by Sabine Russ
The mountain offered itself in full autumn splendor on Daido Roshi’s tenth memorial day: flaming colors, sharp lines, the most pristine of skies. Such effortless radiance of nature and the light, creating extra rich contrasts—ironically (given the person we were commemorating) a photographer’s field day.
The sangha gathered at the Monastery’s front door, the one guarded by the stone dragon and sometimes by Rudy the cat, a flaming creature in his own right.
With our bodies we formed a well-intentioned serpent, with the robed monastics at the head. As we quietly wound our way up to the cemetery, there was a sense of Roshi awaiting us. Was he perhaps ringing us in, all at once, for a face-to-face teaching? After all, we wouldn’t be practicing in this order if he hadn’t founded, nourished, and entrusted it to us. He is everywhere around this mountain all the way to New Zealand via Brooklyn, Buffalo and beyond.
The cemetery gate was flanked by potted mums and in front of the stupa, three tables had been set. We congregated around this shrine, which holds, as Shugen Roshi reminded us, a portion of Maezumi Roshi’s and Daido Roshi’s ashes. We bowed and we chanted the Sutra of Great Compassion. Shugen Roshi offered a poem, and each of us offered incense while his words echoed all throughout:
For Daido Roshi
Ten Autumns have passed;
Ten scarlet-gold mountains
migrations coming and going
icy rivers flowing again
into green upon green
into mountain-valley stream sutras.
And all the while, O Venerable Teacher,
you have not left,
you have not gone anywhere.
Twenty-nine years you roused the sleeping
stole life from the waking
and all for the sake of today.
As before, my gratitude sits empty
in a hollow mouth.
Enough, you say, enough!
Bow and withdraw.
Let the mountain-body-dharma
speak in the tongue of falling leaves
Reverence, love, and our collective “empty” gratitude hung in the air like fragrances. Clearly, through our living teachers and through these mountains, Daido Roshi keeps teaching us. As we stood on the forest’s soft ground, wrapped in the blazing colors of its leaves—their turning happening right then, literally in front of our eyes—the passing of time felt so palpable and impermanence was gently perceived. And received.
When Shugen Roshi stepped to the side to face the grave, facing his teacher, the sangha made an invisible step with him, almost as if holding him while he stood in silent communion with Daido Roshi. In these shared minutes of stillness, all ancestors seemed present and there was a sense of wholeness—or perhaps there simply was no absence? Everything sentient and insentient was right there for us to experience, practice, cherish, and share: our lineage, teachers, sangha, the forest, mountain, earth… As we made our way back to the Sangha House to conclude the ango intensive retreat, the trees kept ringing their bells. A thousand reasons to bow.
Sabine Russ is a Practicing Member of the Mountains and Rivers Order and works as a magazine editor in Brooklyn.
Photographs by Joel Sansho Benton and Ian Joren Falcon. Additional photos can be found here.