Monday, March 31, 2008

A Heng Sure Story

The ZAFU is the round cushion used in Japan as an aid in helping one to ease into sitting cross-legged on the ground. When one is accustomed to that posture, then he can progress to the half-lotus position, then to the full-lotus. As the zafu is an aid, so sitting in itself is just another aid to a relaxed posture, a balanced body, relatively unmoving, with the backbone straight, and thus sitting is an aid to meditation. Likewise, meditation aids one to concentrate and focus the mind inside so that the Dharma can be understood and practiced.

The abbot of the Berkeley Buddhist Monastery, the Venerable Heng Sure, tells a story (if I remember it correctly) of how he was accustomed to meditating on a zafu for many years, when one day he was suddenly surprised by Master Hua who yanked the zafu out from under him. Now without the support of the zafu, Heng Sure plopped flat on the ground. Master Hua explained that one is much better off not relying on a prop, because, though it was useful in learning to meditate, if Heng Sure could learn to sit without it, he would gain benefit in two ways. First, he would be free of the need for this prop, and second, he would be able to meditate anywhere.

This same lesson applies to those who use beads to count mantras. The beads are just an aid, likewise mantras are just an aid. So though beads are very useful in learning to count mantras, and in unifying body-speech-and-mind, there are times when the use of beads is not practical, or not possible, or an obstruction; or there are times when one is not in possession of a set of beads. In these cases, assuming one has already completed millions of repetitions, one should learn other techniques for counting mantras, such as with the fingers (using the opposable thumb and the joints of the fingers), or by placing each repetition at a different point in the body, or outside the body, etc.

Sunday, March 30, 2008


We built this building for Dr Ajari in 1975. It is at the 6000ft level on Mt Shasta. Driving 8 hours each way in the commune's caravan left only 4-5 hours on weekends for work, so that construction took 6 months to complete. Then once the building was finished, we never returned because the group was struggling with its business of manufacturing and selling Japanese bedding, there was never any mountain rescue, and no spiritual practices were ever done here (other than a partial retreat by Bishop Green of St Sophia's Church). The only merit went to Ladybear of Mt Shasta who kept an eye on the building for about 15 years before Dr Ajari defaulted on payments and was forced to sell it.
However, we did get some experience in construction work. You do know the definition of "experience," don't you?
EXPERIENCE, noun -- what you get when you didn't get what you wanted.
On the other hand, according to a Japanese kotowaza, or proverb:
The origin of success is failure.
So the experience wasn't entirely wasted; it came in handy when constructing the goma-do at Cobb in 2006.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

The Power of Love

In early 1966 I went down to the Jazz Workshop on Broadway in SF to hear John Coltrane's group. The club was jammed full so about 15 of us were out on the sidewalk and pressed up against the open door. The club was one long narrow room with the band at the far end, so the full sound carried out the door, and also, being tall and standing on my toes I could watch as well.
At that time the band had TWO drummers (Elvin Jones and Rashid Ali), had Pharoah Sanders (screeching as loud as possible, achingly beautiful to my ears) on tenor sax, and John Coltrane's wife Alice on piano playing full, round chords with both hands on the lower register. It was a raucous cacophony of sound and Coltrane's tenor was barely audible in the mix. I strained to hear Coltrane, and when that sound connected (not the melody, but his pure vibrato-less sound) it became a conduit of warm energy directly into my heart, filling it like a balloon with a feeling of love for the whole world, a feeling that expanded to the point of leaving me with only one option: stop everything I was doing in everyday mundane existence; turn my life around; and go SAVE THE WORLD.
About 10 years later when with Dr Ajari on a visit to the Coltrane Church, I listened as Bishop Franzo King described an experience almost identical to mine. He had gone to the Jazz Workshop to hear Coltrane's group, and the sound so filled him with love that on the spot he made a vow to restructure his life, start a church, and preach the Gospel. The John Coltrane Church is going as strong as ever today, Bishop (now Archbishop) King's family and friends and church members playing inspired derivations of Coltrane's music every Sunday:
That night in 1966 returning from the Jazz Workshop with a heart full of love to save the world, I was completely oblivious of all practical aspects, such as how to go about it, even the first step. I didn't account for my own complete lack of ability or knowledge or experience, or my own obstructive bad karma, continuing to accumulate day-by-day, not to mention the ineluctable modality of the bonds of society which prevent one from "leaving home." It would be another three years, including grad school at Cornell and employment as a civil engineer, taxi driver, and mail carrier before the actual "leaving home" could take place.
But the seed was sown in the power of love emanating from John Coltrane's heart to all who listened. Before that time I had been thinking about enlightenment, but the experience at the Jazz Workshop caused the Thought of Enlightenment to step up one level of intensity and become the Determination for Enlightenment.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Janey Trinkle And Master Lee

