No. 3 ~ 2006
Table of Contents
Jukai & Rakusus
The Design and Symbolic Meaning of the Rakusu ~ Judith Putnam
Receiving the Precepts at a Jukai Ceremony ~ June Davis
Learning to Sew Again and Again ~ Kathleen Kistler
Voyage to the Center of the World ~ Bill Devall
Columbus Day Project ~ Maggie
Axis Mundi ~ Mark P.
The Identity of Somethingness with Everythingness,
or, Zen in America ~ Roberta Werdinger
Response ~ Barry Evans
Breathing ~ Suzanne M.
And . . .
Above 3rd Falls ~ Jerome Lengyel
Jukai & Rakusus
The Design and Symbolic Meaning of the Rakusu
~ Judith Putnam
A rakusu is a small representation of
the Buddha’s robe which is worn much like a bib or apron with
straps around the neck. It is made up of small pieces of cloth sewn
together in a patchwork. The origin of the design is attributed to
the historical Buddha himself as he looked out over some rice fields.
The rakusu is also called “field of
merit.” That patchwork of fields can refer to the earth itself as
a sustainer of our physical lives; to our use of the rakusu in our
everyday life sustaining us on our spiritual path; to the sustenance
of the Dharma that contains and is contained by all things. It
represents in a physical way that one has decided to live with
integrity using the precepts as a guide. That one is willing to
understand and accept what it is to be human, to live life with all
its “messiness” and conflicts and inconsistencies. That one’s
path is not always straight and narrow, nor easy.
The muted color, often a dark color,
signifies our detachment from things; it is free of the pretense to
fame and fortune. It is not supposed to create a feeling of luxury
or excite the mind to jealousy; nor is it designed to use people’s
favorite colors. The point being that those things remind us of our
preferences, our greeds, hatreds, and delusions.
The stitching is said to show one’s
state of mind when actually sewing the rakusu. Needless to say,
one’s frustration, feelings of incompetence, impatience, etc. have
an opportunity to arise and be noticed while sewing. The constant
repetition of the refuges, or “Namu Kei Butsu” (translated
roughly as “I rely on, or plunge into the Buddha”), while sewing
is encouraged in order to deepen one’s understanding of this kind
of “meditation in action.”
Cutting a large piece of material into
smaller pieces is a reminder to forego strong attachments. Some rows
have short pieces on top; some have long pieces on top. Buddha
Nature is neither long nor short; neither big nor small. The top is
no more important than the bottom; Buddha Nature permeates
everywhere. This is also represented in the lay of the pieces one
over the other from top to bottom and from center to the outer edges.
Our compassionate action comes from our “center,” that source of
Buddha Nature that can rise to our awareness during meditation.
The squares at the four corners
represent the guardians of the Buddha-Dharma. In Japanese
iconography they are represented as fierce warriors, ready to defend
at any moment from any direction. One can look upon these guardians
as protectors of one’s self while immersed in Buddhist study or
meditation. One can also envision them as protectors of the true
Dharma and its continuous transmission through time.
On the neck piece is a continuous line
of stitching representing a Casuarina needle. In the West we call it
“pine needle.” It represents the green shoots of the Way. Each
needle is a different length all coming from the same source.
The back of the rakusu is reserved for
the Preceptor to write a short verse of personal significance and the
new Buddhist name of the recipient. It is presented in a ceremony
recognizing the interconnection between teacher and student and often
in the presence of the local sangha. This shows our reliance on each
other in our practice.
According to Sawaki Kodo Roshi
(1898-1965, Soto Zen Master, and researcher of the version of the
rakusu we sew today), the rakusu is Buddha and Buddha is the rakusu.
It should always be treated with respect. When not being worn, it
should be kept in a safe, clean place with nothing on top of it.
Receiving the Precepts at a Jukai Ceremony
~ June Davis
Shunryu Suzuki did few Jukai
ceremonies at the San Francisco Zen Center because he feared that
such ceremonies might give participants “special idea about lay
Buddhist,” or “set (people) apart as lay Buddhist,” leading to
a sort of Buddhist conceit. In his talk at the Center in 1970, he
reminds us that all sentient beings, Buddhist or not, are
Bodhisattvas and the ceremony does not make us special.
