December 30, 2010

Arrived in Piedmont

At a rest stop along the way.  Couldn't help noticing sunshine and blue sky.

The amount of water on the freeway was stunning.  White knuckles all the way with a two lane highway with trucks on the right throwing up water and cars going northbound throwing water up over the median barrier.  The wipers couldn't flick fast enough.  But, my timing was excellent for snow:  no chains, no snow on the road and just ahead of a major blizzard in the Siskiyous and Shasta.

My first night in California I stayed at the Comfort Inn in Redding.  Very nice, comfortable, spacious, hospitable.  Still the rain pummeled the city, but by morning the sky was California blue and the sun California golden.  On the open road for the remainder of the drive, wide, wide fields opened out to faraway mountains.  This went on for several hours and brought out flashes of memories of wandering in meadows in this landscape.  It’s where I feel at home.  It's dangerous to weep while driving.

Today is December 30th.  I have a few things to iron out to fully settle in, but it’s a good place to sleep with an excellent bed.  Nearly as quiet at night as it is at Olympia Zen Center.  It’s a corner apartment and the way the building is arranged, I have no walled neighbors, only someone downstairs who is very quiet.  So, I have tremendous privacy.  No need for shades or curtains since I don’t look into anyone’s windows.  There are good views from every window.  It’s a very homey place with livable paintings, some quite nice and many done by the fellow who lives here who is going to Asia for three months.
View from the kitchen window.

The location is excellent with a busy village two blocks away.  My daughter says the area should be called Piedmont and not Oakland, but the post office calls it Oakland.  A huge and interesting cemetery is just up the street and it provides good walking trails.  At the top there is a grand view of the whole of San Francisco Bay, the Golden Gate and the Bay Bridge.  It’s a fine day here, just the tail end of a wind storm that hit central and southern California.  I’m off to explore.

December 09, 2010

What it takes...

December 8th is the day we celebrate the Buddha's Awakening, so some people call it Enlightenment Day, or Bodhi Day.  It has a good feel to it.  It feels high spirited and special the way a birthday feels.  So last night in the Zendo, someone asked an interesting question.  He said if the Buddha had this great enlightenment and became this influential person with a way to overcome suffering, how did he know what to do to get there?

I explained that I felt very strongly that the Buddha didn't know what to do or how to get there.  He had struggled for many years and explored various avenues to try to find an answer to the dilemma of suffering, but his steadfast confidence took him through the difficulties that brought him to the great insight of the Four Noble Truths.  In Buddhism the word "steadfast" really means "faith" so the Buddha had faith in his own Self, faith in the ongoing activity of compassion which propelled him to resolve the problem of suffering.  He had confidence that through effort in the search, he would find an answer.

We have the same ability in our own lives, in our own dilemmas, to find the answer and gain insight into any life problem.  Steadfast confidence in the (big) Self will steer us in the right direction.  Of course, we have to be willing to put immense effort into right focus, right concentration, in order to place ourselves in the yeast that will give rise to insight.  We can't expect that we will just be handed an answer simply because we want one.  Sincere and steadfast effort is called for.  Practicing with steadfast confidence brings us happiness.  Please don't take my word for it.  This is what the Buddhas says.  The Buddha also says, if you want to know about steadfast confidence, please find out for yourself.

In this way, the Buddha was very practical and logical.  All that he learned and experienced is also available to us through our practice.  He clearly taught that we too can experience happiness.

November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving

With blessings to one and all on Thanksgiving Day and throughout the holiday season.
This is a view of Gogo-an earlier this week when we received our first snowfall of the winter.  Frigid temperatures followed and the landscape remains wintry and picturesque. 

On Wednesday evenings, we always chant the Heart Sutra, and following this we offer a dedication of our practice.  On this Thanksgiving Day, I'm including here, in brief, those expressions of gratitude as they have deep meaning and intention for us all.   

For Our Many Benefactors

We celebrate the teachings of the Buddha Dharma which bring light and hope to the many realms of suffering, and lead to ease and joy.  These teachings are offered here at Ryoko-an because of the goodness and generosity of all our many benefactors.

 We offer the merit of this chant to all those who aid and support our temple through myriad expressions of generosity.  May all our benefactors gain wisdom and compassion from all they meet and may our sincere vows to practice together be realized in the Enlightened Way.

For the Welfare of Families and Children

We celebrate the teachings of the Buddha Dharma which bring light and hope to the many realms of suffering, and lead to ease and joy.  These teachings are offered here at Ryoko-an in recognition of the many families who support our practice.

We offer the merit of this chant to all families and particularly to the health and welfare of children.  May all families receive the protection of the Dharma and be shielded from misfortune and disaster.  May we in our sincere vows to practice together, exemplify the teachings of Buddha and realize the Enlightened Way.

