the floor as well. At dinner Blanche said she hasn't seen so many in the zendo since 1971, though I think she might have been exaggerating a mite. As always, once we got into the afternoon session, I didn't really have anything to take care of, so I could settle into some sitting - the middle forty minute period seemed remarkably short; I must have been having a good time.

And finally, the weather report. Those of you close to here will know that it has not rained since Thanksgiving, which is great for bike rides and being outdoors generally, but not so good for other, interconnected parts of our lives. Yesterday morning as we were sitting, the rain fell heavily, and I felt the kind of relief that you used to be able to feel palpably in the zendo at Tassajara when the first rain of the winter could be heard sweeping along the valley before landing noisily on the zendo roof. Certainly I was glad yesterday that I didn't have to go anywhere at all; by the end of the evening it was quite squally. Today started wet as well, then mostly cleared up with that blustery freshness. I am prepared to get wet on my ride tomorrow.

The thing itself, attempting to recreate the angle shown on the card I received
P.S. I see from the stats that someone has been looking for 'shundo zen'. Perhaps if they find any, they can let me know.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Study Hall

The Thursday morning Young Urban Zen study group that I am attending has decided to look at the six paramitas, and yesterday we were reading from Meditation in Action by Chogyam Trungpa. We had one less copy of the book than there were people in the room, so I was mostly just listening as we read aloud, and I had a strong physical reaction to this paragraph:
"Out of his simplicity and awareness the bodhisattva develops selfless warmth.  He doesn't even think in terms of his own psychological benefit; he doesn't think, 'I would like to see him not suffering'.'I' does not come into it at all. He speaks and thinks and acts spontanteously, not thinking even in terms of helping, or fulfilling any particular purpose. He does not act on 'religious' or 'charitable' grounds at all. He just acts according to the true, present moment, through which he develops a kind of warmth. And there is a great warmth in this awareness and also great creativity. His actions are not limited by anything, and all sorts of creative impulses just arise in him and are somehow exactly right for that particular moment. Things just happen and he simply sails through them, so there is a continual, tremendous creativity in him. This is the real act of karuna - a Sanskrit word which means 'noble heart' or 'compassionate heart'. So in this case compassion does not refer to kindness alone, but to fundamental compassion, selfless compassion. He is not really aware of himself, so compassion has greater scope to expand and develop, because here there is no radiator but only radiation. And when only this radiation exists, without a radiator, it could go on and on and on, and the energy would never be used up. It is always transormed and as it expands further and further it changes always into something else, into a new creative activity, so it goes continuously on and on. This creative transformation is not merely a theoretical or philosophical concept, but actually takes place in a practical sense, sometimes in a very simple way".
We noted, as we discussed it, the caveat that Trungpa's life offers some examples of this that we might not choose to follow ourselves, and that creativity is not the same as complete license.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012


It may be obvious that I am not participating in the great internet blackout today, but we had a little moment of our own at Zen Center this morning: right before work meeting started, I noticed first that I couldn't start up the ino's computer, and then that the lights were all out. I haven't heard yet what happened - and the power was back on within the hour - but when work meeting was over, I noticed how relaxed I felt not to be logging in and starting to deal with emails. Instead I went down to the basement, navigating by the emergency lights, distributed some new zafus and zabutons, and tidied up the candles in the chiden area, the kind of thing I usually feel I don't have time to get to. It felt great, especially for a Wednesday when I am usually trying to get a handful of things done before staff meeting begins. Perhaps I should start every work day like that...

The emergency lighting illuminated the drum very dramatically

Study Hall

From Eloquent Silence, part of Nyogen Senzaki's commentary on case thirty-two of the Gateless Gate:
"Buddhists in Ceylon think a shaved head is the most important thing in qualifying as a monk. I admire their obedience to the old Buddhist custom. I suppose all the monks in Ceylon look like Ananda, as far as heads are concerned. A monk who wears white hair like Senzaki would not be allowed to enter any monastery in the lands of Theravada Buddhism. I have no attachment to my hair.  I would shave off my hair, should I go on a pilgrimage to the southern lands. However, I would ask the monk who guards the gate there to show me the way to the monastery without using words and without the wordless. If he did, I would consider him a disciple of the Buddha even though he is living 2,500 years after Buddha's time. If he did not, I would tell him he is an outsider, even though he sits inside the gate".

