Somehow, almost imperceptibly, we have arrived at mid-summer, with the temperature having crept up a few degrees over the past week. The humidity did as well, but right now we are in the middle of a San Francisco-style heatwave (perhaps the third such week this year), and we can enjoy early morning and late evening sun in our north-facing bedroom, with all the windows wide open.
It was, naturally, much warmer when I drove down the Peninsula to officiate a wedding in Los Altos on Saturday. I was wearing my robes, and was glad the ceremony was in the late afternoon, and the open air location was shaded. This was the biggest wedding I have done in at least a year and a half, and the first time I have stayed for dinner since that time. I left before the dancing, and drove back with the sun setting behind the fog bank west of the 280.
Officially California has re-opened, though I will still be wearing masks indoors for the foreseeable future. I did feel emboldened enough to schedule a roam, for this Saturday. There seems to be some pent-up demand in the Meetup group, which has grown significantly in size since lockdown started, and now I have a waitlist, with several of the people on it having also snagged places on the next roam. I was also asked if I would lead a roam for Zen Center as part of the delayed Zen-a-thon, and last I heard, that had reached a number that I would consider full capacity.
And then things start to happen with the re-opening as well: one evening this week, almost at monk’s bedtime, I had a text from a friend I have more or less fallen out of touch with over the course of the pandemic, suggesting we should meet up soon; close on the heels of that, a text from Nancy the tanto inviting me to give the talk at Zen Center next Wednesday. My dance card is definitely filling up.
As someone who still usually wakes up at monk-o-clock, I appreciate how early it gets light at this time of year. At the same time, we have entered a spell of warm weather, so I don’t have to bundle up as soon as I get out of bed; I can feel how my body relaxes with this, and with walking in the sun. And as the sun rises and sets further to the north, we can enjoy early and late sun slanting in through the window of our north-facing bedroom.
After a couple of weeks with minimal riding due to myself and my partner getting our vaccines, I was ready to put in some hours on the bike this past weekend, and was rewarded with perfect conditions: endless blue skies, and, on Saturday at least, not a breath of wind. Both days I left the house before 7:00am, which meant I could enjoy the roads with fewer people out. On Saturday I took the Crystal Springs trail for the first time in months, being a little more relaxed than last time about the number of people not wearing masks. On Sunday I was out along the Bay Trail, doing my own version of Bay to Breakers, crossing from adjacent to the airport, over the crest at Skyline, towards Pacifica before turning north to Ocean Beach. On the roads and trails over the weekend I saw more wildlowers, columbines and white lupins particularly, as well as quail and hawks, even a lone Stellar’s jay in Golden Gate Park, which almost made me nostalgic for their hegemony over Tassajara.
It is the anniversary of my arrival in San Francisco; I always like to note it, last year especially so, as it marked twenty years of living here. For all that the pandemic lingers and threatens never to disappear entirely, I feel content about my life, and happy that I get to be sharing the teachings so often.
This week only, I am making a couple of extra appearances on Within: in addition to my ‘Just Sitting’ class this evening at 6:00, I am subbing the Saturday morning class, at 8:30, which will be more traditional mindfulness than my regular class; then on Sunday I am offering an hour-long presentation and discussion, as part of the series How Mindfulness Can Change Your Life. Organising what I am going to say for that is also offering many opportunities for reflection.
‘I am now sowing some inconspicuous Dharma seeds, and I will likewise end my life in this country inconspicuously. But I am convinced that fifty years from now, the seeds I have sown will sprout, and true Buddhadharma will shine in America. I have made many sacrifices, but I am following my teacher Soyen Shaku’s will, and this is my main purpose for my coming to America.
I am now fifty-two years old. My hair has turned white; perhaps you would not recognize me. Essentially what I am doing is tsuyubarai: cultivating the soil so that the Buddhadharma may successfully be transplanted to America.’ (Eloquent Silence)
As context, this is from a letter written by Senzaki to a friend in 1928. Fifty years later, there were zen temples established across the west. I have been thinking of Senzaki a lot recently, of how Soyen Shaku abruptly left him in San Francisco and told him not to say a word about Buddhism for fifteen years. Perhaps eventually I will have something to say as well.
‘I understand the precepts not as rules to follow, but more as, “Be very careful in this area of human life because there’s a lot of suffering there, so pay attention to what you’re doing.” Like a sign on a frozen pond that says, “Danger, thin ice,” rather than, “Shame on you!” Our vow is to help people end suffering, not to add to their suffering.’ (The Hidden Lamp)
To say last week was quite a week would be the kind of English understatement that I am quite comfortable making.
Chronologically speaking, it went like this:
On Sunday afternoon I officiated my first wedding of the year, a small and lovely affair at the San Francisco Botanical Garden. It was a bright afternoon with a chilly breeze. In addition to the fifteen or so people in attendance, family members of the bride were watching on a video link from Colombia. As always, it was an honour to be able to facilitate this milestone moment in people’s lives.
Early on Monday morning I had the first of four extra corporate meditations for the week. I came out of that to a message from my sister to call her. I knew what was coming: my father had died, four and a half years after first developing Motor Neurone Disease (aka Lou Gehrig’s disease/ALS). He had a bout of pneumonia a couple of weeks ago; after some days in the hospital he came home, and had a peaceful last few days. We sent messages over the weekend which he was able to hear and enjoy. There will be no funeral, but it would be hard to contemplate trying to travel to England if there were.
