I have written about shuso ceremonies at Zen Center before, and we are in the spring season for them right now. I intend to make the journeys to Tassajara and Green Gulch in the next couple of weeks; on Saturday, having gone to the center in the morning to offer the zazen instruction, I returned in the afternoon to see one of my best Zen Center friends, Siobhan, take her place on the dharma seat, and flourish in the role.
It was a day of community, on one side for the many people who had been sitting sesshin together, and on the other, a gathering of people who have known Siobhan over the years. There were a number of people I was very happy to see, who I spent time with at Tassajara and City Center more than a dozen years ago, and it was a testimony to Siobhan’s great capacity for friendship that she was able to draw such a crowd.
As I mentioned in the congratulations, apart from being a very loyal and honest friend, she has been like my older sister through all the years I have lived in the US; the first time I visited Tassajara, back in the summer of 2000, a couple of months after arriving, was driving her old Honda Civic down from Berkeley to the monastery, where she was staying. Some vivid memories of that trip have stayed with me: although I had driven in the US before, particularly eighteen months earlier when I had driven from Miami to DC and back visiting my two best friends from the BBC who were working in those cities (and marveling at the distance involved), driving a manual car on the ‘wrong’ side of the road was still a novelty to me, and, having eased myself onto the slow-moving freeway in Berkeley, I had a moment of panic when the traffic suddenly freed up as we passed the junction to the Bay Bridge; in a moment the speed went from about twenty to sixty-five, people were crossing lanes seemingly at random, and I had selected third gear rather than fifth, leaving the engine racing as I tried to cope.
That trip was also my first time on the Tassajara Road; after a mile or so I articulated that it was not as bad as I had heard, and was told, just wait… I also remember crowding into one of the small rooms in the upper barn with a bunch of people and being a little taken aback at how rudimentary the accommodation was; when I lived there subsequently, the same simplicity became normal and charming. Certainly, twenty-four hours there on that first visit planted the seed for my wanting to return.
With both of us being English, Siobhan and I have cultural affinities that have helped cement our friendship, and I also recall the great pleasure of spending time with her in London one lovely summer’s day when we were both visiting at the same time, enjoying a city we both loved, even if neither of us ever intend to live there again, since our lives had taken similarly different turns.
As so often at Zen Center gatherings, I took a lot of pictures, to document the coming together of so many practitioners, though most of them are never going to end up online. Here is one of Siobhan after the ceremony, on the right, with her benji Terri.
The redbud in the courtyard, planted to commemorate Blanche’s abbacy, was in full bloom.