In the Tassajara shop, there was (and probably still is) a sign hanging behind the main counter and the altar, made from a fine piece of wood, with Dogen’s line from the Tenzo Kyokun beautifully written on it: ‘The way-seeking mind is actualised by rolling up your sleeves.’ I tend to associate this with Greg, who was head of shop and plant manager while I was at Tassajara, and was fond of talking of Buddha work, but I think that the sign may have been Mel’s handiwork, or at least inspired by him. Of course the original probably talked of tying back the sleeves, as that is what you have to do with robes, but the point is clear.
I learned quite a few skills in my shop years – among them plumbing and roofing, at least at a relatively basic level, along with many opportunities to practise building dry stone walls – but the main thing I learned, which has stood me in very good stead in many realms of life, was that work practice was just the opportunity to meet a situation, whatever it was, and do what was asked.
My time at Great Vow in 2006 was an example of this. As a small sangha, everyone pitched in with everything. I remember morning soji sometimes being spent picking blackberries from the many hedges on the property, as well as outings during the day to nearby blueberry farms to harvest fruit for our breakfasts, not to mention washing dishes and cleaning bathrooms, which are par for the course in any communal living situation.
The main focus of the time I was there, though, was a huge project to install under-floor heating for the zendo. Built as an elementary school around fifty years ago, when energy conservation was not really an issue in the States, the largest rooms at Great Vow had heating vents at ceiling height, right next to the large windows, which could not have been less efficient. While the project manager had construction experience, and another sangha member had flooring expertise, the rest of the crew comprised monks and residents, who brought muscle power and enthusiasm to the process.
I took a lot of photographs of the different stages of the project, and was very happy to have assisted in such a great undertaking. While it was happening, we were sitting in the gymnasium, where many of the conference sessions were held last week, so it was lovely to have the opportunity finally to sit in the zendo itself, which looks good as new (though I ended up doing most of my sitting out among the trees…)
The floor plan was very intricate.
The first stages were covering the concrete floor, and then assembling the pipe runs.
Then we filled each section with insulating foam.
Unravelling the hot water pipes was a big job.
Eventually everything found its place.
Filling the channels with sand was the next task.
I seem to remember that getting the plywood sub-floor down was the most laborious part of the whole operation, mainly because of the need to nail it down in exactly the right places over the 2″ x 4″s. Once that was done, some auspicious paintings and calligraphy were added for the benefit of the room.
I contributed verses from the Lotus Sutra, imperfectly.
At the entrance.
Laying the first course of bamboo right across the Brahmaviharas.
Slowly the whole floor was covered.
With special attention to the corners.
The finer cuts were made with a jigsaw – something else I had never tried before.
What it looks like now, thirteen years on.
At the same time, exterior colour choices were being considered.
I am not sure that I see this warm ochre in any of those samples, but that is what won out.