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Tassajara In Sepia Tones

I've been dreaming of Tassajara in sepia tones. Last night I swam in the ocean with all my Zen Center friends. We were having fun and moving fast. Eventually I rode a wave into shore which drove me into the sand. I stood up with my back against the bottom of rocky cliff and wave after wave pounded me. I was safe, but each towering wave made my heart kick like a mule. Then I woke up.

We all go back tomorrow. My days of sleeping in and eating pastries will return to a 3:50am wake up bell and an oryoki breakfast, which I'm ready for. After 14 days of being gone I'm ready for just a bowl of rice and an audience with that cold morning star filled sky and the sound of monks in black robes rustling through the leaves on their way to meditation.

I had a very nice time out, though. Visiting New Orleans rekindled my love for that city, which is sort of my home because I came of age there. My dad has lived there since I was 12 and it's always been a foil to northeastern Pennsylvania, my other home with its dirt roads and dark forests. Seeing my dad and step mother and feeling their support for my path to priesthood refreshed my resolve to practice with great doubt and great diligence.

And to receive everyone's help has been humbling and I've had to remind myself gratitude, gratitude, gratitude. To be able to really say thank you I have to let go of the indulgent self loathing that comes with not being able to pay for your own tickets, not being able to buy new tires for your 18 year old car, or to afford all the things a little baby girl will need. And this brings up the realization that my path to ordination is a shared a path. I chose it, but actually my family is coming along with me.

There is that old idea that if one person in your family ordains there will be good karma for the rest of them. My family doesn't have that memory, but I like what Suzuki Roshi said to the man who was complaining about his wife sleeping in while he sat zazen, which was basically when we sit zazen everyone sits zazen. So get over yourself.

Sometimes the urge to apologize overcomes the sense of gratitude. But I really cant apologize for my choice to pursue the Buddha way as I need to pursue it. It's true I could have just stayed home and attained the way, but that wasn't available to me. Some of us are the worst horse that needs to feel the lash into our marrow. Some of us will do better in a cage. We shouldn't try and make a good horse go out or a worst horse go out. Suzuki Roshi said we need to give everyone large pastures, ourselves large pastures and just watch what we do.

But I feel like this path can be really rough on our families and I'm sensitive to it because they didn't volunteer for this. But I do feel like I'm volunteering for them, with and for all beings, and I think they see me happier on this path than any other. I don't want to apologize, but I do want to express my gratitude for their support and admit how hard it would be to do this without it and how I may have quit long ago without it.

So I leave you with my new years poem, that a zen teacher passed on to me:

Things I Didn’t Know I Loved


Nazim Hikmet1902 - 1963

it’s 1962 March 28th
I’m sitting by the window on the Prague-Berlin train 
night is falling
I never knew I liked
night descending like a tired bird on a smoky wet plain 
I don’t like
comparing nightfall to a tired bird

I didn’t know I loved the earth
can someone who hasn’t worked the earth love it 
I’ve never worked the earth
it must be my only Platonic love

and here I’ve loved rivers all this time
whether motionless like this they curl skirting the hills
European hills crowned with chateaus
or whether stretched out flat as far as the eye can see
I know you can’t wash in the same river even once
I know the river will bring new lights you’ll never see
I know we live slightly longer than a horse but not nearly as long as a crow
I know this has troubled people before
                         and will trouble those after me
I know all this has been said a thousand times before 
                         and will be said after me

I didn’t know I loved the sky 
cloudy or clear
the blue vault Andrei studied on his back at Borodino
in prison I translated both volumes of War and Peace into Turkish 
I hear voices
not from the blue vault but from the yard 
the guards are beating someone again
I didn’t know I loved trees
bare beeches near Moscow in Peredelkino
they come upon me in winter noble and modest 
beeches are Russian the way poplars are Turkish 
“the poplars of Izmir
losing their leaves. . .
they call me The Knife. . .
                         lover like a young tree. . .
I blow stately mansions sky-high”
in the Ilgaz woods in 1920 I tied an embroidered linen handkerchief 
                                        to a pine bough for luck

I never knew I loved roads 
even the asphalt kind
Vera’s behind the wheel we’re driving from Moscow to the Crimea 
                                                          Koktebele
                               formerly “Goktepé ili” in Turkish 
the two of us inside a closed box
the world flows past on both sides distant and mute 
I was never so close to anyone in my life
bandits stopped me on the red road between Bolu and Geredé
                                        when I was eighteen
apart from my life I didn’t have anything in the wagon they could take 
and at eighteen our lives are what we value least
I’ve written this somewhere before
wading through a dark muddy street I’m going to the shadow play 
Ramazan night
a paper lantern leading the way
maybe nothing like this ever happened
maybe I read it somewhere an eight-year-old boy
                                       going to the shadow play
Ramazan night in Istanbul holding his grandfather’s hand 
   his grandfather has on a fez and is wearing the fur coat
      with a sable collar over his robe
   and there’s a lantern in the servant’s hand
   and I can’t contain myself for joy
flowers come to mind for some reason 
poppies cactuses jonquils
in the jonquil garden in Kadikoy Istanbul I kissed Marika 
fresh almonds on her breath
I was seventeen
my heart on a swing touched the sky 
I didn’t know I loved flowers
friends sent me three red carnations in prison

I just remembered the stars 
I love them too
whether I’m floored watching them from below 
or whether I’m flying at their side

I have some questions for the cosmonauts 
were the stars much bigger
did they look like huge jewels on black velvet
                             or apricots on orange
did you feel proud to get closer to the stars
I saw color photos of the cosmos in Ogonek magazine now don’t 
   be upset comrades but nonfigurative shall we say or abstract 
   well some of them looked just like such paintings which is to 
   say they were terribly figurative and concrete
my heart was in my mouth looking at them 
they are our endless desire to grasp things
seeing them I could even think of death and not feel at all sad 
I never knew I loved the cosmos

snow flashes in front of my eyes
both heavy wet steady snow and the dry whirling kind 
I didn’t know I liked snow

I never knew I loved the sun
even when setting cherry-red as now
in Istanbul too it sometimes sets in postcard colors 
but you aren’t about to paint it that way
I didn’t know I loved the sea
                             except the Sea of Azov
or how much

I didn’t know I loved clouds
whether I’m under or up above them
whether they look like giants or shaggy white beasts

moonlight the falsest the most languid the most petit-bourgeois 
strikes me
I like it

I didn’t know I liked rain
whether it falls like a fine net or splatters against the glass my 
   heart leaves me tangled up in a net or trapped inside a drop 
   and takes off for uncharted countries I didn’t know I loved 
   rain but why did I suddenly discover all these passions sitting 
   by the window on the Prague-Berlin train
is it because I lit my sixth cigarette 
one alone could kill me
is it because I’m half dead from thinking about someone back in Moscow
her hair straw-blond eyelashes blue

the train plunges on through the pitch-black night
I never knew I liked the night pitch-black
sparks fly from the engine
I didn’t know I loved sparks
I didn’t know I loved so many things and I had to wait until sixty 
   to find it out sitting by the window on the Prague-Berlin train 
   watching the world disappear as if on a journey of no return

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  2. Kogen! How sweet that you stopped by my blog -- more the file for each year's Death Poem. I see that much is happening for you. May you continue to walk in faith. Thank you for the gift of your life! ~Jomon

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