Friday, July 07, 2006

BPF Gathering: Aitken Roshi

Something I'm sure we all felt most honored to experience was a dharma talk on Friday night (6/23) by Robert Aitken Roshi. Just that week he turned 89 years, and long of ill health, there was no way he could travel from Hawaii to New York, but he gave the talk via telephone, and took questions from us. A highlight for many was his dharma advice to do something drastic...we should be getting naked in the streets. He is known for saying that there is no Buddhism that isn't engaged, but he also will be in your face with his messages. It wasn't the easiest dharma talk to listen to, faint speaker phone line along with his old gravelly voice, so either people were too shy or they'd been too busy concentrating to be ready with questions for him. One person asked him to repeat the naked in streets line, but both times I couldn't hear exactly what came before or after. Some Zen quote, I think.

Something he'd said prompted me to ask, "What would you say to Buddhist teachers who will not talk about politics in dharma talks?" (My teacher does not, and I haven't had a problem with that. I see my ecumenical group as the place for people to channel those energies.) I was curious what this feisty and venerable teacher would say to that. He said, "Well they don't want to be of the world!" And actually that answer quite aptly reflected my thoughts about my teacher lately: he does set himself apart from us, his students. He's very good at helping us grow up spiritually, but I'm beginning to realize there's a way in which I could never be his peer, never be 'of his world'. Eh, well, my teacher still learns too.

Another person referred to Aitken Roshi's mention of Phil Berrigan, and asked something about doing actions that get one arrested. Roshi told us to consider others who are involved in our lives. It was a hardship for Phil Berrigan's children all those years he was in jail, and sometimes his wife was in jail too. He gave a similar answer about withholding income tax too. Roshi and his wife did that for years, but when the IRS finally decided to pursue them, it was a horrible experience trying to jump through all the hoops asked of them. It was clear he was thinking of the pain his wife went through. I heard in that a very keen understanding of the Middle Way. We must speak, we must act, we must put our very naked bodies on the line for the good of the world, but in doing so we must consider our loved ones and all who could be affected by our actions.

[I learned after I got back that while I was in the city on Monday the 26th there was a rally/walk/civil disobedience in Manhattan to close down Guantanamo. Dan Berrigan was there, as well as Phil's daughter, Frida. A person from the BPF Gathering found herself walking beside Frida, "an eloquent courageous activist." Slideshow found here.]

It was around this time, maybe a little earlier, that I realized this BPF gathering was really coming together. In the way that it was a retreat, our container for the practice was making us a community. I noticed that while some people were naturally quiet or reserved, those same quiet ones would step forward quickly to move chairs or offer help, eager to feel a part of the group. As ritual coordinator, I had no lack of timekeepers for the optional meditation periods. Magically, just as I was thinking some kind of movement would be appropriate for a shared ceremony time, a woman approached me offering to lead some qi gong as it was something she did every morning.

No comments: