Karen Terzano - Denbo Karen Terzano November 14th 2014

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I think one of the most difficult things that I've ever wrestled with learning about doing is how to be serious, take things seriously, without taking myself seriously. We've done away with that verse in our sangha, or I just conveniently forgot that we use it sometimes. I mean -- think about that verse: talk about inspiring self consciousness and fear in the speaker. Tathagata's message, right?

That first day, I remember -- I think it's been about two years since I've sat with you guys, and I miss you. It's always hard for me to come here, not because it's hard to get here, but because it's hard to leave. And that's the same thing that happens when I leave Finland now. I'm perverse. I always miss where I'm not, even while I'm enjoying where I am. There's a haiku that's one of my favorites. I think it's Issa, and it goes like this: "Even while I'm in Kyoto I long for Kyoto." That's me.

Whenever I have to give a talk, I remember Uchiyama Roshi, because I get nervous, you guys know that -- and I always remember Uchiyama going to his teacher, Kodo Sawaki, and saying, "If I study really, really hard, and I sit many, many hours, and do thousands of prostrations, will I be strong and charismatic like you?" Of course Kodo burst that bubble immediately, and he said, "Heck no, Zen is no good for anything like that."

And I remember as a very young-in-the-practice student, reading something Uchiyama wrote, and he was talking about this story, and he had now been a Roshi for quite a while, and was quite respected, and he talked about how he still got sick to his stomach when he had to do rituals, and how nervous he still was, but he was still -- and this is his word, not mine -- he was still a wimp. And I held on to that story, in the back of my mind.

It's almost hard for me to believe why I'm here. Somebody whispered in my ear, yesterday, "Congratulations, Roshi." Are you talking to me? And someone else, today . . .

Barry Magid: You're not a Roshi yet.


Karen Terzano: Thank you.

Somebody else said to me this morning, breaking all the rules, right -- I won’t say who -- said, "Do you feel any different?" And you know, of course, no I don't. It's the same, and yet, through this practice, and this particular sangha, and this particular flesh-and-blood teacher, I have found that very often, I'm the last one to know where a change has occurred, and it surprises the heck out of me when it happens. And I never know when that's going to happen. And I have been thinking about this a little bit, and I realized that one of the greatest changes I've made in my orientation to practice over the years is, I've stopped looking for the great drenching of the waterfalls, the astounding experiences, the transcending states of Nirvana or bliss or enlightenment. Not to say I haven't had powerful, aha-that's-what-they-were-talking-about moments in my life. I have. But it has been the change that comes in the midst of whatever's happening in the moment, and I realize I couldn't have done this ten years ago. When did this change? And for me, my most intimate and challenging and wonderful challenge in life is to be vulnerable and open, and finding myself in circumstances where I would have run for the hills before, or lashed out in a self-protective anger or rage, or have completely collapsed within myself as a hopeless quivering mass of totally unworthy jelly of some kind -- just to be there and be with what was happening, who I was with, how we were in that moment.

When I knew that there was going to be this Denbo ceremony, I don't think I felt a whole lot about it one way or the other. Life was very busy, and much like I had experienced when I did my long distance hiking, there was this understanding in a sense that I could either walk the trail and see and be and do, or I could write about it, but I couldn't do both. And so I don't think I thought much about it at all, beyond, and again not that I would not want to share this with you all -- you're all very special to my heart. Bob hit the nail on the head in his talk when he said, "How tremendously precious this is when we all come together as one heart, one family, one mind, one sangha." But I really wanted to share this with my people, the people I've come to love dearly in Finland and Sweden. Barry could not travel, and Barry wouldn't let me get out of it when I said, "We can postpone this, we don’t need to do this anytime soon." "No. Now. This year." "Okay." Oh you recognize that, do you? Okay, okay.

So anyway I began to think a little bit about what do I have to say, what do I have to share, and I always think I don't have much of anything to share; you all know this anyway, already, so what can I tell that you don't already know, right? You know, if I know it, I'm the last one to get it. You had to have gotten it first. And of course I don't want to tell you things that you already know. That's a very irritating quality in people to do that, to tell people what they already know. But I did think about it, and I remember a koan that Barry had talked about in one transmission ceremony of one sort or another, this koan about Bodhidharma and his students who inherited the flesh, the skin, the bone and the marrow, and I thought, "I'll talk about that. I have something to say about that." And of course, just like you did in the denkai talk, you talked about it first, just stole my thunder. But you know what's different? That in the denkai talk I thought it mattered. I thought I had to come up with something else and be original, and this time I didn't feel like that. I just laughed. Our eyebrows are entangled, and we glare at each other, eyeball to eyeball. So how can we not be in synch and think the same stuff?

