Wednesday, December 8, 2010


At 5:30 a.m., out beyond the street lamp and its bluish haze and between the wires that hung from the lamp pole, the morning star was literally blazing this morning. Like some immodest prop in a high school play, the star seemed somehow too fat, too bright, too loud, too much. And yet there it was, clear as a bell.

Nearby, but lower in the sky, a smattering of clouds picked up the pink and white of nearby city illumination. I imagine if I had stood in the cold of the porch, the clouds might have blocked out or blurred the star, but for a few moments of looking, they were still and the star was unapologetic. "Lookit me!" it offered without caring if anyone looked or not. It was like walking on some sidewalk to meet a friend for coffee and seeing that friend from a distance ... the two of you looking and recognizing and filling up with friendship and ... smiling.

Some Buddhist schools celebrate the anniversary of Gautama's realization today. The school I grew up in does that. The tale has it that Gautama, after much effort that proved unavailing, sat down under a tree one night and vowed not to rise until he actualized the enlightenment he sought. And with the rising of the morning star, he did just that and neither star nor man had cause for regret.

Today is the last day of Rohatsu sesshin, an intense eight-day Zen retreat that comes once a year. Participants rise from their seats after so much effort and return home, having expressed their determination and yet strangely unable to say what, precisely, has just happened. It is worth a smile, perhaps.

In New York City, this morning, a small rally was scheduled outside of the Zen temple Sho Bo Ji. The rally was organized as a means of pointing out the sexual and financial depredations of Eido Tai Shimano, a man who has acted as a Zen teacher for 50 years. He wounded many and made no open apology. He too has been unrepentant and yet, if I had to guess, he failed to greet his true friends with a smile. All that effort beneath the tree and no smile to show for it. It's a profound pity that none of us needs to duplicate.

A bright, saucy and unrepentant star.

A good friend.

A warm smile.


  1. "He too has been unrepentant and yet, if I had to guess, he failed to greet his true friends with a smile."

    Been thinking about true friends. Not about how Eido greets Roko and Genjo, not about how they greet him, not about what is seen in a mirror.

    If he is blind, self seemingly bright in what is darkness, there is no fault. Even so, there come from time to time, Roko and Genjo bringing warm smiles of greeting.

    What of this?

  2. I saw that blazing star, too! It was framed between the buildings to the east of Shobo-ji, and it was so brilliant that I thought it was an aircraft landing light, at first. I took a picture with my dinky digital camera, and the batteries immediately died, though I think I did get the shot. I haven't checked yet.
    I had gotten off the bus from Maine at Port Authority at just about midnight, and began walking to East 67th Street. It was very exciting to actually be in New York City on the streets for the first time since 1968, and I enjoyed the walk immensely, though it was pretty cold. I was very sorry I had forgotten my gloves. I had the wonderful experience of throwing a half dozen bags of garbage into the hopper of a city garbage truck, after explaining to the crew that I had been a garbageman for the City of Rochester for five years, and wanted to see if "I still had it." They gave me a fist bump, and announced that I did! That, I think, was really the high point of the trip.
    I collected some stuff out of a construction dumpster to make a sign, and went to the Silver Star restaurant around the corner from Shobo-ji to construct it. For only ten dollars, you, too, can rent an "art table" at the Silver Star between the hours of 3 and 5 am, as long as you clean up the floor after yourself.

  3. And began picketing around 4:30 in the morning. Walk up, walk down, reverse sign at each end. There were pretty much no spectators, so I had time to perfect my technique before the first dog walkers showed up around 5:30. No one was very interested in the hand-outs that Kobutsu had printed up for the event, though a couple of the dogs showed mild interest. I even offered a trade for a small bag of dog doo, with no takers. I finally came up with a spiel that seemed to work o.k.: "How about a fine socio-religious handout? Pictures, Sex, New York Times!" That attracted enough interest to move all the flyers by the time the protest was over. Zuiho (the temple gatekeeper, I guess) came to open for morning zazen around 6 or so, and was as warm and generous a spirit as could possibly be wished for, bringing me a greatly appreciated cup of hot tea back outside. I had hoped that the sitters might join the protestors in chanting the Four Vows, the Shosai Myokichijo Darani, and the Kannon Gyo at sunrise, but their schedule kept them in the Zendo at that time. A few other sitters showed up shortly thereafter, and the men were completely friendly. One asked me if this was helping me. I said, "I have no idea, but I'm having fun!" He gave me a friendly tap on the shoulder, and said, "Then it's helping you!"
    The women were much less friendly, seemingly somewhat annoyed. You can draw your own conclusions. I couldn't draw any at all. Olivia showed up around 6:30, delighted to be there, though she was a bit of a bust at handing out literature. She had brought another flyer for dissemination, so there was some emergency collating done on the windowsill. She was kind enough to take the sign off my hands, so I could place the very cold hands in my pockets. Then about 15 minutes later, Peter and Grace Schireson showed up, and donned rakusus, making our protest an official Buddhist event! The Schiresons had just happened to be in New York on a family visit, and had been contacted by Olivia at the very last minute by email, so their appearance was nothing short of miraculous, making for a very Happy Rohatsu for all of us there on the sidewalk. We handed out the last of our literature, and having decided that we were probably not actually going to see the sun until it rose over the tops of the buildings, chanted instead to the its glorious reflection on the clouds between the buildings where the Morning Star had held sway earlier. Zuiho came out shortly after to collect the empty teacup, and expressed regret that he did not have time to stay at the temple and offer us all more tea, which was a disappointment, but all the protestors (all four) went away feeling quite happy with the effort. And let us all be very clear about it: this was not a protest against the ZSS or Dai Bosatsu, or against the many students who have gave their hearts to these places, along with long years of effort. My picketing was absolutely as much to honor those efforts and those students as it was to condemn the crimes and lies of Eido Tai Shimano. Namo Dai Bosa, Namo Dai Bosa, Namo Dai Bosa.

  4. In this morning's chill, my heart was warmed by the good efforts of those who did that work, Kegetsu.

    Many, many thanks and a truly effortless bow.

    PS. If you ever quit your day job you could probably make a living selling the Brooklyn Bridge: What a great spiel -- "How about a fine socio-religious handout? Pictures, Sex, New York Times!" Nice one.