Mondo Zen | Hollow Bones | Friends of Zen

January, 2017

Happy New Year

Dearest Sangha,

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 this stream.

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 myself.

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.

Jun Po 

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:

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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)   



March 6-12, 2017 - 7-Day Silent Zen Sesshin led by Junpo and Vicara Roshis at Venwoude in the Netherlands. For information via email, contact

June 10-17, 2017 - 7-Day Silent Zen Sesshin led by Jun Po Roshi at Dai Bosatsu Zendo in the Catskills, New York.

September 25-October 1, 2017 - 7-Day Mondo Zen Sesshin led by Doshin Roshi at Venwoude in the Netherlands. For information via email, contact
October 7-14, 2017 - 7-Day Mondo Zen Sesshin led by Jun Po Roshi at Dai Bosatsu Zendo in the Catskills, New York. 

Visit the Retreat Calendar on the website for more information.

... Street Retreat (cont.)

Our next task was to go find cardboard to sleep on. We found some piled in front of closed stores. I found enough to provide one layer and carried it up the hill to the steps of the Catholic Church in the Castro.

It was a very, very long night. The wind was merciless, the fog was so thick that it began to drip on my blanket; soon I was soaked. I tossed and turned and attempted to seal off the holes where my blanket was letting in cold air. 

I began to understand why the sleeping homeless I have seen pull the blankets up over their heads: 1) to provide relief from the hostile elements, and 2) to afford some privacy and dignity in these most trying of circumstances.

Each evening before bed we sat in a circle and reaffirmed our vows and dedicated ourselves to being present. I dreamed of my warm bed at home, wondered how the hell I was going to make it for 3 more days and plotted how I could sneak off the next morning for the safety and security of home.

The next morning was not filled with solace. My hips ached, my neck could not turn 10 degrees in any direction, I had nowhere to pee, and panic began to hold me in its icy grip. My wet feet had no sensation. So we gathered our things, neatly placed our cardboard back into recycling cans in the business district and began our long walk down Market Street to the basement of Glide Church for breakfast.

We arrived early and waited in line in the early morning fog of the Tenderloin. As we walked the sidewalks, I witnessed a homeless man getting out of his sleeping bag. In his arms was a teddy bear; it broke my heart open as I thought, “Everyone needs to love something.”

Standing in line waiting for breakfast, a toothless bearded man walked up to me and asked, “Where did you sleep last night?”

I told him I slept on the sidewalk. He looked down and said, “That makes me really sad.” After we talked awhile he said, “You know I don’t have hardly anything. I have lived here 20 years; this is my neighborhood, and I hate to see you sleep on the street. I have a small apartment. You could stay with me.”

I thanked him and told him my why I was there - to witness. He shook his head bewildered but wished me well.

After breakfast, we looked for a quiet place to meditate. Trying to find a quiet place for 11 people to meditate in a circle is a bit challenging in the Tenderloin. We finally found an alcove in front of St. Bonaventura church on Turk Street.

St. Bonaventura is run by the Franciscan order. Their mission is to work among the poor. During our meditation, two people joined us. The first was a 20-something young man named Oddly, “Yeah, that’s right, Godly Oddly”; the second a black woman name Gloria.

It was transformational to look at both of them as fellow travelers rather than someone to judge or burden with a made up story of how they wound up here. It was more like, here we are, now what? Without victimization, regret, anger, just oh this is how it is sitting on a sidewalk dirty and tired and not wanting anything (except sleep).

After the meditation, Joshin asked us to go witness the inside of the church. I walked into a beautiful old church; the first 10 pews were marked for prayer only. The last 20 pews were filled with sleeping people with all their stuff.

As were walked through a lady encountered us, apparently she watched over the sleeping people and maintained order. She told us that we are in these people's bedroom; don’t stare at them like you are at the zoo or something to that effect. The reminder was important - everyone deserves dignity and everyone is precious. Point taken.

The rest of our retreat was filled with walking, begging, meditation and bearing witness. The events, faces and places keep playing in my memory like a slide show. Witnessing so much pain, suffering, angst, joy, kindness and cruelty in the external world and then watching how that experience affected my internal angst, pain, joy, suffering.

I was bearing witness in the external world to what I was most fearful to witness in myself. I also witnessed and am still witnessing the joy of being alive in each precious moment. I still hear the words of the chant we said together each evening before sleep:

Let me humbly remind you that life and death are of utmost importance,

time passes swiftly and
opportunity is lost

let us awaken...awaken,
do not squander your life!

I Ask All Blessings
I ask all blessings,
I ask them with reverence,

of my mother the earth,
of the sky, moon, and sun my father.

I am old age the essence of life,
I am the source of all happiness.

All is peaceful, all is beauty,
all in harmony, all in joy.

~ Anonymous Navajo

Mondo Zen's Mission from our Sutra Book

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