One of the reasons I believe in jazz is that the oneness of man can come through the rhythm of your heart. It’s the same any place in the world, that heartbeat. It’s the first thing you hear when you’re born — or before you’re born — and it’s the last thing you hear. — Dave Brubeck



Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Khyongla Rato Rinpoche died this morning.

Khyongla Rato Rinpoche died this morning in McLeod Ganj. He was probably 101 years old. The registry of births in Tibet was not very precise when he was born but who’s counting? My landlord Hari Singh who has been his driver at least since the onset of Covid just texted me.

Hari called Rato “The Holy One” out of his deep respect and love. I called him “Chuck Rinpoche.”

Perhaps 8 months ago Hari asked if his wife could use my kitchen to cook a meal for the Rinpoche. He’d made a special request to eat some of Reshma’s home style cooking. The flat was also easier for Rato to negotiate and the seating more comfortable. I said of course. We all had greeting scarfs and Hari lit a smudge pot smoke offering on the steps. About 1 PM, we welcomed Geshe Nicky Vreeland followed by Rato, helped along by his attendant Norbu.

The food was wonderful. Lamb curry North Indian style. I was amazed to watch Rato, Nicky and Norbu eat with such gusto. Reshma prepared the Rinpoche’s dish carefully, with rice, smaller pieces of mutton and lots of gravy.

My friend Alex Kype was also there. He’d warned me to be on my best behavior. The Rinpoche was high up the ladder of Buddhist royalty. I sat next to Rato and Nicky was to his left. Rato's voice was barely audible, but Nicky repeated his words. In the course of the conversion, Rato told a story about when he moved to New York City in 1968 to found The Tibet Center. He rented a small apartment midtown but he had no money. So he went to work as a stock boy* in B. Altman. No one could pronounce his name so he told everyone to just call him Chuck. He started laughing. I jumped in and asked if I could call him Chuck Rinpoche. He laughed more.

Rato’s scholarship and dedication to the Way were remarkable and revered over several incarnations, but he’ll always be just Chuck Rinpoche to me.

Thank you for your visit. We were honored.



*This is an interesting factoid. “Chuck” probably earned minimum wage in '68, which was $1.60 per hour (equivalent to $12.47 in 2021).

Saturday, March 26, 2022

CONTENTS, All and Nothing

Introduction

What is “The Record of Issan?”

An Invitation
Several ways to read and listen to a conversation about things that matter.

"The End of the Rainbow"
Steve Allen questions Issan when he became Abbot of the Hartford Street Zen Center.

The Hands and Eyes of Great Compassion
What about compassion is difficult to understand? A koan commentary

Memories in a shoe box, Issan’s Jesus Koan 
Bruce Boone’s memory of Issan.

Hearing the parable of the Good Samaritan—for the first time!
My friend, Fr. Joe Devlin, S.J., celebrated a Catholic mass in the zendo.

Don't Worry. Be Happy. Just do your best!
Issan humms Bobby McFerrin. Actually he told me he couldn’t get it out of head; it was one of those loopy tunes that we can’t stop. But then he amends Meher Baba.

Dokusan goes Kung-an, Talking publicly about sex
The Master teaches how to brush sexual fantasy from meditation.

“They Never Get the Pleats Right” A Mondo
Never Blend In. Not even a fever of 102 could keep Issan from the obligation of officiating at the wedding of some old friends.

"One day not work, one day not eat," 一日不做一日不食
There are always dishes to clean and cookies to bake, if you’re lucky.

Sex, death, and food
Dainin Katagiri Roshi admonishes Issan! “Yes, we work hard long hours. Then we die.”

“Are you going somewhere?”

Buddhist Heaven. Three Cheers for Grandmother Zen!

Lord Krishna comes to tea

Issan and Sweet Baby James

Is life over when it's over?
A friend asks Issan, Why don’t we just kill ourselves?

Really Choosing Death.
There were men who took their own lives in the Hospice. We do get some choice in the matter.

Q and A Zen
A cautionary tale plus a koan—or two. My memory of Issan’s last breaths.

When the Breath Ends, "Sun-faced Buddha, Moon-faced Buddha."
Issan practices till his last breath.