He further cautions us from getting
caught up in the elaborate rituals of Soto Zen. He encourages
us to “have a strong spirit so that we don’t get lost in our
There is a tendency for us to want to
be someone special: I am Buddhist, or I am a great teacher, or a
great practitioner, etc. He says that zazen together with
guidelines and rituals help to discourage us from falling into that
trap. However, sometimes we stumble into “thinking that our way is
pretty good and become very proud of Soto way. That is the
danger, so, I must have a big stick! (laughter)”
Jukai with Maylie Scott, July, 2000
Although in general there is agreement
and understanding that the Jukai ceremony does not make anyone
special, there are, nonetheless, many talks delivered and papers
written about it. In speaking of jukai, many of the following
concepts are discussed: “renunciation,” to “vow,”
“atonement,” “taking refuge,” the meaning of the making and
wearing of the robes (rakusu for lay practitioners and okesa
for priests), and receiving the Precepts. The jukai ceremony
reminds us of the deeper meaning of all these elements that comprise
Jakusho Kwong-roshi of Sonoma Mountain
Zen Center, an accomplished calligrapher, frequently explains a
Japanese word by clarifying the characters that hold the word’s
meaning. He tells us that the Chinese character ju of jukai
“implies the act of receiving.” One ideogram denotes openness --
in order to receive something one must be empty as a glass must be
empty for it to receive water. The second ideogram is actually a
“hand” symbolizing “receive.” The third one symbolizes “cut”
or pruning action, as in pruning a tree hard in winter for it to
thrive and grow in the spring. Thus, “to prune,” “to be
empty,” and “to receive” are all expressed by ju. The
character kai simply means “precepts or teachings.”
Most Buddhist teachers assert that the
precepts received in Jukai are more than just a set of rules
that we are expected to follow. The prohibitory tone that one might
hear sometimes is not the spirit of the precepts at all. Kwong-roshi
says that “each of the precepts really includes the others as well”
and points out that the first precept makes this very clear. He has
us consider not limiting the “Don’t kill” admonition to just
not killing people or animals. He states that “it really means
‘Don’t kill your Buddha Nature. Don’t kill your life-force’.”
“Not Stealing” would naturally arise from realizing “self-nature
is inconceivably wondrous.” Thus there would not occur a thought
of grasping to add anything to it. He then points out that once you
see the “depth of this precept, you will have a different
relationship to your entire environment: to people, to animals, to
thoughts and feelings, and to everything.” This realization comes
from within and is not delivered from outside yourself. It comes
from that intrinsic part of yourself that longs to live in a full,
deep, and meaningful way. He then offers the following: “When we
maintain the precepts and the spirit of the precepts in how we walk,
how we sit, how we eat, how we talk, and how we relate to one another
and to our environment, their constant presence brings light to our
lives. The precepts transform us and bring us real freedom.
Therefore, far from being a list of rules that restrict or deaden our
lives, the true precepts are life giving, each one expressing our
true nature, and that’s their real meaning.”
Alan Senauke and Angie Boissevain
Sometimes a word or a concept can be
associated with so many fears and ideas that it in itself becomes
obscured by the projections. Such a word is “vow.” Kwong-roshi
gently directs us to come to a point where one can see and experience
the kind of “vow” we make during the jukai ceremony as
akin to a high diver who follows through in her dive, all the way to
entering the water and beyond, with clarity and connection. What
this “vow” helps us to do is simply to cultivate and confirm
“our own steadfast awareness and intention.” In that
understanding, we make our “vow” and dive into our
Another word that gives us a shudder is
“renunciation.” Again Kwong-roshi says that the “renunciation”
we make at the ceremony is not about turning our back on family,
friends, or chocolate, but it is about turning our back on “the
conditions that cause suffering --greed, anger, and ignorance -- and
rediscovering our natural confidence through zazen.” Thus
we ceremoniously make our “renunciation.”
In the ceremony there is a place where
we make “atonement.” What we do here is to atone for past
wrong actions caused by greed, anger, and ignorance arising from
Body, Mind, and Thought, and Kwong-roshi says that this is our way of
Shinko Laura Kwong gave a Dharma talk
in the morning of the Jukai ceremony where she gave what seemed like
a simple talk, but when one looked at it deeply, it was extremely
demanding. One such concept was about “taking refuge,” which she
elucidated by her reading of a passage from Chogyam Trungpa’s The
Heart of Buddha in a way I had not thought about. So often we
have the mistaken notion that by “taking refuge” in Buddha,
Dharma, and Sangha, we will have a safe and protective place to go to
when things get tough. But actually, Trungpa states we are taking
refuge in “nothing” and becoming like a refugee in a place where
one is truly alone and yet self sufficient, needing nothing, and
responsible for one’s life. It’s a challenging concept, but for
me, it is also empowering and freeing.
