Newsletter of Dharma Rain Zen Center
Volume XXVII Number 6
By Christine Homitsu White
Dogen's mystical and philosophical writings for the most part baffle me. I can't seem to keep his metaphors straight, and I tend to get lost when he turns them upside-down and inside-out. However, I no longer hate him like I used to because I've come to believe that what he realized was so profound it was nearly impossible to describe. If nothing else, he's due much credit for his efforts.
As last year's class on Dogen progressed, I began to feel almost totally defeated. After all, if the lineage emphasis was on Dogen, and I didn't understand Dogen, did that mean I was in the wrong place? The issue dredged up terrifying memories of school where I had also failed to comprehend certain subjects, and the pain of the resulting humiliation.
My question became: "Did he write anything that I can understand?" Shortly after the question was formed, I picked up a copy of the Eihei Shingi. Many people find detailed instructions on zendo etiquette and dish washing tedious in the extreme, but suddenly Dogen came alive for me. Somewhere amidst all those rules I could hear him and his genjokoan clearly. During Jukai, I was jolted reading the mealtime ceremony, which was almost identical to one I had just done that morning at breakfast. This was body practice that had somehow made its way to me across 750 years, and I felt like a time traveler. When he says, "This dharma is what is received and used by all Buddhas in the past and future. This food is the fulfillment that is the joy of the dharma and the delight of meditation," I could smell the rice gruel - or oatmeal, as the case may be.
I searched through the Shobogenzo for related chapters and found and studied Ju-undo Shiki (Regulation for the Hall of Heavy Cloud), which was familiar from previous classes, Senjo (Washing), Senmen (Washing the Face) and Ji-kuin-mon (Sentences to be Shown in the Kitchen). Despite some of the usual Dogen inside-outside-upside-down logic, I was able to absorb much of what was written - possibly because I could visualize others doing the practice and wrestling with the questions it must have stimulated.
Dogen is always showing us his genjokoan; its meaning and usefulness is quite obvious in chapters on personal hygiene such as Senmen (Washing the Face). I was curious as to whether I could gain any sort of insight, or decrease the distance between me and the old man, by following his instructions as literally as possible. What follows are observations based on the text and my experiment with one set of directions.
"(Thus) the practice of washing and bathing even though we have not become dirty, and of washing and bathing even though we are already pure and clean is maintained and relied upon only in the Buddhist patriarchs' truth: it is beyond the knowledge of non-Buddhists."
In Senmen (Washing the Face), Dogen links the terribly bad breath of the Chinese monks and lay people that he met to a visible degeneration of the Dharma. I'm guessing he meant the direct mind-to-mind transmission was no longer practiced, let alone mindful reading and following of the vinaya, and the situation had become like a game of spiritual Telephone. The teaching had become too distorted to be of much use.
Dogen repeatedly stresses the value of the willow twig and the act of chewing it. The practice appears to have originated in India and was mentioned in a number of sutras.
The Japanese of his time apparently knew of the method, but didn't do it quite right, of course! He states that his first teacher, Eisai, imported the technique of tongue scraping from China in the previous generation, but both methods appear to have died out there by the time of Dogen's visit. I wondered if this was a metaphor for Zen practice; if so, it only partially works. Eisai bringing back only part of the process (Rinzai's teachings) could fit this theory, but the disappearance of the technique in China before Dogen's visit doesn't fly.
Of course, nowhere is the species of willow described. I guessed from medieval poetry and scrolls that it was probably similar to or the same as the common golden weeping willow, Salix babylonica aurea. I collected a sample of it, as well as cuttings from a curly willow and our native pussy willow for the experiment. They are all, as far as I know, nontoxic. In fact, willow bark contains salicylic acid and has been used for centuries in folk medicine in the same way as its chemical cousin, aspirin, is today.
