August 27, 2009

Out and About

I've had a trip to San Jose that included seeing Cornelia Shonkwiler's new zendo in the Japantown area of the city and enjoying the palm trees that line the downtown blocks. Cornelia is Keido Les Kaye's Dharma transmitted priest who came to Olympia a few years ago and spent some time with us. Her zendo, named Middle Way Zen, is small and is in a section of an art gallery run by the stone sculptor who owns the studio. She sits each morning at 5:30 a.m. and has a Dharma talk on Thursday evenings. It's definitely a 5:30 a.m. crowd down here. Perhaps this is because it is not so dark. If we sat at 5:30 a.m. in winter in the Pacific Northwest, we'd still have two hours of darkness to contend with. When it gets as light and bright as it does in the Bay Area and it's not so cold, it makes the 5:30 manageable. But, my artsy spirit loves nighttime and I'm game to keep it at 6:15 a.m. to allow for a little moon viewing. Who could not want to see the moonlight?

The San Jose venture included the San Jose Art Museum which was rather disappointing since the current exhibit was contemporary, stomach turning surrealism that reminded
me of very bad indigestion. Nothing inspiring. A bit like a modern Hieronymous Bosch without any message. But the museum itself it great and I recommend it when the exhibits are better. Ansel Adams is coming next week and an exhibit by or about women is also about to be unveiled. The Basilica of St. Joseph is right next door. Built in 1803 or so, it's worth stopping in if you are in the center square. The interior has been redone and the seats set in a semicircle have replaced old style pews. They are comfortable and the wood is warm and soothing. The windows are lovely and there's plenty of statuary to get yourself into a guessing game and a discussion of saints' lives.

But, a great thing happened. I went into the Los Altos Library and saw a flyer advertising a poetry reading by my poetry teacher, Nils Peterson, from San Jose State where I did my undergraduate degree. Santa Clara County has decided to create a Poet Laureate since it is trying to bring the literary arts more deeply into the culture. Nils was named out of a hundred candidates. Nils' poetry and teaching style are so open-handed and inviting and he will be giving readings around the area. I was saddened however to see that the reading that was advertised would take place after I return to Olympia, but I was able to write him a note and have it delivered to him. He is a teacher whom I will never forget. He taught creative writing and Shakespeare and both courses have enriched my whole life. It was a thrill to be here and to walk into a space and have a teacher be familiar after so many years.

I did not give a Dharma talk at Kannon-do last evening since the Sangha was having a discussion of one of Suzuki Roshi's chapters from ZEN MIND, BEGINNER'S MIND. It would be far too difficult to recount the various observations and ranges of thoughts. About 40 people were there for Zazen and it's always encouraging and invigorating to sit with a large group. I'll be giving the talks for the next two weeks. And, after that I'm headed back north. Time goes by very quickly.

August 21, 2009

Being at the old Haiku Zendo

The door to the old Haiku Zendo is the same and the location of the windows that were the front zendo windows overlooking the street are the same. I like looking at them from the outside and I like standing in the room looking out. It's just almost impossible to imagine how we crowded all those people into the small space that seemed at the time as wide as the planet and spacious as the Milky Way.

I gave a Dharma talk on Wednesday evening at Kannon-do. The talk began with an explanation of a talk I heard by Dr. Daniel Seigel from UCLA and the author of THE MINDFUL BRAIN and other books concerning how the brain functions with the practice of mindfulness. Dr. Seigel is the director of the Mindsight Institute at UCLA. As Seigel had done, I gave people some words and asked them if they had had an image as a result of hearing those words. Yes, everyone responded affirmatively. I said that Siegel then explained that those words make a connection through neurons firing in the brain and we are able to make an image from those words. The ability to make a mind image is dependent upon the body firing up those neurons and thus, the body and mind are co-dependent. Siegel then said that no one on the entire planet is able to explain how we are capable of doing this. Siegel's small exercise makes that co-dependency immediately clear. We are not always able to grasp so easily the body/mind connection.

