March 30, 2010

We held a Jukai Ceremony, Receiving the Precepts, for Rob Weinberg on March 21, 2010 in their home Zendo, named Tread Lightly Zendo, in the Berkeley Hills, California. This was a renewal of vows for Rob who wanted to come into the Ryokan san family and be related in our spiritual lineage. Rob and I have known one another for 40 years and have always walked together in spiritual understanding. We are spiritual friends rather than teacher and student. Our former mutual teacher, Kobun Chino Roshi always said that friendship, being friends in the deepest understanding of the word, was the true relationship on the spiritual path.

Dogen Zenji reminds us that the Precepts are the single most important matter in Soto Zen practice. We proclaim our ancient wrong actions and are purified before receiving the Precepts. In receiving the Three Pure Precepts, we vow to cease from evil, do only good, and do good for others. In this we essentially vow to Awaken to the Unsurpassed Complete Perfect Awakening which we recognize as the Dharma of all existence.

Rob's earnestness in taking the Precepts was profound and moving. I do not know what it is like to die in the way that Rob is dying, but all who were there felt the depth of his vow. There was nothing left over, nothing trailing, simply complete vow in the greatest confidence and certainty. We could feel the Ancestors assembling around Rob as his confirmation of the Precepts reached in all directions.

From my view, having known Rob for all these years, the recitation of the Precepts was a reiteration of his life, one lived carefully and thoughtfully, always aware of the ways in which his actions would affect others, being mindful to not cause harm. Although Rob and Linda named their home Tread Lightly because of their concern for the closeness to neighbors, this could be Rob's name. He is one who has walked softly in communion with all sentient beings.

Rob received the name KoYu. Ko from Kobun Roshi and Yu from my Dharma name. The meaning is "Great Cause." Rob has always had an awareness of matters and causes in the world that were important and serious for the wellness of humankind. He dedicated his last twenty years to influencing education in the environment. That work will reach out long, long after we are all gone.

Rob rallied his energy for the Ceremony and it was joyous for all of us to let the Breath be Life and Life be the Breath. With gratitude for the opportunity to bear witness to Rob's vow to live the Precepts, to live and be lived for the benefit of all beings. The purity of his declaration will resonate for a long, long time.

March 26, 2010

Taxi Driver Wisdom

It's ages since I've been to this page. I've been in Berkeley with Rob and Linda at the top of the world watching numerous sunsets and cloud formations. This time when I arrived, Linda had been planning to meet me at the airport, however she called to say she couldn't make it and would I mind getting a taxi. Not a problem, I said, and walked over to the transportation platform.

The driver assigned to me began talking the minute I gave him the simple signal which was, "How are you?" It must be a lonely job, meeting people all day and having no deep connection outside of hustling them through traffic and squeezing through spaces as narrow as Italy's old world streets. This guy was a good driver, not too wild, not too fast.

He moved to America with his family from Afghanistan about 5 years ago. He graduated from college in mechanical engineering but had a big love of astronomy and didn't like that the Bay Area is so profoundly lighted at night that it hardly gets dark enough to see Sirius. He was quite proud of getting his kids through college, his eldest son got a scholarship and graduated from a State University in criminal justice. His second son will graduate next year, and his daughter is entering community college this year. All in all, he thought it was a good situation for him after living in Boston and Virginia. He's learned to speak English. He and his wife work hard to promote the welfare of their children. He rues the 30 Year War in Afghanistan which has essentially destroyed the country.

At a stop light he asked me a question: "Are you here for a holiday?" "No," I answered, "my friend is dying and I've come to see him." This brought out an abrupt change in tone and a tender concern for my friend and me. Then he continued a quiet monologue and his wisdom and spiritual nature came forward, "You know," he says, "when we are born, we enter this world crying and everyone else is standing around us laughing. But when we die, we die laughing and everyone else is crying." He chuckled over this. Then he became more serious.

"We believe that we don't know at what moment we will be born or at what moment we will die. We are given this body that is our responsibility to take care of. But, our breath belongs to God."

At the moment he said this, the next breath for me was an experience of complete freedom feeling the Absolute, pure Emptiness, enter this relative and temporary body and being indistinguishable one from the other. I am breathed by and inhabited by the Absolute; I have complete and free expression in this form. One does not differ from the other.

I am fine to hear someone speak of God or use the notion or person of God to express what cannot be expressed. I am able to translate this into my own experience of the Absolute, Emptiness, whatever you want to call it. So, it's easy to receive these words, this great teaching from the taxi driver. There was no mention of religion or belief. Just these simple words.

Up, up the hill we climbed. I offered this good news to Rob and Linda, to the chaplain, to everyone who could hear this beautiful reminder. The breath is in and out all day, all night, every moment. It's here, it's free any time we want to remember that we are completely Form and Emptiness, completely liberated in every moment.

I'd say that was a good taxi ride. I gave a Dharma talk on this on Wednesday evening and hope to post the talk on the website very soon.