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The World-Wide Web

I hadn't intended the last post to be on the merits of tea cakes, Tunnocks or otherwise, as it became with the comments received; it was supposed to be more a sketch of how online friendships with people you have never met can be as warming as those with your closest circle. The theme continues, as I got an email today from a follower of the blog in London who is heading over for the practice period here, and offered to try and find a packet of Tunnocks at Heathrow for me...
I have also been enjoying other kinds of community and friendship over this long weekend. On Saturday night I was over in the East Bay, part of a wonderful group of current and former Zen Center people with a strong trans-Atlantic bias, which makes me a little louder than I often am, especially when you add beautiful weather, pizza and beer into the mix. Walking around the Berkeley Marina as the sun set behind the Golden Gate Bridge was a great reminder of why living here is really not so bad.
The next morning, which was much chillier than it has been of late, I joined the ride to Spirit Rock which was raising money to support Eugene Cash, who is still recovering from his crash at the Buddhist Bike Pilgrimage. There were about thirty-five of us, among them familiar faces from the Pilgrimage and some new people as well, and I think we raised close to $7000 from our various communities - many people at Zen Center were generous in their contributions.  Later in the day there was an informal gathering in the lounge to mark Stephen's imminent departure - I won't detail the merits of the food and drink on offer, but Blanche looked in at the noisy group and made a comment about a big sugar rush; I pointed out that people hadn't actually started on the refreshments yet.
Yesterday, as we took an extra day off in honour of Martin Luther King, I spent the day in North Beach, the part of town I stayed in when I first visited San Francisco in 1999, which obviously holds some fond memories for me, catching up with a friend who has been away for a while, before coming back to attend another huge Young Urban Zen gathering. I feel much nourished.

Easy pickings for a photographer

Back at Fort Mason on a walk yesterday

Sunday, January 15, 2012

A Painting Of A Tea Cake

My first job in San Francisco was with a dot-com start-up, back in the summer of 2000, where my audio skills came in handy. In my quieter moments I would spend a bit of time on Napster, almost exclusively - and this was my justification - downloading music that I had on CDs and tapes left behind in England. I grew to appreciate the way it allowed you to browse through other people's collections of music, and would often, if I found something a little esoteric, message the person, and occasionally formed some online friendships. The example that sticks in my mind was when someone started downloading some tracks  that I had by the Fire Engines. Now, they were a very obscure Glasgow band from the classic days of Postcard Records in 1980-1, so I assumed I was dealing with someone of my generation from the UK. It turned out instead to be a young woman in Buenas Aires, and that was fun, because one of my regular Napster correspondents was a student in North or South Carolina with a taste for Scott Walker who had mentioned an imminent trip to Buenas Aires. I got the two of them in touch with each other, but never heard in the end if they indeed met up or what came of it.
On Friday, not having a spectacularly happy day, I got a card in the post, from someone in the UK who I have never met, but who follows the blog. I hope I won't embarrass the sender by quoting the opening lines: "I am, by nature, anonymous, a leaf on a tree indistinguishable from, and hidden amongst, billions of other leaves. But sometimes a chance remark from half-way round the world reminds me of my connectedness to the whole tree". The card was a lovely screen-print of a Tunnock's Tea Cake, a delicacy I have not enjoyed for some time. My sombre mood evaporated.
As an old Buddha said, "There is no remedy for satisfying hunger other than a painted rice cake".

Friday, January 13, 2012

Study Hall

From Eloquent Silence, part of Nyogen Senzaki's commentary on case seven of the Gateless Gate: "Now, if Joshu said 'yes' at that moment, the monk would get a conception of Buddha that would be nothing but an inchoate shadow. If the monk were to outlive Joshu and survive to this day, he might study the up-to-date sciences of physiology and psychology. He might thus search for the Buddha within himself, but all in vain, after all. Christians think that the word 'no' is the hardest one to say when facing temptations. Buddhists consider 'yes' the most dangerous word, for it prevents realization".

