My beginning of my Path of Zen – 1987
So around 1987 I got interested in Zen through the suggestion of a psychology teacher I befriended at a local community college. Like anyone, I picked up a few popular zen books and read them. Prior to this, I has spent six years in the Navy, and was currently working though not really satisfied with anything I was doing. I dated girls, went to friends parties, watch movies and TV, and lived a life like any normal person, though I was simply not satisfied – I felt something was missing.
So I talked to the friends I had at the time about this ‘missing’ or perhaps it was a longing I felt – I don’t remember. Everyone had their own ideas, theories and thoughts about what I should do.
So, I did the unexpected….
I went and visited a Zen Center, then what happened next was a total surprise…
Portland Buddhist Priory
Portland Buddhist Priory is a satellite of Shasta Abbey in California.
- They run their centers in the style of the Church of England, since the founding abbottis is English, and they call the houses where people worship and live at – Priory’s.
- My first visit they gave me meditation instruction, and a quick edicate overview.
Overall, the environment was unwelcoming, dark and dank.
Dharma Rain Zen Center
I next visited the Dharma Rain Zen Center. It was a much better experience than the Buddhist Priory. I felt welcomed and immediately made a connection with the Abbot Kyogen Carlson.
I went back to the Buddhist Priory to ask them what they thought of the Dharma Rain Zen Center. This is what I was told:
- That the Carlsons, Kyogen and Gyokuko Carlson use to be part of their Sanga, but was excommunicated by Jiyu Kennett, their teacher from Mount Shasta Abbey where they trained.
- The Dharma Rain Zen Center stole the house, as it use to belong to the Priory.
So, right away in the beginning of my Path of Zen, I was hit smack in the face with controversy and drama. There was only one thing to do…
Pick one and hope for the best
I picked the Dharma Rain Zen Center, if only because of a connection I had with Kyogen. I told him what the Buddhist Priory said, and he said the following:
- That he and Gyokuko are married monks, and his teacher Jiyu Kennett changed her mind about married monk and told them they have to divorce to remain monks in her order. They chose to not do that, so they got excommunicated.
- The house was owned by the a couple (The Singers) who allowed the Buddhist priory to meet there, but when the schism happened, the house was given to the Dharma Rain Zen center.
So, with that all said, I was good with it, and forged ahead
Lay ordination and moving in – 1989
So, around 1988 I made the commitment to the Precepts of Zen, and a few months later I moved in to the Dharma Rain Zen Centers as a resident student. Many Zen Centers give Zen names to those who take the Precepts, though the Carlsons decided to not do that, and only reserved naming for Diciples – Lay Ordination level of student who directly studies with one of the Carlsons.
I did various jobs outside of the Zen Center to just pay my rent, it was a small amount, so I did not have to work much. This left a lot of time for me to read and study, for the library was well stocked with books, and to meditate. I also helped with all of the functions and services that went on in the house – Meditation sessions, senior student meetings, tea services, cleaning and other chores.
I wanted to be a Zen monk, and I asked Kyogen about that and he said that that there was no training monastery for them to send me to, and they decided to only be a Lay Temple, meaning no monk training as they got at Mount Shasta. I was encouraged to look at other Zen Centers for my training.
Looking for training – 1991
The only monastic training center that was accessible to me was the San Francisco Zen center. I wrote them a letter asking about the monastic program, because letters is what we did in the 80’s, and they replied that they wanted me to spend a few weeks first at the City Center before they allow me to go to the monastic training center – Tassajara. Sounds reasonable, right?
So I went for a 3 month stay (yes, I paid for this), fall time of year, to the City Center in San Francisco. I went to meditation and services, attended the lectures and meetings, and did the task they asked of me.
Overall, I was content with what I saw of them. When my time was up, they said that I could not join in the training session at Tassajara that year, that I would have to wait till next year.
The secret I was never told about – Muga
So, I returned to the Dharma Rain Zen Center to wait for my time to go to Tassajara. Again, I found work as a janitor for a non-profit to just pay my bills and save up for my trip once again down south.
About a few weeks after I returned, this mid-age lady shows up at the center and tells me that she is a Zen Monk that Kyogen ordained, and that she just returned from Tassajara. Well, you can only imagine my shock, for Kyogen nor Gyokuko ever mentioned her to me at all, nor did anyone at the Zen Center talk about her.
She stayed about a month at the center, and had many private meetings with the Carlsons. In my own talking to her about Tassajara, cause i was going to go, she really did not say much of anything about the place or the people. Then as suddenly as she arrived she was gone, and I never saw her again.
A a few months later, I departed the Dharma Rain Zen Center for Tassajara.
The next part of my Zen Path story is about Tassajara, where I spent a year there.