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



The Record* of Issan

The teaching of Issan Dorsey Roshi, (March 7, 1933 — September 6, 1990)
*A Record is just what it says it is, the recorded sayings of a Zen Master, his or her enlightenment experiences, teaching koans, anecdotes, dharma lineage, and other interesting stuff. Basically they are monks’ crib notes from their course of study after an encounter or teaching in the assembly hall. And that’s what I use it for too—my practice.
The Chinese masters and their disciples began using this traditional title during what is considered Zen's Golden Age, cc 700-900 C.E.. My notes about Issan, his teaching, and the teachings of his dharma friends, come from a more recent period—between 1988 when I moved into Hartford Street Zen Center and Issan’s death in 1990.
I have included some teaching stories by Zenshin Philip Whalen who was part of Hartford Street Zen Center and part of the Maitri sangha, although a somewhat reluctant one, as well as some tales about the Hospice.

I have also tried to include photographs, notes, memories, sayings, jokes, happy memories and sad ones from other periods of his life.

Some material I do not fully understand which I will try to present as honestly I can hoping that Manjushri might enlighten me down the road.

And because I am the recorder, and not objective, I have included some things about me.


"The End of the Rainbow," Sunday, August 29, 2021

“The world is ending. Where is the great peace when we need it?” 


Don't Worry. Be Happy. Just do your best! Monday, August 30, 2021

Issan loved Bobby McFerrin’s “Don’t worry. Be happy,” but he added a line.

“They Never Get the Pleats Right,” Thursday, September 2, 2021

A Mondo, Master Nansen was washing clothes.


Is life over when it’s over? Thursday, September 16, 2021

A reflection on the death of Alan Watts and Issan’s answer to a student’s question about suicide,

Sex, death, and food, Friday, October 1, 2021

Dainin Katagiri Roshi admonishes Issan!


Dokusan goes Kung-an, August 17, 2021

Talking publicly about sex.


When the Breath Ends, May 7, 2021

Master Ba Is Ill, Hekiganroku Case 3

Issan’s meditation instructions when he was dying.


Issan said, "I have things to do!" April 23, 2010

Reflections on the koan "Little Jade." 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.


Issan hears the parable of the Good Samaritan—for the first time!

Originally posted on April 22, 2010, and revised on Palm Sunday 2021

My friend Joe Devlin, S.J. celebrated a Catholic mass in the zendo at the Hartford Street Zen Center for Issan and other men at Maitri Hospice. I dedicate this piece to Rev. Rusty Smith, the Director of Maitri Compassionate Care. Rusty was trained as a priest in the Jesuits. Please consider helping in any way you can. Dana is always welcome; you can also consider volunteering.


Issan’s Jesus Koan, April 23, 2010

Bruce Boone’s memory of Issan at the shrine of Saint Francis.


Mindfulness Is Not a Part-Time Job, Originally posted on January 13, 2012

This may be the only surviving transcript of any of Issan’s dharma talks. It appeared in the newsletter of the Gay Buddhist Fellowship in January of 1995, four years and five months after his death from AIDS. Though I can see an editor's hand, Issan comes through in his simple eloquence and the depth of understanding. 


On the 20th anniversary of the death of Issan Tommy Dorsey Roshi, September 6, 2010. Some of my own memories shared at the Founder's Ceremony on the 20th anniversary of his death, Maitri Hospice.


Tommy D, “the boy as pretty as the girl next-door,” May 22, 2010

Candid, and totally staged, pictures of Issan from the collection of Del Carlson. From the collection of the Hartford Street Zen Center.


The Founding of Maitri Home and Hospice for People with AIDS,

by Morgan Zo-Callahan and Ken Ireland, August 12, 2014

This is the draft of a chapter from a forthcoming book: A Thousand Arms: A Guidebook for Buddhist Leaders, edited by Danny Fisher and Nathan Michon.


Issan Dorsey and Some Undisclosed Secrets of the AIDS Epidemic, January 27, 2012

An interview with Marlin Marynick for his book.


Volunteering in an AIDS Hospice, Tuesday, May 11, 2021

A short piece I wrote for a German Buddhist magazine, Ursache & Wirkung, in an edition about "Buddhismus unter dem Regenbogen.”


"The Three Key B’s of Buddhism: Bowing, Boring and Bliss," by Phil Whalen & Ken Ireland, October 29, 2020


The Road to Rohatsu, March 8, 2021

Ryutan’s Candle and Kenosha

Mumonkan Case 28

The Hands and Eyes of Great Compassion, Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Maha Shobogenzo Case 105

Book of Serenity Case 54


The Funeral of Osel Tendzin. Deliver us from cults, Thursday, May 13, 2021

“Next Question” please (in revision)The re-examination of an oppressive conversation about the prohibitory precepts and personal reflections about gay men's practice.


Goa, Saint Francis and Me, April 7, 2014, reposted April 15, 2020

This was written for the publication of "Spiritual Journeys" by a group of former Jesuits.

True practice & authentic teachers, Sunday, August 22, 2021

I welcome your comments and suggestions. There is a comment box at the end of each post. Please let me know if you would like to share a story about Issan

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