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The Cambridge Buddhist Society (CBA) is Defunct

(an email received 8-8-13)

Elsie Mitchell main page   CBA page



Thanks to Vic for the following informative piece on the CBA received 8-08-13 - DC

I note that your bit about the Cambridge Buddhist Association, as well as the Pluralism Project and Wikipedia, has no mention of its defunktitude. Although you mention Elsie Mitchell's death, a few months before, the mansion was empty, then sold.

Apparently, Elsie was the CBA.

I had a lot of involvement with the CBA. I date the beginning of my Zen practice with my discovery of Kapleau's Three Pillars of Zen in 1966. That was the first book that actually taught how to practice, available in the Boston area, in my experience. As it suggested that I be shown how to sit with a literally hands-on demonstration, I looked for something in the area where I might find practitioners. That would be the CBA. I went to the address on Craigie St. and rang the doorbell. A young Japanese woman with a bandaged ear answered the door. When I told her I wanted to be shown how to sit, without hesitation she found a zafu and had me sit right on the floor. With her hands, she straightened my spine and moved my head to align it, so that I could know what proper posture felt like. Her name was Miss Toda.

Miss Toda was mentioned in Elsie's autobiography, Sun Buddhas Moon

Buddhas: a Zen Quest (<http://www.cuke.com/bibliography/sunmoon.html>). Another person she mentioned was Dom Aelred Graham, the English Benedictine monk with an interest in Zen. When I was about ten, I had a book by Dom Graham, titled The Love of God, a dense theological work of which I remember nothing but a footnote. In that, he mentions a quote from Meister Eckhardt: "The Eye with which I see God is the Eye with which God sees me." It can be said that reading this was a main cause for my eventual adoption of Zen practice.

Imagine my state when, soon after Miss Toda showed me how to sit, I attended a zazen service at the CBA to find that Dom Graham was also in attendance!  By now he had written Zen Catholicism and rekindled my interest in him. At the conclusion of the book, he stated that, ultimately, Zen and Catholicism were incompatible. When asked about that, he said he was no longer sure.

That was the last I went to the CBA for a long time, as my life went through many twists and turns. When I returned to Massachusetts, I ran into an old friend from the Soto Zen Temple of Chicago, who was seeing Maurine Stuart-roshi at the CBA. To my regret, I never went to see her the Kwan Um school had their headquarters the next town over and Cambridge was much harder to get to.

During the nineties, I spent time caring for my elderly parents, much closer to Boston. George Bowman, with whom I sat an eight-day retreat when he was with Kwan Um, was now resident teacher at the CBA along with his wife, Trudy Goodman. I liked the talks he gave. Unfortunately, George and Trudy were relocating shortly to New Mexico. But something I'm not clear on happened, probably some marital irregularity, and George stayed behind. Shortly after, he was asked to leave the CBA. He took a good number of the regular sangha with him, along with myself.

George relocated to Furnace Mountain in Kentucky. I still did occasional retreats with him when he came to Massachusetts, but I went weekly to the CBA, which now had a Soto monk named Ven. Dharman Stortz and a Nepalese Theravadan named Ven. Pannaloka, who had a predilection for the spicy Death Rain potato chips.

During Dharman's tenure there, I attended events with figures like Ven. Ghosananda, the Theravadan patriarch of Cambodia, and the renowned Rinzai teacher, Shodo Harada-roshi. Dharman also called me the day after my mother died, which was eight days after my father died, and offered to take me on a walk in Thoreau's old walking spots in Concord. A week or so after the two Orthodox Christian funerals for my parents, he performed a Buddhist funeral for them after the regular Sunday zazen service.

I had found another Zen group in Newton, which was easier to get to than Cambridge, but I still came occasionally to the CBA. Then, for some reason, Dharman was asked to vacate the house. The reasons the board of directors gave him made no sense. I heard speculation that Elsie wanted to "dezennify" the place, but that seemed like a stab in the dark.

Besides, soon after, there was a Rinzai priest holding services and residing there. I told myself I really should go take in some Rinzai services, but never did. Then, one day, I thought I'd go and check out the schedule to see what evening might be convenient, and I found no schedule or sign near the front door. Peering into the windows, I could see the place was empty. Soon after, there was a buzz about that on Dharman's email list, that the building was being sold by Elsie, who apparently held the deed. A month or two later, Dharman said that Elsie was dying, that he went to visit her and they sat together and even chanted. I was happy to hear that, if there had been any harsh feelings, they were resolved before she died.

That's what I know. I hope it's accurate and apologize if anything isn't. There is no more CBA, except in the memories of the people that passed through it.

   ---Sessan Weasel Tracks