It would be most important for me first to express gratitude
to my teacher, Eido Tai Shimano Roshi , and to a few other teachers my good
karma has allowed me to meet in this life. This, however, is the most
difficult, since no words can convey it fully. So for now, I have to leave
it here, just feel IT and come back later to this matter.
It is so hard
to express, since what I really would like to say is , “I am grateful to
LIFE”, or “I am grateful to my karma”. Of course there are endless
events, endless people, endless meetings, endless experiences which helped
me, sometimes in very mysterious and totally unexpected ways.
The first time
I did zazen was in early seventies, perhaps 1972 or earlier. As a
student of physics I attended a lecture about Nothingness, which was given
by a graduate of Philosophy. This talk was based on a treatise from an
Eastern religious tradition. Later, we became friends and he shared with me
lectures written by Yasutani Roshi about how to do zazen. This was just the
first part of the book, Three Pillars of Zen, translated into Polish. As I
first sat in zazen in my little apartment I knew, “ THIS I will be
doing my entire life….” Three years later, we had a first sesshin in
Poland with Roshi Philip Kapleau, my
first Zen teacher.
It would be impossible for me not to mention some things
about the first zendo in Poland. During those days,
the gathering of many people was not legal and even finding a space to
gather was a big challenge.
Andrzej Urbanowicz and Urszula Broll lived in a tiny apartment attached to a
painting studio in the attic of an apartment building. Several times a week
they would clear their painting gear and transform the studio into a zendo
so a bunch of people could come to do zazen together. Their generosity was
bigger than this. Due to their financial support, it was possible to
purchase instruments, mats, cushions and other things necessary to run
sesshin. Of course there were many other people helping, but the sacrifice
Andrzej and Urszula made to allow other people to do zazen was great. It is
not overstated that the Polish Sangha started due to their generosity,
effort and inspiration.
This was the most exciting time in my practice too. To create something out
of nothing was very inspiring, especially in a country where getting
greater numbers of eating bowls of the same shape and color required special
arrangements. I remember pulling apart the first zafu, which someone brought
from Germany, in order to figure out how to make them. The only source of
kapok was from old life preserver jackets we could buy.
I very much wanted to come to the USA to practice at the
Rochester Zen Center. Toni Packer arranged for some friends, Susan and
Kevin Frank, to invite me here. After some rearrangements in my life in
Poland, I was able to come in 1980 to the USA for one year. Later,
when I came back a second time in early 1982, Tom Roberts and Mary Wolf were
my Bodhisattvas. And they continue ‘til today.
In early nineties, though I was
not in staff anymore, I continued to do sesshins and zazen at the Rochester
Zen Center. One time, at the end of a Zen workshop, a person was buying
zazen cushions from me, and I was very impressed by
the quality of his being. I knew this was not a beginner in Zen practice, so
I asked. As it turned out Brian Cobb has been a student of Eido Tai
Shimano Roshi for 14 years. Later, Brian bought me an airplane ticket and
took me with him to a
two days sesshin in New York Zendo. This was not the best time in my life
since I was very ill with arthritis,
and in constant pain.
When I first sat in the dokusan room in front of Eido Roshi, I knew he was
Since the spring of 1992 Dai Bosatsu is the zendo where I go to sesshins
frequently. There I meet some other incredible human beings, who inspire my
life and practice.
Several other friends from our original Sangha in Poland came
to practice at RZC but all of them left. Many ended up going to Japan to
look for a Zen teacher. My friend Nyogen became a student of Tangen Harada
Roshi and has been living in Japan for many years. Over the years I kept
hearing about this wonderful teacher and many encouraged me to go to
Bukkokuji. But after I met Eido Roshi, I was very happy here.
Nyogen once shared with me how much he regretted not being able to meet Soen
Nakagawa Roshi, who in contemporary Japan was one of very few outstanding
Zen Masters. Nyogen was on the way to Ryutakuji, but his plans changed at
the last moment. Soon after, Soen Roshi died.
A few years ago, when I did hear from him that Tangen Roshi
was ill and had undergone a serious stomach surgery, without thinking, I
bought a ticket to Japan. First I went to visit Nyogen, who is also a
painter and lives with his wife in Sendai, northern Japan. We had not seen
each other in perhaps sixteen years! This was a magic time!
