Rochester Zen Center's Personal Meeting Room
1:30PM May 30, 2021
Roshi Bodhin Kjolhede
This is may 30 2021. Just yesterday we had our annual Buddha's Birthday Celebration which we weren't able to have a year ago. And big turnout. Some 8590 people came and it was the temperature was only 5051 52 degrees. very heartening to see so many people back here and before starting the teisho proper I just wanted to take a few seconds to to reflect on how far how far we've come in, in the last year the last year 14 months at this time A year ago in 2020. Death and serious serious illness was stalking the land.
Most people maybe everyone was experienced that kind of fear dread. About what lay ahead of all the reports of bodies and refrigerated trucks and terrible situations in hospitals and, and knowing less about it then and, and having, of course, no vaccination. At that time, no vaccine. It was I think I myself just recognize now how much, much dread there was then. So how wonderful that we're back, kind of I'm surprised how many empty mats that are in the zendo here this morning. And I remain puzzled as to how long it might take for people to make find their way back here. But what a great thing that we're here now. vaccinated people anyway. And let's hope that things stay that way. Let's hope that the dreaded variant from India doesn't start taking more lives than they say it won't for people who are vaccinated, but all those others all over the world. All right. I want to devote this teisho to talking about Zen teachers and Zen teaching. Mr. Course, is a follow up to the letter to the Sangha that I wrote about a week ago, set up about the fact that I'm now have now sanctioned John Pauline Sensei, to be a full teacher. And that he will join me, it will be co spiritual directors of the center. And that my wife and I bought a house in Sarasota, Florida. And we're going to be dividing our time six months there and six months up here. I'm going to use as a springboard for this teisho koan from the blue Cliff record number 11. Wang Bose mash eaters.
Turn to the koan itself here now.
Here's how it reads. One ball instructing the assembly set. You are all mashing eaters. However, you go about traveling on pilgrimages. What is your position today? Do you know that in all the land of Pong, there is no Zen teacher. So a monk came forward and said, What surely there are those who teach disciples and lead communities? What about that? One boy said, I do not say that there is no Zen. It is just that there are no Zen teachers.
Just a brief mention of of one ball his Japanese name is obaku. Why longbow lived in the the eighth and ninth centuries, died in 850, as far as they know, one of the really very greatest of the Chan masters and he's credited with starting the what later came to be known as the linji. School now in Japan, the rinzai School of Zen. This term mash eaters. It was a term they used at the time to be little. Those who imitated the old Zen masters seem to be a big problem in ancient China, among them Who, who would proudly memorize all kinds of sayings by the masters and then trot them out, as if they are coming from them as if they they knew really what was behind them.
The idea is that, as far as this mash goes that after, after that, eating the mash, that's the dregs in the bottom of a bottle. Apparently, after eating the mash left in the wine bottle, they think they've had a taste of the real thing. Another way to understand mash ears are those who traveled around excessively as an escape on these pilgrimages. That was it was customary, and in ancient China, unlike Japan, in China and China, this is one of the distinctions between Chan and Zen, it would be expected for the monks to take off twice a year, three months each, and go about on what they considered pilgrimages to the various, any of the many Zen masters at the time and the greatest great Tang Dynasty. But apparently, in the Masters themselves saw it as really a something of a problem, because although the idea is is quite respectable going about and learning from the other masters, apparently too often, it was just a way to get out and travel and hang out with others and and so forth. And then at the at the, at the cost of real serious Zen training.
So now, long ball, you are all mash eaters, and so forth. When when he says, Do you know that all the land of of Tom, there is no Zen teacher? And then later he says, I do not say there's no Zen. It's just that there's no Zen teachers.
I we can easily see this as long bows employment of skillful means to disabuse the monks of the notion that there's, there's truth out there. Outside the monastery, more than inside of there's something. Something in the hands of those teachers out there, outside us, rather than right here. Where we're sitting, or standing.