For Those Courageous Enough to Lead Us in Governments Throughout the World

We celebrate the teachings of the Buddha Dharma which bring light and hope to the many realms of suffering, and lead to ease and joy.  These teachings are offered here at Ryoko-an in recognition of the effort of all those courageous enough to lead us in governments throughout the world.

We offer the merit of this chant that those who take leadership positions may be led by wisdom and truth.  May our nations learn to live in peace.  May we in our compassionate practice keep the mind of hope and dignity alive in support of justice and equality and may our sincere vows to practice together be realized in the Enlightened Way.

November 11, 2010

Poem for Veterans' Day

Each year at Veterans's Day or on Memorial Day I post a poem by my brother John Carney who is a Vietnam Veteran.  He writes poems about military patriotism and poems that question war.

                                    John Carney 5/29/2010

Who fully understands
The meaning of this day?
The parents, spouses, sons and daughters 
Who waved them on their way? 
Is it the comrades in their midst  
Who saw them where they lay?

Many do not comprehend
And some may not even care
That the sacrifice that was made
Is a bond that others share.

And this is not a matter
It is not the important thing
As they laid down their lives
That only some then felt the sting.

What is important for us all to know
and to realize in some way  
Is that the meaning of this time 
Though passion only some display,

Is we are a country, we are a people
And this liberty we hold so dear
Is kept alive by our willingness
To respond when threats appear.

It may be arguable or seem wrong
And with that make some outcry
Against the leaders and their acts
Have them explain their reasons why.

But do not let this day go by
Without some pause for thought
For the fallen and their loved ones
And their comrades who also fought.

As as a nation, as a people
And our actions in this world
We should recognize and honor
Today when the flag's unfurled.

It's one time we should all realize
It doesn't matter if you fully understand
But take some time to respect such cost! 
They died in service of our great land! 

November 04, 2010

Priest in Need of a Car

A priest in Washington on a very low income is in need of a car since her car died of old age.

If you have a car you were thinking of selling and would consider donating to a great cause, please notify us through the website   "contact us" page

or telephone

November 02, 2010

Zen Translation Forum

This coming weekend, San Francisco Zen Center will present The Zen Translation Forum, a program celebrating the publication of SHOBOGENZO, edited by Kaz Tanahashi and including a host of translators and scholars.

The program will be held at three venues in San Francisco:  City Center, Fort Mason, and Green Gulch.  The afternoon programs will be on Live Stream and you may tune in and enjoy the panel discussions and presentations from wherever you are.

I will be presenting on Sunday afternoon at Green Gulch.  My subject is Dogen's View of Women and I'll speak about that, of course, and also present the book project that Soto Zen women priests are working on.

The Live Stream will be broadcast from 2 to 5 p.m. on November 6 and 7, 2010.

To access the SF Zen Center channel page for the live stream, please visit:
SF Zen Center at LiveStream

Link to SFZC at LiveStream

You may also find information on Facebook

Zen Translation Forum on Facebook

October 26, 2010

Freedom of Speech

A woman holding a placard in opposition to a candidate for political office, was thrown to the ground and her head stomped on although she was not badly injured.  Her attackers were refusing to allow her to hold her view in the public arena because it didn't agree with theirs.  Naturally, both candidates have spoken out against violence at any political gathering.  It is clear though, that the election is heating up and people are feeling passionate about their positions on issues and candidates for office.

Last week I gave a Dharma talk about the use of speech and our practice to understand the nature of motivation and intention.  Motivation we said was related to reason (a reason to make a point in speech) while intention is related to action (wanting something to happen as a result of our speech).  We were also enjoined to consider in what ways our speech was a manifestation of greed, anger and ignorance, the three poisons that Shakyamuni Buddha teaches are at the heart of suffering.  Right speech is one of the Eightfold Path, the Buddha's prescription for getting beyond suffering.  Right speech is also connected to several of the Precepts:  to refrain from false speech; not to slander; to not praise self at the expense of others.  The Buddha's teachings essentially say that if we don't do these things, we'll be much better off, much happier.

Of all the Precepts, perhaps right speech is the most difficult because there is such a short distance between the reasoning brain and the acting mouth.  Speech is a creative activity.  We invent language all day long in all our interactions.  That is, we don't sit and think up every word.  We simply speak and "words come spilling out of our mouths when our lips move."  If we have been harboring ill will toward someone, if we have unacknowledged anger or resentment, speech is the most immediate way to let loose and inflict harm in retaliation.  If we have a handy listener, it's an obvious way to attempt to get others on our side.

False speech can also make us appear to be something we are not, something we want to be but haven't achieved.  The precept, not praising self at the expense of others includes not painting ourselves to others in a way that makes us look good in order to achieve some kind of gain, inferring that we have a competence in something when we do not.  This is obviously related to greed.