This is from 2007, my second visit to Kim Son Monastery as driver for Janey. It is now a 1 1/2 hr drive to pick her up in Healdsburg and another 3 hrs to Watsonville, and back the same day, 10 hours total. We arrive at about 10 minutes to noon, have a few sips of tea with Master Tu, and then his people ask him to come to the dining room and ring the bell so lunch can begin. So all that driving for just a 10 minute visit, but their lunches are worth the drive. They have a delicious vegetarian buffet, all you can eat, with a donation box inconspicuously off to the side, and four lines of tables, one each for the monks, the nuns, the laymen, and the laywomen. After the leisurely and silent meal, conversation slowly starts up, and after a while Master Tu rings the bell again and departs. Janey is now over with the nuns, and they are having a great time, laughing and talking, and she snaps some photos. The rest of us, after finishing the meal and conversations, all wash our dishes and depart, and I sit back down at the table, alone, waiting while Janey and the nuns finish their visit, which is another half hour or so. This elderly monk, Master Lee, seeing me sitting there, comes over and introduces himself and asks me some Dharma questions, which led to his very helpful teachings to me on how to overcome anger. Aside from the lunch, this advice was also worth the long drive. And then Janey, having finished her visit, came over to Master Lee and myself and asked one of the nuns to snap more photos.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Janey Trinkle And Master Tu

This is from 2003 the first time I visited the Vietnamese Master Tu at Kim Son Monastery in Watsonville. Janey Trinkle had known him for years, so I just served as her driver since the long drive was more than she could manage at her age.

Janey lived for 35 years in Japan, and when the Japanese Empress Michiko was in college (I think at Keio U. in Tokyo), Janey was her English teacher, and the two have remained friends to this day.

Master Tu is a venerable and virtuous abbot who has the support of large Vietnamese communities in San Jose and San Francisco.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008


This snow ghost may very well be Woody Woodpecker, not seen in these parts since the late 1950s.
(I put this miraculous natural phenomenon up for sale on eBay, but it melted before I could sell it)

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

"Looks Like A Buddha"

In 2002 with Rin-san and her friend Fuji-san, we stopped by to see the Buddhist sculptor Tachibana. During conversation, Rin-san told him she had set up a 5PM appointment with a nearby Buddhist master, and did Tachibana want to go with us. No, he didn't, he said, "And watch out for him. He is evil." "Why do you say that? He has an old established temple and appears to be a good priest." "Yes, he LOOKS LIKE A BUDDHA, but . . . "

According to Tachibana, professors from the University would recommend that students interested in Buddhism go to this temple as it was the closest. Tachibana was living at the temple at the time, and some of the students would subsequently become monks and live there also. But within one or two years, every single one of them had fled after getting to know the priest better. Presently, the only disciple was a woman who would cook and wash clothes. But the temple still had enough lay believers to support it financially.

We got there at 5 o'clock. Rin-san knew the master, but Fuji-san and myself had yet to meet him. He took us up into the dimly lit temple and he and Rin-san engaged in conversation. While they talked, Fuji-san and I, with the tales of Tachibana fresh in mind, heard the door creaking behind us, wind would occasionally whistle through the cracks, we watched his eyes narrow down and glance sideways, and he would furrow or raise his brow. While Rin-san blithely carried on, we were as if frozen, expecting that at any moment he would reach around for an axe, lunge at us, and bury the bodies under the floorboards with the skeletons.

After leaving the temple, it turned out Fuji-san and I had seen and heard and thought all the same things. But of course, these were just projections after listening to Tachibana's dramatic warnings of horror. The truth in the story was that there ARE people who look like Buddhas, who have round bodies and shaved heads, wear immaculate robes, sit perfectly straight, and serve tea in old temples, but when students live there awhile and get to know the master, they run away screaming. In common, less extreme cases, the Japanese have a phrase:
which means "form only," as in "That priest doesn't have the religious mind, but has the form only." I heard this phrase quite often in different places in Japan, but it always seemed that the group I was with were "real Buddhists" while the group over there was katachi dake. You'd think it would be more beneficial not to be so concerned with the group over there, and to devote more time to examining our own actions and studying the Dharma so that our own Buddhist life doesn't become katachi dake.

