Embodying The Dharma

The second and last shuso ceremony of this season was at Green Gulch on Monday. Zachary and I had consulted, and figured that we could pack up our cushions, head on over right after the lunch-time outdoor sit, and be there in good time; it all worked out as well as we had hoped.
It was a lovely spring day at Green Gulch, just as it had been the Monday before at Tassajara, and I got pretty warm in the zendo as we sat through the questions and congratulations.
I have been to a few shuso ceremonies there now, but mostly I haven’t been able to stay for dinner. Zachary took off after the ceremony, but luckily Tova offered me a later ride, meaning I could stay and chat, and then indulge in the the pizza and ice cream, which, as I hadn’t really had any lunch, went down very well.
Bryan was the shuso; he and I go back a dozen years, as he arrived at Tassajara in 2006 – along with Thiemo and Steph, who were around with their two adorable kids – right when I was settling in for my second two-year stretch. Mostly what I remember, and very fondly, are the many hours we spent running together on the trails over those two years; he had to wait for me often enough, being quite a few years younger as well as being a great natural athlete. I can only remember one time, the No Race in 2008, when he was off-form, and I was almost slowing for him so we could finish together. There were many other adventures as well, especially around the 2008 fire, as we scouted on the peaks, climbing Hawk Mountain or the Tony Trail every day.
I haven’t heard him give a dharma talk yet, so I don’t know how he fares in that respect, but I know that he was a great monk, throwing himself whole-heartedly into everything, and embodying the teaching just by doing that. And that is what it is all about, at least in my book.

Down into the clouds 3
I am very glad that I took my camera on some of the runs we did. This was a morning we ran to the top of the road, and in doing so climbed above the cloud level, which was at about 3000 feet, into clear blue skies. Running back down into the clouds was quite dream-like.

Bryan Tony Trail
This was a particularly narrow and slippery part of the Tony Trail, which we had almost certainly climbed to the top of before descending.

Bryan at the horse camp upper Willow Creek
This was a lovely section of oak meadow up Willow Creek, past the other end of the Tony trail, about five miles from Tassajara.

Bryan descends Hawk Mountain
After the 2008 fire, Bryan and I climbed up Hawk Mountain and discovered that nothing was left of the old telephone transmitter. Then we scrambled down again.

Driving the road day 1 Bryan hits the mountain
One time I had got a Suburban stuck in a ditch in the snow as I tried to drive Jordan out. I ran a couple of miles back down to Tassajara and Bryan brought up the lumber truck with the winch, but even that struggled nearer the top. We eventually gave up, and tried again the next day.

Bryan with Fu and Zenju, who were co-leading the practice period at Green Gulch.

Bryan, with Mako (who was a big part of those years at Tassajara), helping the dish crew by saving on dishes.

There were more flowers on the farm than on my last visit.

Dharma friends on the path. I suspect this will get used in many Zen Center publications…



‘Xuansha was informally addressing his monastics when he heard a swallow singing. He said to the assembly, “This is the profound dharma of real form. It skillfully conveys the essence of the true teaching.” He then descended down from the teaching seat.
A monastic asking for an explanation said, “I don’t understand.”
Xuansha said, “Go away. No-one will believe you.”‘ (Shinji Shobogenzo)

I have posted this before, and make no apologies for doing so again. I reflect on this story frequently, and won’t add the same comment as I did a couple of years ago. These days I associate the story with Glen Canyon, as I read it out on the first roam that we did along the canyon, and decided to repeat it at the following visit. I gave it an airing in the most recent roam as well, as we sat on the logs by Islais creek, which was running freely. A couple of girls were playing barefoot with sticks, making a suitable amount of noise for their fun, and behind us a pair of large ravens were picking at a log. When we started walking again, I heard a woodpecker up a in tree.
What else do you think conveys the essence of the true teaching?

Zenju Earthlyn Manuel

‘For many, the spiritual paths should tend toward the invisible, the unseen. With this view it is easy to mistake a favorable blindness – not seeing skin color, gender, etc. – for seeing an invisible truth of life. We may even consider this blindness to be a higher state of being. But the wisdom in my bones says that we need this particular body, with its unique color, shape, and sex, for liberation to unfold. There is no experience of emptiness without interrelationship. In meditation the wisdom deep in my bones tells me that I do not have to fight against someone or something to gain my life. I have already been given a fully liberated life. In stillness I glimpse the freedom that is already there.’  (The Way of Tenderness)

And more.

Blanche Hartman

‘We arrive fresh in each moment in response to the causes and conditions of each moment, which is why we say each being is empty of some separate continuous entity. There is no fixedness to us. We are continually responding to the connectedness that exists among all of us. Each of us affects everyone, and everyone affects each of us.’ (Seeds for a Boundless Life)

Again with the emptiness and interconnectedness, following on closely from yesterday’s post and the recent one by Shohaku.

Shodo Harada

‘We cannot say that the mind is empty and then try to guard that state of conceptualized emptiness. True emptiness does not arise from a preconceived notion of nothing at all. It is what comes forth when the mind holds on to nothing, when in each moment and in each situation we can function freely.’ (The Path to Bodhidharma)

Redbuds with Friends

My weekend at Wilbur, with a drive of more then two hours in each direction (thankfully the traffic was pretty light overall) was followed by a long Monday driving to Tassajara and back. Zachary and I left the city at 5:30 in the Jeep I had borrowed, swinging by Pacific Grove to pick up Djinn, who had just been in Tassajara for the last sesshin and was staying with a friend. Traffic was also not a problem, so we arrived at Jamesburg about forty minutes before the scheduled time for the stages in; having consulted with Leslie, who said it would help with her planning, we continued over the road.
It could not have been a more beautiful spring morning at Tassajara. I was glad to have the time to wander round for a while before the pre-ceremony tea, taking pictures and catching up with friends who had been down at the practice period.
Heather made short work of the ceremony, and was widely congratulated by the former shusos for her real openness and tenderness. In my congratulations, I reminisced about staying with her in Brooklyn three summers ago, when she was at a bit of a crossroads in her practice life; I don’t think either of us foresaw at all how things would turn out for her, but it is wonderful to see how it has.
There was time for a bathe – I jumped right into the creek straight away, and then hung out chatting in the outdoor plunge with Zachary, Simon and David until lunch, with great food and many more conversations before we got away.
Driving out was a little more challenging. We got stuck at the hardest part of the road, when I hesitated about the line to take over a shelf of rock, and the wheels spun into the dirt. It took a few minutes of digging, planning, and holding my breath before I could drive the Jeep almost sideways to the edge of the mountain and then keep enough momentum to get me over the tough spot.
All in all I was at the wheel for a little more than eight hours, which seemed fine at the time with the great company, but left me absolutely exhausted the next day. As I always say, though, it was totally worth it.

A redbud down at the end of the main path.

Another one by the stone cabins.

The creek at the bathhouse looked pretty healthy, and was very fresh.

Former shusos arriving for the ceremony.

Heather, with the fan, between Paul and Tanya, who was the jisha, and is also Heather’s wife.