Practice Corner + The story of Mt. Baldy

Practice Corner

To help keep Joshu Roshi’s teaching alive and vital, we have invited Rinzai Ji Oshos to contribute small musings on Zen practice, teaching, and insight.

The January contributor is Shozan Marc Joslyn Osho.

Shozan Marc Joslyn Osho.  Shozan Marc Joslyn became a student of Sasaki Roshi in 1964. Together with several other people, Shozan helped establish the first Rinzai Zen center on Cimarron Street in Los Angeles. In 1970, Shozan with Dan Sunada established Mt. Baldy Zen Center in the San Bernardino Mountains, east of Los Angeles. Shozan was ordained as a monk in 1972 and as an Osho in 1982.

One morning during a Sesshin at MBZC Roshi gave a particularly intense Teisho on the theme of being ‘hung up’ either because one has to get or achieve something or because one has to avoid or get rid of something.  True self-embraces everything, he emphasized, and true self cannot be fully or absolutely experienced as long as there is something which one lacks or has in excess.  True self is ‘perfect’

While accompanying him back to his cabin after the Teisho, and passing the work cabin on the side of the way, Roshi paused, then went up to the entrance of the cabin to look at something.  It was a particularly crisp, clear morning and hanging from the southwest of the eave, swaying in a gentle breeze, was a large, glistening, dew-laden spider web.  I had never before seen such a huge, beautifully constructed web.  Roshi also seemed impressed.  But he commented abruptly “Roshi dislikes spiders!” in seeming contradiction to the Teisho he had just given. He cast a sharp look as if hitting me as if to say “understand?”

Roshi was demonstrating non-discriminating discrimination, that disliking spiders was not absolute, not in contradiction to his Teisho, that Zen practice does not demand that we live without preferences like angels or machines.  Trying to gain ‘emptiness’ or to root out one’s likes and dislikes only results in attachment to non-attachment, in egoful pretense of egolessness.  To see our human preferences for what they are with no effort to gain or get rid of anything is to trust True Self to relieve us of the phony absoluteness of this or that fixed notion.

The Founding of MBZC (Moments with Roshi)
By Shozan Marc Joslyn
Part 1 of 7

In late 1969 or early 1970 the Claremont Zen group decided to buy a house and turn it into a zendo.  After considering various possibilities, we settled for a house in Palmer Canyon, north of Claremont.  The surrounding was a peaceful, charming, old Mexican Californian area. With some internal reworking, the house and garden could be made quite suitable for a zendo.  Our sangha members all approved the choice and I was pretty sure Roshi would also approve.  I phoned Cimarron to ask if someone could drive Roshi to Claremont to see the house.  At the time agreed on, I was working so I asked a Japanese friend, Tatsuo Muneto, to meet Roshi and show him around the place we had in mind.  (Tatsuo is a Pureland Buddhist pastor in Hawaii.  At that time he was working toward an M.A. at the Claremont Graduate School, and occasionally he translated a Roshi Teisho for us.)

When I got back from work that evening I called Tatsuo to learn what Roshi thought of our choice.  To my surprise and disappointment, Tatsu said Roshi had been rather tepid about the Palmer Canyon house.  Right after seeing the house, Roshi asked to be driven up the Mt Baldy road as though looking for a more suitable place.  Tatsuo did as asked and when they had gone up the road a while, Roshi told him to pull over and stop.  Roshi got out of the car, walked over to the side, looked down, listened, looked around and then exclaimed it was a good site because, in addition to being flat and suitable for extensive building, there was running water nearby.  Evidently what he had in mind was more like a Japanese monastic training center which could be a self-sustaining establishment, growing its own crops, and so forth, not the lay, more or less secular, co-ed sort of Zen center which the Claremont group had in mind.  Roshi told Tatsu to inform me that the Mt. Baldy site was what we ought to buy.

I drove to the Mt. Baldy site that weekend, looked it over, then drove to the Mt. Baldy village to find a realtor, and inquire about the property.  As I suspected, the asking price for the choice property Roshi had selected was much dearer than our available funds could cover.  But even had we been able to raise the extra money through a variety of concerted events, it was too late.  The site had already been purchased for the building of the new Mt. Baldy elementary school.

What to do?  Several members of the Claremont sangha wanted to buy the Palmer Canyon house with or without Roshi’s OK.  My expressed view was we ought to wait.  I didn’t really have anything else in mind, I simply didn’t know what to do about the dead end of Roshi’s request.  Had there been enough money, the problem might have been resolved as a clear twosome rather than as a muddled unity, that is, we could have bought the Palmer Canyon house and continued to look for a mountain locale as a monastic center for Roshi.  I experienced it as a rather painful dilemma.  Without the support of the discontented Claremont group, I drove up the Baldy road the next few weekends, looking in vain for a mountain site that would befit what Roshi had in mind and would also be affordable.  No luck…