Wednesday, December 3, 2014

ROHATSU 2014 / Both Sides / No Sides

Rohatsu Schedule
December 4th thru 7th

This is the tentative schedule for our sesshin. We may modify it slightly before or during Sesshin. Sesshin will be held at our Zendo at 2709 Louisville. Suggested Dana for the Sesshin is $20. If you are coming for only part of the sesshin, please give Dana as you feel appropriate. PLEASE REGISTER BY EMAIL OR PHONE. For questions, call me at 915-241-3140. Notes: Zazen periods will be 30 minutes. Dokusan will be offered every day. Please read notes at the end.

Thursday Night, December 4th, Opening Evening Schedule
5:30pm to 6pm. Arrival and straightening up of Zendo.
6pm. First bell. Refuges and Heart Sutra. Two periods of zazen with kinhin.
7:20pm. Maka Hanya Hara Mita., tea service and dharma talk. Dharma talk will be followed by two periods of zazen with kinhin.
8:45pm to 9pm. Closing ceremony.

Friday Night, December 5th, Opening Evening Schedule
5:30pm to 6pm. Arrival and straightening up of Zendo.
6pm. First bell. Refuges and Heart Sutra. Two periods of zazen with kinhin.
7:20pm. Maka Hanya Hara Mita., tea service and dharma talk. Dharma talk will be followed by two periods of zazen with kinhin.
8:45pm to 9pm. Closing ceremony.

Saturday, December 6th, Full Day Schedule.
5:30am. Arrival, coffee, and straightening up of Zendo.
6am. First bell. Refuges and Heart Sutra. Three periods of zazen with kinhin.
7:50am. Break to clean up for breakfast.
8:00am. Informal “family-style” breakfast.
8:45am. Maka Hanya Hara Mita, tea service and dharma talk. Dharma talk will be followed by two periods of zazen with kinhin.
10:15am to 10:45am. Samu (work meditation), cleaning the zendo and sweeping.
10:45am to Noon. Two periods zazen with kinhin. 
Noon to 12:15. Personal cleanup and break.
12:15pm to 1:15pm. Modified formal oryoki (lunch).
1:15pm to 2:15pm. Samu. Bring workclothes!
2:15pm to 3:20pm. Two periods zazen with kinhin.
3:30pm to 4:00pm. Personal time.
4:00pm to 4:30pm. Yoga.
4:30 to 5:45pm. Two periods zazen with kinhin.
5:45 to 6pm. Cleanup for dinner.
6pm to 6:45 In-formal “family-style” dinner.
6:45pm to closing. Three periods of zazen with kinhin. Closing Ceremonies and cleanup.

Sunday, December 7th, Last Day Schedule
6:30am to 7:00am. Coffee, fruit and light breakfast for early arrivers.
7am to 8:45am. First bell. Three periods of zazen with kinhin.
8:45am to 9:30am. Samu. Preparation for ceremonies.
9:30am to 10am. Welcoming guests.
10:00am to Conclusion. Opening Ceremonies, Jukai Ceremony for Amelia Furrow, Tristan Bouilly, Jamie Sacone, and Esau Ruiz.
11:30ish. A potluck. All invited.

Our practice will be in silence.
My wife Lee has been kind enough to let us share our house this weeken, so we want to keep the place clean so she’ll invite us back! We’ll also do samu in the yard on Saturday. By the way, Lee’s not a fan of folks bowing to her. Hello, is just fine. Maybe a little chat.
Bring work clothes for Saturday samu.
Sunday, after the ceremonies, we will have a potluck! Bring something if you can! We’ll make do. 

Bobby Kankin Byrd

Thursday, November 20, 2014


Thank you for your concern.

The other day I received this message from my teacher, Harvey Daiho Hilbert Roshi:

Rev. Kobutsu Malone who has spent his life in service to others is now in dire need of funds.  His car broke down and he was hospitalized needing a stent in his heart.  This is a man who sat with prisoners about to be executed, who has led the way in exposing priest abuses, and who has steadfastly been a spokesman for engaged practice.

If you can assist him, please go to the Engaged Zen website and press the donation button in the lower right hand corner of the home page.


