Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Genzo-e Continues

Shohaku Okamura is a tall, strong looking man. He sits in the middle of the zendo, directly in line with our Shaykyamuni Buddha and Manjusri alter, a towering Jizo behind him. When it’s time for ceremony, he steps aside and our abbess procedes as the doshi, making offerings and bowing, while Okamura stands back.  Is this because he is a guest teacher here or is he continuing his teacher’s, Uchiyama Kosho Roshi, practice of only chanting the four great vows while avoiding elaborate ceremony? Either way, it seems appropriate.

He fills a room with his smile, which wells up with surprisingly honest warning, like this:

“Suzuki Roshi lectured on Dogen for two or three years at the end of his life. Most of the students fell asleep at Tassajara. Maizumi Roshi said that when he talked about koans, his students were very awake, but when he talked about The Lotus Sutra, most of them fell asleep. Today, I’m going to talk about Dogen and The Lotus Sutra…this is not so good for staying awake, but I will try to make it more interesting.”

It took about two hours to unpack the first sentence of Dogen’s 38th fascicle, Only a Buddha Together with a Buddha. Traditionally, this is not such a well studied fascicle. It comes from a series of 28 fascicles that were hidden away because they were considered a little to controversial. This one is about Dharma transmission, although that’s not so clear, like it is in the other 8 fascicles on transmission. It also approaches the differences between a Bodhisatvva and a Buddha.

The fascicle starts, “Buddha dharma cannot be known by human beings.” This line refers to suchness, which are things as they are. We can’t see it because we are it.

That’s all I have and not for long. Reading Dogen feels like eating nutrient rich greens. The calories don’t stay with you, and they’re not supposed to. It’s not like eating a good bowl of potatoes, but instead like a whole acre of red chard. Maybe this is why Dogen encouraged his monks to use the bathroom with vitality. 

Sunday, July 29, 2012

The Buddha Is The Great Earth: Genzo-e

Okamura arrived for lunch yesterday. For the next five days we will study the fascicle 38 of the Shobogenzo, Only a Buddha Together with a Buddha.

It starts, "Buddha dharma cannot be known by human beings."


I don't find that discouraging, but I'm sure people do, and I used to. I read it as a advancement of epistemology, going beyond how we know what we know.

Epistemology states there is knowledge we learn, like an apple is red, has seeds, and grows on a tree, and knowledge we experience, like the apple has skin, can taste crisp or mealy, and the seeds don't actually grow the apples we taste.

Study and experience.

I think when Dogen says that Buddha dharma cannot be known (studied and experienced) by humans, he's asking humans to push past what it means to be a slave to the skandhas, to our perception.

I thinks he's asking us to cultivate our affinity notion by attuning another sense our Buddha bodies are equipped with.

We'll see what Okamura has to say about that!

It's noble silence for a week, but unlike a sesshin I can read and write about Only a Buddha Together With a Buddha. I'll be posting that here.

These retreats feel like a holiday. We break out our oryioki bowls, we open our gates to many house holders who come with passionate way seeking minds and they remind us of what we're doing here. We all sit up a little straighter and feel a little warmer in the presence of our greater sangha. In 5 days, it will feel like a great parting, a family cleaning up and heading back to our corners of the world. I'm filled with gratitude for this lucky, lucky, life.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

You can't spoil what's rotten: Batman Spoilers Today!

10 of us signed out from Zazen on Monday evening, and the tenken pad read, "nananananananananananananananananananana BATMAN!"

The tenken pad is a record we sign so the Ino (monk in charge of Zendo etiquette, practice discipline) knows who's seat is available. It might also provide some long view insight for any resident sangha members who might need extra support for showing up. You'd be surprised how hard it can be to maintain the way seeking mind, even with the zendo just footsteps away. 

Batman refers to the movie that everyone is talking about. And tragedy aside, it's the worst movie I've seen in a really long time.

It might be unfair to point out its capitalist, patriarchal, and techno-Utopian propaganda, but I'll write it anyway because I haven't read anyone else actually say anything about it. A couple messages I received during the movie was: 

1. Big business has the only real potential to save us in time of crisis. 
2. Any female villain is only as strong as her male support and any female hero is really in need of a man.
3. Nuclear energy, if used correctly, could be our new sustainable energy source, as long as the occupy crowd doesn't get in the way. 
4. There's an occupy crowd and there are cops and the rich. Which side do you belong on?

