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Lions Roar : July 2006
SHAMBHALA SUN JULY 2006 69 rang and everyone popped out of bed. I ran the brush one time over my teeth. We were in the zendo fifteen minutes later. The zendo was a comfort, but not for long. The bell quickly rang again and people ran down the stairs. Where were they going? I turned around and everyone was gone. I bolted after them and saw the monks running out the gate. I put on my shoes and dashed after them. The streets of Obama were quiet. I heard only the swish of my rubber soles. Thank god I hadn’t worn flip-flops. I chugged along, but way behind. Suddenly they turned a cor- ner and I lost them. We were the Japanese Marx brothers. I headed east on one block, I saw them passing west on another; I dart- ed north at the lamppost, I caught sight of them sprinting south at the turn. I was pant- ing hard. I hadn’t run like this in ten years. The sea was to my right as I galloped up an incline. Just as they neared the gate I caught up. My lungs were burning. My breath was heaving. I was soaked, hair dripping, pants and shirt stuck to my body. I followed the monks into an empty room, where less than twenty-four hours ago the head monk had grunted at me. Another monk called out a command and everyone hit the ground flat-out; another shout and everyone was on their feet. Then we were slammed on the floor again, doing push-ups. I was already one command behind. They were down; I was up. They were up; I was down. Finally, the exercise stopped. I was a dishrag. People stood around. Sunlight was creep- ing across the gravestones. I sidled over to the Irishwoman and whispered so softly—the sound could have fit under a saltine cracker— “Can we take showers now?” She replied with a single line: “There are no showers here.” Uh huh, I nodded. I’d heard a rumor years ago back in the comfort of the Minneapolis zendo that baths in Japanese monas- teries were taken once a week at public bath houses. I sat on a stone step and waited for the next activity. Ex- haustion allowed surrender. The bell rang. We piled up to the zendo and sat for one period. Another bell rang and off everyone dashed down the stairs again. This time I walked. I didn’t care if the fires of hell leaped at me. I found the monks in seiza, kneeling with their legs tucked under them, on the hard, wooden floor in a single row. A bell rang in another room and the first person in line jumped up and disappeared. The row of people on their knees slid up to the next place. I knelt at the end, the last person, the longest wait. My knees felt as though they were about to snap, but I didn’t change posi- tions. I crawled behind everyone else each time the first person left. I knew what was happening. This was our chance to talk to the Roshi, face to face, in his small dokusan room. I had heard he was clear, that just to watch him walk across a room was inspir- ing, that he took joy in the smallest things. What was I doing here with this resounding pain? No one said I had to stay in this position, but everyone else was doing it and I was a stubborn person. Dedication no longer mattered, only animal will. What could I say to this man from another world? I had already had my true teacher. He’d died eight years ago. My turn came. I did the three prostrations and sat in front of Tangen Roshi. He tilted his head to peer at me. I was hope- less. I knew it. He said three English words: Not long enough. I thought, thank god. I was fifty years old. Too old. Too tired. Too dirty. The gesture was made for me to leave. The meeting was over. I had the urge to put my hand on his knee, to assure him I would be okay. After all, here was a man who was dedicated Cemetery at Bukkokuji Temple