May 30, 2009

We don't get weather like this often

We're quite unused to such brilliance day after day and it quite changes everyone's outlook.  You can sit in the garden until late in the evening, keep the windows open wide all night, and dress in the morning without shivering.  

The Spanish lavender is in bloom and this year we are blessed with more honey bees than we've seen in a few years.  They had almost disappeared last year.  I thought this was the reason that we had no plums last year on a tree that produces the sweetest plums I've ever tasted.  We have every sign of a good crop this year.  

We continue in quiet practice through the month of June until we enter an intense practice period through the month of July.  C.J. Jikyo Wolfer will be our Shuso, Head Monk, for this practice period.  She will lead Zazen, give Dharma talks, and essentially lead the Sangha in practice.  An intensive sesshin will be held from July 18 to 26 and will culminate in a Shuso Ceremony on the 26th at 2:00 p.m.  At this Ceremony, the Sangha, visiting priests, and friends will have the opportunity to question Shuso on her understanding of the Dharma.  We will spend about an hour, throwing questions at her that challenge her rootedness in Mu, her rootedness in Dharma.  It is also an excellent opportunity for Sangha to dig into their own understanding and find questions that they also have found difficult to answer.  It is a day of high energy and great happiness in witnessing a novice progress on the road to becoming a priest.

I continue to write and paint.  In the mornings I get something into the sketch book and keep it on the counter in case I get a feeling to scribble something else as the day goes on.  I'm feeling a better rhythm in letting poems also appear.  It's not so easy to allow image making in fine art and image making in poetry to flow together and to come out simultaneously.  But, that's my practice of late.  Keeping both going rather than being on one side of expression or the other for various periods of time.  It's a little bit like being in love with two people at the same time.

Our visiting teacher last weekend said that he thought we talked too much in the U.S.  Too many Dharma talks, he said.  I kind of agree.  Maybe even too much talking via blogs.  So, last Wednesday night we sat two periods of Zazen and then I gave a five minute encouragement talk.  Very briefly, here's a paraphrase of what I said: because we are not fully realized, a fully Awakened Buddha, we believe we need a 'self' and we create a 'self' very often via our thinking capacities.   When we think of "self" we think of consciousness or mind as that which defines us.  But, the Buddha pointed out that it was much wiser to take the physical body as the self rather than the mind, or consciousness, because the body was slower, more settled, solid.  Our minds are moving very quickly and our thoughts change very rapidly, much much faster than does the body change.  Also, if we must think of a self, by placing the notion of self  in the body, we can release ourselves more easily from the tyranny of thoughts and be more equanimous moment by moment.  That is a moment of the Buddha's sweet wisdom.

Thank you.  I'm off to the sunshine.

May 25, 2009

On Memorial Day

Today is Memorial Day and today we honor those who died in service to their country.  

My brother, John Carney, is a Vietnam War veteran, and several years ago he wrote the following poem that I try to publish or send around on Memorial Day.  

Not Today

On Memorial Day we remember
Those who gave their all,
While serving for their country
During war they met their fall.

When a country goes to war
Whether it seem right or not,
The young are mostly called to fight
Some Giving all they've got.

Grief for a passing loved one
Is always a painful thing,
To lose someone so close
Such sadness it can bring.

But there is a special sacrifice
Mostly young people make,
When a nation has sent them
To put their lives at stake.

No matter if one believes or not
In what sent them to their fate,
It is only right to note their loss
As a nation on this date.

This is one special time
When all arguments should cease,
We should all mourn together
For those at eternal peace.

What paths or journeys sent them
To meet their untimely death
On some battlefield far off
Where they drew their last breath?

Don't ask now, not today
Let's just try to understand,
That they paid the ultimate price
In service of their land.

Then if it makes sense to question
And ask why they had to pay,
Raise your voice, make your point,
But tomorrow, not today!

