This website and blog tool in combination together are aimed towards information, experience and technique exchange about shared spiritual journey.....
”Namaste - may the light in me, honor the light in you…”

Celebrating the 60th Anniversary of the Long Beach Buddhist Church

LBBC sign



The Reverend Kosai Osada came to the United States in 1950 as a Soto Zen Buddhist missionary. Settling in Long Beach he met with a number of people who had met across sectarian lines at the internment camps during the war. He shared his vision of a “pure” Buddhism beyond sect, and was met with enthusiasm.

In 1951 he conducted his first non-sectarian services at the Long Beach Japanese Community Center. By 1957 the congregation was ready to formally launch and with the groundbreaking for the new campus the Long Beach Buddhist Church was officially born. He served among them faithfully until 1970 when Sensei Osada retired and returned to Japan.

This past Sunday the congregation celebrated its sixtieth anniversary. While the church has faithfully continued Sensei Osada’s nondenominational approach, the church remains officially connected to the Sotoshu and is one of five officially recognized Sotoshu temples in the continental United States. And so the principal celebrant (Doshi) for this service was Bishop Gengo Akiba, head, or Shokan of North American Sotoshu.

Long Beach Buddhist Church dedication

In addition to the members of the congregation, two retired ministers from the church were present as well as many other guests. The current incumbent of the Church, Sensei Gyokei Y0koyama invited several Blue Cliff Zen Zen Sangha members to participate. Sensei Gesshin Greenwood sang the Goeka, opening the service. Gensan Thomson served as Shoten, ringing the densho. Gesshin and I were invited to sit with the mucketymucks on the Ryoban.

The service was pretty long by the clock, but actually ran by quickly. Moving words from the retired ministers and Sensei Yokoyama. After, people were invited to a banquet.

A lovely time among some lovely people doing some important work…















Sensei Gyokei Yokoyama, minister of the Long Beach Buddhist Church

Kosai Osada









Sensei Kosai Osada, Founding minister of the Long Beach Buddhist Church

LBBC altar













The altar at the Church.

LBBC dedication clergy









Clergy officiants and guests at the 60th anniversary celebration


Contemporary photographs by Chris Hoff…


Original author: James Ford
Continue reading
18 Hits

Three Zen Teachers Teaching Online





In case there is no Zen teacher in your area, or if there is but there isn’t a heart alignment, here are three teachers who have web presence that I can recommend.

First, Sensei Domyo Burk. She is my dharma niece within the Soto tradition, a successor of the renowned late Zen master Kyogen Carlson. She offers guidance through Zen Studies Podcasts, which can be accessed here.

Second, Sensei Konin Cardenas, who studied with the San Francisco Zen Center complex, as well as in Japan with Sekkei Harada, who ordained her. She is a dharma successor to Shosan Giegen Victoria Austin. Konin Sensei also teaches in Spanish. She teaches online through the Ekan Zen Study Center, which can be accessed here.

And, third is Roshi Dosho Port. He studied in both America and Japan and is a dharma successor to the renowned Dainin Katagiri Roshi. He then went on to complete the Daiun Sogaku Harada Soto reform koan curriculum with me. He is widely considered one of the senior teachers of our North American Zen. His online study program, Vine of Obstacles can be accessed here.

I hope this is helpful.

Original author: James Ford
Continue reading
25 Hits

In the Valley of the Shadow of Death: A Small Zen Meditation That Eventually Gets Around to What Zazen Really Is




Yesterday we went to the Bowers Museum to see the special exhibition of Frank Hurley‘s amazing photographs of the catastrophic 1914 Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition led by Sir Ernest Shackleton.

I came away with several images burned into my heart, as well as thoughts about a range of issues. One had nothing to do with the photographs.

It was a display of Shackleton’s Bible that most riveted my attention. The caption explained that it had been presented to Shckleton by the Queen. And that at the direst moment facing the likelihood of death and the thinnest chance of survival, he tore out three pages ahead of abandoning the book. The Bible itself was then salvaged by a crew member who carried it through the harrowing they endured. Both Shackleton’s choice of those three pages and the crew member’s choice to include the whole book in that same dire moment touched me.

