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Buddhadharma : Fall 2015
fall 2015 buDDhaDharma: the practitioner’s quarterly 73 San Francisco’s Castro district, which was hit hard by the AIDS epidemic. (Dis- closure: I was Whalen’s personal assis- tant at Hartford Street for five months in 1993 and kept an online journal of that time; the title of Schneider’s book is taken from a remark that Whalen made to me: “I will be crowded by beauty till I die.”) Whalen eventually received dharma transmission from Baker Roshi and assumed the abbotship at Hartford Street. His talk at the Mountain Seat ceremony in which he was installed was brief and overwhelmingly to the point. “This seat is empty. There is no one sit- ting here,” he said. “Please take care of yourselves.” Schneider’s own lifetime of experience as a practitioner (he is a former student at the San Francisco Zen Center, an acharya in the Shambhala lineage, and currently the head of Shambhala Europe) gives him an intimate perspective on the evo- lution of Whalen’s practice, his fraught relationship with Baker Roshi, and the dynamics of the multiple sanghas in which it all unfolded. Schnei- der’s training also enables him to say very complex things simply, nowhere more strikingly than in the two-word sentence that concludes his description of Wha- len’s Mountain Seat ceremony: “When he said, ‘There is no one sitting here,’ it was not an admission of ignorance. He’d looked.” Was Whalen a poet with a meditation habit or a monk with a writing habit? As his eyesight dimmed in old age, the monk seemed to gain the upper hand, and his writing became both less frequent and more concise. “His quirks became his pointers,” wrote Snyder, “and his frail- ties his teaching method.” Schneider chronicles Whalen jitterbugging and scat-singing during an oryoki service in the zendo, and passing Lifesavers and lemon drops down the row of young monks sitting tangaryo, the gruel- ing week of virtually nonstop sitting required to enter Tassajara monastery. If this was not the type of behavior that one expects from a high-ranking member of a temple hierarchy, it had the unmistakable flavor of bodhisatt- vic activity. Though Whalen fit no one’s cookie-cutter idea of what a Buddhist cleric was supposed to be like, he pointed directly to the nature of mind all his life, both in word and in deed. Crowded by Beauty captures this elusive vocation by presenting him with his frailties intact. “Those who loved him, hung out with him, practiced and studied under his guidance, would not for the most part call him their ‘Zen master,’” Schneider concludes. “Every one of them would say, however, that Philip was teaching them something, that he was a master of something, and that they were getting it from him.” harryreDl Philip Whalen ca 1960