Friday, August 20, 2010

First Anniversary of Boundless Way Temple

Last August, I wrote a little blog entry marking the anniversary of the day when we bought the building that is now Boundless Way Temple. Then I went off to Europe, and forgot about it until today. Time swiftly passes by. A year, a month, a moment -- can we appreciate what we have been given in this lifetime?

On August 19, 2009, we closed the real estate deal, and began a year of tremendous challenges and serendipity. Today, looking back, it all feels inevitable. There have been so many fortuitous occurrences: the revelation of the cherry tree, the arrival of the large Buddha, and many other discoveries and gifts. Supporting everything has been the energy and good will of all the folks who hammered and sawed, weeded and planted, swept and contributed to the Temple in truly countless ways. A dream became reality.

Our real estate agent left an anniversary gift at the back door on August 19 -- two beautiful knives, very sharp, and inscribed with her name and company. Swords of Manjusri, already dedicated to help in the kitchen to feed all of us hungry ghosts, and maybe to help us see more clearly, Perhaps this metaphor is already much too stretched out to bear meaning. But the knives cut through everything very well so far!

My teacher commented, on a visit to the Temple recently, that the huge Buddha seems to be getting smaller. Our minds get used to everything eventually, until the next major change, arrival or loss throws us back into confusion and wonder. What awaits us? Moment by moment as we live through the second year of Boundless Way Temple, Mugendo-ji -- all we can count on is to be surprised!

Monday, August 9, 2010

thinking of Robert Aitken Roshi

Last night we had a visit from John Tarrant Roshi, my teacher James Ford Roshi's teacher. John's primary teacher, Robert Aitken, pictured above, died on Friday. John told us some beautiful stories about Aitken Roshi, someone whose books and life have been an inspiration to me for many years. He sounded, from the stories, like a lovely and complicated human being. I found myself so grateful to be in this amazing Zen lineage. I don't know what exactly gets passed on in Zen transmission, but I like having Bob Aitken as my Dharma great-grandfather.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Mugendo-ji garden in the rain

In a few hours, our first 7 day sesshin at Boundless Way Temple will begin. We have done all of the work of preparation, and have obtained the necessary permissions and certificates from the City. The temple is quiet, waiting for arrivals. The big Buddha sits in his habitual stillness, looking out towards the street. The brick garden path glistens with the rain.

On Sunday, I will have my inka shomei (transmission) ceremony. A dear friend who can't be with us that day sent flowers along with a poem by Basho:

It's not like anything
they compare it to --
the summer moon.

Nothing can compare to this moment of the sound of the summer rain and the waiting before the "big" events happen. Right now, this is all that there is -- full and complete and just right.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

enduring everything

These pictures are of two dear friends who seem to be able to endure whatever comes their way. One is our big granite Temple Buddha, who sits smiling, on the day of his arrival, at the packing strap that lifted his two and a half ton body from the delivery truck to the stone garden where he now rests comfortably. He sits through rain, sun, daylight and starlight, with the same lovely smile. The other picture is of my friend Anne, who is in her late 80's, and has recently had a couple of hospitalizations based on the usual endlessly long list of the side-effects of aging. On this particular visit, she had to wear an EEG monitor on her head for 24 hours. You may have seen the picture of the Tibetan monk, Matthieu Ricard, after enduring a functional MRI, his head covered with a network of sensors, smiling beatifically. Anne, not a long-time meditator, but surely a Buddha, went up and down in mood during her ordeal, but here she is smiling. She has always made the best of things in her long life. I bow to her cheerful endurance, as I bow to the Buddha. May we all smile to our suffering, knowing we are more than our suffering.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Buddha visitors

Buddhas are attracted by Buddhas. The new big Buddha at the Temple is inviting curiosity from animals, birds and all beings -- children, walkers, drivers, dogs. There's something magnetic about his solid serenity. We all want to be with him and sit with him.

The name Buddha derives from a Sanskrit word that means "awake." The big Temple Buddha is a Chinese sculpture of the historical Buddha, Shakyamuni, who lived around 2600 years ago. He stated very clearly that he was not a God -- simply a human being who had discovered a way to realize the truth of this life, to see beyond his own delusions and find clarity.

