Tuesday, December 18, 2012

What Should Be Done About Sasaki?

What in the world do you do with a 105 year old guy who is reported to have done this:

• Twenty-three of those are no longer practicing with Joshu Roshi and had negative experiences, and many of those have shared their bad experiences with other Buddhist sanghas.
• There was one report to a crisis hotline, one police report, and once I witnessed a woman confronting Joshu Roshi in front of his wife, saying “Try touching me now when your wife is here!”
• Fourteen of the forty-two would probably say they are still Roshi’s students, nine of them obviously are.
o Of those, two told me their sexual encounters with Roshi were fantastically helpful, healing some sexual problems.
o Five others say only positive, though not so effusively glorious things.
o Six other women still practicing with Roshi (or at least saying they are his student) express more of an “I’ve put up with a lot” attitude.
o Five others had very short, one time encounters, all of whom said they rebuffed Roshi’s advances with a slap, a laugh, or by changing the subject.
• Eleven out of the forty-two told me in detail how Roshi repeatedly grabbed at them despite their saying “No,” sometimes dozens of times in one day, over many months, and sometimes many years. Two of those told me they were pushed to the ground.
• I have also had extensive conversations with two Japanese monks who, for their own reasons had researched Joshu’s history in Japan. They told me Joshu Roshi has biological children in Japan who were not openly acknowledged as his when they were children. I have since met one of them, and I read an email from another. The monk told me that in Japan his sexual activity was a big concern within Myoshin-ji.

And in resistance to such allegations, replied: 

, “This is the only way I can teach you,” “You should overcome your ego,” “If you don’t have sex with me, you are not manifesting one true nature,” “You say ‘my body,’ but that is the thought of your incomplete self,” “You are the only one I ever touch,” “You have the best energy.”

From Sweeping Zen

Pushing women to the ground sounds a little too much like rape. When I said I'd like to grab Sasaki roshi by the scruff of his neck and drag him out into the snow and put him out of his misery, my wife suggested I was speaking from anger. Maybe what sounds like rape makes me angry. I think I misspoke, but I'm not sure. 

I know, I know, as an aspiring priest, I'm supposed to be non-violent and compassionate and kind, but this is how I felt, not how I'm acting. I'm a bodhisattva in training.

But when is an ass kicking not some shred of patriarchal conditioning, and is just an ass kicking, like a mother lion swatting at a hyena? 

Of course, this information is 3rd hand by the time it gets to me on Sweeping Zen. I don't know what really happened. And I don't really want to kick Sasaki roshi's ass. However, I'd like to see him removed, I'd like to see our teachers show up and collect his kesa. 

My view feels tight and limited and closed. What can I do? I fear I myself am not able wear the Buddha's robe. 

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Zen Center of New Orleans

Please click on the bell in the photo and watch a video about Suzuki Roshi zen in New Orleans. Michaela and Koji have been together for about 5 years and met at Zen mountain Center, Tassajara. Koji is a dharma brother and student of our teacher Kosho McCall at Austin Zen Center and Michaela is a student of Paul Haller, previous abbot of City Center in San Fransisco.

What Koji and Michaela are doing is so important. Zen in the south is still very new and believe me, leaving Zen center is not easy. Here we eat all organic meals, live in beautiful rural settings or swanky urban streets, receive decent stipends, become eligible for health insurance, are surrounded by 40-60 practitioners who know all the words to the heart sutra, the names of ancestors, and can bow in unison like a beautiful school of fish in the ocean.

Michaela and Koji live in the 5th ward. Lulu and I used to live there- we helped set up Mid City Zen. Toulouse street, New Orleans, is a long, long, way from the mountains and rivers of Northern California. It's not easy. Bodies are pulled out of that neighborhood. Cars explode across from the zendo. Bullets fly on occasion.

It's beautiful, dangerous, and important that the Zen Center can become a place of refuge, not just for zen practice, but for all social justice groups and community building efforts.

If you can, please help them.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Selling Water By The River?

Ocassionally, I get messages or e-mails asking for help. I try, with my teachers guidance. I don't know how it goes, as I usually don't get an update later on. I used to feel really uncomfortable with this. Am I selling water near the river? I don't think so.

Dali Grandma quoted me the other day when I said somewhere that practicing to improve our samsaric conditions is silly. I can't believe I said that! I think of the Lankavatara, again:

Samsara is an illusion, but Karma is relentless

Drinking this cup of Cafe Du Monde coffee is an improvement of my samsara! And it's giving me the strength to write this blog. And I am willing to accept the karma of this coffee, and drink it again tomorrow! This is why Baoche is fanning himself. It's samsara, but what else do I know at this moment? I don't know.

