The Buddha, The Dharma, The Sangha

"Spiritual powers and their wondrous functioning--hauling water and carrying firewood." --Layman Pang, upon his realization

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

John Daido Loori Roshi

John Daido Loori, Abbot of Zen Mountain Monastery, and one of my Dharma teachers, died October 9th. He was 78.
Though we never formally met, we shared a love of the Triple Gem and of teaching. We shared a love of nature, and the New York Catskills in particular. We shared a love for the process of making and being in art, using any medium available, from Sumi-e to gardening to archery. We both loved the California coast, and Point Lobos especially, where Loori first studied photography with Minor White and returned time and again to photograph that little bit of utterly magical earth, sky and ocean!
My visit to Point Lobos proceeded my visit to Zen Mountain Monastery, but when I learned that Loori had found a home at Point Lobos, I realized we had a lot in common. My time at Point Lobos with my husband, who took many wonderful photographs, was magical and intense: everything, down to the tiniest wild flower at the edge of the parking lot seemed imbued with supernatural energy. Everything just glowed! The colors were so diverse, I just stood in one place and tried to absorb them. The vegetation was so diverse, I found myself talking out loud with every new discovery, saying, "how can this possibly grow here?"
My reaction was visceral: I could feel how ancient the trees and grasses and rocks were and how the elements had shaped them into the beauty they now presented. With each blast of wind off the ocean, I knew how ancient that wind was, generated by the perfect harmony of clouds, sea water and air, and all of this had been occurring over days and nights for ages.
Walking amongst the wind sculptured pine trees, I was keenly aware of being watched. Was the mountain lion about, hidden in plain sight in the tawny grasses, watching me move mindfully down the path? Was the mountain lion about, listening to the bark of sea lions and the continuous cry of sea birds? Did its nose quiver with the human smell mixed with the sea smell, all mixed with the smells of ancient breezes that had been around the world and back?
Later, at a Zen Arts weekend to learn about Ink Brush Painting, I sat in the zendo of Zen Mountain Monastery and felt my legs fall asleep, tingling, as heavy as two boulders. I was as heavy as two boulders. How uncomfortable I was!
In the afternoon, I headed out to the parking lot of the Monastery and got into my car. I couldn't go anywhere, there was at least another 24 hours of my retreat to finish. I dug around in the glove compartment and found a half empty bag of cookies....AH, civilization, I thought! The Familiar!
What waited for me back in the Monastery was the un-familiar, and that was too scary.
I sat and munched a few cookies, wondering how I would get through the next meditation session....Finally, I felt simply foolish. I put the cookies away, locked the car and followed a path into the woods for a brief walk before our "private hour" was over.
Back in the Monastery, I crossed paths with someone I hadn't seen before, one of the monks, and when our eyes met, I felt as if I was seeing into a deeply complex spiritual being. I smiled, but my smile was not returned, and we passed one another without a word.
Later, in the zendo, I realized I had met John Daido Loori, and I didn't know what to think of my contradictory reactions to our meeting. I felt a little bit in a shambles! He had at once reminded me of my father and my mother. And too, I had the distinct impression that here was pain, physical pain. A year later it was publicly announced through the Monastery newsletter that Loori had lung cancer, and I recalled our brief meeting.
Perhaps my impressions, even that of an aura of pain, were more projections than anything else. That complex spiritual being at whom I smiled was a mirror, a Zen koan, a Buddha, reflecting back my own Buddha Nature. At the time I thought, well, he could have at least smiled back, and I felt a little miffed about it.
But smiling or not smiling, the greater gift was the mirror, if just for that moment. For this, I consider him my teacher.
Gassho Roshi!

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