Finally, one receives a ketchimyaku,
a Soto lineage paper, and a mindfully hand-sewn rakusu,
symbolic of Buddha’s robe. Suzuki-roshi once again reminds us not
to misunderstand that we are wearing some special robe. The historic
Buddha simply sewed his robe together from discarded materials
collected on the street and in the graveyard in order to cover his
body -- not to create some identity. Thus, while we say “my
okesa,” “my rakusu,” or “Buddha’s robe,” it
is only in forgetting all about its color, its material, how hard it
was to make, or that it is an imitation of the Buddha’s robe, that
it can be a truly authentic robe in the sense of a “Buddha robe.”
Suzuki-roshi concludes with the following remark: “The reason I
wear this robe is that this robe symbolizes that spirit in its true
sense: the spirit of using material as it is, and being me, myself.
Because this robe symbolizes that spirit, I wear it.”
Thus the Jukai ceremony, from many
perspectives and in its numerous implications, confirms and
elucidates the inconceivably wondrous self-nature of all beings.
Learning to Sew Again and Again
~ Kathleen Kistler
Kie Butsu, I’m taught to say as I stitch a new rakusu. Buddha’s
Judith has come to teach us. A great opportunity I will not miss.
teaches well. “I” begin to sew with the intention of finishing my
rakusu while she is here. Finishing soon is important. I have other
things to do.
keee-yay booooooo-tsu. My stitches gradually settle into a rhythm,
like my breath. With my breath. Becoming breath.
day “I” start out sewing. The rhythm comes and sewing takes
over. Soon there is just sewing. No sewer. No intention to finish.
Na-mu keee-yay boooooo-tsu. Little moments of joy. Contentment.
It’s done? Yaaaaay….. I think.
Voyage to the Center of the World
~ Bill Devall
Weather: sunshine. Temperature 64.
Day: The Day Before Columbus Day, 2006
Log of the voyage to the Center of the
I had no intention of taking a voyage
to the center of the world. At Sacred Grounds where volunteers were
gathering after zazen at the Aikido Center, I offered to give Mark
and Mitch a ride to the Woodley Island marina where they intended to
volunteer their time and energy on a sunfilled Sunday afternoon to
help clean up the mess on the north end of Indian Island, the
traditional grounds of the Wiyot tribe.
I am unable to do work practice, but
when we were standing around in the parking lot of Woodley Island
marina, waiting for other volunteers to arrive, someone said, “oh
you should come with us, Bill.” I asked Andrea, our boat captain,
tour leader, work coordinator, Environmental Director of the Wiyot
tribe if she would bring me back to shore. She agreed. So I went
along for the ride, not knowing what I was getting into.
Our crew was older rather than younger.
However it included an energetic young woman, Sage, who considers
work practice her primary practice. The volunteers included members
of AZG, BPF and a Quaker.
Casting off in the boat we sailed south
past the marina and took a right turn, heading north past the egret
rookery and under the bridge that spans the bay between Eureka and
the Samoa peninsula.
Andrea docked the boat on a broken
concrete slab. I hesitated about disembarking because the tide was
rising and we had to traverse a slippery wooden plank about twelve
inches wide from the broken concrete slab to dry ground. However
Mitch guided me and we made it to shore without falling into the
What a mess. Old decaying wooden
buildings, piles of twisted metal, black plastic covering a toxic
waste site containing dioxin, empty beer bottles. I asked myself, is
this the way it is at the end of modern civilization, a junk pile of
toxic wastes where humans cannot dwell? What will archeologists of
the distant future think when they excavate the garbage dumps of our
This mess on the island is not just any
mess. This mess is on site where the Wiyot tribe held their version
of the World Renewal ceremony. They held their ceremony on the site
until a night in 1860. On that night a gang of men set sail from
Eureka, landed on the island and massacred the Wiyots.
Some Wiyots survived and in 2001 bought
the World Renewal site from a private owner. The City of Eureka
transferred ownership of other parcels on the north end of Indian
Island to the Table Bluff rancheria in 2004.
The Wiyots have a vision to restore the
site and renew the World Renewal ceremony. World renewal is the
responsibility of humans to keep the world in harmony. Tribes on the
lower Klamath River used World Renewal ceremonies to heal and restore
relationships with what Buddhists call sentient beings.