Immeasurably Deep And Wide

Yesterday afternoon, another free ride on the swings and roundabouts of outrageous fortune: taking my bike out in the warm sun for a short ride in the Presidio; nearly getting knocked off by someone who turned into a driveway without first looking or signalling; getting angry at a person who was texting behind the wheel at a stop sign; leaving my bike at the shop for some maintenance and discovering it was going to cost at least three times as much as I expected; taking care of some work errands on the way home, then walking back the length of Page Street reciting sutras; a nicely concentrated period of zazen; being kokyo for the one-year anniversary memorial service for Darlene, where several people spoke sweetly of her and to her; having a lovely catch-up conversation at dinner with Paul's student Ann, whom I have practised with at Tassajara over the years, just over from Arizona, talking about doing Full Moon Ceremonies at her temple/home, with a procession from the front door, through the car-port to the patio; another conversation before leaving the dining room, an intimate and personal meeting with someone from YUZ; going to check in on Anna's soku training and finding it wonderfully well-attended; going up to my room to learn that something I had been greatly looking forward to was not going to happen after all and feeling gutted; getting to read a blog from someone who has just moved away, and learning more about their life, connecting back to thoughts of happiness.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012


I feel like I should apologise for the somewhat tepid quality of the writing recently. I know it takes a certain kind of spaciousness to get the big words and long sentences flowing, or for me to come up with the occasional semblance of a joke, and that has been in short supply recently, apart from the sojourn at Tassajara. I know the proximate causes for this, and how they are intimately linked with deeper causes and conditions, and I am still mostly stuck there.
This week has been an object lesson in how attitude colours perception so much: on Monday morning, even coming after a decent night's sleep, I was feeling crabby from the outset - maybe not helped by a couple of people on the doanryo being sick, even though it wasn't hard to find replacements. I carried on in the same vein throughout the day, helping someone move furniture with such bad grace that I felt embarrassed to be thanked for it. It was only a bumper new year turn-out at Young Urban Zen, with a guest appearance from Sarah Weintraub whom I had invited to talk about her life and practice, that loosened me up some.
On Tuesday, even though I still had the same amount of stuff to take care of, I felt lighter with it, and thus things felt easier most of the day. At the same time, there are a number of conversations I need to have that I anticipate being difficult, and I don't want to go around being 'bad cop' all the time - I feel my heart harden rather than soften, and my spine stiffen. I am remembering the discussion in Branching Streams Flow In The Darkness, where someone, and I imagine it was the ino of the time, asks about practising strictly, and Suzuki Roshi replies, "Sometimes it may be unfortunate to see something. If you see it, you have to say something, so it may help you to practice without looking around... So it's best not to see anything!"

Anyway, if you are feeling in need of some divertissement, you could try matching this interesting collection of search words from yesterday with the post they took people to (without using Google, of course):

rakusu back
we had to shave my brother's head
altar in room
barn owl pedals
big bell
hardcore zen
sierras from i 395

For a bonus point, this one appeared this morning: 'mount tam naked woman'. I think only one of those two has appeared on this blog....

Monday, January 9, 2012

Study Hall

Last week study hall was impacted by, variously, watching English football, going to the big Zen Center meeting, the Young Urban Zen offshoot study group, and going to meet a tanned and relaxed looking Abbot at the airport. Hopefully I can knuckle down a bit this week. I have picked up Eloquent Silence, a collection of koan commentaries and other writings by Nyogen Senzaki.
I have expressed before my interest in this earlier wave of zen teachers, in the early to middle part of the last century, how they mostly toiled in obscurity, and tailored their message to the audience of the time - Senzaki uses a lot of Christian references - without diluting the strength of their teachings. Here is a quote of his from the introduction:
"Monks have no monopoly on Zen. Zen belongs to the world. Laymen and laywomen attendants should study Zen - even children in kindergarten should be trained in the Zen way. The shrubs and grasses around this humble house also study Zen. They show the color of Zen through their own natural green... Zen monks are like street cleaners. They do their work so that others can go their different ways".