It might be unfair to mention this in so far as patriarchy and capitalism probably permeate every major motion picture. Say for example, The Avengers. I couldn't remember anything about the Avengers' message, just that I liked seeing Thor and the Hulk duke it out, Thor drops his hammer, the hulk tries to pick it up, but can't, because it's THOR'S hammer. Magic!

However, Batman is such a bad, bad, bad movie. It's so long it feels like a hostage situation. 2 hours in, Batman is in some prison which is luckily filled with sweet old men who are doctors and physical therapists who fix his broken back and teach him that if he wants to win his fist fight with the main villain, just punch him in the face (duh). Batman also doesn't die. He drops an atomic bomb in the bay, escapes it, and Gotham also escapes nuclear fall out. There's even a mushroom cloud. 

One wise farmer that didn't abandon his Zafu asked me in the seed shed, "So even after all those people got killed, you still went?" He was referring the massacre in Colorado.

And I never really connected the violence to the movie. When violence happens, I usually take it as a given. Please excuse me, but New Orleans is a home, and a block from Mid City Zen, they pull bodies from Bayou St. John and sometimes bullets race between the houses and we hide in lofts or bathtubs. I didn't try and figure out why someone went to a movie to kill people, as I exhausted trying to figure that out as I sat by the bedside of one of my students was shot in the stomach with a 357. by a woman who had 4 stories as to why she shot a 15 year old. I don't ask, because like most of what I'm engaging, these questions seem to point at branches off the trees with roots of greed, hate, and delusion. 

This may seem radical, but I don't believe gun laws are going to help us, only Zazen will.. Laws and control are a push in one direction and there will be an equal or greater push in the opposite direction. 

It's exhausting trying to manage the universe. I'm starting to see that we humans are looking to heal our heads, tuck our tummies, address our amputations, and all the while, the heart of our collective body is twisted with greed, hate, and delusion. 

It also is Buddha nature.

Someone asked me if I was a-political. Another person called me a leftist, or a radical leftist. I think, left of what? And what are politics if not dividing? I'll vote in the favor of women, people of color, the poor, education, and organic, sustainable, agriculture, as it seems my turn to play the game, but I think the only way out of this is in into just this

The Dalai Grandma, on Dangerous Harvests said,  "I found myself thinking, How can we reach the children and give them Buddhist wisdom and teach them meditation?" And my heart rests in relief; Let us do it, but particularly our elders, let them do it. Nathan and the Dalai grandma have been staples on my blog roll. They're wiser than me. I know their spreading Buddhist wisdom as lay people, but I'd like to see them shave their heads and wear the kesa, because the kesa could use their wearing it.

Kodo Sawaki Roshi, said, "The kesa is the symbol of the substance of the Buddha's Law, the garment of "drizzle and dew, mist and clouds." Heaven and earth, the entire universe, are one single kesa. No world exists outside of the kesa. We do not fall into hell or rise up to heaven-we go nowhere, we come from nowhere. There is only one kesa. The towns of Kyoto and Nara were laid out in the pattern of a kesa. "Drizzle and dew, mist and clouds cover our bodies." We owe it to ourselves to wear the kesa

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Pruning Guan Yin

Yesterday, the farmers took a field trip to the garden, where we learned how to prune fruit trees. Sharp clippers are a must!

Those espalier dwarf apple trees are really amazing. Each one was grafted to a root base- cutting a notch in the root base, and inserting the tree into that notch, and amazingly a tree grows fruit. Only a two to three year old branch bears fruit and our mission was to support those branches by cutting all the vegetation growth, little branches that would just suck up energy, around the thickness of the a pencil.

Some of the branches on our trees are 30 years old! Some, just a couple months. As I made my way around the branches I could see where other gardeners had gone before me. Some cuts were were wonderful; clean 45 degree angles, two leaves above the base clusters. Some were like mine; mostly okay, but some not so confident, not so clean.

The whole process reminds me of what the farm manager said when I asked her what our farm mission was: Production? Education? Sustainability? Nope.