Monday, March 24, 2008


A Tendai set of beads is characterized by the flat shape of the beads, which makes the strand of 108 easier to count with while at the same time being more wieldy.

You'll see people wearing sets of large round beads around their necks in order to give themselves the appearance of a Holy Man, but the style pictured here is for counting repetitions of mantras, going deep within the heart, rooting out greed, anger, and ignorance, and serving the cause of all living beings.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

The Lotus Sutra Was Written About Me

When Prof Carl Bielefeldt of Stanford met me for the first time in 2003, he asked, "You're not one of those guys who thinks the Lotus Sutra was written about them, are you?" Well, . . . actually, Carl . . . here it is, right here in the 25th Chapter. It nails me exactly.
"If there are any living beings with much lust and craving, and if they constantly keep in mind and respect Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva, they will be set free from these desires.
If they have much anger, and if they constantly keep in mind and respect Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva, they will be set free from their anger.
If they have much ignorance, and if they constantly keep in mind and respect Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva, they will be set free from their ignorance."
"Much craving, much anger, much ignorance," that's me to a tee, Carl!
Painfully aware of this early on, for 40 years now I've been calling on all 33 forms of Avalokiteshvara for relief. And it HAS helped, lots, but even now we still see remaining greed-anger-and-ignorance. "You have really heavy karma," as Master Lee explained.
When Carl asked his question, I just laughed, and so it seemed I slipped past the interview and was set to give a single guest lecture in his class on T'ien T'ai Buddhism. However, Carl had one final concern: "I hope you're not going to talk about the Aquarian Age."

Saturday, March 22, 2008



"Religion does not mean just precepts, a temple, monastery, or other external signs, for these as well as hearing and thinking are subsidiary factors in taming the mind. When the mind becomes the practices, one is a practitioner of religion, and when the mind does not become the practices one is not."
There are three sources for getting to know one's mind: study the latest scientific research; inquire about the conclusions of the Buddhist sages of the past; and during concentrated meditation, examine the woundrous workings of our own minds from a subjective viewpoint and compare this with the findings of scientists and sages.

Friday, March 21, 2008

For One Who Walks On The Earth

The story of the Buddha's Last Days covers six months, starting in Rajgriha, spending the rains retreat outside of Vaishali, and ending his life in Kushinara. An incredible amount of teaching was transmitted during that time, the Buddha having informed the accompanying monks that his end was not far off. At twelve towns where he stopped along the way, he gave a unique profound teaching at each one, while at the same time he included a teaching common to all stops: the Buddha "gave a comprehensive discourse, this is morality, this is concentration, this is wisdom . . ."

While walking in a natural setting, this essential teaching is easily brought to mind. Looking downward we see the earth, solid and visually impenetrable, supporting all on its surface. Likewise, MORALITY is our support in walking the path of Dharma.

Looking ahead we see animals and people and think about their need for concentration. The animals need to concentrate their senses to locate food and also to recognize and escape when other animals want to eat them. People need to concentrate to get to work on time, pick up their paycheck at the end of the month, and negotiate traffic to get safely home. Likewise, CONCENTRATION is necessary to enter into and understand the Buddha's teachings.

Looking above we see the sky which not only touches, surrounds and interconnects all living things, but extends beyond into infinity. Likewise, we are surrounded by the Buddha's WISDOM which obliterates the "I" in the universe of shunyata.

To attain enlightenment, the Buddha taught us to rely not on our personalities, our talents, or our position in society, but rather to rely on morality, concentration and wisdom.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

2 ft.

(see March 18 post)

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Dengyo Daishi and Jikaku Daishi

The priest So-0 inaugurated the practice of kaihogyo based on stories of related practices which his teacher Ennin brought back from the holy mountain of WuTai in China. Subsequently, So-o developed spiritual powers and was able to heal the ailments of 3 generations of Emperors and their families. The third then gave postumous titles of "Great Teacher" to Saicho (Dengyo Great Teacher) and Ennin (Jikaku Great Teacher), the first time this honor was bestowed in Japan. It would be another 55 years before Saicho's contemporary Kukai would be similarly recognized as Kobo Great Teacher.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008


Of Gozen-sama's approximately 1500 disciples, both lay believers and clergy, Gyosho Ajari is the fourth of the "four great disciples." Here he has completed 700 days of the marathon, after which he immediately entered into a 9-day seclusion of no sleep, no water, and no food. This photo is taken after the fast, in 1992.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Ennin, Tendai Patriarch (794-864AD)

