Why Become Abbot of Zen Center?

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Okay. I would like, first of all, to express my deep gratitude for being able to be here today, to all of you and everyone that makes practicing here possible. So please. My mother is from a small town in Alabama called Thomasville. I heard someone say somebody

[01:25]

say my name. And it's very hot and muggy there in the summertime. Big pine trees, red earth. And her father was a farmer. He went to business school and moved to Thomasville, which is the county seat. And developed, had a dry goods store. Cannot hear me? Okay. Sorry. I'll speak louder. Okay. Is that better? You're welcome. So I'll reiterate that much more quickly. My mother is from a small town in Alabama called Thomasville in Clark County.

[02:27]

Lots of pine trees there. And her father is from a farm. Grew up on a farm there and moved to Thomasville, which was the county seat. And that's where my mother grew up. And my father is from a mill town called Lynette, Alabama. That's on the Chattahoochee River right across from Georgia. And they both met at the University of Alabama, where he was studying medicine and she was studying education, mathematics. And so, my mother and her father met. Then they got married in 1959. And my dad was in medical school. And he finished that and began his residency. And then they decided to move to Germany for a few years. My dad was, he was in the army. So they were stationed in Bomberg. And they had had, in

[03:35]

that time, my sister was born while they were living in Alabama, before they moved to Germany. And then they came back to the states, to Alabama, and quickly moved to Southern California. So, and then several years later I was born. And that's where I grew up. There, it's filled with orange groves. And, well, it used to be. Not so much anymore. Lots of earth. Open space. And I had a really, you know, I was very fortunate. I had a really wonderful childhood. My parents cared greatly about me. My sister was a good bit older than I am. She's 14 years

[04:36]

older than I am. And she babysat me. And, so, you know, things were good. And, you know, I suppose I had any of the complaints that anyone has growing up anywhere. But, you know, not, I don't know. Anyway. So, with them, my, from where they grew up, my parents brought a very strong sense of family. And they deeply loved each other. And I was very fortunate to have that as a model growing up. And I could, they never talked about it so much.

[05:40]

But you can tell just by the way that they interact. They show it in their commitment to each other. And, so, growing up in that environment, I was, this is what I learned. And, also, the model, you know, you go to college and you get married and you have kids and buy a house. And, so, this is the kind of environment in which I was raised. So, then I went to high school and developed a teenage ennui. And, you know, I was very, very, you know, I wrote poems about, you know, oh, oh. And then I proceeded on to college in Massachusetts. I went to a small liberal arts college there for a year. And mostly

[06:47]

drank a lot and partied and, you know, studied a little bit. And, you know, I was a very one of the best things I did there, though. I took a modern dance class and that was a lot of fun. I was one of three guys in the class. It was about 20 people all together. And as soon, I was really, though, too busy trying to follow the teacher to have time to focus on anything else. So, I met a friend there who was also really into writing. When he was having a difficult time, they had this bell there. And the rumor has it that if you ring the bell, you're not going to graduate. And he was always out there ringing the bell. So, we decided to move to Seattle. This was in 95. And, so, took some time off. You know, that summer I went back and worked in Redlands and saved up enough money to buy

[07:54]

a house and make it up to Seattle with my parents' help. And my friend had already got there and he had found a place, a little efficiency apartment that's probably about a quarter the size of this room, maybe a little less than that, a fifth. And so, we lived there, slept on a crate mattress on the floor and sleeping bags that we'd roll up during the day. And Seattle was a really good place. And there's, excuse me, one person I forgot to mention. Aside from my parents, when I was in elementary school, there was a gentleman by the name of Jay Salter who came to live at my parents' house. They have a, their house is a California ranch house. And there's a guest house adjacent to the house that used to be the garage that the original owners had converted into a living space. And, so,

[08:54]

he lived there and he taught poetry at the elementary school I went to. And he, I think, became somewhat of a role model for me as well, rather different than my parents. He is a professional musician and writer. So, and back to Seattle. So, there I was working at a fish and chips place and living there and had a great roommate. And then he, and then, okay. So, there is an open mic that happened there once a week. And there I used to go and read poetry and play the piano and have a good time in general. It was an interesting

[09:59]

place. It was run by a guy who was a heroin addict and another guy who was a very organized individual. And they, they came, they were able to create a space where you could have the landlord and the tenant and the bum that was sleeping in the landlord's step, like, all have a good time together. It was really quite a fascinating example of what can happen when people are able to let go of ideas about who they are. So, so at this particular open mic, there was a girl, a young woman that came down one night and saw her and hung out a little bit. And then a few months later I met her again at a coffee shop with a friend of hers. And we hung out a couple of nights. We'd meet there and talk. Anyway, one thing led to another. And we began to date. And, and then we started

