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



Showing posts with label Joshu. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Joshu. Show all posts

Thursday, September 2, 2021

“They Never Get the Pleats Right”

A Mondo

Master Nansen* was washing clothes.

A monk asked: "Is the master still doing such things?"

Master Nansen, holding up his clothes, asked: "What is to be done with them?"

 

*Nansen was the accomplished teacher of the famous Mu-dog guy, Joshu, who when Nansen died went into a deep state of grief that, we’re told, lasted decades. I’m not Joshu, but I will tell a Nansen style tale to focus my own grief that reappears from time to time decades after Issan died. 

 

 

A more formal sounding Buddhist name to this story might be “there’s nothing too small that you can let escape your attention, even if no one’s going to notice,” but “They Never Get the Pleats Right” tells the story.

When we began Maitri at Hartford St, we carried on a full meditation schedule on top of running the Hospice.

One Saturday we were sitting meditation from early morning till dusk. Issan was not sitting. It was during the last six months of his life, and actually he was in bed. His fever had spiked to almost 103 the previous day; his doctor, Rick Levine, was sitting with us and monitoring his patient.

That evening Issan had a longstanding commitment to officiate at the wedding of two men, old friends, at the Hall of Flowers in Golden Gate Park. Issan married same sex couples in the religious tradition of Soto Zen long before the issue of gay marriage exploded, Prop 8 passed, was then voided, the Supreme Court—well, that’s a whole other story.

After lunch I came upstairs from the zendo, and noticed that Issan’s formal white kimono had appeared on the coat rack in the hallway, wrapped in plastic fresh from the dry cleaner. The simple garment had several deep pleats around the waistline, but with the Okesa, the Buddha’s robe, worn over the left shoulder, not much of it is actually visible. It’s almost like ceremonial underwear.

I went back to my cushion in the zendo. When I came upstairs again about 3:30 to fix tea before the last block of sitting, Issan was standing behind his ironing board in the living room, in his bathrobe, wearing a little head band. Sweat was dripping from his forehead. He was ironing the kimono fresh from the dry cleaners. I stopped on the stairs, and had to stop myself from telling him sternly to get back to bed--the hot iron didn’t mix with an elevated body temperature. He saw my shock. He turned towards me, smiled and said, “They never get the pleats right.” I knew he wanted me to laugh. But he was serious about his task, and didn’t want me to stop him. How could I argue with a man obviously in a deep state of concentration if I was laughing? I didn’t. I didn’t dare.

I went back to the zendo, and Issan returned to his bed. Just after the closing ceremony, we met again. Steve and Shunko, part of the ceremonial team, had packed the car, and everything was in place. Issan came down the stairs perfectly dressed. He might have been brushing off his fears when he said, “It’s such a long complicated ceremony. I hope I get it right, but it's a Zen ceremony—When I forget what I’m supposed to do, I just bow. That's always right.” This time we both laughed.

Everyone came home relieved. The wedding had been fabulous. When Shunko complained that the husband’s gift list of toasters and table service included nothing for the Hospice, Issan was quick to remind him that it was the couples’ special day. They were setting up house together for the first time.

Oh that man loved to iron. He also ironed his non-priestly underwear. I saw it with my own eyes. I don’t know if the newly married couple were given a shiny new steam iron, but I do know that Issan gave them the gift of his practice.

Issan taught me ironing practice though I am not as devoted to it as he was, but there’s another lesson here about gifts and toasters and table service. It took me a long time to digest and I still struggle with it: There is always enough money to do what you need to do. And most likely it will be just enough, not a penny more or a penny less. When you are tight, (or especially if you’re tight) it’s probably time to reorder your priorities, and mindfully count your pennies.


The Verse is from the poem, “Ironing,” by Vicki Feaver

And now I iron again: shaking

dark spots of water onto wrinkled

silk, nosing into sleeves, round


buttons, breathing the sweet heated smell

hot metal draws from newly-washed

cloth, until my blouse dries


to a shining, creaseless blue,

an airy shape with room to push

my arms, breasts, lungs, heart into.









In memory of Issan Tommy Dorsey Roshi (March 7, 1933 — September 6, 1990)


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