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Poems by Beverly -- Beverly's cuke page
Beverly Morris Armstrong (Horowitz)
When i was a Zen student i used to cry a lot. Actually, my whole life. When i was at P.S.57 in the Bronx the late monitors knew they could get me to cry if i was late, so they could taunt me and call me "cry baby," so i tried very hard never to be late. Suzuki roshi was the first person in my life who ever let me feel not only that it was ok to cry but that it was good. I cried often whenever i saw him. When people died or were hurt. When people hurt me or even just my feelings. I cried at ceremonies and once when he was uprooting a plant. Sometimes if he saw me walking in the hall, he would laugh and tell someone to get a box of tissues. He always had tissues handy when i met with him. I knew that Meg cried also, so i wasn’t alone.
Roshi asked me once to give crying lessons to other people, especially to Reb. I can’t remember if he was joking or if i did anything or not. I think Reb was standing there once when roshi said that, but i can’t remember for certain.
Roshi said to me, "If you can cry for yourself, you can cry for others."
When we were living on Page Street, Nancy Lay made a garden in a vacant lot next to Sokoji. Nancy and i were friends and i worked with her in her flower cart at the Japan Trade Center, so i helped with the garden too. I learned so much about organic gardening from Nancy. We sewed long soaker hoses out of muslin that she had learned to make growing up in rural Mississippi. We strung lines of string up a fence for beans. Jeff Broadbent, i think, dug a big pit for compost. Then we began collecting organic garbage from the various houses and also from Okusan and Roshi. Several times a week i'd go around and get a bag or pail of vegetable parings and other compostables from everyone. Our first harvest was of some spindly daikon radishes. Of course, we brought these to roshi and okusan in their kitchen. Roshi was sitting at the table and held up our crooked daikon and with a big smile said, "Made out of garbage!"
Potatoes - posted 3-27-12
Roshi loved potatoes. But when Loring was tenzo he made the kitchen strictly macrobiotic (it is interesting how the various tenzos each brought their own flavor; i remember [what was her name? she was a botanical illustrator and i can picture her face, her name at the tip of my mind (Frances Thompson-dc)] made cream soups, maybe as a reaction to all the nondairy that preceded her, but they were particularly beautiful, colored jewels of vegetables in a white ground, and delicious; Debbie put cilantro into everything; i didn't like cilantro then but now i do very much and grow it; thank you, Debbie).
Roshi complained to me that Loring wouldn't let him have any potatoes (in macrobiotics, a nightshade and therefore poisonous). Of course, in Japan potatoes were a rare delicacy, small and popular in potato/wakame soup. So sometimes i made him a potato dish and snuck it to him surreptitiously. When i became tenzo, roshi especially asked me to cook potatoes, which he felt deprived of. He also told me that potatoes were an especially good food for me, very grounding.
[DC note: Left Loring's name in. Thought he could handle this. He's a regular on cuke.]
When we first moved into the building on Page Street, people took the furniture that was in their rooms and other junk they might have had and piled it up downstairs in a couple of rooms next to the laundry space. Many of us bought tatamis (which were cheap then!) and set up our spaces for oriental floor living. Only roshi kept the bed and furniture in his room. He told us that we should be American and not Japanese. Issan Dorsey and i were around during the day and sort of fell into ringing a bell and having a work meeting in the morning. The pile of junk in the basement annoyed us. I often met with roshi and complained to him about it a bunch of times. Finally he said to me, in that pointed teaching way he had, “If it bothers you so much, why do you go there?”
When i became tenzo, i got to go to morning meetings (what were these called in Japanese? [chosan-dc]) with roshi. We all sat in a big circle, the various jobs that kept Zen Center running each day. Each morning we had tea, and usually someone brought a treat or sweet to go with the tea. At this time, many of us were macrobiotic. Loring had just been the tenzo and was strict. The treats were often sugarless (it was a big challenge to make good cookies out of whole grains and no sugar) and always homemade. One time as tea was being served Roshi got that mischievous look on his face. He reached into the long sleeves of his robes and brought out several packages of Beer Nuts that he distributed around the circle. Needless to say, we were all enlightened.
When i became tenzo at Page Street, roshi told me that in Japan the tenzo "just sits in the kitchen." There was even a space on the west wall i could turn into a sitting space, though i did the just sitting more in my mind than actually making that space. He asked or suggested if i'd like to try that and see what happens. I think that experiment got me into a lot of trouble. Sometimes i didn't order any food. We'd be having a big sesshin for many people, maybe 50 to 100 or more, and i'd "just sit" in the kitchen. What was amazing is that suddenly people would come from Berkeley with a big food offering that would be exactly what we needed. Or from an organic garden run by hippies not faraway in San Francisco. Once i even had a recipe in mind that needed just parsley to finish it, and sure enough someone came like magic with a lot of parsley to offer.