March 16, 2010

Month of Frogs

It's the month of frogs on Good Pond. All night they have a raucous song, chaotic except for the moments when together they suddenly stop singing. They know what they are doing. Some predator in the night comes sneaking in and they go silent as if holding their breath. Moments later they are at it again, a kind of wild, rhythmic calling. This night the whole thing wakes me so, after tossing and listening, listening and tossing, I fix a coffee and come to this conversation.

I'm back so briefly in Olympia and preparing again to go to Berkeley in a few days where, on Sunday, we'll hold an Ordination Ceremony for Rob. We were both students of Kobun Roshi beginning in 1971. Suzuki Roshi had just died and Zen was on the rise. Rob was in his rebellious period, 10 years younger than I, and like others his age, he was not ready and willing to just jump on the bandwagon. But, Rob did go to Tassajara and Green Gulch for three years or more and took the Precepts afterward. This ceremony on Sunday will be a renewal and a coming into lineage with Ryokan.

In the few weeks I was away from Olympia, spring unfolded. Plum, cherry, apple blossoms dot the city and the edges of the woods. Rainier has been visible every day at least for awhile. Its white hair is stringy and reaches to the floor of the horizon. Native mythology tells us that the mountain, Tahoma, is the mother feeding the children. The white snow is the milk flowing into the valleys, the canyons, the streams and rivers nourishing life. As Washington is always so dark, in spring we feel this slow emergence out of the cave of winter. Although it is beginning, we aren't quite there. The weather outlook actually has the word "dismal" written for the description of one day next week.

It's nearly time for Zazen. Since we don't speak in the morning before meditation, I feel writing here to have woken myself into conversation. Not that there is anything wrong in it, but it does set a different tone to the morning. To meet it with no words has a different quality from meeting it with writing. I like both ways. Some days this, some days that. Both ways require listening and that is the key. To be awake and aware to what comes forward is just happiness. It's still dark and the frogs continue. I've to get ready now for the just listening part without words.

March 07, 2010

Golden Sun

This is sunset over Mt. Tamalpais from a few days ago. The weather has been invigorating and the sun pure golden. Today I took a break and drove to the top of the Berkeley Hills to Tilden Regional Park full of trails and lovely vistas. Found a beautiful meadow overlooking a small lake. Not a soul there. Set out my blanket and settled in for a little sketching and writing. Within ten minutes, a cranky family set up a blanket just 10 yards from me with acres of space around us. I had to laugh. Reminded me of when we'd go to Brighton Beach as children and we'd be alone on a wide stretch of sand. Inevitably some boys would come by and choose to play a vigorous ball game immediately beside us. My mother would shoo them off...there are ten miles of beach, she'd say, why must you choose this spot beside our blanket? Go away!! I didn't say that to the family today. Actually, they soon left as the spot had a precarious slope that their small child kept advancing toward. They got tired of yelling at him and getting up to stop him from falling. The space quieted down again and I nearly fell asleep in the sun.

We're coping with all that goes with caring for someone in hospice. Full-time work it is, indeed. Nevertheless, we have some moments of normalcy. For instance, Linda is an accomplished pianist and she's been practicing in the afternoons and it's truly wonderful to have live music. She's playing La Fille aux cheveux de lin (I think right spelling) at the moment. She's also been playing Satie, Mozart, and Chopin. Last Friday afternoon, two performers from across the street came over and did a concert for Rob. The woman guitarist is also a singer with a soft blues repertoire. The other was a bass player. A truly beautiful and heartwarming moment to have them in the living room playing soft jazz/blues with the amazing background of the Bay Area view. So, we're having some fine moments of living in the midst of coping with pain and the body becoming tired and unsettled in the process of disease.

I'm going to post here a chant that Rob and I developed, taken from The Five Precepts as written by Frank Ostaseski, the founder of Metta Institute which provides education for hospice caregivers and provides live-in space for those who are dying. Rob is not with the Metta Institute, nevertheless he was shown these precepts by the chaplain from the Kaiser Hospice.
Rob and I thought they would be wonderful to chant so we adapted them for a greater musicality.
Here they are.

(adapted from "Five Precepts" by Frank Ostaseski, founder, Metta Institute)

Welcome everything that arises. Neither approve nor disapprove. Trust, listen, pay careful attention to changing experience. Cultivate fearless receptivity.

Open to both joy and fear. Draw on strength and helplessness, wounds, and passions to discover a meeting place.

Discover rest in the middle of chaos. Bring full attention, without distraction, to this moment. This place of rest is always here. We need only turn toward it; an aspect of us that is never sick, is not born, and does not die.

Cultivate an open and receptive mind not limited by agendas, roles and expectations. Not- knowing is most intimate. Listen carefully to the inner voice, sensing urges, trusting intuition. Learn to look with fresh eyes.

Don't miss what this moment has to offer. Open to what the future holds for us, and opportunities that are before us. Waiting for the moment of death, we miss moments of living. Don't wait. If there are ones you love, tell them now. Enter fully what's most important. The precarious nature of life will show you the Way.