We can see these shortfalls in the campaigns of the people running for office slinging hurtful, outright lies, and dispensing meanness all in pursuit of gaining a place in public office.  It really makes us wary.  If this is how one would be in the campaign, how will the person be in office?  It's not a happy situation that causes us to trust our candidates.  It behooves us, nevertheless, to understand our own use of right speech and to examine the ways in which we use speech to our own ends.

Ryokan san had a very strong practice around right speech and he articulated his own understanding of the precept.  Just as the Buddha taught, Ryokan san listed these as cautions and prohibitions that if we refrained from these activities, we could find a greater happiness within ourselves and in our relations.  Almost anyone, of any tradition could find these helpful, but not at all easy.  They have to be practiced with mindfulness of the wagging tongue and awareness of all around us.  If we take on a strong practice of this, then what we hear via the heated election, will not upset us, it will instead, teach us what not to do.  We will express even greater gratitude for the environment of the Dharma.  We will come to truly understand Freedom of Speech.

And, in view of Ryokan san's cautions about not being long-winded, I cut to the chase.  Be well out there.

Ryokan’s Precepts of Right Speech

Talk too much
Talk too fast
Talk without being asked to
Talk gratuitously
Talk with your hands
Talk about worldly affairs
Talk back rudely
Smile condescendingly at others’ words
Use elegant expressions
Avoid speaking directly
Speak with a knowing air
Jump from topic to topic
Use fancy words
Speak of past events that cannot be changed
Speak like a pedant
Avoid direct questions
Speak ill of others
Speak grandly of enlightenment
Carry on while drunk
Speak in an obnoxious manner
Yell at children
Make up fantastic stories
Speak while angry
Ignore the people to whom you are speaking
Speak sanctimoniously of gods and buddhas
Use sugary speech
Use flattering speech
Speak of things of which you have no knowledge
Monopolize conversations
Talk about others behind their backs
Speak with conceit
Bad-mouth others
Chant prayers ostentatiously
Complain about the amount of alms
Give long-winded sermons
Speak affectedly like a tea master 

September 27, 2010

Long Time Away

It is a month since I've written here.  The summer was full of expected and unexpected travel and it seemed that as soon as I arrived home it was time to depart again.  Travel isn't over quite yet either.  I've still a few trips to make before the end of the year.  The days filled up with one thing and another and some days were only about the rain falling.  We had a wet, wet September.  Now the tress are turning color in various pockets of habitats here and there and leaves are sailing through air like huge orange globs of snow.  We can't deny that it's autumn even without having had much summer.

I wanted to mention a most interesting blog
It is a blog that is focusing on the Zen circle, the enso, as an art endeavor but also includes teaching and commentary along with it.  Various artists will be showing their work there and discussing the meaning behind their art.  I do recommend it for artists and Zen practitioners, or for any folk interested in Asian art and art history.

I've agreed to edit a book of essays by Soto Zen women priests on Dogen's writings in SHOBOGENZO.  There are very few examples of women's teaching in print today.  Yes, we have our websites and blogs, and we get around and do workshops, but written down published teachings are hard to find by Soto Zen women.  We have some brilliant teachers in our American Soto Zen Sangha and to think of their voices coming together in one essay collection is rather exciting.  We are at the moment in search of a publisher and I have high hopes that we can find one to help us give tribute to Dogen Zenji whose teachings allowed women to come forward to stand in fully equality in the monastic sphere.

Meantime, several of us continue to meet on Sunday afternoons for creative work.  It will likely be poetry from here on out as the rains make it impossible to do plein air.  Nevertheless, there's watercolors and sumi to set up which are not so impossible inside.  We'd been complaining about the lack of color (except for green) and the preponderance of trees and brush that don't allow for a distant view.  Allyson came across a book by a painter in the PNW and commented that there were the colors we seem to face:  grey, black, brown, with a bit of dark blue.  We seem to have to reach deep into the soul to find inspiration in this landscape.  Painters of the Pacific Northwest are notoriously dark in color.  But we press on, longing to find a way to make that solid wall of salal and brush interesting. 

Hoping to work my way into this blog voice in the coming weeks with a bit more conversation.     

August 28, 2010

Another Kansas Poem

Stories of pioneer women amaze me. I look at the luxury of heat and light I live with today and feel I don't know what it is to sacrifice. I can't imagine what they went through in the journey west. We have people living today in brutal situations because of natural disasters, and it will be a long hard time before they recover. Their stories too are compelling and instructive because they show us how we are destroying ourselves, physically and spiritually, through the endless need for comfort.

By popular request, another poem about a Kansas woman pioneer.

