January 30, 2011

A little traveling music...

My daughter had gotten us tickets at Yoshi's for the 70th birthday concert of Bobby Hutcherson, the famous jazz vibe musician. Yoshi's is a restaurant and a jazz club at Jack London Square in Oakland in two separate rooms.  The restaurant offers an excellent nouveau Japanese/California cuisine in a lively atmosphere with impeccable service.  It's family style service in a high class way.  The food presentation is highly artistic but not unapproachable.  It's as a much a delight as is the taste of the food.  We were hungry and found ourselves eating perhaps a bit too quickly, but the food was so delicious, we couldn't see a reason to dawdle.

Here's how it works.  You order tickets for the concert, probably on line and you state whether you'll dine first and you get a dinner reservation too.  When you show up, you get your concert tickets at the will-call counter and then take them over to the restaurant entry counter where they give you a reserved seat for the concert.  So you are shown in to your place in the restaurant.  It's a huge place and crowded, full of life but not overbearingly loud.  After you order, the service becomes invisible.  Even with such a crowded place, not one thing was forgotten nor were we rushed, nor do the wait staff appear to be rushed.  They move quietly and invisibly, always our next dish appearing with exquisite timing.

When it's time for the concert, you make your way to the entry to the jazz club, get your hand stamped so you can go back and forth to the restroom.  You have already been given a small map of the room with your number on it so you simply weave your way through the crowd to your seat.  The room is set up like a night club with small tables and chairs closest to the stage.  The next semi circle is a row of booths, the most sought after seating, then the next two row areas are more table and chairs and then bar stool chairs at the very back.  Truly there are no bad seats in the whole house, just some of them more comfortable.

We lucked out and were seated in a booth next to Bobby Hutcherson's in-group.  Also, we shared our booth with the bass player's dentist.  When the musicians came on stage it was obvious that Hutcherson was using oxygen, suffering from long-standing emphysema.  He didn't stand very often to perform and when he did it was for short periods and then he seemed relieved to sit down again.  Don't think that he wasn't wonderful nevertheless.  His touch on the vibes is sweet and his timing gorgeous.  He had a guest guitarist, Anthony Wilson, who has to e the best guitarist I've ever heard.  He was really the star of the night with Bobby Hutcherson overtones, but there was nothing lacking at all.  With Joe Gilman on piano, Glenn Richman on bass, and Eddie Marshall on drums, you couldn't go wrong.  If you want to catch all five on an album, WISE ONE is the album to get.

Aside from wanting to hear jazz, I wanted to go there because the place is owned (at least in part) by Akiba Roshi's wife.  Akiba Roshi is the former Bishop of the North American Soto Zen Education and International Center.  The important thing to me about this is that it makes the people who live Zen life a bit more real, living in a world of activity, doing interesting things.  Akiba Roshi certainly believes deeply in monastic training, but his wife is not a monastic.  Nevertheless, he lives beside her in this endeavor and together they go forward in the world.  He obviously has no restrictions on what women can or can't do in the public sphere.

I had such a great time and felt my world expanded in such a vibrant atmosphere.

January 24, 2011

Sacred Ground

View from the city of Walnut Creek

Mt. Diablo is a peak in the Diablo Mountain Range that is visible from most points in the Bay Area.  The vistas from Mt. Diablo happen early on the lower part of the drive as the terrain is mostly chaparral with windswept scrub oak trees scattered here and there.  There are no big tree forests standing in the way of the view.  As you climb, you feel you are looking down on a fairyland with mountain ranges lined up in the distance.

Mt. Diablo is made of rock that came from the ocean floor as the tectonic plates built the mountain over a 180 million year cycle.  Areas of marine fossil rock, wind caves formed out of 50 million-year-old sandstone are to be found.  A major earthquake fault line runs through the area that helped push the older rock up and over younger rock.  There are many areas of chert on the mountain, which are formed from the skeletons of tiny marine animals.
Chert along the trail

At the top the view is spectacular at a height of around 3400 feet.  Even on this somewhat misty day, we could see the tops of the snow-clad Sierra Nevada.

