Tuesday, April 14, 2015

A few pictures...









Folded and pressed, folded and pressed.

I arrived at Tassajara about 6 months ago. I had never visited our sister temple and the mountains rolled over me like waves on the 14 mile road that ends at our temple gate. It was a slow ride over a rough road. It took at least an hour. Half way in there was only a 360 degree view of mountains.

The first five days were eyes cast down. We had about two hours to unpack and shower, and then orientations until zazen. The next day we would wake up for our first day of tangaryo. From four am to nine pm, we would just sit in a way I'd never had the privilege to do. It was uninterrupted by bells or talks and we only left to use the bathroom.

It was hot. Flies made nose dives into our eye balls, climbed up our nostrils, and played on our lips. I ate one. I was beyond frustrated. It didn't deter them. But besides the heat and flies, I loved tangaryo. It was a gift. I couldn't believe we don't do tangaryo more often. It was relaxed in the way anyone who had lived in a Zen temple might realize-you know, when bells are no longer symbols of peace but actually mean you need to move your ass or you'll be late. There was absolutely no where to go. I walked the same 300 feet from my cabin to the zendo and no where else. Meals were brought to us. I wouldn't say I injured my knees during tangaryo, but it's true my full bows will never be the same.

Lauren and I had separate cabins. This too was a gift. For a few years at Green Gulch housing has been tight, so we've shared small spaces most of the time. Tassajara in the winter has less people and more housing and this meets that 360 degree sea of green and granite and sandstone mountains and it's a great spacious feeling. Yawning steam into the cold mornings tucked into my sleeping bag became luxurious when I figured out how to make coffee in bed with a french press and a thermos.

For the first three months we studied The Lotus Sutra with my teacher. She granted me permission to start interviewing the abbots about my ordination as a priest. She was more available as her cabin was just next door, and I could hear the shuso run the wake up bell, stop, and yell, "Good Morning Hojo-san!" and her upbeat response, "Good Morning!" everyday at 3:50am.

On a good hike after a nine day sesshin, Lauren came into my cabin. Her friend had just sent word that she was pregnant. This was friend number three, I believe, and Lauren is thirty two. I knew what was coming, and I knew I had to run away to Taiwan or say yes. I said yes. So, we are planning on having a baby. We'll do this at Tassajara, as this is where we see ourselves for the next two years almost. This has been my biggest challenge. I'm scared. It's true, we're not real monks in Soto Zen, but we still don't have any money or much room too spare in our rooms. Or time for that matter. Like my dad said once or twice, if marines were supposed to have babies, they would have issued them one. It's similar- we can have children, but in some ways it's not ideal. But in other ways, like I found having a marine corps father, it's the best. We were surrounded by surrogate uncles and aunts and cousins, and our baby will be too, but actually, they'll be more like surrogate grandmas and grandpas. I'm scared, of course, but I'll do this. I'll roll up my sleeves and do my best.

Tenshin roshi once told me that sometimes a monk need ironing out, like a piece of oragami being folded. And sometimes a monk just needs to be pressed, like one finger on the crease of an oragami. Folded and pressed, folded and pressed.

Tassajara has folded me a few times.



Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Goodbye Green Gulch Sama! Hello Tassajara!

About two years ago I left Mid City Zen in New Orleans. I feared I was leaving something, and now I'm about to leave Green Gulch and that same fear has arisen. I imagined there was wealth, a sort of freedom, and a lot to "renounce."  I had a car (a fast one!), a playstation 3, many books, many articles of clothing, and as I look around our little cabin, that same perception has arisen- I have too much stuff! And I like it!

My book collection that I sold or gave away in New Orleans has somehow manifested out here. And I have quite the collection of farm hats and farm boots. Rubber ones, Redwings, Ropers, Bogs to the ankle, Bogs to the knee, a navy seal Solomon for the wet spring weather. Most of them are fit to throw away, glued back together and stitched with fishing line, and just so smelly, so smelly my wife won't let me keep them in the cabin, so I hide them all around Green Gulch.

