Wednesday, February 29, 2012

A Week Of Goodbyes

I would say that things are fairly quiet at the moment, though if I list the ceremonies coming up in the next ten days - the Katagiri memorial, the Suzuki Roshi memorials, the Mahapajapati memorial, and the Full Moon Ceremony, oh, and a chosan - it might not seem like it. None of them are likely to cause much me stress, though, except perhaps the chosan.
What is most unusual is that we are also doing three departing ceremonies in the space of seven days, and for senior people in the community. Yesterday, it was the turn of Bernd, subject of one of Greg's first posts - and if there is a better picture of Bernd, I haven't seen it. I think I first met Bernd during a Tassajara practice led by Reb in 2003, and he has been around much of the time since then, with occasional returns to Europe, where he is now heading to teach at the forthcoming Akazienstrassen-Zendo in Berlin. We have spent a few years on senior staff together, and I appreciate his gentle but insistent spirit of enquiry in all matters.
The ceremony was most intimate, in a way that would be churlish to write about - just little moments of meeting, and exchanges that reveal the closeness of the sangha, and of teacher and student.
Today, Michael, who has been here even longer, but whose move is only across town. Michael co-led the first practice period I lived here for, back in 2000, and was full of helpful teachings and guidance. He has always had completely his own way of doing things - he could often be relied upon to punctuate a talk he was giving with a sudden shout, so it was no surprise to hear a fully-voiced one today, answering Paul's question almost before he had finished asking it.  This was a more emotional ceremony, reflecting his forty years of commitment and the long relationship with the many senior people in the zendo this morning. He has been a pillar of Zen Center in so many ways, while having a very clear and firmly articulated sense of what is most important.
On Monday, it will be Joan; this morning a stack of boxes appeared outside her room. Again, she is someone who was here when I arrived in 2000, though she went to Tassajara soon afterwards, and then we were there together for some time as well, so she has often been an older sister in the dharma for me. She is another one not afraid to speak her mind and to do things her own way, but strongly guided by wishing to share the dharma with all who need it.
All three of them are setting up and leading their own groups; knowing that they are doing this to help spread the teachings widely helps to soften the blow of their loss.

Michael playing harmonica during a wonderfully silly song at skit night a couple of years ago
Joan after her shuso ceremony, between Blanche and Darlene

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Study Hall

In advance of this week's memorial for Katagiri Roshi, I went to the library to take out Each Moment is the Universe, which I think I tried to read when it was first published, but as with Returning to Silence, found it hard to crack. This time round I am enjoying it immensely. Here is a section from the end of the first chapter, and there will be much more to follow:
"Buddhism is really hard, particularly Dogen's teaching. He gives you a very hard practice: Keep your mouth shut and look directly at impermanence! This living practice is called zazen. Zazen is not a way to escape from life by being mindful of something that is apart from the human world; it is the practice of being present in the real stream of time and looking directly at life itself. Zazen enables you to plunge below the surface and leads you to touch the core of your life. It's not so easy. But even so, you have to do it, because spiritual life originates from the direct observation of impermanence.
Observation shows you that you don't have to be upset and try to escape when you realize that time constantly cuts off your life, because there is another aspect of time. One aspect of time is to separate; the other is to connect. The aspect of time that separates you from others is the human world. The aspect of time that connects you to others is universal truth. You are connected with all beings in time, which permeates into every inch of the cosmic universe, and space, where everyone and everything exists together in peace and harmony. So you are you, but you don't exist alone; you are connected with others: to dogs, cats, trees, mountains, the sky, stars, Dogen, and Buddha.
Having the two aspects of separation and connection is called impermanence. It is called moment. This is the original nature of time. When you see this, you feel deep relief and live with a warmhearted feeling, because you understand yourself very deeply. You understand what a human being is. And you understand the one place, called the domain of impermanence, where you live alone and at the same time live together with all beings in peace and harmony. This is spiritual security".

Monday, February 27, 2012

One Word

Thanks to the powerful analytic tools available to the common-or-garden blogger, I can proudly announce that this is the 500th post on the Ino's Blog. This announcement comes with a little asterisk, in that not all the posts have been published. Greg actually left a couple of posts in draft form, and lovely as they are, I am going to keep them unpublished and let those who search for his hidden gems sometime in the future come and uncover them.
And since 500 posts amounts to a lot of words, especially if you are factoring in a thousand for each photograph - alas a word-counting tool is not at my fingertips - and bearing in mind the 'not dependent on the written word' thing that we hear about in these parts, it seemed only appropriate that this post should be one of the four or five drafts I have left lingering in the archive as I hadn't got round to putting it into the shape I wanted:

With all due deference to every precious word of the Tenzo Kyokun, sometimes I feel that the work of the tenzo can be boiled down to one word: offering.
Blanche has said that Mel asked her to be tenzo because he knew her tendency to want to keep everybody happy, and as tenzo you are never able to please everyone. When you are feeding fifty people, they cannot get what they want all the time; living here, people have to relinquish choice and control around food, which can be an emotional issue for some, but I think a palpable sense of offering goes a long way to mitigating that.
So what is the word for the work of the ino? Right now I would say encouragement. I want people to feel encouraged to do their practice. I am reminded that Greg often starts his dharma talks with this intention. Since I am still not very skillful in my feedback at all times, it is easier for me to try to offer my own practice as a way of doing this. And I hope this blog, warts and all, sometimes encourages people as well.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Son Et Lumiere

The weather has been delightfully warm again, and with the days getting longer, it has been a nice time to sit in the zendo in the evening. Yesterday the light gently subsided over the course of the period, leaving a golden glow by the time we got up for service, it seemed. We have been getting good numbers in to sit as well, and some people I have been very happy to see: a few members of YUZ; Brian, who was at Tassajara when I was a few years ago, just in town for a few days; a well-known local writer who more usually comes to sit on Saturdays; a producer from one of our favourite city websites, just getting back into some sitting, as well as our more familiar regulars.
In the mornings too, there is a spring-like feeling - the nesting birds are chirping again. I was just looking for this post, and had I written this yesterday when I was thinking about it, it would serendipitously have been exactly a year later... There is a new sound I am noticing most mornings now, a yappy dog being walked just around six o'clock, who seems to take exception to many things it encounters. We are probably all doing the same in zazen, but not so vocally.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Everyone Can See How You Are... might as well see it for yourself. I know I have quoted this saying of Blanche's more than once, but a little repetition never did anyone any harm.
It's a truism that nobody likes the sound of their own voice, and I have been putting it to the test recently.  There have been two waves of this - a couple of weeks ago I went and listened to the talk I gave at Hartford Street in November (I'm going to come over all self-deprecatingly coy and not give you all the links for this stuff - you can find it easily enough if you want), and also to the Full Moon Ceremony for which I was kokyo during Rohatsu. It was actually a bit of a revelation: I found that the lecture sounded pretty coherent, even though I did notice the two places where I knew I had wanted to make a summarising point but didn't; apart from that, I was relieved to discover that I still sound English. My kokyo voice, however, which I had thought of as strong and fierce that day, just sounded narrow and curiously unharmonious. This was certainly a blow to my ideas about my chanting voice, which I have talked about before.
This week I looked at some of the Livestream footage from the Mountain Seat weekend - someone had told me there were overtones in my kokyo part for the Stepping Down Ceremony, and I could just about hear what they meant, although some parts of it still made me cringe. I also took a look at the announcements I made after Hoitsu's lecture, which for some reason were also recorded, as someone had commented to me about them. This was not helped by the audio and video being slightly out of sync (for technical reasons I caused myself that I can explain to anyone who actually wants to know), but again, at least my accent sounded unimpaired, and I was glad that I managed to make people laugh; I do also appreciate that the feedback I have had from people attending the talks that I speak very quickly is quite justified.
Since my multi-media stardom knows no bounds these days, I also wanted to put in a plug for Nancy's blog, which has been up and running for a couple of weeks, and which features me being all English, in written form this time. As people here who have read the blog agree, Nancy definitely sounds like herself in her writing. It's just a shame you can't hear her laugh.  

Monday, February 20, 2012

Fresh Air

The last time I spent the night at Green Gulch was almost a year ago, and it had a very different feel. This weekend I had to keep reminding myself that I was not responsible for a couple of handfuls of twelve-year old boys, that the people on the Young Urban Zen retreat could be trusted not to get into trouble and to look after themselves. I caught myself doing surreptitious head-counts to see if all were present or if someone had slipped away, but then I wasn't completely sure how many people had actually made it: I think it was twenty-three, of whom seven came on bikes in the end, though we had mechanical issues on the way out which made us a little late for the opening - we made up for it on the way back by getting to City Center faster than the cars, who were stuck in long lines trying to get over the bridge...
So it was an entirely relaxing proposition this time around. The weather was kind to us, and threatened rain did not materialise until some time last night; we had blue skies and fresh winds blowing.
Right before we left, Blanche said it was great that we were using the guest house, as that was what it had been built for, large groups getting together to take over the whole building. It was a lovely space to be in, especially with the fire going in the evening and early morning. We deliberately kept things unstructured, and one person who had several ideas for group activities found us more inclined to lounge around the fire than go running around outside. I think everyone ended up outdoors on Saturday afternoon, with various lengths of hikes being undertaken; we all met back in the small dining room for dinner, and then congregated for the evening with smores, game-playing for those that wanted, accompanied by guitars, chat and just sitting around in company. I was the first to go to bed, and drifted off to sleep to the sound of singing downstairs.
It was lovely to get up before it got light and set the fire going again, and listen as everyone else stirred. I was most impressed that three people had got up for the early sitting; we all joined the later sit and the talk, headed to the beach again, had lunch and did a thorough clean of the guest house before a closing circle. I think most people were very into the idea of doing it again some time, and it may be that we try it for the whole weekend next time.