After a brief tour of part of the site,
Andrea organized work teams to burn brush, take plastic from a
restoration site where it had been used so suffocate invasive
non-native periwinkle in an area that has been planted with native
plants, and restack old wood. Rusty nails protruded from many planks.
I sat in a plastic chair and watched
the work crews prepare equipment. While they worked under the October
sunshine, I pondered something that poet Gary Snyder said, that the
purpose of humans on this earth is to sing and dance around a little
watering hole in deep space.
So what are Buddhists doing here on
this site, on this place? I don’t know many Buddhists who sing
during their ceremonies or dance around a watering hole. Many
Buddhist I know don’t even hunt or fish.
The Wiyot ate fish and mussels, clams
and other gifts of the bay. The midden on the northwestern tip of the
island contains hundreds of years of shells collected from the bay as
well as burial sites of humans.
Sitting on the northwestern tip of the
island the western shore and eastern shore of the bay are visible as
well as the mountains to the east rising toward Kneeland. On a clear
day in late Winter, the crest of the mountains would be covered with
From this perspective this site does
seem like the center of the world. Today the southwestern view is
filled with an industrial wasteland including the pulp mill currently
proving paper pulp from the forests of the Humboldt region for the
What then can a zen Buddhist do while
witnessing devastation and restoration? What is restored? In a
physical sense the restored area will not be a living village. It
will be a memorial, a place to learn lessons about our civilization
and to hold a new version of the World Renewal ceremony.
The AZG has taken one small step
towards world renewal by declaring our property in Arcata, near the
community forest, a wildlife sanctuary. Mountain lions, deer, and
bears roam freely on our property. How can zen Buddhists take vows to
renew the precepts without renewing vows to the world in the late
stages of a civilization devoted to devouring the natural resources
of the earth?
Seeing the green mountains rising to
the east and green water of the bay and the bones in the midden pile,
the arising of which Dogen writes comes into mind. “You should know
that ‘eastern mountains traveling on water’ is the bones and
marrow of the buddha ancestors. All waters appear at the foot of the
eastern mountains. Accordingly, all mountains ride on clouds and walk
in the sky. Above all waters are all mountains. Walking beyond and
walking within are both done on water. All mountains walk with their
toes on all waters and splash there. Thus in walking there are seven
paths vertical and eight paths horizontal. This is
practice-realization.” (Kaza 69)
Some of my zen Buddhist friends are
strongly in favor of renewing our vows. I suggest we renew our vows
to our little watering hole in deep space as they do at Green Gulch
I vow to refrain from all action that
This is our restraint.
I vow to make every effort to act with
This is our activity.
I vow to live for the benefit of all
This is our intention.
Knowing how deeply our lives
We vow to not kill.
Knowing how deeply our lives
We vow to not take what is not given.
Know how deeply our lives intertwine,
We vow to not engage in abusive
Knowing how deeply our lives
We vow to not speak falsely or
Knowing how deeply our lives
We vow to not harm self or others
through poisonous thought or substance.
Knowing how deeply our lives
We vow to not dwell on past errors.
Knowing how deeply our lives
We vow not to speak of self separate
Knowing how deeply our lives
We vow to not possess any thing or form
of life selfishly.
Know how deeply our lives intertwine,
We vow to not harbor ill will toward
any plant, animal, or human being.
Knowing how deeply our lives
We vow to not abuse the great truth of
the Three Treasures.(Kaza 445)
Surely self-identified zen Buddhists
can help to clean up the mess our civilization has created on earth,
use creativity and positive energy and devotedly do what needs to be
done and sing and dance around our little watering hole in deep
Information on the Wiyot tribe and the
restoration of Indian Island can be found on the following website.
Stephanie Kaza and Kenneth Kraft, eds.
2000. Dharma Rain: Sources of Buddhist Environmentalism. Shambhala.
Columbus Day Project
its relatively brief history, our local chapter of the Buddhist Peace
Fellowship has focused on addressing U.S. foreign policy through
letters and vigils. At one meeting several months ago, Mitch
Trachtenberg proposed that we also consider the needs of our own
region, and take on a local project. One project he suggested was
volunteering to help with the cleanup of the Wiyot sacred site, on
Indian Island in Humboldt Bay. The group decided to pursue this
Wiyot lived on this site for thousands of years. They also conducted
a World Renewal ceremony on the site until 1860. While the Wiyot were
conducting their World Renewal ceremony a group of men sailed from
Eureka to Indian Island and killed most of the Wiyot. The World
Renewal ceremony has not be preformed since 1860.
