September 29th is the Harvest Full Moon. Sensei acknowledged that we have to indirectly kill in order to eat, whether its plants or animals. Our life depends on others, and it’s sad. He then said, “at least, we should not be greedy”.
In the Summer of 1998 after our moon-gazing trip, Sensei had the idea to go see the tallest mountain in the continental US. So one weekend I drove him up to Mount Whitney in the Eastern Sierras. I’d heard of the place, but it was quite an adventure for me. After the 3 miles of switchbacks rising 2,000ft to elevation 8,400ft we had the most amazing view looking up at the 14,500ft peak. The desert was far below and we were surrounded by lush trees, and a chilling stream over granite boulders; an abundance of life and fresh air was invigorating!
As we considered our return route, the detour through Death Valley looked interesting and our adventure continued “free and spontaneous” as he said. We stopped at the store and remarked how the common ravens strolled one foot after the other in the extreme heat instead of hopping like they usually do, probably conserving energy. I’m sure Sensei said something like, “They are smart”. We made it to the lowest point in North America, called Badwater Basin (elevation = 282ft below sea level), and this photo shows the mounds of salt from the ancient seabed. We both thought it was magnificent to have experienced the high and the low in the same day, the bleak lifelessness and the vibrant life.
August 31st was a Blue Moon because it’s the 2nd full moon in the same month. Sensei appreciated the poetry of the Full Moon symbolizing enlightenment as it does in Buddhism. Sometimes when we traveled, we’d meditate outside at night “moon-gazing”. Once in 1998, I drove him and two other students (Chintana and Judy) to some undeveloped land they owned in the wilderness of Sequoia National Forest (between Mojave and Lake Isabella). It was a 4 hour drive from the temple, half on many miles of challenging dirt roads past Jawbone Canyon, so I rented a nice 4WD. I was enjoying driving 4WD too much and he simply said, “the passengers’ comfort is the driver’s responsibility” and I’ve been a slower, safer driver ever since (thank you, Sensei). We camped in tents where we found a level spot and meditated outside for maybe an hour; beautiful moonlight filtering through the branches to the forest floor. The next day we came across this beautiful shady pool.
At the end of his autobiographical epic, When It Stops Sinking, he wrote the following where the main character (himself) was perfectly content under the full moon in the wilderness like he was for years in Hokkaido.
(end of last chapter) Now the moon reached the zenith of the sky Illumining by itself, dominating the space Without any hindrances or comparison It was brilliant, brilliant, brilliant, brilliant, brilliant
There was no more shadow of the figures The entire space was bright with golden blue As immaculate as joyous children As serene as blooming evening primroses
(end of epilogue) The Bhikkhu sat on the top of the hill As long as he wanted to remain there He came back to the lone house He knew that it was the time to go back to his teacher
The Bhikkhu dropped in his home After five years’ non-communication He met his parents and Diamond and his wife He treated his parents and Diamond
Mr. Adamant Grand Augustus was surprised; The Bhikkhu’s entire body was illumining He was perfectly peaceful and contented; His treatment was better than any professional therapists’ were
The Bhikkhu went back To the home monastery After five years He stood at the entrance as a newcomer
The Master, Bodhisattva Enzui Jikai Just smiled broadly as usual without any utterance The Bhikkhu was happy to come back home The only home in this samsara
August 1st was the Full Sturgeon Moon, reminding me of the varieties of fish at Catalina Island (Garibaldi, Calico Bass, etc) and my trip there with Sensei and Dhammika in about 1996. Dhammika and I were two of Sensei’s students from UCLA and the three of us set off one weekend “in search of aranya” or a good wilderness to meditate in, as Sensei would say. After the couple-hour boat ride over, we walked around the town of Avalon and stayed over in an old and simple one-room hotel. Sensei wanted to know all the details of the island’s history and namesake, Saint Catherine. The next morning we decided to hike around the south/east rim trail past East Peak, and set off for a half-day hike. Here are some pictures I found online as I didn’t take any that day myself. Hiking along with Sensei was great for conversation and invariably led to discussions of deep meditation, life and enlightenment as well as history and Buddhist stories. Then we’d notice a cactus growing twisted around a rock and study it for a while before continuing the hike. Later, we waited on the pier for the return boat and sat down to meditate with the small waves lapping at our backs.
