At a private ceremony last night, somewhere near Toledo and midnight, Jay Ryudo Rinsen Weik received Dharma transmission from James Ishmael Ford and entered into the stream of officially recognized Zen teachers. Melissa Myozen Blacker and I were there as part of the ceremony that was witnessed by Karen Doan Wiek and Isabella Weik.
Of course there have been many teachers of the Way who have had no use for organizations and formal transmissions. But, in the Zen tradition, the true heart of understanding is said to have been passed from teacher to student in unbroken succession.
The essential teaching of this Zen tradition is that there is nothing to teach. We each have this most precious gift from the very beginning and that no one can ever take it away from us (or give it to us.) This is the not-so-secret teaching that is beyond words and letters.
The true transmission has nothing to do with ceremonies or teachers, students, or even Zen. Never contained or limited in institutional form, none-the-less, the unspeakable essence temporarily incarnates again and again. Though we cannot properly talk about it, human beings have been singing its praises for millennia. Poets, painters, and teachers of all shapes and sizes have pointed directly at it since before the beginning of recorded history.
Last night, a few Zen teachers and family members gathered to re-enact the rites and rituals of this ancient tradition and to recognize the understanding and commitment of someone who has given his life to practice and teaching.
Now, after a public ceremony this morning, we just have to find our way 600 miles through the snow back east.
We spent the night in a faux Italianate hotel just outside of Buffalo, New York. This morning I take my first digital shower, with the readout (and the water temp) refusing to go above 92 degrees. We found the hotel after the crescent moon had descended through the gathering darkness of the western road ahead. The sliver of a moon had briefly appearing to be willing to let us drive right into the slim bowl of itself—just before it disappeared beneath the horizon and the oncoming headlights of the New York State Thruway.
I stayed at this hotel fifteen years ago, on my way back from a kayak expedition to Georgian Bay. Six or seven of us, headed toward Boston, thought we’d find a place near Buffalo on a Saturday night in June. We’d forgotten the romantic attraction of Niagara Falls. Though roadside hotels were abundant, we were rejected by so many for lack of room that we began to feel like the holy parents themselves. Finally a nice clerk at one of the chains called down the road and found one room in ‘Salvitore’s Italian Garden.’ The only room they had was the deluxe bridal sweet – with a king bed, a queen bed – two showers with multiple shower heads and three rooms. We divided up bed space and floor space and were grateful for the showers after seven days of paddling and camping.
Last night, we got two rooms for the three of us – Zen teachers as we fashion ourselves – headed from Worcester, MA to Toledo, OH to conduct a ceremony marking the induction of a student into the lineage of Boundless Way Zen. This lineage business is serious in Zen. It is how the teachings have been handed down since the eighth or ninth century, when the custom was created in medieval China. This was long after Buddhism had come to China in the third century CE causing quite an cultural stir.
I guess we could say Buddhism has caused quite a stir in the US as well – primarily in its secular form of mindfulness and meditation which now nearly everyone knows have been scientifically proven to be good for you. And perhaps a corresponding growth of some minute fraction of the population that is interested in actually practicing the simple but rigorous path of sitting still and paying attention.
But here at the hotel outside of Buffalo, we bedded down last night, happy to be in from the single digit temperatures and the frozen windshield washer lines that meant that our only clean windshield came after we stopped and rubbed the plentiful snow over the salt and dirt spattered surface. Shortly after we turned out the light, we began to hear a woman’s voice – muffled but distinct. At first I thought she was just vocalizing, but I slowly began to suspect something more intimate. Her many exclamations of varying pitches began to make it sound like she was trying out for the Meg Ryan part in that movie where she pretends to have an orgasm in the diner so that Billy Crystal (I think) would believe that women aren’t always honest in their love-making. And after she reached the big affirmation—‘Yes! Yes! Yes!’—things got quieter.
At least until 1:30 a.m. when I woke to sounds of men’s voices and a TV in the next room. I lay in my bed wondering what people do this late at night. What had they been doing? What was their plan? Drinking? Sex? Just talking till all hours so as to avoid the big darkness of slowing down – the moment when, even when someone is in the bed with us, we each one have to disappear into the immeasurableness of our own experience – with our thoughts and feelings of triumph and despair. The woman who advertised her orgasm though the walls – did she drift off to sleep satisfied? Was this what she wanted and would this change her life? How will the world look to her this morning – after the blessed event? Proud, fulfilled, empty, desperate?
In any event, I wake at 6:30 in the morning darkness. It’s quite and my sweet wife and companion is sleeping soundly with ear plugs in the adjacent bed. I wander into the bathroom and try to navigate the digital shower with only meager results. I know now that while it is possible to take a shower with the water temperature at 92 degrees, it is not very satisfying.
The crab apple tree behind the Temple has been filled with robins all day – dozens at a time. They gobble the dangling frozen fruit like endurance athletes sucking down energy gel and, miraculously, stay alive.
I put on long underwear and drink my tea from a cup with no handle—watching the cold beauty from the warm side of the window.
Today’s particular date
reminds me of a young boy
who is learning to count.
Having mastered the single digits
to the great approbation of the masses,
he now proudly recites the numeric incantations beyond
for the admiring audience of his mother.
When twelve races out of his mouth
after ten and before eleven,
she doesn’t bat an eye but
continues beaming at this miracle of delight—
this thinking machine of constant change that is her son.
For his part, he receives
the life-giving mother love
and runs off to his next project.
He is (and will always be)
a sponge for her love and approval.
Only years later will he imagine
this moment and wonder
at the grace of it.
Returning from a week-long Zen retreat in Tallahassee, we circle Boston toward our approved entry-path. Over the Atlantic, a glimpse of the rising full moon—horizon hidden somewhere beyond the aqueous reflection.
On an airport call from Charlotte, an older friend confided to me, with great regret, that he no longer has the physical stamina to manage even simple chores around the house.
As we land, I snap photos of the tender moon and vow once again to appreciate the many miraculous things my body can do—like picking my clothes up from the floor where I scatter them nightly for safe keeping and even (occasionally) vacuum the dust bunnies that cavort harmlessly under my dresser.