[11:05]

to fall in love. And that was really good for about, you know, six months or a year. And so, keep in mind, you know, I had grown up with this, with this model. So, so we met, fell in love. And we're very committed to each other. And after about a year, year and a half, something like that, it was on my 21st birthday, we went to Vancouver because she was still 20. And you can drink in Vancouver when you're 19. So there I proposed that we get married. And she accepted. And we got some inexpensive rings. And we went to the beach. And, you know, it was, it was a serious commitment. But it didn't work. We broke off

[12:17]

the engagement after a while and ended up going our separate ways. I, too, is then sinner and she is still in Seattle as far as I know. That was a long, that was a long, that was you know, about eight years ago. And, but that is essentially, that was the catalyst that led me to want to find out about what is, what is love. And how, how do I deal with this? And so I thought as in sinner would be a good place to explore those questions. So after spending, after spending a month in Southern California in the mountains, I

[13:18]

decided to, I went and heard Roshi, Sasaki Joshu, Roshi speak at Mount Baldy, California. And from there went to New Mexico to live for eight months. And then took four years off and played in a band and went back to school. And then went back there for a couple of fall practice periods. And then here I am living in San Francisco at the Zen Center still asking the same questions. But I definitely feel much, I don't know, I think things are going well. And I thank all of you for your support and the support that we give each other every day.

[14:18]

Am I on? Good morning. My name is Don Weepert. I was struck that William talked about being grateful. I was sitting downstairs very much involved with just how good a job I was going to do. Not being grateful, but being very self-occupied. Gaitan is a very good place to sit in the morning when you're thinking that you're going to sort of put, try to pull it together. And you know, there's all kinds of people bopping down those stairs and walking down the hall. So it's always going like this and pulling yourself back together again. So it's

[15:34]

a very good place to practice, I think, for me. I can't, it was a long life, so I can't, I have to just try to hit what I think are important parts of it. I was born in Brooklyn in 1928 and to a family that was very stressed. It was a family that was depressed when depression wasn't acknowledged as something that was okay or that is at least a problem that had to be addressed. So it was a tense and tight house. Not much room for a little boy who was kind of bumptious, as I still am, probably. Always trying to find out what the rules were, but not being able to quite get it and doing things wrong and knocking things over and also having an eye-focused problem so I couldn't

[16:38]

really see where glasses of milk quite were on the table. So I had a reputation of being a very difficult kid who was always doing things. Okay, always doing things that would, you know, create difficulty. When I was about eight, I became aware that I had some very, that I started having feelings about boys in my class and wanting to touch them and so on. And it became kind of obsessive for me and it was also very upsetting because I knew that it was wrong and there was something very wrong with me, which I had already, as people often, as one of the notions about people who are gay is that they may grow up in a family where they feel that there's something wrong with them or they're not right. And then when the sexuality feelings manifest themselves towards the same sex, the idea becomes, ah, that's what it is. That's what's

[17:42]

wrong with me and that's bad. So, I guess I'm pretty bright and I didn't do very well in school, in high school, because I was very obsessed again with my crushes and were kind of blue. But I came, sort of came out of it when I was 18. I guess the first powerful experience I had was being in the Army, the experience of growing up during the Second World War and being aware of what was going on and the suffering that was around and knowing young people who died in it, people older than I am, but I knew them. I was 18, I was 17 when it was over. Anyway, I joined the Army and I had the opportunity to, after some manipulation, to get to Germany in 1947, which was an incredible place to be. Two years earlier, that had been a country,

[18:45]

or three years, which had so many bad things and so much evil had taken place. But I was there at an impressionable 19, very aware of all of the Germans who were completely occupied and crushed and still in a depressed state, in the middle of incredible devastation that had been wrought upon them, or however it happened. That was a very powerful experience. I came out. I went to school. I had kind of a depression myself at 23, all the time fighting my sexuality. And then at 23, the result of the depression was that I found a therapist who was going to cure me. And so we proceeded to do that. And I got, you know, not too much success. It didn't work out, by the way. But I majored in religion in college. Even though

[19:51]

it was a secular institution in NYU, it had a program in religion, religious education, and felt always attracted to spirit. But it was always ineffable, something I couldn't touch or feel. And the closest place I found that I could be comfortable with being with Quakers. But again, that didn't quite take. I went on. I got married. I found a woman I loved. I had some responses to her. I had a family. I finished a Ph.D. I was in higher education and doing student personnel work. It went on and on and on and on my life, so to speak. I had some very interesting jobs and had a very satisfying career in a college, but always very unhappy and very sad inside. And always aware of my sexuality, which I

