Saturday, March 31, 2012

Diverse Notes From Sesshin

When I was at Tassajara, I tried to avoid reading the menus that were posted; I liked the meals to be a surprise - either a pleasant one, or if it was something I didn't like, I wouldn't get to work up a head of steam about it ahead of time. Sometimes, sitting in the zendo wondering what was going to be in the next pot, I would hear the distinctive shoveling sound of nuts being served, and in time learnt to tell the difference between the sound of pistachios resonating in a bowl and the sound of cashews.
This morning, for the last zendo meal of sesshin, the four sesshin leaders and their attendants formed the serving crew. There was something about the way Blanche let the almonds come off her spoon into my third bowl that you could only appreciate if you have served a lot of oryoki. It was done very carefully to make the least amount of noise possible.

Before I went into sesshin, a friend said that it was great that I would have a chance to go deep inside for a week. I had to let her know that although I might get a few quiet moments while sitting, as ino there would always be something that I had to ensure was being done, a note for me to respond to, someone to replace in a job because they were sick, a ceremony to organise, or some of the other work that I am somehow expected to keep on top of.
But I had some quiet moments on day five, when I had stopped feeling quite so tired. I also had moments of feeling wide open, between moments of feeling nothing but tension. The last two days were more busy, setting things in place not just for the shuso ceremony, but also a rakusu receiving ceremony last night and a memorial for this morning.
For some reason I had the idea that it would be most intimate for Konin to receive her shuso rakusu in the zendo, and Shosan liked the idea as well, so we arranged for that to happen, and it had the feeling I hoped it would, that we had just turned around from our sitting to participate together in this ceremony.
This afternoon was a little more grand an occasion, but I found I had a lot of energy this morning, and while there were some changes to the previously worked-out plans, everything happened in good time to be met and responded to, and I enjoyed taking care of the details.

Overall I thought the schedule was lovely, about the same amount of sitting as the Genzo-e, which made for minimal pain as far as I was concerned. When I first saw the schedule, I saw all the optional zazen periods, and the diligent student in me thought I would have to be at all of them, before I realised that they were the time when I would take care of most of my work, so that I could be at all the regular periods, which I pretty much managed.
There was a different feeling to it, and not just waking up without the feeling of my body having been through the wringer as often happens in sesshin; with work spread around the day, there was a different energy in the building to the usual focused work period in the afternoon; most importantly, of course, there was a quietness and concentration in the zendo.

At one moment, having gone from tightness to spaciousness somehow, I thought: in spite of ourselves, something is revealed. For my question to the shuso, I asked her what she thought that something was, and I'm embarrassed to say that I can't remember a word of her answer, but I know we met at that moment, and that was enough. As she fielded questions from the room, Konin seemed to both be floating on the platform and fully grounded on it, but was of course, just being herself, and expressing her deep practice.

Now I know she is not a big fan of having her photo taken, so I will keep these to a minimum, but I thought these two were presentable enough.

Shosan reads her statement to Konin at the culmination of the ceremony

Shosan Konin and Blanche posed under the wisteria

A Dip In The Archives - Day 7

A final look backwards, while I can say at the time I am writing this that I know I am in reality going to be very focused on today's shuso ceremony. Perhaps the next post, back on real time, will reflect this. In the meantime, click here to be transported back into the archives.
Also in real time, though far enough away in distance that I couldn't say for sure, it is possible that the lupins are out right now on Hawk Mountain above Tassajara. I remember the first time I went up there in early April, I had black and white film in my camera, so I had to wait for another year to take this shot.

Lupins on Hawk Mountain

Friday, March 30, 2012

A Dip In The Archives - Day 6

A double dose of Tassajara today - this post has been quite popular in searches, and I enjoyed putting it together. And, if you saw yesterday's photo, this one is related in that to get to the Horse Camp, you would usually come down the back side of the Tony Trail, which in late spring, would look like this:

Tony Trail Indian paintbrush

Thursday, March 29, 2012

A Dip In The Archives - Day 5

The theme of the day is gratitude, and hopefully this reflects how I am feeling on the fifth day of this sesshin.