Zen teachers, one of the most famous sayings of the Buddha himself was be lamps unto yourselves. Seek liberation alone in the Dharma. Look not for assistance to anyone besides yourselves. Compare this to Christian, saying, Look to Christ for our salvation.
So many of the masters have, have made this point that the real teacher is within. We have all of us have all the wisdom of the universe. No, none of us has any more or any less wisdom than anyone else. It's just that it has to be mined, has to be excavated. Through the practices Zen. There's really nothing. Nothing like a teacher has to give to a student that the student doesn't already have. I want to one of the another Chinese masters famously said empty handed I went to my teacher and empty handed I returned. And Momo Khan and verse of alas koan, excuse me, Zen Master Mu mon. universe to the last koan in the mumble con, said before taking a step you have already arrived, before the tongue is moved, the teaching is finished.
So long bow, Zen, yes and teaching but no Zen teachers? Well, he's again, he's making that distinction as a kind of skillful means. And we could turn it around and say, say back to him. Well, there are that teachers, of course, in a conventional sense, that are proud, practical sense in the world of relativity, the level of cause and effect. Having a teacher can be very useful. No, there's there's nothing a teacher can give you they don't already have. But the teacher can help you realize that that can take a long time. It comes from unlearning. Now learning. Practice of Zen consists of daily losing. From all we know, from the history of Zen, it was always undertaken Zen practice was always undertaken with a teacher. And with thought, with rare exceptions in a residential training environment, because Zen is the history of Buddhism is one of monasticism in a residential, training environment, and, and now, even in our own Western how householder type of Zen practice. There's this matter of doxon of meeting one to one with the teacher.
And I've always been a little surprised at how few of my students come to the auction.
If you're not going to Doakes on occasionally, you're not functioning as Zen student. You may be doing this as an on your own or not. But you're not functioning as a student. You're not using the teachers experience. And probably not developing your practice as well as you could be. Were you seeing a teacher with some regularity, or irregularity, but occasionally we're more likely to get stalled in our practice when we never check in with a teacher. inertia can set in complacency can set in.
There's a teacher. I think he's deceased now in Japan. I think I know the name but I don't want to use the wrong name. So I'm not sure but this is quite a well known Japanese teacher who had was well known, just for starters, because he didn't offer jokes on any kind of private instruction. He insisted that doc son, or teisho, or talks of any kind, just little zendo encouragement talks are the stick The use of anchors in Sydney said were all toys and so what he offered at his temple was just straight sitting and nothing else.
reason I'm so skeptical of that is that is this effective way of teaching is because it's so rare I've never heard of it except for that one teacher as a reason why the standards and practice involves one to one mentoring and talks of one kind or another, and even Yes, that use the stick. But he had students, I don't know how many. But there are those who found that that's that's what worked for them or so they thought. different teachers have different styles, because they're different people. different teachers use somewhat different vocabularies. different teachers have different favorite texts.
Every teacher like every person has a kind of fingerprint, unique to her or him. And it extends into teaching. So this, I suppose the same with writers writers have, each writer has a particular style that they'd become known for or painter or other artists. You know, Jax we know Jackson Pollock, by his style of painting. And so, many others, actors, actors have their own fingerprints, to a large extent. Especially enough film, in film, where he in the camera gets so close to the, to the actor, more of their personality, their true personality is is is revealed. Unlike on stage, I had someone in theater once explained that on stage you're so distant from the relatively distant from the audience when wearing makeup and and that that there you have actors have more of a range that they can perform in and have kept range of characters they can play, but in film, in my experience, and I've seen my share films, most actors are themselves. It's much more casting become so important. Think of Robert De Niro alpa Chino, they don't completely change in any role they have, they might be able to onstage but not in film.
