Serving the Three Treasures: A Few Ordinary Doubts and Reminders
A few days ago, I stood at the kitchen counter of Sanshin’s resident apartment, carefully patting wild mushrooms dry with a paper towel. These firm, golden-orange chanterelles and delicately gilled white oyster mushrooms were unexpected gifts, foraged and dropped off a few days before, along with a box of fresh produce, by a couple of friends of mine, Erik and Rose, who are farmers here in Bloomington.
Through the opening over the sink that looks into our living and dining area, I could see Kiku crouched over about a dozen lit candles on the low table in front of the couch. She was using some rare time outside of sewing Buddha’s robe (she’s here primarily as an apprentice Dharma-sewing teacher with Yuko; see following article) to rescue a batch of struggling altar candles in need of a trim. Mokushō, having just arrived from Belgium a week earlier to carry out the Dharma transmission process with Hojo-san, only to receive a positive COVID test result on day two, was on his fourth or fifth day of isolation upstairs in his room (thankfully, with mild symptoms).
Following Rose’s recommendation to soak the treasured mushrooms in a cleansing bath of salt water for an hour before cooking, I was aware of passing time, and of the familiar low-level, vaguely motivating anxiety that often arises in me when cooking for others on a schedule (lunch at noon). Watching water spread into the paper towel as I guided it along the ear-like curves and crevices of each chanterelle, a not-uncommon thought during the past several months appeared again: “What exactly am I doing here?” And, following relatively swiftly, a glimpsed and spacious reminder, courtesy of “joyful mind” (kishin), offered a mostly trusted answer: “Well, I’m serving the Three Treasures...”
In the Tenzokyōkun, which I’ve been looking into for an hour most mornings during a study period after breakfast, Dōgen describes the experience and functioning of joyful mind in the temple kitchen:
Now I have the fortune to be born a human being and prepare food to be received by the three treasures. Is this not a great karmic affinity? We must be very happy about this (Dōgen’s Pure Standards, 48).
Reflecting on the endless cascade of causes and conditions that have resulted in my living a life of (more or less) concentrated practice here at Sanshinji over the past four and a half months – with four and a half more to go – there is a sense of ordinary awe. But could this wiping dry of gifted mushrooms intended for a vegetable pasta lunch served to three ordinary beings, really be the same as “preparing food to be received by the three treasures”? And why should I be so happy to do it?
Another question occurs to me now: what reason do I have to doubt such a statement about my own activity in this little kitchen, meant to directly support three real people in their ongoing practice, and in establishing Sanshin’s fledgling residential practice? When Kiku spreads the brown fabric of the okesa over the table and steadily sews, I don’t need to question whether or not this is Buddha’s robe unfolding. Biking over to the nearby Hobby Lobby to retrieve a bottle of whiteout and some fabric glue for Mokushō to correct a mistake on his transmission documents, I don’t need to doubt that he is part of the 84th generation aspiring to carry forward the Buddha’s teaching – N-95 mask and all.
What else are the three treasures supposed to be? Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha, present and accounted for at the table – each meal and twenty-four hours a day.
Kiku suggests more water in the pot – so the noodles don’t stick together. And maybe some more salt.
New director: Michael Komyo Melfi was appointed to Sanshin's board of directors at its annual meeting a few weeks ago. He's the primary organizer of Grove City Zen, a small sitting group in Ohio. After gaining an interest in Buddhism in high school, he began reading and studying more in college and discovered Sanshin Zen Community in his backyard in Bloomington. Michael took lay precepts with Hoko in 2019, and after leaving Bloomington and moving to the Columbus area he wanted to continue to practice Zen in the Sanshin style and give others the opportunity to do the same. He's now a pre-novice with Hoko, completing requirements to ordain as a novice. Michael studied History and Religious Studies at Indiana University, has a passion for studying Buddhist philosophy and history, and lives in Grove City with his wife and two dogs. His 2019 video series History of Zen in America includes interviews with Okumura Roshi, Hoko and Doju.
Sewing apprentice at Sanshin: Residential practitioner Kikuko Morimoto is engaged in a one-year study with sewing teacher Yuko Okumura, learning robe sewing technique and history as originally described in the Vinaya and in other texts such as Digen's Shobogenzo Kesakudoku. Kiku's apprenticeship, begun in April, builds on her existing sewing skills and ensures that knowledge of this traditional 2,500-year-old practice is passed to the next generation. Yuko is the only teacher in the US who has completed a year of formal sewing training at Antaiji within the lineage of Kodo Sawaki, who revived the tradition of hand-sewing okesa in modern Japan.
After this apprenticeship, Kiku hopes to be able to spread this knowledge to various temples around the United States, and thus help to ensure the preservation of this sewing lineage, which comes directly from Buddha. "Unfortunately, this sewing practice is dying out even in Japan. Though at a few temples the monks still sew their own okesa, most priests in Japan purchase their okesa. Preserving this knowledge will be critical to carrying on the tradition of personal sewing practice. Geographically, this knowledge will first be shared with Soto Zen temples across the US." Videos of Yuko and Kiku and their sewing practice are up on the Kesa Sewing Channel.
Kiku was born in Kobe, Japan. She is an artist and Japanese teacher who has been practicing meditation since she took a 10-day silent Vipassana meditation course in 1995. She received lay precepts from Soshin Teah Strozer in 2017 at the Brooklyn Zen Center, where she was the co-facilitator of its BIPOC sangha. She served as the shika (guest manager) and tenzo (head of kitchen) at Ancestral Heart Zen Monastery in New York from 2019 until last spring, when she moved to Sanshin for her apprenticeship.
Facebook fake: Please be aware that the "public figure" Facebook account created in the name of Shohaku Okumura is unauthorized and is not connected in any way either with him or with Sanshin. Nothing posted there comes from him, though it seems that material from Sanshin's Facebook page as well as those of members of the Sanshin Network has been reposted. Please do not like, share or follow.
Sesshin (September 1 - 4 and September 29 - October 2 ): Sesshin at Sanshin is an opportunity to practice without distraction. We practice in complete silence following a 4 am to 9 pm daily schedule that consists simply of fourteen 50-minute periods of zazen with one-hour periods for meals and a bit of personal time. This sesshin-without-toys style of practice was created by our founder's teacher, Kosho Uchiyama Roshi, and practiced at Antaji in Kyoto, Japan. LEARN MORE
Virtual Genzo-e with Chapel Hill Zen Center (September 9 - 14): Shobogenzo Kenbutsu ("Seeing Buddha")
This genzo-e is a collaborative effort with the Chapel Hill Zen Center. Sanshin will stream Okumura Roshi's lectures on Zoom and at Chapel Hill Zen Center these talks will be framed with in-person zazen, meals, and a work period. A few spaces remain at Chapel Hill for in-person participation; all others may register for virtual participation. More information is available here.
For complete information about Sanshin and our style of practice, visit our homepage.
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