Wiyot tribe bought part of the site from a private owner and the city
of Eureka donated city land north of the Samoa Bridge to the tribe in
2003. The tribe is in the process of restoring the site with native
plants and intend to hold a World Renewal ceremony on the site and to
offer tours to the site.
the BPF contacted Andrea Davis, Conservation Director for the Wiyot
Tribe, she was warmly receptive to our request. The BPF was the first
local community/religious group to volunteer to work on the site.
Andrea gave the BPF Sunday, October 8 (the day before Columbus Day)
to ferry seven of us from the Woodley Island Marina to the site and
Andrea supervised our work. Kara Lynn Klarner, a BPF member,
appeared on the dock with a cooler full of lunch for us, and waved
and bowed as we set off.
barge-load of trash left by non-Indian occupiers of the island has
already been removed, but much trash and contaminated soil remains.
Buildings and shrubs must be cleared away to make room for the
ceremonial site and for an interpretive center. Along the shore, a
dike has been built and infilled to curtail erosion, and willows,
huckleberries and other native plants have been placed behind the
dike. Weeding this newly planted area was one of our tasks.
Another, requiring a lot of strength and stamina, was dragging and
burning debris. The third task, tedious and demanding, was to remove
black mats that had been spread over a non-native ground cover called
periwinkle to smother it, dispose of the deteriorating plastic
underneath the mats, and replace and secure the mats. Two people
worked all afternoon to complete that job, taking hardly any time
took some of us on a tour of the area to be restored, the site of one
of two ancient Indian Island villages. Beyond the shoreline remains
of White occupation, the landscape with its panoramic view and acres
of marsh grasses is very beautiful. Andrea explained that all the
dry land is midden--clam and oyster shells piled up for centuries by
the people who lived there. She showed us deep pits in the mounded
soil, dug over much of the last century by curiosity seekers who
carried away relics and even skeletons. No professional archeologists
have excavated the site, and Andrea said none is planned. Soil will
be brought in to restore the original contour of the land. A
caretaker on the island will ensure that the ancient Wiyots’ graves
and their home are not desecrated again.
encouraged us to feel pleased with what we accomplished, although it
was only a small part of an enormous effort. We all agreed that we
would like to go again (and more volunteers will be welcome). Andrea
says that she will call us if a particular job needs to be done, or
we can call her “if we feel itchy.”
~ Mark P.
I was returning home recently when I noticed that a package of unknown
origin had arrived on my front porch. I picked it up with some
annoyance, assuming it was a religious tract or some other
unsolicited appeal. I normally discard these things. This one was
on its way to the woodstove when a note that was attached to the
package caught my attention. The note said: Codex Blingst -
Guardian of Sudden Sleep.
and hoping I wouldn’t find a dead fish inside I probed the manila
envelope. It contained a manuscript about the size of a hornwaffle.
It had a plain brown paper cover and bore the title, “Rictus
took the manuscript over to the couch and sat down in my preferred
position. I quote below from the set of instructions on page one -
for those who may be interested:
Rictus Canyon west (U.S.G.S. 7.5 minute, Sawdust, Utah) past the
confluence at Corpse Creek. The next side canyon past Corpse is
marked by a broken arch. This is “Old North Rictus.” Follow
this canyon northwest for about a mile to where it ends at a vertical
pouroff. There is an alcove above on your right. Work your way up
the slickrock and into the alcove. Follow along the back wall of the
alcove until you come to a petroglyph panel.
panel is a depiction of the Lucida Grande astronomical event of the
year 607 C.E. It is also a representation of the function of this
panel which is to sift the viewer through the axis mundi.
viewing the full panel you will experience a sensation of falling and
you will lose consciousness. (You may wish to view the panel from a
prone position.) A state similar to dreaming will follow in which
there will be a feeling of motion, a slight breeze, and a sound like
wings beating. These sensations will coalesce and become all
encompassing. No inside or outside and no sense of self will
remain. This state will deepen in a matter of minutes to the risible
mind of red dust. After an interval (depending on one’s need and
capacity for inosculation) one hears the sound of wingbeats again.
is the middle of the night. There are many stars in the sky. There
is a fragrance, which is the smell of stars.
out into the canyon and lie down on the sand near the middle of the
wash. The sand will feel warm. Look up into the night sky and drift
in and out of sleep and dreams until morning comes.