So I did stop and start thinking about what can I talk about. What would people want to hear about. What do they want to know. And because we’re in silence, I can't take a poll. What would you like to hear? What would you like to know about? But then Barry talked about, in that same talk, about how he felt like Henry James Senior, and how Henry James Senior wasn't talked about anymore, wasn't read anymore, and if he was remembered at all, he was remembered for only being the father of Henry and William.

That got me to thinking about how he mystified this whole process. And how we make something special out of all kinds of things. And my mind, of course, gravitated immediately to the koans, these things that take on this magical, mystical quality, koans. What are they really? Koan means public case. It's a recorded bit of conversation that occured between two students, rarely, between a student and a master, more common, and every once in a while between master and master. Where something was said that went "Ah!" and it got written down. We have a wonderful, wonderful verse in our four practice principles and I think it's what hooked me in Ordinary Mind first, and it continues to hook me every time I say it: Life as it is, the only teacher. And what are we if not life, each and every one of us. Each of us puts out there the teachings, all the time, every minute, whether we know it or not. Think of Huineng, this uneducated peasant, who overheard the Diamond Sutra. It wasn't intended for him at all. And that overhearing of that unintentional teaching led to the sixth patriarch, and to us.

So I thought I would talk a little bit about my master, and the turning words he has shared with me. Our journey as teacher and student, master and disciple, and all the teachings. Oh I can't begin with all the teachings. Even talking about this is like trying to show you the ocean in a cup. So I'm going to pick some highlights. They are important to me. They may not have been important to him at all.

I remember a story that he told me one time about Joko and him. About how he had gone to see Joko, and Barry made these 3000 mile treks across the country to go see Joko. My little five or eight hundred miles down from Maine isn't much, 500 miles. Anyway, he went to see her, and she's getting old, and it hit him that this might be the last time that he saw her, or one of the last times, and I think he actually got choked up, or maybe I'm projecting that into the story. And he told her this, and Joko looked back and she said, "Well, I don't care if I ever see you again -- what's important is that the Dharma goes on." And you were all witness to that last night. Don't let it die out.

Turning phrases, things that change our insides. The first teaching that Barry ever gave me, he gave me before I even knew who he was. He had no clue that I existed, and even if you had told me his name, it wouldn't have meant a damn thing to me at all. This was back in 2004, 2005, something like this, at the AZTA meetings, American Zen Teachers Association meetings, I was this little center mouse, kitchen mouse. I was living at the Vermont Zen Center at that time, and we were really, really excited, because all of these icons of American Zen were coming to the center for their meeting, and I was on the kitchen crew, and we got the house prepared, and we did all this cooking, and we were going to be able to get to sit with them, which was really important to us, and we were going to get to hear some of the talks, and this was just going to be wonderful. And all of these people rustled in -- very nice, don't get me wrong. Remember: I'm a star-struck Zen student, and all my Hollywood stars of Zen were coming into this house. So anyway, let's cut to the chase here. So, they're all in and were going to have our first morning of zazen, together. And of course we let all of the Zen masters go in first, and then we came and sat down, and I noticed that as I came into the room and sat, as I looked around, and here were all these people in beautiful robes, in blue, and black and green and brown, all these different things, and here's this one gawky-looking guy sitting -- I even remember where you were sitting, exactly -- in a black shirt and black pants, and I had the warmest feeling I'd ever had. Which was, "Oh my god, Zen masters can forget their robes, too." This was step one in debunking the myth of the perfection of Zen masters.

We continued on that week, and somewhere toward the end of that, we finally -- you know how hard we worked? We got up at 5 o'clock, we were in the kitchen at 5 o'clock in the morning, we cooked nonstop, served, did dishes and finished at 11 o'clock at night. You didn't deserve that. [Barry: You're right.] We loved it, don't get me wrong. We loved it. And we all loved to collapse on the floor at the end of the day, after we put all you guys to bed, and we just had our own little -- what would you call it? It wasn't zazen exactly, but it was wonderful. It was wonderful taking care of these guys.

