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.