Functions of a Zen Temple by Beth Joshi Mulligan
March 15, 2016 by Jokai
There are many functions of a Zen temple; one of them is, it is a safe and strong place to hold us when we’re going through difficulties. It also provides some structure through ritual which for me is a source of comfort and a way of connecting. When someone is sick we can have their name placed on a list which is chanted on a regular basis. When you feel like you can’t do anything specific or you are far away, it feels good to chant their name and hear it chanted
When someone dies we can offer incense and have their name – written on a plaque, placed on the altar. The community knows that we have lost someone and that helps too.
And on days when we don’t know what to do, like today was for me, it is a refuge.
On Valentines Day, I returned from teaching on the east coast with a horrible cold. I glanced down at my phone in the LA airport and saw a text from my brother. It was very short. His wife had suffered a massive stroke.
After we spoke it turned out she had a ruptured brain aneurysm and was on life support. The day before, she had been out with my brother, and friends at a baseball game. She was young, energetic and enjoying her life.
While I waited to hear what would happen and was planning to join my brother out of state, we chanted Monica’s name in the morning service. And when I was not there, her name was chanted in the morning service. Tenshin Roshi, Jokai Sensei, and Yushin stayed in touch with me.
By the end of the week, my brother told me that Monica had died and I prepared to go be with him before, during and after her memorial. The day before I left, was a Sunday, and I asked to offer incense for her during the regular service. Bob kindly subbed Zen Meditation Instruction for me so I could be there at the service. Hugh, Roshi, Sensei and I offered incense. I watched the smoke go up toward the sky past her name and let the tears fall on my rakusu. It was important to me to do that.
I also got to go to dokusan, and learned something that would guide me in the coming painful days and weeks with my brother. It came up in the koan I was working on, I would need to be flexible.
Jokai Sensei gave a wonderful dharma talk , that gave me strength and offered pointers that I would also carry with me in my heart, and Yushin gave me a great hug and let me know she was with me.
Now I am just recently back home - for now until I can be helpful again. I came back to piles of work that had been placed aside, emails to answer, classes to be taught, and laundry to do. Last night, some space opened up and guess what moved in? Grief! Lots of it. This morning Hugh went off to lead a day long retreat and I was alone with my sadness. Sometimes we have to do that and sometimes we don’t. Because of Yokoji I am not alone and I had a choice.
I went up to the Center, and sat with the folks who have been participating in the first sesshin of the spring training period. I heard another great dharma talk, and even in the silence I felt truly loved. I received quiet hugs, kind glances and was nourished by Jikan’s awesome food. Honey and Coco made me smile, and Baiun made me feel deeply cared about. I was truly home for the first time since I came back. There are many functions of a Zen temple and these are some of them.
I am so glad I got to know Monica Won for as long as I did, she was a bright spark who always tried to serve everyone she met. She was an amazing partner for my brother. So while I am far away, I will add Kevin Mulligan’s name to the list and know that he too is part of this refuge and that he too will find his way home.