But what caught me most were those three pages. One was the title page which had been inscribed by the Queen. Another was a page including Job 38:29-30. “Out of whose womb came the ice? and the hoary frost of heaven, who hath/gendered it?/The waters are hid as with a stone, and the face of the deep is frozen.” A naked admission of powerlessness in the face of terrible and overwhelming forces.

The third was the page containing the 23rd Psalm.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He taketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leaders me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul: he leaders me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil: for thou art
with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Thou prepares a table before me in the presence of mine enemies:
thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life:
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

What was especially interesting to me was that while the page with the inscription meant nothing in particular to me, and I was curious as to what part of Job was chapter 38, verses 29 and 30, as it and the psalm were only cited and not quote – nonetheless I immediately knew what the 23rd Psalm was, and even was able to recite a good part of it.

Me, someone with virtually no memory to speak of. Never had. I probably know by heart a grand total of five or ten pages of text from all that I’ve read over the years. I know a couple of verses of the “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” and I know “Row, Row, Row Your Boat.” Maybe there’s another song I can be prompted to sing. But as I type these words, can’t think of what it might be.

As a Zen practitioner, I need prompting, but do have the Heart Sutra by heart, as well as a handful of other texts, most notably the meal chants. And one version of the verse of the kesa.

Vast is the robe of liberation,
A formless field of benefaction.
I wear the Tathagata’s teachings,
Saving all the many beings.

As a Zen teacher I’m often asked “how do you meditate with a koan?” To which I have to respond, “I have no idea.” I have no idea because during the years when I was formally engaging the practice, the convention is that you have to memorize the case and present it to your spiritual director, who then digs into the critical points. And, for most of those years I was mainly busy trying to memorize the case barely well enough to present it to the teacher, and so beyond that the whole of the koan encounter took place in the interview room.

Today, after having walked through the practice, having memorized much of the collection, and it is voluminous, I can recite exactly one case:

A student of the way came to Zhaozhou and asked, Does a dog have Buddha nature?
Shaozhou replied, No.

Usually that “no” is rendered as “Mu.”

So, that I can recite it, if imperfectly, it’s always imperfectly, clearly the 23rd Psalm has a special place in my heart.

I am aware of two Zen-inspired translations of the 23rd Psalm.

One is from the old Zen hand and poet Stephen Mitchell:

The Lord is my shepherd:
I have everything that I need.
He makes me lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside the still waters;
He refreshes my soul.
He guides me on the paths of righteousness,
So that I may serve him with love. Though I walk through the darkest valley
Or stand in the shadow of death, I am not afraid,
For you are always with me. You spread a full tables before me, Even in times of great pain; You feast me with your abundance
And honor me like a king, Anointing my head with sweet oil, Filling my cup to the brim.
Surely goodness and mercy will follow me All the days of my life,
And I will live in God’s radiance Forever and ever.

The other is from the Zen teacher and poet Norman Fischer:

You are my shepherd, I am content
You lead me to rest in the sweet grasses
To lie down by the quiet waters
And I am refreshed.
You lead me down the right path
The path that unwinds in the pattern of your name.
And even if I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will not fear
For you are with me
Comforting me with your rod and your staff
Showing me each step.
You prepare a table for me
In the midst of my adversity And moisten my head with oil.
Surely my cup is overflowing
And goodness and kindness will follow me All the days of my life
And in the long days beyond
I will always live within your house.

While I find both helpful, Roshi Fischer’s version is my favorite. That subtle turn into addressing the ultimate rather than singing about it brings the visceral truth of the song right to the fore. As I contemplated these things I began to wonder if other people of Zen have a relationship with the psalm. And, so I googled it. Using the search terms “Zen” and “Psalm 23.” I found a lot, mostly unhelpful. But, some, very much so.

The wonderful lay Zen teacher Susan Moon writes about developing her own practices. “Prayer was something I missed in Zen practice as I knew it, so I imported it from Christianity and other Buddhist traditions. I prayed to Tara, Tibetan goddess of compassion, to fly down from the sky, all green and shining, into my heart. I prayed to Prajna Paramita, the mother of all Buddhas, who ‘brings light so that all fear and distress may be forsaken, and disperses the gloom and darkness of delusion.’ These words (from the ancient Prajnaparamitta sutra) reminded me of the 23rd Psalm: ‘Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me.’ I said this too.”