The city suddenly showed up looking very close

Above Muir Beach

Muir Beach at sunset

Making smores


Morning group shot

Blossom time at Green Gulch

The garden shed

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Not Without A Few Casualties

I assume it will get quieter soon, but it hasn't happened yet this week. Yesterday we got a dozen or so people through tangaryo, and after the morning schedule today, I head off to Green Gulch for the inaugural Young Urban Zen retreat. There should be a couple of dozen of us there, and five or us at least are riding bikes over. Then I am planning to take most of Monday off.
There have been a number of interactions this week that probably would have gone differently if I weren't still recovering from last week: a whispered expletive to the doan in the zendo on Wednesday morning, chewing out the shuso at breakfast yesterday when she did something that I didn't think someone sitting tangaryo should be taking on themselves to do, and an interaction with a resident about turning lights off that came over, as I have just heard back, a little more hostile than it need have been. There have been apologies all round, and hopefully no lasting damage...

Friday, February 17, 2012

Study Hall - Extensive Record

Dharma Hall Discourse 281: "Going to the seashore to count grains of sand vainly wastes one's strength. Polishing a tile to make a mirror is a meaningless use of effort. Don't you see that the clouds above the tall mountain naturally wind and unwind around each other, so how could they be intimate or estranged? The water of a deep river channel follows along the straight stretches and curves without preferring this way or that. The daily activity of living beings is like clouds and water. Clouds and water are like this, but people are not. If they could be like this, how could they ever transmigrate in the triple world?"

Wednesday, February 15, 2012


In the normal run of things, Parinirvana would be the highlight of the week, if not the month. This time around, it mostly meant that yesterday was another day working morning noon and night, after seven straight days of doing that last week - there is a lot to set up, and after dinner we rehearsed the five-person food offering with the new Abbess, jisha and shuso, before I went to put extra cushions in the zendo and set out the candles.
And then the spaciousness I was finding while sitting the first period rather evaporated with a series of things going awry, starting with the doan deciding to ring the bell for kinhin ten minutes late. We were always going to be pushed for time today, and then once we had also factored in people forgetting their bessu before service, and other delays, we were half an hour late to breakfast.
Nevertheless, the reading did move me as always; the candle-lit zendo was beautiful - being late meant that daylight was starting to change the feel of the room by the time we started the Robe Chant; the circumambulation was quite smooth for once - even if the incense offering clocked in a little slower than last week, necessitating a third round of the Dai Hi Shin Dharani - and afterwards I was able to bow in the kaisando with Hoitsu, Christina, Blanche and Vicki.
I am determined to take time off between lunch and afternoon zazen today, though between staff meeting this morning, and zazen and lecture tonight, it is going to be another long day.

Monday, February 13, 2012

The Weekend Starts Here

It has been showery and blustery all morning - not great weather for a long-awaited bike ride, but good weather for drinking coffee and going through the hundreds of photos I took during the past week, which I had only been able to skim through until today. Here are a few less formal shots.

