Skip to main content

Buddhist Practice We Don't Want: Zazen With Our Dead

There's practice that I want and practice that I don't want. The robes, the bows, the chanting, the ringing of bells-some say I'm an enthusiastic example, that maybe I even stink of zen. But with the passing of our Abbot Myogen Steve Stucky, I was offered a practice I really didn't want; keeping a vigil with a dead body.

Why? Who knows, but we could say it was just plain aversion. The first time I was offered this practice, my teacher Ejun Roshi asked the assembly if we wanted to go and sit with Steve, we should go with robes and car pool. She was also looking for volunteers to sit with the body all night.

There were second and third and fourth offerings to go and do this practice that I knew nothing about. As per usual for Zen, the directions were: Black Robe, Zazen. No context was offered, really. I checked Reb's book Being Upright for his story of sitting with the corpse he found in the park with a bullet wound in its head. I did some google searches and found all this:

What I gathered is that it's common in our tradition to sit with the body of a Buddhist practitioner for about 3 days after death. It's esoteric, but not uncommon, for monks to speak to the "dead" as if they are alive, even shaking hands with them. And the last one, shava-sadhana, is the practice, maybe hindu, maybe tantric, that means "sitting meditation on a corpse" and it's suppose to arouse terror and fear for the practitioner. In my experience with sitting with Abbot Steve, there were threads of all these practices alive and well, and even more challenging and intimate practices, like his attendants and students replacing dry ice under his body as we sat Zazen at his Zendo in Rhonert Park. 

His legacy had already started to make stories: Some say in his last hours he would smile and give a thumbs up. Some say he was seen shaking hands and possibly speaking a different language, and looked as though he was being welcomed. 

In Tibetian Buddhism, there is a tradition of navigating the bardo state for 40 days. I'm not sure what the point is, but I bet Abbot Steve would opt for a quicker Bodhisattva rebirth, making sure he didn't go to the other shore, like during the Tassajara fires in 2008, turning back and heading toward the flames of living and dying barefoot. 

So, after our Hatsugama- a new year's tea ceremony- a senior priest named Cathy invited anyone who wanted to come with her that evening to sit with Abbot Steve. It ended up being me and her in the car. She told stories about their time at Tassajara, about a scorpion she found in her room she wished she'd shown him, and about a great owl they watched together. She addressed him in the car as if he were way in the back of the van, telling him things she forgot to say, thanking him for his teachings. I've seen this done many times at our temple- speaking to our ancestors, to our trees, to our valley, to all hungry ghosts. 

We arrived to a small neighborhood to a small house that looked like the house of a Zen master. Traditional roji style fences enclosed his koi pond. A small bridge was decorated with candles and rosemary. And Abbot Steve lay in what might have been a Zendo or Dokusan room. 

The room smelled of incense and was the epitome of stillness. Zen teachers with brown robes already sat. I bowed to Steve's body, wrapped in his Okesa, sprinkled with flowers, a mala in his hands and a smile on his face. In the most respectful way, he shined like an arhat, dying on a new moon, compassionately on New Year's eve, before Zazen, as if to give us that form to embrace us and keep us warm. The auspicious passing gave me reason to believe that maybe it's true what they say about Zen masters; they choose when to die. We started the day with 108 bells and ended the day with 108 bells in a valley he helped plow and plant and thrive almost 30 years ago. 

As I sat, I thought, this is it. Now I make tea for my teacher, someday maybe I'll have to place dry ice beneath her, the teaching of compassion through service continuing beyond her last breath. I was struck at how at ease we all seemed and how I felt; I was upset back at Green Gulch, emotional and weepy- but looking at Abbot Steve so at ease, I thought, he's not upset, and his words for a funeral I saw him officiate echoed: 

"What's still a mystery for us is no longer a mystery for you." 

We sat for about an hour, read his Death Poem, and bowed one last time, at least for this lifetime.

And it was a good start to a new year, the year of the horse. A pussy willow tree in Steve's garden reminded me of the bright green tangled whip of willow in the tokonoma, back at the tea house. The loops are supposed to hold the good luck in. And it's the year of the horse. 



    Contrary to what men believe, only God can forgive the sins that have been committed against Him. Joseph Smith nor Brigham Young can forgive sins. Catholic priests cannot forgive sins. Lutheran ministers cannot forgive sins. There are no men dead or alive who can forgive the sins that men commit against God.


    Isaiah 43:25 "I, even I, am the one who wipes out your transgressions for My own sake, And I will not remember your sins.


    Micah 7:18 Who is a God like You, who pardons iniquity...

    Only God pardons iniquity. Joesph Smith, Brigham Young, Catholic priests, nor Lutheran ministers have the authority to pardon iniquity.

    Daniel 9:98 To the Lord our God belong compassion and forgiveness, for we have rebelled against Him;

    Mankind has rebelled against God and He alone can grant forgiveness.


    Mark 2:6-11..the scribes...7...He is blaspheming; who can forgive sins but God alone? ....10 But so that you may know that the Son of Man has the authority on earth to forgive sins"---He said to the paralytic, 11 "I say to you, get up, pick up your pallet and go home."

