Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Tangaryo: I'll be home for Christmas.

The farm is quiet; the sprouts of purple vetch have started to come up in the kitchen garden. 8 months have passed. One of the first jobs I did on the farm was take a scythe to some cover crop. Now it grows again.

Many new students have arrived. I've noticed some intense faces, some confused glances. Bows that look like karate chops. Tangaryo, the practice of all-day-no-bells-sitting, starts this morning. Tangaryo is an old practice, something we do in order to enter the temple. I imagine us transformed by this evening, one way or another. 

I go into this practice period a little heavy hearted; I'll miss harvesting kale, walking down those long rows under the sun. And I have no idea if I'll work on the farm next year. I also haven't heard from my teacher, and I hope he's doing well, or more honestly, that we're doing well. No building up or tearing down here- just raw observation. Alive or dead? We will not say. 

As I sit here, wearing my robes for the first time in months is warming me up. Zazen has been dirty the last couple of months. We rush from the fields into the zendo. I was hardly clean with our work load. To wear flowing and layered robes is to wear a house, foundation, framing, and roof. Sometimes too hot, sometimes too cold, but inescapable. 

Practice period asks a couple things: 5 periods of Zazen everyday, Sesshin, Study hall, 3 classes, Oryioki meals, no leaving the temple, no phone calls, and no computer. So, this will be it for awhile. I'll have a short break in December, then off to Tassajara. 

Believe it or not, this blog is hard to let go of! I think of it as something I've built and now I'll leave it for a couple months. How do I turn the water off, empty the fridge, and weather strip the windows? This old poem, from last practice period, will have to do: 


With clouds and water
Dragons take the zendo
There, they sing like whales.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Season's End

Yesterday morning, the bell rang. The Ino said, "We'll now have the closing ceremony for the farm and garden." I had forgotten, completely.

We shuffled out, came back in, lead by our Farm and Garden managers. We did prostrations and stood on the tan, to hear the words of our elders. They said they loved us, commended our great effort, and that's all I remember.


From top to bottom, left to right, Farm elder Emila, Tanto, Jeremy, Farmer Daniel, Farmer Emma, Farmer Kathrine, Farmer Bret, me, Garden Manager Lauren, Farmer Jeren, Gardner Lauren, Gardner Claudia, Farm Manager Sara, Farm Manager Qayyum. 

We howled like coyotes. We can harvest 100 pounds of spinach in a 1/2 hour. We can plant 15,000 little plants in a half day. And we opened our hearts for Bodhisattva seeds, spreading from elder to apprentice, from apprentice to apprentice, and now out into the world.

We also love each other like no crew I've ever been on!

Were actually all staying for practice period. It will be different, though. We'll be more silent. In ango, we'll nourish and cultivate the seeds of practice; in sesshin, maybe we'll taste the fruit.

This is the end of possibly the best 8 months of my life. I'm not sure I'll get to be on the farm crew next year. We are Green Gulchers first, and we go where we're needed. I might not come back from Tassajara, so that I can ordain in a timely fashion. I've only been working at it for...5 years!?!

We all wrote haiku's about each other. Here's the haiku Farm Elder Emila wrote about me:

 EAGER & READY
JUMPY & STEADY
IN PLACE OF A NO
IS MORE SPEED-

WHERE'S THE SLOW? 

I have no idea where the slow is. 


Thursday, October 11, 2012

The Dark


Heavy hearted, filled with dread, I sit in the dark late afternoon, wondering when it got so dark again, not feeling up to it, this practice period, these 6 months of dark winter days less than a week away.

I've returned from my sister's wedding in Pennsylvania, where I lived off brownies and pizza and beer for 5 days. I showed up and said yes, despite the crying fit I had just before leaving Green Gulch. I said yes to the fatty food, yes to the all day flow of coffee, yes to my uncle's terminal cancer, yes to my mother's cigarettes, yes to my Grandmother's criticism, yes to my brother-in-law's campfire, yes to my little brother's bike ride through the mud, and yes to my little sister's tears.

Now I'm back at Green Gulch, saying yes to the practice period, yes to the farm for the last couple days, yes to a little vacation with my wife, yes to my ordination, yes to my teacher's absence ( I haven't heard from him in over 20 days) and actually, I don't like it.

There is one who is not so busy liking and disliking. I suppose that's the one who sits me still, to watch, and observe this cycle, to see if I can see a little more of just this.

I would like to plant and harvest, to sit zazen and study, day after day until I die, upright, in the field or the zendo. This is highly unlikely, as life moves us where it does, like a river flooding the banks, not too worried about drowning out trees or houses.

Let my eyes open, please. Let me not look away. The darkness of winter days is descending, let me look into it.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Grass Writing in the Sky

We watched as Reb called to Sobun Katherine Thanas, who took the great leap on June 24th, 2012. He said something like this:

For our great, abiding friend
. . .
Who is passing from this world to the next.
She is taking a great leap.
The light of this world has faded for her.
She has entered solitude with her karmic forces.
She has gone into a vast Silence.
She is borne away by the Great Ocean of birth and death;
May she, together with all beings, realize the end of suffering,
And the complete unfolding of Buddha’s Way.

We followed the procession of old teachers, lead by Reb in his gray okesa and gray koromo, the others draped in black and brown.   The shakujo, the six ringed monk's staff that sounds for all sentient beings, each ring representing one of the six realms, crashed, followed by two solemn bells until we reached the hill side where a tree would be planted. We all chanted while shovels were passed hand to hand and the roots of the Live Oak were covered. Family, dharma siblings, students and friends stepped forward to offer words. Zenkei Blanche Hartman was one of the first:

"Dharma sister, continue your practice wherever you are. I love you."

And others talked about her reign as Ino, how dedicated she was to teaching Buddhism, how she loved shopping, and burned baklava.

One person talked about her dharma name, Sobun, which means "Grass Writing." One day he was watching a hillside as the grass swayed in the wind, making brush strokes in the sky, and this was his teacher, Sobun, leaving no trace while making sincere effort. 

I hear her experience from my own teacher's words, who inspires me to just say yes:

"In a student teacher exchange with Suzuki Roshi, Katherine asked, "Inside me there is a yes and a no. Which should I follow?" Roshi responded, "Follow the yes.""

As we drank tea and ate vegan cookies in the dining hall, I watched the sangha, both of Green Gulch, City Center, and Santa Cruz Zen Center, support each other with tears and laughter. I only knew a handful of people, but I felt weaved into the fabric of this lineage, more comfortable than in a family reunion.

I cried a bit during all of this. Mostly because I'm a crier, but also because I was touched by everyone's generosity to show up. Selfishly, I also cried because I know someday we'll have to bury my teacher, too. I don't think there is anything that could prepare me for that, and all I can do is practice showing up.

You can read more about Katherine. You can visit her temple