Readers, you don't have to go far back in my life on this blog, or my first blog which is linked somewhere here, to see where I was. Yesterday, my crew leader hugged me while I cried because of something that happened on the farm; when I was 15, as a mason's apprentice, I was getting buckets of mortar thrown at my head, knocked face first into the mud. I was in a barrel of crabs, and I had to get out into this barrel of...sloths...cute, loving, hugging sloths. I am happier here than ever before, and by here, I mean my practice. I mean where I live, under my little blue rakusu (small kesa!). Under my little blue robe of the Buddha. 

So, when someone in need e-mails, I answer. I'm putting it here because I spent a long time on it, and it's in lieu of what I was going to write, which I might write next anyway, because I'm really excited about yesterday! Also, I want to put myself out there as someone who wants help to keep the Buddha way, and offer support for you to keep the Buddha way. And before you read on, SHITSUREI ITASHIMASU...Sorry for my many mistakes.

He wrote:

"I'm interested to learn more about your lifestyle/religion.I need change and positive perspective in my life."

Thanks for asking! I've been at it for 10 years now, and I'm living in a monastery training to become a priest. I keep my mouth shut around friends and family, because their eyes glaze over. I'll try and keep this simple and not indulge too much.

Suffering is what brings most people to practice, about 98 percent. Suffering is what brought the Buddha to practice. He grew up a prince with many girlfriends, lots of food, lots of everything. Things were going well until he left the palace, just for a day. He saw old age, sickness, and death, and that no one was outside of these three realms. He ventured to end suffering. He practiced many religions very hard, almost killed himself with ridiculous yoga/starvation and finally, endeavored to Just Sit under a Bodhi tree some 3000 years ago. What he saw was the causes and conditions which give rise to suffering. And he saw the way out, which is self realization. The self-realization that he saw was we are awakened beings, we are all enlightened, but we don't see it because of amassed karma, which is basically what we have done, what we will do again because of strong habit energies.

I don't know what's going on for you right now, but that's what's great about Zen; no matter what, we Just Sit, and we observe the nature of our mind, first the surface, and then as deep as it gets over time. You actually don't have to do anything except show up for your sitting, show up for your life. Pay attention. Be honest about what we see. Be open to what it might mean. Show up, pay attention, be truthful, and stay open.

Zen practice can start right where you are; you don't have to go anywhere. Find somewhere quiet and dimly lit. Wear loose clothing. In a chair, bring your butt to the edge, so your back is not resting, but is up right instead. Plant your feet, comfortably, but firmly- feel the earth beneath. Now, head presses the sky, as if there was a string pulling the back of the skull toward the clouds. Tuck the chin, as if to make a double chin; this helps keep the base of the skull in line with the spine. Let your eyes rest open, softly like a baby's. Let the breath flow in and out though the nose, like a baby sleeping. Let the long breaths be long and the short breaths short. Set a timer for 10 min. Just sit. Watch thoughts, feelings, images arise and cease, arise and cease- try not to touch nor turn away.

If you start to feel overwhelmed, count your breath 1 on the inhale, 1 on the exhale, 2 on the inhale, 2 on the exhale. Count only to ten, start over. If you feel lost, come back to the body, below the nose, to the lower belly, to your feet grounded, to your head pressing the sky.

You asked about my religion in the message; this is the heart of it. It looks more complicated, but this is the fundamental point. If the first ten minutes feels like something you'd like to develop further, you can seek out a group to practice with, maybe talk with a teacher. I went 4 years with loose affiliation to a teacher and group, and I have to say my life changed for the better when I committed to practice with others, practice for others. But right now, just take care of yourself. Here are two centers nearby:


I have talked to Zen Center of Wayne County people several times- they are really great and in the lineage I practice in, or related.


This is a Rinzai temple and I don't know anything about them but a friend's dad practices there and I've always been inspired to visit. 

Finally, here are two books I would recommend:

Every Day Zen by Charlotte Joko Beck

Things Fall Apart by Pema Chodron

Deep bow to your way seeking mind! Oh, and go for walk. Walks are nice.


Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Bliss Fests, Piss Fests, and Just Sitting

My poem about the ivory dust of teeth has more behind it.

For ten years now, my sitting practice has fluctuated from counting breaths, deep hara 40 second exhalations, mantra practice, and shamatha concentration. All this in the zendo, where we are supposed to be just sitting, totally engaged in sitting, not "learning meditation."

I'm not sure I ever tried to just sit, to bare witness to thoughts, feelings, images- I cut them off with the above techniques. And it was wonderful.