Dogen quotes the Precepts for the Great Sangha (the Mahasamghika version of the vinaya) as specifying the length of the cleaning twig to be not shorter than four fingers or longer than sixteen. My four-finger span is three inches; the average modern adult toothbrush is seven inches. The twig should also be about as thick as one's baby finger and shaped like one, with a thick and a thin end, although there's no reason it can't be thinner. "The thicker end is chewed into fine fibers." Another vinaya sutra states that the chewed end must not "exceed three bu [.36 inches]."
Dogen quotes two dharanis from the Avatamsaka Sutra to be said before using the willow twig. The chapter referred to, unlike much of the sutra which is nearly hallucinatory in its descriptions, contains handy short verses to be used while performing everyday tasks. I imagine it could be quite helpful to daily hold the thought of having "...conquering teeth/To chew up all troubles."
When I tried chewing on a curly willow stick of the proper size, I did not have conquering teeth. The first thing I figured out was that the stick needs to be peeled; the bark flakes apart, and the taste and texture are unpleasant and counterproductive to a clean mouth. Perhaps the Japanese willows are softer; I didn't have any luck chewing the end into any sort of fiber. My experience with the native willow was the same, except it tasted even worse, very bitter. I then tried a slimmer piece of the standard weeping willow, one-quarter inch in diameter and about six inches long, and I had much better luck this time. With the first piece, though, I chewed too vigorously and the fibers became lodged in between a couple of molars. I peeled another one and chewed more carefully. The finely chewed end, whether by accident or design of the human mouth, ended up being just about .36 inches. (This action unearthed a distant memory of chewing on willow sticks as a child. Their aroma when the bark is peeled back is like watermelon and the taste is pleasantly tart.) The chewed end resembled a tiny fan-shaped brush. I gnawed on the second one a bit too much at first - keep it away from those canines! - and part of it broke off, but the twig was still useable.
In a time period when most people in the world lived in conditions similar to their livestock, Dogen's instructions seem quite hygienic and modern. Whether he and the compilers of the quoted versions of the vinaya knew of the practical benefits of proper washing in preventing diseases and contagion in group living situations is unknown (at least by me). They may have come to those conclusions through trial and error and good record-keeping. The monks who followed these rules might have been healthier and stronger than the average citizen, and may have had longer life spans. Some of our lineage holders had incredibly long lives for their time - but then again they also weren't usually involved in the wars of the time either (except the warrior-monks).
Included in this chapter is a story of how the king of Kosala offered the Buddha a willow twig at dawn. When the Buddha had finished with his mouth cleaning he threw the twig to the ground and of course it sprouted immediately and produced enormous tasty fruits! While something horticultural may have been lost in the translation and mists of time, it's entirely true that a willow stick will sprout with very little encouragement and grow rapidly and vigorously. I can't even imagine how fast the process would be in a place like India! Pussy willow cuttings stuck haphazardly in a jar or vase of water will produce roots in a matter of days. I've seen a branch partially broken off a bush next to a pond grow enough roots to clog a spillway in less than two Oregon winter months. I'm curious whether the admonition to discard the used twigs "in some unobtrusive spot" has to do with respect for this story, or just because they're icky once a person finishes with them, like modern dental floss.
I cleaned and polished my teeth with my little twig brush following the instructions. It proved to be a pretty effective tool for the job and a pleasant experience as well. Dogen quotes the Sutra of the Pure Net Bodhisattva Precepts, another vinaya sutra, as saying that the willow twig is one of the eighteen possessions of a monk along with the okesa and patra. Dogen as usual takes it one step further by stating that although none of the items should be missing, actually "the willow twig occupies first place: it should be supplied first," and that "to meet the willow twig is to meet the Buddhist patriarchs." How could anything, even a stick, be separate from the truth? He also quotes the Zen'en Shingi: "Rely only upon the golden mouth," meaning the Buddha's mouth - but also possibly a medieval joke for us concerning dental hygiene.