[20:55]

acknowledged maybe in my late 40s in saying, you are gay, but then saying, I won't do anything about that. You know, so to live with it. I did want to start off by saying something else. I saw a Vedic astrologer 10, 12 years ago, a very wise man. I had never met him but I happened to be living in a yoga community at the time. This was after I came out. And he had an amazing awareness of my life and the events in it and when they had taken place. And it was an astounding experience. And I, you know, asked him, how did he know this? Well, he says, it's your life, it's causes. He didn't say causes and conditions. He says, that's the way it is. And all these things that happened to which I had great drama about, you know, in my life, just I realized then and even more and much more so now that I sit that everything that I've had some good, many good things in my life,

[21:59]

but also this always suffering going on at the same time. But everything that happened to me that was sort of good in my career presented itself to me and was given to me. I didn't look for it. I never looked for a job. These things all happened. And I had some very interesting positions in the Great Society Program in New York State. I was State Director of a university program and it was very exciting and dynamic. And then I happened to be a Dean, a Dean of students at one of the top 50 colleges when the student rebellions of 1969 and 70 took place. So that was a very interesting aspect for me. But I was, what I really, but the, so there I lived a life in which I was productive, slightly depressed, and very good at self-control, very good at controlling, because what was I doing? I was controlling and denying, you

[23:01]

know, something most basic to myself. So the event that I think that, you know, I led me into Dharma was my oldest son developing cancer, my taking care of him, being with him, and him dying. And my oldest son dying, experiencing his illness, his death from cancer at the age of 24, and really getting, knowing what it was to be or not to be in control. There's nothing quite like, I suspect, well, it's a unique experience. I hope it doesn't happen. I'm sure it may have happened to some people here. There's just nothing you can do about it. And it's, although that doesn't mean you don't try, and you don't do this, and you don't do that. And that was very devastating. And it led me to Stephen Levine's work. And Stephen Levine books, I now know, I didn't know then, are just expressions

[24:03]

of Buddhist thought. And he was, you know, well-trained as a Buddhist. He has never said this is Buddhism. It just, but it was. And I started meditating because I took a workshop with him and tried to meditate. I discovered that it was too powerful an experience for me. I had to get some advice from a, well, from a yoga, a yogi master. And, because a friend said, you should talk to him because you're suffering from your meditation. And he told me to take it easy and to ease into it more than I was doing. So I did. And then time came when I retired. And I had really, was very active at my job. And we moved up to the country and had a lovely home. And it just became impossible for me to deny myself my sexuality any longer. Because I was 65 and I came out. And it was a very deep experience

[25:11]

coming out. So I, I mean, they're profound, you know, the whole consciousness, your whole way of being changes. So I found myself, you know, trying to find out what it was and having maybe sex with men for the first time. And jokingly saying, finding out, well, that's what it was supposed to feel like, you know. So I, I found myself, I went to a yoga center in Lenox, Massachusetts, stayed there 19 months. They had a lot of turmoil. They had asked their guru to leave because of his sexual difficulties. And, but I did come deeply to appreciate the spiritual benefits of yoga and became a yoga teacher. You know, I was pretty stiff in many ways. But, and, but before that, how am I doing? Thank you. I was living

[26:20]

upstate and there was a little advertisement in an alternative newspaper, would you like, you know, meditation classes available on Sunday morning, 10 o'clock, come find out, or something like that. I went and I met a wonderful man named Stefano Baragato, who was a Zen teacher in the, from the tradition of Misumi Roshi. And he had just started out, he had just been teaching, he just, I went to his second time he ran it. And slowly, slowly he introduced us to the form. At first we just sat, you know, and he had to figure out how to teach us the form. And, but we got it. And it ended up, and the other powerful thing he did was not only did I sit with him, but he also had a sangha in a prison and I went to sit in the sangha in the prison with him. He invited some of us who wanted to do it, so I did it quite regularly, probably at least twice a month, often three times. And that was a very

[27:26]

powerful experience. One of the most powerful Dharma experiences I've probably ever had. There's nothing more dramatic than sitting with a group of men and having the experience of listening to a little lecture, having a sharing, having a little, they would often find some kind of cookies for us to eat and maybe just, you know, bug juice is how I used to call it, you know, Kool-Aid. But that was their way of wanting to share fellowship with those who came to join them. And then to have to leave, you know, separation was never more real to me as a concept when you leave. So, in the course of events, I went to an elder hostel at Green Gulch. I stayed with him, I visited and sat with him while I was living at the yoga center, so I kept up the continuity. And then I went to Green Gulch and then I decided to come out here and join this community. And I, you know, it was a

