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Buddhadharma : Fall 2017
fall 2017 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly 91 Rules to Live By by Edward Espe Brown Once Katagiri Roshi told us, “Practic- ing Zen is not like training your dog: Sit. Heel. Fetch. We are not training ourselves to be obedient and just fol- low the rules. We are training ourselves to wake up.” When a teacher says this, you know he’s seen a lot of people trying to get it right. And failing. And being miserable. Katagiri Roshi would also say, “The meaning of life is to live” and “Let the flower of your life force bloom.” Not an easy task when so much by-the-book structure appears to demand compli- ance. Still the wisteria grows freely using the trellis for support. One day during the spring of 1984, the officers of the temple, serious and stern, came to inform me that one of the students, James, had been doing drugs and sharing them with others. Unfor- tunate news, I thought, as I sat in the crisp spring air with sunlight flooding in the windows of my cabin. “What shall we do?” they asked. I said, “Please, let me speak with James before we decide anything.” James was an energetic, occasionally moody young man with a disarming smile. He was by far the youngest stu- dent at Tassajara, perhaps eighteen (or was it twenty-two?), and he’d come to Zen practice off the streets of San Fran- cisco after being discovered by Issan Dorsey, one of Zen Center’s priests. Rumor was they had been lovers. Now James was following the schedule at Tassajara. Sitting down together in my cabin by the upper garden, I found James to be entirely forthcoming. It had been his birthday recently, and his mother had sent him a care package, only instead of the usual chocolate chip cookies, there were brownies laced with hash- ish, marijuana for smoking, and some LSD. What a mom! But what was she thinking, sending drugs to a Zen center? Why wasn’t she thinking? James said that the package had entirely way too many drugs for him to consume on his own, so naturally he had shared them with others—on their day off, of course. James also expressed his remorse and his deep wish to continue practic- ing at Tassajara. He loved being there, and he especially loved Suzuki Roshi. I told James that I would do my best; I wish I’d known how to make his wish come true. When I met with the officers, I told them I wanted James to stay, but they were insistent that he had broken the rules and had to leave. I argued that he would soon be back on the streets of San Francisco, and that he probably wouldn’t survive for long. The officers said that was up to him, that he had to leave. I finally agreed to go along with them. Heaven help me. James may have lived for a while at our City Center, but soon he was back on the streets, and after a year or so we heard he was dead. How painfully sad. Of course we don’t know what would have happened had he stayed at Tas- sajara, but an isolated canyon in the mountains does not have the tempta- tions of the streets of San Francisco, and today I remain heartbroken not to have kept him in that structured isola- tion, where we could have provided him with a big brother or mentor, where the spirit of Suzuki Roshi would have wel- comed him: James, please stay, do your best, let this practice take care of you. Though you break the rules, come back to the Way. Zen practice is not like training your dog: Sit. Heel. Fetch. Some of us dogs have taken years to mature. What finally helps is hidden in the heart, waiting to be uncovered. Sometimes by a teacher. Sometimes through sorrow. Fall 2013 ➤ Path continued from page 39