One of my favourite spots in the wilderness around Tassajara - Horse Camp up Willow Creek

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

A Dip In The Archives - Day 4

Hoping you are not getting tired of this exercise. If you are not, click here for today's random pre-loaded adventure. The pictures are moving on to Tassajara.

Looking east from the Flag Rock ridge over the Horse Pasture and towards Arroyo Seco

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

A Dip In The Archives - Day 3

Here is today's link to a random piece of this blog's past, and a photo for your enjoyment. If you are not clear on the concept, please refer back to Day 1.

City Center reflected in the building across Laguna Street

Monday, March 26, 2012

A Dip In The Archives - Day 2

Continuing in my attempt to keep you entertained while I am in sesshin, here is today's random archival offering and photograph.

The chandelier in the Buddha Hall - a picture I saw for a long time before I got round to taking it

Sunday, March 25, 2012

A Dip In The Archives - Day 1

I had been thinking of linking to some old posts; not that these are greatest hits or anything, but rather that I sometimes look through the lists and can't remember myself what I was writing about, and I find it hard to believe that anyone else has actually read this whole archive. So the idea is that I am pre-loading a week's worth of posts, one link back to an old post, which today is this one, and a photo from my picture archive which I don't think has made it into the public domain yet and which caught my eye on a brief trawl through the files. Enjoy.

The view from my previous room one afternoon

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Into Great Silence

This sesshin is going to be a little different from usual, in that we are following a modified schedule that Victoria and Darlene tried over ten years ago - and that was one of my earliest sesshins here in the building. We looked at the participant list the other day, and saw names of current and former residents, those who had joined us just for that week, those passing through and several, including Darlene and Marvin, who have since died.
I am feeling the strain of working a full six-day week, and then going straight into seven days of sitting, with an extra edge due to the unfamiliarity of what we are going to do - but I have the sense that once we settle in after the first day or two, it is going to feel very nice, at least until I have to immerse myself in preparations for the shuso ceremony.
An idea also occured to me around the blog, combining something I had already been considering, with the upcoming week of silence. Watch this space.

Things are blossoming in the courtyard right now

It was sunny yesterday, but rainy this morning. Good sitting weather

Friday, March 23, 2012

Body And Mind Of Themselves

It is often said that the reason we get up so early in the morning is to have the opportunity to be awake - more or less - before the habitual conscious mind can get a firm hold on us. Moving through familiar routines without much mental activity involved, there is the chance for body and mind to experience spaciousness during zazen.
I am often sleepy during afternoon zazen, more specifically during the first half of the period; around the time I hear the six o'clock chimes from up the road, I start feeling more alert. This seems to be the tired body's natural response to stopping after a day of activity, but I have found it a useful place to be  - the other day, somewhere close to the tipping point between waking and sleep, I had the sense that I should tilt slightly to the right from the mid-point of the thorassic curve in my spine. Having adjusted my posture, I felt the release of balance and settledness, but since it wasn't dictated by the conscious mind, I have found it difficult to repeat the movement since then, however much I would like to.
Reading Katagiri Roshi this morning, I came to the sentence, "Dogen constantly emphasizes that practice is shikan. Shikan is just wholeheartedness; it is experience, so practice is experience." At that moment, without really thinking about it, I understood this as the energy to go forward and meet things. I also know that recently I have been practising with letting go of some of the forward drive in my everyday attitudes, which I have been doing by noticing a certain bodily tension and allowing the muscles in my ribs to relax. In both cases, it seems that it is allowing the body to function more naturally without so much interference from the mind, like those twilight moments when the brain is not fully in gear.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Study Hall

