Never Alone in our Practice

As the first members of Kannon arrived in Wilga for summer ango, they were greeted by blue metallic skies and the promise of a sudden storm. The transformation of heat to moisture, of stillness to strong wind, reminded these first arrivals that they were guided by teachers both present, past and on the way. At the same time, Kwong roshi was on a plane making notes for an ordination ceremony of uncommon girth—4 new monks and 1 nun along with 17 members taking jukai. The storms made timely visits throughout the “Big Heat Retreat”, creating muddy paths to the zendo and steam trails off the tops of roofs.

After a sun shower/Two sparrows/Making love in the trees

Jacob Bankyo took a short flight from his perch in Kąciki to lead the sangha as a wise and irreverent shuso. He could be counted on for a mischievous remark when things were too serious and boundless strides just as others were feeling tired. His dharma talks were filled with affectionate details of hitch-hiking and river wandering, hospice empathy, and the life and death of a hand plucked pumpkin. This last tale, modestly attributed to “the internet”, followed a pumpkin from its sowing as a seed to its harvest and eventual decay. Upon each transformation of form, the pumpkin was fulfilling its nature and always with a sense of joy and wonderment. Even in death, as its caved in gourd was carted to a cemetery to mark the day of the dead, it was noted for an indecipherable wry smile. While the story was of Bankyo’s own hand, it reflected his face too.

Ringing the morning bell/Before the sun/His laughter never far behind

Jurek Kuun and Mikolaj Uji were also generous in their sharing of personal anecdotes to illuminate some of the dharma. Jurek’s talk began with a catharsis of the skies—Nareszcie pada!—and concluded with his encounter of the “silent tzaddik”. In between he returned to Suzuki roshi’s poem, “Don’t Move”, providing the softened insight that we are already in the Buddha’s hand. Mikolaj reflected on the first week of ango when there were more jobs to assign than people present. He spoke of being alone one morning just as a magnificent rainbow appeared. In the quietude, he thought of his grandmother’s childhood advice: if you see a rainbow, enter it. So he went walking towards the colored mist but the closer he came to the rainbow, the further it inched away. Mikolaj likened the rainbow to the presence of Kwong roshi. We have become practiced in Poland to roshi’s absence, but in fact he is always with us. It’s only when we “move” and seek out the rainbow that we reckon it’s not there.

The master passes/By the aid of an escort/Behind white blinds

Roshi appeared in Wilga during the final week of ango, entering the zendo upon the final breaths of afternoon zazen. As he took his position for a surprise dharma talk, it did not seem so long prior his last visit. Roshi spoke of Damien’s adventures in Ejhei-ji, revealing a father’s pride in his son’s maturity as a man. He also crystallized many of the inward teachings encountered privately in our practice. Of those, these words stand out: “Everything is a ritual. How you get up, how you make your bed—everything is a ritual. And rituals illuminate each moment.”

Two days later the zendo was crowded with members old and new, their families and loved ones packing its wooden space to witness 17 students, including Dan Landault, take jukai and 5 elder practioners be ordained as monks and nun. Roshi led the service with a deeply committed voice, assigning the monks their new dharma names: Jacob Bankyo Chikudo (Indestructable Mirror Bamboo Way), Ewa Gessin Kai An (Moon Mind Ocean Calm), Jarek Kai In (Ocean Seal), Kuba Genku Konho (Dark Sky Unwavering Dharma), and Kazik Sokuze Shindo (As It Is Mind Ground). After the ceremony, the courtyard was speckled with lotus petals and kisses, the monks still getting accustomed to their shaved heads, overwhelmed with flower bouquets, new robes and a throng of well wishers.

Monks bowing to each other/On equal terms/This is love

After gathering for a photo, roshi slipped away to his cabin where more preparations awaited. In his 25 years of coming to Poland, Jurek commented that this might have been his most productive year. He traveled over 1,600 km, gave talks at the Benedictine Monastery in Lubin, Shambhala Center in Warsaw, Kwan Um Zen School in Falenica, and had this to say about the Wilga ceremony:

“This took over 5 days of preparations. I was lucky I wasn’t aware of this, because I would’ve had second thoughts. Folding rice papers, calligraphy, matching dharma names, red seal stamping, and revising and printing the ceremonies in Iceland as well as Poland, all in the midst of humid Polish HEAT.”

Roshi also gave over 50 dokusan and wound down his stay with collaborative dharma talks in Kazimierz Dolny and the Traffic Club in Warsaw. In Kazimierz, he joined Tom Daitus Wrights and used notes from his “Dogen’s Shusogi” for a talk on the theme of the Great Matter as written on HAN. The talk is available on Vimeo. His final talk in Traffic took a form of dialogue with a practitioner from Lubin as well as Kasia Grochola, a well known novelist and personal friend. Roshi took questions from both and then a discussion opened up.

By the time Roshi finally touched down in California, Bankyo had made the short flight from Wilga back to his perch in Kąciki where we hope next year’s ango will take place. So this article represents a farewell to our reluctant refuge in the woods which served us well over the years, but like a warted pumpkin gourd has a new function to fulfill. Meanwhile the seeds of Kąciki take hold and are ready to burst in wild array above ground. If we take a moment to look up to the skies, we might notice the wind accumulating, the water on its way, and know that we are never alone in our practice.

Almost 3 weeks/The caged dog no longer cries/Summer wind


July 2012

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