So every teacher has a kind of uniqueness or a style, a pattern, a certain pattern, a tendency pattern of teaching. It finally came to me just only a few years ago that this is true, even of the the great, the great masters of China, Korea and Japan without reading their texts in teisho, every day, after a while after four or five days can grow just a little bit monotonous because they repeat themselves. We repeat ourselves.
challenge for for any teacher. And here I also mean school teacher is to keep one's presentation of the material. In our case the Dharma. Keep it keep it fresh. teachers know if anyone giving a talk knows that we can We can inspire others only when we ourselves are inspired. When we when we are moved in any particular topic, that's when it's the only way we can move anyone else. And that's where daily says, and it's so important, whether you're a Dharma teacher or a school teacher, is it freshens that always freshens everything. Everyone you all know this from we've done it long enough.
So I, I would never, I would never give teisho without at least sitting at least 45 minutes beforehand. In fact, I rarely started day of the year without sitting at least 45 minutes or an hour or more. It's such a such a simple thing. Your it changes your whole day, it certainly changes the morning, it tends to wear off a little bit as the day goes on. But if you want to get more zest out of life, one more interest or if you want your life to be less boring sit.
So yes, there are Zen teachers. And I'm sure that Wang Bo would know what I mean by that and contradicting him. So called contradicting him. Of course, there is m teachers and different Zen teachers. Not to be more specific. There are differences between John Sensei, and me somewhat, I don't see big differences. Some of you may, I don't know how it looks from your end. But after having spent 20 years working with Sensei, hearing his talks, I feel we're very much in harmony is somewhat different styles, different ways of putting things maybe different favorite texts. Different emphases. This is true for all teachers, there are differences, but not the basic means of teaching. I'm not expecting sensei to now reject the English version of the project of paramita. That's what came between Roshi Kapleau and his teacher yesterday Roshi, where Roshi Kapleau felt very strongly that in order to, to, for Zen to be assimilated for to, to really take root, in in this country. It had to be the chance had to be rendered into into English, the way they were in a way the Japanese had changed their texts, all those texts from the from China into Japanese and the way the Chinese translated their texts, their chants into Chinese from the Indian and so forth. Same with the Koreans. This is for 30 years, I thought this was the main thing that came between the US Attorney Roshi and and Roshi Kapleau. And they're explaining their break. I later heard from the best possible possible source that a bigger issue that came between them was the US Attorney Roshi position there they're different positions on the Vietnam War. But surprisingly enough, yes, Teddy Roshi, thought that we had to stay in Vietnam to be back the the red wave communism. This seems to have been the primary thing that came between them and where where are the US attorney? Couldn't Brooke, this stance by Philip capital that we needed to get out of Vietnam. I would not have sanctioned sensei and invited him to partner with me had I felt that he is Teaching would be so at odds at all with with mine, not because it is a matter of right and wrong, but because it would generate, I think confusion. If there are really so much at odds,
there's something you can take to the bank, the what it all comes down to as far as teacher and student, that is which student with which teacher is the affinity between them. affinity in a way, it's beyond choice.
Ideally, there is a rapport that that between a teacher particular teacher of particular student, same as in psychotherapy, you want to have a rapport. chemistry that works well enough. affinity as I see it, I didn't look up these words. But if Kennedy is something that we know more than proves itself over time, if, if a teacher and the student are psychotherapists, and a client or school teacher and a student, and they spend enough time together, that means there's an affinity, just the fact of it, they wouldn't have spent that much time together had there not been such a strong affinity. And this is I found, when I stumbled on this idea, it was so liberating, that there is no right teacher or right student or wrong teacher or a wrong student. It's not a net. It's not about that it's just whether there's offending, you see this in a kind of alarming way. At Zen centers in Tibetan Buddhist centers, where the teacher is involved in Gross Misconduct, alcoholic behavior and and preying on their students sexually, usually the two go together. And yet there are students who stay with those teachers. I when I, when this first started merging in the what was it the early 80s, I think I started to hear about this at other centers. I thought Surely, every student will leave that teacher when this became this pattern is I just wants not just having an affair with one student falling in love. But usually, these are married teachers who have fares one after another serial flings with their students and the drinking and But no, there are their students who stay with them. And I don't know, I think I sure what they would say is, you know, well, he's he's just Yes, I know, these things are regrettable. And they've, you know, brought down our center and wreaked havoc, but you know, he's a good teacher gets into the whole issue of can you separate the the teachers behavior from the teachings that it's becoming now quite a thing in contemporary discussions about artists, writers, Philip Roth, can you separate his long life of what I would call misconduct from his writing. And we're not going to go any further into trying to sort that out. But it did always blow my mind that of those students who could, but there it is, if you have enough, strong enough affinity, which they did, the students, if they have a strong enough affinity with a teacher, you'll stay with her or him. It doesn't matter what the person does. You can see it also in terms of our politicians, our political representatives, how they can and are the followers of them who will stay with them. through thick or thin, no matter what they do. So, okay, that means by definition, there's a strong affinity there. So that's something we just learned over time about the affinity.
