Sunday, July 9, 2017

gifts from a Zen past

In the long-ago and faraway, there was a fellow who showed up here to dip his toe in the Buddhist waters. I imagine we went to the zendo and I put him through the physical paces. Perhaps he came more than once. I don't remember. Then we lost touch.

Recently, when he learned of my fading activities in Zen, he asked if he could have some small momento from the zendo which was his first contact with Buddhism. I saw no initial harm, but then, I realized something else and wrote to him as follows:

Dear D -- Your request for some small momento from the zendo here has been rattling around in my mind. On reflection, I have changed my mind:

I will not give you some statue or bell or other piece of Buddhist bric-a-brac for your altar. That would be a cheap date. Instead, there is this:

1.  Pick a small spot on the altar where the proposed gift might rest. Just some small space. Pick it.

2. When regarding that space in future, consider what might or might not fill it.

3. That is all ... except ....

When my teacher, Kyudo Nakagawa, died, he was abbot of Ryutaku-ji (monastery) in Japan. To the best of my knowledge, he did not name any Dharma heirs prior to his death. In Zen Buddhism, teachers often recognize one or more students as an equal or better. And this 'failure' on Kyudo's part is precisely what I consider to be his greatest gift to me. I cannot begin to say how thankful I am. Mind you, I have no way of knowing precisely what his intent might have been. I am not a mind-reader. I am just a student whose gratitude is his own business.

And associatively: I think it was Huang Po/Obaku who once stood before the monks he was training and said, approximately, "There is no such thing as a Zen teacher." One of the monks stood up and challenged him: "Master, how can you say such a thing when you are standing in front of us and teaching?" And Huang Po replied, "I did not say there was no such thing as Zen. I said there was no such thing as a Zen teacher."

Take good care of yourself.



  1. I suppose there is such a thing as a zen student, who is hopefully taught by all of life.

  2. Mū Shin Frank LoCiceroJuly 9, 2017 at 6:00 PM

    Genkaku -

    The story about Kyudo's successor as Abbot of Ryutaku-Ji is a bit complicated; as to whether Kyudo wanted to downplay the drama of "Transmission" I tend to think he would.

    Kyudo struck me as the type of guy who would forget anniversaries like the birth or death of some famous Zen personality rather than make them opportunities to intensify practice (and, perhaps, create or perpetuate a myth).

    But regarding succession see the comment to one of your November 2013 blog posts.

    I believe the comment is fairly accurate based on some discussion I personally had with Kyudo Roshi during the three years I practiced at Soho Zendo as a lay student. Evidently Kyudo's teacher Soen Roshi and Kyudo had discussed a few succession scenarios for the benefit of Ryutaku-Ji.

    As to the remembrance for that visitor, I would have simply sent him a dried flower representing impermanence. Nothing mysterious.