This is from a manga version of Ennin's life, based mostly on the diary of his ten years in China in Search of the Dharma, which was translated into English and published in 1955 by Edwin O. Reischauer.
Saicho welcomes the 15 year-old novice to Hieizan and explains the meaning of the characters for the name "Ennin" which he has granted:

"with harmony and amiability, to give comfort, sympathy and compassion to all creature, not just to humans"

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Saturday, March 15, 2008


Gozen-sama built a magnificent new temple on an isolated peninsula 3 miles from the Pacific Coast town of Owase. Construction wasn't far enough along to open it to the public yet, so Shodo-san and I were there caretaking, making the garden, and helping the construction crew when they would come. Viewing from the temple grounds, there was not a single building visible, just fishing boats far out in the bay, and steep cascading hills in back, reminiscent of the Chinese landscape painting style called "san sui," mountains and water. We had our own private beach, but also the highest annual rainfall in Japan, because this was the point where typhoons would make landfall, which also explains why this beautiful location was so isolated in super-crowded Japan.

Gozen-sama would visit about once every two months, a 3-hour drive from Sekizan. To avoid the interminable jamups on the highways around Kyoto, they would leave at 3AM, with Sakajiri-san driving and exceeding all speed limits at Gozen-sama's urging. On one visit they expressed the idea that Choraku-In should offer some benefit to the community, even though it wasn't open yet, and so they asked me to give an English class in town. Thus this photo of my English class.

Friday, March 14, 2008


Gozen-sama had built a new temple called Choraku-in 3 miles outside of the fishing village of Owase ("Big Eagle"), but as it was not yet completed he sent Shodo-san and myself there as caretakers and to work on the gardens.

The Owase police chief, along with his wife, thinking we were overworked and stressed out, took us on a 3-day vacation to the Kumano area, including temples, shrines, restaurants, hotsprings resorts, and waterfalls (this photo).

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Real Father and Adopted Father

This is my real father and my real daughter.

This is my adopted father and my adopted niece (both informally). Everybody calls him "The Boss" (shacho), but he has me call him Honorable Father (o-tou-san). He is The Boss in the sense that nobody messes with him, and though he is not yakuza himself, he has tatooed yakuza working for him.

At Sekizan he has been designing (along with Gozen-sama) and constructing the temple gardens for over 25 years, to the point where the moss hillocks and autumn maples have become a major tourist attraction. This photo was taken just a week before I returned to the US after 5+ years in Japan, and I said to Shacho, "You're almost finished with the gardens, right?" to which he replied, "No, only half done." 25 years! He would supervise a crew of 4 or 5 of us temple priests along with 2 or 3 of his own men in whatever heavy work needed to be done at Sekizan. Then he would buy lunch for everybody at this nearby cafe, where I was known as "A.B.C.O.G" which makes perfect sense in Japanese: Uncle ABC (oji=uncle) because during the time the girl's grandmother was preparing the food, I would teach her English, starting with the ABC song.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008


While on a home-stay program in Japan in 1998, Jenny visits me at Sekizan.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Mom and Pop

Today, March 10, is the 100th anniversary of my father's birth. Both he (1908-1992) and mom (1907-1991) lived 84 years and they died within a year of each other. They were both water signs, Pisces and Scorpio, so there was lots of emotion: they fought like hell, loved like heaven.
I hear other men talk about their childhood, saying like, "I knew if I did such-and-such, I was in for a whuppin from my dad," as if this were the same with every boy's father. And it dawned on me that possibly dad was unusual, lots of hugs, but never once did he strike me.

Sunday, March 9, 2008


This ancient stone statue is from the set of sixteen arhats at Sekizan Zen-in, Kyoto

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Across the Wide Pacific

1962 was my third trip to sea, the first for Eric Levin. In that era we had 3 months of summer vacation while going to college. So 7 years before becoming a Buddhist, I had a chance to visit most of the Buddhist countries of the Far East, and that subjective experience colored my view of the various types of Buddhism. Bangkok seemed decadent and its Buddha statues were gaudy and poorly maintained. Saigon was in an eerie calm under the Diem dictatorship, and the war had not yet reached the Capitol. Taiwan was in a state of fear, the military ready for an immanent invasion from Red China, but the people seemed to be more afraid of Chiang Kai Shek's government. Korea was still in poverty in the aftermath of its war, and the seaport of Pusan's people were struggling to make money any way possible, including thievery, robbery, and piracy. But Japan at that time was at the beginning of its "economic miracle," and the cleanliness of the streets, the kindness of the people, and the beauty of the Buddhist artwork all left an impression which made me predisposed to favor the Japanese style of Buddhism.

