August 2015 - The Eastbound Teachings Continue

August, 2015 (All day)

The Dai Bosatsu mandala continues to reveal its cosmic configurations in new and surprising ways. Most of us know of the deep Dharma relationship between Nyogen Senzaki and Soen Nakagawa Roshi, which had such a powerful effect on the development of Zen in America. But recently, I have come to see that at the center of that mandala is a most inconspicuous bodhisattva: Shubin Tanahashi.

She and her husband, Kiyoshi, ran a laundry in Los Angeles and met Nyogen Senzaki not long after he had moved from San Francisco to Los Angeles in 1931. As Eido Shimano Roshi has related, Nyogen Senzaki had left some articles of clothing at their laundry, but he could not afford to pick them up. One day, seeing him passing by, Shubin-san asked why he had not come for his clothes, and, with some embarrassment, he explained. She then proposed that in exchange for having his laundry done, he could look after her son, Jimmy, a Down syndrome child who was wheelchair bound and unable to speak. Senzaki and Jimmy became fast friends, and eventually the boy was able to repeat the first line of “Great Vows for All”: Shu jo mu hen sei gan do.

Shubin-san herself became Senzaki Sensei’s close disciple and a member of his Mentorgarten Sangha and “Tozen Zenkutsu” (The Meditation Hall of the Eastbound Teachings), and was a great help to him for the rest of his life.

It was Shubin Tanahashi who introduced Nyogen Senzaki to the haiku and other writings of Soen Nakagawa, which she had read in a Japanese magazine. The two monks began an increasingly fervent correspondence, finding in each other kindred spirits. After World War II ended, they were finally able to meet. More about their profound spiritual intimacy can be found in the books Namu Dai Bosa; Like a Dream, Like a Fantasy; Endless Vow; and Eloquent Silence.

This May, not long after Senzaki Sesshin at DBZ ended, I received an email from Lisa Tanahashi, the granddaughter of Shubin Tanahashi. Lisa wrote that she and her mother, Alice, the widow of Shubinsan’s firstborn son, Kiyoshi (brother of Jimmy Tanahashi), were going through items that had belonged to her grandmother and wondered if DBZ might be interested in having some of them. They included several calligraphies on shikishi by Gempo Yamamoto Roshi and Soen Roshi, as well as one by Hakuun Yasutani Roshi and one by Taiko Furukawa Roshi, and books from Senzaki Sensei’s Mentorgarten library.

I wrote back immediately, telling Lisa and Alice about the remarkable karmic relationship between Nyogen Senzaki and Soen Nakagawa Roshi, DBZ’s honorary founder and my Dharma grandfather; I said that we would be grateful and honored to put the calligraphies on display at DBZ. A beautiful wood and glass case had been in storage here; I knew with some minor renovation it would be perfect for these materials. On May 21, Dai Bosatsu Mandala Day, Lisa wrote, “We thank you for your wonderful and kind response and for providing such thoughtful information about these items and the connection with our family history. Both my Mom and I feel happiness and peace in our hearts that things that were dear to my grandmother are going to be shared with others through you.”

In her next email, she sent scans of photographs from her grandmother’s albums, including pictures of her uncle Jimmy with Soen Roshi and Nyogen Senzaki, and of herself as a young child sitting on the front steps of her grandparents’ duplex with Soen Roshi on one of his many visits to the United States.

After receiving my letter of enthusiastic appreciation regarding the calligraphies, Lisa replied, “We thank you for enriching our connection with our pasts and for the chance to see them [Senzaki Sensei, Shubin-san, and Jimmy] newly from the present. Our hearts have expanded and are filled with a new and fuller understanding and compassion for the difficulties and challenges that they faced and what courage, fortitude, and commitment it must have taken to live such full, balanced, and happy lives, clearly awake and alive.”

In a further communication, she wrote, “Our hearts are at peace and we feel as if something has come full circle by our being able to send/return these items to you. With you, under your care is where they belong, much as my Grandmother safeguarded them for so many years out of her respect and gratitude to Nyogen Senzaki. We are thankful and filled with gratitude that we can do this for my Grandmother so many years after she passed away in 1993.

“We also thank you for stating it so well, as what you said about the past, present and future uniting is what we have been experiencing as we have looked through what had been stored in my Mom’s basement. It is as if there is no gap in time or distance between us and all those who have gone before. We now know that these memories are alive in our lives today and for this we are in wonder and deeply grateful.”

In June, we received a large box containing books from the Mentorgarten library, hanko (chops) belonging to Senzaki Sensei, and juzu (prayer beads) used by Shubin-san. In my letter of gratitude, I wrote, “It was wonderful to see the hanko, especially the one that is for Tozen Zenkutsu, ‘The Meditation Hall of the Eastbound Teaching.’ Bodhidharma made the three-year boat trip east from India to China around 520, and then 1,385 years later, Nyogen Senzaki went from Japan to the West Coast of the United States, and now here is this chop, eastbound to DBZ! I can imagine your grandmother and Senzaki Sensei chuckling over this, too.”

On July 4, I received this from Lisa: “From our family to yours at DBZ, we extend our warmest wishes on the 39th anniversary of the DBZ. How moved and appreciative we are that our paths have crossed at this time and in this way. It is beyond anything we could have imagined or hoped for, and we thank you.

“And we belatedly thank you for your wonderful email about unpacking and exploring the treasures that have found their way home for your good care over almost incomprehensible time, distance, and circumstantial considerations and coincidences. We read your descriptions and explanations with great eagerness and interest and are grateful to you for sharing so much with us.

“For me, I can now imagine that our ancestors are pleased and have been patiently keeping faith that these items would one day again be shared with so many. What a miraculous series of wonderful coincidences. (My Mom and I shake our heads in disbelief thinking about how many things had to happen over the years and now for these items to still be in existence and to continue their journey Eastward! It is breathtaking, and we are humbled that we got to be a part of this journey in service to what so many have dedicated their lives to.) I wonder if Senzaki Sensei and Soen Roshi ever imagined that such a thing was possible?”

I sent Alice and Lisa Tanahashi copies of Eloquent Silence, Endless Vow, and Namu Dai Bosa, and emailed photographs of the display case with the calligraphies, two of the Mentorgarten books, and Shubin-san’s prayer beads. In response, Lisa wrote, “Just sitting at home this afternoon trying to absorb all of this has been breathtaking. Our experience of life, the people in our lives, the past, and the future has been altered, and we do not have the words to describe the impact all of this has had. We could not even have imagined such an outcome, and we have you to thank for this we think—heart and mind flowering in a huge way across time, distance, and all manner of circumstances . . . .

“That my grandmother, who passed away almost 22 years ago, could be remembered again after so many years and be known anew to people who never met her is something we could not even have imagined as possible and we are forever thankful to you.

“We thank you for the simple and eloquent description posted by the display—it is so beautifully written and we are utterly touched by your thoughtfulness and skill in describing the whole of it so clearly. From what we can see of the display, the items seem to have an ageless energy that can now be shared with so many for all time. The display case is uniquely beautiful and exactly right in our humble opinions. That it is placed near a window so that the area is illuminated with indirect sunlight is beautiful and the embodiment of shibui, yes?

“And lastly, but certainly very significantly, we thank you for sharing photos of you and your students and assistants. You all radiate light and love and we now feel connected to you and the beautiful monastery you take care of and share with the world. We experience each of you as a precious human being, creating and giving back to others and the universe. That you are, matters to us. And we hold each of you close in our hearts and send you all our thanks and good wishes.”

Some eighty years ago, Shubin Tanahashi showed Nyogen Senzaki some poems written by a monk on Dai Bosatsu Mountain in Japan. As a result, an eastbound letter was sent across the Pacific, a correspondence began, and a spiritual friendship flourished. Now once again, this time digitally, an eastbound letter was sent across the United States to Dai Bosatsu Mountain in New York State; a correspondence has begun, and a spiritual friendship continues.

Tozen Zenkutsu! Namu Dai Bosa!

The Eastbound Teachings Continue August.pdf84.74 KB