Jay Simoneaux

Dear Zen brother Jay Simoneaux died at 7:30 PM Sunday, May 2nd. What a great guy he was. Condolences to his wife Judy Avery. Jay had such debilitating Parkinson's, he was ready to go and died peacefully.

Jane Hirshfield wrote: I attended the Zoom meeting of Every Day Zen tonight, May 5, that would ordinarily have been a sit and study session, led by Peter Van de Sterre, but was instead dedicated to Jay. So many familiar faces! Something like 70 people were there, and of those, at least 10 who go back to my years ('74-'82). Peter did a really lovely talk about Jay. There'll be a more formal memorial later, but this was so warm hearted and immediate.

Peter van der Sterre talk on Jay below

On Zen Teachings, a dharma talk by Jay on the Everyday Zen site

An RIP post on Jay in Facebook and responses


Everyday Zen preceptors, top row Chris Fortin on L and Jay Simoneaux on R with Norman Fischer, founding teacher, in between and three new Everyday Zen priests bottom row L to R: Mary Koopman, Mary Ann Sacksteder, and Barbara Byrum.

Thanks Barbara Wenger for these photos below

DC guess 1977

At Tassajara

Here's another long ago photo of Jay in the center with Issan Tommy Dorsey on the right and Jed Linde on the left I think.

At Tassajara

Jay in the middle? Great photo.

Peter van der Sterre talk on Jay Simoneaux

Everyday Zen talk Given May 5, 2021 which was in the fifth and last talk he gave on the Sandokai

In this time of change and loss, many who knew him have become deeply appreciative of Jay’s many gifts and ways of being in the world. 

However: I don’t remember ever seeing Jay think of himself as a hero.  

I mostly remember his challenges, and how he met them: He came to Zen Center with a big smile and a charming wife, and served in many honorable capacities, none of which were very easy for him. Working for City Center: in the early days in the dicey Page St. neighborhood,  getting shot making delivery, Managing the Tassajara Bakery during the Great Leap Forward:  Trying to figure out how to develop a business and a brand on the fly.

Directing the Lindisfarne Project, and attempting to manage unmanageable people, and work within the chain of command, including endless contradictions and outsized expectations.  These were some of the most challenging and respected assignments offered in these heady and chaotic days.

Practice was then defined as accepting the endless demands.  After all, we were creating and supporting a showcase of Buddhist Practice in the West:  to support the abbot's high energy vision, complete with Rock Stars and Heads of State.  After you took care of everything else, you were free to sit.

In the midst of this, Jay also located people who conveyed a true sense of practice, including long-time mentor & friend: Issan Dorsey.  He likes to tell a story about their time grocery shopping in Palm Springs.  After debating to himself among chips, beer, ice cream and slimjims, Issan said:  “Just get exactly what you want.”

He lost his first marriage transitioning to the Priesthood, and finding the ZC leadership unacceptable and community life unsustainable, left to support his family in the general exodus around 1984.

Many of the community who struggled with the demands and contradictions of practice in those days felt like they had been through a divorce, regardless of staying or going.

Now a father of two children and entangled in another marriage that didn't sustain, he eventually located Judy Avery, a woman of spirit, generosity and power, with whom he built a life.  

Later, after a decade and a half in the marketplace, raising a family and founding a business, he returned to Zen Practice, studying with all of us at EDZ & with Norman Fischer.  His contributions to this Sangha: his practice & spirit, were a continuous gift.

His passions helped sustain him, yet the pall of American political misadventures, both foreign and domestic, caused him immense grief. 

Throughout his life, he sought refuge in the mountains:  Finding connection and comfort, and including friends over many years. He was an explorer and a guide.  Off trail, yet reading the terrain: with sure and steady steps he led us to places we could never have located without him. Mountain lakes, and harsh passes, finding challenge, joy and great appreciation in the demanding eastern Sierra. 

Jay also developed an extraordinarily wide network of friends, through his connections in Practice and his time in the trades. 

Several lifelong friendships (as couples) gathered for celebrations, weekend retreats and vacations together. His combined families, which included 4 children and several grandchildren, were a large part of how he understood and experienced himself.