I was interested in who lived there and what the mountain meant to Native peoples.  The original people were the Miwok Indians.  Recent research has categorized the various locales of Miwok, and the Mt. Diablo Tribal group was designated the Bay Miwok to distinguish their particular language and populations.  They were hunter-gatherers who believed that the origin of life began on Mt. Diablo following a flood.  Mt. Diablo is still considered Sacred Ground and in my own experience in going up there today, I feel there are very strong spirits that reside there. 

View from the top of Mt. Diablo
On a trail close to the summit, we were visited and spoken to by a raven which then settled itself on a bare tree limb and watched us until we completed our walk.  Two hawks flew alongside the car on our descent and we received a brief song from a frog as we reached the bottom.  There are numerous habitats all along the mountain that hold their own spirits.  I was feeling that it was disrespectful to go all the way to the top where the creator gods reside.  Various ceremonies were celebrated on the mountain, and probably still are, but happen in places on the mountain that don’t flaunt the nature of conquering, the desire to have to stand on the top and be taller than and above the mountain itself.

I don’t know the original name of the mountain.  As the Miwok were incorporated into the mission system and their populations were decimated, Mexican influence in the area changed the geographical names and the entire mountain range was called The Diablos. Devil Mountain would be the last name I would apply to this area, despite the wind, in the soft peace of the fossil rock, scrub oak and bay laurel.  

January 20, 2011

Remembering Shuun Metsuzen Lou Hartman

Shuun Metsuzen Lou Hartman
Shuun Metsuzen Lou Hartman died at his home at San Francisco Zen Center in mid afternoon on Thursday, January 20, 2011, with Zenkei Blanche, his wife, and his family at his side.  Immediately afterward, members of SFZC chanted the Bodhisattva Ceremony.

Lou was one of Suzuki Roshi's original students and he spent his life thereafter serving at San Francisco Zen Center continuing to model practice for younger students.  Before that, Lou had been a journalist and radio commentator in the San Francisco scene.  In 2008, Lou and Blanche traveled by train to Olympia and stayed with us in residence for several days, visiting friends in the area and also giving a talk for us on Wednesday evening and Saturday morning.  During that visit, Lou was quite taken with a line from the Ryokan san film in which Ryokan says, "Try as I may, after all these years, I cannot bring an end to suffering in the world."

We at Olympia Zen Center will continue to remember him in Morning Ceremony and to recall with deep gratitude the poetry reading he gave for us on that visit.

If you would like to listen to a Dharma Talk he gave in 2007 at SFZC please click on this link
Lou Hartman's Dharma Talk

January 18, 2011

iPad and the Classics

UC Berkeley campus

So I took the bus up to campus looking for the collection of bookstores that might have the Neruda I wanted.  Yes, I could order it on Amazon, but I wanted to go hunting.  I didn’t find what I wanted, but I did get the Hubert Dreyfus/ Sean Kelly book, All Things Shining, Reading The Western Classics To Find Meaning In A Secular World. 

This book I mentioned earlier and also mentioned the course Professor Dreyfus was giving for the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at UC Berkeley.  The course is called “The Promise of Polytheism – from the Odyssey to Moby Dick.”  As I sat on the bus on the way home browsing through the book, I determined that I had to sign up for the course.  It seems to be in great demand and they’ve moved it to another venue to accommodate a larger audience.

Professor Dreyfus is an acclaimed lecturer in the philosophy department at Berkeley.  He specializes in existentialism and refers often to Merleau-Ponty (The Phenomenology of Perception) whose area is “embodiment.”  It’s all quite heady, but actually Dreyfus and Kelly are plain speakers and write in the most accessible and engaging way.