Rictus Canyon ~ Mark P.
When I sit with my friends in zazen
I vow with all
to touch and receive and convey
the mind of rivers and stars.
Robert Aitken, The Dragon Who Never
In the last issue of Rin Shin-ji Voices, we published an
article by Gael Hodgkins and Bill Devall opening a discussion of the
Americanization of zen. Below are some responses to that
article. We hope that this will be a continuing dialog.
The Identity of Somethingness with Everythingness, or, Zen in America
~ Roberta Werdinger
Since before the face you
had when your parents were born, from beginningless time, out of
nowhere and nothing, and yet, impossibly, appearing, there has only
been this unformed luminousness beyond all conditions. To name it is
unthinkable, and yet you can't just stay silent about it either.
It's beyond any subjective experience, and yet it shows up for every
party. It's a favor, free, slipping out of categories, splendid,
humble, here. It's our heritage, not just as human beings but simply
as sentient ones, one we share with rocks, trees, pebbles, first,
second, and third-growth redwoods, elephants and e coli. It
knows no limit, no boundary, no nationality. It goes wherever it's
needed, running instant diagnostic tests of the myriad forms of
suffering and then rushing in with treatments.
One of these treatment methods can be
called Zen, which is the Japanese version of the Chinese Ch'an.
Dogen Zenji brought the foundering Soto Zen school over from China
and lit it in flames with his astonishing realizations. Now it's
flown over a bigger ocean, and we have baptized it American Zen.
It's less than forty years old, as opposed to the many centuries it
took to develop in the East Asian world. I hear we're supposed to
figure out what we're doing with it. Can a Buddha or two help me?
Since we suffer and are liberated in
the same place, the same must be true for the rather paradoxical
situation we find ourselves in when practicing American Zen, for
example being told to just be ourselves while sitting in
uncomfortable positions for long periods of time wearing robes with
sleeves fit to choke a horse. Well, what of it? What self is it we
are fully to become? Is it dependent upon mode of clothing, comfort,
position of body? Will it shrivel up and go away when prodded out of
its usual order? Do we as Zen students want to realize our deepest
intent, or merely make ourselves feel a little better, alleviate the
constant low hum of suffering? A good teacher helps poke that self
out of the little cocoon it bravely fashioned, while a good sangha
holds up the mirror to all the aspects of itself it hasn't awakened
to yet. Both remind the student of what they are and what they could
We will know what American Zen is when
we allow ourselves to be fully ourselves. If we cling too much to
some notion of what and who we are, we tend to get rigid, worried,
unfriendly to outsiders. We might try to build a fence to keep our
borders intact, but a great loss of energy will result because the
fence is founded on a false premise. We are only American Buddhists
because of Buddhism in Japan because of Buddhism in China because of
Buddhism in India because of Buddha. (Yeah, I know, Buddha wasn't a
Buddhist, but give me a break; you have to have a place to go when
the rains begin.) If we know we are Americans because of everything
in the universe that is non-American, then we can take it more
lightly, and feel supported by those we seem to oppose. We can
celebrate the open, casual, bold, exuberant, irreverent, endlessly
questioning style that defines Americans at their best and that
prompted Suzuki Roshi to set up shop in America and take on a bunch
of unwashed hippies.