[28:34]

I don't even begin to know how to talk about how grateful I feel about the existence, the miraculous fact that this place is even here and one can live around the corner and one can live here and the incredible miraculous issue that it exists and there are teachers and so many teachers and so much support. And it took me, I think, 15, 16 years. When we had the jukai, you know, you sit by who's been sitting the longest, you know, they ask you that. It was 16 years for me to finally get around to taking the vows and taking it seriously and acknowledging what it meant to wear Buddha's robe. I've done a lot of,

[29:43]

since I've retired, I have taught yoga, I have worked with prisoners in terms of trying to facilitate their practice. It's important for me to do that. I have to, always have to be engaged. It has to have an expression. Akin Roshi in The Mind of Clover says, if you don't, if you just stay in the dark, if you just sit in the practice and you don't do anything in the world with it. This is how I heard it. I mean, I don't know if that's what he said, but I feel it's very important for me to make it active. And so I'm now current. I'm getting older. My body is really not, well, it's just showing the signs of age. So, you know, with legs, with a little arthritis, with a little, you know, funny little things

[30:46]

happening in the heart, which are not terribly serious, they say, but they're disturbing when they first happen, and things like that, and cataracts, and all kinds of things. But basically, you know, having a pretty good life. Although I am sitting in the fire now of having difficulties with my son between us. I find the Dharma, I find, I'm mystical in my sense of it. I just, I have the feeling I've known this, you know. Yes, I understand it. When I hear lectures, yes, I understand. That makes sense, you know, I understand that. I knew that, so to speak. It's more like I feel sometimes like it's uncovering stuff I've known, and yet I know I didn't know it. And in many cases, it's led to deep discoveries

[31:48]

and deep understandings, and difficult sittings, and so on. I guess I covered a lot of stuff. I still have a friendly relationship, a loving relationship with my ex-wife, who is now working with what cancer means in her life. And those are the events, you know. Sometimes I find being old quite interesting, and an opportunity, and a wonderful chance to, I mean, it's kind of nice, you know, I don't have to get up and sit here in the morning. I can sit in the afternoon. I can sit and read the paper in the morning, which I like to do. It's an opportunity also, but sometimes, but it's not all wonderful, you know. It's painful, too.

[32:53]

It's much stuff that, I don't really want to talk a lot about what's going on with my son, but my teacher, Vicki, and I agree that I am really sitting in the fire now, in a way that I never have before in my life. I don't know what else to say to you. I appreciate looking around, seeing many faces that I've seen for a while. One of the very first ones I knew, Susan, way back when I did my very first thing at Green Gulch, 11 years ago. I came out, I did the practice period there, I did a practice period here, living here, living there. And seeing, it's going to be interesting because every time there's a practice period, there are people here I don't know. You know, I see faces that I don't know very well. So it's a chance to see what life is going to be like. I don't know if anybody

[33:59]

wants to, is it time, do you want questions? It's time. Good. I made it. Thank you very much. Maybe wisdom, we could say, is primarily clarity, but wisdom isn't enough without saying compassion or love. Because if you are not willing to actually recognize the connection that you have with your friend or your enemy or your family, or the cup of water on the table or the traffic going by, if you're not willing to see that, then you're blocking your own compassionate mind. So that, there's so much truth in all the teachings of the

[35:03]

Zen teachers in our tradition, but we actually have to find it out ourselves. Yeah? You know, I feel that when I'm coming into Zen Center now, although I've been on the Elder's Council all this time, I haven't been in, living in Zen Center, and I have some notions, but mostly what I need to do is listen and hear. I'd be interested to hear what people in this room think. What does Zen Center do well? How does Zen Center serve you? How does Zen Center work for you? And what's the sense of, is there some way in

[36:05]

which Zen Center is not working for you? I think Zen Center has a complicated mission actually. One aspect of the mission is to actually provide and support each individual's Dharma path. My sense is each individual in this room has a path. And so Zen Center should support you. The practice should support you. It should recognize where you are in your path and with some clarity and see, okay, so where do you go from where you are right now in your practice? Zen Center also has a public face in which we offer Dharma to anyone, right? Should be an open door. And so how to make that, you know, I hear people say sometimes,

