Since early September, we’ve been keeping the sangha informed through email of our dear brother Mn. Yukon’s health condition. In the interest of sharing this news more widely, we’re adding Mountain Notes to the means of communication. The following post does not add much substantive information to the email sent out to formal students and Practicing Members in early December. All we can add at this point is that Yukon continues to teach us how to live in the present and practice the paramita of patience. We simply don’t know the timing or exactly how things will unfold from here, though we’re assured by his oncology team that it won’t be long. Instead of more concrete answers, what we have now is Yukon’s graced presence at the Jizo House, a remarkable turn of events considering that the new building was completed less than three years ago with the intention of providing dignified and comfortable accommodations for convalescence, especially with monastic end-of-life care in mind. Of course, the other great lesson from this experience is the undeniable fact of our mortality. Impermanence makes all things possible. No one loved repeating that line more than Yukon himself, and as both a gardener and a keen observer of life’s processes, he knew it to be true.
Rudy, the Monastery’s beloved, orange tabby, left his body on Thursday, May 31st, following a brief illness. He had undergone a number of tests over the past several months to determine what might have caused an increasing drop in energy, focus and acuity. Following an MRI exam at the Brewster Veterinary Hospital, it was determined that a sizable brain tumor had been causing various neurological impairments that were increasingly diminishing Rudy’s quality of life. As surgery was deemed too risky, Rudy’s transition was aided by the caring staff at Brewster Veterinary, with Mn. Yukon and resident Robert Pile, a registered nurse, in attendance. He was 8. (48 in cat years.)
As a young kitten, Rudy was discovered by sangha members Seien and Sanjo Wilder on their nearby property in Mt. Tremper in 2015. The Monastery had recently lost its previous cat, Moss, to old age, and the timing seemed right to adopt another one. Hojin Sensei and Dharma holder Shoan gave Rudy his name on the 5 minute drive back from the Wilders to avoid a prolonged decision making process amongst monastics and residents. Rudy was an inspired choice and both the name and the cat were embraced immediately.
Cats have long played a useful role at monasteries in keeping mice and other creatures away from buildings and crops, and in providing comfort—if not an occasional distraction—to those in rigorous training. Rudy performed these functions handily and spent a majority of his days in the Monastery’s garden, especially when Yukon, his primary caregiver, was there at work. (You can catch Rudy towards the beginning of our Garden Tour video made in 2020.)
Rudy was a skilled hunter, though he was often discouraged from pursuing this pastime as all of his nutritional needs should have been taken care of by the abundant, high quality cat food that was provided for him twice a day, not to mention the treats that a number of residents indulged him with when they thought no one was looking. (Ahem.)
On Friday, June 1st, residents gathered just before supper to lay Rudy to rest in a vacant corner of the garden he’d so long enjoyed. We chanted the Emmei Juku Kannon Gyo with Yukon offering incense to prepare the grave. Yukon then laid the first shovel full of dirt, calling after his beloved friend one more time through tear-soaked eyes with words we’d often hear when they were together, “Good boy, Rudy! Good boy.”
All in attendance then placed their own shovel full of dirt over the grave until it was complete, as we all chanted the Jizo Shingon Dharani and the late spring afternoon light filled the space with its radiance. Each person then stepped forward to place a flower on the grave, making their own offering in gratitude for the cat that gave so much over the course of his fortunate, yet all too brief, journey on this earth.
At the conclusion to this impromptu service, we shared some joyful recollections of Rudy and lingered a while longer amidst the garden’s blooming rows.
If you would like to make a donation in his honor, we suggest making an offering to your local ASPCA.
In speaking of our relationship with the Earth as Zen practitioners, Shugen Roshi observed, “We trace our heritage back to the early days of Chan Buddhism in China, where work, dharma practice, and intimacy with nature intertwined to enliven the religious life.”
Our teachings are steeped in reverence for the natural world. Our practice includes caring for sentient and insentient beings, those seen and unseen, in our homes, at our formal places of training, and far beyond. This ancient practice is extremely relevant today, given our responsibility to address the unfolding climate emergency that modern humans—especially those in wealthier industrialized nations— have created.
The rhythm of the Monastery’s training year brought the fullness of ango to a close with the Precepts Ceremony of Jukai for five students, followed by the Shuso Hossen for Joel Sansho Benton, and then opened up the quiet space of winter practice. Rohatsu sesshin was full of participants again this year, and with January came the Tokudo ordination for Jogo Kien Martin, and February the Novice ordination for Simon Sekku Harrison with Hojin Sensei at Fire Lotus Temple. This transition time also witnessed a renewed sangha discussion, within gender-affinity spaces, on the gender identities and histories we carry, and the deep healing that can come when our experiences can be met within community.
Below are some images from the fall and winter training periods, from the transitions of fall into the quiet of winter.
When the situation seems to be permanent, overwhelming, and full of suffering, you have to practice taking refuge in the Buddha—the Buddha in ourselves.
—Thich Nhat Hanh
To take refuge has a quality of despair to it. It feels like someone is pursuing me or there is a danger somewhere that is so large, I cannot handle it alone. I need a place of safety and security. A place where I am no longer pursued but can find succor and maybe even ease. Minimally, “refuge” implies a respite from danger, possibly from suffering.
Solar energy isn’t anything new anymore, yet the recent additions to the Monastery’s solar array at the Han Shan meadow still bring a spark of excitement: we are doing it! We are continuing to lessen our attachments to non renewable energy sources. This vow is renewed every day whether it be through extensive composting, recycling, repurposing and reusing of just about everything, or growing food and flowers. We also know that whatever we do ripples outward and can have beneficial effects on others. The newest solar array is part of this.