From there, I went to Dogen Zenji who teaches that there is nothing we do that is not about making pictures. And, Shakyamuni Buddha taught that we are what we think. Everything we do comes out of images, pictures. Dogen Zenji says, "Were you to say that such pictures are not real, then all thoughts and things are also unreal. If the Buddha Dharma is real, then it follows that such pictures must be real as well." (Shobogenzo, trans. Nearman)

Dogen: "There is not a movement or a moment of stillness that is not part of making a picture. Our own efforts to do our utmost at the present time are simply obtained from our own pictures." Dogen Zenji encourages us to examine this closely, to explore all of this in our training. And, it is this very matter that draws us to find a teacher. This is why we go to a teacher, to discover this function and to cultivate the Buddha mind. But first, before we can cultivate and manifest this function, we must actually see it, actually realize this function. We have to investigate fully what a picture truly is.

There may be no more wonderful, meritorious exploration than to discover this Way. If we don't understand it fully, we cannot truly cultivate this "field of benefaction" this "virtuous garden." We may find ourselves running around and around in life trying to find why we are beset by such suffering. When we fully see that we are the body-and-mind we begin to choose to cultivate body-and-mind by training and practice. Our life choices change. Dogen referred to this same function as practice-experience. The body training and experience of mind co-creating life moment by moment. We have no choice but to enter the Buddha's pathway and demonstrate for ourselves that there is a Way beyond suffering. We can choose what pictures to entertain. We can choose to see through delusion. We can live a healthy brain function in body by choosing healthy images. We can overcome the habits of thinking that are destructive. We can practice compassionate pictures, practice kindness in mind.

August 18, 2009

Coming to Los Altos and Kannon-do

Five days now I've been in Los Altos, being with the Kaye's prior to their Africa journey and learning the small things I need to know to help at Kannon-do. Les and Mary Kaye and I have been friends for about 40 years and we've had quite a jolly time of it during this getting ready to travel time. They live about a mile from downtown Los Altos which is a charming town that has come to life with sidewalk cafes, antique shops, galleries, bakeries, etc. In years past I remember it as a sleepy place with not much activity. Now, it is full of strollers and locals chatting together and sipping coffee in various interesting and friendly hideaways.

The Kaye's home was the old Haiku Zendo where Suzuki Roshi delivered his talks that became ZEN MIND, BEGINNER'S MIND. As I may have mentioned earlier, the old zendo still has ghosts of time past when we were crowded shoulder to shoulder to listen to a Dharma talk. I was not there when Suzuki Roshi was alive so I am referring to Kobun Roshi who was invited to be the teacher in Los Altos after Suzuki Roshi died. Kobun Roshi lived a block away and walked over each morning for Zazen. Eventually, the number of people overwhelmed the space and the neighborhood. Parking was intolerable and dangerous on the street. Neighbors began to complain. It was an illegal assembly and we had to move. After much rankling and losing out on several places, we bought an old Assembly of God church in Mt. View, restored the interior, and this became Kannon-do. Haiku Zendo became invisible. Nevertheless, when I stand in the room where it all began, I see the shadows of those days when Zen was still new and remarkable and we were fresh and innocent in practice. Zen had not yet become a perfume, a cereal, a technique for tennis, or a style of shoe.

Even the old Kannon-do outgrew itself and a new Kannon-do was built on Rock Street in Mt. View about three years ago. The entrance is shown in the picture. Kannon-do is large and bright with a Japanese/American flair. Kannon is the same as Kwan Yin, or Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva, the Bodhisattva of Compassion. Thus, Kannon-do means "place of compassion." Cathedral ceilings make for a spacious feeling. The sacred is imbedded in the care that is visible in the details. The rock pathways and the wood walkways give a taste of the monastic and Zen aesthetic. Situated in the middle of a neighborhood it offers a wonderful opportunity for people who live nearby to participate, to undertake the practice of meditation in their lives. The meditation hall is there for when people are ready to recognize its presence.

The sun is amazingly bright and I FEEL tan just thinking of it. Temperatures have been a little warm, but the 104 in Seattle gave me good training for the mere 90 that it might climb to today. So far the air has been wonderful and I hardly notice except that I don't have to drag along a sweater or a rain coat wherever I go. There's some high altitude smoke from the Lockheed fire that has drifted over the mountain, but it's not troublesome. I hope to get to the Stanford Museum, the San Jose Museum of Art, several galleries in Palo Alto and Los Altos, and I'll see many family and friends while I'm here. Each morning however, I'll begin with practice at Kannon-do and join with the Sangha there for a good beginning to the day. Next entry I'll talk more about Sangha and how life is lived in practice at Kannon-do.

