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February 3, 2016


Returning to the Marketplace

At the traditional Zen Center leaving ceremony, the monk is described as returning to the marketplace with gift-bestowing hands. After fifteen years of residential zen training, Shundo David Haye finds himself outside the temple gate and wondering how exactly he can offer those gifts


Shundo David Haye in priest robes at Green Gulch Farm last year, one of his last ceremonies before he left Zen Center

A famous zen phrase, used for more than a thousand years but still completely fresh, talks about taking a step from the top of a hundred-foot pole. How does it feel? What is my life like now?

A month into my transition, I still have to remind myself that this is my life, not a vacation or a short break. The changes in my life could not be more apparent: instead of a life in community, with housing, food and work provided, I now live in a typical San Francisco apartment with two other house-mates—one of them a long-time friend through Zen Center. Having spent eight years on senior staff at Zen Center, with responsibilities, a regular round of meetings, full inboxes, and people to manage, now I just have to take care of myself.


Having finally emptied his sunny room at City Center (Suzuki-roshi’s old bedroom), Shundo packed his robes in the traditional “furoshiki” to carry them to his new San Francisco apartment

I reacquaint myself with the cost of various food items, which is not the same as dealing with sheets of wholesale vegetables prices when I was tenzo. I rediscover how often food shopping is necessary.

Thanks to Zen Center’s generous transition payment for long-term students, and savings from my generally frugal lifestyle, I don’t have to worry about making rent for the next few months, but I still noticed that I was waking up every morning over the Christmas period wondering where my income was going to be coming from. Choosing to stay in San Francisco means I am making life expensive for myself.


Relaxed and happy, Shundo “in the marketplace” with his bike and a cat


My students—some of them incredibly busy launching start-ups or helping tech businesses grow—tell me to market myself, to network, to pitch. I try to learn, with the confidence of having given dharma talks and teachings at Zen Center workshops, what I want to say, succinctly and purposefully. I follow up on connections, arrange meetings, and trust that some of this will take hold.

Having previously enjoyed writing the Ino’s Blog, I start another blog, and, when my students urge me to be more active and visible, navigate acquiring a domain name for myself.

I hear the old voice in my head that tells me I am not really qualified to do anything—and I don’t allow it to take hold.

I reach out to a friend in New York who has successfully transitioned into the marketplace, and she sends back wonderful advice—including, “Keep reaching out to friends in the same position.” I forward it to another friend about to embark on her transition.


Life in community: One of things Shundo misses is lunch in the courtyard at City Center

I meet for coffee, lunch, or over Skype with friends, peers and teachers, cultivating connections now that I am not constantly surrounded by sixty mostly like-minded people.

Instead of getting up six mornings a week and going to the zendo, now I find myself free to choose when and how to begin my day, when to take meals, when to sit. Long a keen cyclist and runner, I find these activities more available to me, and I allow these to be my meditations as well.

What is my life like now? This is a question for any zen student, wherever they find themselves. Stepping off the hundred-foot pole means falling freely through the sky. But we are all doing that anyway, even when we are clinging to the pole. Can we relax and take in the beauty of it?

Photos courtesy of Shundo David Haye.

Shundo writes a blog about practice here, and posts his photos here. He will be teaching in Santa Cruz on February 6 (here is his calendar)

7 Comments Post a comment
  1. Mary Jane
    Feb 3 2016

    Greetings Shundo! How exciting. I will jump over to read your blog. I look forward to joining in on your journey. And without a doubt you have all that is required to do what you are called to. I wish you many blessings.

    We have to continually be jumping off cliffs and developing our wings on the way down.
    ~ Kurt Vonnegut

    Mary Jane
    (from Tassajara retreat last year)

  2. Lyn Flitton
    Feb 3 2016

    Good luck! Always enjoy your photographs very much. Hope to still see them sometime on Sangha News or elsewhere.

  3. Feb 4 2016

    Hi David,
    Jim here from Oregon. We ate dinner together a few times when I showed up to sit.
    Been busy up here and in transition to a larger center as we speak.
    Many possibilities every morning, eh?


  4. emer
    Feb 4 2016

    Best wishes on your transition Shundo! It reminds me a little of the transition from years of stay-at-home parenting. Hope our paths cross again someday!

  5. ryoshin geoff coe
    Feb 4 2016

    Best of luck out there, old friend, and thanks for ‘tucking me under your wing in Tassajara’

  6. guy
    Sep 29 2016

    live in a boat


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