Step two of the cleaning process is scraping the tongue. The used willow twig is split in two lengthwise by tearing it from the chewed end; the resulting edge is pulled crosswise over the tongue. I couldn't get my twigs to split evenly without using a knife, but again, perhaps Japanese willows are a softer wood. The Sutra of 3000 Dignified Forms has five rules about tongue scraping, including admonitions not to draw blood and to perform this activity in a secluded place. There's another dharani from the Avatamsaka to recite, and Dogen says to do three sets of scrape, scrape, and rinse. The rinse water is supposed to be used for bathing the eyes, but that sounded highly unsanitary so I skipped that step. Many western dentists are now promoting tongue scraping as an effective practice for removing bacteria-laden food particles from the mouth. If I hadn't already been familiar with the practice, it might have felt very odd but the twig piece did as good a job as my plastic scraper, and was aesthetically a more pleasing feeling.
The last instructions are to clean the mouth thoroughly with a finger while rinsing and not to spit the rinsate back into the washbowl, which is then used in face washing. There are also directions on cleaning out oily residue from the mouth with honey locust pods but as I wasn't sure if we had any of that species, Gleditsia japonica, in this area, and our other ones are somewhat toxic. Anyway, the pods are all dried up this time of year, so I gave that part a miss.
I'm guessing that the monks of old used fresh willow twigs every day, because the sticks dry out quickly and lose their pliability even overnight, as well as their fresh taste. It would be mighty nasty to reuse yesterday's brush. As mentioned before, willows grow very fast, so it would be difficult even at a large monastery for the denizens to decimate a tree or bush.I still can't comprehend most of Dogen's works, but have found some satisfying accessibility through the forms used in body practice. This has, for the most part, been my route throughout my Zen practice, and yet somehow I got thrown for a loop when confronted with his mighty intellect and the gigantic wall of words that is the Shobogenzo. Personal experience is the hallmark of Zen Dharma, so maybe I'm not wandering too far off base when I chew the willow twig with the ancestors.
by Kyogen Carlson
Eight DRZC members were in Japan in September as Eiheiji hosted an international gathering to commemorate the 750th anniversary of Dogen Zenji's passing into Parinirvana. Although Soto Zen traces its origins to Tozan and Sozan (the "so" and "to" in Soto) in Tang dynasty China, Dogen is considered the founder of the Japanese Soto sect. Eiheiji was established by Dogen far from the political and religious machinations of Kyoto as a place for this practice tradition to put down firm roots. It eventually spread across Japan to become one of the largest Buddhist sects in that country. There is much to tell about the events at Eiheiji and the tour organized by the North American Soto Zen Education Office to temples associated with the establishment of Soto Zen in Japan. But that would take more space than we have in this issue, so I will save it for next time. Instead I'd like to tell about a more personal aspect of the trip.
During our last visit to Japan we made a point to visit Daijoji, as the history texts tell us that our particular lineage was associated with that temple for about 400 years. The transmission lineage Gyokuko and I received from Jiyu Kennett Roshi through Keido Chisan Zenji is part of what is called the Meiho line. About 80% of Soto Zen priests in Japan belong to the Gassan line, a little less than 20% are in the Meiho line, and the rest belong to the Jaku'en line. I'll go into more about the Jaku'en line next time, but Meiho and Gassan were the two main Dharma Heirs of Keizan Jokin, a third generation heir of Dogen's. While Gassan's lineage spread rapidly through the establishment of many subtemples, Meiho's heirs stayed closer together and maintained more direct master-to-disciple continuity within their practice monasteries. As a result, Daijoji stayed within a consistent transmission lineage from the mid-thirteenth to the mid-seventeenth centuries. Every monk in our line, from Tetsu Gikai through Manzan Dohaku, were abbots of Daijoji. When we visited Sojiji last year, Koso Itabashi Zenji, the abbot of Sojiji and the head of the Soto Sect, advised us to also visit Yokoji, as it is also very important in the Meiho line. Later, some questions arose as to just how the lineage developed and where it spread, so this time we decided to visit temples connected with our lineage and ask about the line of abbots at each.