Sometimes it looked like we would starve, but we never did. Food always showed up, though we did make some strange dishes. I still like to cook based on what i have, what is available, what's coming up in the garden, rather than starting with some idea (i think of that as "conceptual food" rather than actual food). Instead of giving instructions or recipes to my kitchen crews, i often left a big basket of vegetables, ingredients, in front of the kitchen altar, whatever was asking to be eaten, like a still life; people had to find away to use those foods in a dish. This led to a lot of creativity. For some reason i was willing to take this risk, and roshi liked that. He often asked me to tell him what i saw, what happened, and took delight in whatever arose. Roshi and i discussed these things, so i don't know how much came out of me or out of him. We both loved the beauty of vegetables, of colors. He was someone to whom i could bring a cross section of a cut carrot, a moment in time, and he'd see and appreciate it very much.
Roshi was so appreciative of whatever you brought him. Often if i found a special stone he would examine it and enjoy how it looked how it felt in his hand, whether it was smooth or rough, if it had a vein, what its temperature was. We didn't exactly always talk about these things, just felt them together. I'm sure other people had similar experiences. Once i brought him a stone shaped like a heart at Tassajara. He had a line of stones along a wooden cross beam in his cabin, a window ledge, and after looking at it carefully and with delight he placed it there, with all the other special stones.
Sometime during the first year or two that i was at Zen Center i happened to visit New York, where i grew up, at the same time that Roshi was there giving a talk at the 92nd Street Y. It was bitter cold winter, and i asked my friend Kristina--we'd been best friends through high school and after--to meet me there so she could see him. Roshi was on a stage in a huge room that was packed. At the back, leaning with others against the wall, was Allen Ginsberg (who i'd first met when i was 16 and a poet). You could barely see or hear Roshi on that big stage in that vast room. People were asking all kinds of New-York-in-your-head questions. About reincarnation, of course, and abstract metaphysical questions about meditation and things like that. Then Allen raised his hand and roshi called on him. Allen asked, “Roshi, can you show us the actual posture we sit in, and tell us what we do with our attention and our breath?” Roshi immediately sat down in Buddha posture and gave us detailed concrete meditation instruction. The whole room entered its body and quietly watched one breath after another. I was very grateful to Allen for doing that (i was too shy to ever speak up in a room like that). This was a gift i could give my friend.
The first time i had dokusan with Suzuki roshi was on Bush St. at Sokoji during a sesshin. Someone came and took me from the zendo to wait outside a little room. It was a little scary. I was ushered into the small rough room (a sense of back stage?) where roshi was seated on a zafu and zabuton. When i came inside, i did what i'd been instructed: I bowed three times and then sat down on the cushion opposite roshi. Then we bowed to each other. I asked my question: “Roshi, what is practice?” I actually didn't mean it in any deep way, but had just heard him use the word a lot when he talked to us. In English, practice usually has an object, we practice something. But i couldn't figure out what we were supposed to be practicing. Roshi answered, “Mind should be everywhere.” I didn't say anything, because i wasn't sure what he meant. Then he said something that became a touchstone phrase for me; he said it when he meant something to be pointedly a teaching: “Do you understand?” Again i didn't say anything because i didn't understand. Then he asked, “What is your name?” “Beverly,” i said. “If someone says Beverly, you should say”--and he shouted very sudden and loud--“HAI!” I almost fell off my cushion, and we laughed together.
Shhhh! - from an earlier post on Brief Memories - re-posted 4-03-12,
This happened the second or third day of the first sesshin I sat, at Bush St. During kinhin, I had gone to the bathroom, and coming back up the stairs I ran into Suzuki roshi. We bowed and stopped and roshi asked me how I was doing. I became flustered, because roshi was talking to me and also because he had told us to be silent, so I didn’t know what to say. Finally I said, "We’re not supposed to talk." Roshi looked surprised and said, "Oh," and then, "Why?" as if he really didn’t know. I looked around and there was a sign that said, "Silence during Sesshin," or something like that, so I pointed to it. Roshi looked at it and said "oh" again. Then he turned to me, with his smiling coyote look, put his finger to his lips and loudly went "SSHHH!" and we both laughed a lot.
