Category Archives: Musings

Benji Poem Shuso Ceremony for Honkyo Josu Mary Duryee, Berkeley Zen Center, June 11, 2017

A cloud obscures the moon.

A dismayed teenager takes to her bed for three days, then cuts herself.

A fragment of the mind breaks off,

floats to the ceiling,

and surveys the scene, asking:

“Is this poem even in English?”


When we live in exile, we may think we are flourishing: we have a loving
husband and two children . . . but the longing for home arises.

We ask: “What can I rely on?”

We ask: “Shall I follow the minor precepts to the letter,

or follow my heart?”


Then abruptly: the sight of blood, the hand leaving the handrail . . .

and we resolve to return home to family,

to Old Plum Mountain.


When they meet, Sei and Sei-jo melt together,

and her father Chokan rejoices!


Compassion is the child of wisdom.


In the Biblical parable, the prodigal returns home

amid wonder and redemption and feasting;

But this miracle was possible only because of the primal rupture

and the bitterness of long estrangement.


When you hit the boiling water, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Mountain and valley: not two, not one.

Not hiding.


present moment       wonderful moment


                                                                                      —Gyoshi Kirei Rob Lyons              

Following the Wellness Guidelines: A Personal Experience

In last month’s newsletter I described the revised Wellness Protocol, particularly recommendations on how we would deal with illness during sesshin. Little did I know that I would be the first case study. I began to cough and sneeze a little on day one of Rohatsu, but thought it was allergies. By day two the coughing got worse and I got laryngitis. I was very busy that day shopping and getting ready to be head cook the following day. When I spoke with Sojun, he suggested that I leave sesshin. “But who will cook tomorrow?” I argued. Hozan, who was also present, said, “You need to follow your own guidelines and stay home.” Then he volunteered to take over as head cook, so I left sesshin. I got much worse by the next day and developed full-blown flu symptoms. I rested and was quiet at home during the rest of sesshin and felt much better after five days of rest and taking care of myself. Take-home message: If you are ill during sesshin, it REALLY is better to stay home and take care of yourself.

Shuso Poems

Walter Kieser recited this poem from memory during his first Shuso talk:


The Wild Geese

by Wendell Berry

Horseback on Sunday morning,

harvest over, we taste persimmon

and wild grape, sharp sweet

of summer’s end. In time’s maze

over fall fields, we name names

that rest on graves. We open

a persimmon seed to find the tree

that stands in promise,

pale, in the seed’s marrow.

Geese appear high over us,

pass, and the sky closes. Abandon,

as in love or sleep, holds

them to their way, clear

in the ancient faith: what we need

is here. And we pray, not

for new earth or heaven, but to be

quiet in heart, and in eye,

clear. What we need is here.
* * *


Benji Mary Duryee recited this poem at Walter’s Shuso ceremony, June 12, 2016:


Everything you need is here.


Difficulty piles on difficulty.

Moment after moment


With boring scientific theories.


Words.  Words.  Words.  Words. Words. Words. Words.           

Words.  Words.

The thwack of the shuso staff

Cleanses the palette

For the next sip of wine.

His fan whisks away words.


High above the Canyonlands —

above the confluence of

two ancient rivers —

the fledging eagle shouts his freedom,

and abandons to the vast, empty, sky.

Everything we need is here.

* * *

Mary adds this comment:

      It is always dangerous to explain poems, however the underlying stories might be interesting or amusing.

     Last summer, when a large group of family and friends rafted down the Green River in the Canyonlands, my granddaughter (age 10) was standing one evening at the edge of the river, intently watching it turn from its usual chalky green to a brick red-orange, when Walter walked over to see what she was looking at. She looked up at him and said, “Walter, don’t spoil this moment with one of your boring scientific theories.” He has recounted this often with great delight, and denies that he was about to expound.

     Once when hiking across the mesa above the confluence of the Green and Colorado rivers, three eagles reeled overhead, one of them crying out. Back home we learned that eagles do not vocalize — except when they are fledging. We had been watching the launching of an offspring and its parents.

On Meghan’s Birthday

firmly rooted,
easygoing deliberateness,
Meghan walks her walk

with southern grace, New York edge
and California whatever,
Meghan talks her talk

showing us the path of continuous practice
in all seasons of life,
our friend.

Zendotime or, Manas’ Lullaby Mary Beth Lamb

Zendo time,
and the sittin’ is easy.
Thoughts stop jumpin’,
and the knees feel fine.
Oh, you breathe in and out,
And the wall is good-lookin’.
So hush, little manas,
Don’t you cry.

Well one of these mornin’s,
You’re gonna rise up from bowin’
and you’ll open your heart
to accept everything.
Every day’s a good day
just as it is.
So keep on a sittin’
with the Buddha and the sangha close by.

Cooking, Serving a reflection by Sue Oehser

When I filled out the practice period application, I noticed the option to help serve dinner at the Men’s Shelter. Although I had served once years ago at the shelter, I had never helped prepare the
meal. So, I spoke to Laurie about it, signed up on the community room porch bulletin board and  showed up on Center Street on May 8 a little before 5pm. I was early and had some time to hang out
on the street a half block from city hall, across the park from my old alma mater, Berkeley High,  and a few doors from the Veteran’s Hall.

Laurie arrived at 5pm with a load of food that Don had purchased earlier from Costco and we helped  bring in food. Several long-time stalwarts prepared lemonade and set up the serving tables for
don_and_laurie_shelterbuffet. Folks were washing dishes, locating tools and some of us pitched in to wash and cut up potatoes, prepare salad, portion out chicken into baking/serving pans. I learned by watching how to
mash cooked potatoes with the skins on, add a quart of 2% milk and a cube of butter. Delicious.

In the freezer, Laurie discovered ice cream from a previous dinner that could go with the Trader  Joe blondies which I had overbaked a bit… some of the men don’t have good teeth, so soft is better.

After serving the line of men who thanked us and told us frequently how good the food was, I filled a plate with food and joined some of them at a table. One man asked about Buddhism and where we were located. Laurie invited him to a zazen orientation at 8:45am on Saturdays. Another man told  me he had lost his small business when he got sick and ended up at the shelter. The third man was not able or willing to engage in conversation  and left after he finished his meal and before dessert. Men can stay for 30 days, have to leave
each day by 7am and return at night for dinner and bed. You can see some of the dorm area from the  dining hall.

It is a good space to be in and the more hands make the work lighter. I was glad to see more  volunteers show up for serving and clean-up help. We were all out of there by 8pm.

I’m still thinking about Friday. How can I impact the roots causes of poverty, ill will, and greed? How can my Buddhist practice and my
political practice make a difference? One idea is that you can really help by preparing food, serving, and eating with people. Give it a try and then consider if you can schedule yourself regularly and be one of those who can be counted on to be  there.

Light and Dark

While studying with Rocky, Ross points out a quote from Dogen’s teacher Rujing which throws both Ross and Rocky into great doubt:

“Nowadays elders in monasteries keep cats; this is really unacceptable; only stupid people do this.”

Between Nan Chu’an’s cutting the cat in two and this present reading, both Rocky and Ross are seeing Dogen in a new light which is rather dark…

Working from the Underside

Weaving our lives
We’re working from the underside
as tapestry makers do.
We’re looking at the wispy bits of yarn
and the knots. It looks so messy.
Only toward the end of life
can we turn it over, see the whole.
Then we say—
“Oh yes, there is a pattern here.”

— Meghan Collins