"Whoever you are, the whole world gives you energy to be free from what you think your capabilities are, from the form of a lifestyle, from the form of Zen or any teaching, whatever it is. Time is constantly giving you energy to emancipate yourself from any form or idea, even though you want to hold on to it. How can we accept time like this? Try to realize that you have already set yourself out in the vastness of the Buddha's world because you exist as a human being. So all you can do now is make every possible effort to live in Buddha's world with a way-seeking mind.
Usually we don't want to do this. If we step outside the familiar patterns of our lives we are scared. But we have to do it sometimes, so we should do it positively. This is very important for us. If we do it positively, we realize how great our capability is. That doesn't mean to become strong by expressing our ego. Expressing our ego seems to make us strong, but it is the complete opposite. In Zen monasteries the ego is always being hit on the head, like pouring water over a burning fire. Immediately pffft! Nothing is left, but this is the way to become strong.
Human beings have big, egoistic, balloon heads, so Dogen Zenji is always puncturing them, one by one, making a little hole and letting the air come out. Finally a balloon pops and you say, "Ah, I understand." But by that time maybe it's too late; maybe you understand right before you have one foot in the grave. That's why Dogen teaches us how to accept time as being and how our life can be illuminated right now" - Each Moment is the Universe - Katagiri Roshi.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Weather Systems

We had a fair amount of rain last week; much needed it was too, and I enjoyed its presence, even though I got soaked several times out on my bike. Luckily it had blown through by Sunday morning. Unusually I hadn't fixed my bike itinerary in advance; setting out with various options in mind, and encountering a fierce cold headwind from the north, I changed my plans to minimise the suffering: instead of grovelling up Highway 1, which is very exposed, I came up inland, and thoroughly enjoyed riding with a strong tailwind as I started back south alongside the Bolinas lagoon. Today it turned warmer and sunnier, so I felt relaxed for my midweek hour around town, although when I got up to one of the high points of the city, I could see fog along the ocean and under the bridge. And that is probably the last time I shall be out on a bike for ten days.
We are heading towards sesshin, and I have a big all-day meeting tomorrow on an unrelated topic. I have previously noted how this kind of conjunction tends to cause me stress, so I am paying attention to that, and hoping to stay spacious with it.
There haven't been many personal words on the blog in the past week, and there are a few reasons for this. Time has been a little tight, and I have also been involved in a number of what we call 'difficult conversations'. These kinds of situations tend to bring into sharp focus our intention to practise mindfulness and compassion, towards ourselves and others, and for now I will just say that they have taken up a certain amount of time and energy this past week, but that there have been opportunities to communicate constructively on the different topics, which has allowed the energies to shift, and that has felt good.
I feel like there hasn't been a sky picture for some time, and while I didn't manage to get up on the roof this morning, where there were wonderful bright mottled clouds, I did catch this on Sunday:

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Study Hall

"If you set yourself out in Buddha's world and practice zazen, the way-seeking mind, the bodhi-mind, appears. This is mind arousing time as zazen. In the next moment you hate zazen and want to go back to sleep, so the way-seeking mind disappears. Where does it go? It disappears in timelessness. Later you want to do zazen again. That is time arousing mind as religious aspiration. So you sit down and come back to practicing zazen. Then the way-seeking mind comes up again. All you have to do is continue arousing the way-seeking mind. If you practice like this, this is arousing time as zazen. So do zazen as whole-hearted practice and become completely one with time as zazen. Then time takes care of your life.
The way-seeking mind is not something you try to get. You just set yourself out in Buddha's world and do zazen whole-heartedly. When the time is ripe and conditions are arranged, the way-seeking mind comes up in your life, blooms, and is the rhythm of the whole world. Then time is called zazen and zazen is the whole world of time.
The whole world comes together into your zazen, but it doesn't bother your zazen. The sound of a car doesn't bother you, the sound becomes one with zazen. People sitting next to you don't bother you. Zazen doesn't bother you, and your zazen doesn't bother others. You just sit, blooming your life. This is called satori, enlightenment" - Each Moment is the Universe, Katagiri Roshi. It only gets denser.