When i first started sitting at Zen Center, on Bush Street, i was trying to make some decisions that felt important to me. My husband didn't want to sit and didn't like roshi, so i was thinking about taking a break from him, moving from Larkspur into one of the houses across the street. I was so young and impatient and I wanted to talk to Rosh about it, so when i ran into him, i asked when i could see him. “Not now,” he said.
“Tomorrow?” I asked. “No, not tomorrow.” “Well, when?” Roshi looked at me and very
slowly said, “There's time.”
This has become a lifelong teaching for me. Lately i've been pairing roshi's words with T.S. Eliot's (from the Song of J. Alfred Prufrock):
“In a minute there is time, for decisions and revisions that a minute will reverse.”-----T.S. Eliot
“There's time . . .” -----Suzuki roshi
I put those after a couple of emails, and now notice that other people are copying me.
The first answer is straightforward. I had met Cindy Istas at a publishing company in NYC where we both worked (I was a copy editor for Putnam's and she was an editorial assistant at Coward-McCann, its subsidiary). My boyfriend, who i later married, was Michael Horowitz. Her boyfriend was John Palmer, Loring's younger brother. We all became very good friends. Loring often supplied us with drugs and was also our acid tripmaster--the first time i heard the heart sutra, Loring played a recording of the Eheiji monks chanting it for us. I remember being amazed at the spaces surrounding the deeply intoned syllables. Loring went to San Francisco and became macrobiotic and began sitting with a small Japanese Zen master he would tell us about. Eventually John and Cindy went to live with him. I visited one winter, went to sit with them at that ridiculous hour of the morning, and felt like i'd come "home." Michael was a harder sell and didn't really want to do any of it, but i insisted that we move there, which we did the following summer (1966? 67?). Also, when i'd asked Roshi if there was anywhere i could practice Zen in New York, he said no there wasn't. Many years later i realized that he was lying; of course there were teachers in New York, Mr. Crooked Cucumber.
The 2nd answer is the real reason: When i was 22 years old, my brother Alan died of a kidney disease after a long illness and a year in the hospital; he died 3 days before his21st birthday. This was 1964, before the AIDS epidemic; few of us had seen the effects of a wasting disease like this. Kubler-Ross wasn't yet known. My family was devastated; in fact, i got married to Michael because i stupidly thought it might help my mother stop crying and be happy again. My world turned upside down; i stopped writing even though i was about to be published. There didn't seem to be any sane way in any religion or belief system i knew for dealing with death, and especially this kind of death, of a young person. Though my parents went through with the Jewish rituals, they actually rejected god outright, and i could feel exactly why.
So in a sense, i already left the party then, because none of my friends, the people i loved, had any clue about death and dying; they just wanted to get high and not be brought down, as we said in the 60s. Though later Loring, too soon, did have his own experience, when his 5-year-old son in San Francisco was diagnosed with a terrible slow disease and died. During the time of my brother's illness, i was very active in the civil rights movement, mostly in New York. Lor worked for many years for Hospice.
After Alan died, i couldn't cry for a few years, perhaps because of the hyper-emotionality of my family. I wound up doing tangaryo at Tassajara off season, with one other person, and then alone, as he developed pneumonia and had to leave. Floodgates opened and i cried for 5 days nonstop.
Maybe this is why roshi was so kind to me. When he met my parents, who visited when we were on Bush Street, he was very tender with them.
Though at that time and through my life Buddhism seemed to have the only sanity i'd encountered in relation to death, i feel that ultimately i failed. About 10 years ago my parents became old and sick and then over the space of several years died. In a sense, they spent their lives imprisoned in their grief, leaving me and my brother Jeff to fend for ourselves, harder on Jeff because he was only 10 when Alan died. It became clear to me that i might have helped them more if i'd just stayed their Jewish daughter and not become this strange alien Buddhist (my father for years thought i was a Hari Krishna and joked a lot about it and how come roshi didn't wear orange robes). Roshi talked about our being "a white bird in the snow" and about "the stink of Buddhism"--things many of us are still learning.
For many years, my mother couldn't hear Alan's name without having a meltdown. But toward the end of her life we talked. I told her the story of the Buddha and the woman who brings her dead child to him and asks him to bring her child back to life. The Buddha asks her to bring him a mustard seed from a family in which no one has died. A year later she returns, after searching the world, with nothing. She finally lays her dead child, who she has carried this whole time, down at the Buddha's feet and becomes his first female disciple. My mother listened quietly and then said, "This is a true story."
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