Issan said, "I have things to do!"
This story about Issan’s last week of life came back to me when another Buddhist friend received news of a grave diagnosis from his doctor.

Phil, dreaming of gummy bears, sees angels descending.
A mind is a terrible thing to waste.

Road to Rohatsu
After a powerful meditation retreat, Issan asks me to come back to Hartford Street.

I didn’t shout but I’m still a big phoney.
Blue Cliff Record, Case 10.

How does the past become the past? Therapy, Jesus and Zen
Perhaps this does not belong in the story of Maitri, or maybe it does.


Other Stuff

Mindfulness is not a Part Time Job
Bowing, Boring and Bliss
Saint Francis, Goa and Me

Friday, March 25, 2022

Issan asked Shunko, “Are you going somewhere?”

This story has already made the rounds, as well it should. It is so short and concise that it doesn’t yield to a lot of confusion or elaboration. Good koan material.

Issan knew how to deliver a one liner. He was in fact a true master, but this was delivered with no drama, and when he was in such pain and personal distress, we had to stop laughing and realize that he was not just making a joke but effortlessly pointing towards freedom.


I also know for certain that he was smiling and filled with gratitude. I can almost hear his laugh.



Michael Shunko Jamvold was a Zen monk who practiced for many years. He was known for traveling between monasteries and practice centers. Sadly he died alone in Japan from an untreated or misdiagnosed respiratory disease. He was also one of Issan’s close friends whom Issan called on to take care of him at the end of his life. Shunko responded with devotion and grace.


During the last few months of Issan’s life, as the disease took its physical toll, either Steve or Shunko, but sometimes someone else they asked to help, would sit with Issan and help him with basic needs, food, drink, turning over in bed, going to the bathroom. But basically the day-to-day attendant duties fell to either Steve or Shunko. 


The bathroom was just across the hall from Issan’s room, but he needed support just to navigate the 15 or 20 steps when he needed to use the toilet. Shunko held his arm firmly but gently. 


On one of the return trips back to Issan’s bed, Shunko was overcome with emotion, and blurted out: “Oh Issan, I am going to miss you!”


Issan smiled and asked Shunko, “”Oh, are you going somewhere?”



Friday, March 18, 2022

The Ripple Effect: An Engaged Buddhist Conversation

This is a short piece I wrote about my experience living and practicing at Maitri Hospice for a German Buddhist magazine, Ursache & Wirkung, in an edition about "Buddhismus unter dem Regenbogen."

Tobias Trapp asked me to write a few words about volunteering during the AIDS epidemic. I jumped at the chance because it gave me an opportunity to acknowledge Frank Ostaseski and Issan Dorsey Roshi as well as to encourage others to accept the invitation to be with another human being at the end of their lives.

In 1989 I lost a very dear friend, a woman who’d been like a mother to me. Her daughter asked me to donate the hospital bed that she had in her room at the retirement home where she’d spent the last years of her life in San Francisco. 


Through a series of phone calls, a gay friend who was doing design work for the Zen Center Hospice Project, gave me Frank’s number. Could the Hospice use the bed? Frank said he’d love to have the bed. How could we move it across town to the Hospice? I had a truck. Frank said let’s meet and be delivery men. We set a time. 


I liked Frank immediately, bright, up beat, not my picture of a deathbed priest. He was also very persuasive--between the time we’d loaded the bed in my truck and unloaded it at the Zen Center, I was signed up for the upcoming Zen Hospice Volunteer Training Program. 


That afternoon also set the tone for volunteering, listening and responding to simple requests, taking care of what was at hand, and working with others. No special knowledge was required.  


Within 6 months, I met Issan Dorsey Roshi, and became a volunteer at Maitri Hospice. Guided by Issan’s compassion, taking care of almost 100 men changed me. I cooked spaghetti and painted walls, I helped men sort through a lifetime of personal letters and called their mothers. Not every task was easy, but the rewards were immense. 


I could not have known that this simple trip would lead to the first Buddhist Hospice for people with HIV/AIDS. I was just helping a man carry a bed across San Francisco. Thank you Frank, Issan, J.D., Bernie and the other men who came into my life. Your gifts were amazing.


