March 21, 2021
Thank you for this opportunity to come before the Sangha and officially announce that I am retiring from my public role as a lay teacher. It is time for me to step aside to make room for other teachers, although I plan to stay active in our Sangha by working with small groups, offering sanzen, and continuing community outreach. This stepping aside is, of course, inevitable when we come to the point in our lives when old age and death are no longer abstractions somewhere out in the future; for us retirees, old age and death are imminent realities to be prepared for in the here and now. As Shakespeare’s Hamlet says regarding the possibility of his own imminent death:
“. . . If it is not now, yet it will come. The readiness is all.”
Over the last several months, I have been considering this transition, reminiscing about my time here at Dharma Rain, and taking stock of all that has occurred during the 15 years since I was transmitted as lay teacher and during the 35 years since I first joined the sangha. I would like to briefly share a few of these thoughts with you.
First of all, a startlingly profound sense has arisen concerning just how quickly the time here seems to have flown by. This sense is exactly as Dogen cautions us in Fukanzazengi:
“Form and substance are like dew in the grass and the fortunes of life like a dart of lightning.”
Secondly: I am struck by all the changes that have occurred over this relatively brief period of time:
Take, for example, this lovely building: it is the fourth permanent zendo in which our Sangha has practiced. Each move to a new zendo was necessitated in part by the needs of our expanding membership. When I first started coming to the center, then called the priory, the core group was small, about 10 or 15 members. Over time the sangha has grown ten-fold into this diverse and dynamic community, a cross section of our local society at large. This growth has engendered at least three major reorganizations of our administrative operations and the development of myriad programs and initiatives to meet the needs of our members, such as our satellite Sanghas, the Daoren, the children’s’ programs, the prison program, the seminary programs, and so on. Myriad times we have modified our practice forms and myriad times we have changed the wording of our traditional daily rituals and scriptures to be more inclusive and sensitive for all our members.
Taking stock of all the changes over the years has been striking, but what has been most significant and inspiring for me is not the changes, but, instead, all that has remained constant: The fundamental practice with emphasis on zazen and the Bodhisattva Precepts remains constant. Our refuge in Buddha, Dharma and Sangha and all that it implies remains constant. Our aspiration to realize our omnipresent enlightenment by helping all living things remains constant.
To realize and experience all that this temple has to offer and to realize and experience the authentic expressions the Dharma being practiced here and to realize that these expressions of the Dharma will be passed along for future generations fills me with awe, with contentment, and with a deep sense of gratitude for my fellow teachers, past and present, for our dedicated Sangha members who make this organization a reality, and for this wonderful practice — this authentic way of living and dying.
For all these reasons, I want to thank you and the sangha whole-heartedly. Also, I would like to take this opportunity to publicly apologize to anyone that I may have offended or disappointed over the years by my speech, actions, or inactions. I want to confirm that it was not done intentionally; it only reflects my personal karmic inadequacies.
As a way of closing, I would like to share with you some of the last thoughts that my teacher, Kyogen, expressed to me on the day before his Parinirvana, the day before he died. We had been exchanging perspectives concerning a particularly dark time in the history of Zen Buddhism and how and why experienced people of faith can readily lose their spiritual compasses. This is part of what he wrote:
“When it’s all said and done, our teachings remain wonderful, and our true practice always tends toward the expression of the three cardinal virtues of compassion, loving kindness, and wisdom, but we must remember that this path is walked by fallible human beings. And so, we need to remain ever vigilant, but more importantly, we need to remain humble.”