Tuesday, December 31, 2013

New Years and Near Enemies

In the dark there is the smell of Kerosene. The paths are dimly lit. Hands carry lotus lanterns down to the pond, voices chant the Avatamsaka sutra, bodies sit upright in the Zendo, and mouths eat soba noodles in these last hours of the year.

At 4am this morning, Myogen Steve Stucky died. As we went into the Zendo, we thought, how compassionate for him to die this morning, on this day, leaving us in the warm embrace of warm robes and warm company with the looming warm new year, a fresh start tomorrow. The obonsho rung out. I think of his redwood tree planted in a shady grove; I think of his family.

I was actually on the road, doing the last town trip of the year. Over the hills and over the Golden Gate to places I've gone almost every week for the last two years, rolling in our trusty box truck, hearing about the world on the radio. Hearing a song that reminds me of my mother and using some alone time to drive and cry. Back to the farm, I led some guest retreatants to build a compost pile. It was huge- they squealed and hooted in delight. I told them, "No hooting on the farm!" Couldn't stop them as they flung rotting food, horse shit and pond weeds to build rich, alive soil.

Sympathetic joy- laughing for other's laughter-is such a gift. Compassion, maybe crying for other's tears- also such a gift. As I sat down today with our Tanto to practice tonglen, who's been leading us through the Bramiviharas these last four days, I heard the direction to channel that person who I suffer affliction with. No one came up. The impulse to dig someone up arose and I resisted- no, no, let's let it be like that for this second. Let's not invite the near enemies to they new year. It might not be true equanimity, but it taste good.

I haven't wrote anything since Rohatsu. Big blank spaces on this blog mean I'm struggling. Doesn't mean anything bad, but it means I can't actually say anything because I'm just trying to breath. Now I write on this new years eve, as a few monks sit an all night vigil with Abbot Myogen Steve Stucky and kerosene lamps burn in the dark. I guess that's what we do and I guess that's what he'd like; Sitting and compost, laughing and crying, keeping the lamps lit. I guess that's what I like.

Just like last year, I wrote a rohatsu poem. It still fits tonight as I eat a bowl of new years noodles:

One more bowl of rice
Chanting sad names of Buddha
Home left? Leave again! 


Sunday, December 1, 2013

"Zen Priest, What For?"

I show up to my in laws in a samue and mala, head shaved and stinking of Zen, but it doesn't take long to find me in a V-neck t-shirt, tattoos on my arms and chest blazing, drinking wine, eating brussel sprouts fried in panchetta, laughing and telling stories, listening to our 94 year old grandma explore wikipedia for the first time. And the cards eventually come out.

I love playing card games with my mother and father-in-law, but I'm not particularly engaged by card games. I much prefer nerdy, strategy games. Actually, I never played cards before I joined their family. Now I'm not so bad! But what I love about the games are the conversations that arise.

Mother-in-law says something like, "Zen priest, what for?"

Father-in-law says something like, " You need to know what for."

I begin to reassure them, that I'll go back to teaching, that I'll focus on helping spread dharma to teenage demographic, as I see there's not a real place for teenagers in Zen temples I've been to, and, and, and...

Then we play another hand. While points are being tallied, I apologize for trying to reassure them- they sense an unstable nature of my nebulous path to ordination, and they're right to- I don't know where ordination will lead to, I'm almost positive my teacher doesn't know where it will lead to, and to put them on like everything's okay, that I'll come out of Zen Center in 10 years a fully ordained priest and jump right back into a teaching job is an insult to their wisdom. There's no guarantee.

And yet, I told them that the return is in the investment; that in turning soil, I'm turned, in meeting dharma, I'm met, that in sitting silently, I'm held in way I've never known. I tell them that I want to wear the O'kesa because I'm thankful for how this practice has helped me, that I've never felt more stable in instability then I do today. Besides, I say, I struggled a lot. They remember when I chased down a mugger in the streets of New Orleans. I couldn't help myself. I want to help, but I don't know what's helpful, but I think this path is helpful.

They nodded, they don't offer much advice- they're really good listeners! They say, you know, we're pretty conventional, and we know you guys aren't so conventional, so what can we suggest? Then we go see a beautiful Italian movie where a writer reflects on his life as he ages. Later on our way to dinner, I say I found it so inspirational. Mother-in-law says in what way, like to go to Italy to learn Italian? I say maybe, yeah, but mostly just pay attention to life and to tell the truth.

There's a part in that movie where the old Italian man sees a giraffe disapear, and the magician tells him it's not really magic, it's just a trick. I want to tell my mother-in-law that this part of the movie is Zen, but I'm sure that will ruin it for her and for me. But the movie was Zen. We all loved the movie, which had us in tears and laughter. I think that might happen when someone points at the fundamental point.

Later on, I let them know I love the hard questions they put to me. I really do.

And now, back at the temple, that han approaches the 2nd roll down. I need to get into my robes and start Rohatsu. 7 days of silence. See you on the other side, people say around here.