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



Monday, March 8, 2021

The Road to Rohatsu

Ryutan’s Candle and Kenosha

Mumonkan Case 28


The original Chinese Goang

Longtan Chongxin (Dragon-Lake): Because Deshan Xuanjian asked more and more and night arrived, Tan said, "The night is deep. Sir, why don’t you go to lie down?"

Shan thereupon gathered his precious baggage, hoisted the [door] blind, and then exited. He saw the outside was pitch dark, withdrew, turned around, and said, "Outside is pitch dark."

Tan then lit a paper measuring-candle and gave it to him.

Shan intended to accept it, but Tan then blew it out.


I was driving from Santa Fe to Crestone with Baker Roshi for my first Rohatsu sesshin. It was going to be just Baker and me for the four hour drive. I was assigned a lot of packing tasks; his instructions were very exacting. I remember quite clearly that I had to fit the large densho bell into the trunk of the car. There were other bells and zendo items that were needed to keep the schedule and turn the Wheel of the Dharma. 

It was probably between 4 and 5, and already getting dark when we drove out Cerro Gordo Road. We were due by 9 to formally open the sesshin; I thought that we might have been late, but Baker Roshi knew the route very well and had the trip planned to the second. I’d heard about his legendary fast driving, but felt very comfortable.

We talked about Phil Whalen, Issan, the Hospice, and food. Then the conversation turned to losing normal mental ability, Alzheimers, and AIDS dementia. I was somewhat concerned about Issan’s losing his faculties during the last phase of his disease, and asked about the effect of meditation and the blurring of our normal sense of time. I spoke of one guy in the Hospice who couldn’t even remember the past of 5 minutes ago and was completely unable to foresee any future. Given that he was a dying man, it actually seemed to be a blessing.

Baker told me that I probably shouldn’t worry too much. He mentioned something one of his old friends in Japan, Nanao Sakaki, the godfather of Japanese hippies, said when his memory was fading after he crossed 80 years, “I can’t remember what I didn’t need to know anyway.” 

I asked David Chadwick if he remembered if he had any more details about Nanao's condition. David pointed me to a conversation he had with Nanao before he died. David talked about a mutual friend who had colon cancer. Nanao seemed to follow the conversation but asked the same question several times, “What did he have?” "Shiri," David repeated, patting his butt, but said that he’d already answered the question.

Nanao wasn't fazed. "Kenbosho," he said. "I have kenbosho." David asked if that meant senility or Alzheimer's. Nanao wasn't exactly sure. But he was quite cheerful about it.

"Ah, kenbosho is very good," he said. "No need to remember anything anyway. My mind is becoming more empty and free every day! This is a very good thing. I like kenbosho very much."

After crossing Four Corners, the last 40 miles north up Highway 17 from Amoroso to Crestone, the road becomes totally flat, level and straight for as far as my eye could take it to the edge of the car’s headlights. The night was very dark, no light for miles; the sky seemed to be painted a deep penetrating purple that went all the way to the moon, but I didn’t really notice. I thought that we must have been late, and Baker Roshi might have been driving even faster, but it also might have just been my fear. I think we were riding in a BMW, but it might have been a Mercedes. I am not interested in cars; however Roshi's love of fast cars is legendary and actually got him into some trouble. He turned the conversation towards how German engineers make sure that the mechanics of the automobile are tip top because driving on the autobahn was very fast and Germans demanded strict safety protocols, or, he joked, they at least needed the assurance of safety even if a ruse.

Suddenly the Roshi turned off the car’s headlights. It took a few seconds before my eyes adjusted. I was afraid. We were bolting up the highway at what seemed to be breakneck speed. After a few seconds, perhaps a minute, but certainly far too long in my judgment, Richard turned on the headlights again, and said with a little chuckle that we were lucky that no other driver had decided to turn out the headlights on their car to experience the beauty and depth of the dark night.  



I gradually regained my composure, but my perception of the night had changed. It opened up and I was so aware of the beauty of the night above the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. I was just part of a vast universe, beyond any explanation. 

The Diamond Sutra says, “If there is even a bit of difference, it is the distance between heaven and earth.” If Deshan (Tokusan) had been a better student, and actually understood before he went all out with his over the top melodramatic burning of the scripture, he would have saved generations of Zen students a lot of pain. But perhaps he thought that Longtan (Ryûtan) was equally dense, and the enthusiasm of a teaching moment simply overwhelmed him. It was I who needed to shed my unsentimental Jesuit training in order to catch the beauty of fire.

Within 25 minutes, we arrived on time to a waiting hall of people all sitting in good posture. I found my seat. The days rolled on; the sun came up; the stars appeared again. I heard the Temple bell ring, and I woke up.

I returned to Santa Fe with some other friends, and quickly fell into a round of gatherings and holiday parties. I called Southwest Airlines and postponed my departure several times. I was having fun. 

Then just after dinner at Robert Winson’s house, someone handed me the phone. It was Issan. He’d tracked me down. He asked how I was doing, and how my sesshin had been. I told him that I thought Sante Fe was beautiful and just amazing with all the luminaria and snow.

“Oh yes,” he said; I remember his words exactly, “all those cute little mud houses. You know that the effect of sesshin can be like a drug trip, and it’s wonderful, but we need you here. Why don’t you come home?”

I called the airport and booked the next flight to San Francisco. It was time to return to my immediate experience of day-to-day life at Maitri Hospice where the moment of living life was always in the shadow of knowing that it will end sooner than we might have dreamed..

  

Daido Loori’s verse:


Within darkness there is light;

within light there is darkness.

If you really see it,

you will go blind.


Tarrant Roshi concurs.



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