Monday, March 19, 2012

The Ino's Life

Stacey from YUZ took this after the lecture on Saturday. Please supply your own captions.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Study Hall

"We cannot see real time unless it is manifested as twelve hours of everyday life because real time is formless. It is formless because it is constantly moving. Real time is always with us, but we cannot know it objectively.  In our daily lives we constantly touch real time, but we don't pay attention to it. Instead of paying attention we suffer and grumble. We cannot see ourselves straightforwardly because we are always judging and evaluating, feeling good or bad. This keeps us busy. Sometimes it gives us a headache.
If we do touch the zero of time, we cannot stand up there. We try to escape, crying and screaming; sometimes we go skiing or watch TV. We keep busy, constantly working, because we  don't really understand how time functions. But the busier we are, the more we want to push ourselves, doing more and more, until finally, we don't know how to take a breath. We become crazy, exhausted, or sick.
How can you take care of time before you go crazy? Try to realize that real time is nothing but dynamic function, so time itself possesses the great power to emancipate you from the limitations of your idea of time.
Our modern daily life is pretty busy, but can you always be busy? No, you cannot stay with twelve hours or you would go crazy. So busyness has the great power to emancipate itself. That's why you want to find a way to be free from busyness and just be present quietly. This is quietness, tranquility. When you are calm, tranquil, and still, twelve hours of time returns to no-time or timelessness. Can you stay with quietness? No, quietness has the great power to act. You cannot stay with timelessness or you would die, so timelessness must become twelve hours again. At the pivot of nothingness, timelessness manifests as your daily life. This is busyness, dynamism. Busyness and quietness are always working together in your life. This is reality" - Each Moment is the Universe, Katagiri Roshi.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Family Albums

We are going to do a memorial for Della Goertz this Friday evening, and I thought to look through the archives to see if we had a good picture of her in there. I remember she was one of the women who posed for the second photo below, one of a series from the early days of Sokoji, and it gave me the excuse to browse a little further. There are some pictures in the Suzuki Roshi archive that are very familiar, such as the ones from the covers of Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind, Crooked Cucumber and Not Always So. Others have been used in mailings or on posters over the years. The majority don't see the light of day so much; they are not such definitive pictures, some are blurred or of inferior technical quality. Nevertheless, they make a compelling history in their own right, glimpses into ceremonies and visits, special occasions and more ordinary activities. I certainly am glad we have them.

Suzuki Roshi outside the old Sokoji on Bush St

Della is the fourth woman along, with the dark sweater

I'm guessing this was on the old dining room porch at Tassajara

Suzuki Roshi with Kobun Chino at Tassajara

One of a series of group shots taken at Tassajara for some occasion.

A typical Zen Center work scene. The platform in the background makes me wonder if it was the old Tassajara zendo

I guess this is a jukai in the city, with Katagiri on Suzuki Roshi's right, and Reb on his left.

One of the people receiving the precepts at that ceremony

I'm not sure what this occasion is in the Buddha Hall, but I like the contrast between Suzuki Roshi and Katagiri - far right

Monday, March 12, 2012

Time Being

I did not get a chance on Saturday to post this picture, as the third annual pre-clock change early morning Saturday sky (see also here and here). I'm happy that it was once again a different kind of day - rain was on the way.

This morning was a bit of a shock to the system - I realised that we were waking up at the equivalent of the time people usually get up at Tassajara, and it did feel like being untimely ripped from a warm and comfortable bed. I had trouble staying awake in zazen, and from some slightly heavier rhythmic breathing along the tan, I suspect I was not the only one. I noticed that the first period was especially quiet - as if the people usually driving down Oak at that time were also deciding to sleep on.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Study Hall

"As long as demons exist in this world, they have their own reason to exist. That reason is completely beyond our human speculation., but demons exist in Buddha's world. So we have to find the realm of buddhas within the realm of demons. In other words, in the realm of pain and suffering, we have to find the realm of peace and harmony. This is religious practice. You cannot find any peace by escaping from human pain and suffering; you have to find peace and harmony right in the midst of human pain. That is the purpose of spiritual life.
The important point is: don't react quickly to pain and suffering with hatred or anger, because that is the cause of human troubles. Deal with demons immediately, but try to deal with them with a calm and peaceful mind, not with hatred or anger. If you become angry, as soon as possible make your mind calm. Be kind. Be compassionate. That is the practice of patience. If you do that, very naturally demons will subdue themselves" - Katagiri Roshi, Each Moment is the Universe.