Sunday, March 6, 2022

Lord Kirshna comes to tea.


whalen_ginsberg.jpg

Ball, Gordon, “Poets Philip Whalen (left) and Allen Ginsberg at Ball's apartment,” Digital Exhibits at Washington and Lee University Library,


I knew that Allen was in town when there was a knock at the front door at 3:30 exactly. A young man, 21 but not a month more, clean shaven, holding a book, asked, “Is this the Philip Whalen Zendo?” I invited him into the living room where he sat down and quietly continued his reading. I knew that Allen would be at the door shortly; I could hear Phil beginning to make his way up the stairs. He and Allen shared years of friendship. They were punctual. I began to prepare tea.


I loved when Phil’s friends came to visit. Phil was on his best behavior. Not that he was normally badly behaved though in private moments he could be angry, even insulting. Despite being one of the foremost leaders of a movement that questioned the very roots of believing and behaving that my parents taught me, when he was proper, he was extremely proper. But there was another quality to the conversations with his poet friends. Their language was careful and measured. It was literate. I was always looking for any innuendos, and I loved their laughter. It was poking fun without the slightest hint of slighting someone.


Phil of course knew Allen’s long time companion, Peter Orlovsky, and talked openly about Peter’s drug addiction. Phil joked to me about Allen being a follower of “the Cult of Boys,” and this was the first time that Allen had brought a young lover with him. Phil was not very interested in sex himself, reinforced or dictated by his isolated personal habits, but I knew I would be looking for Phil’s reaction. How would he treat a young lover?


The young man and I sat a short distance from Phil and Allen. There were barely pauses in their conversation. It doesn’t matter what it was about. It could have been Buddhism, Trungpa, Diane de Prima or other poets who passed through the Disembodied School at RMDC, or even where to get the best Chinese food in San Francisco. They were friends, and though we weren’t excluded, we were not included. What was clear is that his young companion admired Allen. He hung on every word, carefully listening to each line, laughing when it was appropriate. Allen for his part was attentive to the young man. Not condescending or at all lecherous, he was careful that his friend was treated like an invited guest, not a hired boy. 


Yes I admit that I entertained the possibility that there was some kind of coercion behind the young man’s presence. The age gap was enormous, and there have always been rumors about Allen’s sexual exploits. I also had a distasteful experience of being manipulated by an older man. But at least that afternoon, I was not sitting with a boy-toy but a bright young man who genuinely liked older men. 


I’d been reading Christopher Isherwood’s tribute to his guru, Swami Prabhavananda, My Guru and His Disciple. Isherwood asked the Swami a hesitant question about a new relationship with a young man. Isherwood confessed that, given his experience in the stiff Victorian world of English catholicism, he was expecting a censorious pronouncement. Prabhavananda told him to treat his lover like Lord Krishna.


Then it hit me. I’d been to tea with Lord Krishna.


A year later I was sitting with Phil when Allen called to tell him that he was dying. Phil cried. 



Thursday, March 3, 2022

All of You Are Gobblers of Dregs!

Blue Cliff Record, Case 11 (the long version)

One day Huangbo went up in the hall and said, "What do you people want to look for?" 
And he chased them with his staff. 
The assembly didn't disperse, so he said, "The Great Master Nintou Farong [594-657, 5th gen] of Ox Head Mountain spoke horizontally and spoke vertically, but he still didn't know the key of transcendence. These days the followers after Shitou [700-790, 8th gen] and Mazu [709-88, 8th gen] speak of Zen and speak of the Way most voluminously. 

All of you are gobblers of dregs. 
If you travel around like this, you'll get laughed at by people. As soon as you hear of a place with eight hundred or a thousand people, you immediately go there. It won't do just to seek out the hubbub. 
When I was traveling, if I found there was someone at the roots of the grasses, I would stick him in the head and watch to see if he knew the feeling of pain. If he did, I could give him a cloth bag full of rice as an offering. 
If you always take things this easy here, then where else would there be this matter of Today? Since you're called pilgrims, you should concentrate a bit. 
Do you know there are no teachers of Zen in all of China?"