Sunday, January 8, 2012

The Ground For The Arising Of The Mind Of Awakening

The culmination of this week's activities was a jukai for four of Jana's students. We did things a little differently for this one, as we accommodated for Mira's wheelchair. The jundo of altars was all done on the ground floor, with the big Suzuki Roshi painting next to the stairs standing in for the kaisando, and two tatamis were removed in the Buddha Hall so she could drive straight in, as she has in the zendo. Everyone was in chairs, and the preceptor's table was on the other side of the altar from its usual position, but I think the only real consequence was that I was shooting against the light during the ceremony. There was a nice crowd from the greater sangha, with quite a few faces I recognised from Hartford Street.
It was Jana's first time as the lead preceptor, and she was closely involved in all the details, and came and had a silent lunch with the ordinands as well. Since Blanche was the other preceptor, I mostly let them organise the rehearsal while I got on with the things that I would usually leave to the head chiden, who is away at the moment.
 Jana had also given a great talk in the morning - a suitably rousing one for our new year crowd, which was certainly bigger than most Saturdays with a big overflow into the dining room. It may be the first time that broad Scots has been used as a way to get us to circumvent the thinking mind...





Shindo's feet

Jana, Blanche and the new bodhisattvas

The whole group

Friday, January 6, 2012


"How then, O Lord, should a son or daughter of good family who have set out in the Bodhisattva-vehicle, stand, how progress, how control their thoughts?"
Lucy came back from China yesterday, and with Paul still on his way back from Brazil (I am leaving for the airport to drop Joan off and pick him up right after this), we got to indulge in one of my favourite little rituals this morning: Lucy, when she is not following Paul out, leaves the zendo before I do, but being a shade taller than her, and having more of a tendency to move quickly, I catch her up in the hallway before we go up the stairs. We have, whenever this has happened over the past few years, developed a little silent game of me seeing how closely I can follow her without passing, and she, not wanting to be hurried, trying either to block my way or have me go past.
Today this was followed by another sweet moment: on Fridays, when we chant the Diamond Sutra, the form for the doshi is for them to read two pages before they go and offer incense again. Since the service often finishes early, I have started suggesting to Tova, as long as we weren't running late, that she could read three pages. So now, when I go up to check on the doshi and jiko before signalling for the second roll-down, Tova looks inquiringly to see what I will say. Today we were good for three pages, so I whispered this, and we smiled and bowed together.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Getting Together

My schedule has felt quite full this week, but since the events on it have included two meals out with Zen Center people, catching up with the latest English football in my down-time, and getting some bodywork from a friend before afternoon zazen today, I can scarcely feel hard done by. Yesterday was a long day, though, with the second annual Zen Center get-together at Fort Mason. I was going to call this post 57 varieties, as that was the number of people I counted in the circle during the first part of the day; as was pointed out, we are all, in our own unique ways of expressing the dharma, Zen Center, and it was acknowledged that the fact the organisation exists at all, fifty years after incorporation, is a bit of a miracle.
As I said last year, a lot of the power of the day is simply in the coming together: we get to hang out with old friends and hug lots of people, as well as hearing about each other's experiences, as we explore the themes that are pertinent to us as an organisation. I did start to sag before the end, though I was lifted again when I got outside to see a most spectacular sunset over the Presidio; I had, alas, just entrusted my camera and other belongings to someone else to take back to City Center while I rode my bike unencumbered, so it was just to be appreciated in the moment.
I had wanted to bring up at some stage during the day the fact that last year's meeting had been the place where the idea for Young Urban Zen had first been mooted: Anne-Marie actually beat me to it, but I did get a chance to outline the success and progress of the group for those at Green Gulch and Tassajara who haven't heard so much about it. It was timely then, that this week we have launched from the main group a couple of study groups for those who want to go a little deeper. Peter is shepherding a group on Tuesday evenings, and Tim and I got to hang out with a few of the YUZ core this morning after breakfast. It was a great opportunity, as the group often is, to expand a little on some of the things I have learned over the years, and hopefully, we are setting the stage for the strong continuation of Zen Center for the next couple of generations.