Anyway, somewhere along that weekend, I went, "Did you see that guy? He forgot his robes. Isn't that cool?" And this person quickly disabused me of that, and they said -- and I don't remember if they were admiring him, or sarcastic or disparaging -- but they said "Oh, no, no, no. That's Barry Magid; he never wears robes." So shock number one was, Zen masters can be human. Shock number two is that somebody actually chose to be different. And even though Barry is gawky and unassuming, there is, as you know, this something about him, and I recognized even at that distance, that this wasn't being different for difference sake, this was just this person being who he was. And as I digested that over the years, all those people sitting in there were just being who they were, at that moment, and how they were, but it took the oddball, the person that stood out, for me to begin to get that teaching. To begin to get that teaching.

I finally began to get to know who Barry was. Again, not connected to this, I had forgotten that his name was Barry Magid. He didn't mean anything to me. I was deep into the Kapleau tradition at that time, and had come out of the Korean tradition. But one of the reasons I decided to talk about this today, is because I'm going to be a thief now. I'm going to steal your story, about Bodhidharma and Huike, because this is very much our story.

Bodhidharma was just Bodhidharma. Bodhidharma came and did what he did, and sat and faced the wall, and that's who he was. That's what he did. I was trained as a psychologist, and one of the things that I learned to do very early on, and it's served me well, and I continue to do it, is whenever there is a dream, an experience, a story, is to take myself and put myself in the place of each and every participant in that story, or object, to begin to understand a little bit about that. And so when I put myself in Bodhidharma's place, facing the wall, I can envision a lot of different Bodhidharmas. I can envision the curmudgeon: "Go away. Leave me alone. Don't bother me." I can envision the curmudgeon morphing into kind of a despairing "Nobody will ever get it, except me." I can morph him into somebody that's oblivious to what's going on around him. And I can morph him into someone who is uncomfortable with people, and how to be with that mind. How to recognize what's going on with them. I can morph them in a lot of different ways. And so Barry was just being Barry, and my teachers at that time were just being who they were, and I was bleeding to death all over the snow.

I have this really strange duality -- I mean I've got lots of them. This particular one is really interesting. It's this piece of me that is terrified of people. I know that I'm going to get hurt, I know that I'm going to be disappointed, I know that I'm going to be devastated. I know, I know, I know. And this other part of me that wants to start singing, "The sun is going to come up tomorrow, da da da da da," because there was all my life up until this point a part of me that just knew that the life as I'd experienced it up to that point wasn't all there was, that it was out there, it existed, this wholeness, this happiness, this contentment, this belongingness if you will, and it's just right around the next corner. And that belief, I think, fantasy as it was, in a sense, kept me alive, and kept me sane, and kept me trying and working and exploring and doing for many, many years. And it was also something that kept me blind, of course, to what was right here, right now, this moment. Because I didn't have anybody to help me understand that it was this moment that counted. All of it. Every day.

For those of you who are psychologists, I had done a lot of work, I had done a lot of learning, and practice, and all that sort of stuff, but I had gotten myself a lot of partial resolutions. I was no longer being driven screaming madly late into the night by pain, so I didn't have to do that anymore, but life wasn't really great either. It really wasn't wonderful, either. It was okay. And of course any time there was a big crisis in my life, I'd get plunged right back into this old place, and this is what happened right before I came to this particular Zen center. The world had dropped out from underneath me, once again. And I had been plunged back into this, what I kind of thought and was afraid of, and really didn't want to be true, that this was my true self, this depressed, despairing, negative, scared, terrified person. And the training I'd had up to that point, and I am grateful truly to all of my teachers, had gotten me to the place where it was like "Okay, I know how to claw my way out of here. New relationship. New Job. New project." I'd even gone as far as to go to a new country, new culture at times to do this. And I knew how to do that, but I'd also grown up enough that I realized at one level that that was just going to take me back to the same place where I'd always been. And I was running out of little sunny sunshine, because now I'm in my 50s, I don't have much future left. Maybe it's all passed me by. Maybe it's too late. But I certainly wasn't believing that it's around any other corner, and Zen had become a very important part of my life at that point. Whatever stability that I had, whatever centeredness I could claw my way to, had come about through this practice. Psychology had helped me understand, but the butt on the cushion had helped me begin to embody this. So I made the decision: in effect, I wasn't going to get up off the cushion until, and I really can't tell you what that until was. Until I got it, until I understood, until I died, it didn't really matter, but I just wasn't going to do it anymore. And that's the state of mind when I went to this Zen center. I did the equivalent of what Issa did when he cut off his arm. I cut off everything that I knew. I went and said, deep in myself, "Everything I've done, everything I've tried, every road I've followed, every path, every skill, everything has not helped in this really basic matter. I'm going to take that, all that, all of my ideas, all of my beliefs, everything, and I'm going to put it over here, and I'm done with it." And this was so unfair to the teacher, that I basically went, "You tell me how to live my life. You save me. You make me into a human being." And that's where I went.