There is a lively on-going debate in an online Buddhist group about the nature of practice and enlightenment. Dosho Port published a piece on August 18th called “The Showa Dispute About True Faith.” He describes the efforts beginning in 1928 to make Soto Zen more compatible with “modernism,” including Christianity, by reframing its belief system. A dispute ensued. One side organized their material under the slogan, ‘Original Enlightenment, mysterious practice.’ The other side, the monk establishment, wanted actual practice verification.

I am vaguely familiar with this dispute about modernization in Japanese Soto Zen before the Second War, and the attempts to "translate" the doctrine, if I can use the word, to make it more understandable. There was an attempt to take a portion of Buddhist literature in Japanese, but also Chinese, and free it from its Medieval encapsulation. I went to Masao Abe's amazing classes when he was teaching in San Francisco at CIIS. He definitely comes from this school. I’m a former Jesuit so I also delved into Kitarō Nishida and the Kyoto School’s adoption of Western philosophical discourse. 40 years ago, we all immersed ourselves in the extensive writings of D. T. Suzuki, who, I have to say, comes across more like an apologist or evangelist.

This may be a bare minimum to butt into this conversation, but I will. These efforts to strip the vehicle down to its essential parts leave just enough to work with. To begin, let me take the debate one step further, and remove the parochial underpinnings.

My pared down augment runs like this: an experience of liberation is possible for humans. We don’t quite know what it is because of the current condition of our minds: our mental acuity, the quality of our perceptive apparatus, a balanced or afflicted emotional state, plus I think we have to throw a good dose of fancy, magical thinking, cultural mythology, plus translation difficulties and the vagaries of language into the mix. My list is not complete--there’s a lot to sort out, but I think we can establish, or posit, three hypotheses:

  • Such a state or quality of freedom exists and can transform our experience as humans.
  • It is possible, even desirable, to achieve it.
  • We recognize that it will take effort, education, what we commonly call meditation, and possibly recalibration to achieve this experience.

We believe that certain people have had this experience, most notably the Buddha, but others too, for example Eihei Dōgen, Linji Yixuan, Hakuin Ekaku, Je Tsongkhapa, Shinran, but perhaps we could stretch our imaginations to include the current Dalai Lama, and maybe that auntie whom Red Pine encountered sitting in a cave in China who never heard of Mao Tse Tung but, forget about her, she never wrote anything down. We’re stuck with the guys, they’re all guys, who wrote, had secretaries, or disciples who took extensive lecture notes.

What did they write: of course we have the Sutras, plus other stories of the Buddha and his disciples; the enlightened guys also wrote descriptions of their experiences, some of which seem to be in coded language; thankfully there’s lots of poetry, balanced with carefully reasoned philosophy of mind and analysis of perception and experience; we have to include the myths, and what we call practice manuals, “how to” lists; there are some riddles that purport to point to the experience; then extensive records of the mental and yogic disciplines that practitioners used to achieve this state of liberation plus prescriptive injunctions and admonitions that have even been codified. There is also a large body of instruction material that has not been written down that is generally reserved for advanced levels of practice.

But there are huge problems with all this literature. First is the language and translation. We're blessed to have an army of very well trained and literate translators, but cultural and archaic understandings of the texts remain. Then there is the sheer volume and diversity of the materials. Even if we could determine their authenticity, be sure we have an accurate translation, and be able to determine their precise meaning, we‘d still be stuck with the question of how to use it, actually lots of questions.

Our Western Zen practice stems to some degree from these efforts to modernize. Harada Sogaku Roshi, and after him, Hakuun Yasutani, Kuon Yamada and the Jesuit Roshis, Bob Aitken and the rest of my crowd come from another strain of that same impulse to modernize so that's what I was handed.

Schools of thought are schools of thought. What do we do with them? Again, for better or worse, they inform our practice.

First I think that there's a logical fallacy in the way we understand these efforts at modernization. Following (any) time-honored system of training that we’ve been handed, we believe that if we accurately recreate the logic of the thinking, the order of the steps, the lineage of the teachers, then we can access the authentic experience of liberation. If we fail, then we did something wrong. Perhaps it is a road map, but we want it to be Google Maps, with the blue dot moving across the dashboard screen. Good luck with that. I will set up a dharma combat: can algorithms become enlightened?

