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 Richard Baker Roshi. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Richard Baker Roshi. Show all posts

Friday, October 1, 2021

Sex, death, and food.

Dainin Katagiri Roshi admonishes Issan!


This life we live is a life of rejoicing, this body a body of joy which can be used to present offerings to the Three Jewels. It arises through the merits of eons and using it thus its merit extends endlessly. I hope that you will work and cook in this way, using this body which is the fruition of thousands of lifetimes and births to create limitless benefit for numberless beings. To understand this opportunity is a joyous heart because even if you had been born a ruler of the world the merit of your actions would merely disperse like foam, like sparks. --from Tenzo kyokun: Instructions for the Tenzo by Eihei Dogen zenji 


Let’s talk about death while we’re still breathing. Talking about it after we’re dead might  be challenging.


A dying Isaan told me something Katagiri Roshi said to him when they were both very much alive. I find myself revisiting this conversation about impermanence and death. And while I’m at it, can I also include a conversation about sex? They’re both dead and can’t have that conversation, or we’re not privy to it, but I will try to do it for them. 


And I’ll even stick my tongue out at you, Katagiri, even though you may only be a ghost.


And now, in reverse order, sex, death, and food


During one practice period at Tassajara, Issan ran the kitchen--the position of tenzo is highly respected in Zen monasteries thanks to Dogen weaving a spell about the cook’s practice of making food. Issan told me he’d been working night and day in the kitchen. According to the Founder of Soto Zen, this is really good practice: “Day and night, the work for preparing the meals must be done without wasting a moment. If you do this and everything that you do whole-heartedly, this nourishes the seeds of Awakening and brings ease and joy to the practice of the community.”


But Katagiri Roshi called him in. 


Of course he went. The Roshi asked him why he was missing so many periods of zazen. Issan said he felt he had to explain himself--he was terribly busy; there were a huge number of students to cook for; directing the preparations required an enormous effort; and, cut to the chase, Issan  admitted that he was challenged working with some of the students as well as not complaining about foodstuff he didn’t think was terribly wonderful to begin with. 


Katagiri sat stone-faced. Then he said, “Yes, we work hard long hours. Then we die.” That was it. And as they say in the koans, Issan bowed and left. A true koan exit.


Issan told me this story just months before he died. In both his smile and the bright tone of his voice, I could sense his gratitude for the decades old warning. The certainty of death added urgency to his story. HIV was ravaging his body. He knew he was dying. His body felt it. Denial was no longer possible, but I didn’t hear even the faintest note of resignation in his voice, rather a note of surprise that seemed as fresh as the day of that meeting. Past and present seemed to merge.


He never forgot those few words. They changed his life. They were a blessing. They shook something loose. They turned every excuse and explanation upside down, and released unexpected wonders.


A conversation about food ended in death. Issan spoke honestly. He was dying as the direct result of a sexual encounter with his longtime boyfriend. What did he have to hide, and how could he hide it anyway? Despite the fact that many people loved Issan, they also found his relationship with James troublesome, not particularly because it was gay love, but the love of his life was a man addicted to methamphetamines. 


I began to look for other things Katagiri might have said about death, and found several. The old horse always found his way back to the barn. The words of a beloved and respected master have a way of creating their own currency. In Zen the phrase “turning word” points to a phrase that helps a student refocus his or her attention, perhaps even prompt a realization. In turn students circulate a good turn of phrase. 


Steve Allen told me that when Katagiri visited Suzuki Roshi just before Suzuki died, Katagiri cried out, “Please don’t die!” Another version of his plea is more personal and direct, “I don’t want you to die.” I had also heard that Katagiri’s last words were, “I don’t want to die,” but that may just have some sincere student either misquoting, conflating or confusing time and place. I can find no solid confirmation, but none of these statements are what you might expect from a Zen master. They certainly don't fit any sentimental notions of a master’s death poem.


But each version of the story rings of something real, gut emotion crying out. I accept the invitation to get real. 


Onto Questions about Sex!