And as the cards were dealt out, I was in a Zen center that had a size four shoe, and I'm a size seven foot. It did not fit. It did not fit. And one of the most frustrating things that I dealt with there is that I could see the genuine caring and compassion, and the inability for us to touch in any way. That teacher sat with all the best intents in the world and stared at the wall. And when I cut off my arm, they said, "Stare at the wall and stop trying to draw attention to yourself."

About this time -- and you guys have heard me say this a million times -- but I was beginning to hear my thoughts in my mind when I woke up. "There's no reason to live. There's no sense to it." And luckily again, all that I had been given to that point, and all the practice that I had done to that point, also said, "If there's no reason to live, then there's no reason to not live." And we'd go through another day of gutting it out. White knuckling it. Just surviving.

About this time, I was doing a lot of reading, and I was surfing the net, and I found this book called Ordinary Mind. A funny quirk of fate is I had always been interested in Joko Beck. I had gone through two copies of her hardcover books so far, and if you go back and you see it, and read through any of them, you'll see red underlining. Pink, green, yellow, blue ink, black ink, pencil, all of this stuff. And when I moved to Costa Rica back in 1998 and left my Korean sangha, I wrote to Joko, and Elizabeth Hamilton wrote me back and she said, "Joko's very sick, she's not taking any students, but if you'd like, you and I can talk." And we started to, and she offered me phone dokusan, which was great. But very, very expensive from Costa Rica. And about that time, that's when I found out there's this Kapleau organization in San Jose, and there was a flesh and blood teacher that came down four times a year, in the country, 30 bucks to and from, long distance phone calls, hundreds of dollars at a time.

When I found out there was this book, and he was a Dharma heir of Joko Beck, I thought, "Oh, this is cool. I'll read this." And I was very, very interested, because he was a psychoanalyst and he was breaking -- when I found out -- the first cardinal rule of being a psychotherapist, which is "No dual relationships." And here he was acting as a Zen teacher and a psychoanalyst at the same time. How do you do this? I don't know why. That's the surface story. I had never written an author before in my life. And I have never written an author since then. Again, there was something in those words which came alive again, fresh, as they were read, that hooked me. I wrote him, and said, "How do you do that? How do you combine these two things?" Very professional. And he wrote back, and I don't remember what he said, but I do remember at the end of the letter he invited me to continue to correspond with him.

For those of you who know me well, you know that my emotions are right there on the surface and so very quickly it got personal for me. And I began to write him, and I didn't understand what was happening, I just knew that I felt different. I remember writing him again. You don't remember this, but I wrote him about how my life at the moment I felt like this deer frozen in the headlights of an oncoming 18-wheeler, unable to move. Unable to feel. Unable to do anything. And what he wrote back, I knew he knew what I was talking about, and that he saw me bleeding on the snow, although I didn't know that at the time. I didn't know that.

Another turning word. When you're breaking the rules, you gave me permission to break my internal rules of don't ask, don't complain, don't want. Don't get visible. And I got visible with Barry, and we've been working with that ever since.

How are we doing on time?

Barry: You've transmitted . . . , but not brevity.


Karen: I asked myself why I talk so much, and I realized two things. There's one, I'm a hypervigilant child of a dysfunctional family, who wants to make sure that you understand what I'm saying, that you do not misunderstand what I'm saying. And then there's something else that's much more mundane, and that is: I taught university for years and I was a psychotherapist for years and 50 minute hours.

Barry: You've got to fill up the hour.

Karen: What time did we begin this?

Response: 50 minutes ago.

Karen: Okay. God, I haven't gotten even ten percent. Okay, all right. Let me finish up with this. I'll fast forward through all that until just a few days ago. I started getting nervous again about doing this whole thing and giving this talk and everything, and I found myself, it's like I listened in on myself, saying, "You're just Karen. You're Karen. I'm Karen." And that was a comfort. That would have sent me screaming before, "Karen, oh my God. I'm bad, I'm terrible, I'm horrible. I get what you see, I can't even know that,” but that was where it was. We talk about how there's nothing to give, nothing to receive, and nothing to gain. This relationship gave me me. Me in all its myriad forms. And I love you Barry, very much. And I love you since before I knew you. And I love you since before my parents were born.


Keep up the good work! [laughs]

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