An inkin lesson with Hoitsu and Hakujin - Greg looks on

Christina's and Hoitsu's shoes outside the kaisando during rehearsals

Name card

Speeches after the Stepping down

Anna, Jana and Jeremy after the Stepping Down

Laura and Diane of the Livestream crew

Orchids punctuated the building

The back room at the Angesho tea

Marsha and Christina before the Mountain Seat

Making sure the seating arrangements are right

Temple documents and seal

Taiyo arrives

Myoki took care of the planning for this event

Cynthia and Lisa off for tea

Siobhan and Gyokuden

Jinen and Yuji - the guys from the Sotoshu


Christina and Reb at the Angesho tea

Flower girls waiting for the grown-ups to be ready

The procession waits during the Jiden portion of the Mountain Seat

Fu and Anna, two of the jishas, check the script before part two

The monk is left holding the baby - Norman with Rio

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Stepping Up

I was wondering how I could describe the Mountain Seat to people back in England, and what came to mind was: well it's a little less fuss than a coronation.
Having woken up this morning at the usual time, I went downstairs to find the tenzo already making breakfast and the shika going to sit zazen. I managed to get the last instructions typed up before the umpan rang, then when it got light, went out to stretch my legs with a quick hour on my bike, taking in the sunrise over the Bay, the moon high over Coit Tower, cherry blossoms in the Marina and fog enveloping Mount Sutro. And then to work.
Since we had done so much preparation yesterday, the transformation to today's set-up took less time than anticipated, and the things I thought I was going to be running round trying to take care of at the last minute were being done well before lunch. There was a lovely atmosphere in the building; everyone was working positively with little stress - even the kitchen seemed relaxed when I passed through. With the chairs we had rented, we had more seats than we had planned for, which was a good state to be in - I think we ended up with space for 170 people in the Buddha Hall.
And then the dignitaries and guests started pouring in, and it was time to get dressed up. I felt like I had my finger on the ignition switch, as I went up to the Angesho tea in the Conference Center to ask the Shinmei, Christina, if she was ready for the densho to begin, and then we started getting everyone into their seats. Up and down the street a few more times, to check on readiness, and then it was really happening.
I had already been excited, when I looked over the ceremony for the first time, maybe three months ago, that I was going to lead the Shinmei in a jundo around the zendo. Hoitsu added to that in the rehearsal by indicating that the Shinmei should bow with the ino afterwards, which wasn't as previously scripted. It was the first of several lovely moments I got to share with Christina, not just prostrating in unison, but also the huge warm smile on her face when our zagus were folded up and we bowed again to each other.
In the Buddha Hall I had an unparalleled view of proceedings, but I enjoyed the backstage moments more: after the Jiden ceremony, where the documents are signed and stamped behind closed doors, and everyone else stretches their legs, I was invited into the dokusan room so that the new Abbess could check over the rest of the script; again, she was smiling and saying she was having fun. The jishas were also borrowing the script as they tried to remember their movements for the second part. And when all were happy, I signalled the shoten to get us underway again.
Now there were several times in all the complicated choreography where things did not go as scripted. On one occasion, one of the Japanese dignitaries was muttering instructions to the Ryoban quite loudly, though it didn't make any difference, and one key step got skipped over, though when we alerted Christina, she very simply said, oh, I should be there not here, and we went back to where we should have been. As everyone said afterwards, these are the things that make the ceremony real and human - indeed one of the sweetest moments was during the Robe Chant, which the Abbess was supposed to do unaccompanied, but hearing everyone join in for the second and third time was very moving. What was most abundant through it all was the sense of mutual support and great love.

Christina talks to Hoitsu at the Angesho tea

Flower girl and  photographer waiting for the off

Processing down the street

Couldn't get all the procession in one picture

At the gate

Shujo Jisha holds the staff

Ryoban mudras

Robe Chant

Statement of support from Daigaku

I think there was some Swiss-German humour happening here


Abbess and Reb

Abbess and Hoitsu

Marsha got the last word

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Stepping Down

There were times during today's ceremony when I could sense that Paul was actually moved. Not that he would admit it of course; on Wednesday, before the Full Moon Ceremony, I tried him out with, "So this is your last hurrah, then?", and he replied with some gently amused scorn along the lines of "Get on with you". And he responded to a parade of fulsome statements of appreciation from his teachers, peers, colleagues, students and his daughter with some classic trans-Atlantic self-deprecation. But I think he was really touched.
It felt like a smooth day. We had a wonderful opportunity to hear Hoitsu Roshi speak, funny and clear even through a translator, and so very solid as well. I could tell the work leader was getting impatient that we went way past the alloted time, but nobody, least of all me, is going to ask Hoitsu to wrap it up so we can get on with work.
When we did, it was a bit of a whirl for a few hours. I was glad that I had given myself the task of picking up the monju from Benkyodo - apart from my trip to Rainbow, it is the first time I have left the building in a week. And it was lovely out there. But then there was a ceremony to do, and I had to spend some time looking over the script to get this one in my head, since the Stepping Up has taken so much attention. I didn't get to join the okesa receiving ceremony with most of his students in the dokusan room before we got underway, but that was okay.
Instead I got to stand in the entrance to the zendo hearing the inkins get closer on the procession while the densho also sounded, then bow to Paul, lead him into the zendo to offer incense and bow, then take him on a final jundo as Abbot, and lead him up to the Buddha Hall. Now that was something. And it flowed from there, hearing him express his gratitude before he stepped off the mountain, then a five-person food offering and the Heart Sutra, taking my time over the dedication, and sitting back listening to the praises being sung - while taking some pictures of course.
There was a great dinner afterwards, the dining room full of chat and colour, but I didn't stay so long, for all that there were lovely people from all over the world to say hello to. Saving a bit of energy for the rest of the weekend.

This was completely filled later
Altar with tangerines and monju
Paul on the Mountain

Mel addresses Paul
Paul and Audrey
Paul in the chair
Bowing out