Toward the end of March I drove up to Las Cruces to sit streetZen--the practice of doing zazen outside in a public place--with Harvey Hilbert at Veteran’s Park. I had never sat StreetZen with him before. Stuff always got in the way. I am always doing this and that and the two hour roundtrip drive is always a good excuse not to go sit outdoors in the world. But I needed to talk to Harvey about my Shukke Tokudo Ceremony, the Home-Leaving Ceremony that was happening in the next few weeks. I was to become a teacher in the Clear Mind lineage of Zen. I also needed to give him my brown rakusu. I had made my own black rakusu when I took the 16 vows of Jukai and had received the Buddhist name Hen Shin, meaning rebirth or transformation. But the brown I had purchased from stillsitting.com, a Zen family-owned company. (I recommend stillsiting highly for a complete range of supplies for Zen practice.) Now, as my teacher, Harvey would once again write my Buddhist name on the white backing and the date of my ordination as a Zen priest. I learned also he had decided to give me a new Buddhist name, Kan Kin, aka Sutra Reader.
It was so good to see Harvey. I was the first time I had seen him since he separated from his wife Judy. Certainly it was a terribly difficult time for both of them. Still is for that matter. But he seemed relaxed and at peace. I hope so. I wish them both all the best. But I really wasn’t surprised. The practice of Zazen is a good, well-tested boat to navigate our particular journeys.
It was a beautiful spring morning in the desert. Harvey and his student Joe--an older man like Harvey and me--were waiting for me. As we prepared to sit, a road runner walked up and stared at us. He was maybe 12 feet from where we sat placed our zabutons and zafus. Then the bird walked off on his stiff legs, his head swinging back and forth. I was delighted. They laughed. That old bird comes every morning, Joe said. The bell rang. Three old farts sitting on a patch of concrete in the middle of the park. The air pure and cool, almost cold, a nice breeze blowing across my face. Time passed. Thoughts moved through me and drifted away. My attention always back to my breath. Bird twitter in the desert. The croaking of a crow, a mockingbird screaming somewhere off in the desert brush. Behind us men, maybe 40 feet away, practiced Tai Chi scuffling tennis shoes on the concrete. Turns out that they, like the road runner, are common witnesses to Harvey's practice of streetZen. In fact, they time their practice to the ringing of the bell. And the bell rang again, time for our kinhin boogie-woogie. The Tai Chi practitioners rested while we did our walking meditation. Then the next bell. We sat some more. Bird song, the breeze, the scuffling of feet. The minutes passed along with the breathing. The bell rang one last time and we were done. We sat there and talked. We watched a man who was playing with his remote control glider. He would hold the glider by its wingtip and swirl around like a dervish, throwing the glider into the sky. The glider, with the man at the remote, would catch hold of currents and lift higher and higher into the sky. Off in another part of the park a couple was walking with their daughter. The girl, maybe 12 years old, is disabled, a sufferer of cerebral palsy. She had very little control of her body, and her parents struggled beside her. The man pulled her along, sometimes roughly (not meanly) to get her up the steps, but that was okay with her. He was frustrated and sad, but he loved her. The way he touched her cheek and brushed back her head. The girl chanted some rhyme, some riddle, some song. Babbling really. I couldn’t make out any word. Buddha Nature. There it is. How do we bear witness to Buddha Nature, huh? How do we understand the presence of this little girl and her parents? Once when I was I was at the Bodhi Manda in Jemez Springs, old Joshu Sasaki Roshi was talking about enlightenment. Goofy little man. Smooth skin. Little bitty eyes that shone. He said, “There is no answer.” And he giggled and looked around the zendo. He added, “And there is no question.” So how do I understand that little girl and her parents? Daily life is full with these koans. And here I am, going about the practice of Zen in my home, with our sangha and out in the world.
StreetZen is about practicing out there in the world. You don't have to be sitting zazen, but zazen is the foundation of Zen practice. So why not drag your zabuton and zafu outside into a public place? Form is emptiness is form. Sometimes the weather is good, sometimes it's not.
I recommend sitting with Harvey during his streetZen. He practices Monday through Friday in Veteran’s Park in Las Cruces at 9am. To learn more about the StreetZen, click here. And we too can consider our own streetZen practice.