Mary Roberts

Spring Creek

August 1, 1874

The summer was going well. You came of age, sewed the green gingham bonnet you wore in the hazy sun that first August day. You walked hand in hand with young Jeff in the wheat and oat fields the straw color of your hair swaying with pasture grass, cattle idle and fat beside the low slung barn.

When you noticed the cloud, you both ran home, not believing the white, glistening

approach of grasshoppers that filled the horizon like a massive sudden snow coating fields five inches deep with green hunger.

Your father already at the plums with your sisters and brother grabbed the still hard fruit

to save what you could. You rushed the buckets into the house listening to the thud of insects land like stinging hail destroying your crops.

The watermelon field disappeared, twigs eaten, the merest sprout devoured. A branch of the cottonwood snapped from their weight.

Your mother rushed bed sheets to cover vegetables near the house, but green clouds landed and ate through the cloth, leaves vanishing in minutes. Only pits left hanging on the peach tree like stranded red bumps - onion skins left as paper shells gobbled from the inside - house curtains shredded, handles of hoes and rakes, harnesses and furniture eaten through.

Your little sister Betsy screamed in fear when insects invaded her hair and climbed into her clothing along her back. When you went to help they landed on your hat and ate through before you could get inside.

For two days your family fought them off and slowly they left when they’d finished the land.

Water in the pond, every fence post, gully and crevice oozed with green excrement.

Chickens, turkeys and hogs swelled from eating grasshoppers off their backs in the hopeless battle, their meat made inedible from the stench. Every bit of food gone for the year.

You stuck fast to the soil and hoed, the family gathering into itself, weathering that long, bleak winter, your young heart releasing and holding to what might come of your life, and your love in that wind swept land.

The following spring on a quiet morning, the loamy earth began to tremble with a pale imperceptible white, as eggs from the summer before, emerged and hatched, opening into daylight and sky, a green lakeof hind legs instinctively jumping.

Again, again, before your dispirited hearts,

the creatures swallowed with elemental vigor

the whole of God’s terrain and your

family’s backbreaking toil.

August 24, 2010

At Palolo Zen Center, Honolulu Diamond Sangha, Hawaii

I offer brief thoughts on the Memorial Service for Aitken Roshi last Sunday at Honolulu Palolo Diamond Sangha. Hundreds of people came from all over the world to bear witness to Aitken Roshi’s life and teachings. The Zendo and all the surrounding rooms were shoulder to shoulder with people in the soft Hawaiian breeze that filtered through as the service proceeded. The service included Zazen, music by Beethoven, a Dharma talk by Michael Kieran, Aitken Roshi’s successor, chanting, offerings of words speaking directly to Roshi, and offerings of flowers by his grandchildren, special friends, and representative of the Hawaiian nation. It was a deeply moving experience to be present for this taking leave.

Lunch was served afterward. Awhile later, about 60 people gathered for several hours in a circle in the Zendo to share their special stories and memories of Aitken Roshi. The stories were deeply personal, sometimes very funny, and always demonstrated Roshi’s love of Dharma and his ways of teaching.

A tribute to Aitken Roshi will take place in the Bay Area, California on October 30. Time and place are yet to be determined due to the potential large numbers who would attend on the mainland.

Aloha Aitken Roshi out there on the moon. Aloha everyone. I leave the Island tonight. With farewell to this grand blue/green ocean that heals and caresses the body, the sun blazing with healing rays. Gratitude to the Hawaiian people for their beautiful hospitality and allowing the waves of people to share in the bounty of light. Mahalo.

August 15, 2010

When in Brooklyn

I was in New York when word of Aitken Roshi's death came. For many years I'd considered myself a friend to him, corresponding occasionally, sending post cards from my travels, receiving much comfort and growth from his teachings. He was 93 when he died. Lucky he was to have lived a long life and to have so many years to influence the world with wisdom and insight. I'll go to his Memorial Service on August 22nd and be away for about five days. This time I'll bring my computer and write a report to the blog from there.

New York was a personal trip, a journey to find out where I came from and to see where I've been in the meantime. I had a wonderful time.

(The photos compress differently from the draft to the published version. They are parts of my neighborhood and I can't tell the order : the old Savoy movie theatre; Bedford Avenue with the original Loehmann's at the center in the distance; the street leading to St. Teresa's church towers; my high school, Bishop McDonnell Memorial.

The first four days I spent alone, staying at the Herald Square Hotel in midtown Manhattan. The plan was to visit my old neighborhood in Brooklyn and go to places I'd been in my youth. I simply wanted to experience the streets where I'd been as a child and to see how it looked. Traveling in New York is really easy. Public transportation is exceptional and one can get around the city and go from one borough to another quite easily with a Metro Card, a train/bus ticket which you slide through a slot which reads the metered amount. The subway stops are stifling hot, but once you board the train, they are all air conditioned. It's quite pleasant.