Our farm mission is to grow Bodhisattvas.

And I thought growing vegetables was hard.

I'd love to take refuge in my internet sangha; I'm not keeping up that well with the growth of this bodhisattva. There a lot of weeds, a lot of preferential cultivation, and the habit energy of conventional techniques. Much more focused on the fruit, less on the dirt, and I know how that ends up.

There's an intention here to return to growing dirt, like all good organic farmers. We don't grow food, we grow dirt, and food happens. It's time to compost, turn, and tilth.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Empty Weekend!

Kosho told me once that emptiness is letting whatever coming your way be free of what you think it is. I'm thinking about this now and my strike last weekend. 

Last weekend, I went on a socialization strike and decided to honor my introverted side. For many weekends now, it seems I've been whisked away by some engagement- some required as a student here and  some familial duties. And all of sudden I felt very drawn down. I hadn't seen the beach in some time, hadn't run to the top of our hill to see our little valley from our Hope's Cottage. So, I bowed out of dinner plans and a tubing trip that Lulu and I had planned. She still went, while I leaned back to enjoy my upcoming empty weekend. 

Until it didn't look very empty. 

The farm needed a volunteer for Sunday sales after the dharma talk. I couldn't resist. Our pond needed a reservoir transfer and I was the only irrigation crew member available. My tea ceremony tutor wanted to meet on Sunday night. I had a date on Saturday night; we watched Moonrise Kingdom. I had a date on Monday night with my good friend Brian, to go eat cheeseburgers and watch the new Batman movie. Go see  Moonrise Kingdom twice, Batman zero. 

I had no idea this was going to happen, and I thought I had cleared my plans so I could read, do some brush work, write some letters, and um, just get it together. It didn't happen like that. And I moved toward that weekend like I knew exactly what was going to happen. I even joked that I wasn't even going to brush my teeth, god damn it

This is my mother in me. She'd be content to sit on the porch with her coffee, cigarettes, and her book. I love to remember her like that, with stain glass windows behind her (a hobby of hers) and mobiles and bells blowing in the  summer Pennsylvania country wind. My father makes up my other half, the extroverted half, the Neworleanin half, the half that shows up to every parade in Mardi Grais and opens his door to all, to come eat his barbecued pulled pork. I'm completely 50/50. 

But conflict rises when I don't get my way. 

I'd like to move from my way to the way

I'd like to acknowledge that view from Hope's cottage is always available. I'd like move toward whatever is coming my way as an "empty" weekend, which might not look empty at all, but is surly emptiness in the sense that I don't have any idea about what it's going to be. I'd like to find the introversion in this moment right now, right with the extroversion. 

I wonder if Suzuki Roshi was talking about emptiness when he was talking about relaxing in every moment.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

27 yards of black

A couple weeks ago, my teacher asked me what I intend to do with my ordination. I quickly answered, "Plant crops, do calligraphy." Not really complete, but he thought if that's all I do, that would be great.

What in the world do I intend to do with my ordination? Ejun Linda Ruth, abbess here at Green Gulch told me 4 years ago that someone who wears the kesa is both asking for help keeping the way and giving help for keeping the way. This seems more complete, and very open- what does keeping the way look like for me?

Living by the precepts. There's 16 for us in the Soto Zen tradition. The one I practice the most with is right speech, which sets the parameters of:
1. Not saying anything about someone who is not in the room.
2. Offering only what is true, beneficial, and timely.
3. Refraining from offering my opinion when is not asked for.
4. Only speaking when it improves silence.

Of course, I violate these everyday. I also confess and avow these everyday. It's a roller coaster seat of samsara, with a sign that says, "Shut up, you'll hit your head."

Studying the turning of the 3 dharma wheels and investigating the 4th. Theravadan, Emptiness, mind-only, and intimate commitment to the sudden and complete enlightenment school. Also feels impossible.

To sit Zazen everyday. Ding, ding, outta the rack. Head presses the sky, knees press the earth, stretch the backbone.

To live with the Sangha. I plan to live with other priests and lay practioners for the rest of my life. Some more than others- I miss my teacher and my big Dharma brother and sister, back in New Orleans. I need to sleep no more than a block away from the zendo, or I will not sit.

