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Thursday, April 06, 2006

Ruminations: Homecoming?

Sometimes these blog entries come really easy like the last one. Sometimes they roll off the tongue (or the fingers, I guess) like butter. Sometimes.... well, I should avoid intestinal metaphors. Especially after last weekend, which was a potentially life-changing (or change-confirming) experience for me, you'd think I'd have something to say. But all I can do at this point is give what I hope is a progress report.

And before I start, in a truly crushing blow to my ego, my web counter seems to have vanished off this blog. Not only does the counter not load, its whole website is gone. So for now I have no idea how many people are reading this. Not that I could ever get as many hits on this stuff as I could get just by putting "Paris Hilton" in the title of the blog, but oh well....... It's sort of on the level of my cell phone/UPS agony from last week. [Well, damn, now it's back. So much for trauma.]

But in real news, the Atlanta Soto Zen Center was everything I had hoped it would be. Not only that, I happened to attend on an auspicious weekend.

If you've been following all this, you'll recall that my reintro to Zen came more or less through Brad Warner's book. Brad's teacher is Gudo Nishijima, who was a student of Kodo Sawaki, the famous (relatively) "Homeless Kodo." So there are deep and authentic Zen roots there. Nevertheless, my original intro to Zen (practice, as opposed to literature) was at the San Francisco Zen Center in 1981. I had introduced my fiancee Jane to Zen through books at the end of my days at the University of Tennesse at Knoxville in 1979. When we moved to California in 1980, Jane's brother was living with the wife (don't ask me) of one of the founders of the Haight-Ashbury Clinic, who had the wherewithal and the connections to refer Jane to the SFZC for authentic practice. Jane wound up living at the Zen Center for a while, and then afterwards sharing an apartment in San Francisco and working at Tassajara, the SFZC's famous bakery (and boy was the free bread good!) As I have recounted elsewhere, I was not in any lifestyle condition to really appreciate the Zen Center at the time, but I did visit and sit. Often over the years and especially since my return to Zen, I have longed for the atmosphere of the SFZC, the priest, residents and visitors, the zendo and the Buddha Hall, the beauty of Green Gulch farm... and I have regretted many times that during my last year of law school I lived a few blocks away and never visited again.

The Nashville Zen Center meets in a room we rent from the Unity Church. It's a good space for sitting, it's cheap, and it meets the needs and interest levels of most of our members. The AZSC meets in a building which I believe it rents full-time, which I heard used to be the office of a company that manufactured or processed the deadliest ingredient of asbestos. From the outside it looks like a couple of housing units joined together. On the inside, it's been remade into an authentic home for Zen pratice.. The founder and leader of the AZTC designs furniture and has designed and built a beautiful zendo/Buddha hall. But enough of the externals.

You are invited to check out the ASZC link, which I have just added, for their history, which I won't regurgiate here. But it's obvious the Center is very established and has very loyal adherents, and affiliate groups all over the area. It was established in the late '70's, and how the NZC, which has apparently been around since around 1980, could have existed all these years without knowing about the closest authentic Zen group in the area is a mystery to me, but so are many things.

Anyway, Michael Elliston, the founder, was (and again I refer you to their web page) a student of a teacher who apparently was something of a rebel and not in a mainstream lineage. But just my luck I would go to Atlanta to check them out on the exact same weekend that Mr. Elliston took post-ordination vows which will connect them to the Austin Zen Center, which is an affiliate of the SFZC. Hence, national ties, and a just the kind of indisputable lineage I was looking for. Further connections abound and I won't inundate you with them, but the abbot of the Austin Zen Center, Barbara Kohn, whom I had the pleasure of meeting and sitting with, is a past president of the SFZC. The tensho or innkeeper/cook of the ASZC held the same position at the SFZC and was there for about eighteen years.

So I'l be going back the ASZC as my schedule permits. I'll have to take a job soon, and I don't know how many weekend retreats down there I'll be able to make, but I do want my connection to be a permanent one.

I'm at the point in my life where I'm finally starting to realize (duh!) that my life will never be a normal one, as defined by society. I'm past the point where a mate or a family has much interest for me. I have yet to find a career I want to pursue. But even in this age, the social matrix confounds our minds. Ancient expectations haunt us. Laughably, I still think I need to please someone with a career. So it's really life-affirming to meet some of the people I met last weekend. And not just the devoted Zen students and teachers that one might expect, but the diversity one might expect in Atlanta (and that I miss so much about San Francisco): a very well-done Zen transexual; an amazing tattooed man. How much more inspiration do I need to define my own life, and to do what I really want to do, without fear?

I think my new teachers and friends told me that, somehow. How well was I listening? We'll see.

By the way, on another procedural note, I keep getting word that other people are following his blog that aren't on my email list for notifications . If you want to get notice of new blog entries, and for some reason don't want to or can't add the blog to your RSS feed, email me at and I'll add you to the list. Bye for now.