    The problem with scribes was they did not realize that Jesus was God in the flesh. Joesph Smith, Brigham Young, Catholic priests, Lutheran ministers, nor any other men, are or were, God in the flesh.


    Acts 8:18-22 ....20 But Peter said to him....22 Therefore repent of this wickedness of yours, and pray the Lord that, if possible, the intention of your heart may be forgiven you.

    The apostle Peter did not grant forgiveness to Simon, he told Simon to pray to God for forgiveness. Note, Simon was already a Christian.


    John 20:19-23 ....23 If you forgive the sins of any, their sins have been forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they have been retained."

    Jesus was not giving Peter and the rest of the apostles the power to grant forgiveness of sins to men on an individual bases, Jesus was not ordaining them as priests with that power. Jesus was giving Peter and the apostles the authority to proclaim the terms for forgiveness of sins. Peter and the apostles did just that on the day of Pentecost. (Acts 2:22-41...36 Therefore let the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ---this Jesus whom you crucified. 37...Peter and the rest of the apostles....38 Peter said to them , "Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.)

    Peter and the apostles did not forgive sins on the Day of Pentecost nor on any subsequent day. They declare God's terms for pardon.
    FAITH: John 3:16
    REPENTANCE: Acts 2:38
    CONFESSION: Romans 10:9-10
    WATER BAPTISM: Acts 2:38

    Christians are not asked to confess to Joesph Smith, Brigham Young, Catholic priests, Lutheran ministers, nor any other men, in order to have their sins against God forgiven!

    Christians are to confess their sins to God in order to receive forgiveness. (1 John1:5-9 ....God is light... 9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from unrighteousness.)

    1 Timothy 2:5 For there is one God, and one mediator also between men, the man Christ Jesus,

    The only priest standing between men and God is the high priest, Jesus Christ.

    NOTE: Confessing sins and asking God for forgiveness is only available to Christians. Non-Christians must have FAITH, REPENT, CONFESS JESUS AS LORD, BELIEVE IN HIS RESURRECTION AND BE BAPTIZED IN WATER IN ORDER TO THEIR SINS FORGIVEN.


    ( All Scripture quotes from: NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE)

    1. god that son of a bitch sinned against me ! :o)

  2. There's an interesting, subtitled, Japanese movie called "Departures" if you're interested.

  3. my reply to steve stücky's death poem

    the horizon itself reappears, I was never alive ! :o)(


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

We Are The Ones Who Can Die

This is me hunting hogs with a semi-automatic weapon. This was a past life( about 8 years ago.)

A lot can change in 8 years.

I grew up around guns. I received my first when I was 10 years old. I went to a high school with a shooting range in the basement, for the high school competitive rifle team. My dad, a career Marine, gave thorough instruction, you better believe. And for most of my life I could take them or leave them. I wasn't into guns like a lot of my friends, but I knew how to shoulder a carbine so the shell didn't eject and hit me in the eye.

That was in Pennsylvania. New Orleans was a completely different scene and the reality of gun violence really hit home (sometimes too literally). I have friends who have been shot in street violence and in combat zones. I have been threatened with a weapon and I have loaded guns with a notion of self defense.

And I used to believe that it was my right to do so.

But today I'm sad and I want to touch that sadness. I lost my …

The Transformation of Ceremony

Ordination Day

I want to say something about the transformational aspect of a ceremony. Like wine to blood, from person to priest, practice enlightenment as transmogrification. Like cucumbers to pickles, surprise! 
I underestimated the ceremony. After pursuing ordination for nine years I had visualized it into nothing. Having junior monks pass me by, then disrobe, then put the robe back on before I even got to wear it once lent a sobering perspective. Imagination dispensed. I sat and stitched and lived practice in a way where oryoki wasn't a treat, Zazen wasn't something I could talk about, and robes started to have gravity- they were not without weight. 
And I think that's the first element of my ceremony: a period of discernment and someone to discern with. In the case of ordination, my teacher, our tanto, and other priests served as mirrors and sounding boards for these two questions: Why do I want to be a priest and what is a priest? It was about as clear as wine tran…

Boredom and Buddhism

To say I feel bored feels disrespectful. How could that be? I have a three month old daughter, I'm training for a demanding job in the temple, I'm a wilderness medic responding to incidents every 4 days or so, and I'm sewing my priest robes for ordination. And I have this sense of disinterest.

I have a few theories as to why I feel bored. One could be the natural come down from having the baby and becoming stable in our schedule. Another come down plays out in the adrenaline crash after responding to a medical emergency or the general up keep work I do at the temple when compared to fixing something crucial to operations. When I hear there's a fire in the area I'm pretty excited to be mobilized for stay and defend duty. I feel pretty guilty about that, too.

So I read Beyond Boredom and Depression by Ajahn Jagaro and I was reminded to be careful about looking outward by this passage:

So what is boredom? It is a subjective experience that occurs when the mind is not i…