My neighborhood, which I hadn't seen in 50 years, looks the same except that the cultural mix has changed. In my day it was a mix of Irish, Italian, Jewish, African American. Today it is all African American and Haitian. I was an anomaly in the neighborhood, the only white person walking deep into an area where I appeared strange and perhaps threatening to some. Clearly, I was on alert, but I was not frightened. It amazed me to see the buildings all the same and some improved with the stone and brick having been washed clean. There was no graffiti to be found. The streets were swept. The shops had all changed with different owners and different wares and interests. My school and the church remained although the stucco was peeling from the church building. The convent stood exactly the same. It was ghostly to see it without the life in it that I had remembered. Friends apartments were intact, my own apartment a bit changed because a gate had been built around the entry. On Google Earth, the apartment had been an evangelical church, but that too has gone. It's simply an apartment building. The walls where we played ball were still there. All of it there. It was remarkable. But, I could not take photos in that area as I was truly an outsider and it would have been threatening to go around taking photos. But, no matter. It was my own mind and memory that I wanted to experience and no photo can really do the job of first hand witnessing. I may go back again another time to see it to tell me more about my life and where I've been. That is the real thing, I think. That sometimes we have to go back in order to find out where we've traveled, where we've been, what road we took and why.

Next: more events in Brooklyn and Manhattan

Back Home

I haven't written here since traveling to San Francisco and New York. On both trips I had not brought along my computer and thus it made it very difficult to write any sustained words onto this blog. My iPad is wonderful for incoming information, but it's very difficult to do any meaningful writing.

There were two reasons to go to San Francisco. One was to attend a meeting of the Association of Soto Zen Buddhists at Sokoji in Japantown, and the second was to visit my grandchildren who were visiting from Zurich. The family rented a house in the Castro district since they were staying for three weeks. The house was a grand and spacious Victorian with a lovely back patio for dining or sunning. Yes, the sun did come out although the temperature was quite chilly most of the time. I was glad of the sweater and scarf I'd brought. Summer can be bitter in San Francisco and this year it is downright disheartening.

I went out and about with the kids, through the Castro and up and over Dolores Park with a fabulous view of the skyline downtown. The kids are troopers, sophisticated in their acceptance of the varieties of peoples found on the streets of San Francisco. This is quite different from what they experience in Zurich where the people are generally far more conservative in dress and demeanor. The grandkids seem to flourish in the freedom of expression they find here and felt they didn't want to leave when it came time to go home. They were both born in San Francisco and remember living there before they moved to Europe. Still, as children, they have more freedom of movement in Zurich. They can go out alone to the playground in Zurich. Julian walks Esther to her ballet lesson. When out shopping, the kids can wander alone in other departments or stores. Unfortunately, this doesn't happen today in the U.S.

The day the folks were leaving for Switzerland, I went on to my hotel for the ASZB meeting. It had been difficult to find a room in Japantown, thus I got a budget hotel within walking distance but right at the edge of the Tenderloin at Geary and Polk. Holy moly. I live in sweet little Olympia and although I'm from Bed-Sty in Brooklyn, I haven't seen such sad life in a long time. I went out to find a snack shop after dark and walked along Polk street for two blocks to a convenience store. The pimps, prostitutes, drug dealers were all out. The streets are narrow in that area so you can't avoid close contact. To let you know they are available, as you walk by they simply say, "Hey" in a quiet tone. I'm certainly not frightened by any of this, just I'm so out of place in my looks, I must have seemed very comical to them. I wonder what they thought when they saw me. Did they think I was innocent and foolish? Do they wish they had another life? I know that when I see their lifestyle, I am intensely grateful for what I have. Any of us could wind up on the streets for a variety of reasons. Any of us could be born into dreadful poverty and hopelessness. For them, this is how they know to make a living. This is how they survive.

The meeting itself went well and I enjoyed the company of my peers. We're all getting older and we wonder how the next generation will flourish in the Dharma. We wonder how the tradition will go forward and how it will be changed in and by the American culture. We have many concerns and these are discussed in our interactions at such meetings. It is tremendously helpful to feel supported by one another and to feel the depth and strength of other teachers.

So, a report on my New York trip is the next blog before I pack and get ready to go to Honolulu to Aitken Roshi's Memorial Service which will be held on August 22.

Tribute to Robert Gyoun Aitken Roshi

Robert Gyoun Aitken Roshi, beloved teacher and founder of the Diamond Sangha and teacher to a vast number of students and teachers worldwide, died on August 5, 2010, in Honolulu, Hawaii. He was 93 years old. In his final years, despite numerous health challenges and bound to a wheel chair, Roshi remained active in his writing and teaching, and in his presence in practice at Palolo Zen Sangha.