This note hit me hard. It's only been a little more than a month ago I met Kobutsu by telephone. When I was wondering where to find rakusu rings for five Jukai students, my fellow priest and student Polly Miaodao Perez told me about Kobutsu. "He makes them himself," she said, and she sent me to the link that shows just how he does it. So I called him. He's a good guy, open and very generous. I told him I needed five rings. He asked about my lineage, and I told him Daiho Hilbert Roshi is my teacher. "Yes, yes," he said. He told me his story about his teacher Eido Shimano who had shamefully abused his student's trust and respect. I won't go into that, other than to say how much I admired Kobutso for being able to separate his disgust for his teacher's actions towards him and his family and the practice of Zen. As Daiho stated above, here's a man who has followed the Bodhisattva Way, bringing about abundant good to all beings through intense engaged practice. I was honored to speak with him. And when I said goodbye, I asked how much I owed him. He said, "Send what you can." Four or five days later I received a box in the mail. It contained eight rings, each from a different kind of wood. Five, I believe, came from hardwood trees in the Amazon region of Brazil and Venezuela. The other three are from trees native to New England and the East Coast. All, if you stare at them, hold them, carress them, are exotic in their own unique way. And each is a hand-crafted ensō expressing the path of the Buddha, the path of form and emptiness. They are beautiful. And they are among the last that Kobutso will ever make. He's older now, he has eye problems, and the work if too difficult.

Please, provide what Dana you can to Kobutsu Malone. The Both Sides / No Sides Zen Community is collecting donations that we will send along next week, or you can go to the Engage Zen website and make a donation there. The donation box is in the lower right hand side of the home page.

And here is a photo of seven of the rakusu rings that Kobutsu sent to us. Please note that he also included a copy of his book Prison Chaplaincy Guidelines for Zen Buddhism. And what happened to the eighth ring? Polly happily grabbed it for herself when I was showing them to her. Ha! --Bobby Kankin

Monday, July 21, 2014

“What is this life I am living right now?”

A few days ago, I participated in a funeral service for a young man who had killed himself. It was a beautiful service. It was held outside in a wonderful backyard with family and friends all standing close together, touching each other, in sadness and reverence and contemplation. Because of that closeness and silence, it was easy to feel that we were all one being, breathing in and out. My job simply was to say a few words of introduction, then let people speak. The final voices were his sister, his mother and finally his father. The father, a friend and neighbor, then read several prayers from the Episcopal and Eastern Orthodox prayer books. Then mother, father and sister—on their hands and knees—emptied his ashes into a small round hole dug in the very spot where he died. They replaced the dirt and smoothed out the little grave of ashes. The father has vowed to care and make beautiful and sacred this place where his son died. And he had invited us all, with our presence there, to help in making the ground sacred.

Like so many others, I was deeply touched. As I told my friend, I cannot imagine the pain and sorrow he has gone through. Especially because it was he who found his son, lying there in the garden. We all get lost in our daily lives and we don’t remember the miracle of our lives, to be here on this earth in the midst of sorrow and beauty, breathing in and out. I don’t want to say much here about suicide, especially this young man’s death. I don’t think he committed a sin, especially the way that word is commonly used. Depression can feel like a very dark room with no way out. The doors and windows are locked. We have all been there one time or another. Some for longer than others, and some, like this young man, felt he was locked in for good.

This morning I remembered and re-read Brad Warner’s chapter “Suicide at a Zen Monastery” in his book, There is No God and He is Always with You. The chapter is very wise. Brad remembers that when the Buddha was asked questions about life and death, he responded, “The question does not fit the case.” The better question to ask, Brad says, is “What is this life I am living right now?” This is why we practice, to learn to ask the question, "What is this?"

During the service, I was once again reminded of the Evening Gatha we chant at the end of our sangha’s services and especially that core statement, “Life and death are of supreme importance.” Several weeks ago, instead of giving a dharma talk at Sunday services, I recited several texts, beginning with the Evening Gatha. I am pasting these below. Together, and separately, they all remind us to awaken to our precious and very brief lives. These texts point to ways we can ask that question, “What is this life I am living right now?”

From time to time, I hear sangha members catch their breath when reciting the Evening Gatha. For some it’s the first time they’ve heard it; for others, it’s like they have finally truly heard it. It strikes a deep chord in their hearts. I should know. It’s happened to me. More than once. The chanting during the service and especially the zazen opens us up so that we can hear. Also, I have been reading Pat Enkyo O’Hara’s new book, Most Intimate: A Zen Approach to Life’s Challenges. Her chapter on “Death and Dying” deeply touched me. Two of the texts below are from that chapter: first, her short poem that opens the chapter, and second, “The Meditation on Death” which is in the Practice section that concludes the chapter. The final text is a Zen prayer or gatha that can be read at a memorial service. I found this in a 2010 Village Zendo email. Someone had asked the VZ sangha for some text for a memorial service, and Robert Chodo Campbell, who is now co-director of the New York Zen Center for Contemplative Care, responded with this beautiful piece. It’s something he uses, he said, when he’s asked to speak at a funeral service.

