Ring the bells, beat the drum, clang the cymbals, chant the Ten Names of Buddha and to them add the name Hakuryo Sojun Mel Weitsman Daisoho—White Dragon/Essence of Purity. At last, eighteen months after Sojun’s death on January 7, 2021, we have performed the appropriate Zen rites to honor his passing into the realm of Buddhas and ancestors gone before.
Although according to Sojun Roshi and all enlightened beings there is truly no coming and going, no birth and death, still we offer rituals and ceremonies that mark transition and allow us to touch the depths of our gratitude, our joy in encountering a teacher like Sojun, and our grief at his seeming departure. Even today I find myself looking out my kitchen window toward his office, which is now my office, to see if he might be down there, so I can knock on his door and sit down to talk.
On the weekend of June 18 and 19, with the support of so many good friends at Berkeley Zen Center, San Francisco Zen Center, and the Soto Zen Buddhism International Center, two funerary ceremonies were held for Sojun Roshi. It is a Zen tradition to have an intimate convocation of family and students the night before the more formal funeral.
Taiya nenju—which means, roughly, “prayer on the funeral eve”—was attended by thirty-five people in the zendo and a like number online. For taiya and the funeral itself, the family and a teacher’s disciples serve as mourners. Reviewing his notes from Suzuki Roshi’s long-ago funeral, Tenshin Anderson Roshi described us a “barefoot hosts,” humbly dressed, with no footwear. Since family and disciples were mourners, we were fortunate to have Rev. Meiya Honshu Wender from Green Gulch serve as the taiya officiant. Meiya performed her simple tasks beautifully, honoring her long connection with Sojun through many practice periods at Tassajara and Green Gulch, going back more than thirty-five years.
After initial offerings, chanting the Ten Names of Buddha, the Sandokai, and Enmei Jukku Kannon Gyo, heartfelt words to and about Sojun Roshi were offered by Rev. Hozan Alan Senauke, Rev. Denkei Raul Moncayo, Ross Blum, Rev. Mary Mocine, Rev. Ryushin Andrea Thach, Rev. Gerry Oliva, Karen Sundheim, and Ron Nestor. (We are presently collecting and transcribing the BZC and Green Gulch statements to share with Sojun’s students.) As we stepped out of the zendo that evening, there was a lingering golden light and stillness in the air, a feeling that matched the depth and intimacy of our love for Sojun.
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The next day, Green Gulch Farm hosted Sojun Roshi’s long-delayed funeral. One hundred twenty of us gathered in person, observing careful masking and vaccination protocols in the Green Dragon zendo. Another hundred fifty guests watched online. At 2:45 the great bonsho’s deep tones called us together, and in a solemn procession disciples chanted the names of Buddha while circumambulating the temple, carrying Sojun’s ashes, portrait, robes, and his personal teaching implements. These things were carefully placed on the altar, along with offerings of incense, sweet water, green tea, and dharma words—hogo—composed by officiants Konjin Godwin Roshi of Houston Zen Center and Gengo Akiba Roshi, the Soto Zen bishop of North America.
With stately drama, Tenshin Anderson Roshi—the chief officiant and dharma companion of Sojun Roshi for nearly sixty years, including their co-abbacy of San Francisco Zen center in the late 80s and 90s—drew a torch in a great circle of fire, which as principal disciple, I mirrored with a second flaming torch, symbolizing the burning up of Sojun’s residual karma and his fearless entry into the boundless realm of death beyond the particularity of life. This was followed by Tenshin Roshi’s moving tribute to Sojun’s teaching.
As in the previous evening at BZC, a small number of family, friends, and disciples were invited to share the heart of Sojun Roshi’s dharma as each experienced him after many years of practice together. There were brief presentations by Liz Horowitz, Hoitsu Suzuki Roshi, Susan Marvin, Doug Greiner, Rev. Paul Haller, Rev. Shosan Vicki Austin.
Each person’s words were unique and personal, each conveyed Sojun’s joy and complete confidence in our Zen way that, day by day, year by year, he transmitted to us.
The ceremony was completed with sutra chanting, dedication of merit, and bows of appreciation to the three officiants. Both Saturday and Sunday ceremonies concluded with an opportunity for all those present to offer incense and pay their respects to Sojun Roshi. While they came forward, a lovely recorded passage from Bach, with Sojun Roshi playing recorder and Nick Bertani on cello, filled the air.
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So many hands from our “beloved community” went into these once-in-a-lifetime ceremonies. Bows of gratitude to Liz Horowitz; to our officiants Rev. Tenshin Reb Anderson, Rev. Gengo Akiba, Rev. Konjin Gaelyn Godwin, Rev. Furyu Schroeder, and Rev. Meiya Wender; to Rev. Ejo McMullen, Rev. Ryoko Miyazaki, Rev. Taiga Ito, and Rev. Dokan Kojima from the Soto Zen Buddhism International Center; to Jiryu Rutschman-Byler and the Green Gulch/Green Dragon Temple staff; and to Mary Duryee, Marie Hopper, Gerry Oliva, and the tireless Berkeley Zen Center sangha.
For Hakuryu Sojun’s Funeral