A complete biography of Aitken Roshi can be found at the Honolulu Diamond Sangha website:

After he retired, Roshi continued to publish, each book seeming to be his last. Several years ago, Roshi declared he was writing his final book, a personal one-copy book to his grandchild. Four books were to follow. His fourteenth book with the working title, RIVER OF HEAVEN, was underway when he died.

Roshi died peacefully not long after entering the hospital with the condition of pneumonia. His Memorial Service will be held at Honolulu Diamond Sangha, Palolo Zen Center, on August 22nd.

A memorial service expressing gratitude for Aitken Roshi's life and his teachings which have influenced and sustained us in many ways, will be held at Olympia Zen Center on Wednesday evening, August 18th, beginning with Zazen at 7:00 p.m.

July 25, 2010

After the Full Moon

The Full Moon Sesshin was full of wonderful spirit with the moon never so bright and clear. We had a wide range of ages and experience with several people sitting a Zen retreat for the first time. We were all encouraged by the openness of everyone and the willingness to adventure into participation without hesitation.

The gardens are beginning to be tamed after so much spring rain. The weeds went wild and the bushes seemed to double in size. But persistence of the Sangha in taking time in the garden is beginning to see results. We are getting a handle on the garden areas and the grounds are extraordinarily beautiful. Our bald eagle continues residence on the lake and surveys the waters regularly. Song birds this year are still in full throat. However, August is coming and they will soon be quiet. There is never anything so strange as to sit meditation in August when the birds quit singing in order to save up energy and fat for the migration. We call that the time when "Buddha is Sleeping."

During Full Moon retreat we do something rather extraordinary. We go to sleep at 9:00 p.m. then get up at midnight and do t'ai chi in the moonlight. Last night we were out dancing in this mysterious movement in the shadows of trees and coyotes began howling in the distance. Then in the opposite distance the dogs began to bark. Here we were between them moving silently. I can't imagine what someone would think happening upon us in the darkness.

5:00 a.m. comes rather early then after being up at midnight for half an hour. The sleep is delicious going back to bed, but the wake up at dawn isn't easy. Nevertheless, we do it and discover ourselves again in the silence of meditation listening to the birds wake up. The changing light is already noticeable. Nothing stays the same. The Full Moon will quickly enough fall into darkness.

"My meditation under the moon lasts till the ripest night.
The stream has hushed its cry, dew lies thick everywhere.
Who among the moon viewers tonight will have the prize?
Who will reflect the clearest moon in the lake of his mind?"
Priest Ryokan
Translation by Nobuyuki Yuasa

July 05, 2010

Life Lessons in the Garden

Much we can learn about ourselves and life can be found in garden work. It’s hard to think of a more profound, straightforward teacher. I was inspired to venture into some heavy work that I hadn’t taken on for awhile. There are always excuses: oh, my aching back, so much work inside, the awful rainy weather. The inspiration came from reading about my pioneer sisters and what they endured in the settlements on the Kansas frontier.

Last year I read about the incredible challenges of pioneer women and began a series of poems about their experiences. Then I put the poems aside and let them be. Last evening I returned to the reading and was inspired today to undertake some muscle work in the garden just because it was there to do and it was empowering to do it. Usually I would wait for help with taking down some large, thick bushes, but today, taking my time and working slowly, I accomplished the task. The physical work gave me inspiration to finish writing the series of poems in tribute to the lives of pioneer women.

Because I was alone in the garden and having to move wisely, after all I’m not as strong as I once was and it takes longer to do things, I could be aware of the lessons that gardening brings. Pull too hard and you can injure yourself and risk pulling a plant apart from its roots. Push too hard and you injure the plants. Easy to notice symbiosis among plants and insects and realize how easy it is to overtake a habitat of helpful insects. Leave a path of ground bare and you invite predatory weeds. Pull some weeds the wrong way and you risk spitting seeds out to 25 feet. A variety of weeds balances the pH in the soil. Pull out all the weeds and you turn the soil alkaline. Moss will grow abundantly. Carelessness with tools can destroy them, can cause injury to oneself. All of these situations and hundreds more in the garden are metaphors for life lessons.

I thought of the women working the grasslands in Kansas, a windblown, unmerciful place mostly without trees. A house made of sod dug into the edge of a mound, the floor turning to mud when it rained. How they managed in the long absences of their husbands gone for weeks on end in search of supplies, food, and fuel. How they longed for company, hearing only wolves and coyotes in the darkness and listening to the persistent wind while protecting and caring for their babes. In today’s world I can hardly imagine what they sacrificed. What inner strength and wisdom they must have come to, with the land, the soil as their only reliance, the relentless, unremitting teaching of the soil.

