Happy New Year
Another year and I am certain it is guaranteed to be a most interesting one. May all beings be Happy. May all of us Love
Well and be Well Loved, and may all of us Awaken and spread this Dharma light through our embodiment of Wisdom and
of Compassion in all circumstances. May this coming year be your best year.
During this past year, Sanchi Reta Lawler, Hui Neng Stan Koehler and Fudo Myo-O Teja Bell became dharma heirs. Ten
new priests were ordained and over 300 sisters and brothers attended sesshins. Eleven students took Jukai and entered
Two of our priests, Sosan Marcus Karlstad and Tozan Paco Verin, are doing well as they begin their classical 1,000
day monastic training at Dai Bosatsu Zendo. Inago Scott Rebellon, Kanjo David Kaar, and Anshin Lucia Henley will
be joining them for a 100-day spring kessei practice period this coming March. Sosan and Tozan will also be offering
the Mondo koan process as an addition to the traditional practice at DBZ.
I encourage you to contact me if you are interested in spending time training at DBZ. I will be there leading silent sesshin
again in June and for the first time, a Mondo sesshin in October. Please, if possible, I invite you to attend either
one or both.
My health condition continues to be challenging. Thank you for your support and love. I will continue teaching and leading
sesshins for years to come. Old age, sickness, and death are life as well and cannot be avoided. We all are on this
path. The gift in it all is my ability to compassionately surrender to the reality and do what I can to take care of
The physical challenges are exhausting and painful; however, the acceptance of this has been liberating. I have successfully
used the Mondo koan process to transform my animal and psychological reactions into conscious, compassionate responses
… I get to practice what I preach.
In these times, there is much suffering in our world. Open into this great Heart of ours that can never be broken. Recognize
and claim your Bodhisattva; do what you can to alleviate the suffering in yourself, your family and our culture, our
sangha. Let compassion, unconditional love, sacred laughter, and radical self-acceptance guide you.
Gratitude for your practice.
Joya no Kane
In Japan, Buddhist temple bells are rung 108 times at midnight on December 31st during the Joya no Kane ritual.
In some schools of Buddhist thought, there are 108 defilements (earthly desires) that cause suffering. Lists of these
108 defilements include such things as ambition, ostentatiousness, ingratitude, jealousy, gluttony, envy, unruliness,
vanity, hypocrisy, and stubbornness.
Another explanation for the number 108 comes from the following calculation:
6 senses: eye, ear, nose, tongue, body and mind
3 sentiments: like, dislike, indifference
2 conditions of the heart: pure or impure
3 aspects of time: past, present, future
6 x 3 x 2 x 3 = 108
Regardless of how the number came into being, each ring of the bell is meant to dispel each defilement from the Old Year
and to start the New Year afresh. Happy New Year!
Street Retreat - Bearing Witness
by Choan Tim Cook
(In August 2016, Choan Tim Cook and Yoshin Dave Klaus, joined the Zen Peacemakers Order and lived with the homeless population on the streets of San Francisco for four days. In preparation for the Street Retreat, they raised money to support homeless service organizations in San Francisco. His story ... )
Zen practice in the midst of activity is a million times superior to that pursued in silence.
~ Master Ta Hui
Like every retreat, I prepared and showed up on time. This one was a little different. Preparation consisted of not bathing
or shaving for 6 days prior to showing up. The other part was begging $500 from friends, family, and strangers to attend.
Preparations were complete. All that remained was to show up in Union Square in San Francisco with $1 in my pocket,
a blanket, and the clothes on my back (several layers). The BART ride into San Francisco was the descent after leaving
all the things that I used to call on my identity behind, my wallet, my keys, my cell phone…and why is everyone
looking at me strange on the BART train? No one sits near me.
Union Square looked different, no backup plan; I waited at the appointed meeting place and felt alone. Disheveled and lost-looking
pilgrims began to collect. Finally, our leader arrived. Joshin Brian Byrnes, the vice abbot of Upaya Zen Center, gathered
us into a circle. Fellow travelers were 5 men and 5 women, seeking to understand, to see through the eyes of the forgotten
ones that are everywhere in this world-class city.
Our check-in circle in Union Square was noisily interrupted by an elderly man in a motorized wheelchair playing merengue
music at top volume through his boom box. He rolled by slowly, and we smiled and waited our turn. During check in and
orientation, we were presented with three principles to follow for the duration of the street retreat:
- Not knowing – give up all preconceived notions about what life on the street is about. Give up preconceived notions
about the homeless, all stories, prejudices, excuses, defenses. Just not know. Also give up knowing about the definition
of self, financial and educational status, and all those things that hold the identity together. All those things
that give us security like where we will sleep, who we associate with, where we prefer to be seen and with whom.
All that gone.
- Bearing witness – just see things how they are without trying to fix or hide from. Just witness the naked truth of
each moment. All the pain, the joy, the hurt, the laughter, the cruelty, the generosity, the loneliness, the abject
poverty, the addiction, the mental illness, the wealth, the charity. All of it. Just look at it without needing
to change a thing. Turning into it all. Not turning away from the darkest moment.
- Healing – After grounding into the witnessing and opening to the most heart wrenching of experiences, open to the healing
that this brings. Healing means the healing of self, the earth, humanity and all creations. Yeah, a big goal but
why not? Where to start then? The healing of me seemed like the most logical place to start. So then started an
examination of my reactions to the ugliness, the fear, the sadness. Looking at all those things that are very uncomfortable
to face without judgment or aversion.
Practicing compassion for my wounded soul. Looking at how I felt so much fear and shame around begging for food
and money and the fear of rejection and judgment that arises in me from begging. The part of me that wants to look
away from all the pain and poverty and say, "What the hell can I do about it?" The part of me that says, "I live
a life of integrity. I am fine. It’s the government (or the rich or ______) that needs to step up."
The first night we walked through the Tenderloin and just witnessed. Not in a voyeuristic way but through eyes that told
me, “Here is your new reality; this is how things are now.” We waited our turn to enter into one of the many soup kitchens
that fed us on our journey. The welcoming was genuine and warm, like we were being invited into someone’s home. The
food was adequate and plentiful. I ate heartily, not knowing when I would eat again.
After dinner, more walking. The fog and wind moving in. A sense of dread that my blanket would not be enough. We discussed
where we would sleep. The shelters were all full, and it was not appropriate for us to take a bed from someone who
needed it. We decided to walk to the Castro District. Far enough away from the Tenderloin to afford some safety
(7 out of 11 of us were older than 50; 5 of us were women). The Tenderloin can be violent, and it’s hard enough to
sleep on the sidewalk.
(continued next column)