The texts will include Dreyfus’ book, plus The Odyssey, The Divine Comedy, and Moby Dick.  Thank goodness I’ve read these texts as I wouldn’t want to have to stuff them into my head in the six week period of the course.  Nevertheless, I’ll reread and the happy thing for me is that I can access these texts on my iPad free as they are available on the Free Books application in the public domain.  It was great to realize that I could carry my texts around in one thin volume.  What a relief that I didn’t have to go hunting through libraries or book stores.  Within two minutes they will be at hand.  It’s incredibly amazing.  I’m so grateful.

Still no Neruda in hand.  Only the dead man who may be floating around somewhere writing in space.

Neruda online?

Upper cemetery in morning mist
Berkeley Campanile from the Marina
Winter mist covered the hills early and burned off by afternoon.  I'd been up to the cemetery in the morning and then down to the Berkeley Marina in the afternoon.  Needed my heavy jacket with the breeze at the water, but inland it seemed as if spring were on the horizon.

The city was full of people out exploring Piedmont, Berkeley, and Rockridge on MLK Holiday.  Sidewalk cafes were a flurry of action.  Numerous activities celebrating Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. were held around the area.  Mostly, people were out enjoying themselves on such a glorious day.

Guardian Spirit by the Bay 
  While driving home, I was stopped at a light behind a car with the bumper sticker which read, "Don't wait - Meditate."  Was I to rush right home and meditate?  Or hurry to a place where I could learn to meditate?  Or did it mean that I should meditate right at that moment instead of feeling that I was doing nothing but "waiting" for the light to change?  I suppose all of those at once or whatever resonated with the reader.  It was a nice moment, and obviously an effective bumper sticker.  I couldn't read the fine print to know which enterprise had produced the message.

My poet of choice right now is Pablo Neruda.  It has been my practice for many years to select a poet and spend some time with her or him to see what I could learn and to intimately listen to their voice and music.  As I have no Neruda with me, but only books I've used while in the library of which I have not become a member, I'm headed to the bookstores in Berkeley soon to see if I can land a copy of a particular translation that I have my eye on.  Meantime, out of desperation when I wanted to find a particular poem, I found Neruda online.  Amazing to see how many people have posted notes to him in response to his online poems, saying how great they thought he was, and they wanted to meet him, encouraging him to keep writing such wonderful poems.  Who knows?  Maybe they know something we don't.  Maybe there are dimensions to the web that we haven't realized.  Maybe Neruda is still around.  Maybe he still writes.

January 17, 2011

Remembering Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. 

In:  Letter from Birmingham Jail, written April 16, 1963

"I wish you had commended the Negro sit inners and demonstrators of Birmingham for their sublime courage, their willingness to suffer and their amazing discipline in the midst of great provocation. One day the South will recognize its real heroes. They will be the James Merediths, with the noble sense of purpose that enables them to face jeering and hostile mobs, and with the agonizing loneliness that characterizes the life of the pioneer. They will be old, oppressed, battered Negro women, symbolized in a seventy two year old woman in Montgomery, Alabama, who rose up with a sense of dignity and with her people decided not to ride segregated buses, and who responded with ungrammatical profundity to one who inquired about her weariness: "My feets is tired, but my soul is at rest." They will be the young high school and college students, the young ministers of the gospel and a host of their elders, courageously and nonviolently sitting in at lunch counters and willingly going to jail for conscience' sake. One day the South will know that when these disinherited children of God sat down at lunch counters, they were in reality standing up for what is best in the American dream and for the most sacred values in our Judaeo Christian heritage, thereby bringing our nation back to those great wells of democracy which were dug deep by the founding fathers in their formulation of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence."

January 14, 2011

Walking in Silence

Aisle of crypts
I've already mentioned that I've walked in the cemetery just 10 minutes up the street.  It's going to be my hangout.  It's full of a chorus of silence of a river of lives.  Today I had my camera and took an array of snaps.  Being there influences the creative mind as a million stories enter the imagination.  Mercifully, the sun came out again today and I had to peel off some layers to keep from melting and by the time I returned home I was soaking wet.