Here is one of the poems:

Mrs. Hilton

Kansas Pioneer, 1872

Here you filed your claim and made your home in Norton County

in the dugout of a nameless hill where Indians and unwelcome travelers would

not find you.

You and Mr. Hilton plowed treeless land mesmerizing the eye as far north

as Dakota Badlands.

When winds came to the prairie nights you huddled in dense blackness

with your few pieces of Pennsylvania wood beginning to rot

in the damp sod.

In rains, you hauled buckets of water from inside your dugout,

poured it into the gulley that fed the little stream beside sprouting

corn and beans.

With fires, locusts and raids, you held your ground, never giving in to

desolate winters that wrapped the landscape in white sorrow when

nothing happened or moved.

Here, for years you stayed, month after month with silence, alone at times

when Mr. Hilton went into town for supplies, and you listened to the song

of the cricket, wind curled patterns on prairie grass above that dark

settlement. You caught fallen bull snakes on the hoe and scuttled them

out to the grass.

You went into Little River for wood, no longer able to stay away, both of

you climbing into the wagon and driving east for three days.

At the edge of town on the north fork of the Cheyenne, for the first time in

two years you saw a tree.

Climbing off the wagon, you stretched your arms around the firm trunk

of a cottonwood, pressing your forehead against the bark, crying for hours

into the wood, your own tears feeding the roots with agony and release.

Mr. Hilton helpless to know what to do found two women from the hotel

who came to the river, pried you loose and held you in the soft pink and

yellow of their taffeta skirts.

Eido Frances Carney copyright 2010

June 26, 2010

The Genuine in Us

Since back from Switzerland I've been scurrying to catch up, get myself past that difficult bout of virus, and settle in for the beginning of summer. The grounds require so much care these days because the rain has caused extraordinary growth. There are billions of weeds and tree seedlings. We'd be overgrown in half a year if we didn't continually keep the gardens combed.

Last Wednesday evening I gave a talk on a subject I'd been thinking about: being genuine. Earlier in the day, I had opened a book I refer to for my writing or daily thought which had been recommended by Jeanne Lohmann. The book is a compilation of daily quotes that encourage deep thought and encourage the spiritual heart. The quote was on the subject of "the genuine" and I naturally read the quote at the talk.

The book is, AN ALMANAC FOR THE SOUL - Anthology of Hope by Marv and Nancy Hiles which is only available from Iona Center, PO Box 1528, Healdsburg, CA 95448. (707) 431 7426.

I offer the quote for June 23 here with hopes I won't get in trouble since I've given a recommendation here.

"Listen to the sound of the genuine within you. Small, Einstein said, is the number of them that see with their own eyes and feel with their own heart. How to be one of them? The black theologian Howard Thurman said that there is something in each one of us that waits and listens for the sound of genuine in ourselves, and it is the only true guide you'll ever have. If you cannot hear it, you will all of your lives spend your days on the ends of strings that somebody else pulls. You will find that when you leave here there are so many noises and competing demands in your lives that many of you will never find out who you are. So I hope you will learn to keep quiet enough to hear the sound of the genuine within yourselves so that you can hear it in other people too."
"The Well-Lived Life Is A Search for Substance" by Marion Wright Edelman

June 04, 2010

Wind & Wolken Sangha, Northern Germany

I arrived on Tuesday in Hamburg and Harald picked me up at the airport. We passed through the rolling hills on a 1.5 to 2 hour drive north to Lindau where Wind und Wolken Sangha meets in the Zendo beside the house where Friederike and Harald live. The back windows overlook large grain fields. There is a dairy down the street and we can occasionally hear cows chatting together. The day I arrived the sun came out and it has been lovely ever since.

We sat Zazen on Thursday evening, I gave a brief Dharma talk, and I was happy to see so many members continuing their practice in this sweet Zendo and very joyful Sangha. Two members will receive Jukai on Sunday after a Sangha day of practice on Saturday and early morning practice on Sunday. Following this we'll have a banquet celebration, which should technically be called a potluck lunch, but as the German cooks/bakers are so good, it really turns into a feast. There will be much chatting and laughter, such a good humored group they are.

Yesterday, we strolled along the inlet at Eckernforde where it meets the Baltic Sea. The blue, deep sky made the water an unusually beautiful grey/blue. Fishermen had just come in with their catches and were selling fish from their boats pulled alongside the dock. We had lunch at a little fish stand and sat happily in the sun for a nice hour enjoying the conversation and sights.

Later in the afternoon two visitors came to the house. Rev. Doko Waskoneg, the only woman Soto Zen priest in Germany. She has her Zendo and Sangha in
Hanover. I visited her for the first time last year with Friederike while on our way to Nurnberg. The second woman was Ritsunen Gabriele Linneback who is the first woman translator of SHOBOGENZO, rendered in German and only recently published in four volumes. It took her 20 years to complete. She is a student of Nishijima Roshi. Rev Doko will also publish her first book in July. It is a commentary on several fascicles by Dogen Zenji. Rev. Doko is a Dharma heir of Nishijima Roshi.