Buddha images are meant to inspire us to awaken to this unvarnished reality, not to be worshiped or venerated. And yet we human beings forget that this awakened nature exists inside every one of us, and so we look to others, rather than to ourselves. The invitation of the big Temple Buddha is to recognize him as a mirror, not as an image of something outside of you.

Buddhas are attracted by Buddhas. When you stand or sit before a Buddha figure, when you bow or offer incense, please know that you are bowing in gratitude to the awakened nature within you. May you see Buddhas everywhere!

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Medium-sized Buddha waits for the Big Buddha

We don't know when it's coming, but we have received many gifts in preparation for it. The man who dug up the driveway for the new sprinkler system donated beautiful local gravel for the garden that will hold our new Big Buddha. Some sangha members, including Ray, Chumkee, Jamie and Jason, have donated their sweat and expertise to preparing the ground. We have also received a few unsolicited monetary contributions. The Big Buddha waits somewhere, meditating peacefully. The medium-sized Buddha waits on the gravel pile. The universe is moving along, in its complexity, to bring these two together. The timing, as with everything else, seems to be out of our control. Nothing to do but sit and wait. As usual!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Big Buddhas, Little Buddhas

The Temple has recently been offered a huge Buddha statue at a very reduced price. My husband and I have decided to purchase it as a gift to the Temple. (See his blog : for the full story. It's been quite "karmic" in its unfolding -- many causes and conditions -- just as the whole Temple adventure has been.) The big Buddha is five feet tall and four feet wide, and made of granite. (In case you're wondering, he's the one in the picture at the bottom of this post.) For many years, I have been collecting Buddha, Bodhisattva and monk figures, which come to me in very unusual ways -- tag sales, discount stores, Goodwill stores, gift shops and, of course, actual gifts. One of my friends called our former home the land of a thousand Buddhas. The little fellow smiling at you in the picture directly below is about 3 inches high and lives on the desk in my office. I believe he will welcome his new friend with the same calmness and sense of amusement he seems to bring to everything. He is a little walking monk -- wind him up and he walks on for quite a while. (As the old woman said to Zhao-zhou. "A good respectable monk, but he too goes on like that.") The new big Buddha figure, once he is set down by the crane (he weighs many tons) will not move again, we hope. He will sit and welcome visitors, letting anyone passing by know that something unusual is going on at the big white house on Pleasant Street.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Zen Romance

Sam and Betsy met at a practice period at the Berwick Street Zendo in 2004, and according to Sam, it was love at first sight. Today they're getting married -- our first wedding at Boundless Way Temple. Betsy is a cello player, and her string quartet is playing in the entry hall, with Sam's daughter Sarah substituting for Betsy's cello part on trombone. The music is glorious and delightful.

The soon to be married couple couldn't resist taking a turn around the dance floor. Happy Wedding Day, Betsy and Sam!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Ready? Smile!

There is a koan in the Gateless Gate collection that goes like this:

The priest Ruiyan called "master!" to himself every day and answered himself "Yes!"

Then he would say "Be aware!" and reply "Yes!"

"Don't be deceived by others!"
"No, no!"

One of our tasks as students of the Way is to understanding the meaning of "others." Who is this lovely and humble old man Ruiyan talking to? Are you talking to me? Who are you? What is this? Who is taking the picture? Ready?


Saturday, May 1, 2010

The children have just left the Temple after the children's service, and all is fairly quiet. Birds sing, traffic goes by, and a walk by the gazebo reveals a little altar, carefully and slightly wildly put together by the children and their parents. Jizo stands next to a feather found at the Ecotarium, and sand from a Tibetan mandala sits between the cracks of special rocks and sticks. All Buddhas, throughout space and time, finding a home together.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Glimpsing the stars

Here is a poem about Passover by Lynn Ungar. It is a beautiful warning about all our hopes for ease and protection. Essentially, all the choices open to us, to stay where it is safe or to plow ahead into unknown territory, bring with them the same results: the angel of death comes for us all, but perhaps we will be able to glimpse the stars along the way.

And by the way: this drawing contains a hidden image. Everything we encounter reveals something unexpected, if we see it fully. Once you see it, you won't be able to not see it.


