Sounds of the Madison Street Zendo

by Joe Shisei Niski

We asked people to share their memories of the places where we practiced for a quaarter-century in southeast Portland. You can find these posts using the “MemoryBook” tag.

I started attending Wednesdays and Sundays in the Fall of 1998. I decided to take the Precepts and to attend the full Daijukai Sesshin the following Spring. It was my first retreat of any kind.

KanzeonLuckily for me, the Zendo served as the men’s sleeping area, and I was assigned to sleep on the platform, right in front of the Kanzeon altar. Even though the days were long and exhausting, it took a while to fall asleep each night, and the newness of the experience had me so excited that I awoke before the bell every morning. A few days into the retreat, I was lying awake, waiting to hear the Shuso come up the stairs to rouse us. I listened to the old steam-heating system getting up to speed, starting with a slow hiss, eventually clanging with vigor. I heard the stairs groaning under the Shuso’s feet before hearing the bell. I heard the creaking floorboards near the back of the Zendo as my fellow retreatants stood up and began preparing for the day. These same floorboards have creaked underfoot during each round of kinhin ever since. I had the strong sense of the Zendo as a living being. Like me, it was breathing and vital, as well as tired, stiff, and sore. It shared the arc of each day and of the entire retreat with us, the smaller beings tucked under its wings.

During that week, I had the joyous privelige of sleeping beneath Kanzeon, Kanzeon embodied by this magnificent, yet cozy and intimate, building.