Friday, March 9, 2012


I don't know how my stars are aligned today, but it feels great so far. Maybe it's the full moon, which was shining on the blinds in my new room last night. This morning, the last weekday before the clocks go forward, the zendo was gently lit during second period, and the sun was shining into the Buddha Hall as we began service. Today, just a day after International Women's Day, we commemorated Mahapajapati, the Buddha's foster mother and the leader of the first group of Buddhist nuns.
There has been a little talk recently, as indeed there was when I first arrived here and the situation was similar, that female energy is in the ascendant here at Zen Center. Personally I find this gratifying and nourishing rather than worrying or threatening (I haven't heard this latter word uttered this time, but I did hear it twelve years ago), and as has been pointed out, it is only just starting to redress several thousand years where this did not happen. Anyway, at Practice Committee this week, we decided that the food offering should be done by Victoria, Blanche and Christina, our most senior women practitioners. As they approached the altar I realised that it was the first food offering in two years than I had not been involved in; I was happy to stand and watch for once, and what I saw was the grace and dignity born of years of dedicated practice. Blanche also read this lovely statement at the outset:

Even the trunk of a huge timber tree,
However massive it may be,
Will break to bits, eventually.
Thus Gotami, who was a nun,
Is now gone out completely.
It is so marvelous a thing:
That she who has reached nirvana
Leaving only bits of bone
Had neither grief nor tears.
Know this, O monks, she was most wise,
With wisdom vast and wide.
She was a nun of great renown,
A master of great powers…
An iron rod aglow in fire
Cools off and leaves no ash.
Just like the flame once in the rod,
It’s not known where she went.
Those who are emancipated
Cross [greed and anger’s] deluge;
Those with solid happiness
Do not get born again.
[Let’s] be a lamp [unto ourselves];
[Let’s] graze in mindfulness.
With wisdom’s seven parts attained,
[Let’s] all [please] end our woe.

Susan, who was the kokyo, wrapped things up with the dedication that I mentioned last year.
While Mahapajapati had to be content with sweet water, rice and tea for her breakfast, after hitting the umpan - where I had been delighted by the vibrant colour of the new maple leaves in the morning sun - I came into the kitchen to find a unique breakfast offered by the acting tenzo: quinoa-amaranth cereal, which gave us much to talk about at the table, buttermilk scones, a colourful fruit salad with banana, kiwi, pink graperfuit and orange, topped with yoghurt. I felt healthier just looking at it.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Real Estate

I have tended to think of myself as someone with a low boredom threshold and a dislike of any sense of being stuck in a routine, which is probably why this practice is so good for me.
One of the consequences of the recent departures is that after a little over a year in my old room, I get to move into the room most recently occupied by Joan - though I also think of the previous distinguished occupants I have visited here over the years, Shohaku and Daigaku, and of course there were many people before that as well. Just like the seats in the zendo, each room comes with an ineffable sense of previous occupancy. In this case there is also an abiding fragrance, as if the tatami mats are imbued with years of incense burning.
This room is distinctive in that it is the only student tatami room; it was just kitted out with some of the mats that we took out of the Buddha Hall when we refurbished ahead of the Mountain Seat, complete with charcoal burns in one case, but which are, unfortunately, a couple of inches smaller than the very old ones that were previously there, which means there is a gap around two sides until the surrounding boards can be re-built. This temporary glitch aside, it is a beautiful room, south facing, as all my rooms here have been, so I am sitting in the morning sun writing this. It is the first time I have lived in a tatami room since my first winter at Tassajara, almost ten years ago, when I was lucky enough to be in cabin seven.
There are gains and losses: it is a larger room, with a distinctly larger closet - big enough to have a light in it; I don't have the permanent view of the city off to the east as I did in the corner room, nor the bird's eye view of the intersection of Page and Laguna, but then I also have a much more muted level of traffic noise, and a sense of greater solidity and less draughtiness from not having windows in two walls. Nevertheless, the feeling of interiority gained from looking over the courtyard and the other wing is offset by being at the near end of the hallway. The nocturnal part of me was glad of this, as I am considerably closer to the bathroom, but apart from the handful of seconds I will save each day by not having to walk to the end of the corridor, I have already had a subtle sense that I am not retreating to the outer reaches of the building, but am closer at hand.
I am still figuring out the best arrangement of the various pieces of furniture, having also inherited a taller bookcase and a table from Joan, and this process is not helped by having a sore throat and not having my usual amount of energy. This also made setting up for the chosan this morning more of an effort than it would ordinarily have been, though with help it all came together easily enough. I was sitting in front of Blanche and Victoria feeling a little poorly, as the discussion focused on how best to take care of ourselves and also follow the schedule. I am listening.