Then you shall take some of the blood, and put it on the door posts and the lintels of the houses . . .
and when I see the blood, I shall pass over you, and no plague shall fall upon you to destroy you, when I smite the land of Egypt.
-Exodus 12: 7 & 13

They thought they were safe
that spring night; when they daubed
the doorways with sacrificial blood.
To be sure, the angel of death
passed them over, but for what?
Forty years in the desert
without a home, without a bed,
following new laws to an unknown land.
Easier to have died in Egypt
or stayed there a slave, pretending
there was safety in the old familiar.

But the promise, from those first
naked days outside the garden,
is that there is no safety,
only the terrible blessing
of the journey. You were born
through a doorway marked in blood.
We are, all of us, passed over,
brushed in the night by terrible wings.

Ask that fierce presence,
whose imagination you hold.
God did not promise that we shall live,
but that we might, at last, glimpse the stars,
brilliant in the desert sky.

~ Lynn Ungar ~

(Blessing the Bread)

Thursday, March 25, 2010

another view on not knowing

There is a verse in the Gateless Gate, by Wumen, that begins: "Zen students do not know the truth. They only know their consciousness up until now."

We spend so much of our lives speculating about what the future will bring, and for those of us who practice meditation, what our future mental states will be like. We imagine we know what enlightenment is, based on our reading and our fantasies. How could we know something not yet known? When will we recognize that everything we are looking for is already here, but not seen?

Here is a koan response from T.S. Eliot, taken from his poem East Coker:

I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope for hope
Would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love
For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith
But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.
Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought:
So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.

Monday, March 22, 2010

life turning

"When I look inside and see that I am nothing, that is wisdom. When I look outside and see that I am everything, that is love. Between these two, my life turns."

A quote from Nisargadatta/photo by David Rynick

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

all beings rejoice together

This weekend I ordained two wonderful people, a husband and wife, as Soto Zen Buddhist priests. And gave 16 people in their sangha the 16 Bodhisattva precepts (jukai.) It was a beautiful and moving ceremony, full of serious depth and humor and spaciousness. It seemed that, in the middle of this burning world, where suffering awaits us and surrounds us, we can still celebrate lives devoted to service and the energy of devoted meditation practice. With joy! Their young daughter (picture in front of us) took the first 6 precepts, and received the traditional short bib, or rakusu, in hot pink (rather than the more usual black.) Tears, laughter, community -- all beings everywhere rejoice together!

Monday, February 15, 2010

one thing leads to another

Looking around at any group of people, or even being with one person, it's amazing to realize that every single one of us will die. How do we live with this knowledge? We can begin by turning towards any sorrow or sadness that arises in the face of this truth. And then we have a choice -- to expand awareness to include all of the possibilities of feeling, and to recognize that, in this moment, we can also allow ourselves to also feel the joy of human connection in the face of impermanence. This is a choice that we can make in every moment -- not to give in to despair, but to realize that our duty is to delight in what is here right now. We don't have to abandon our sorrow. We only have to feel the possibility of connection and gratitude that can co-exist with sadness and poignancy.

(photo of Mt. St. Helens by David Rynick)

Thursday, January 21, 2010

A thousand joys and sorrows

Yunmen said, "Every day is a fine day." My old Zen teacher used to say that it was incorrect to ever evaluate a day as good or bad -- too many moments, all perfect in themselves. And yet we judge and complain and celebrate and enjoy. Beyond all judging is the lived moment, now perceived as happiness, now as grief. As Rumi says, "A thousand joys and sorrows."

Yesterday I awaken to disappointing election news, and later, hear that Haiti has had another major aftershock. And as the work day ends, a co-worker tells me that one of her former students has killed herself. Saying good-bye to my boss, I say "what a day!" He replies, "yes! So wonderful!" "What?" I say, and repeat my string of bad news. "Oh" he says. "I was thinking of the successful program we ran today (...a lecture that attracted 40 people, with a terrific visiting researcher who engaged us all.) The energy of the office was so high today." And then he pauses, and sees my surprised face. "Ah," he says. And we both smile at each other. And he adds, "a thousand joys and sorrows."