To awaken. Whatever this means, whatever it takes.

To uphold our customs, ceremonies, and traditions. Not only uphold, but learn by heart, as to be set free to throw body and mind into them.

To be available. To everyone, regardless of anything a person might classify themselves as. This means keeping a loose grip on my own political views, and being in solidarity with any being that seeks liberation. It means loving people I really don't like.

I hope to be, in the words of our Ino, Carolyn, "...wrapped in 27 yards of fabric, an ocean of black, a mine field for mistakes."

Wednesday, July 11, 2012


I've been thinking a lot about how we all go into the Zendo every morning and what might be happening on the many cushions to my right, left, in front, and behind me. We're supposed to be practicing Shikantaza- thinking-non-thinking-or at least trying to approach that. But I love what Katagiri roshi said about that, something like, "You know, for 30 years I've been trying to practice Dogen's Shikantaza...then I realized that it doesn't exist!"

I'm convinced that anyone who sits will have kensho experiences, is opening up, and is a sitting Buddha. It's either that, or they're insane. We sit two 40 minute periods every morning at 4:45am, and something beyond the Ino's watchful eye inspires us to show up. We might not be able to put it into words, but something is transforming for us.

Why is everyone having kensho? Because it doesn't involve "you." You might not remember it, but I think it's remembered somewhere, somewhere where all is clear and nothing dies and nothing is born.

The worse you are at sitting Zazen, the better! I'm so bad at sitting Zazen, I give up right away. And when I hear that voice say, "I quit" I think good, get out of the way.

Hail to the Worst Horse!

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Death is an expression, complete this moment.

Last night I met with my teacher.

He's Kosho Zenrei, head teacher of Austin Zen Center, and I see him about once every two months.

As I was walking down Laguna in San Fran, he was hanging out the window calling for me. I was late; traffic on the Golden Gate. He was waving and smiling.

As soon as I walked in, I got a big hug and a quick inspection. He's asked me to grow my hair until ordination. Last time, he wanted to fix it because it looked a little plastered down. This time, much longer and held back by sunglasses, he just tousled it a bit.

His hand pulled back a little and he said, "What's that?"
                                                               "It's still a little wet," I lied.
                                                        "Your eyes have a very hard look," he said while rubbing my shoulders.
                       "Farm stuff," I lied again. "I walk in, and I can't help but look for something to do or fix."

That was the truth, but my hair wasn't wet, it was greasy, it wasn't farm stuff, it was world stuff, and I was looking for ways to fix it.

It didn't seem the right time to pour this out:

"Yes, I have a hard look because I've recently come to realize that patriarchy, capitalism, and ecocide are a trinity of nightmare and won't stop unless we we confront the system that perpetuates them, and all the examples of armed resistances have huge blind spots, like they want us to eat our babies with polar bear mind for the sake of population, or they're homophobic, or they execute hundreds of "bad guys," and, I 've come to see that this trinity is even bigger to include every branch of suffering on the human tree, and, in my heart I know the roots are greed, hate, and delusion, and we can hack at the branches until the cows come home, but if we can't engage the roots, it will make no difference, and no resistance has made a difference, as the proof is in this very moment, as that resistance has lead to this resistance, what the hell is a guy to do when he can't even strike at his own roots of greed, hate, and delusion, how will a guy strike at the roots of greed, hate, and delusion for all beings? But yeah, I'm okay."

Eventually, all of that did come out, but it was a slow drizzle over dinner, walks, and some softening. That was his first instruction to me when I came to him from the Deshimaru tradition: Soften. Open the hand that is a clenched fist.

Here are some new instructions and a question from Kosho Zenrei:

1. Stop studying things I can intellectually grasp for awhile. Instead, read Dogen, the Lankavatara, and The Denkoroku.

2. Get out of here (top of forehead) and get into there (everything below my chin) by planting food and doing calligraphy and practicing tea.

3. Stop wearing my lay robes to all affairs to put a disturbance in the force.

and the question: What do you intend to do with ordination?

He told me about when he was at Green Gulch, some 20 years ago, and how really enjoyed just living his life here. He told me to go back and just be the farmer.

I look forward to this. Planting a 1/2 acre today with the most beautiful people I've ever worked with.

Can I complete this moment?