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Out of the Womb of Tassajara

The 99th practice period at Tassajara ended this morning. We visited each alter as we did three months ago when the practice period began. Except then I wasn't present for the entering ceremony, because I almost drown in the creek the day before.

One of our bridges washed out as the creek rose almost 15 feet. Was it more? 15 seems fair. It was raging, being fed by our huge watershed of steep young mountains. That bridge got tangled down stream and threatened some of our cabins. It was catching logs and starting to dam up. For 5 days before this day I had mitigated similar situations. Make a cut here or there, and whoosh, it would break up and wash away. After this summer's fire we had 3 times the rain we have had during the drought, over 60 inches.

I'm glad I brought my whole crew on this job. Usually I'd just bring one person to look out and hand me things. But this time I brought Jody, Elliot, and Julianna. Julianna stood up on the bank and looked up river to make s…
Recent posts

My Bowl Can't Hold A 401k

The urge to participate in capitalism arose one day; I think it was fall, dying leaves falling to the ground and all of us monks trying to corral them onto muddy paths. They make a nice mud stifling mat for our paths at Tassajara.
My inlaws have an aging parent who lives in a retirement facility and needs support from many of the kids. I thought of how hard that might be, and how it’s unlikely I’ll be able to help my parents in that way.
It brought two questions to the foreground: Who do I think will take care of me when I’m 90 and what will I offer my parents when they’re 90?
Cue up this image: Me in a dentist chair getting a twice root canaled tooth with a yearlong abscess finally extracted. The dentist worked up a sweat, as the tooth broke into 4 pieces. What could I do in that moment to help him? Well, I tried to be as still and “cool” as possible. I silently recited the Enmei Jukku Kannon Gyo for protecting life. And I tried to talk my tooth into letting go while it felt like …

Milk Squirts Out of ShiShi Bodai and Beyonce Gets Up Dancing

I’ve a got a new lease on sesshin. Since we have a baby now, Lauren and Calliope leave Tassajara for the sesshins. My teacher suggested this, it’s what she did when she had children living here. It’s great for the three of us. Lauren doesn’t feel isolated out of the schedule, Calliope doesn’t have to interpret all our silent eyes cast down, and I’ve been getting to sit sesshin in whole hearted fashion. I feel young again!
We sat two sesshin this practice period, a 9 day and 7 day Rohatsu. Rohatsu is the celebration of Buddha’s enlightenment and most Zen temples sit from December 1st to December 8th. To think we’re taking our seats with thousands of others all over the world!
Our first 9 day was really “good” for me. It’s hard to talk about sesshin in conventional terms. I think they’re all good, eventually, when time has passed or I hold them as concept, like “Running is good for you” while acknowledging sometimes I have a good run and sometimes I have a bad run, get injured maybe. But…

I offer what I have, I offer what I don't have

As soon as we stepped up to the Zendo I realized I was empty handed. No flowers to offer. I whispered to my teacher. Should I go back? She said let’s mime it. Okay I said and continued to follow her. She said, no, really mime it, raising her hands as if she had the bowl of flowers. So I brought my hands up ceremoniously, nothing but empty emptiness between my fingers.
As I walked in the ino smrked. Though half of me wanted to smile, a healthy sense of embarrassment kept me deported. At the altar my teacher reached into my empty hands and offered invisible flower petals to the Buddha.

 Dogen wrote about flowers of emptiness. I offer what I have and I offer what I don’t have. It’s all offered.

SF Chronicle Features: Kogen the Dreg Slurper

Huangbo said to the assembly, "You people are all slurpers of dregs. If you travel like this, where will you have today? Do you know that in all of China there are no teachers of Chan?" At that point a monk came forward and said, "What about those who guide followers and lead groups in various places?" Huangbo said, "I don't say there's no Chan, just that there are no teachers."

I'm no teacher.
I was recently interviewed for the SF Chronicle and almost died upon reading it. I was quoted twice and what was quoted were the dregs of what I stole from teachers or one writer in particular, Colleen Morton Busch.  She wrote on page 104 of her book Fire Monks something about non attachment and when interviewed I regurgitated some version of her metaphor and didn't cite her. Nor did I cite Suzuki Roshi or Seung Sahn when talking about Don't Know mind or Beginners Mind. This all passed for personal insight and was published.  How did this happe…

"Team Work Makes The Dream Work"

That's what the Alpine Hotshots said.

The fire has lay down for now. It never came. Diego asked, "Are flames necessary for the fire to come?"

We spent 65 days preparing for fire. It's a blur. Night drills, pumps breaking down, at least 15,000 feet of hose strung through Tassjara from the suburbs to the flats, red alerts, stand downs, sleeping with walkie talkies, and now it's "over."

The fire still burns outside Tassajara, sometime just two miles away. I saw it up close on the road, beautiful, like my first trip to space mountain when I was 5 years old. But it's getting colder and the relative humidity keeps getting higher.

It was a great experience to live in a type 1 incident for over two months. We trained with various engine crews and the Alpine Hotshots from Colorado, a sweet bunch of idyllic fire fighters who were kind and helped cook, clean bathrooms, and wash dishes. We also watched movies together, all of them and all of us, camped out in t…

Fire Monks? Me?

We live in the Ventana. Ventana means window. So you could say we live in the window. Right now the window is open and fire is moving toward it. In someways it feels slow moving, like it's creeping, decimals of a mile on a map everyday. But the news and intel and rumors make it feel a little faster moving. Refraining from reactions becomes a challenge, while knowing what's appropriate and timely looms on your conscience.

Big Sur Kate can tell you the details of the fire. Basically, it's a big a fire and it's fairly certain to come to Tassajara from the north west end of our temple grounds. It might arrive in 5 days, or 10 days, or even 2 weeks. In 2008 there was The Basin Fire, and a similarly placed head of fire took 2 weeks to descend on Tassajara. Back then, only 5 monks stayed to fight the fire, which was a bit more complicated. It had three heads approaching from different directions, and each head arrived on the same day. It passed in about 30 minutes. We lost on…