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May 12, 2020

Perspectives from Tassajara, PART III

The monks at Tassajara have written a letter to the boundless sangha: friends, supporters, guests, former residents, fellow practitioners, all sentient beings. The letter will be published here in four parts over the next several days. See parts I, II, IV, Coda.

PART III: What I Want You To Know Is…

Perspectives from Tassajara

Of course we didn’t want to change the forms at Tassajara. For 50 years this training temple has been imparting Suzuki Roshi’s vision of Soto Zen practice. But as we’ve deconstructed these 1000-year-old forms that express a 2500-year-old tradition, the lively, beating heart of our practice has emerged.

Half the community sits zazen in the zendo, and half in the retreat hall to maintain distance — and so two people a day get to support the community by being doan. The hot springs plunges are drained and the steam rooms are off to reduce possible transmission vectors, and we have to count the shoes outside the bathhouse to make sure we don’t go over capacity. But we continue to offer incense at the bathhouse altar before entering.

We chant the meal verse outside together in the courtyard, before filing slowly into the dining room to be served, cafeteria style, by masked-and-gloved serving crews. We eat at opposite ends of 8-foot tables and yet, when the clackers end the start-of-meal silence, we still speak from the heart, listen completely and give ourselves to the moment.

After a few weeks with no services at all, we created a simplified morning service that we can do outside in the work circle, appropriately spaced, chanting the Loving Kindness Meditation so we don’t need chant books. We have to chant loudly to be heard over the sunrise birdsong and some days the wind blows out the candle, but it’s a joy to have the mountains join our ceremony.

What I want you to know is…

YOU ARE THE GRAND PRIZE WINNER OF THE LOTTERY OF THE UNIVERSE! As winner, you receive:

One beautiful planet, full of mountains and forests and rivers, to call home amidst the vast darkness of the cosmos;

One human body, endowed by four billion years of evolution with a host of skills, including self-consciousness, breath and wonder;

One long life, one natural death, and general freedom from the hunger, disease, and violence suffered by your ancestors*;

Unlimited stories, music, and laughter time-tested over a thousand generations of humanity;

Infinite opportunities, redeemable in any moment, to love and be loved.

*Restrictions (i.e., poverty) apply.

 

What I want you to know is…

Tassajara creek keeps flowing.

 

What I want you to know is…

How resilient this practice is. The hiking trails have sprouted grass and wildflowers, and every morning we turn the zendo inside out.

 

What I want you to know is…

While stacking firewood in the sun today, I started laughing so hard that I had to take a break.

 

What I want you to know is…

The whole earth, all life itself, is watching.

 

Words submitted by Gurmeen Aneja, John Anklow, K., Tim Ream, Jordan Gardner, Eilis Ward, Krista De Castella, Nobuko Hori, Bapu Vaitla, Dan Gudgel, Zuzu Myers, S. H., Brent Haas and other Tassajara sangha members who wish to remain anonymous.

See parts I, II, IV, Coda.

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