Dosho Port quotes you, Katagiri, as saying: "After my death I will come back and haunt over you, checking on your practice."* Yes, for me, Roshi, even though I was not your student, you have come back to haunt my practice, but not checking it as you did Issan’s work as the tenzo. I find myself weighing the value of your words. They have some punch, but is it a strawman? If I deflect the impact of your admonition about dying with the volatile ammunition of sexual scandal, am I ducking the question?


"But I kept my mouth shut"

Can I take you seriously? Revelations about your sexual misconduct have come to light after your death. I am unsure if you actually lied about your relationships with women in your community, and there was no accusation that you were abusive. But keeping your mouth shut is not entirely honest either. I get that your reputation did depend, to some degree, on the perception of your being a steady family man. Perhaps you felt that if you were not directly confronted, your silence would serve the dharma. You are often quoted as saying that a good Zen student kept his or her mouth shut, followed directions, and sat upright. Roshi, I am told you were a good sitting monk, that you followed directions, well mostly; your form was good; and you certainly kept your mouth shut.

I have also tried to keep my mouth shut. I have not commented on your sexual dalliances, Roshi. As a matter of fact, I wouldn't even judge them--if it were left to me, I would allow you any sexual expression you felt drawn to as long as it didn’t hurt others. But you were not fully transparent about your affairs. Did you really think that they would not come to light? Your naivete has come back to haunt us.

I am obliged to add your name, Katagiri, to the list of teachers who have abused their position. Of the more than 450 Zen teachers in the United States, the amount of oxygen taken up by the small proportion who have been involved in sexual scandals is enormous. The distraction alone gravely harms the teaching.

I will name names: Issan’s own teacher, Richard Baker,* Joshu Sasaki, Taizan Maezumi, Eido Shimano, Dennis Merzel. High profile Tibetan teachers whose names have been dragged into the same mud include Sakyong Mipham and Sogyal Rinpoche. These men, and they are all men, truly hurt us in real ways.


Po-chang and Huang-po: "The Buddha-Dharma is not a small affair”*


When the hurt goes away, does it mean that we have understood? I’ll stick out my tongue!


One day the Master [Po-chang] addressed the group : "The Buddha-Dharma is not a small affair. I twice met with the Greater Master Ma's 'K'AAA! ' It deafened and blinded me [for] three days."


Huang-po hearing this, unconsciously stuck out his tongue saying "Today, because of your exposition, I have been able to see Ma-tsu's power in action. But I never knew him. If I were to be Ma-tsu's heir, afterwards I'd have no descendants." 


The Master Po-chang said, "That's so, that's so. If your understanding is equal to your teacher's, you diminish his power by half. Only if you surpass your teacher, will you be competent to transmit. You are very well equipped to surpass your teacher."


Roshi, you were saved by the queer guy! Issan fished some sound practice advice out of a muddy pond and passed it on. He wasn’t blinded or deafened by a few words. but he wasn’t blindsided either. He carried them in his heart for more than three days. In fact he used them till the day he died.


Your dharma heir, Teijo Munnich, quotes you, Katagiri, “Please don’t call me ‘Zen Master.’ No one can master Zen.” And you also said, “Do not make me into a god after I die.” 


Don’t worry, Roshi. I won’t. Thank you.


Maori Haka


The Maori people of New Zealand have created a ritualistic dance, the Kapa Haka,
in celebration of light triumphing over darkness.

_______________________


* Tenzo kyokun: Instructions for the Tenzo by Eihei Dogen zenji 


*Dosho Port,  Me in Your Heart a While: The Haunting Zen of Dainin Katagiri


* Bivins, Jason C. “‘Beautiful Women Dig Graves’: Richard Baker-Roshi, Imported Buddhism, and the Transmission of Ethics at the San Francisco Zen Center.” Religion and American Culture: A Journal of Interpretation, vol. 17, no. 1, [University of California Press, Center for the Study of Religion and American Culture], 2007, pp. 57–93, https://doi.org/10.1525/rac.2007.17.1.57.