Crypt with abandoned chair

Earlier today I'd had brunch with Linda, Rob Weinberg's widow.  I hadn't seen her since the funeral and I was glad to see that she looks well and is moving along in her life, studying music and making frequent visits to her family in Paso Robles.  Linda is a gifted classical pianist and is interested in making a transition to jazz, an amazing venture since jazz is no easy deal as it requires a deep understanding of music theory and structure in order to be spontaneous.

This leads me to mention a lecture that I heard on UC Berkeley's iTunesU.  It was delivered by Hubert Dreyfus, author of ALL THINGS SHINING: READING THE WESTERN CLASSICS TO FIND MEANING IN A SECULAR AGE, a new work just hot off the press and not yet delivered to the book stores.  I saw that Professor Dreyfus was teaching a course in a continuing education program and thought I'd try to take it, but it ultimately wasn't going to work out.  So, I found him on iTunesU.  In this talk he was speaking about communications and he came to a discussion of the five stages of skills development.
Tomb door

He mentioned that the first stage is to learn the rules, followed by the learning of features and facts about the skill, followed by learning to apply the rules, followed by learning meaningful aspects that apply to performance, and the last stage is to act spontaneously.  He points out that this last stage comes through lots of practice and experience in practice and the learning of relevance, an important aspect of a skill.

For instance, if we are learning to drive a car, we'd learn the rules, facts and features of driving, how to apply the rules, what aspects are important to safety, and ultimately we'd drive without having to think about what we are doing.  We'd just drive, applying the gas according to the flow of traffic.  But "relevance" is of great importance as without it, we might apply the rules inappropriately.  When all of this comes into play and we have mastered all of these stages, we can say we are expert at a given skill.  It takes 10 years at 4 hours a day of practice.

But, Professor Dreyfus points out that there is a stage beyond expert.  This is the stage we reach that for the good of the practice we keep learning.  He says we "become something like a Zen person," one who continues to pursue learning because it is a domain that one loves.  We can't be at this level without having carefully mastered the skill through the earlier stages of learning.  If we leave out some part of the learning, we cannot consider ourselves expert.  Imagine for instance that we learned to drive, but we never learned to work with the car in reverse.  We would always be insecure and incomplete.  So, to "become something like a Zen person" we undertake our learning with the joy of a beginner, being completely thorough and direct in our focus, not leaving out any aspect of our exploration and training.

January 12, 2011

Garden reflection
On Monday, I went with Hozan Alan Senauke to Marin to attend the evidentiary hearings for Jarvis Masters which are taking place for three weeks.  Jarvis received a death sentence having been convicted of sharpening a tool that was used by another to kill a prison official.  Jarvis has been on death row for twenty years.  The California Supreme Court ordered the hearings in response to a habeus corpus brief filed by Jarvis and his legal team.  If the current judge finds in Jarvis' favor, she can recommend to the Supreme Court that he receive a new trial.  The Supreme Court will take this under advisement and consider granting the trial, or not.  If yes, and there is a  trial and he is found innocent, then he will be freed from prison.  If the conviction stands, then he will await execution.

There is quite a bit of tension in the court room as, on the day that I was there, three people gave testimony:  one, an attorney who had decided not to represent Jarvis.  I didn't understand the legal reasons for his testimony.  The second was a former P.I. who was shown to be an expert witness in the behavior of gangs in prison.  Because the murder of the prison official involved the Black Guerilla Family, gang behavior is fundamental to the case.  The third person giving testimony on behalf of Jarvis was a former inmate with Jarvis at San Quentin and a member of the BGF who is serving a life sentence and is now at another prison.  Both prisoners appear shackled and in their bright orange prison jumpsuits and they are each guarded by four or five officers.  Then there are four or five attorneys representing Jarvis.  There are two attorneys representing the State of CA.  The gallery is full of Jarvis supporters, maybe 20 in number.

We are now in the middle week of the hearings.  You can read on Alan's blog a good synopsis and description of the people who gave testimony.  Alan also describes more background of the case.  I plan to attend one more day next week.  Here is the address for Alan's blog:  clearviewblog.org.  You can also read more about Jarvis on freejarvis.org.


