Practice Corner and the Story of Mt. Baldy

Practice CornerTo 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.

This month’s contributor is Gido Richard Schnabel Osho.

Gido Richard Schnabel Osho.  Gido Schnabel Osho started his study of Tathagata Zen at the age of twenty-one. Forty eight years later, he continues his practice and investigation. Early on, heeding the words of Joshu Roshi who told him: “Your life is going to be heavy if you don’t get this koan” he has applied himself earnestly to the questions Joshu Roshi posed,  questions that usually started with “How, When and Where”. They say the Buddha’s search for the dharma were stimulated by the keisakus of illness, old age, and death. So far, Gido says, he has found no fault with that old story.

There are many pairs of polarities we can use to describe this world, each with their own utility in illuminating particular aspects of our experience. We can talk about light and dark, past and future, expansion and contraction, male and female, and so forth. These bring focus respectively to the activities of form, time, space, humanity and desire. Yet to be Zen we must arrive at zero, which the polarity of plus and minus accomplishes with the exactitude of the language of mathematics.

Listeners to the teishos of Joshu Roshi over the last twenty-five years of his life know that he untiringly returned to the metaphor of plus and minus for the twin activities that generate that which is complete and perfect as well as incomplete and imperfect in all of their manifestations. This suggests that he found it to be a tool without equal in using words to infiltrate, not just the American mind, but the modern mind with constructs stimulating to our practice to realize these two activities for ourselves.

I don’t know if in Zen’s long history of words and tales we would find the specific concept of plus and minus. But if there is to be a uniquely American or better yet modern, international manifestation of Zen, it will need its own language, and I would suggest that Joshu Roshi’s use of plus and minus is a big step in the right direction.  Using the symbology of mathematics “the queen of the sciences”, it builds a much-needed bridge for the modern mind into the religious experiences which are the foundation of this thing we call Zen.

The Founding of MBZC (Moments with Roshi)
By Shozan Marc Joslyn
Part 4 of 7

Perhaps in response to my lack of enthusiasm, Roshi walked to a midpoint on the road between the north and south ends of the camp, gazed for a while at the terrain and then proceeded to describe in Japanese (Dan translating) what could be done aesthetically with the place.  Roshi painted a picture with his gesturing, as though taking it for granted that the Forest Service couldn’t help but grant us a lease on additional acres of land once they realized what the splendid result might be. He described creating a large pond or small lake by damming up a ravine.  He described a ‘wedding chapel’ (at least that’s how Dan translated it) and steps leading down to other structures and landscaped areas.  He must have gestured and spoken for five minutes or so, responding to Dan’s queries. It was quite a performance and I only wish I could remember more of the details.

In later years, if someone complained about the starkness of MBZC, I would reply that Roshi had an innate sense of beauty which I first saw in the rock garden he constructed at the Gardena house, and again when he demonstrated what could be done with Boy Scout camp.  This sense of beauty manifested in many small ways like Roshi’s instructions to a Tenzo about preparing food so that it looks appealing as well as tasting good.  That this aesthetic concern did not manifest in a larger, architectural or landscape manner was due only to our chronic want of adequate funds.  There was the contribution of a young architect from Canada, for instance.  I’ve forgotten his name—actually he was an American, a conscientious objector who went to Canada during the Viet Nam war—anyway he drew up some very nice building designs for the site after spending time with us at MBZC.  He projected the use of local rocks for his structures and Roshi liked the plans, but again, we lacked the funds to realize this venture.  (Later on, however, we were able later on to raise enough money for the earthquake-proof bathhouse designed by Claremont architect Leonard Malmquist.)

So Roshi went for the BSA camp.  What remained though was the big obstacle which had forced the BSA to put the Forest Service lease up for sale in the first place, i.e. what to do about human waste.  I got in touch with an engineering firm which came to the site and did a percolation test in the talus area.  This test was to answer the objection by the Forest Service that a septic tank and leach field system would probably not have a sustainable percolation rate.  The percolation rate turned out to be within the required standard.  But the Forest Service did not relent.  Their argument seemed to be that leach field percolation might seep downstream and contaminate the water systems of cabins below, even as far below as Baldy village..  So I paid for another test in which a colored dye was added to the percolation water.  That test too was a success in that no dye was detected alongside the downhill ravine leading to Baldy Village.  But again, the Forest Service refused to budge.  Many old cabins had septic tank and leach field systems, some of them in very questionable areas and yet the Forest Service had ‘grandfathered’ them.  The BSA sin was they had not applied for septic tank permit prior to the new ecological standards…