October 23, 2009

Watching Leaves Fall

Since I'm still home with the flu, I've watched the leaves sailing in the wind and rain which has come with a vigorous beginning to winter. The trees have dropped about half their foliage. Leaves fall by the billions, or at least that's what it feels like when it's time to rake. In places we are knee deep and leaves coat the bushes like snow in a blizzard. But, leaves don't melt as the days go by. They hang on and get dry and droopy. If we don't pull them out of the bushes, the temple grounds begin to look like a haunted, forgotten village.
Still, it's a beautiful autumn, deep in color and I don't mind that I've this time to take it all in. Unfortunately, it's the tenacious flu that brings out this respite. I've the regular type flu and not the H1N1 that children and young people are infected with. It's quite debilitating in that it throws a net over you when you think you've gathered some energy and start to go forward. The cough hangs on and makes for exhaustion. We haven't even had time to get people inoculated for this year's strain. Can't tell whether the strain that is going around now is this year's brand or whether, living in Olympia, we're still behind the times. The thing is, lots and lots of people are sick right now. Makes you want to just stay home and batten down the hatches. Not to mention keep you from getting hit by massive falling leaves.

Please take care of yourselves everyone. Let's do what we're told by washing our hands frequently. Another thing to do is to use a saline solution inhaler throughout the day. They are inexpensive, about .99 cents to $1.50, and are found in any drug store. If someone has a cold, stand back from one another, about 10 feet away. Give up hugging for the duration. Get a good night's sleep every night, eat well, drink plenty of fluids. If this is the regular regime, then the virus may latch on but will have less potency and will be less debilitating. If you do get it, cancel all social engagements for two weeks. If you have to go to work before you are truly healed, try to stay away from others, wear a mask when you are around others. The Japanese wear masks frequently and it really helps to prevent contamination in others.

Looking forward to being back at it very soon.

October 18, 2009

Visiting Deep Spring Temple in Pennsylvania

Deep Spring Temple is 40 minutes north of Pittsburgh in the rolling country hills of Sewickley. (deepspringzen.org) At this time in October, the foliage is exquisite in colors of burnt umber, tangerine, dark orange, burnt yellow. It cannot be captured by camera except in small frames that cut off the brilliance and spaciousness of the landscape. Yet, we try to capture a taste of it.

Rev. Kyoki Roberts is Abbess of this Zen center which has a comfortable, welcoming feel and at the same time has the order and forms of practice. The Zendo is on the garden level and the Buddha Hall is on the second floor where all ceremonies take place. A social room with a small office area, a dining area, kitchen, and utility room are also on the ground floor. On
the second floor, along with the Buddha Hall is the Abbess' quarters, residents' rooms and a guest room.

The Sangha are all plain, wonderfully ordinary people in the Pennsylvania spirit who are made special in their reverence for practice. They do not try to stand out, do not puff themselves up, nor are they over-anxious. How can I describe the quietude of Pennsylvania people? The ease, depth, and beauty of the landscape must have some immediate effect upon the demeanor. I think that too about Olympia that the nature and bounty of the trees makes people somewhat quiet.

The photograph shows from the right: The Dog Maya, Rev. Kyoki, Jisen, Jisen's husband Kevin, and me.

Rev. Kyoki has an assistant abbess, Jisen, who lives with her husband nearby and comes in daily to help with the various tasks that are needed to keep the temple running in good order. Rev. Kyoki also has a dog named Maya who was rescued from the streets and has come to have this blessed life at Deep Spring. Maya is one of the truly well-trained practitioners who sits Zazen along with the rest of the community and barks the food blessing. She greets each visitor, and acts as general guardian of the grounds. As I am not a dog person necessarily, I was completely disarmed by the sweetness and caring response of this dog, not to mention her uncanny understanding of the ways of practice. The minute the food chant begins, she barks, although she does not bark at any other time except for a single bark at the arrival of a visitor. She lies down when the Zazen bells rings and gets up when it rings to finish. She lies down perfectly still in the Buddha Hall for ceremony and sometimes Rev. Kyoki just steps over her when she's approaching the altar. Maya is completely accepted by the Sangha and other dogs are also welcome and come for Zazen where they learn to sit still. Rev. Kyoki's teacher Rev. Nonin, who also has a practicing dog, says that some people are better off for getting dog hairs on them.

The workshop I ran last weekend was on the teachings of Ryokan, but it included opening the heart of creativity and using creativity as a means of revealing and opening our interior stuck places. Rev. Kyoki and I also did some sightseeing before and after the workshop. First, we went to Pittsburgh and visited the Frick House where the Frick Family lived. Frick was a businessman/financier and art collector. The house is riddled with wonderful paintings and the family artifacts are intact. It looks as if the family has just gone out for awhile. The hair combs and brushes remain on the dressing table. Mr. Frick's slippers are tucked under the night stand.
We also went to the Carnegie Hall of Science to see the dinosaurs, one of my favorite places in Pittsburgh. I'd been before to visit my brother who lived there for several years. The massive T-rex and other saurus bones are breathtaking, but the fossils are far more beautiful, these stunning, complex species imprinted on stone like original artworks from prehistoric time.

