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Zen in Los Altos

Winter/Spring 1972: Stanford, California

The academic year 1971/1972 I visited Stanford University as a postdoc. Of course I joined the music scene and got to know several nice people. Through the music friends George and Glenna Houle I heard about Zen activities. Real Zen with a Japanese monk as teacher. They had weekly meetings with him. Eagerly I asked whether I could join.

The next week I was welcomed in the group, present in the house of Mary Kate Spencer. The teacher, Kobun Chino, was as one would expect a Zen monk to be. Friendly, simple and to the point. His lectures were short and the $1\frac{1}{2}$ hour the meeting lasted was spent mainly with questions and answers.

An example. One week a woman would ask Kobun whether Buddhism had precepts. ``Yes. I will tell you next week.'' This made us all curious. Next week Kobun said: ``The Buddhist precepts are as follows: do what is good and do not do what is not good.'' In the discussion that followed it was also implicitely made clear that we also had to do something else: purify the mind.

The meetings were inspiring. There I heard that there was also a Zendo, a place where one could sit--as meditation was called in a non-pretentious way. Sitting would start at 5:30 a.m. and I was asked not to come too late.

I talked two girls of the orchestra into joining me and early one morning we drove together to Los Altos. The Zendo was located there at the private home of Les Kaye. We arrived at 5:15, and no one was there yet. Although it was still dark, the place was so inviting that we had no hesitation to enter the unknown private property.

We opened the door and ! there was the space. Dimly lit, with sitting mats all along the walls. On top of each mat a round pillow. On the wall a small statue and a Japanese scroll. Near this place some bells and a temple block15 next to a mat and pillow. This place had an exquisite sense of order and beauty. Later I learned its name was `Haiku Zendo'.

It was clear that we had to sit on one of the pillows on these mats. We each chose one and I felt back under Montessori conditions. The three of us sat down facing the middle of the room. Just before it turned 5:30 some people moved in. Mary Kate Spencer went to sit next to the bells. A man in a robe--later I learned it was Les Kaye--went to one of my female companions, made an elegant bow to her and whispered something in her ear. She got up. He repeated this to me, but now I could hear the message: ``Could you please face the wall16.'' The rectification was done so gently, that making a mistake was a pleasure.

We sat. After 40 minutes a simple bell stroke signalled to get up. We walked slowly for 10 minutes. Then again a period of 40 minutes sitting. After the second sit we did some bows. Then we all were given a text. Mary Kate started playing the bells and we chanted the Maha Prajna Paramitta Sutra. It was about emptiness.

The complete session was very impressive. After it was over we all left, without saying anything. Kind nods where sufficient for good bye. Later Mary Kate advised me to come on thursday mornings. Then there would be breakfast after sitting. So I did. Often I would drive together with Glenna and Mary Kate to the place. The getting up early, the nightly scent of Eucalyptus, the beauty of the Zendo, the tasteful and friendly breakfast. Nothing special, it was just pure pleasure.

One time only I did come too late at Haiku Zendo. Self-consciously I opened the door and sneeked to an empty pillow and mat. A woman on the pillow next to me made a bow, remaining in her sitting position. The gesture said: ``Welcome, nice to have you here.''

Often Kobun would join us for the thursday morning sits and breakfast. At one of the occasions I told him in private about experience A. He was positive about it, but did not enter details or tell me what to do with it. But I felt encouraged and continued to go to practise.

next up previous contents
Next: Sanzen in LA Up: THE QUEST Previous: Music
Henk Barendregt