May 20, 2009

Home again, home again

The long flight home with engine trouble was tiring but who couldn't be grateful that the engine trouble occurred before takeoff and not after!  The flight was full of Washingtonians from Dulles Airport and so the group was generally compliant and quiet as we switched planes and then were halted because of lightening and thunder.  Four hours late which made it 27 hours without sleep.  I somehow have climbed successfully into this time zone.

The gardens of Olympia Zen Center are very beautiful and I could feel much gratitude for my teacher, Niho Roshi, to whom our temple is dedicated.  I think of the long connections in life that brought me into Niho Roshi's world and then moved me to this place.  Who could explain it!  A one-day working sesshin on Saturday led by C.J. Jikyo Wolfer took the gardens a step further in the spring cleaning.  We are blessed with an abundance of weeds and tiny sprouting trees as the land tries to return to an evergreen forest.  Each year we see a different abundant crop with billions of tiny seedlings fighting for a chance to reach into the deep earth.

Some of you know my painting teacher Tokunaga Sensei.  Her father died a week ago.  He had been hospitalized for several years after suffering a stroke.  Every day, Tokunaga Sensei went to visit him just as she had cared for her mother after she had become bed ridden.  Mr. Tokunaga lived to be 100 and I remember him still out riding his bicycle at 95.

So, I am back at daily morning Zazen here and enjoying the early morning light and birdsong.  We have a sangha meeting on Saturday and a chance to appreciate the gift we've been given in our sacred place of practice.  We also have the gift of Soto Zen, Dogen Zenji, Ryokan san, Zazen, the opportunity to bow to one another, the ancestors in our midst, Gogo-an, and countless other blessings that appear before our eyes.  When I think of the European cathedrals I visited on this trip, the size of the pillars and the work in massive stone that took years and years to build with some not yet finished, I think we can surely hold this simple place with low ceilings and only 4400 square feet.  A question of mere dollars cannot prevent the continuation of Dharma in this place where the eyes of our statues have been opened and the seeds of practice have been thrown down.

In the beginning of practice here in Olympia, we vowed the beginning of 500 years, and we opened this temple with 500 years of practice in mind.  We can renew ourselves in that effort and put behind us any thought that the Dharma will not support us when we make effort and practice sincerely.  What we have is because of the long history of effort of our ancestors.  And the land we stand on is because of the long history of ceremony in Native America practice.  We walk on the drumming and dancing feet of ghosts who protect this land.  There is so much more to life than we can fathom.  

May 15, 2009

Life in Zurich

Living close to downtown, my family has the advantages of being able to hop on a tram almost outside the door to go where they need to go, and to walk up the street to the supermarket for food.  There's a playground across the street where Julian and Esther can play unattended for short periods.  Julian had a friend over the other day and the boys, both 8, were able to take themselves over to the park to play soccer.  My daughter Ellen can walk to her studio.  Nicolas, my son-in-law, can walk to the office.  What they gain in their quality of life seems to me to far outweigh life in the suburbs. 

This was my feeling growing up in Brooklyn, New York, that we had so much available to us that we hardly lacked anything.  The beach, fine museums, excellent parks, dance and music training, walk to school, easy walking to shops, world class libraries, continual interaction with internationals, people of various ethnicities and races, interreligious awareness, public transportation, theaters, concerts, baseball, ice skating, excellent colleges and high schools, living in the history of Walt Whitman, cafes, fine newspapers, languages.  Truly the list is endless.  I cannot imagine having grown up on a farm though it would have given me a whole different set of experiences. 

Although the culture of Zurich is far different from New York, there is a quality to it that offers experience for children that can only enrich and expand the imagination.  Something about it, perhaps that there is still some reasonable sense of safety, and that it is still civilized, reminds me of the years growing up in New York when we still believed in the goodness of ourselves as a people and that we could accomplish just about anything if we but tried.  In those times, adults generally assumed responsibility for all the children in the neighborhood so that children were protected.  Children had the freedom to be on the streets and to reinvent themselves in a milieu of spontaneous street games and neighborhood interactions.  Of course we got into trouble, but it was the kind of trouble that tested the wits of adults and was far innocent of crime.  It was the naivete of the 50s, but it was a lucky time to be born and to grow.