July 3rd was the Thunder Full Moon which reminds me how we live so protected from the elements. Having lived in Bodhgaya India and the wilderness of Hokkaido for years, Sensei was a man with few if any needs. I think he enjoyed the overnight excursions we made on occasion over the years, though he’d never admit it. Instead he’d say we were on a search for a good meditation place in the wilderness (aranya). I think it was sort of an excuse because he’d often quote Buddha saying the best place to meditate is where you sleep (i.e. your home), and that there’s no need to go here or there in search of ideal conditions.
But one such excursion was pivotal in my own life. The two of us went camping in Joshua Tree National Park in the middle of Summer in 2002. The landscape there is really interesting, and we got to experience it first hand on our way home via a 4WD-only road called “Geology Tour Road” which we followed through Berdoo Canyon all the way back to Palm Springs. There were three times when I had to drive over large boulders and get out to check the car and the rock, rock and car, then move forward a foot and repeat a few times. Sensei probably thought I was crazy and I was a little, having had no experience with this sort of thing and being so isolated there. But we made it out with just a couple scratches. We had camped the night before at Jumbo Rocks, where Sensei slept in the back of my Ford Explorer and I tucked myself into a sleeping bag/bivy sack combination on the ground. It had been an exhausting and transformative day for me, so I fell deeply asleep. Hours later in the dead of night, I was startled awake by the sounds of a dozen coyotes yipping and running all around within a couple feet of me. After a few minutes of sheer panic, I discovered they were chasing a rabbit and not attacking me. The next morning over a light breakfast, when I recounted the story, he just laughed kindly before we headed out Geology Tour road. We had arrived the day before in the mid-day sun, set up meditation cushions in the shade of one of the Jumbo Rocks and sat for one or two hour-long periods. I couldn’t do it. I was restless and couldn’t sit still any more. Something was eating at me and I was determined to face it. Sensei told me, ‘If you can’t sit then walk. Walk until you sit.’ So I put on my hat and set off in a random direction across the open desert with no plan. I love hiking in the heat and was at home despite my directionless mind. Several hours later, in some small valley somewhere it hit me; somehow what I was struggling with became clear. I just said to myself “huh” and sat down where I was standing for a half-hour meditation. While there was no action or decision to follow the insight, I had released something and life and meditation became easier. I wandered back to dine with Sensei who was happily meditating in the evening shade as he had been some 4 hours previous.
How did he know? So grateful for his insightful guidance. I’d been struggling with meditation the previous 7 years, and within about 6 months of this epiphany, my practice was more serene than it had ever been. I’ve been so lucky. Thank you, Sensei!!
June 3 was the Strawberry Full Moon and I found myself making a matcha latte. Sensei was particular about tea in the afternoons, but enjoyed a simple coffee in the morning. He’d scoop some instant Nescafe powder into a cup, pour in the boiled water, stir, then stir in plain Coffee Mate instant creamer powder. But when it came to tea and matcha, he knew the details. The big one he explained one day was the difference between Tea Powder and Powdered Tea. When you buy the green matcha you can get the cheap Tea powder which is collected from the debris of the tea processing or you can get the finer quality powdered tea where the tea leaves themselves are powdered intentionally. He also insisted that water heated almost to the boiling point tasted different than water boiled then cooled slightly as it should be.
When I think of Sensei and tea I remember taking him to visit Gerow at Jikoji in the Bay Area for a few days in late January 2004. We meditated all the time, walked around the hills, and a few other persons joined the three of us for some of the time. Then one day Sensei did a simple tea ceremony for us (with matcha) on the doorstep grassy area like a picnic. We headed into SF city for the day, and found a delightful Chinese tea house where you bring your bird in and hang the cage at your table while you order from maybe a hundred different teas. We walked around a bit and noticed the Mandarin Oranges given for luck in the Chinese New Year (a few days previous). Sensei explained he was a (Water) Monkey in Chinese Astrology and this year was the year of the (Wood) Monkey — auspiciously his year.