And that opened another point for me. I’ve been thinking about prayer a lot. As someone who does not believe in a deity in the sense of a being with a human-like consciousness whom I can petition to get out of one jam or another, I have to ask myself what prayer might mean. And I have been.

Then I stumbled upon a memoir that touched on that very question. “The Tender Bud: A Physician’s Journey Through Breast Cancer” by the pseudonymous Madeleine Meldin has a page that has those search terms “Zen” and “Paslm 23” both included.

First she cited a “Zen anecdote.” “Meaning is there where you are fully where you are.” While I don’t know the source, the teaching is true. And then with that resting in our hearts Dr Meldin tells us:

“In being born and in dying we are alone. From now on, I began to understand, I had to live my everyday life with its every delightful and annoying detail, while trying to advance, in darkness and in light, on the road to uncompromising meaning.

“I also became a pilgrim in the many corridors of the hospital ward. The doctors recommended that I walk and exercise my arm to help the recovery. It was the oncology war. Looking at all of us, some young people, half eaten by cancer, some courageous, terminally ill old gentlemen, and others, I recalled the 23rd psalm: ‘The Lord is my shepherd… Even though I walk in the vally of the dead I shall not fear.‘”

She then adds, “But I felt fear, the fear of death, of protracted illness, of losing mastery over my life.” I found that very important. No fear. And, of course, fear…

Continuing my google search I found a former Catholic priest and psychologist, Ron Roth commenting on the 23rd Psalm, “The Zen master Rinzai, who lived in China in the ninth century, would hold up a finger to his students and ask, ‘What, in this moment, is lacking?’ Perhaps his greatest interpreter, the 18th-century Japanese Zen master Hakuin, wrote, ‘At this moment, what more need we seek?'”

Here a lot of things began to come together.

So, if it isn’t petition, what is prayer? I think Dr Roth gives as good a pointer as we might want. If there is no place to go, if this place, whether it is dinner with friends or a walk down a cancer ward trailing gone’s meds on a pole, what about this place? What about our own heart? My heart? Your heart? What about fear and fearlessness?

Here is the secret place of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah. Here is the meeting of heaven and earth. Here in the broken place, in the valley of the shadow of death; this is where we meet the divine.

And for those of us who walk the Zen way, this is pretty much exactly what shikantaza is. Zazen is the song of our longing.  Zazen is the invitation into the secret places. It is the raw facing into our own death. And, coming to presence within our fully lived lives.

Right here. Right here.

A  mysterious and terrible joy.

Original author: James Ford
Continue reading
14 Hits

The Goddess of Reason Is Enthroned

goddess of reason





It was on this day, the 10th of November, in 1793, that the revolutionary French Convention proclaimed the investiture of a goddess of reason and a new state sponsored cult designed to replace Catholic Christianity. The deity’s image was installed on the high altar of the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris.

The goddess and the cult were the brainchild of Pierre Gaspard Chaumette, one of the leaders of the French Revolution and the first president of the Commune. He was also a chief architect of the Reign of Terror, and like many others sooner rather than later would find his own neck cut by madam Guillotine.

The Wikipedia article on Chaumette observed his philosophy put “a greater reliance on our instincts and a greater embracing of the apparent world, instead of Christianity’s concern with the afterlife. In his philosophy, he is rather critical of human beings stating that ‘everyone knows that humans are nothing more than what education makes of them; […and thus] if one wants them just, one must furnish them with notions of fairness, not ideas from seventh heaven […] because the sources of all of human’s grief are ignorance and superstition.'”.

Sadly short lived, the atheistic cult of the goddess was suppressed by order of Maximillien Robespierre as he secured power, who was himself a deist, and who wanted a cult of the supreme being instead of the atheistic cult of reason…

And perhaps, of course, what could have been a very interesting experiment in rational religion devolved quickly into mob reactions to the excesses of the Roman church, and mainly featured acts of desecration, quickly descending into bad theater, and more blood spilled on the ground.

As the great Kurt Vonnegut once observed, “So it goes…”

Original author: James Ford
Continue reading
25 Hits

In Memory of Leonard Cohen




A dear friend passed this on to me.

I now pass it on to you…

Original author: James Ford
Continue reading
21 Hits