[37:05]

well Zen Center's kind of cold, or Zen Center's kind of stodgy, or Zen Center's not where it's at anymore. It used to be, you know, it used to be cutting edge, but it's not where it's at anymore. So I think there are ways in which maybe that's something to take a look at. How can you be silent and still and also be friendly? I think sometimes we get caught, you know, we don't quite know how to make that transition. But as you mature in your practice, you find that you can make the transitions very quickly from being still to being active, to being silent, to speaking. So we have a complicated, complex and wonderful mission, I think. And I'm just beginning to re-enter and explore it and ask questions. So in this big group, you know, you may not feel that you can tell me all about it, but

[38:10]

hopefully I can meet with everyone here one-on-one or in small groups and over time get a sense of what you actually feel Zen Center does well and what Zen Center can work on. This one thing is last Friday, I met with the, Paul and I both, as abbots, were invited to join a meeting of the officers and directors. And it was a team building meeting. And people who are in the group, officers and directors, said, hey, this is really something good. It's good if we can function together as a team. And we don't do enough of this at Zen Center. So maybe that's true. I think it is good, different, whether you're on a particular work crew, whatever role and responsibility you have, that you actually feel that you can identify and work with the people that you're working with and see if you can, you

[39:16]

know, love each other and be clear. Appreciate each other's limitations and each other's value. That's partly what you need to do to have a sense of team. So that's just one, you know, partial response. I know the first question had to do with precepts. It's interesting question, because I remember probably the first five or, probably until I was ordained as a priest, there was really, we really didn't talk about precepts that much in my training. They were there, but we didn't really frame our practice so much in terms of precepts. And still, our whole lineage, transmission of the Dharma is based on precepts. And I

[40:31]

think that you can't really practice as in unless you incorporate the Bodhisattva vow. And you take the Bodhisattva vow, and that actually supports your practice. It opens up your practice. But I also recognize that people, the Bodhisattva vow is very hard actually. It's very difficult to be a Bodhisattva. And so I think it's great if people can begin wherever they begin, you know, whatever glimpse you have, just to do the right thing. Even to have a question, you know, what's the right thing to do? Even to take care of myself. How do I take care of myself? That's really a fundamental question about precepts.

[41:33]

And so precepts are, you know, how we live as Bodhisattvas. And I think it's good to study them. I actually just, in the Dharmai Sangha, we just had a yukai ceremony for one person and we had, for the several months before that, we've been studying the precepts. And reworking them somewhat, and how they're expressed. So, the precepts are, what can I say, absolutely important. So it's 8.33, 8.34, so maybe about time to wrap up. Is there anything that is, that I really missed, that needs to be addressed? Yeah? Yeah, well I don't quite have an answer for that question. It intrigues me. And I've been

[42:50]

on the Elder's Council since we had an Elder's Council. So I've been in many discussions each time it comes up about the role of Abbott. And over the years, people have asked me if I might be available, and I've always said no, I wasn't available. And this year, I said no, I'm not available. And then at a certain point, I thought, hey, actually, I could be available, because I'm finishing up these things I'm doing right now. And if I don't, and I had ideas about what I'm going to get involved in next, but that could all wait. So I let people know, well, there's a way in which I could be available. And my feeling for Zen Center is that I owe a debt to Zen Center. I owe a debt to Buddhist Monastery

[43:51]

Buddhist practice. I owe a debt to Suzuki Roshi, who I never met. I owe a debt to all of my Sangha members, colleagues, Dharma brothers and sisters. I feel tremendous gratitude, and I can't ever repay it. And so if I'm seriously asked to do something like this, I have to, if I possibly can, I have to say yes. Yeah, that's it. Gratitude. I'm just like, you know, your introduction said that it was a new thing, that we went outside the residence of Zen Center. In fact, we went outside the residence of Zen Center when we were invited. Thank you for mentioning that.

[44:57]

Yeah. So what we might do is, you know, maybe most people here need to leave right now. There may be a few of you who'd want to stick around and ask a few more questions. How would it be to do it like that? We can bow out officially, and then anyone else who wants to come up for a few more minutes. I'm open to that. That'd be nice. Okay. But we do want to end by nine, okay, so people can get to bed until they come to Zazen tomorrow morning. So let me just... I remember that. Okay. And we'll stop for a moment and kind of reassemble. But Steve is going to be giving a talk on a Saturday in the fall in the Buddha Hall, a more formal talk than this. But actually I kind of like this informal kind of discussion format. And the Mountain Seat Ceremony where

[46:01]

Steve will be installed on the Mountain Seat is in February. February 25th, the last Sunday in February. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you all.

[46:15]

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