Without our defenses so firmly in
place, we might also be able to see the dark side of the American
character: the hyper-individualism, the unconscious sense of
entitlement, the notion of endless abundance which can translate into
over-consumption, the self-absorption which will toss aside whatever
is inconvenient. If we are able to move this examination a bit
closer to our own lives and characters, we might be able to see that
we, too, have excessive notions. We might realize that, try as we
may to distance ourselves from our more conservative
fellow-travelers, we too leave a mighty footprint on the planet; we
too are endlessly offended if someone treads on our territory. (Ken
Wilber astutely diagnoses this postwar phenomenon as “Boomerits,”
whose rallying cry is, “Nobody tells me what to do!” This is not
even a shade different from the first George Bush's words at the 1992
Earth Summit: “The American way of life is not negotiable.”) We
might then be able to turn to that skinny little island on the other
side of the Pacific and admire their ingenious way of making do with
the resources they have. This is not because they possess some
mysterious Oriental quality of reverence and obedience, but because
they have no choice: they have half the population of the United
States in a country the size of California, only 15 percent of which
is inhabited. We might understand that the elaborate social code,
the strong emphasis on harmony of the group at the expense of the
individual, was simply an ingenious solution to the special problems
that their culture and land presented them with. We might then try
on some of these practices and see what sticks. We could learn about
living lightly on the land and reducing waste by examing the monastic
routine, which has incorporated these practices successfully for a
millennium. We don't have to worry about our individuality falling
away while we take on these practices; it is all rising and falling
very nicely by itself all the time. It doesn't need us to monitor
it. Meanwhile, we expand our repertoire. We become, at the very
least, bicultural (most of us are already that, and more). We get to
bow with utmost delicacy in the zendo, hands a fist's distance away
from the nose, elbows straight, and then meander down to the coffee
shop and hang out with the homeless people and the young and old
Before we know what American Zen is, we
have to thoroughly understand, study and respect Zen itself, the
roots of our tradition, which have graciously extended themselves to
us from Japan. We would do well to understand the deep intent of the
teaching, before we change it. In fact, it will change by itself,
the minute we undertake to live it. We can't help it; we'll go
forth, and make history in the most natural way. We already have
people sitting street sesshins (originated by Bernie Glassman, one of
the most senior and original of American Zen practitioners), people
doing Zen without any special words and ceremonies (such as Cheri
Huber's simple yet profound teachings), a social action movement
which weds Buddhist principles to the powerful Judeo-Christian ethic
of prophetic justice (instituted largely by Robert Aitken, who bled
Zen as a World War II prisoner of war). We can then decide which
pathway is best for us.
I see the true, rock-hard question not
as whether we should or shouldn't practice Zen forms, but how
thoroughly we want to awake to our life. Everyone wants to do this,
but there are problems. One could even venture to call them karmic
impediments, if one was so inclined. As we work through our issues,
our impacted emotional tissue, our kinks and doubts and “Yes,
but...”s, we need to be tender with each other. We need to build a
container, a seaworthy vessel, before we venture out on that ancient
ocean of sorrows, reciting all the reasons we got hurt and held on
and turned away from the shining, in other words from each other.
That container could take many forms, traditional Soto Zen practices
being only one of them; but we had better find a worthy alternative
if we throw that one away, and fast, before we lost interest and
trust in each other. The Soto Zen choice, carefully transmitted over
the centuries, has the advantage of being time-tested; they've
already worked out some of the kinks, codified the helpful parts much
as language is codified and passed on to wide-eyed kids. It is far
from perfect, however, and, in the hands of those who have not yet
found the right balance (neither leaning toward nor away from it),
can be a bit hard to take. Its purpose is to break the student of
his or her miserable clinging, and yet it itself can be an occasion
for clinging. For some people, it may not be the most skillful,
compassionate choice of practice. It is not perfect. It is just a
Zen can't help but be American, because
we are. Suffering is increasing in this world, and every day we are
making the potential for more. It is incumbent upon us to awaken to
this as quickly, as accurately, and as fearlessly as we can.
Awakening is an evolutionary imperative, and it also doesn't mean a
thing. Please help me take care of it.
~ Barry Evans
Gael and Bill’s essay concluded with
the question, “So, for the welfare and happiness of all beings,
what should the Arcata Zen Group be offering?”
We should tell anyone who stumbles upon
us, believing we have something to offer, that they are mistaken. If
they persist in their delusion, we might suggest, kindly, that they
should try someplace else.
~ carving & photo by Mark P.
~ Suzanne M.
this is the blue cliff
it smells of tepid water and
pearls mouthed by young men
walking in the fog
the cliff looms; no one answers
the call of the loon
subject and object
mingle in the fog while a
bear ambles along
washing in the cold
creek, a child hears the swamp gas
rising to the moon
the earth beneath her
parts like a molten pearl in
the core of the sun
when the fog rises
the loon, bear, and child melt away
and the blue cliff walks
And . . .
Above 3rd Falls
~ Jerome Lengyel
above ferocious rapids;
resting—not through yet.
Rakusu pics by Suzanne M.
Pine needle stitch - www.tussenpozen.com
Jukai Ceremonies pics from AZG archives
Indian Island pics by Maggie
Roberta's Elephant and Reclining Bonsai by Suzanne M.
Suzuki Roshi pic from Sonoma Mountain Zen Center
(it's same one we have on the Rin Shin-ji altar)
Robert Aitken pic by