I had lunch today at a sidewalk cafe in Rockridge, and it turned so warm I had to move into the shade.  You can't imagine how good it felt to capture some vitamin D in the old fashioned way.  Later I worked in the library which is comfortable with areas set aside for quiet study.  Various professional people and students work with varieties of manuscripts and books, pounding away at their computers, as you'd expect in a library.  I'm quite in league with others and find that being at the library is helpful to focus and attend to my work even though there is no one in the apartment to intrude.  Still, I jump into gear in the library and as well I can enjoy a poetry or art book here and there that I wouldn't otherwise pick up.  What more could a body ask for - sunshine, delicious food, writing, good health, quietude, and the California hills rising into the blue, blue sky.  

January 07, 2011

Cemetery Blues

Mt. View Cemetery and St. Mary's Cemetery are at the top of Piedmont Avenue.  This is the place where people in the neighborhood go to stroll, take their daily constitution, go for a jog.  Several times now I've forgotten my camera so this is a view of the highest monuments taken from my window.  Some of the grassy areas above are also part of the cemetery.  You can see the homes of the Oakland Hills rising high above.  And just above the wires in the center, the narrow dome is the tomb of Mr. Charles Crockett, one of the big four investors in the transcontinental railroad. To the right, obscured by the tree, is the tomb of Dr. Samuel Merritt, a philanthropist, former mayor of Oakland, and posthumous founder of Merritt Hospital, and Samuel Merritt University, a health sciences institution in Oakland.  I thought first from my window I was looking at a church, but when I went there I realized these were rather impressive tombs.

So I walked in the cemetery and read stones as I went.  Couldn't help it.  (I'll take snapshots pretty soon.)  So many born in Scotland and Ireland around 1850 and emigrated to New York then California.  What brought them?  Perhaps the promise of gold, the wild frontier, something better than what they could find at "home" in the coal mines and foundries.  These would be women and men who were born at the time of the potato famine in Ireland and perhaps into poverty in the cities of Scotland.  They sailed over, made their way west, and landed in the golden sun.  Some of them did all right.

The flow of lives fed through me as I walked.  A long river of life being lived and turning again into the earth.  Not so many spirits still awake, but something murmuring in the deep settledness, a collective aura of peace in the certainty of our eventual outcome.  We'll all arrive, do our best, then Rest in Peace and let others take over to be awake for their turn in consciousness in the 'flowing now'.  Carpe diem, my dear ones.  Carpe Diem!

January 05, 2011

Neighborhood Markers

St. Leo the Great Catholic Church in Piedmont now 100 years old

Churches played an important archi-tectural role in the develop-ment of American towns and cities.  Oftentimes, the church steeple was the highest tower reminding us of the sacred, with lower buildings paying deference to the sacred marker and the meaning of religion in daily life.  But then the 20th century changed things and skyscrapers became the symbol of success and power with architectural designs reaching into the heavens identifying industry as the new religion.  The old churches seemed minute as they were walled in by gargantuan growth. 

In the neighborhood where I’m staying, the church of St. Leo the Great is celebrating 100 years of service.  I pass it each day on my walks. The doors are locked so I haven’t been able to step inside, nor have I been tempted to venture in on Sunday when I do know it will be open.  Still, there is something comforting about its presence.  It speaks to spiritual values in everyday life.  It has an aura of quietude.  Its presence reminds that there is another dimension other than the to and fro hauling of purchases up and down the street.  It reminds of what it is to live in a ‘neighborhood’ with marks of identity that give a settled quality to a community.  It gives the feeling that everything is all right where we are and that there are people around who care about and support one another.

This is the feeling of this neighborhood, and it’s good to feel, good to experience.

