Sunday, February 16, 2014

Where There's a Will...

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean—
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down—
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.

Chronic illness has brought my life to a relative standstill; much of my life is spent propped-up on pillows in my bed, where I dabble in research and creative work, which is mostly knitting and painting with a soft brush and gentle watercolors. My mind does not work so well as it used to, and my fingertips grind and give pain as I type, so my writing life suffers. Still I'll visit my blogs, and think to myself how much richness I had in my life when I could write... And some days, I'll add a little something, as I am now. Often I'm motivated by the guilt that haunts idleness-- I really ought to write something, it's been a year!!-- But on this day? It was the fish.

Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.

Back in October, I added the little strip of koi at the top of my page. If you click on the blackness, wee bits of food will appear, and the fish will make a swim for it. Sometimes I will visit my page just to feed them, and watch them dart about. Yes, I know full well they are not "real", but the brilliance behind their design is, and I suppose that is what I am feeding: the brilliance, and humor, of excellent design.

And that got me to thinking about the Fish on Wheels.

Here in my bed, I feel the days rather melt together, and some days melt themselves into despair. Like anyone else with a chronic illness, many days of mine are upbeat and promising; but the reality of living with limited motion, energy and vitality means interactions with other humans end too soon in crushing aches and pains. This leads one to isolation, and inevitably, depression. And today is thick with that unbearable sense of the senselessness of illness: what is this life? How is this living?

Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
-Mary Oliver, "The Summer Day"

 I think later today, I shall write to my teacher, and ask her: is this the true posture?  And then I think, laughing at myself, does it matter? Look, it is snowing again-- and look at the brilliance on this bright screen, connecting me as it is, quietly to the outside world. (And like that sweet fish, it'll take me in whichever direction I like, so long as I bump my nose against it, and keep swimming.) The pain in my fingertips is as inevitable as the song in my son's laughter. So long as I keep an open palm, the beauty of it all fits in the just-right puzzle of the world. So long as I keep an open palm.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

On the Way of Commitment

O, glorious practice-

Earlier this month, while I was at yet another doctor visit, I complained to her: I am always tired. Like, I can go to bed at a reasonable hour, and then sleep in 'til 10 the next day! And even then, I'll wake up exhausted. Me? I'm sure I have lupus SLE; her? She's conservative in her practice, and also in her diagnoses, so I have lots of things (connective tissue disease, Raynaud's, fibromyalgia, osteoarthritis, sacroiliitis, seizures), but not yet SLE. "You should meditate," she said, matter-of-factly, her eastern-European accent making it sound even more final (and dismissive?) to my American ears. "Don't stay up late, and meditate, for the stress." At this point, I laugh: um...I am a zen priest, I say. To which she laughs, replying, "ha! Professional hazard, not doing what you are supposed to do. Doctors too. Haha!" ~Busted~.

So earlier this month, I made a final decision: I will sit zazen again. Somehow. I will do it.

I took to heart a conversation I had not long ago with my teacher, who at the time was laid up in bed with an injury. I asked her, how do you do it? How do we sit like this? She laughed gently and admitted, "You know, even if it's for 5 minutes, you go there." And she shared with me her attitude toward posture, and I figured, eh-- I think I can handle that for 5 minutes!

That next morning, before I began anything else, and with all of my can-do-it-in-bed knitting and research projects strewn about me, I steeled my reserve and I endeavored to sit. I do believe you'll note by the above photo, it was not a traditional posture in any sense of the imagination. In fact it was anything but. In my mind I called it Slumping Zen, a cheeky reference to a most excellent site run by a friend of mine. Yet as the humor of my situation faded, a deep, deep grief surfaced, and I think any one of us who has experienced formal practice will recognize why.

At some point in my more focused study, all those years ago in the temple in which I lived, I learned that the posture of zazen itself is enlightenment. It is one of those central-to-Soto tenants that, after hours and hours of sitting shikantaza, turned into my full modus operandi. It had finally clicked: zazen isn't just an expression of enlightenment, it is enlightenment. I got it.

Or so I thought!

It may have been "just a thought" but, really-- when you reach the point that you stick with your posture no matter what, even on days that it isn't, you enjoy it. It becomes a source of such deep joy that you return to it again and again, without even thinking about it, because you go there.

And on the flip side of that, I discovered early this month, is the deep grief of losing the utter elegance of formal zazen practice.

But as I had "steeled my reserve", of course I stuck with the damn thing, and on the other side of it?
;) I can't tell you. Not because I'm being overtly mystical or anything-- really, I don't remember, haha. (One of the 'perks' of my conditions.) And, the bits-and-pieces of that first 15-minute sit remain with me now more as a structural understanding, and a forgiving, of my body, my limitations, and more importantly? Of my unlimited nature.