 His transition from guide and mentor, to his more recent condition of loss and limitation, was something which he could never deny nor, until recently, completely accept. 

 At each stage, he struggled: with the loss of control: they took his driver's license, the need for medications and surgery: just to maintain some temporary plateaus, the demands of physical therapy and many rounds of medication. Working on balance and continuity. Searching for words.   

More than a year ago, at one of our Sutra Study groups, he mentioned: “I’m watching myself lose my mind” and feeling (or imagining) that this would deny him the power to connect.  This dread seemed to place an unsupportable burden on him.  And yet he continued.

He did not retreat, he continued to meet with those closest to him, to consider how to manage the latest developments, to confess to the helplessness, and to find comfort in whatever was left. Perhaps just going out for coffee and a view in the Presidio. 

My feeling is that we all feared his loss and found comfort in his company.

Particularly in the past two years, ever more aware of loss, aware of regret, aware of the gap (which we all share) between the person we aspire to be and the one who struggles.

He felt he should be braver, although I don’t even know what that would look like. 

He revealed himself to be overwhelmed and barely standing at each stage,

but never tried to hide the gaps he felt in himself.

Just two weeks ago, when last we were able to have him with us in conversation or exchange: he was well. 

He could appreciate the cake, which he ate with his hands, he could appreciate what was said, and offer his own comments. 

He could begin his own thoughts but couldn’t finish them. After we passed the time for more than an hour, he stood up and said:  I need to lie down now.

The next time we saw Jay, he was at home, where he belonged, in the home which he created with Judy.   She, who has sustained him throughout & nursed him through every station of the cross:  opening the door & welcoming us with tears, warmth & gratitude.

Visiting upstairs, our last time with him felt light and complete. 

He was in bed, just breathing, we visitors sat and talked about a number of things:

Our common history, the latest Netflix discovery, and then chanted together. 

We sounded pretty good, and it seemed like enough at the time.

I would like to close with some thoughts on walking.  Something which we all do, but probably don’t attend to so closely.  In my experience, just a few people have taken it seriously.

Many have heard stories of Thich Nat Hahn, leading a massive peace march in NYC, and slowing the demonstration down to a very slow crawl.  Even in New York City, with thousands behind him, no one who was paying attention would pass him.

I saw our founder:  Shunryu Suzuki, only once, and still remember: A wedding at Sokoji:

He entered with silence, the movement, almost floating: 

My thought: I’ve never seen anyone walk that way. 

I went on to other things, but that walk stayed with me, and I returned to study with him 5 years later.  To this day, his words and spirit of continuous practice sustains me. 

And although I have yet to feel or intend practice that completely,

I continue to revere and study his way, and learn from his descendents.

Bill Kwong, one of his primary early disciples, continued this practice. 

His bare feet seem to grip the floor with each step.

Leslie James, doing Kinhin, conveys the same settled complete feeling.

Jay is a student of walking.  I have followed him up some difficult trails, and watched his steps: without hurry or struggle, one after the other, careful, deliberate. 

As they say in the scriptures:  Walk like an elephant. 

Noticing his steps, I thought to myself:  Oh:  that’s how it’s done

So I wonder, Light & Darkness oppose one another; or is it that they complement one another?  In our experience, the darkness in Jay’s life has illuminated our own way.

And perhaps the lightness in our lives still blinds us to our own necessary and inevitable loss.

Shunryu Suzuki, at one point, said something like:

Our life is like stepping onto a ship,

Sailing out to sea

And sinking.

The Long Boat by Stanley Kunitz

When his boat snapped loose

from its mooring, under

the shrieking of the gulls,

he tried at first to wave

to his dear ones on shore,

but in the rolling fog

they had already lost their faces.

Too tired even to choose

between jumping and calling,

somehow he felt absolved and free

of his burdens, those mottoes

stamped on his name-tag:

conscience, ambition, and all

that caring.

He was content to lie down

with the family ghosts

in the slope of his cradle,

buffeted by the storm,

endlessly drifting.

Peace! Peace!

To be rocked by the Infinite!

As if it didn't matter

which way was home;

as if he didn't know

he loved the earth so much

he wanted to stay forever.