*following the Ming version as translated by Cleary. Also quoted in Zen's Chinese Heritage

The Masters and Their Teachings by Andy Ferguson 





Friday, May 7, 2021

When the Breath Ends

The case: Hekiganroku Case 3

Master Ba Is Ill

Great Master Ba was seriously ill. The temple steward asked him, "Master, how are you feeling these days?" The Great Master said, "Sun-faced Buddha, Moon-faced Buddha."


I knocked on Issan’s door, and heard a faint “come in.” He was on the phone. He waved his hand towards the seat next to him, inviting me to sit down.

“Oh,” he said, “let me write that down.” And he picked up the small ballpoint on his desk and began to write carefully in his neat hand.

"The inbreath is the first breath of my life."

"The outbreath is the last of my life." He paused.

"Just to make sure that I have this correctly: when I breathe in it’s as if I were taking the first breath that I’ve ever breathed, and when I breathe out, it’s like the last. And soon it will be the last one.” He laughed. “I’ll probably be terrified.”

“Good bye, Roshi. Thank you. I love you too.”

As he put down the phone, he looked at me and said, “It’s important for me to write these practices down. They’re so simple but I’m not quite myself these days. Sometimes I'm confused or forget. I have to try to do my best.”

Yamada Kuon fills in some of the detail for Case 3 of the Blue Cliff Record: The "sun-face Buddha" is the 202nd Buddha who is supposed to have a life-span of 1800 years. The "moon-face Buddha" is, on the other hand, the 858th of the thousand Buddhas, and has the extremely short life of just one day and night, only 24 hours.

Objectively speaking Issan was towards the moon-face Buddha end of the spectrum. He would be dead within 10 days. But he was also 57 years old, and Richard Baker Roshi had just counseled him that his whole life changed with each breath. What changed? The memories? I know that Issan cherished some and perhaps regretted others. The cells, diseased and healthy? We know that the disease was winning. Loves lost and forgotten? All very present. The pain of the moment, or the cessation of that pain? Yes, that too. Just follow the breath.

My friend Jakushu Gregory Wood jaywalked into this koan conversation and started talking about last breaths and cutting off emotions. He cited Chan Master Shen, imperial attendant of the western capital. Shen picked up a quill, and wrote this poem for Case #36 of the Book of Serenity*:

When the breath ends, it cuts off emotions
Arousing the mind there is no path of mind
Without even the strength to bat an eye
Never do I go out the door


Issan was not prematurely or artificially cutting off any emotion, but on the other hand I didn’t see him exaggerate them either in a kind of swan song. I did hear the faint note of nostalgic farewell in those moon-face days, but he’d been a professional drag artist so that might have just been for the limelight. The practice just indicated following the inbreath as the first breath and the out breath as the last. There is no instruction to stop anything. As Master Shen points out that’s not a roadmap either.

I stood up to leave, and as I opened the door, Issan asked if I would be back before lunch to remind him to take his medication. He invited me into this last part of his life. I tried to breathe with him, residing as he often said, in our “breath-mind.” That gesture of friendship changed my life.

Hakuin warns, “There'll be a lot of fatalities if people take a view of emptiness to be the Sun Face Buddha.” Don’t worry old man, Issan didn’t allow for any confusion. He wrote it down very carefully with a ballpoint pen.

Thank you, Issan. Your best was wonderful.

 

Issan Dorsey (March 7, 1933 — September 6, 1990) with Ken Ireland (May 26, 1944 to ...)


Hotetsu's Verse:

Listen, I will tell you the good news: you're going to die.
You don't have to get everything fixed, figured out.
It's not up to you. You're off the hook, Dead One Walking.
You only have to be present to the sky's shining faces.
If you say, "no time soon, I hope," you might as well be dead already.
1800 years is just the same as one day.
Right now, the only eternity there is, they're just the same.

 

 


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 reasonably 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 and no speed limits. 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.



Sex, death, and food.

Dainin Katagiri Roshi admonishes Issan! This life we live is a life of rejoicing, this body a body of joy which can be used to present offe...