Now it is 13 days later, and I have to confess, I only sat like this-- 15-minute increments of slumping zen-- for 7 days. (Hey! Practically a sesshin!) I may have made one other serious attempt at it the other night. But for me, like many of you, try as I might, life has a way of taking off with guns blazing right upon waking; no time for zen, slumping or otherwise. And so ensues the guilt of no-zen, right? Or so I thought, and the point hit home-- through the center of my heart-- this morning. I was reading an old essay about a Dharma talk given by my teacher, Kobun Chino. I was hoping to find some kernel from him, some excellent lozenge to cool my guilt of not-sitting. And though his words indeed were soothing, the wisdom of his very life struck me suddenly, like lightening: Kobun died while he was attempting to save, and comfort, his drowning daughter. Kobun died with the one-pointed focus of being a very, very good father.

Parent. Priest. Invalid. Not-Doing. Being. Zazen. Not-zen.

Fortunately we are already sitting at ease in the self-joyous meditation of the Buddhas. Isn't this a great boon? 
-Dogen Zenji, Bendowa

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Pocket Zen

For a little while there, I found that I'd lost faith in Zen.

But who could blame me? After Eido Shimano's foibles came to light, a good many others did, most notoriously Dennis Genpo Merzel and his big ...mind.

I thought a lot about my own experiences with the "men of zen". I reflected on the experiences of other women, too. And I found myself more and more disgusted by the writings of men in defense of their zen: realer, truer, betterer, certainer.

And just like that, I let go of the zafu. Because really, who needs this? And what on earth are we doing, anyway, trying to organize ourselves around the empty part of the wheel? Why do it at all, when it seems only to cause this inexcusable sort of pain?

And just like that, my rakusu turned into a pile of fabric and thread, and ink.

For a moment.

And then I remembered an experience I had on my since-discarded zafu; and then I realized that experience was actually just the ever-present now, separate from nothing, and including everything-- zen-men, angry women, and piles of fabric and thread, and ink.

Today I happened to find a very sweet video that teaches moment meditation, or as I like to think of it, "pocket zen". Because, truly-- have you thought about fitting a whole ango into a single, quick moment?

Perhaps if we spent more time counting backwards-- meditating not for 90 minutes, not for 45, or even 30, or even still, just 1-- perhaps we could lose our expectations about what power our next breath might carry: priesthood. abbothood. sainthood. famehood. enlightenmenthood. Suddenly, the power of that period, that session, that sesshin, that ango becomes less about being better, and only about being.

Then and only then will a rakusu turn into a pile of fabric and thread, and ink.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Family Zen

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Addressing Shimano ( 8 Easy Steps)

"What we call 'Buddhism' might be seen simply as a remarkable collection of stories about practice," writes Barry Gibbs over at his creatively thoughtful blog, Ox Herding. "If you have an interest in Buddhist teaching, you might try re-telling a story that has meaning for you. My experience suggests that you'll learn more about the teachings. And also about yourself."

Barry was talking about classic Buddhist stories, of course; beloved tales of ancient masters and their bumbling students, etching clarity out of the bricks of our consciousness since the Buddha's fateful date under the Bodhi Tree.

But I've been wanting to address a Buddhist story of a different nature-- a nature, as it turns out, that has been around since before Buddha's fateful date under the Bodhi tree. I've been wanting to address the issue of Eido Shimano, the Rinzai founder of Dai Bosatsu Zendo and Zen Studies Society. At issue is the sickening history of Shimano's sexual abuse of his students that has come to full exposure in recent months. Yet what seemed to begin in the summer of 2010 with a New York Times article actually had been known since the 1960's-- a reprehensible, irresponsible example of misused power, passing-the-buck and getting off with a slap on the wrist.

Long awed by the marriage of enlightened bliss and the hells of human error, I've followed the tales of the sexual exploits of clergy like something of a press-hound. What began (for me) with the shocking discovery of altar-boy abuse in my (native) Catholic Church expanded with televangelist Jimmy Swaggart's tearful admission in prime-time, "I have sinned." I suppose these things fascinated me because as a girl, I too experienced the most profound betrayal by the misjudgment of an adult whom I was supposed to trust.