(In the photo left to right: Eido, Gabriele, Friederike, Doko, Harald)
It was a great honor to be with these women, not to also mention the company of Friederike and Harald. We had a jolly time discussing the tribulations of translating into German and the great difficulty of it compared to English. Gabriele had the opportunity to live in Japan during some of the work and she had access to Nishijima Roshi which was of great assistance.

We also visited Volker, a Sangha member who received Jukai last year, and held a memorial service for Volker's wife who died three years ago. Today we visited Dieter and Jytte who will receive Jukai on Sunday.

Everywhere we've gone it has been most wonderful to be so welcomed.

May 31, 2010

At Felsentor

I went by train, boat, and cable car from Zurich to Felsentor which sits on a shelf high above Lake Luzern. Since all the connections are timed, there is no waiting from one conveyance to the other, simply a reasonable time to go from one to the other and then it departs, almost always on time. Only something extraordinary would keep the trains behind schedule. It's Switzerland!

Lake Luzern has mountains than come straight down into the lake and in a fog they are mysterious and exotic with stone walls that shine with dampness and are alive with small waterfalls. The day I arrived the weather was fine, but afterward we dealt with either rain or fog and thunderstorms at varying times throughout the day and night. As it is quite slippery on the trails when it rains, at one point a rescue helicopter hovered about 30 feet from my room, looking down the ravine to see if there was someone who needed assistance. Many people need rescue at this still wet time of year.

The word "Felsentor" means stone gate and it comes from a Franciscan monk who lived on the mountain a few hundred years ago. When the hunters came in search of animals, the monk called the animals into the protection of the stones and away from the hunters. Legend has it that the stone developed into the shape of a monk. Indeed, it clearly looks like a monk and it is the gateway to the piece of land that sits out on the shelf where the residence is and where the Zendo is. The priest who developed the present place of practice is Vanya Palmers, a Transmitted priest of Kobun Chino Roshi. Vanya has also developed an animal shelter to save animals from the slaughterhouse.

There are seven residents who live full-time and work to maintain the facility for retreats. Two are administrators, one is a cook, one is full-time with the animals, and the others are works who garden, keep up with repairs and the myriad duties that are needed to keep such a place going. Access to Felsentor is either by a 15 minute hike from the cable train, or by the old vehicle that is used to transport food and supplies from the cable train. It's a rugged drive and not for the feint of heart.

I spent a quiet weekend sitting Zazen with the residents in the mornings and evenings, reading, sketching, taking photos, and just looking out at the mountains. My workshop had been cancelled and although it was difficult on Felsentor, I was thrilled to have the time to myself. I'd not been feeling so well and it was a chance to take the mountain air and just quiet down. I also enjoyed wonderful vegetarian food which we ate in the dining room that looks out onto the great vista. Even in cloud, it's breathtaking.

The Zendo was built in San Francisco and then transported to Switzerland. The only way to get it up the mountain was by helicopter where it was delivered piece by piece and then reassembled. Pricey, eh? I can't think of what it would take, but we might build our Olympia Zen Center several times over. But, it's a gem and a treasure on the Rigi Mountain and hikers stop to admire the beautiful Japanese architecture.

More later. I must get ready to take Esther, my granddaughter to her ballet lesson next door to the Opera House.

Memorial Day Poem 2010

The Cathedral in Bern

Every year on Memorial Day I post a poem
written by my brother, John Carney,
a Vietnam Vet.

Here is a new poem for this year.

(Memorial Day)
John Carney 5/29/2010

Who fully understands
The meaning of this day?
The parents, spouses, sons and daughters
Who waved them on their way?
Is it the comrades in their midst
Who saw them where they lay?
Many do not comprehend
And some may not even care
That the sacrifice that was made
Is a bond that others share.

And this is not a matter
It is not the important thing
As they laid down their lives
That only some then felt the sting.

What is important for us all to know
and to realize in some way
Is that the meaning of this time
Though passion only some display,

Is we are a country, we are a people
And this liberty we hold dear
Is kept alive by our willingness
To respond when threats appear.

It may be arguable or seem wrong
And with that make some outcry
Against the leaders and their acts
Have them explain their reasons why.

But do not let this day go by
Without some pause for thought
For the fallen and their loved ones
And their comrades who also fought.

As as a nation, as a people
And our actions in this world
We should recognize and honor
Today when the flag's unfurled.

It's one time we should all realize
It doesn't matter if you fully understand
But take some time to respect such cost!
They died in service of our great land!