The children of Zurich whom I've met have some of this flavor.  They are allowed to be children and not take on the worries of the world before their time.  Granted this happens because the economic level allows this.  But, my family was poor as were the families I grew up with; we took advantage of the rich soup that the culture offered and we made it our daily life intake.  It's hard in Zurich to not feel what is there and available all the time.  The emphasis on culture, on supporting the public climate is visible wherever you go.  Adults still look after all the children, not just their own.  It's an island that is still functioning in a civilized way.

I'm sure if I lived in Zurich full-time I'd have criticisms to report, but I have the great pleasure to visit and see and enjoy the best it has to offer.  It understandable why so many great people of literature, the arts and sciences have found their way to Zurich.  I can't entirely pinpoint or get at its mystique, but it has a special atmosphere that pulls you in and satisfies. 

May 13, 2009

James Joyce in Zurich

Joyce lived in Zurich with Nora and their children at the beginning of World War I.  The Joyce's found an apartment on the top floor of the building in the first picture.  They entered through the back door (second picture).  The building is on Seefeldstrasse, a lovely neighborhood (third picture) on the eastern side of the lake and about three blocks from the water.  It's so familiar to me because my daughter lives across the street and we can easily see the building from her top floor terrace.
The Joyce's stayed in Zurich for several years but they had numerous residences.  They became unhappy with the apartment shown because the space was split in two and other people who were renting adjacent space had to enter through their living room.  This did not please Nora, or Joyce for that matter as they felt rather invaded.  Later, they moved further down toward the center of town but also along Seefeldstrasse.  I also pass this other apartment regularly on the tram.  That apartment also did not please, and yet another, and they eventually moved to Universitatastrasse where the bulk of ULYSSES was written.  The journey around Zurich's apartments may have been influenced by the journey of ULYSSES, who knows! 

Zurich's weather is unpredictable and difficult.  The Joyce children were always sick with colds and flu.  Nora became unhappy with Zurich and blamed the children's illnesses on the weather. They moved on to Paris.  Nevertheless, Zurich is an important stopping place for Joyce because it was here, in the apartment across the street that Joyce began work on ULYSSES.  

ULYSSES remains for me the high point of my reading/study career.  I feel there is no other novel that can compare in English, Irish, or American literature just as we can't find anyone to quite reach the stature of Shakespeare.  I've studied the novel three times with three different teachers and am beginning to feel that I'd like to take it on again at some point.  The journey through the book was transforming, and, at this time as I'm also studying Robert Motherwell, I'd like to see how it might give some depth to painting.  Motherwell did an unforgettable painting series of Joyce's ULYSSES.  You can find it in his COMPLETE COLLECTION OF PRINTS.

Joyce died in Zurich.  The Joyce's fled to Switzerland once again after the outbreak of WWII.  Also, Joyce was suffering from ulcers that eventually perforated and they were able to find medical help in Switzerland.  He underwent surgery but died on January 13, 1941.  He is buried in Fluntern Cemetery next to Elias Canetti, a nobel prize winner in literature, and Jewish, like Leopold Bloom.  I have photos of Joyce's grave back home.  I didn't go to the cemetery on this visit.  There's a wonderful sculpture of him beside the gravesite.

So many famous writers, thinkers, painters, poets have made their home in Zurich for some period of time in their lives.  Zurich tends not to celebrate anyone in particular so you don't see placards on buildings around the city marking where famous people have stayed.  Everything is a bit more underplayed and reserved.  You can find a James Joyce Foundation here if you want to visit with various artifacts of his life.  You can find the cafes he frequented if you investigate the biography.  Mostly it's just great to be here and to feel the atmosphere where he wrote while he remembered the atmosphere of Dublin from which he lived in exile. 