For those who don't know Fort Mason, it comes with impressive views

Looking the other way to the city and the other bridge

It was a beautiful day - these clouds contributed to the later sunset

Looking across to Angel Island

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Back on Seat

The alarm clock was a bit of a shock this morning, even though I have been waking up early some mornings recently. I was perhaps even more shocked to come down the stairs with Abbot Steve, and find six people already in the zendo - usually there is just Joan and maybe one other person. So at least some people were raring to go in the new year. We had an evening out with people from Young Urban Zen last night, which may have contributed to my sluggish feeling.
Most of the morning was spent tidying up my office, which was full of detritus from the the New Year celebrations, and then trying to get up and running and make sure lots of little things get taken care of. We have the Suzuki Roshi memorials, then a second Zen Center meeting tomorrow, and a jukai on Saturday, the Full Moon Ceremony on Monday, as well as a very fluid doanryo right now. Fingers crossed it all happens...

I haven't said much about stats for a while, but the search words are always illuminating: "highway 190" was one from today, presumably that person saw some of my holiday pictures; "dharma transition" is a new ceremonial activity we should check in the Gyoji Kihan for - though we did have a dharma transmission here over Christmas; "tassajara monastery restaurant" and "my first dokusan" both made me chuckle, and "how did israelites go to the bathroom 'robes off'" somewhat boggles the mind - I doubt that person found the answer here..
I was also interested to note the international numbers today - the four I's (only Iceland missing I think). Hello to you wherever you are.

United States 105
Australia 2
Russia 2
Canada 1
United Kingdom 1
Ireland 1
Israel 1
India 1
Italy 1

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Ring In The New

There seems to be a consensus in the building that we did a good job bringing in the New Year here, and also that it will be a good year. It was certainly a beautiful day in San Francisco, and when I went out for a brief ride around the city, there were a lot of people out and about enjoying the weather.
It is always hard to start an event at a time when most of us are usually thinking about bed; even after resting for a part of the afternoon, I had a headache for most of the evening, but I knew - and it transpired this way - that once we got into the activities, I would find the energy to keep going. There was a huge crowd at the work meeting, and over the course of the evening I burned through the whole range of emotions from 'Who are all these people, and why do we not see most of them at any other time of year?' to 'It is so wonderful that they want to be here with us, and are working so hard to help us get the temple clean'.
I didn't get to clean anything, but was running around making sure everything was prepared for the later parts of the schedule and for the morning, and with a lot of help from Daigan and Konin, it was. I made sure I was in the zendo promptly after the serving of noodles, and was soon faced with a crowd eager to come and sit. So much so, in fact, that many of the residents were caught out, and, arriving after the first roll-down, found the only spaces left were in the gaitan. Before the second roll-down I had to send Daigan to fetch the extra zabutons and zafus from the library to put in the hallway by the dorm, which meant we must have had a hundred people sitting zazen. Almost all of them wanted to take a turn on the bell as well; it is just as well we ring it 108 times. I stayed in the zendo and listened to the individuality of each strike, as well as the slightly inebriated and increasingly desperate conversations that people were having out on the street as midnight approached (one guy, presumably on the phone, after having listed any number of local bars:"Duuude, you are totally letting us down here...").
For the first time I can remember, we didn't have the countdown from our neighbors in Lily Alley; the densho ended, and for a minute or so there was a kind of stillness before the fireworks all got ignited and the whooping and hollering started. I was moved just to sit there and take that in, before the sitting was ended and we went up for the bonfire.
Happily this year, there was less to burn, and it went pretty crisply; I may have got to bed around one, but didn't sleep so much between the sirens, the loud revellers passing by at four, and the sun streaming in at seven thirty. This did mean I had time to clear up the remnants of the fire, try to make the ceremonial mochi offering look a little less haphazard, and set up the altar on the roof before I rang the wake-up bell. I think it was a year ago that I observed that I enjoy doing this provided I am not in my robes and we are not running behind on our usual timings. It seemed that everyone was up already, but I liked the ceremonial aspect of it.
Rosalie had decided to go to town for the procession, so we included a few extra altars, heading from the Buddha Hall outside and around the corner to the zendo, where I again got to say some encouraging words, the office, the bookstore, the hallway altar, the kitchen, the dining room, the kaisando, the second floor bathroom and the roof, so by the time we had done all our bows, made our statements, filled our glasses and offered a series of toasts, it was already ten o'clock, and I was ready for breakfast and coffee and to get out for a ride.

The fire, from the kaisando window. Note the persimmons drying in the background

The altar on the roof in the early sun