The day after the workshop we went to Fort Necessity, in south central Pennsylvania driving along the National Road, the first highway in the U.S. Fort Necessity is where George Washington at age 23 led his first military engagement which essentially started the French and Indian War. Here and all along
the drive the landscape gave forth breathtaking vistas of autumn beauty as we drove over the Chestnut Ridge, to Ohiopyle where the river waters gushed happily over falls, and then through Andrew Mellon family owned lands where horses grazed in the greenest horse pastures I've ever seen.

My flights home were packed with people and I barely made it onto the one from Chicago since the flight from Pittsburgh was delayed. Nevertheless, I was last one on and had no choice of seats. I was smashed in between two large men, one of whom blew his nose for three and half hours till we reached Seattle. Needless to say, I was taken with a sudden onset of fluish cold yesterday morning and had to sit out our one-day sesshin. I remain quiet today but better after sleeping through a feverish night. The worst of it is over so I'll be back at it in a few days. My mind and heart remain filled with the beauty of the autumn landscape and the goodness and generosity of Rev. Kyoki and the Deep Spring Temple Sangha.

October 09, 2009

Roshi John Daido Loori dies on October 9

Daido Loori Roshi died this morning, October 9th, 2009, at 7:30 in the morning. We send our deepest sympathies to his family and students at Zen Mountain Monastery and around the world. Daido Roshi was a leading teacher of Zen practice in the United States. The Dharma resonance of his life has been extraordinary. We will remember him in our chanting with care and gratitude for 49 days.

You may read a eulogy by Bernie Glassman Roshi, his Dharma brother, at this website: http://www.zenpeacemakers.org/roshi_john_daido_loori.html

October 03, 2009

Offered for Victims of Recent Natural Disasters Around the World

The Lotus Sutra
Myoho Rengekyo Kanzeon Bosatsu Fumonbonge

World-Honored One, fully endowed with subtle signs!

Now again I ask about that

Son of the Buddha for what reason

He is named the One Who Observes the Sounds of the World.

The Buddhia replied:

Listen you to the conduct of the Sound-Observer,

The one who responds well to all places in all directions!

His broad vows as deep as the ocean,

Throughout kalpas beyond reckoning or discussion

He has served many thousands of millions of Buddhas,

• Uttering great and pure vows.

I will tell it to you in brief.

The hearing of his name, the sight of his body,

The recollection of him in thought do no pass away in vain,

For he can extinguish the woes of existence.

Even if someone whose thoughts are malicious

Should push one into a great pit of fire,

By virtue of constant mindfulness of Sound-Observer

The pit of fire would turn into a pool.

Or, one might be afloat in a great sea,

In which are dragons, fish, and sundry ghosts.

By virtue of constant mindfulness of Sound-Observer

The waves could not drown one.

Or, being on the peak of Sumeru,

One might by another be pushed off.

By virtue of constant mindfulness of Sound-Observer,

Like the sun itself one would dwell in space.

Or, one might by an evil man be chased

Down from a diamond mountain.

By virtue of constant mindfulness of Sound-Observer

He could not harm a single hair on one-s head.

Or, one might be surrounded by enemies,

Each carrying a knife and intending to inflict harm.

By virtue of one’s constant mindfulness of Sound-Observer

All would straightaway produce thoughts of good will.

Or, one might encounter royally ordained woes,

Facing execution and the imminent end of one’s life.

By virtue of one’s constant mindfulness of Sound-Observer

The knives would thereupon break in pieces.

Or, one might be confined in a pillory,

One’s hands and one’s feet in stocks.

By virtue of constant mindfulness of Sound-Observer

One would freely gain release.

When either by spells, or by curses, or by poisonous herbs,

Someone wishes to harm his body, the victim,

By virtue of his constant mindfulness of Sound-Observer,

Shall send them all back to plague their authors.

Or one might encounter evil raksasas,

Poisonous dragons, ghosts, and the like.

By virtue of one constant mindfulness of Sound-Observer,

They would no dare to do one harm.

Or, one may be surrounded by malicious beasts,

Sharp of tooth and with claws to be dreaded.

By virtue of one’s constant mindfulness of Sound-Observer,

They shall quickly run off to immeasurable distance

There may be poisonous snakes and noxious insects,

Their breath deadly, smoking and flaming with fire.

By virtue of one’s constant mindfulness of Sound-Observer,

At the sound of one’s voice they will go away of themselves.

The clouds, rolling the thunder drums and

dispatching the lightning.

Send down the hail and pour forth the great rains.

By virtue of one’s constant mindfulness of Sound-Observer,

At that very moment one can dry up and dissipate them.