May 12, 2009

Temple Daihizan Fumonji at Eisenbuch


Temple Fumonji at Eisenbuch is about 1 hour by train from Munich.  This temple was founded by Fumon Nakagawa Roshi in 1996 although  Nakagawa Roshi has lived in Germany for about 30 years.  Life at Fumonji is extremely quiet and Nakagawa Roshi encourages people to come to the temple and restore and heal themselves in the country atmosphere.  

There is a fair amount of land surrounding the temple on one side although there is a small hamlet adjacent to it outside the gate.  here is a deep se
nse of peace and there is hardly a place you can look that doesn't please the soul.  Several rock gardens have been put in place.  The top left picture is the entry where the full moon meets the stone mountain in the center of the garden.  The experience is immediately quieting.  Two main buildings form in "L" around this garden.

Nakagawa Roshi gave me a tour and we had a chance to talk together for a couple of hours about our views of practice in Europe and Japan, about combining healing practices with Zazen, about Soto Zen practice in general.  Since he had a student in hospital, he had to leave until he returned after dinner.  We showed him the Ryokan san biography film.  Afterward, as the day had been quite warm and glorious, we sat outside over the other rock garden shown in the upper right picture while Roshi played shakuhachi.  We were lifted outside of ourselves by the haunting sound. 

In the morning we sat Zazen and chanted Morning Ceremony.  Roshi and the two women who live at the temple and train and work there were good enough to offer us tea after breakfast in the entry garden and then see us off to the station.

It is possible for anyone who wants to train and work with a positive attitude to go to Fumonji.  There is no heavy tuition to keep up, but you have to be willing to be a Zen student while you are there.  They have a new website which you might want to check out which lists their schedule and activities in English and in German.  Roshi speaks English as do the women who are living there to support the daily life of the temple.  One could do quite well there even if you don't speak German.

The expression of Fumonji is clearly Japanese and it is a place of practice in the Soto Zen style.  The residence can house up to 40 people for a sesshin with beautiful rooms each with private bath.  This former old country inn has been transformed to Zen practice, but I could still hear the singing and laughter from the merry makers of times long gone.  Perhaps the deep silence allows room for the echoes of history.

May 11, 2009

The "Train of Remembrance" at Regensburg

It wasn't clear right away which platform we needed when we changed trains at Regensburg on our way to Fumonji at Eisenbuch.  We crossed over to platform one and saw that there was a full locomotive with an unusual train name, "The Train of Remembrance."  The locomotive seemed to need some kind of repair, but the smoke was coming out of the chimney and after awhile it seemed to be ready to travel.  This train is moved from place to place to recall the plight of the Jewish children who were removed from their families and sent into work camps. 

 As I may have mentioned earlier, the people of Nuerenburg continue to feel the remains of the Reich and there is a dark weight in the air if you mention WWII.  Almost any family can tell a tale of loss, encampment, fear, starvation.  Pictures of the bombings are found in local bookstores.  The cathedrals are very open about the destruction and show pictures of the remains of cathedral walls on the newly rebuilt ones.  At St Lawrence Cathedral in Nuerenburg, there is a photo of what remained after the bombing and I'm told every German knows this photo well.  It's a picture of the body of Jesus still on the cross as the only remaining thing standing after the bombing.  

The "Train of Remembrance" was a sober reminder of what we did as a human race, and as the Jews well know, these are things we should never forget.  I'm glad of the timing to see this train as this trip did not weave us toward the sacred burial and suffering grounds of the Jews.  Yet, almost everywhere you go you can find reminders of the difficult history of the 20th Century.  Sitting in a cafe, strolling down streets and window shopping, it's hard to truly realize how devastating it was and how much blood was shed beneath our feet.


We took a late morning train to Regensburg an hour from Nuerenburg after deciding we could handle the rain.  It was only sprinkling - nothing to speak of.  Still the sky was heavy and threatened some serious weather.  

