January 10, 2023
Remembering Layla Smith Bockhorst
Layla at Tassajara

Photo taken during a visit to Tassajara in summer 2018 of a group of Vietnamese nuns, accompanied by Keiryu Lien Shutt, from Thien Vien Dieu Nanh nunnery. Layla is second from the left wearing a brown rakusu.

Layla Bockhorst SmithGyokujun Teishin Layla Smith Bockhorst 1946? – November 3, 2022

From Obituary (slightly edited):

Layla was born in Miles City, Montana. She attended Reed College in Portland, Oregon, where she met her husband, James Bockhorst. At Reed she was first introduced to Zen Buddhism which would become her lifelong passion. She was profoundly influenced by the founder of the San Francisco Zen Center, Shunryu Suzuki Roshi, and spent many years at the Tassajara Zen Mountain Center, as well as the City Center and Green Gulch Farm. It was while at Green Gulch that her daughter, Sarah, was born. Layla went on to become a teacher at the Mountain Source Sangha, which she found profoundly moving and fulfilling.

Appreciation of Layla Bockhorst by Denise Capra Young:

Every year for a decade, we celebrated the winter Solstice with Layla. The zendo echoed the beautiful words of Dogen, “Polishing a Jewel Amid Snowfall,” and was filled with candlelight and lively poetry.

Like Snow
Suppose we did our work like the snow
Quietly, quietly
leaving nothing out.
—Wendell Berry

These simple and profound words remind me of my dear teacher and friend. I treasured the dharma Layla offered, even, and especially during the weeks near to her transition. Her teachings dropped from my head deeply into my heart. Even more directly, the dharma has permeated my life through the grace of our long friendship. Her life of ordinary, everyday practice—taking care of her life, the people she loved and her beloved mountains—embodied the bodhisattva way.

Layla was often described as quiet, reserved, dignified—all true. But it would be a mistake to overlook her fierceness, her unwavering love of practice, her abiding trust in zazen. The “pioneer” teacher—no-frills, but never wobbly—encouraged and guided us all at Mountain Source as well as her mountain sanghas in Montana. One Lenten season, I mentioned I was not going to “fast,” but vowed to start each day with zazen. Layla said, “OK, I’ll meet you in the zendo every morning.” And she did, riding her bicycle down the dark mountain road. Pure Forge, Pervading Heart.

“It seems everyone must respect the cycles they go through, must honor exactly how their life is expressing itself at the present moment.” Layla wrote these words of encouragement to me in 2010.

She offered this final teaching to us in the last days of her life—showing up, however she was able, to meet the great mystery with presence and grace—“quietly, quietly, leaving nothing out.”

From Dan Gudgel:

Layla taught at least as much by just being as she did through words. I’ve often heard Layla called “down to earth.” That showed up in her understated, practical expression of dharma, and also in the students who gathered around her from the Bay Area, Idaho, Montana, and elsewhere. Layla had a deep respect for our individual experiences, the ways our landscapes affect us, and the beauty of being alive in this conventional world. When I talked to Layla I’d be encouraged in what I was doing, held up and supported in my practice, and also have it pointed out where I was still looking at things with a narrow, limited perspective. And Layla was always interested in learning from all of her students, eagerly asking about whatever we had been studying. Layla was a joyful presence in the teaching seat, but I’ll most remember her sitting across a cafe table, sipping tea and sharing simple stories of her practice experience, to encourage me on the path.


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