It's the same really with marriage. You know, we have these vows, marriage vows, the standard ones, not the ones we use here, we've been using it the center, but the standard vows is through until death do us part. Yes, we'll stay with that person till death do us part. But we know, half the time that doesn't happen. They they get divorced, before them before death. And I think it's a much wiser, more mature way to understand marriage as, as something where two people have enough affinity to get to the point of marriage, the wedding, but then, who knows for sure after that, yes, it would be, it would be great if after taking vows of committing to one person, if that played out for the rest of our lives. But people change. Both of them, both members of the marriage change. In a way, it's remarkable that so many people stay together, as long as they do, given that each one of us is change itself. We're all every one of us is in process.
Let me share some concerns I have now about are now having two teachers to choose from both of them based in Rochester. It's been it's been quite a few years now, where people who are members of the Zen Center and even formerly my students could work with other with other of my teacher disciples, wherever they may be, and some people have chosen to do that, but now is the first time that two teachers will be sharing the seat from Rochester. So my my one concern is just odious comparisons. comparing and contrasting. This one said this that one said that and, and the with especially with regard to formally becoming a student of either sensei or made the pain test for some, not everyone, but for some that could be painful. There's this great German saying I learned when I was giving sesshin in Germany whoever has choice has pain. Very vowel hot hudiksvall. There's been there been studies about how too many choices and consumer products for example, cause unhappiness. Because the minds divided. People can get so tangled up in all of the specifics of any particular consumer product and then among the different products. Well, there's always also that danger of, of choosing between teachers. Again, we don't have to. Now with this new arrangement, no one has to choose between teachers as far as just working going to dosa. But it's there as the back. My greater concern is the danger of the student of one teacher fleeing to the other teacher when the going gets rough.
Inevitably, in any between every, every teacher and student, there are going to be times when you get on each other's nerves. So you you get into some hair pulling them on one kind or other, I sure did with Roshi Kapleau, I get so mad at him at times and disgusted and, and it's again it's can be the same with in psychotherapy is the the the therapist, and the teacher, the spiritual teacher wants you to go beyond what you think you can do, and the teacher will want to, if not push you pull you beyond your comfort zone. And and and inevitably, it happens sometimes sometimes that when you're in that, when you're when put when the teacher puts your feet to the fire, you might start casting eyes elsewhere, I'd rather have that one. Surely, I can do better with that. The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. And this is this is where the value of commitment comes in. Again to marriage, because there are definitely similarities. in marriage, the big commitment can help us hang in there and and see what we can continue learning from our spouse. Rather than just taking off and finding someone else who we can fall in love with and think is so much, so much better. But even then, even with commitment, as I was just saying about marriage, there can come a point when they to the husband and wife grow apart. Again, they're changing, we're all changing. And at such a point, then it could well make sense to go your separate ways get divorced. And the same with teaching even having made a commitment to a teacher. Although in with with Roshi Kapleau and me it was never lifetime. I in fact, I say that in the new students ceremony, I say, for you, you will have the freedom to to leave this relationship anytime you want. For me, it's different. I want to be available for you as long as I'm teaching unless you show very clearly that you don't value the relationship anymore. And sometimes I have to be the one to do it for the person to make the break. So this is this is sensitive stuff this is how I can stuff the value of commitment there is no question and that commitment carries great power. No this this in practice just generally machine to commit to realize one's true nature cannot go a long way. But But back to teacher and student want to find the middle way. Sensei was just talking about that. His last Dharma talk. Others have talked about the middle way before him over the centuries. But here what's the middle way this you can play this out with all kinds of things in your life. So in here, the middle way is neither is a habit presented either blindly attached to one teacher. Like these, these students I was mentioning with teachers who are involved in Gross Misconduct, nearly blindly attached to one teacher nor too quick to jump the fence.