But this time, it's personal. This time the transgressions were committed by a member of my own clergy-- of my chosen religion, not my ancestral one. This carries an extra weight, for although we know "no one is immune," and never-minding Christian doctrine, Buddhists are supposed to be peaceful people unhindered by their emotions, right? (...riiiight.) Yet even more profound than this "insult" to my personal spiritual judgment is this: that unlike my childhood betrayal by adults whom I should have been able to trust, Eido Shimano's sexual predation marks a shocking betrayal by an adult whom I had enlisted to trust*.

So what is a girl to do? Once again, as in childhood, I find myself in a sort of deer-in-headlights situation: if the folks you were supposed to trust turn out to be wholly untrustworthy, and if the folks who support them work as hard as they can to maintain normalcy at the cost of truth (including indirect and watered-down terminology such as in this address), it begs the question, what can one trust?

Dharma is what most would answer. And I would tend to agree, because the so-called bedrock of my faith is my own experience-- not what somebody said I would experience. Perhaps Buddha's own final teaching sheds the most light: Be a lamp unto yourselves. "The truth is out there"-- find your own Bodhi tree, and sit on down.

So this morning I shall follow Barry's good idea and apply an Old Story to a new (?) predicament: my inability to handle Eido Shimano's sexual abuse of his own students in a graceful, Buddhist way. How shall I address it? By composing my own version of the Eightfold Path, of course. You may find some other wonderful "stories" regarding this dear, elemental teaching on sites I discovered in my research, such as Handful of Sand and Explorations and of course good ol' Wikipedia. But in this moment, the most important teacher I must learn from is the teacher of my own understanding.

1. I see that sexual abuse exists, and I suffer from it because my own hope that one day it will not exist. I cannot change what has already happened, or what will happen again. But I can escape the suffering of it. I will repeat this over and over and over until I finally get it.

2. No, really-- suffering ends. Suffering will end. But I intend to get beyond suffering. What is beyond suffering? And most importantly-- does "beyond suffering" erase the need for action against the sexual abuse that has been done by Eido Shimano, or anyone else? (..a closer look commences.)

3. First off, I'm thinking, this is a pretty awful situation. An awful lot of people are hurt and stuck and scarred-- the victims, and the perpetrators. Everyone, stuck. Trying in their own way to break free, to get rid of something. To gain something. But I'm going to say something about it, because to be quiet does no one any good in this situation. Sexual abuse is not acceptable; protecting the perpetrator is not acceptable. Expecting the Dharma to protect or explain is ...missing the point of Dharma. So I am going to say, very clearly: there is sexual abuse happening. Eido Shimano is abusing his students. People are being hurt. A decisive STOP must be applied.

4. I'm acting with the clear understanding that by signing a petition to remove Eido Shimano the abuser, I will help ensure that he does not have access to other potential victims. And I'm signing this online, and writing about it online, so that others may learn about this horrendous activity, pass the word along, and bear witness so a) the perpetrator can get real help, and b) the victims can receive support, in whatever way, in hearing a chorus of voices say "NO, this is WRONG."

5. I'm going to affirm life by celebrating what is possible: the perpetrator can learn and change; the victims can heal and grow. I'm going to be giving and offer this information very freely: Sexual abuse happened. The perpetrator Shimano must get real help; the victims must receive healing. I'm going to honor the body by noting one more time: sexual abuse is wrong in ANY form. And I'm going to honor truth by stating the obvious of that: sexual abuse harms both the abuser (Shimano), and the abused (the entire Sangha). And I'm going to proceed clearly by saying that again: sexual abuse harms both the abuser, and the abused. What is the "perfection" of this? If both the abuser and the abused can admit that harm has been done, healing can happen. We're all in this boat together: abuser, abused, and witness. Not a single one of us is exempt! We've all got the same chance here to make things right. It's not about being angry: it's about understanding, very clearly, that we're all in this together. We have an amazing opportunity here.

6. It has been an old mistake of mine to 'keep quiet' because of shame, fear, ignorance... But really, who is at fault, ultimately? There is not a single person that I can point a finger to, and hope for some resolution. So my effort will include all the truths of the matter: we are all in this together, and we must bear the discipline of its address.

7. This address of course begins with me, begins with my own mind. I must bear the truth of it-- the blamelessness, the urgency-- and attend my actions with the correct spirit. For while it is not imperative that Shimano "do time", it is urgent that Shimano be wholeheartedly helped to understand the fault he has committed. And it is urgent that the victims-- indeed, the whole sangha-- must have their suffering recognized and witnessed.

8. Finally, it is not up to me to cast off suffering. Enlightenment, after all, is not a state of mind: nothing is lacking, nothing needs to be changed. Suffering exists, and beyond suffering does not mean one ignores suffering. Therefore I approach the very real suffering of Eido Shimano's actions as I approach zazen: knowing full well that my posture and my attitude will be the expression of practice-enlightenment. Not one thing is lacking. I embrace all of it, every part of this wiry self, for the simple reason that there is nothing to do but live that honesty.