I am now a little further away from incidents like this recent call-out of the Fire Brigade

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Study Hall

Still enjoying Katagiri Roshi's Each Moment is the Universe enormously: "If you want to deepen your life, and satisfy your profound human desire to know the fundamental truth, what should you do? First, accept that your life is produced by the full commitment of the cosmic universe to movement. Buddhism explains the structure of the human world based on the functioning of interdependent co-origination, which means that everything is moving dynamically.
Interdependence is not the usual idea of relationship. It is a place where everything is empty and interconnected, beyond human speculation. Then, at that time, interdependent co-origination comes into existence as the contents of emptiness, and a new moment arises. Co-origination is working constantly, so from moment to moment your life is dynamically arising from the source of existence. That is kiya: just arising, the energy of time, impermanence appearing as your life. So accept it, demonstrate full commitment to life, and just be there.
Your life constantly gives you a chance, a great opportunity to touch the truth. If you touch it, everything becomes alive in a refreshing way. This refreshing life is called flexibility, fluidity, or freedom. At that time, you can really do something - something more than what you would have thought".

Monday, March 5, 2012

Ceremonial Objects

With the run of ceremonies we have just had, I have been getting good use of my favourite ceremonial objects. Long-time readers will know how I feel about my bessu - and it was nice of Wendy a couple of weeks ago to use a photo I took of them on the Zen Center website. Today the tsui-ching had another outing, with Joan's departing ceremony.
This had a strong feeling to it, as I met Joan's focused and vibrant presence across from me as I made the announcement; there were lovely exchanges with Christina, Blanche and Paul, and then, after we left the zendo, seeing Joan walking tall through the open double doors up from the gaitan really encapsulated the moment.
Some time ago, writing about departing ceremonies, I noted that I came up empty-handed when I googled tsui-ching. Well, perhaps by posting this picture I can change this. Choro, my ino colleague in Chapel Hill, had asked for a picture of the one we have, which is built differently to the one at Tassajara, so here is one of the photos I took (don't worry Choro, I will send you the others too). It is not in its usual place; I wanted it closer to the window to make the most of the light.

Since we were doing the Suzuki Roshi Memorial yesterday morning, I was kicking my heels until eight o'clock - though when I did get out on my bike, it was already deliciously warm out there. I made the most of the opportunity to take some pictures of the White Tara in the Buddha Hall, who has, as we have noticed this past week, been getting bathed in sunshine just before seven, when we are usually wrapping up morning service.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Not Always So

It took me a while to notice that the maple was budding again
I should know better than to spend time reading internet chat forums, but when I was looking for a new camera, I did a fair amount of research before buying the Fuji X10, and occasionally I go back to popular digital camera sites to see what people are saying. In the few months since I got it, I have taken about 3500 photos, and overall I have been extremely happy with it; there are a couple of quirks that have momentarily frustrated me, but people have commented on the visible improvement in the shots I take. If I were to believe what I read online, however, the camera is a disaster because it has a flaw in the sensor under certain light conditions - which so far has not impacted any picture I have tried to take - and the company should be hounded out of business for failing to deal with the inadequacy in a fitting manner. Definitely no right-minded person would fork out the $600 to buy such a defective machine. Oh well. Sometimes it seems like this is a particular kind of hell realm, resounding with the constantly re-iterated din of certainty. Perhaps one day I will curse this camera, but for now, I am enjoying it, flaws and all.