By the way, Enkyo O’Hara gave the following instructions for using her “Meditation on Death”: “There are many ways you can use this meditation. You can read it to another person, record it and listen, or simply read it sentence by sentence. If, during this meditation, you should feel uncomfortable, take a moment to observe that, and simply open your eyes, take a breath, look around, and feel your hands and feet.”

I suggest you read the texts aloud, even if you are alone. When I recited these to the sangha, I rang the small bell between each. You might try that too. And finally, I suggest you adapt the Evening Gatha as part of your daily practice, saying it aloud before going off to bed.

Evening Gatha

Let me respectfully remind you
Life and death are of supreme importance.
Time swiftly passes by and opportunity is lost.
Each of us should strive to awaken.
Take heed.
This night your days are diminished by one.
Do not squander your life.

A Death Poem 
By Roshi Pat Enkyo O’Hara

Oh, time to go, so soon?
I knew the time would come, but now?
I thought there’d be more time.
Oh what needs to be done?
What have I left behind?
Will I be safe? Will I be happy?
Will I be?

A Meditation on Death
By Roshi Pat Enkyo O’Hara

Close your eyes and let your body relax.
Let the body soften, let the breath come by itself.
Nothing to change, nothing to control, just breathing.
Soften the body, moment to moment, allow it to be loose, as if floating.
Allow the edges of your body to soften, to melt.
Allow your whole body, arms and legs and hands, to melt, to be at ease,
To enter that space in your heart, in your breath, that is melting, like an ice cube in water, flowing back into the fluidity of space and light.
Letting go of sensation, of the sense of the body, we float free of its constraints,
Melting, softening, ice to water, dissolving into the flow of light and space,
Becoming quieter, more at ease.
As each holding arises, we let it melt, we let our name and reputation melt, our family melt, our form melt, our holding melt into our heart and breath.
Letting go allows us to melt, to float free, to dissolve into light, into space.
Letting go of the body, releasing the body, floating freely in the light.
Safely, each thought, each emotion, each perception safely floats away, and there is space flowing into space, light into light.
No boundaries, even the breath now, slowly falling away, melting into space.
Now, floating freely as water in water, light in light, space in space,
There is no inside, no outside,
Free, completely, and utterly free, free, space, endless space,
Slowly now observe the breath,
As you realize, although many people are dying now, are letting go, you are staying, it is not yet your time.
This is realization in vast, wondrous space.
Breathe slowly, feeling freshness, peace, and come back.

Gatha for a Memorial Service

Because of the ceaseless action of cause and effect,
reality appears in all its many forms.
To know this fully liberates all who suffer.
All beings appear just as we do from the one,
and pass away as we all do,
After a few flickering moments or years of life
Back to our original unborn nature.
Truly, our lives are waves
on the vast ocean of true nature
Which is not born and does not pass away.

I hope these texts help you to strengthen your daily practice.
My best to you all.
Bobby Kankin Byrd

Thursday, May 22, 2014

The Bird in the Tree Did What?

THE LAWRENCE TREE by Georgia O'Keefe, 1929

A bird somewhere high up
In that maple tree shit on
This poem I’m writing.

We don’t need to lay our theories on the world. “The world is its own magic.” That’s what Suzuki said. A bird, for instance, somewhere high up in that maple tree just shit on this poem I’m writing. True story. Me and the bird, we’re together purely by accident in this brick canyon between 107th and 106th streets, New York City. It’s a beautiful morning. A bird-shitting, poem-making morning. On the other side of the fence is a gigantic oak tree with big fleshy leaves that flutter in the breeze eight stories above my head. What are those stories, I wonder, not the human stories, but the stories of the oak tree? I remember Georgia O’Keefe’s tree. The one she painted while visiting D.H. Lawrence at his ranch in the Sierra Sangre de Cristo above Taos. 1929. Her tree was a ponderosa pine, and beyond it was the deep infinite ocean of the New Mexico night sky. I've sat under that tree myself, 1996. The same tree that, in the river of itself, is a different tree now. And like that ancient Ponderosa Pine, this oak tree next door, with its many helter-skelter branches and leaves, perfectly expresses itself. A perfect expression of the universe. Form is emptiness and emptiness is form. And then we take the next step outside the door where form becomes form again just as emptiness becomes emptiness. Nothing is added, unless you count these words I write, watching the oak tree perform its exquisitely slow dance. Summer and autumn, winter and spring.  Summer and autumn, winter and spring. The tree will be dancing long after I am dead. Why do we need to know? Why do we need anything else?