Later we met up with a friend who was a serious tea ceremony practitioner. I forget his name but I’m so grateful as this was my first and only true tea ceremony experience with the custom tea room and everything. Later we had Indian food and Sensei pointed out the difference between real Indian Chai (milk tea) and the American knock-off (tea with milk). A year later I made my way to India and understood what he meant. The milk is boiled and the chai seasoning is steeped in it; there’s no water involved. Well, after all that caffeine I found myself talking and unable to stop myself even after Sensei and Gerow pointed it out to me. It was hilarious, but I really don’t care to overdose on caffeine again. At the end of the trip we stayed in a Japanese style hotel downtown and were a little let down by the western bathtub in place of Japanese ofuro. I think he really enjoyed being in a Japanese place, and I really valued spending the few days at his side. With all the meditating and serious philosophical discussions, I was ready to sleep deeply in my futon on the floor beside his (caffeine really never keeps me awake). lights out. “oyasumi nasai” (good night). a minute silence. then Sensei starts chatting about the most common things (like the people we met, stores we visited, etc), taking me totally by surprise. A good time, indelibly indexed in my memory under Sensei and Tea.
Today is the Vesak Full moon when Buddha’s birth, enlightenment and pari-nirvana will be celebrated by hundreds of millions and recognized in today’s press release from the United Nations. I remember many times I was visiting Sensei, talking and practicing meditation, and on the Vesak Sunday well over a hundred lay persons in white and perhaps a couple dozen monks in various shades of saffron, brown, and red robes would gather for lay ordinations, lectures, and dana (ritual offering of lunch from lay persons to monastics). It’s been one of the largest celebrations at Dharma Vijaya temple. Although it took him from his meditation practice, he was grateful and very happy to serve the temple and community at these events as part of his monastic obligations.
Another memory, recently shared by Pawin, is captured in these photos of a field trip with Sensei to the Lake Shrine Self-Realization Fellowship in LA in September, 2011. It was always such an interesting occasion, an honor, and a pleasure to take Sensei to lunch or someplace near or far. Generally he would accept an invitation from someone he knew, and was particularly fond of investigating places that might be good for meditation such as Lake Shrine.
We scattered Sensei’s ashes among the wild poppies of Antelope Valley on April 8th. Over the years, many of us brought him to view the poppies (about 4 times myself) so we felt it was a good place for him. While Buddhists believe a variety of things occur after death, one is that we go into an intermediate state of consciousness called the bardo, until our next rebirth. I believe that Sensei is in a realm with long periods of silent oneness, and I wonder if he has enough attachment to return or if he attained Anagami. April 8th was the perfect timing, as that is Hanamatsuri, the Japanese flower festival celebrating Buddha’s birth. This month (April 6th) we also had the Pink Moon, named for the N. American wildflower – Flox, and with all the rains we’ve had, the wildflowers are everywhere now. Then the next day was Western Christian Easter, commemorating the death and resurrection of Jesus and provides hope for spiritual salvation.
Sensei told me of a Japanese death poem of a defeated man forced to his death that went something like: “Lightning cuts the Spring breeze”, indicating that he cannot die because he is a Spring breeze. We often referred to merging into Nature with that metaphor, so in one of my last conversations with him, I told him he would be a Spring breeze. I put together some of his writing for the 7 of us at this occasion which you can read here. May we continue to live Sensei’s message to meditate, just breathe nicely, and be happy and strong. Many bows.
Today is the Worm Moon, and I think of how Sensei would often say “All flowers are beautiful.” Their nature is to be beautiful. Why are we so selective and opinionated? Flowers were always a part of his life, symbolically and literally. He told me his family crest was upward-growing Wisteria (here’s all I find online about Shibuya and family crests). Visiting the Carlsbad Ranunculus (photo from 1995) or better yet, the California Poppy Reserve was a ready excuse for an adventure with Sensei.
Here’s a sweet story of morning glories from when he was between high school and college in When It Stops Sinking:
“The early morning in June Dews are sparkling on the green leaves Nobody yet awakens Only the sparrows
Pearl walks around the back garden Strolls on the mossed knoll Passing between the twin zelcova gigantic Descends down the stone steps
Goes under giant chestnut trees Spreading branches over the half of the backyard Plain blossoms smell semen Strewn around the step stones on the neatly swept ground
He strolls through the backyard Goes to the east end of the garden fringed by moat, Water flows slow in the half dark Irises are sleeping sound
Hydrangea is drowsy Fireflies stay in their beds Tiny lights brink blue and violet Dreaming a party with the fairies
Pearl bends over morning glories Entangling in supporting reeds Many buds are swelling Sucking the subtle twilight of the quietude
Crouching over the pots of varied colors He chooses one of the biggest ones; He hangs over and stares at it He focuses on the subtlest changes of the unfolding process
Little by little It unfolds Little by little It blooms It bursts With a voice —
Pearl is amused Smiles at The morning glory Deep purple unfolded
Many buds are bursting
Pahh! Pahh! Pahh!