In Gassho,
Pilar Teishin Goldstein-Dea
*who is not a "direct" student of Eido Shimano, but an indirect student having read (and learned from) his translations of parts of Shobogenzo, and nevertheless suffers as directly as any in our Mahasangha.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

A loving memory-

She used to get a bit of a twinkle in her eye, you know. An impish, wondrous twinkle. "They're all going to be jealous," she said, speaking of all the other grandmotherly zen teachers in her circle, "when I tell them my sangha has a baby!"

And she warmly welcomed my baby, just a bit over a year old at the time and very (rambunctiously) mobile, into the very intimate group we had that met on Tuesdays at Healdsburg Yoga Studio. Darlene shared his free spirit; you could tell that she, too, was in love with the world. This open, clear penetration was evident in everything she did, in the way she made you feel. All at once I was warmed by her, mystified by her, and a little intimidated. (You don't come into contact with that kind of clarity without feeling a wee bit so.)

I've always known she would die. She spoke openly about her experience with chronic pain and cancer, as these very points were the cornerstones of her own practice. Yet it was a shock to read that she had died, just yesterday, while here in Boston the snow was flying. The glorious snow was flying, our neighbors were sharing a laugh and a grumble in a shoveling extravaganza, and life was going on. Life and death juxtapose so strangely on some days. Do you laugh? Do you cry?

"You do both," she'd say. For it was from Darlene Cohen that I finally learned to accept all of my emotions, and understand them as vital parts of myself, and vital to my own practice. "Nothing is pushed away," she'd say. "Not one thing needs changing. Except maybe your orientation to it."

On her birthday, which was a day shared with the Halloween holiday, she'd come to sit zazen with us in full costume. On other days, she'd sport the most amazing earrings... oh, her collection of earrings, you would not believe some of these bits of artful extravagance! Nothing is pushed away. Darlene sat with her whole self, warts and pain and all, and in this her gift to us was an attitude of complete acceptance-- of who we were, of how we were, joyfully.

I left California, and our little sangha, in September of 2008. I daydreamed of returning to share the women's retreat with Darlene and my teacher, Angie, at Grace Schireson's Empty Nest Zendo. I daydreamed of the letter I'd send Darlene and the sangha in the meantime-- or at least, the birthday card that I meant to send this year. Always life flares up and always, these precious intentions are left on the back-burner.

Turns out, that's precisely where our zen practice cooks the most: the back-burner of intentions, wishes, hopes and best-laid plans. Things we'd like to ignore, things we pray will change... we can push any number of things, sure; but the truth of it is, they do not go very far away.

Thank you, Darlene, for reminding me to stir that pot.

Monday, January 3, 2011


Resolution*: the process or capability of making distinguishable the individual parts of an object
To study the Way is to study the self. To study the self is to forget the self. To forget the self is to be enlightened by all things of the universe. To be enlightened by all things of the universe is to cast off the body and mind of the self as well as those of others. Even the traces of enlightenment are wiped out, and life with traceless enlightenment goes on forever and ever. Dogen Zenji, Genjo Koan
Resolution: a rule of inference used for automated theorem proving

I've long feared that my practice wasn't "good enough". Even my practice of nyoho-e, "sewing the Buddha's robe", was punctuated by nightmares of black-robed monsters pulling out my stitches while fiercely admonishing, "you're doing it wrong." They appear again and again even now, in my day-to-day. It's been a strain, parlaying practice from temple to home.

Resolution: a formal expression of opinion or intention made, usually after voting, by a formal organization, a legislature, a club, or other group.
Zen practice and instruction in the west is lame, weak and watered down. Norman Fisher? Puhuleeze.

Resolution: a measure of the amount of detail in an image; the level of information in a display device; the capability of an optical system to discern and distinguish different frequencies or details

Eye awareness is not existent in the eye. It is not existent in form, nor in the space in between. What is constructed dependent upon the eye and form is erroneous.

If the eye does not see itself, how can it see form? Therefore, the eye and form are insubstantial. The remaining sense spheres are also similar.

The eye is empty of its own substantiality. It is empty of another's substantiality. Similarly, form is also empty, and also the remaining sense spheres.

-Nagarjuna, Seventy Verses on Emptiness

Resolution: the move of a note or chord from dissonance (an unstable sound) to a consonance (a stable sound)

Resolution: the point in a literary work at which the chief dramatic complication is worked out