Evidentiary Hearing for Jarvis Masters

I wanted to alert you to Rev. Hozan Alan Senauke's blog <http://clearviewblog.org>
which, from now and through the next few weeks, is covering the evidentiary hearing for San Quentin death row inmate Jarvis Masters who is seeking a retrial.  Alan has been Jarvis' spiritual adviser and friend for fifteen years.  Jarvis is a well known Buddhist and published writer who was sentenced to death in 1990 for allegedly having sharpened a knife that was used to kill a San Quentin official.  Two other men received life sentences: one ordered the killing, the other carried it out.  Jarvis was accused of sharpening the knife (which was never found) by two other prison inmates and received the death sentence.

Alan is in court each day with Jarvis and is giving updates.  The blog is compelling and I thought you might be interested as some of you may have come across Jarvis Masters' writing and be concerned about his plight.  In any case, do keep good thought for Jarvis during these coming weeks as his life depends upon a fair outcome.

Many of you remember that Rev. Hozan Alan Senauke was one of our Ryokan san Lecturers who spoke on "The Teachings of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr."  He is Assistant Abbot of Berkeley Zen Center, director of the Clear View Project, and former director of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship.  

January 04, 2011

The Selective Eye

Piedmont Street, late afternoon.

Even when we live in the nondis-criminatory mind, still the eye sees what it sees and the artist in us selects images all day long.  Actually, artist or not, we all do it.  We are especially aware of it if we are taking a photograph, painting a picture, writing a poem, or any art that must select in order to speak.  We select faces, things, bits of trees, bushes, flowers, shadows, signs, movements.  This also happens without our even knowing we are doing it. 

Some images resonate to tell us about ourselves, stick within for awhile, then translate into expression.  We must pay attention at every moment because something is always speaking to us.  And these are the stories we bring home to supper to reflect on if we are alone, or to tell others if we are in company.

So I was down on Piedmont Street, the village area two blocks away.  The sidewalk was crowded with people and the burnt umber face of an old man sitting outside a used furniture shop caught my eye.  He was rubbing the reed of his clarinet while watching people go by, but no one was noticing him.  Then our eyes met, but one of his eyes pointed to the side and I couldn’t tell if our eyes had really met or whether the good eye had looked the other way.  I wondered if he inhabited a double world, if he could see both ways.  Or, did he see like a man-bird who knows his language is music, and knows he can fly off when the street gets rough. 

As I went past, he put the clarient to his mouth and began to play, not to show off, not as performance, but because it was the next thing he quite naturally was about to do.  This happened several days ago yet the image of him is tucked into a soft place in me, perhaps because he was so utterly authentic in his presence, and for a split second we really did meet. 

January 02, 2011

New Year Begins

Fruit trees in the Central Valley, California

I didn’t especially choose Piedmont as my place of respite.  Rather, it was somewhat known, a place well located, and it was excellent to be in relationship to my daughter for this while.  It was startling on the drive down, once I’d entered California, how emotions that I’d forgotten came sweeping over me in the space of the wide landscape - emotions necessary to the artist in order to dream, to connect to myths, to understand vision and translate it into expression.  I felt I’d hindered some genuine articulation by living away from a topography that speaks to my soul.

It isn’t that I think I’ll do something great with art.  I simply want to remember how to contemplate in the natural way that I do.  As a teacher and leader, there is no choice but to put one’s own needs aside and care for what has to be done.  There is no room to grieve, no room to “simply be” even though that is what we teach.  People’s projections weigh heavily on our public leaders, teachers, ministers.  Can we imagine the weight of expectation and demand that we place on President Obama, and on other public people?  My heart aches for what the President, the human-being-man must carry.  Our Zen teachers are simple human beings, but still we weigh them down with who and what we want and think they should be, what we think “Zen” is.

I’ve come to deeply sympathize with the poet-priest Basho who also became abbot of a temple.  Numerous times in his life, he left the demands of the temple behind and went off for years at a time to find himself, to be in the world as a free agent, to be away from pastoral care and listen to the sound of the wide world, to walk where no one knew him, to recover the heart of compassion, to live in a natural way.  Because of this we have his great travel poems and we have an example of the priest-artist who must live his art in order to survive.

So, for better or worse, here I am for the next three months.  This is where I hang my hat.