Pearl laughs He’s happy He feels alive He feels fresh
He is opened He is alive He is joyful He is natural He is spontaneous
The tiny voice of the morning glories has broken Pearl’s depression, frustration, stagnation His heart is buoyant now His body is alert now As the shouts of the morning glories”
Today is the Snow Moon, and I think of Sensei’s decision to go to Bodhgaya around the age of 45 (in the late 1970’s). Why did he go? He said he wanted to understand the Buddha’s original teachings in contrast to the more modern Mahayana of Zen in Japan. Remember Bodhgaya is where Buddha sat under the Bodhi Tree until he was enlightened. Many countries have representative Buddhist temples there including Japan, and Sensei taught meditation in that one until around 1980. One day Sensei told me to memorize “Khantī paramaṁ tapo tītikkhā” (patience/perseverance is the greatest virtue). Well it turns out that this full moon day is celebrated in Sri Lanka, Thailand, etc as “Sangha day” or Māgha Pūjā, and commemorates Buddha’s Ovāda-pāṭimokkha teaching which includes that statement. Here, Buddha, 10 months after enlightenment, refers to the plural Buddhas, meaning all Awakened ones:
Patient forbearance is the highest austerity. (Khantī paramaṁ tapo tītikkhā). Unbinding is highest: That’s what the Buddhas say. He is no monk who harms another; nor a contemplative, he who oppresses another.
The non-doing of all evil, the performance of what is skillful, the cleansing of one’s own mind: This is the Buddhas’ teaching.
Not reviling, not injuring, restraint in line with the monastic code, moderation in food, dwelling in seclusion, devotion to the heightened mind: This is the Buddhas’ teaching.
Today is the Full Wolf Moon, and I think of the things Sensei shared about the few years he lived in the wilderness of Hokkaido in his late 30’s. He said that the sounds of nature became sounds of imagined people, like the stream of melting snow near the abandoned hut he stayed in. At one point it sounded like a group of people talking — perhaps reflecting a desire to not be alone which he confronted at that time. Years later he told me “I am alone but not lonely”. That stream also was featured in a remarkable story of his daily routine that he spoke of and wrote about in his When It Stops Sinking:
“The Bhikkhu got up in the dawn
Stripped him to nakedness
Took the cooking pan and put on shoes
Open the door and ran to the only place of un-frozen stream
Scooping water from the hole dug into the snow
The Bhikkhu splashed the water onto his body
Splashing, splashing, splashing twenty times onto his blue black body
He felt that he was purified
The water was warm for him
It was even steaming
Certainly it was warmer than the atmosphere
Which was ten to fifteen degrees below zero
He was extremely happy with the fact that
Not all nature was severe and hostile at him
But some part of it was mild and gentle to him
At its most delicate and essential part of it
He did not feel any cold at all
He was just joyous of this daily routine
Which was totally secret from the villagers
Even from animals and birds from around
It was even sacred ceremony to him
To keep his body and mind clean and pure
To maintain his good health and inspiration
To persist in the lone life in unprotected nature
Even if he succumbed to the desires;
Even if he was polluted by the practice and memory of the past
By the desire and ignorance of the present moment
By fear, insecurity, diffidence, uncertainty for future
He was resurrected and refreshed
From the nocturnal ordeal of murky confusion and desperation
From the daylong fighting with endless pain and incapacity
From the monotonous and tedious transition of time in the seclusion
He recovered his childhood innocence and energy
Imagination, vision, dream, hope;
Body, mentality, behavior, attitude
When he finished his ablution, he was triumphant
He was joyous to the extent that
He wanted cry out to the mountain
He just dashed back to his lone house,
Raising a line of violet smoke.”