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…

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…