When I was a youth, I had this idea that there's one woman out there in the world who is my match, that's the person I would marry. How am I going to find her There's only one
there isn't only one teacher in the world for any one of us. Like what they say about mothers there, you want there to be a good enough mother a good enough teacher. And I think much of the rest of it is comes down to geography conveyed, which means convenience, how close you are to the T shirt or to the center Zen Center. Now, that's even that's been turned upside down with the Online Dog son. Thankfully, I look forward to to doing that one I'm living in Florida, continuing with dogs son, it's it's it's a pale imitation of doing dog sound in the room together. But it's a lot better than nothing. This matter of commitment or working with only one teacher. It's quite different in Japan than I as I see it than in this country or in the West in Japan. The there's this emphasis on committing to one teacher and staying with that teacher fealty in my own just sort of musings, I think that may have come some of this may have come from the medieval Japanese medieval power structure that there was the Lord and the vessel. And the vassal would swear swear fealty to one year, Lord, one Daniel. and the value of that is then over time with that kind of focus commitment. One has a greater chance of drinking deeply from the well of that one teacher is experiencing the depth rather than the breadth the variety of going around to different teachers. There's no right or wrong here. But just to give some perspective, some comparison. Roshi Kapleau his first main teacher that's how to know Roshi had enough so Gaku Roshi at Ocean j know from the three pillars of Zen. Roshi Kapleau told me he didn't want his students to read a book of another teacher. And in in, in present day, Japan, one of the outstanding Japanese groceries where I was working with him for a few months in Japan. He's now unwilling to see someone in Doakes on who's ever had another teacher. Ever, nevermind, contemporary knicely but whoever had another teacher apparently doesn't want to have to undo what may be differences in the teaching. Well, this is these are not this is not us. I think most of us not most of us did the temperamental differences among students that are there students who incline more to novelty variety. And then there are those who are well, we're like me one man dogs. I just never considered going to any other teacher but but Roshi Kapleau, even though we definitely had problems and in our rapport at times. Maybe that's why I've ever considered leaving my marriage, for me, made other people different maybe but for me, commitment means commitment. Stick it out, find a way through any problems. Now, let me review some of the specifics of a couple of these points or reviews I mentioned in this letter to the Sangha from last week. Just anyone who is now my student, formerly my student that has anyone has formally gone through his new students ceremony with him they continue taking don't sign with me, period, full stop and then sensei and I agree that anyone who is now going forth anyone is a student of either of us can take dogs on with the other.
Let me just add a footnote to that. This, I think this is hope it doesn't cause trouble. But I have to say that I've learned that, that with a with someone who has formally become my student, I do feel a somewhat greater sense of responsibility.
I guess there are two you can draw in the marriage analogy. So what's that mean? a greater sense of sponsoring maybe if someone asked to me to perform a marriage, which I rarely do anymore, it used to be in the, in the 70s and 80s, I did a total of 50 marriages, weddings. Now it's important memorial services and funerals. But with that to weddings, memorial services, or even crisis intervention. If it's a kind of a marginal situation, regarding my schedule, my time or where I am, whether I'm in town or out of town, I would feel somewhat greater sense of responsibility for those who have formally become my students. But eat but in Doakes on whether this is always been the case, whether you've formally become my student or not. In dog sad, that there's no such distinction. I just, truly, I give everything full attention. No, nothing different. Whether you're a student or not a student in dogs. And sensei and I, after talking a few days ago, we agreed that we're not any of the prices into people formally becoming students of both of us. just doesn't seem to make sense. It's a little like, I don't want to push this too much, but it's like being married to people. What then what does it mean? What is it? What is the new student ceremony mean? If you do it with more than one teacher? Now, now I want to go back to what one Bo said. Right? Again, he said it there. He said, there are no Zen teachers. But yes, there's Zen. there too. You could say, well, no, there's also no Zen teaching. There's this line in the forming faith in mind what is is not what is not is you can play it either way. It's words. Ultimately, again, I'm contradicting in quotes and quite contradicting Longboat. There is no teacher and there's no one being taught. And so there's no teaching. Also. This is quite a revelation for me. And my first ever session, it was a three day session 1871 November. I came out of it having realized and I still stand by this, that there's no such thing as Zen. Yeah, there's a tradition we call as a method sitting and all the all the related things. But ultimately, it's a scam. It's what what is it? It's, it's eating when hungry, sleeping when tired is not having thoughts get between us, and the direct experience of living.
Again, I've said this so often, but it's a beauty. A monk who asked Zen master Zhao jo jo Shu, what is the teaching in the distant mountains where no one is present. large rocks are large, small rocks are small.
I think the the real final word the bottom line about teaching is is teaching by example. There it is, teaching by example. Being an example of the Dharma before I close, just Little something more personally, you know, there's this idea I used to have it, and probably others have it to Zen masters don't retire. And, first of all, I don't like to be called a Zen Master, I don't think I deserve it. But besides that I'm not retiring. But but let's just take that idea, because you know, I will be gone for half the year. Know, from what we read in the texts of the old Chinese and Korean and Japanese masters, there seems to be nothing about them retiring until their health health was failing. But those were monks living in monasteries. In Japan and the West today, most Zen teachers are priests and they're married. They are. And marriage means compromise. So even when a teacher isn't ready to retire, and never really wanted to move to Florida, and even if he's not retiring, he may feel obliged to make accommodations for his spouse. Especially when that teacher might have a wife who has supported him for the whole 30 years of their marriage.
Without a murmur of complaint, not the faintest complaint. Partly because she's a lifelong Buddhist herself, and has dreamed her whole life of living by the sea.
dream that is grown more pressing as she approached retirement herself. And her sister, her closest sister lives in Florida.
All that aside, the primary reason for this change is for the Sangha to have a second voice and new voice from the teacher seat. This is an idea that started growing on me. I don't know at least two three years ago, I felt 35 years it's a good round number was 20 for Roshi Kapleau. I met a very, very deeply inspiring Roshi in Japan kobori Roshi, who when he was asked to become the abbot, this huge monastery, he said, I want condition two years only.
I have to express my gratitude to Sensei, John Sensei, his age, same as my age more or less of when of willing to to make this step take this step I go Zen we see the water buffalo just service service, serving others. And how this could very well be the most wonderful thing for our for our Sangha for our center, the the Persian religious teacher, Guru, Jeff, very unusual. Remarkable. TJ said religious organizations need to periodically go through disintegration in order not to become encrusted or stagnant. I don't see this as disintegration. But yeah, reintegration like our renewal of the sound of our Sangha renewal project. This is exciting. What happens now? I don't know. Who knows. We're an expensive experiment. How could any of us know what it is? But with daily practice, daily practice, the more the better, this is going to be great. This is going to be fine. And we will all learn things about ourselves and one another and it's an adventure We'll stop now and recite the four vows.