The beings suffer embarrassment and discomfort;

Incalculable woes press in upon them.

The Sound-Observer, by his unblemished knowledge

Can rescue the world from its woes.

He is fully endowed with supernatural penetration

And broadly cultivates wisdom and expedient devices;

In the lands of all ten quarters

There is no ksetra where he does not display his body.

The various evil destinies,

Those of hell, ghosts, and beasts,

As well as the pains of birth, old age, sickness, and death,

All little by little are extinguished.

O you of the true gaze, of the pure gaze,

Of the gaze of broad and great wisdom,

Of the compassionate gaze and the gaze of good will!

We constantly desire, constantly look up to,

The spotlessly pure ray of light,

The sun of wisdom that banishes all darkness,

That can subdue the winds and flames of misfortune

And everywhere give bright light to the world.

The thunder of the monastic prohibitions, whose

essence is good will,

And the great and subtle cloud, which is the sense of


Pour forth the Dharma-rain of sweet dew,

Extinguishing and removing the flames of agony.

When disputes go through civil offices,

When they terrify military campus,

By virtue of constant mindfulness of Sound-Observer

• The multitude of enemies shall all withdraw and scatter.

The delicate-voiced one who observes

the sounds of the world

And the Brahma-voiced sound of the tide

Are superior to the sounds of the world.

Therefore one must ever be mindful of them.

From moment to moment conceive no doubts,

For the pure saint who observes the sounds of the world

In the discomforts of pain, agony, and death

Can be a point of reliance.

Fully endowed with all the merits,

His benevolent eye beholding the beings.

He is happiness accumulated, a sea-incalculable.

For this reason one must bow one’s head to him.

• At that time the bodhisattva Earth-Holder

(Dharanimdhara) straightaway rose from his seat

and, coming forward, addressed the Buddha, saying,

“O World-Honored One! If there is a living being

who shall hear this Chapter of the Bodhisattva He

Who Observes the Sounds of the World, the deeds

of self-mastery, the manifestation of the gateway

to everywhere, the powers of supernatural penetration,

be it known that that person’s merit shall not be slight.”

When the Buddha preached this Chapter of the

Gateway to Everywhere • within the multitude were

eighty-four thousand living beings all of whom

opened up their thoughts to unequaled


October 01, 2009

October 1st - For the Time Being

Almost everyone I know is in a time of transition. A seeming midway point between one thing and another. Or so it seems. Actually, we've been in transition from the moment we entered being-life, since nothing remains the same from one moment to the next. We've all had some plateaus when we thought things were settled and we didn't have to worry about anything. We know however, if we look around, that this is an illusion. Anything can happen at any moment and nothing is actually fixed. We just have the feeling that things are settled. It's a mercy that we get such moments so that we are not challenged by the idea of turmoil all the time. While I was speaking of this in the Zendo last night, we experienced a non-damaging earthquake.

Transitions require particular maturity on our part to remain equanimous while things appear topsy turvy, when there is the pressure to pick, to choose, to decide something that will have enormous effect on our future and those we love. Katagiri Roshi recommends to us that we "root ourselves firmly in Emptiness." If we do this we can go about our lives with confidence in our being, with confidence that the steps we take will rise out of the clearest point of wisdom. When we say that we can't rely on anything, that everything is continuously changing, we don't mean that we are abandoned to the wind and rain and that we are helpless. We mean that in each moment all potential is there for us and when we don't panic, when we don't try to grip our lives with fear and anxiety, we allow for wisdom and understanding to be manifested in our activities and our choices. In this, our lives are large, there is room to breathe well, we can manifest the aspects of ourselves that most long to be expressed.

Being is time and time is being. Everything is for the time being, for awhile, as Dogen Zenji says in "Uji" SHOBOGENZO. What moves through time resides in all of existence yet is for the time being. We cannot avoid time. The challenge is to fully enter time as an embracement of being. When we collapse into circumstance we begin to lose being and we set up obstructions for ourselves that reduce our possibilities. Obstructions are things or thoughts or patterns that cause us to be blind to potential.

In times when transitions are strong we can be tempted to be thrown into turmoil and to allow obstructions to cloud the way. So, we must dig deeply into spiritual maturity to be wise caretakers of our lives. This is not because of fear of making a mistake, but because caring well for life is itself being-time, is itself the manifestation of Buddha Nature. Living in this way we can live with confidence in the most difficult storms of change and transition which even the Buddha, Dogen Zenji, Ryokan san, all people meet along the Way.

Just a Reminder

The entire SHOBOGENZO by Eihei Dogen Zenji and translated by Rev. Hubert Nearman, O.B.C. is available for PDF download to your own computer at www.shastaabbey.org. The advantage of this is that in a PDF file you can do word searches for topics that are important to you. The Nearman translation is extremely accessible and often unpacks very compact teachings that we might struggle with. The Nearman footnotes are also excellent. Shasta Abbey gave this translated edition to the world by offering it free to everyone.