Friday, March 7, 2008


Plus mole tunnels all over the hills

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Two More Rubaiyats

Is one of your dreams to LEAVE HOME and set out on the Great Adventure, the quest for enlightenment? If for too long you delay your departure, if you daydream and don't DO, then in the blink of an elephant's eye old age and death will be facing you in the mirror, another lifetime down the drain.
Most of Fitzgerald's ~200 quattrains (I don't know about the Persian originals) have a fatalistic ending not shared by Buddhism. Yes, time moves in only one direction. Ideas of going back in time and revising the outcome are truly fiction. But unlike the implication of the poem, the future is not fixed or predestined. YOU AND I CAN CHANGE! This is the most important message of Buddhism. The actions of the past can be remembered, recorded, studied. And by understanding cause and effect by studying the past, we can change our actions, change our course, and change our future for the better.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam

Scholars say the Farsi-to-English translation of Edward Fitzgerald is more Fitzgerald than Omar Khayyam. I don't know about the Persian, but the English version is great stuff. Here's one of my favorites:

Monday, March 3, 2008


This photo dates before my entry into Dr Ajari's commune, so probably 1966-1968.
Alan Ginsberg is well-known. "Sufi Sam," Samuel Lewis, the Jewish leader of the Muslim Sufi's, has a recent biography by a disciple at:
Less well-known is Ajari, also known as Bishop Lopon Dr Ajari (four titles but no name), in addition to: "The Bear" (Is the Bear Catholic?? Does the Pope poop in the woods??); Vajrabodhi; Neville Warwick; Evil Warlock; The Admiral of the Tibetan Navy; and One Of The Two Great Spiritual Geniuses Of The Western World (I believe he said the other was my friend Jack Goldberg, now in Crestone Colorado). But Gozen-sama recognized him as an emanation of Fudo-sama. After I became Gozen-sama's disciple in 1991, I showed him the photo of Dr Ajari with Lama Govinda in Almora India circa 1968, to ask if Gozen-sama knew Dr Ajari from Japan. He Said, "No, but in this photo your two teachers are En-No-Gyoja (indicating Lama Govinda) and Fudo-sama (pointing to Dr Ajari)." In the photo, Dr Ajari looks positively angelic, but somehow Gozen-sama knew.
A young journalist in Boulder Colo. is currently collecting stories for a book on Dr Ajari. You can observe or contribute at:
The photo here was sent to me by an old friend of Dr Ajari's, Ladybear of Mt Shasta. Her blog, carrying the torch of the Woodstock generation is at:

Sunday, March 2, 2008

A Sudden Slip on an Icy Rock

And a quick face-plant in the snow. The cause wasn't treacherous terrain. Although terrain was a factor, the cause was in my thought at that moment as I was dwelling on somebody else's slanderous words, making them my own. Wonderful instant karma!
In almost all cases there is a time gap between one's actions and the karmic result, which hides the connection between cause and effect. It takes deep meditation to get at the root cause of karmic retribution. So when something unpleasant happens, it is much easier to blame the immediate cause rather than to ask, "What in my past karma led to this situation?"
That is why it is always an amazing experience to see instantaneous karmic retribution: I said or did or thought something regrettable and immediately received the result. The workings of karma were clearly revealed.
In today's example the cause was minor and the effect was minor, but for one who invokes Fudo Myo-o as his tutelary deity, heavier cases of instantaneous karmic purification are not uncommon. If you take Fudo as your protector, you will be humbled in ways you never would have guessed. The rope and sword which Fudo wields are not to bind your enemy and cut off his head as a kind of jihad for Buddhism. Rather the rope represents concentration of one's own mind while the sword cuts the very roots of greed, anger and ignorance. If I make a serious karmic blunder, I can expect Fudo right in my face with his angry expression.
The slip on the ice brought to mind a Dharma saying based on the "four foundations of mindfulness:"

Saturday, March 1, 2008


The Sakya Center in Seattle in 1977. The Pacioretti (biological) sisters are in front. Otherwise, from the right: Khadiravani, Nairatma, Marici (my wife at the time, in the first of our 13 years of wedlock), Variya, a friend of Variya's, Dr Ajari, and Mandarava. Mandarava and Nairatma are the remaining Sisters of the Order, now residing in L.A. Dagchen Rinpoche is in the center of the photo, and directly behind is Jayananda in goatee and glasses. The remaining folks are disciples and relatives of Dagchen.