We headed straight for the Cathedral of St. Peter, a Catholic church in the midst of mostly Protestant churches in the region, and the central point of practice and pride for the people of Regensburg.  This cathedral was also under renovation and we were unable to see about half of the ceiling.  I watched a workman climb the scaffolding to the top where he would walk the upper platform to do his work, and it took him a good six minutes just to get up there.  It's high.  The stained glass windows, of which I have no decent pictures, are from the 1300's.  Very old windows with memorable blues and reds.  Numerous tombs of former bishops are in the cold, dark basement.  I'm sure the dead don't care, but it's hard to think of being deposited in such a lonely, forgotten place.  Of course, the whole earth is littered with dead bones under my feet wherever I walk, but that feels happier than the rigidity of being sealed in a marble tomb. 

We ate lunch in a restaurant facing the cathedral and you can see our lookout window.  Time went by very quickly and we took afternoon tea/coffee at the oldest coffee house in Europe built in 1686.  After lunch, I discovered I had lost my hat.  We searched everywhere but couldn't find it.  I did find a very nice leather cap left in a pew in the cathedral, but I left it behind.  We found ourselves in a hat shop, a rather famous one that makes hats for the pope and the cardinals.  A seasoned sales woman suggested I buy a rather large hat to improve on the appearance of my height.  Since I've a small head she felt I needed a large hat.  Like many people in Germany, she thought I was just getting beyond chemotherapy.  At first I decided on a red cap, but then opted for a cotton beret which would work better in spring and summer.  She said to Friederike that after all I'd been through, I deserved both of them.

We didn't eat dinner in Regensburg.  The chocolate and apple streudel during coffee break tied us over for a simple take out back in Nuerenburg.  Feet weary and satisfied, we made ready to leave Nuerenburg the following morning.

May 05, 2009


It's been very cold here and tonight it began to rain.  This has not diminished our great fun today.  We met Albert at the coffee shop this morning and thus began an incredible encounter.  After an immediate liking to him, a man for all seasons and a man of immense joviality, we went to his shop filled with Buddhist and Hindu antiques.  We went from one piece to another and he would say, 4th century, 10th century.  To the Egyptian pieces sprinkled throughout he'd say casually 1500 BCE, 3500 BCE.  Buddhas from Cambodia, India, Burma, Thailand, Korea.  Japan does not release its antiques so I don't recall any from Japan.  Some of the statues were life size, some the size of my hand.  He showed us into his storeroom where he had only a part of a collection of 7,000 pieces that were making their way to Russia to be installed in a museum in Albert's name.

The favorite piece for both Friederike and for me was a small Egyptian statue from 1500 BCE that literally resonated with energy.  Albert placed it in my hand and I was thrilled to hold it as I have never touched an art object that old.  Another piece he also allowed us to hold was a slab of stone from 3500 BCE which women used for makeup.  They rubbed the stone and a color came forth which was applied as an eyeshadow.  The collection was truly overwhelming and Albert was an incredible host.

In the evening we went to dinner to a local pub with Albert and his wife.  This was a friendly place where people sat at community tables.  Huge amount of food, great local beer, apfel dessert, rich laughter, intense discussion on religion and politics.  Great evening. 

Earlier in the afternoon, however, we also visited the studio of Udo Kaller, a painter and friend of Friederike.  Kaller paints in a Japanese style, huge canvases though, and he reinterprets painters such as Hiroshige.  He is quite famous and at this point in his career which has spanned 35 or so years, he exhibits in well known museums in Europe.  We talked for a few hours in his studio and enjoyed hearing about his life, his painting methods, his philosophy. Right now he is preparing an exhibition for the Berlin Asian Art Museum in 2011, a series 100 views of Mt. Fuji.  All in all, a very rich day.  

We also walked around Nuerenburg castle and went into St. Sebald's Lutheran Church which had been Catholic for about 300 years.  We also entered the oldest bookstore in Europe and visited a meditation room at the top of a community building where Friederike had first become interested in meditation.