After the official memorials and meetings at Eiheiji, and after the official temple tour ended, five of us went back to Daijoji and Yokoji (which were on the official tour as well) after a visit to Raigakuji, where my Dharma cousin Misawa Roshi is abbot. He again emphasized that Yokoji is the center of the Meiho line, and we learned from him that both Keido Chisan (Jiyu Kennett's master) and his teacher, Koho Hakugan, were abbots at Yokoji, but he was not so sure about the line of succession at Daijoji. When we returned to Daijoji and asked about this, they found a book that describes the history of the temple and has photographs of the abbot's statues or portraits with their names and dates from its founding in 1283 to the present. A quick perusal confirmed that almost all the names match up with our lineage list down through Manzan Dohaku. There are periods when other names appear, probably cousins and uncles in the same line, but it always returns to a succession of master to disciple throughout that 400-year period. We were so pleased to see this that we received a copy of the book as a gift. I plan to scan the photos and create a document with the names, dates, and photos of each abbot so that we have a pictorial record of the lineage.
At Yokoji we learned that the Meiho line has two main branches, one through Daijoji, and the other through Yokoji. While Daijoji is where Keizan lived while taking care of his teacher, Tetsu Gikai, and where he wrote the Denkoroku, Yokoji is where Keizan Zenji was abbot most of his life, and where he died and is buried. Meiho Sotetsu was abbot of both temples, and his heirs continued to be abbots at both. The Gassan line became established at the original Sojiji, also founded by Keizan, as well as its many subtemples. Later, when the Buddhist sects were reorganized by law during the Meiji period (19th century), temples no longer remained in one line. But this tradition served the Soto Sect well during the reformation of Soto Zen. Gesshu Soko, called the "Great Revitalizer," and his disciple Manzan Dohaku, called the "Great Reformer," helped reestablish Dogen's way at a time when Soto Zen was in decline. The continuity of succession and of practice traditions at Daijoji and Yokoji helped preserve the tradition. This turned out to be of great value.
Gesshu Soko and Manzan Dohaku are the last two abbots of Daijoji that are part of our lineage. Much later, we know that Koho Hakugan was abbot of Yokoji, but that still leaves eight generations unaccounted for. When we first arrived in Kyoto, we had two days to recover from jet lag and look around the city. One evening a few of us walked to some temples that were marked on a local map. One of these was Genko-an. It is a beautiful but quite small temple in north Kyoto, and there were very few people about. We rang a small bell, and a monk appeared who gave us a description in English. Later, after leaving, we were astonished to read that the temple was founded by Manzan Dohaku, and that his grave is there.
After the tour and our visits to Daijoji and Yokoji, we decided to alter our plans and return to Kyoto for two more nights before departing. We went back to Genko-an on the morning of our flight, explained our interest, and we were taken into the founder's shrine. The monk removed a panel in the altar, and revealed the grave site with marker stone. The statue of Manzan above it (cover photo) is one of the most remarkable I've seen in Japan. The monk kindly brought out a lineage book which details the names of each Dharma heir and where they were abbots, and we photographed the relevant pages. It ended several names before Koho Hakugan, but we now have an almost complete history of each name in the Japanese lineage, including where each one was abbot. Of course, it helps that 400 years of the total were all served at Daijoji. Now there is interest in creating a history that would put each name in context, with what was happening in Japan and in the area around the temple when they were abbot there. There is also talk about a pilgrimage that would take us to each temple still in existence, once this history is complete. Right now that sounds like a large undertaking, but after a few more years, it could be fun. .
by Sylvan Rainwater
A core of five people, joined at times by other members of the Sangha, attended Stillpoint Sesshin this past August. This sesshin differed from our other silent retreats in being less structured but more rigorous. Zazen was scheduled in large blocks of time totaling a bit more than nine hours a day. During the two-and-a-half hour blocks of time, each participant decided when (or whether) to do kinhin, to remain sitting, or to stand or lie down for meditation.
