September 15 marked the end of the Mount Baldy Zen Center’s summer seichu formal training season. This summer we were fortunate to have a dedicated group of serious, experienced practitioners as well as some bright, sharp and eager new students. We began the training season and ended it in our sutra hall, with sosarei, a communal tea ceremony that neatly bookended our two-and-a-half months of rigorous and inspiriting Zen practice together.
We finished our final seven-day retreat on September 8, and a few days later our teacher, Joshu Sasaki Roshi, paid the seichu staff and students a surprise visit.
(The fulltime summer seichu crew + Roshi, from left to right: Genkai, Ingrid Lane, Jay Butula, Roshi, Gento, Dokan, Patrick Mair, Kendo [Michael Garfinkel not pictured])
Roshi and his attendant or inji, Myoren, stayed at MBZC for a couple days before returning to Rinzai-ji in Los Angeles, where Roshi continues to rest.
The elephant in the room (pick a room — we have lots at MBZC) is our teacher Joshu Sasaki Roshi’s absence. For forty-one years he has led all practice seasons here at MBZC. Last February he became ill, and he has been resting at Rinzai-ji, our LA temple, ever since. While Roshi’s spirit is as strong as ever, and his mind is clear, his body is far more fragile these days. The upshot is that he has not been able to give teisho lectures or meet privately with us for sanzen koan instruction.
And so the question naturally arises: what is formal practice like at MBZC without Roshi?
Truthfully, things are proceeding pretty much the same as before. The difference is that without Roshi on camp to lead and inspire us, we are now that much more responsible for our own Zen training, and for helping each other learn and grow in this practice. Zen practice never changes — regardless of the situation — because the essence of the practice is to meet every situation fully, with your whole mind, body, and heart. It’s a simple practice, and easily portable. (“The truth has few moving parts,” Roshi has said.) Life on the mountain isn’t that much different from life down the hill. Up here, we simply slow things down and concentrate on doing the essentials completely: cooking, cleaning, and relating to each other, as well as formal Zazen sitting practice, chanting, and group meals. Whether you’re at Mt. Baldy, your mom’s house, or Timbuktu, Zen practice is the same: to “make relationship” with whatever is in front of you, be it the morning dishes, that infuriating coworker with the halitosis, or the simple fact that your 105-year-old teacher is no longer able to get into the trenches with you for a seven-day retreat.
Fortunately, there are still many people willing to hop into the trenches with us. MBZC hosted three sesshins without Roshi this summer, and many old and new students, monks, and priests attended them. This winter we will be hosting four seven-day retreats within a two-and-a-half month training period.
Here’s our schedule:
SEICHU BEGINS: December 10
Hashun-kyuji (arrive before noon) December 14
Retreat: December 15-22
Jodo e ceremony (10AM, public welcome!)
RINZAI-KI SESSHIN RETREAT (led by Kigen Osho):
Hashun-kyuji (arrive before noon) January 10
Rinzai-ki Ceremony: January 10 (if you are flying in, arrive day before to attend 10am ceremony. Public welcome!)
Retreat: January 11-17
FEBRUARY SESSHIN RETREAT:
Hashun-kyuji (arrive before noon): February 7
Retreat: February 8-14
Nirvana Day Ceremony: February 15 (10 AM, public welcome!)
MARCH SESSHIN RETREAT
Hashun-kyuji (arrive before noon): March 9
Retreat: March 10-16
SEICHU WINTER TRAINING ENDS: MARCH 20
MBZC has never been a place for the fainthearted, and the mission now is finding the strength and inspiration to continue to practice together in authentic and creative ways without Roshi’s guidance. In other words, Roshi’s absence creates a fresh challenge at a Zen center that has always been defined by one vitalizing challenge or another. If you’ve been here before, join us again and be a part of this fresh challenge. If you’re new, please contact us and we can discuss your coming to practice here.
Before sharing a few highlights from summer seichu, I’d like to note that the Zendo remodel is almost completed. Happily, the remodel was a big success. (You never know what will happen when you start tinkering with the old buildings on this mountain!) It exceeded our expectations, and deserves an email of its own, which will soon be coming your way.
And now, some highlights from our summer seichu:
After the August retreat, the fulltime MBZC summer seichu crew hiked to the top of Mt. Baldy. Much hay has been made over the years about how, during the WWII era, a plane crashed into the side of the mountain. The extant hull of this plane is almost…but not quite…visible from the main hiking path, making its existence more apocryphal than confirmed. However, at one point during our hike, two of us (Jay Butula and your wheezing, sun-sick narrator) strayed from the path and stumbled upon the remains of the plane, confirming its existence once and for all. (No, there were no human remains, and stop asking.)
Summer training began with a retreat honoring Joshu Sasaki Roshi’s fiftieth anniversary of teaching in America. On July 21 there was a great celebration in Los Angeles, with upwards of 250 people attending. A delegation of monks and oshos from Zuigan-ji (the first temple that Roshi was abbot of in Japan) came and paid their respects to our teacher. Several monks, priests, and a senior teacher from Roshi’s home temple, Myoshin-ji, visited as well. The event was organized and executed to a tee by sangha members (special thanks to Paul Humphries, Susan Crozier, Myoren and Genshin Anderson); it was wonderful seeing so many of us come together to pull off a celebration that was, in the words of someone (it might have been me), more work than throwing three simultaneous weddings.
There was a front-page story of the event in the LA Times. Here is a link:
MBZC recently attended a weekend retreat at Rinzai-ji in Los Angeles where the good news was announced that Seiju, Abbot of the Albuquerque Zen Center, would be coming to Los Angeles and Rinzai-ji to help Roshi. After the retreat, Roshi had the MBZC crew and Kendo up for dinner, and the gaiety of the evening was captured (as all happy images now are) on an iPhone camera.
Gassho and Best wishes,
Gento, Shika MBZC