On Saturday morning, I lined up outside SF General to get the first shot of the Pfizer vaccine. It took a couple of hours from arriving to leaving, and while I was waiting, a TV crew asked why I was getting it (‘to feel safe’ I found myself saying) and whether it was worth waiting in line (‘absolutely!’) Even though it was a sunny weekend, I stayed off my bike, and have felt very tired for the past few days.
This week is relatively quiet, and then next week I have more extra meditations. At some stage, all of this will sink in; I do not expect the emotions to arrive in a tidy or linear way, but I trust there will be space for that to happen.
Today I will be joining the Hebden Bridge sangha for a sit, well-being ceremony, dharma talk and discussion – the same as we were doing for a few months last year. I imagine it will be a time of reflecting back over the past year, and sharing how we all feel now. For want of a theme, on the basis of teaching from what is most alive for you (which was standard advice at Zen Center) I thought of the line from Kodo Sawaki that I posted a few days ago.
You can join if the time works for you – zazen is at 12:30 PST (or whatever it is called in summertime, since the clocks have gone forward here, but not there – and typing that out reminded me that I would have logged on an hour early if I hadn’t thought about it), and the talk will be around 1:10. Zoom link is here.
‘The ocean of true reality is boundless and profoundly deep. The Buddha Way is immeasurably vast. Some priests do nothing but seek fame and success until their dying day, never showing the slightest interest in the path of Zen or the Buddha’s Dharma. Others become enthralled in literary pursuits or become addicted to sake or women, oblivious of the hell fires flaming up under their very noses. Some, relying on insignificant bits of knowledge they pick up, shamelessly try to deny the law of cause and effect, though woefully lacking any grasp of its working. Some find ways to attract large numbers of people to their temples, believing to the end of their days that this is proof of a successful teaching career.’ (Beating The Cloth Drum)
I haven’t picked up this book in a while, but it happens that I was writing a Patreon post, and wanted to see if I had written anything about the traditional way of tangaryo when I was writing the Ino’s Blog. It was not too surprising that I had, and, as I often find, a little meander down memory lane from ten or more years ago made me smile. My practice is less traditional these days than it was when I was a temple officer at San Francisco Zen Center, and while I am sure that Hakuin would not stint in his criticism of what I am doing now, I would at least not claim to be seeking fame or success.
I was sad to hear of Sojun Mel Weitsman’s passing, though not entirely surprised considering his advanced age. Djinn spoke lovingly of his presence in her dharma talk on Saturday, and I echo her sentiments; even though I didn’t spend much time around him, his presence was always warm and benign, and we were always fully aware of his role at San Francisco Zen Center, and Berkeley Zen Center going back more than fifty years. And, as he always seemed happy to recount to later generations, he had had a varied and interesting life before he got involved in the practice with Suzuki Roshi – if you get a chance to find one of his way-seeking mind talks in the archives, they are worth listening to.
I also think of the time I spent as shuso at Tassajara in 2012. Sojun came, as he often did, to spend some of the practice period as a visiting teacher, allowing Myogen Steve Stücky to go up to the city for meetings. I also was able to read the old shuso logs; his shuso practice period at Tassajara coincided with the arrival of Tatsugami Roshi from Japan, which, as he observed wryly through the pages, marked the transition from Tassajara being a kind of spirited adventure, with a macrobiotic, communal vibe, to being a more traditional zen training monastery.
It always feels like an incredible privilege to have spent so much time around such epochal figures in the establishment of zen in the west, and perhaps the first of these photos gives a flavour of what that sometimes looked like in day-to-day life at Zen Center.
Happily, I am starting 2021 with three new (or newish) dharma offerings, and I hope that you will be able to tune in to one or more of them:
On Saturday 2nd, I will be giving the dharma talk at Zen Center at 10:00 am PST. It will be available via the online zendo. This will be my first talk for Zen Center in a shade over a year, and I am still thinking of exactly what I want to say.
The following evening at 7:00 pm PST, I will be offering a guided meditation for Core on the Chalk app; I love the intimacy of doing an audio-only talk, and this one wiill probably be focusing on ‘new beginnings.’
On Wednesday evening, at 6:00 pm PST, I will be making my debut for Within Meditation, with an online, somewhat guided, sit.
Just to make the post a little more pretty, here are a couple of pictures from the bike rides I took over the holidays.
Since the end of the summer, I have not been doing so many formal activities, though I have been continuing to record for Core, and to lead meditations on the Chalk app for them. This week I am leading three public meditations on Zoom as part of the Dreamforce gathering – on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, 8:00 – 8:30 am PST. You can sign up for them here.
The Monday lunchtime zazen sessions with Zachary continue, 12:30 – 1:30 pm PST; I am not able to sit outside at my new place, but one of our regulars still does. You are welcome to join any time, for as long as you are able to – there is no expectation of sitting for the whole hour, though I find it a helpful practice.
On Saturday afternoon, after a morning ride to Sweeney Ridge, I put my robes on for the possibly only the third time this year (after the Zoom wedding and my student’s wedding), for Sozan’s shuso ceremony – another Zoom first. Considering the numbers of participants, and the intricacies of the ceremony itself, it all played out amazingly well and smoothly; Sozan himself was steadfast in his answers, and handled everything with grace. It was sweet to see so many familiar faces asking questions – including a few from other time zones who would not have been able to attend in person – and I am only sorry I was not there in person to take photos (okay, I was also sorry not to enjoy the traditional dinner afterwards, though my partner cooked a wonderful meal for me while I was sitting on my cushion).
And then, as I was writing this out, Nancy the City Center tanto called to ask if I was able to give the Saturday dharma talk for Zen Center on January 2nd, which I was delighted to say yes to. So it looks like I will be putting on my robes again soon.