It felt in some ways as if I was on my own, with fewer distractions than I face anywhere else in my life. Yet there were others there to provide silent support, so it felt really safe. We had only one work period each morning, and the rest periods were usually spent really resting, often sleeping. Our guidelines were few: to take responsibility for striving to remain awake and alert, not to read or write for the week, to keep silence except when absolutely necessary, and to eat meals with oryoki at tables and chairs. Everything was simplified as much as possible. This created space to get deeply into zazen.
I did this retreat last year, and found some things to be similar. As before, it wasn't really a problem when people came and went, even during meditation periods, as long as they were mindfully quiet. I was able to go more deeply into zazen than before, and became aware of growth and change since last year. Given my current circumstances, I found grief coming up, sometimes overwhelmingly, but I sat with it as we are taught, and eventually found a place simply to be with it as part of who I am at this point in my life.
Not reading or writing is difficult in our culture, and most of us don't manage to refrain from either entirely during the week. But making the attempt made it clear to me how much reading and writing can become a distraction from mindful practice.
In our discussion after the sesshin ended, Domyo noted that the Buddha said you need at least four people to make a sangha, and we had five, so it worked. All of us expressed how much we valued the sesshin, and how much we appreciate this particular form.
By Karen Sokyo Swallow
This calligraphy can be translated, "Tranquil like the mountain, movement like the river." This simple, yet very complex, sentiment seems to embody my vows and intentions for this term. A "mountain" appears so solid and immovable in the face of the seasonal changes of wind, rain and temperature. If we translate the "mountain" in abstract, human qualities of groundedness and stability, we can espouse to embody these aspects within ourselves. My focus for this term will be to cultivate the steadfast and calm within myself. Likewise, I vow to cultivate the fluidity and flexibility of the water, which changes course instantly when it meets a rock, a branch or twig as it flows down a stream. It is the adaptability to the circumstances that is sought. When we can empty ourselves of opinions, ideas and views, we can move more smoothly with the natural flow. This constant movement involves being able to let go, moment by movement, and to cultivate nonattachment to each feeling or idea or experience. How infinitely entwined we are with nature.
September 26, 2002
Present: Kyogen Carlson, Gyokuko Carlson, Jeanette Ryan, Shintai Dungay, Gary Oshiro, Dosho VanSant, Joe Niski, Kisei Martin, Erin Luthy, Kakumyo Lowe. Absent: Ko'in Newsom.
Approval of Minutes: The minutes of the summer board retreat were unanimously approved.
Member Concerns: No members brought concerns to the Board at this meeting.
Treasurer's report: Treasury staff met 7/14 to clarify issues raised at the retreat. Building maintenance on the Zendo and Dharma House are responsible for the increase in expenses over last year. This is being covered, as planned, by funds gained with the refinance of the Dharma House mortgage. The new boiler in the Zendo is now paid off.
Operations status report: In the Dharma House, the Sanzen room was scraped and painted, and the kitchen scraped. In the Sangha House, the kitchen is being remodeled and a tree in the front yard was removed. In the Zendo, work is being done on the gutters.
Dharma School status report: All teaching positions are filled for the term. Kakumyo Lowe is registrar pro-tem until a volunteer is found.
Election of new board members: We will need to fill three positions on the board this year. All members interested in running should contact Kyogen.
Property committee: Sherman Coventry will be joining Kisei and Joe on the committee. We looked at a large house at 27th and Salmon, but it did not fit many of our criteria. We also are looking into the vacated Waldorf school in northeast Portland. At the outset, it looks as if it would meet our needs, but we have yet to find out if it is actually for sale.
Next meeting: Thursday, November 14, 7 pm, Sangha House.
Upcoming Board Elections! If you are looking for a way to be of service to the Sangha and you care about the direction of the Zen Center, consider running for the Board of Directors. Full members who have been pledging for at least a year and have taken the Precepts are eligible. There are three positions available, each for a period of three years. If you are interested, please speak with one of the priests or a current Board member.
beginning of Newsletter
News now has its own, separate page. For the news of November-December 2002 click here.
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