It was like standing in a classroom, the students off task, tearing up the tiles, cursing, fighting, crying, laughing, and I was in a hot tub, eyes closed, head phones of sweet dharma talks or soothing sounds of the beach.

My teachers for the most part have supported whatever I have done on the cushion. Tenshin Reb Anderson said all of these approaches were like different grits of sand paper, ending with the feather duster of Shikantaza, thinking non-thinking. But the Abbess suggested I try just sitting. She also suggested to reverse my lotus legs every other sitting. Physically and Mentally, I felt ripped open.

Just sitting feels like my first days of teaching middle school- how do I pay attention to all of this, how do I pay attention and let go? What is non-grasping when it's not pushing away? What is grasping when we were just trying to pay attention?

During the Shuso ceremony, I asked:

 "Shuso! How do I pay attention to just this and let go!"
"Paying attention is letting go!" and he stomped his staff

I didn't accept.

"No." he laughed.

Jiryu-sensei said, "Celebrate your grasping."

All through Rohatsu I sat with this question: What is not turning away, what is not touching either? And my experience with just sitting was the irritation of neutrality. No bliss, no piss, just a question. In the past, the aforementioned approaches to meditation have been very "fruitful." All kinds of highs and lows and beauty and vast open spaces. 

But yesterday, during zazen and just sitting, I broke open with unexplainable, image less, thoughtless, crying. Have no idea why. Fatigue? Something else? It was chest heaving and long. Then gone. And I felt light and fresh. What's that? 

Maybe just like pooping or throwing up. Maybe just sitting.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Rocking Around The Bodhi Tree

If you have never celebrated Buddha's enlightenment, I suggest you come visit us at Green Gulch next year. It was a wild rompus!

We start out slow, chanting the heart sutra in English, and then the tyko drum kicks up with two drummers and we start circling the alter, faster and faster, and chanting louder and louder in old Japanese, and herbs and flowers get tossed everywhere, even the abbess throws them at you!

And it smells wonderful...verbena, pine, rose geranium, sage, about 20 pounds of it all gets tossed. Black robes fly. I broke out my punk rock voice. My elders sounded like the B-52s. We all escalated like Rock Lobsters. The drummers were on point! The St. Aug marching 100 of New Orleans would have been impressed by our baker, Mick, "Big Drum" as his dharma name, and my sister Emma, hailing from the marching bands of Virgina.

It was epic.

I can't find a picture of such a ceremony. I have to just show you how my face felt:

Please note the mudra of Rocksattva. It means, "This is fucking cool."

What's really funny is what we did after that: Go back to silent work. Our exit ceremony from our ango is this morning...guess what after that? Silent work until 10am, which I have to say, I am impressed by our work ethic. Me, I'm a zen student, err slave?, but we have people here who are flying back to northern Canada. But they're not packing up until 10am. You're a monk, and you follow the schedule until the schedule is done! It's your only hope.

But really, I'm dying a bit too. Deliriously tired, I am rattling like a pupa in a chrysalis...will I emerge or explode? I don't know. When I'm done today, into to town, to the library, to get a copy of a Christmas Carol. I am in a Christmas mood, big time.

I think this why Kosho Zenrei, my glorious teacher, sent me here. You can read about what goes on, but you have to taste and smell and learn with the heart what true Zen can look like. So grateful to all the support.

Monday, December 10, 2012


And Merry Christmas! Oh wait, those aren't sleigh bells, that's the shuso ringing the bell in what most people in the free world call the middle of the night.

Practice period is over, or it should be, and since Rohatsu ended yesterday, we are dragging out the days. Trudging these last two days to happy destiny- the 32 monk practice period, in addition to the senior staff that have lead us, have been going for over two weeks with no hosan (a day off!). We have the shuso ceremony tonight, a nice dinner, and closing ceremony tomorrow. We hope to sleep in on Wednesday, but this has not been confirmed, and we collectively fear we will go until Friday.

Meanwhile, it's time to make compost at after 7 days of sitting, sitting, and more sitting.

I wrote a poem to sum up my rohatsu:

Stay calm
while the vultures pick
at your spare rib back
and chew on the sinews of swollen knees
while pecking at brittle bird wing ankles.

Stay calm
when the wooden floor turns thin as paint
and the wall flickers like  dying flames
and the body hollows to a stencil of
fragile lines.

Stay calm
staying calm helps keep calm
upon the painful black throne 
tangled in the coils
of ancient dragons

jaw grinding mind gather!
Of no satori
no kensho
no makyo
Just the dust of ivory teeth

Can't wait to do it again.