Nyogen is an ordained Zen priest and due to his connections I was able to
visit many temples in the Zen and Tendai traditions where ordinary people
usually cannot enter. To be able to feel the energy of these places, where
for hundreds of years people have done zazen and devotions, was a very
powerful experience. After a week, we took an overnight trip to Obama to
attend a sesshin in Bukkokuji.
I cannot describe my experience and feeling there. It is just too personal.
It was very hard for me to come back to the USA…. Bukkokuji is a very good
place to practice and if someone has
a chance, meeting Tangen Roshi even once, is something I would encourage
anyone to do. He is now in his early eighties. Due to the effort of my old
friend Nyogen, with whom I did zazen twenty years earlier in an art studio,
our first zendo in Poland, my time in Japan was like being in Tushita
Today, the middle of February, as I look through my window,
huge snowflakes are falling majestically. I do not know why, but whenever I
see falling snow one of the koans comes to my mind: “The entire Catskill
Mountains are covered with snow. Why is Dai Bosatsu Mountain not white?" And
I laugh so much….HA! HA!
Dai Bosatsu Mountain, with its ancient monastery is a magic
place where I go to do sesshins several times a year,
and have done so for a number of years. This is thanks to so many beings who
have created this place, so many teachers in the lineage, and so many
wonderful people who help. It is just impossible to express how grateful I
am to be able to practice there.
There are only
two teachers in the Rinzai tradition who came from Japan and are still
teaching here in USA,
but Eido Tai Shimano Roshi, my teacher, is able to express himself in
English. This is rare gift. A teacher who has so many years of practice with
western students, who has great clarity, compassion and patience to push
those who have a deep desire to get to the bottom of one’s True Being, is at
I cannot even express my gratitude to Eido Roshi for all the help I am
receiving on my path… Certainly, for me there is no other place at which I
would rather practice in this country.
It was my very first or perhaps my second 7 day sesshin, at
Dai Bosatsu when I found myself in the zendo with some fifteen or so monks
from Japan… A few years earlier I was thinking about moving to Japan. But
during this sesshin
I exclaimed to myself: “My Japan is finally here! “ Participating monks came
from Shogenji temple, with Tani Kogetsu Roshi. Shogenji is in Gifu, Japan
and it is considered one of the Monasteries where training is very severe.
The head monk was Sogen Yamakawa. Over the years I met Sogen Yamakawa Roshi
many times in sesshin
and the dokusan room. It is incredibly inspiring to witness such a
transformation of a human being as him, becoming an
outstanding Zen teacher. Last summer, I remember my feeling after one of the
dokusans: Sitting in front of him was like having a meeting with the best
friend, absolutely no distance…
There was one sesshin when Genki Takabayashi Roshi served as
tenzo. He was celebrating the anniversary of his ordination as a Buddhist
monk and decided to offer his work to serve as tenzo and cook for us during
sesshin. We were very moved by his teisho and his tears!
I had an opportunity to share a room with sister Jinin, a Catholic nun,
during many sesshins.
Also, I was sitting in front of Brother Bernard many times. Both of them
have been coming to Dai Bosatsu for very long time, and their modesty
and humility is something I will never forget.
Some people do so much work behind the curtains, almost nobody knows how
certain things happen.
Aiho-san, Eido Roshi’s wife is this mysterious Bodhisattva.
I love to go to every sesshin at Dai Bosatsu, but getting to
the top of the mountain is very difficult for me. Not only do
I not own a car but I cannot even lift my luggage. However, through the
years there have been innumerable people from the Dai Bosatsu community who
have helped me get there. Fujin is a Zen nun and I remember her from my
first sesshin. She always makes some mysterious arrangements and makes sure
that I come to every sesshin. She also arranges that I have enough
robe orders to be able to survive.
It is really a miracle that I am able to live a sort of ordinary life and
practice in such an intensive way for much more than thirty years now.
Indeed Dharma takes good care of me, and innumerable Bodhisattvas are
extending hands all the time. I do worry if I will ever be able
to repay this debt of gratitude.
As Eido Roshi said once, if you have one true friend in life,
you are truly lucky. It is even more precious to have a true friend who is
your spiritual friend, and one with whom you can share life experiences,
which may not be so appropriate to share in the dokusan room,
heart to heart. Dharma arranged such a friend for me a couple of years ago;
an older women who has been practicing very long time, starting in Europe in
the nineteen fifties. She is a Zen teacher and has a zendo
in a quiet country place in New England. What we share is truly inspiring in
my practice and life.
there are many other people and events I could mention.
To all and everything, I am sending my strong nen
with my every breath.