2023-12-01-Gil-Gil's Story (5 of 5) Starting with Vipassana
4:24PM Dec 7, 2023
Hello, and we're here for the fifth talk about my my story, kind of encountering Buddhism. And the plan is to take it up until I, I guess, started teaching it here for IMC. And then I'll make an announcement, the end of this talk about what the plan is for next week. That's related. So
So I was ordained in 1982, as a priest as a monk at the San Francisco Zen Center. And I felt very comfortable, happy to be a monk. The monastic lifestyle worked really well for me, and I was happy in it. And the simplicity of that life, dedication to practice, and the idea of being of service to this world, and not its tourists in general, but I really wanted to address the suffering of the world as deeply as I could. It was a bit of a shock. A few months later, when the abbot gathered together all the people who had had monk ordination at the service command center, and it had decided that he was going to change the name to no longer being monks, but now being priests. And I was stunned, like, I didn't want it, I didn't have no interest in being a priest, I thought I was going to be a monk. Over time, I've come to really appreciate this idea of being a priest, because it's much more clearly involves being in the world, serving people and being involved in the lives of people. And a monk isn't so obviously that. And, and so, you know, now when my, as a Zen priest, I'm happy enough with it, but that was ordained, then in 1982. And not oddly enough, within a year, by the April or so. There was the abbot that I were dating me, I had a scandal, an ethical scandal that was fairly serious. They took some months for that to work itself out for San Francisco Zen Center. Eventually, he resigned and left. But when I got the news that he was, though people got into news of his scandal of his ethical breach, breaches, actually, then, many people felt deeply betrayed, deeply hurt. And it was very hard for the community. Maybe because I'd been that xencenter For five years, and I hadn't invested as much as other people had. I didn't feel so hurt by it. In fact, I had the opposite expression, experience. And I'll tell you how that happened. The somewhere around a little over a year of my ordination. So it's like in maybe March of February, March of 8483. I was beginning to feel that Zen saññā was a little bit too ingrown for me a little bit too. self focused, maybe or cluster phobic, I felt the need for fresh air. I felt well, I felt happy about more than a ordination, I felt happy about my teacher and happy about most things. The head is feeling that that that something was a little bit too insular. And it was healthy for me to kind of step out of that insular bubble. But that was hard to do back then, because there was it was a little bit cultic back then in this in the sense that there was a feeling like only Zen Center was the truth really there like Buddha's truth. And anybody who left was leaving that truth, so settled and hard to leave. So I was thinking about these things. And then I was sitting, talking with a Zen Center and talking with a friend. And the first time I told someone, this feeling that I had. And as I was telling her, one of the senior priests from Zen Center, senior teachers came over to me and tapped me on their shoulder and says, you know, I'd like to talk to you, and when you finish the conversation, you can come over to my my room to my apartment. So I finished my conversation with my friend and I went over to this priest to talk to him, and I thought maybe I'd gotten in trouble. And because no one had ever asked me to like have to talk to you. And it was kind of serious kind of request. You And instead what happened was a he, he, the news of this, the ethical breach of the habit had not been told by everyone who was only a small group of people who knew. And the decision was to go around and tell people individually keep people are at xencenter, individually, before letting the whole community know. And I was one of those people. And, and as he told me, I felt delighted, because now it was free to leave. And I'd been invited by my father was going to work in Japan for a year to come to Japan. And I told them, No, I don't want to come to Japan because I have I have to, you know, I have to be practiced at Zen Center. So I called him up and said, Now I'm ready to go. And, and so then he, so I was free to go to Japan, I went to Japan Nerdist studies n and b in the monasteries there. And I was there for a while. And there's a lot to tell you stories about Japan. But then I went to I went to I had to get a new visa for Japan. And to stay in Japan, I had a tourist visa originally. And I was gonna go spend some months living at a Zen trading monastery. So I went to Thailand to the easiest, cheapest way to get a new visa for staying in Japan. And I went to Bangkok and I applied for a visa and I waited at the wait for the visa to be approved. And so I decided to go to I had the address of a little meditation monastery outside of Bangkok. And I went there and said, I'm gonna stay here until the visa comes. And I'm gonna ask the Abbot, to