Another knot appears when we identify the criteria for validating the credentials of a teacher from within this arcane body of knowledge, whether it’s inka or transmission or tulku. The checklist resides in experience outside ourselves and muddies the teaching as well as opens the door to abuse and exploitation. Call the dharma police to testify before the High Court.

Is this even good practice? I remember working on the koan “Mu” for years with Bob Aitken. I kept complaining in my very Jesuit way that it was all just a self-referential exercise in a closed system. He'd say, yes, it appears that way, and then he’d encourage me to continue. I did. In 1996 I was living with Maylie Scott on Ashby in Berkeley and still doing sesshin with Aitken and John Tarrant. One Sunday morning I had to drive a rented truck back to Santa Rosa. As I was returning to where I’d parked it the night before, POW. All that self-referential mind swirling stopped and I got it. It didn't matter if it came via some well-intentioned modernization efforts in a Soto Shu University in the 20's. It hit me. There was no turning back.

Of course that experience faded soon enough which presented its own dilemma, but it was enough to set me on my own path. I remember saying to Phil Whalen once what a shame it was that the library at Nalanda was destroyed--all that knowledge lost. He smiled and said, “Don’t worry, kid. Enough remains. Just enough.” I feel the same about any attempts to update our practice and make it modern or palatable or whatever. Enough remains, Just enough. And, as thanks to Phil I’ll add: “With any luck if we’re lucky.”

I don't want to take a path based on pious dreams and hopes, magical thinking, myth or wild speculation. When coupled with a few token morsels of experience that we might be able to recognize in ourselves if we’ve spent any time on the cushion, we enter dangerous territory. I was lucky to be able to see something authentic in several teachers, among them Issan Dorsey, Phil Whalen, Maylie Scott, Bob Aitken, John Tarrant. I trusted them, and was able to just stick with it until I began to catch a glimpse for myself that something else is possible.

Wednesday, March 2, 2022

An Invitation

[This is a part of the Introduction to *The Record of Issan]


Please come and sit with me. I invite us both to sit quietly as we can. Issan will also join us. Oh how he loved a good conversation, especially the jokes. Together we can explore what holds us together. The story of his life and Zen teaching are the glue.


I started to say “binds us together'' but that is not the correct word. It makes me think of prison or captivity. The purpose of this exploration is to be more free and spontaneous. Issan would prefer something far more gentle and affectionate, more like the caress of love or the hug of friendship. 


Perhaps this conversation will help both of us see more clearly what we are about. This is not the ordinary course of a conversation. Sometimes we just want to go over old times and have a good laugh. That’s probably just fine for certain times and places, but most times it’s a waste of time. Issan loved to quote Suzuki Roshi, “Don’t invite your thoughts to tea.” Disappointment and regret are sure to follow. Regret has its place, but not in this conversation. There are thousands of things that all of us should not have done, but tears or dreams of what might have been cloud our eyes and obscure what is right in front of us.


And Issan would probably suggest that we be on our best behavior, at least try to pay attention to what is being said. This requires an alertness of body and mind. We can listen to glean information, to satisfy our curiosity, or actually to try to find some answers to the questions that matter. How we listen determines what kind of answer we find.


Issan died on September 6th 1990. He continues to speak to us when we hear the words as if he were speaking to us. I have heard many students tell stories about him, some of them are recorded in this book, and they all have the very clear signs of words that were said to an individual person in a particular time at a definite place. If they have one consistent thread, it is Issan’s encouragement: Do the best you can. Listen and respond with every bone in your body. Don’t think too much of yourself, but certainly be yourself. No apologies are necessary. 


Sunday, February 27, 2022

I didn’t shout but I’m still a big phoney.

Blue Cliff Record Case 10

Let me begin with a snippet from the few introductory lines that Hsueh Tou calls the pointer: “If on the other hand, you neither face upwards or downwards, how will you deal with it? If there is a principle, go by the principle. If there is no principle, go by the example.”

The koan

After Mu Chou’s formula introductory question, “Where are you from,” in a reversal of roles, the shouting teacher gets shouted at.
Then Mu Chou said, "After three or four shouts, then what?"
The student had nothing to say.
Mu Chou hit him and said: You thieving phon[e]y.