August 12, 2009

BEARING WITNESS: A Newsletter for Western Socially Engaged Buddhism

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August 10, 2009

All things change

Dragon clouds calling for rain!!!

Yes, the promise of rain today and the trees can't get a drink soon enough. Let it rain!

We're back at daily life following our intensive retreat and weeklong holiday during which there were no alarm clocks. During the break, I did occasionally wake early to the sound of a bell from the outside. When you practice Zen for a long time, you become quite attuned to bells. I'd wake and realize the bell was from a passing bicycle on the Chehalis Western Trail.

So, I'm packing my suitcases to go to California on Thursday. I'll be at Kannon-do in Mt. View until September 15th. I do plan to write this blog from there reporting on life in California smack in the middle of Silicon Valley. It will be interesting to see how visible the economic changes are in that area. Sometimes I feel that we're already back at our usual environmental obliviousness, using our resources carelessly and that we haven't learned much from the downturn. It seems as if we're all waiting to get back to life as usual, counting time until we can hurry back to shopping centers for our main social outreach. But, perhaps I'm too critical. Perhaps there's been a true cultural change that brings us to a healthier environment and to healthier daily activities. Perhaps we are more balanced and we can allow constructive change. As all things change anyway, to be able to listen well to what change shows us and teaches us, is key to non-attachment. Ryokan san says, "Wise people learn the mystery of existence in a flash and climb in a leap beyond the world of hollow phenomena."

August 01, 2009


We finished our Practice Period with a week-long retreat during which C.J. Jikyo Wolfer who served as Shuso or Head Monk, led us with evening Dharma talks, various teachings, leading ceremonies, instructing in various points of practice, seeing the smooth continuation of the retreat. Toward the end of the retreat, Rev. Master Eko Little arrived from Shasta Abbey to participate in
and witness the Shuso Ceremony on Sunday, July 26th and to spend several days with us in informal discussion. It was a rare opportunity to share his presence, continuous wisdom, humor, insight. We are ever grateful for the gift of his coming to be with us. Rev. Master Eko had served as C.J. Jikyo's training master when she did her monastic training at Shasta Abbey.

The ceremony of Shuso involved the questioning by the Sangha about the Dharma realization of C.J. Jikyo Wolfer. She sat before the community and invited questions regarding practice and Dharma. Her responses were excellent and the exchange was indeed very lively. The ceremony is one of our most vigorous and energetic ceremonies since the questions and
responses are all spontaneous. The community offered her excellent questions which made for a deep and wonderful exchange. The entire Sangha congratulates her on this advancement in her practice and training.


Now we move into the time when we say "Buddha is sleeping." The birds stop singing in the mornings as they save their body fat for the migration. Trees seem motionless. Afternoons are sultry. Time seems to stand still.

We have closed the Zendo for a brief holiday until August 8th when we reopen with morning Zazen at 7 a.m. All is quiet and settled on the grounds and inside. I'm getting ready for the trip to California to substitute for Keido Les Kaye Roshi at Kannon-do in Mt. View, CA. He and his wife are traveling to Africa for a month and I'll lead Zazen and support the Sangha there. It's a familiar place for me since I first practiced there in Haiku Zendo where Keido Roshi now lives. I'll be staying in the house where Marian Derby edited the talks by Suzuki Roshi that became the book, ZEN MIND, BEGINNER'S MIND. The Kaye's bought the house when Marian decided to practice full-time at Tassajara. Haiku Zendo stayed at this location until the crowds became impossible with Kobun Chino Roshi giving Dharma talks there after Suzuki Roshi died. We were bursting at the seams and we had to move.

I'm enjoying lovely easy days and have decided to enjoy the heat. We got up to 104 the other day, but now we're at a mere 85 and sunny which is predicted through the week. So, so nice to have a real summer. It's a rarity in these parts, although everything is mighty dry and the fire danger is high. Without much ado, I'm back to reading, writing, painting while I also think of the good man, Ray Kelleher, who was a friend to us, who built the first altar we had at Sawyer St. and which is now our Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva altar. Ray died on July 28th at St. Peter's Hospital in Olympia from complications following heart surgery. He will be tremendously missed by so many people in this community. I'll write about him in an upcoming entry.