teach me whatever meditation as he has, and just do do what he says. And while I'm here just it turned out to be a Vipassana center, I knew almost nothing about Vipassana. It turned out that the way they practice was to practice all day. And then once a day, I would go see the Abbot, then it was given little hut at the edge of the monastery on top of kind of the swamps it was and little huts on stilts. And my practice for 10 weeks without getting the visa. And, and then I decided, well, I'll just go back to Japan anyway with a tourist visa. And but those 10 Weeks was a 10 week intensive retreat. In Zen practice, the longest I'd done was seven days. And to do it for 10 weeks, really made a difference for me. And one of the differences was I got much more concentrated than I ever had in Zen in a different kind of way. And in that concentration, I touched something very seemingly very deep inside little kernel of something that seemed like the truest place. And it became essential for me to touch that place again. It wasn't logical or rational. It was just as deep kind of feeling the kind of urge or kind of necessity that I felt. And I did go back to Japan, I finished up the year in Japan living in a Zen monastery. I came back to California had no money and worked for, for things about four months, I was given free room and board at the San Francisco Zen Center. So I could do this. And so all the money I had from working was went to saving of money. And I think after those four months, I had about $2,000. And then I bought a ticket to go back to Asia, this time to go to Burma. Because I'd learned the practice I had been given in Thailand, the headquarters for that the source of it was this particular monastery in Yangon, Myanmar. And, and so I went there or tried to go there. But it was very hard. I didn't realize this, but actually that Burma was closed when I applied for a visa. So I was waiting for visa, nothing happened. I went to the teacher in Burma, who Pandita was going to practice in Nepal. I practiced with him for a month in Nepal, which was very fortuitous, because people like Joseph Goldstein, Sharon Salzberg, John Travis, other people came to practice with him as well. So that's where I got to meet these wonderful teachers as kind of friends practicing together. At practice in Thailand, for a month long retreats there, waiting for the visa. I finally reapplied and and then eight months after derive I first applied for a visa, I think I finally got a visa to Burma, I think because Burma finally opened, again to let people to come. Burma only open wide enough to allow people to have tourist visa, not tourist visa tourist visas for one week, or meditation visas for three months. I don't know how many countries have meditation visas. And so I went, and, and then I entered into the life of the intensive life of intensive retreats in Burma.
It was, I guess, I meditated for eight months, all day long. You know, so the longest I'd done before that was those 10 weeks in Thailand. And now I did this for eight months. And that was one of the highest points in my life. I was both difficult and something I deeply loved something it was challenging and experienced tremendous amount of joy. And, and, and it was, I think, I would say was transformative. It's kind of shaped me in a way that continues to this day. And so I thought I'd finish this series today up until a time in which I was going to start teaching here at IMC, but we're running out of time. So let me leave you there this kind of a new phase now that coming to the personal practice and really diving into it in a deep way, and in a way that then eventually brought me here to teaching at IMC. So what we'll do for next week, is I think I'll just continue this story. And and when I finally reach beginning to teach at IMC, I thought I would continue for however many days that is to little bit the history of IMC not because this is also very important because I want to convey that not the bland history of IMC but rather the values that were infused into this community and are here for this place that may be expressed through the history. And in a sense, it continues my story. Because, you know, my dedication for now, the last 33 years has been IMC and then Coincidentally, I was wanting to say that in being there the end of the year, I've written the end of the year letter for for IMC and this year I wrote a little different than I've done another years where I've you know, the end of the year letter usually just talks a little bit about IMC and and there's still does that but I wanted to have for the letter to have a little bit of a dharma purpose as well, some a little bit of something memorable dharma wise in it. So if you'd like to read IMCs end of the year letter and maybe help care for IMC that in the way that these end of the year letters usually suggest. You'll find it in the WHAT'S NEW section of IMCs homepage. In the bottom right hand corner, there's a little box that says what's new. And you go there, the items there and you'll see the end of the year letter from Gil. And so thank you very much and look forward to continue this on Monday.