It was sometime in the Fall of 1993. If Mu Chou asked me where I’d come from, I would have said “Hartford Street Zen Center,” but he would not have recognized our lives there. A small temple in the heart San Francisco’s gay ghetto, it had never been your typical Zen Center even before AIDS. After I moved in 1989, more than 80 men and one woman died in its 13 bedrooms. Our everyday life was centered around doctor’s appointments, dispensing medications, talking with friends and family about wills and funerals, performing funerals, cooking food as well as two periods of zazen every day plus a pretty standard Soto ritual. We tried to organize some of the more formal Buddhist study typical in Western Zen centers, but the grief support groups had more attendees. I have to add that my daily ritual usually ended with a bout of heavy drinking in a local bar a block away. It was more than a full time job.

The concern of our zendo was the pain and fragility of life. It was inescapable. You could try to run away, and we all did from time to time in our own way. But now Issan was dead; Steve Allen had resigned as abbot, and left for Crestone. And it was the end of Maitri Hospice being part of the Temple. Phil told me to get rid of it. It was Issan’s project, and he had other ideas about Zen masters’ dying. In retrospect I think that he hated trying to live his life with everyone dropping dead around him. He might have accepted Issan’s invitation to move in because they were old friends; they had been in Santa Fe together, and they were Dick’s first real dharma heirs. But actually I really think that one of his main motivations was that he was homeless and had nowhere else to go. He had set himself to master Zen, and though he had done his work deeply and thoroughly, he was still a human, and a frail old man.

We had been sitting all day, and I went into Phil’s room just before the closing bell. I remember quite clearly what transpired. It could be fairly labeled passive-aggressive. From time to time, I have been less than proud of my behavior although I let myself off the hook with the recognition that I am also human.

I forget the exact reason I was so pissed off, but I was. Of course I was burned out and disappointed, perhaps something about the changes at Hartford Street, perhaps Phil’s brushing me off, but we all were a bit “reactive,” Phil included. That is the way with anger’s confusion--whatever remains, the angry mind latches onto like a life raft in a raging sea. With all that experience of dying, anger turned out to have been a clever student and strategized its survival with the cunning of a fox.

I remember that I’d determined beforehand that in this dokusan I would not say anything. Just sit like a fat lump and keep my mouth shut. If I felt even the slightest inkling of the beginnings of a word, much less the formulation of a question, I would shut it down. I would kill an errant thought before it even showed its face. I would not recommend this strategy for inching towards happiness, but on occasion it is interesting to test if it is even possible. Perhaps yelling the nonsensical “Katz” has some salvific result as it involves more of the spontaneous, emotive parts of the psyche, but my Mother had taught me that shouting was always bad manners. Despite the fact that we learn that great Zen teachers favored this theatrical gesture as a pedagogy, I still believe my mother. Western teachers have tried to polish this skill, but when I hear them affecting a Katz shout, it feels contrived. Or embarrassing. It is still better than cutting off fingers and other outlandish external “shoves” designed to facilitate the dropping off of body and mind. Shouting is not a principle in Zen, nor is it really an example of anything but the coordination of breath and vocal cords.

So for whatever reasons I could never be a shouting student, and I sat. It would be an exaggeration to say that I was shouting inside, though I did feel a few interior bumps. And once in a while Phil began to look up and begin to say something, but then he stopped too. And so on for a very uncomfortable span of time.

Then Phil faintly smiled and said, “Let’s go back down to the zendo and join the others.” I remember or imagined a feeling of disappointment in his voice. That was it. He didn’t call me a phony. Do you spell it with an “e”? Did he see through to my anger? It makes no difference. All things considered, he was very generous.

I said in the beginning that Mu Chou would not have recognized our lives at Hartford Street Zen Center. Perhaps I’m selling him short.

Thursday, January 27, 2022

Buddhism doesn’t need saints

And by the way, don’t cry too much over Thích Nhất Hạnh.

Dorothy Day said: "Don't call me a saint, I don't want to be dismissed that easily." Of course Timothy Dolan, the Archbishop of New York, proposed her for canonization as soon as he could. The old left wing Catholic in me finds it ironic that a man who is the complete antithesis of the kind of life Day proposes for a modern Christian calls her Blessed Dorothy. She might accuse him of dampening her radical voice, even silencing the anarchist grandmother who confounded comfortable notions, but I wouldn't hesitate, not even for a nano second.