So I started packing, and while that fear of renunciation has arisen, it's not the same. I'm noticing I've been here before and thinking when you really leave home, you are home, and there is no home leaving. And at the same time I'm prone to fall in love with people, with land, with statues and the cats that play in their shadows. Coming home to a tradition, to a temple, poses a challenge to those who aspire to have no fixed abode. Maybe that's why it's required around the three year mark that we go to Tassajara. And maybe that's why I'll go abroad after Tassajara. I don't know where.

In my third season on the farm, as Jisha for my teacher, as cabin mate to three wonderful people, I have never, ever, ever, been so happy as a human. While it seems there was no reason to really come here, which would also mean no reason to really leave, I wouldn't trade the gifts of food, dharma, and no fear for all the enlightenment in the world. I wouldn't trade Sangha for anything. Living day in and day out, trying to be upright, trying to uphold the schedule, fold my legs into lotus, and just bury potatoes has been my profound awakening. Always feeling like my body and mind are about to blow away like leaves in the wind (Read: sore, injured, tired here), pushing fifteen hour days, and just meeting my peers, my elders, and the guests has been my real training. Keeping good friendships, approaching peace with those "fri-enemies" and being in relationship to others has been my training. Zazen and work and chanting are the details. The struggles the real food. And true dharma companionship, just continuing together, is my practice.

So, with one box of books and one pack, I'm off to our secluded retreat center for two years at least. We'll see. I told the farm I'd come back if they ever needed me, but it looks like some apprentices are going to step up and hold it down, and I'm thankful for that, because actually, I'm a little tired from the farm work-my right foot, my left hand, and lower back hide pain under muscle and activity. At night and in the morning, they scream. Then they get real and do what needs doing. So I'll be happy to just sit and be on general labor, washing dishes and such, for the first six months at Tassajara.

I'll write here when I can. I haven't written much here lately- maybe I'm tired or maybe I don't feel like what I have to say is an improvement on silence. Either way, no internet for me at Tassajara. If you want to write me a letter, I'll write you back. Goodbye internet sangha!

Send letters and snacks to:

Tassajara Zen Mountain Center
39171 Tassajara Road
Carmel Valley , CA 93924 

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Turning the Lettuce Wheel of Farma Dharma




 I'm in my third and last season on the farm. It's a waking life dream; lettuce the size of the truck tire, beets growing like underground apples, elder Bodhisattvas at 73 harvesting and teaching compassion and wisdom with two knifes on her belt for 40 some years.

The zendo is my sweet cave, and I'm surrounded by friends and family, ancestors watching. My legs fold together like a well ironed handkerchief, no complaints. It's quiet during the meditation, but I don't remember much more than candle light and the sound of my teacher breathing. My full bows, knees and head on the old barn floor of our temple, are cascading like water for thirsty vows.

Our cabin is warm on the hill. Behind the grey bones of eucalyptus the ocean whispers, you are here, you are here, you live at the beach! My wife, my best friend, we drink tea and read well into the night. The wake up bell comes early, but the warmth of embrace is carried in our robes, from cuddling to being swaddled, we are Buddha's babies, cooing and ready for breakfast.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Quiet.

For about 3 days,  neurotoxin from poison hemlock coursed through my veins. Indiscriminately grazing a fennel bed as I worked, I ate enough to get stuck in my teeth, as I flossed it out nightly. I sat on a zafu and stared out the window, unable to sleep, and watched the skeletal eucalyptus swallow and exhale fog.

Two minutes after eating it, I thought, "Don't tell anyone and how do you want to die?" A resounding silence- I went blank and continued to work for about 20 minutes as the poison coniine took hold. It occurred to me if I died there in the kitchen garden, everyone would know I ate poison hemlock. So I called poison control, and talked to Steve.

Steve said,

"Are you sure it's poison hemlock?- there's a lot of hemlock in the world."

"Yes, I'm sure- Our land Stewart has been working this water shed for about 20 years, she knows."

"Is your heart beat accelerated?"

"I just ran up to the office from the farm, so yeah."

"Is your vision blurry?"

"There's shit all over my glasses, wait a sec."

And Steve was really nice and called me back on the hour for three hours, trying to see how far the symptoms would go. What seemed apparent was the stimulant effect of the plant and that my prescription changed, my depth perception was altered, and I went on to make many mistakes (painful ones) with knives and drawers and hot cups of water.