On Wednesday the plan is to go sightseeing in Regensberg.  However, we'll see whether the rain will change this.  

May 04, 2009

Wind & Wolken, Hanover, Nuerenburg

We had a beautiful Jukai Ceremony on Sunday at the lovely Zendo in Lindau.  Ancestors seemed to crowd the room in an invisible chorus around the candidates:  Mechtild, Fritz, and Volker shown with me in the picture along with Harald and Friederike.  Harald and Friederike had supported their study in preparation for this moment and, I'm encouraged to see them go forward and deepen their practice.  They each sewed a wonderful rakusu.  It's fine to see the Buddha Dharma blossom in this quiet, northern area.

On Monday morning, Harald took us to the train station and Friederike and I boarded the train, first for Hanover to meet Doko Roshi who is the only woman Soto priest in Germany.  We talked for several hours about differences in practice between Europe and America.  Her Dharma Transmission teacher is Nishijima Roshi one of the translators of Shobogenzo.  She also trained in Italy for about 13 years before going to Japan with Nishijima Roshi. 


After lunch we returned to the station and caught the train for Nuerenburg arriving in time for a late dinner.  We went to very standard and local Bavarian pub filled with men who had large flasks of beer before them.  As we were the only women, the place came to an almost silence when we entered.  However, after a few moments we just blended in and enjoyed the mood and atmosphere.  Very warm and friendly.  We walked briefly around the castle wall to get a taste of the medieval fortress, so powerful.  Friederike pointed out signs of World War II, bullet and schrapnel holes in the stone.  Nuerenburg was where Hitler had planned to build his own center, his own castle, until that plan was erased.  She pointed out that the city still suffers the remorse of that war.
Today we'll meet a few friends of Friederike and Harald who live here in Nuerenburg.  One owns a Buddhist/Hindu antique shop.  We looked in the window after the shop was closed last night and saw some large Buddha heads and standing Hindu statues.  Seeing this shop up near the castle was a bit strange, but Buddhist statues seem to be everywhere we go in Europe.  They are in the windows of all kinds of shops.  As Doko Roshi said, they stand as a symbol of peace for many people and not as a religious article.  She thought that in that way they bring about some good. 


May 01, 2009

Beautiful Day on the Baltic

We were out walking along the promenade in the city of Eckernfoerde yesterday in the great light on the Baltic Sea.  Eckernfoerde is an artsy kind of town, a fishing village with good seafood restaurants and a generous dash of new age shops.  It's my favorite town so far because of its newness and vibrancy.  There's a sense of youthfulness and activity.  The Baltic Sea is a beautiful blue when the sun is shining, and in the photo you can see another polished stone sculpture.

We had the one-day sesshin today and totally enjoyed everyone's earnest attention.  I saw some old friends from last year and met a few new faces.  I have no photos yet, but we've a workshop tomorrow so I'll try to borrow a camera and get a few shots of people engaged in drawing or writing at Wind & Wolken Sangha.

Here is my mandatory shadow shot which we've taken in every city and every year since I started shadow shots.  Harold is on the right trying to create a Viking helmet although it 
looks more like a bear's head.  Well, you get another look at the polished sculpture.
As things go, I threw out my back getting on the train from Amsterdam to Groningen with my heavy suitcase, and yesterday
Friederike took me to her chiropractor who was good enough to see me after hours.  What a guy!  He was a big, open faced man who had studied with an American and he had to pass his exams in English so we had an easy time of communications.  He had me back together in no time and ordered me to keep up the chiropractic visits when I returned home to the US.  He sent me on a 20 minute walk before getting in the car and driving home.  So, here I am on that walk with Friederike finding me along a quiet road before we hopped in the car.

I am continually amazed at Friederike and Harald's commitment to practice and their
 enjoyment in it.  They did so much to make today's sesshin a reality, it's inspiring.  I'll aim for one or two brief entries here as next week may be sparse.  We'll be on the road again early Monday.