Pushing for sainthood lets purveyors of religious doublespeak, cults, snake oil and associated pyramid schemes off the hook for their flagrant sins. I will also argue that the whole rigmarole of canonization is just lip service to what Jesus calls Christians to do. We don’t really have to go and take care of lepers. Saint Damien did it. Pray to him that we be spared. Or in the case of the Founder of the Catholic Worker, someone can take care of the castoffs our materialistic culture dumps on the Bowery as long as it’s not me or my kids.


One of the reasons that the leaders of the Protestant Reformation dismissed saints was to end the superstitious practice of encasing some bones in the local cathedral to entice lucrative pilgrim spending as well as defund the Papal ponzi scheme of selling indulgences to cover the extravagant cost of building Saint Peter’s in Rome. Every organized religion needs a building maintenance fund so this might be just have been marketing but it has always felt a bit underhanded to me.


There are some people who want to make Issan Dorsey into a Buddhist saint--gotta have a saint in high heels. Of course we could do worse. 


Before I started work at  Maitri Hospice, the Dalai Lama’s rain-maker, the Yogin Yeshe Dorje visited. He and Issan got on very well, one of those connections. The rainmaker grabbed Issan and said, “You’ve created Buddhist Heaven.” Issan laughed. Later when I asked Issan about the visit, he smiled and said, “He was a very nice man, but he didn’t pay the water bill.”


All that is just a preface to something that has been creeping to the surface as the tributes pour in for Thầy, “The Saint of Mindfulness, Beloved Thích Nhất Hanh,” and I need to say it. Whether he really was a very nice Buddhist dude, or even if he was just an ordinary flawed human like the rest of us, don't for a minute think that the work of being mindful, practicing, looking after our interconnected world can be done by anyone else but us, and that includes all the difficult bits. Don’t waste a lot of tears or weave nostalgic odes about all the really good teachers dying. The Lord Buddha died too, quite a few years back.


We can't allow ourselves to get distracted by any cult of personality. We can't get off the hook no matter how hard, by whatever devious means we try. We have to do the work ourselves.


I began with the caution from Blessed Dorothy Day undermining the whole sanctification scheme, and I will close with a hopeful note from the same complicated woman who lived an exemplary life, "The world will be saved by beauty." Amen.








Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Nobodaddy

 January 18th, 2022

Nobodaddy


At this particular moment in the current debate about the Jesus prayer, strained as it is, I come down firmly on the side of “dangerous.” For the meditator it’s a step down from that lyric on the car radio that stays in your head and you can’t turn off. Instead of prison and mother, it weaves a lovely spell of angels and divine nectar. Perhaps this is not the danger that the fathers of the Eastern Church warn about, but nonetheless a danger.


The repetition starts out as a simple concentration exercise, riding the breath like 123. The terrain is familiar but the vehicle is clumsy and unpredictable like an imaginary Model A Ford. Boredom sets in as stories & associated phantasms begin to loop, and on that radio a lyric purporting to be from the son of David pops up, or, my favorite, the thespian voice of the god of Abraham faking Aristotle. Rattling around the head’s Netherspace, it’s a wily enemy, play acting to hold onto power. It wants to be accepted as "the Truth." 


If we don’t play close scrutiny, it maintains secret sway over our choices and our futures. But we might get lucky enough to understand deeply that we alone, no one else, sustain the imagined conversations and images that flow through the mind. This moment of enlightenment can strike instantaneously! 


Avoid the loud applause.


To Nobodaddy 

by William Blake 


Why art thou silent & invisible 

Father of Jealousy 

Why dost thou hide thyself in clouds 

From every searching Eye 


Why darkness & obscurity 

In all thy words & laws 

That none dare eat the fruit but from 

The wily serpents jaws 

Or is it because Secresy 

gains females loud applause 



UriZen, William Blake

Khyongla Rato Rinpoche died this morning.

Khyongla Rato Rinpoche died this morning in McLeod Ganj. He was probably 101 years old. The registry of births in Tibet was not very precise...