Like all things, it passed.

Later in dokusan with my teacher, we wondered if this counts as a near death experience. My memory is devoid of emotion, as I marched about in a daze, and all I remember are the trees, and fondly so, like a good dream.

Return of from this dream has been met with really big hugs from the sangha, which make me think, "oh, maybe this was serious." Or jokes about Socrates, which bring levity (but got old pretty quick). I also sensed an undercurrent of concern- some seemed to think I might have done it intentionally, as there were some zen students in this valley who tried to take their life, quietly hiding in the woods or on a trail.

My body this morning feels good. No more headache, no more shakes. I went for a run yesterday, feel weak, but determined. I wrote a blog- who else will? I'm moving along in my studies, in awe of the depth and breadth of the Buddhist cannon and really challenged to say anything about it these days. I don't know how anyone does. My farm life is: plant, plant/sow,harvest, harvest, market. These last 3 months will fly by. Then this blog, as I go to Tassajara, will get really, really, quiet.


Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Blood Blister On A Callus

I have a blood blister on my callus on my hand! I don't know how it happened. I don't know how that even happens. Spring is here and the cover crop is nose high. We're scything it in and turning it under. We already have about 12 beds of baby lettuce planted. Nine new apprentices show up today. I start my third season on this farm, in this long valley that opens up to the big lagoon. The bobcats are out; I've seen two. The newts are hunkering down for a dry summer. Coyotes howl, owls call out in the morning. On our way to the Zendo, my teacher calls out to them, startling me with her young energy in the dark and misty 4am fog.

We closed the practice period yesterday after a seven day sesshin. We shouted OM HOMAGE SHAKYAMUNI BUDDHA over and over and over as our sangha bathed the world honored one on his birthday. Precocious little statue of a boy in his underpants pointing to the heaven and to the earth after taking 6 silver steps. Or was it 7? Or did he just start scrubbing the 6 tusked white elephant after he fell cleanly out of his mother's side?

There was a lot of Zazen this winter. Period after period, letting the shoulder blades melt down my back, letting my face fall like a baby's face. Feeling the body hang like a coat on a hanger, feeling the mind undulate like a white sheet over a ghost. We emerge from our old barn zendo fresh faced, a little skinny, and ready to get our hands in the dirt. The days get longer and I can barely sleep with so much excitement.

And I don't know about reincarnation or rebirth, but I know if I have the choice when my time comes, I will choose this pivotal human form again and again. I'll pick up and carry the vows for as long as I can and weather the seasons of this saha world.

Monday, March 24, 2014

The Lotus Sutra

In my dreams I received a silver o'kesa with red stars. A teacher help me put it on and it felt too tight. My old teacher sat at his seat and called for help. His robes where shredding as he sat there. Even in my dream I knew this o'kesa was the wrong color for me. Red is generally a forbidden color; silver is not the color of your first o'kesa.

Then the sun was up and I slammed into the manure pile with tractor bucket. How many flies! I turned water on for our garlic and crushed the shell of a snail. I thought she'd be okay but with a gush of fluid she lost her grip on the standpipe and tumbled down into the grass.

The temple wants me- or needs me- in the fields and in the zendo. There's tension there. The fields and the zendo aren't communicating like they should. The planting season is coming on strong, it will be here with 15,000 eager baby vegetables with just 12 hands to plant them in. Simultaneously we will harvest, go to market, manage water through trouble shooting 7 acres worth of 40 year old irrigation pipes hidden under clay earth. The pumps are relics from the 50's. We get them going with our hearts and ears- there's a sound we shoot for to know that the pressure is right. It's intimacy, not intellect, that allows us to run them. Who knew? It's a kind of compassion and a kind of begging.

And the dark zendo, an old barn with a 16th century Manjurshri from China and a chunk of mastodon from our fields, sits. This is it, this isn't it, and what is it fall like dust motes in the candle light. When we chant, we try to find harmony. It's up, it's down, it's you, it's me, stomach and ears come together to make one voice.

We don't really know what we're saying but we say it anyway. We don't really know how to bow but we practice everyday.

What should I say about the Lotus sutra that the Lotus sutra doesn't say itself?