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Happy New Year from Rakusan!

January 04, 2011 by Guest Author

Yokoji Zen Mountain Center

Happy New Year from Rakusan!

I started out this year as a resident of Yokoji.  I lived in the Jisha cabin because I had special needs due to my health condition.  I was diagnosed with cancer in April of 2006.  It’s been a long road filled with every medical procedure imaginable.  I’ve tried all the alternative treatments but nothing seems to have shown much promise.  Ever so slowly I feel my body losing ground.  2010 as a particularly hard year.  It seemed that one painful episode was resolved only to be replaced by another, completely different one.  It became clear that I could no longer live at Yokoji as I needed to be closer to my medical team and San Diego support network that I had built up over the past 20 years.

I have received so much support over the years from so many people.  I am overwhelmed by their kindness and generosity.  Receiving on this scale was not as easy as it seemed.  What I unconsciously created in my life is a wide net of support.  I hardly have to ask for anything.  There are people take care of my every need. And they do it joyfully and full of honest love.  Where did all this come from?

The past two months have been particularly difficult.  There is something pressing on my sciatic nerve that causes the worst pain yet.  I stayed in my condo most of the time.  I haven’t surrendered to soap operas yet but don’t count me out.  Sometimes I’m not sure what’s closer to reality CNN or Days of our Lives.

I had a wonderful holiday season.  Every event comes with the understanding that this may be my last.  I’m not wasting it.  Christmas was a quiet family affair that was just perfectly lovely.  New Years was coming.  I had always attended that Sesshin at Yokoji.  I didn’t see any way I could make it.  My friend, Doshi, offered to drive me up there so I had that covered.  However, all the logistics involved in caring for me in that mountain terrain just seemed overwhelming.  Jishin, our Tenzo, called me more and more the closer we came to the sesshin.  She assured me that we could do this.  Jonen volunteered  to be Tenzo so Jishin could care for me.  I was very quickly running out of excuses.  I found some quiet comfort in my little world down here.  My daughter, Jessica,  has been doing an heroic job caring for me and working a full time job. I never saw this getting so bad so quickly.

Finally, I decided to go.  Doshi, her partner Pat and her dog, Riley came by to pick me up.  The trip up was pretty smooth.  They dropped me off at my cabin.  We quickly realize that the heater was broken and beyond repair.  Without hesitation, Tenshin Roshi opened up his home to me.  I moved into a very comfortable room.  Tenshin Roshi and I have been together a long time.  I love our relationship.  He’s both a teacher and a friend.  Jishin and Melissa took turns caring for me with tender loving kindness.  The Buddha Hall was my sanctuary; all the sangha members my hammock.   Sit by sit, service by service, meal by meal we did the sesshin and opened our hearts to silence.  Because of the drugs there was a lot of drowsy sitting.  Many dharma talks were a bit fuzzy but I enjoyed every one of them.  I was home with my Dharma family, that’s what mattered.

New Years came and we did our usual rituals to welcome it in.  We ended the Sesshin with our closing council.  It’s so beautiful to hear opened hearts expressed.  We made a fire outside and burned little slips of paper with our hindrances written on them; in the Buddha Hall we performed Fusatsu, an ancient ceremony honoring all Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, past, present and future.  Then sat in zazen awaiting the turning of the year. Finally the Jikido yells out “HAPPY NEW YEAR!” and a round of hugs for all.  We finished the night’s rituals with the Purification Ceremony.

Down in the Dining Hall we were all treated to pizza and drinks and sang a hearty chorus of “Auld Lang Syne.”

This sesshin my heart burst open with love for all beings.  I am determined to bring the spirit of this sesshin into every day of my life.

Thank you, Tenshin Roshi for all you do for me.  Thank you Jishin for refusing to take no for an answer.  Thanks to all those that treated me with such kindness this sesshin.  You  are all still glowing inside of my heart.

Happy New Year,

Appreciate every minute,

Kevin Rakusan Riley


  • Doetsu:

    04 Jan 2011 19:15:36

    Kevin, my heart opens more as I read your words. You are so easy to love. Whatever we give to you is given back to us a hundredfold.

  • Ron Anzan Bell:

    04 Jan 2011 23:28:16

    Rakusan, your article touched me to the core. It made me feel so ashamed – of the petty things that I complain and moan about. Your words echo the whole of our practice and will remain with me for a long time. Thank you.

    Very best wishes, Ron Anzan Bell. Stonewater Sangha Liverpool UK

  • Khembottra Oum:

    05 Jan 2011 20:40:00

    Though I have never spoken to you but I have seen you at Yokoji, I felt a warm presence around you. I hope the new year will be better than the last one. Good luck Kevin.

  • Jim Swyler:

    06 Jan 2011 03:04:22

    Happy New Year Kevin. Though we have met only once a few months ago, for me, you are a very special person. Love and compassion are who you are. And there’s that engaging sense of humor so evident in your Dharma Combat videos on You Tube. The big C is sure a great teacher! I have walked that path too since early 2007. Talk about learning to treasure each day one at a time. Blessings.

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