Saturday, August 11, 2012

A Big Do With Baker Roshi

Today really started in earnest at soji. The sitting was peaceful - we kept the lights off, and although there wasn't a spectacular sunrise effect this morning, it was nice to watch the light growing as we sat.
At soji, there was the Buddha Hall to set up, seats to reserve for many distinguished guests, extra cushions and chairs to be fetched and set out. I almost missed breakfast as I wanted to get things to certain point before stopping. And then I had to rig the dining room projection system for the overflow live video feed. Luckily things were all functioning as they should, which left me time to get some coffee before returning to the zendo.
I had started worrying yesterday that maybe some of the big crowd that we were expecting might want to come and sit first, but since we were all running around all day, I had decided against the extra work of putting out floor cushions. As the han started, it seemed like just the regulars were showing up; right at 9:25 there was a late influx, but it turned out to be just enough to fill every seat we had without needing the extras.
Upstairs was a different story - the Buddha Hall was already full when people came up from the zendo, and the dining room was filling fast. I was glad I had a spot for myself, though I wasn't sure how I was going to reach it.
And in fact, once I had sat down, and Valorie the jisha had turned the mic on, I realised there was a problem. One of my rechargeable batteries doesn't hold a charge very well, and the other one had gone missing while I was at Green Gulch; I could immediately see that the dodgy one wasn't going to last the talk, so I grabbed a spare and barged inelegantly around the edge of the room to replace it during the opening chant. Except the spare must have also been used in sesshin, as it had very little juice left, so I had to retrace my steps, and get the other spares - luckily I always keep a handful. The third one looked fine, and I gave the fourth one to Valorie just in case.
I didn't get to concentrate much on the talk after that even, as I was keeping a close eye on levels, and following what was going on with the Livestream. What I did catch onto sounded deep and subtle, and I will definitely listen to it all again. He started by dealing quickly and skillfully with the end of his abbacy, which defused any tension there may have been, and ended with a beautiful and moving vignette about Suzuki Roshi on his deathbed.
I felt a little more nervous than usual getting up to make my announcements - there were six other abbots in attendance as well as so many other people with a long and distinguished history here - and having forgotten to introduce myself as I intended, I kept them as brief as possible so as to hand over to Susan who was launching the public phase of Zen Center's Capital Campaign.
When we reconvened for the question and answer session, again, as far as I was able to concentrate, there were strong and clear answers to a whole variety of inquiries, including a number from the Livestream viewers, and as he bowed out, Baker Roshi said that it had felt very comfortable being here, which I think has been the experience all round.
I took a few pictures of the talk, but none of them came out well - I was a little more successful with the question and answer session, and also with Baker Roshi's chat afterwards with the Livestream crew - he seemed very interested in that set-up, as indeed he has been these past few days about many aspects of the current life and practice of the temple he helped create.

The Buddha Hall crowd awaiting the lecture

The dining room with the live video feed

Baker Roshi during the question and answer session

Baker Roshi with Dianne, David, Tanya and Laura of the Livestream crew

I was surprised and  happy to see Gaelyn today. This is me with her and Siobhan, who is just back from Olympic London.


Kelly said...

You should have told that person with all the hair in your picture to move outta the way ;)

Shundo said...

I was trying not to get the bare shoulders in there, though they did appear on the livestream footage and prompted a comment from a former resident.

Sandy's witterings said...

Great pictures Shundo. I watched the livestream (not so live by the time I got to it). Enjoyed the talk but the Q&A was more interesting to an outsider like me. It's adds to the blog to see what things are like in reality. I also approve very much of the length of your ten minute tea breaks.

Shundo said...

The Q&A can often be more illuminating as the speaker has to address immediately a wide range of inquiries and issues.
As for the tea break, we went as long as it took Baker Roshi not only to be ready, but also to make his way through the rows of old friends to get back in the Buddha Hall. We do appreciate a good tea break here, though you might turn your nose up at some of the tea we serve...

Mr. Propter said...

I'm sorry I couldn't be there and haven't had time to look at the video.

Now that I've seen your post though I was wondering if anyone asked Baker about his past indiscretions.

Reading about them was something that stopped me coming to Zen Center for a while.

I wouldn't like to think that the institution was now acting as if nothing had ever happened.

Shundo said...

It's an interesting question, James. I don't think anyone has asked out loud, although there was a question on Saturday about forgiveness. But I'm not sure that people feel the need to; pretty much anyone who comes here knows what happened. For people of my generation, I think the attitude is that this all happened a long time ago, and that many lessons have been learned from it. People from that time have obviously held pain and suffering around it, and I heard second- or third-hand that some people were not happy ahead of time that he had been invited at all. He made two very open comments about it, in the talk, and in the ceremony on Monday, and there was an open invitation for people to go and talk to him directly while he was here. The general feeling, I think, is that this visit has allowed a lot of healing to happen throughout the institution, less by acting as if nothing had happened, than by being able to revisit it at this moment.
If you get a chance, do look at the beginning of the Saturday talk, and the Buddha Hall segment of the Monday ceremony; you could feel the transformation in the room at those moments, and I hope that comes across in the video.

Mr. Propter said...

Thanks for your answer, Shundo. I've listened to his Saturday talk and liked the way he said 'sorry', which isn't something I've seen him say before.

I think it's true from what I can tell that SFZC has learned valuable lessons from what went on, and the institutional structures now in place seem sound.

Obviously it's not for me to judge, but it may be worth registering the trepidation I still felt as a newcomer about things that happened some time ago.

Shundo said...

That's an excellent point James; it is always important for us to try to keep in mind all the feelings that people have about the place when they encounter it.