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Beth Joshi Mulligan - Fall training period week 2

October 08, 2015 by David Blackwell

David Blackwell Rev. David Jokai Blackwell
Yokoji Zen Mountain Center

Beth Joshi Mulligan - Fall training period week 2

At the end of the second week of the fall training period at Yokoji, I attended the regular Sunday program in my new role as Head Trainee. For many years I have spent my Sunday mornings in this particular way and it is a highlight of my week. Usually I drive about an hour from my home and join in at 9:30 with everyone else. This Sunday, I rolled out of bed, changed into work clothes and joined my fellow residents for breakfast and some light work practice. Together we prepared the center for visitors, chatted, swept, washed dishes and got ready for service.

As Head Trainee, I sit right next to Tenshin Roshi for zazen and dharma talks. He opened the talk with this; “I’d like to continue discussing the koan of everyday life. So if there is anything from your life or practice you’d like to talk about you, please bring it up now. Other wise I have something to talk about.” A regular member raised his hand. “Can you say something about the forms of zen?” Roshi asked; “Do you have forms at work?” “Yes.” “At home? When driving?” “Yes.” “Well how do they work there?” “They get the job done.” “Exactly. Just look at all the places where we use some form or other, and how they function and how they serve.” As Head Trainee, I am using and learning a lot of new forms, so I was appreciative of the topic. Yushin, Jokai, and Jonen patiently teach me and gently re-teach me, these forms. I enter in the morning in certain way, I bow, offer incense, I bow again. And oh yes, there is the matter of the zagu. A zagu is something I have watched the priests use for years every time they do full bows, they carefully unfold and place this bowing cloth on the ground before them. It is also something you bring into the one-on-one interview with Tenshin Roshi or Jokai Sensei. I’m not a priest, but I am using one in my role as Head Trainee. So here is what the forms are teaching me. Every time I forget my zagu (which is almost always), I have the opportunity to ask myself, “where was I?’ Not in a mean way, but really asking; where was my mind when it was time to pick it up and bring it with me? It has become a pointer to waking up, to being more present.

Perhaps if I can remember to bring my zagu to dokusan or daisan, then at work, maybe I can remember to actually attach the document to the email I am sending (instead of having to resend it), I can be present for the right freeway off ramp, and know where my keys are. Maybe I can remember to really live this life. If I can really listen to the sequence of bells and know on which “ching” we bow and which ones we don’t, I can really listen to my partner, my friends, my patients and students. And when I am feeling low, I can hear the ravens calling, and the wind in the trees, and return home to this moment.

For the last week my work practice has been painting the walls with my painting buddy Ron. At first we struggled with how to get a ladder stabilized on the stair well. After several somewhat frustrating attempts and no solutions in sight, I notice, “This feels just like the koan I am working on”. I go into dokusan and tell Roshi, “I don’t know how to begin.” He says, “You’ll find a way.” So now we have to find our way with this stairwell koan, and with Roshi’s help we do.

While I am painting , I am thinking about a good conversation I had with Jokai Sensei, I’m saying a line from my new koan, I’m thinking about coffee, laundry, the dogs. Suddenly I see I’ve tracked paint down the stairs….not knowing I’d stepped in some. Now instead of painting I am cleaning the stairs. “Just paint while you paint Joshi , just do this one thing right now. Do the forms of painting, and save your self some cleanup”, I tell myself. I notice, this voice is a lot kinder than it was in the past, it sounds more like the way all my seniors here correct me. No problem, Joshi, just do this now.



  • Dennis:

    12 Oct 2015 16:42:48

    Just rediscovered this blog site and wanted to say thank you, Beth, for sharing your thoughts. I’ve long known you’re a wonderful teacher in your own right, but likely because you’re a wonderful student. See you in a few days.

  • Genku:

    18 Oct 2015 14:10:24

    I’m right here, far away, sitting with you and spilling paint, forgetting my keys, re-learning to be compassionate to the self that spilled the paint, sat zazen, and forgot the keys. I sit at 8:30 three days a week when I don’t teach at that hour, That’s 5:30am your time and I hope you can sense my noisy breathing and occasional sniffs from the allergy self’s unruly nose.
    Be careful up on that ladder, Joshi. We can’t have you doing Shuso Hossen with bruises or broken parts.

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