Sunday, October 29, 2017


My father and me, 1954

Around this time of year, I start to think about my father, Leo Blacker, who died on November 9, 1969.  It's hard to believe that he's been gone for close to 50 years.  I was 15 years old when he died, and I'm lucky to have many happy memories of him.  He was a larger than life person, a powerful oldest brother to 5 siblings, a man who befriended people he liked, and had no use for people he didn't like. 

He and my mother had a standing date every Saturday night.  He'd come home from our family fruit and vegetable store in the afternoon, take a nap, and then they would go out to Storyville, a jazz club in Boston where my mother was a waitress for many years.  They would dress up in fancy clothes, smelling strongly of after shave and perfume, say good-bye to me and the babysitter, and go off into the night.  Whoever was playing at the club would end up back in our suburban home, partying until early in the morning.  I have many memories of waking up to the thumping sound of the stereo,  coming downstairs in my nightgown, the babysitter long dismissed, to encounter crowds of people drinking, eating and smoking, jazz musicians and their fans and friends.  And my father was often at the center of the action, hugging people and making them laugh, filling their plates and glasses.  Those Saturday nights were when I saw him at his happiest.

It's only recently that I've recognized the similarity between my parents' lives and my own.  It turns out that I am also at my happiest when I'm at a certain kind of party,  what I sometimes call a party for introverts.  At Boundless Way Temple, we sit together morning and evening, mostly in silence, learning on the deepest level who we truly are.  I have the good fortune and privilege to be in the role of teacher to many people wishing to encounter the Great Way.  At the Temple, I am one of the hosts, making sure that people are getting what they need to feel supported in seeking the Dharma.

Not everyone is always happy with my hosting, and, in the way of these things, people sometimes express their displeasure and leave the party.  But most of the time, people keep coming back, as they did to my parents' parties in the 1950's and 1960's, enjoying the silence and the stillness, and even more, the opportunity to see into their own hearts, and through that seeing, into the hearts of others. 

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Walking Straight on a Curvy Road

One of our Boundless Way Zen miscellaneous koans says:  "Go straight on a narrow mountain road with 99 curves."  When we take up this koan, it seems impossible.  How can we reconcile going straight when the road doesn't cooperate?  How can we lead a life from our compassion, balance and wisdom, when we are endlessly confronted with curves and barriers?

The koan reminds me of a long walk that I took over 40 years ago, when I was doing ethnomusicology fieldwork in Peru, on the shores of Lake Titicaca, 12,000 feet up in the Andes mountains.  I was studying the local music of the Aymara Indians, which, to my surprise, wasn't the romantic flute music I had heard on Paul Simon's song "El Condor Pasa."  It was seriously out of tune brass band music, learned by the musicians during their required stint in the Peruvian military.  I spent weeks interviewing musicians who played in these bands.

One morning, at the convent where I was staying, I heard a brass band marching by my window.  I grabbed my portable Sony cassette recorder and ran out to follow the band, as they led a wedding party down the dirt road.  We danced and walked on the narrow mountain roads, which curved around and about, and all the time I was holding out my microphone to record the music.   And then, suddenly, we came to the end of the road, and everyone, the band, the couple, all of their guests got on small reed boats and floated away on the lake.

I waved good-bye to them, and turned around to walk back to the convent.  But I was completely lost -- we had been walking for hours according to my watch, but we had taken many twists and turns.  I didn't know how to get home.  So I only had one choice.  I started to walk back down the road that had ended at the lake.  I had many adventures that day, wandering around on the Capachica Peninsula, hungry, thirsty and exhausted from the altitude.  But I kept meeting people, who pointed the way back, now to the left, now to the right.  And in one small village, an old man gave me my first and only taste of coca, chased by strong, clear alcohol, which helped me finally get back to the convent, where lunch was just being served.

How do we get home when we're lost?  How do we survive when we have no resources left?  How do we walk straight on a narrow mountain road with 99 curves?  Here's one answer, from the Peruvian Indians of La Merced.

Monday, October 16, 2017

NAACP Prayer Event at Worcester City Hall, October 3, 2017

I was recently asked to speak at a prayer event sponsored by the local Worcester chapter of the NAACP.  My assignment was to speak about disappointment.  Here's a transcript of what I said:

My name is Rev. Melissa Myozen Blacker, and I am one of the resident priests and guiding teachers at the Boundless Way Zen Buddhist Temple on Pleasant Street.

This has been a difficult year for many of us, especially

in the realm of politics,
in immigration reform,
in the effort to repair our planet’s climate,
in the increase in hate crimes directed at women  
LGBTQ people and people of color
and the continued escalation of gun violence.  

The list is long. 

And maybe you have also had some hard times personally this year. 
Sorrow, sickness, aging and death touch us all at various times. 

Let us take a few moments, in silence, 
to acknowledge our grief and our pain, and any disappointments that we have experienced during this challenging year.


As we open our hearts and minds to what is difficult
let us turn towards what is possible. 
Let us find a way to turn our grief and pain into power,
into determination,
into a renewed energy to fight for justice in this burning world.

Let us lift our hearts up in community and solidarity. 

Let us heal any divisions in our hearts.

Let us be determined to make a difference.

May all beings heal and have peace.