April 2, 2014, I turned seventy. I went to Santa Monica beach. It was cold, blustery, and brilliantly clear. On the pier is a ferris wheel and small roller coaster. When I was four or five I rode a bigger roller coaster on the same pier. It was nighttime. I was scared, thrilled, and happy. We lived only a short distance from the pier…on a hill that jets now fly over as they leave LAX. The houses were torn down fifty years ago. I thought I might get nostalgic - birthday walking on the pier - but didn’t.
What struck me. Everything in change. Wave after wave hitting the pilings. Cities of barnacles submerged and then re-emerging. Wet, living.
I was captured by the wind, movement,
Everywhere cameras and phones trying to preserve time. The poses. The smiles.
The word oryoki can be translated as “that which contains just enough.”
In a more general sense it refers to the ritual use of nested eating bowls during Zen meditation retreats.
Oryoki meals are simple but precise in detail and flow - from chanting together
to placement of utensils,
and finally to washing and re-wrapping the sets of bowls.
I find it beautiful even though precision and I are not close friends. I had to ask for help innumerable times when I began the practice. But, if I don’t drift off in daydreams, things pretty much happen when and where they should. I can use the correct hand signal to show the server my bowl “contains just enough.”
I like the silence of oryoki. Conversation doesn’t seem so necessary after part of an opening chant: “First, 72 labors brought us this food. We should know how it comes to us.”
A reminder to appreciate my life as well as my interdependence with others.
I look up and see others sharing this life, it’s moment.
I feel connected and aware of my aloneness at the same time. I appreciate what is in front of me. Oryoki. A good practice.
THREE BUILDINGS ON WILSHIRE and GOODBYE TO MR. SEEGER
These under construction apartment towers with lower floor retail space are at the corner of Vermont and Wilshire. Across the street is a huge new residential complex underneath of which is a major subway stop from downtown and Hollywood. Thousands of people move around this intersection, not to mention cars. Don’t worry, hot dogs wrapped in bacon are still sold from shopping cart stoves on the corners.
Two blocks west at the corner of Wilshire and Berendo is the Talmadge Apartment buiding.
Built in 1924 (90 years ago!) by the head of United Artists as a present for his wife, Norma Talmadge. They occupied the entire tenth floor which curves around the block, by the way. Lots of fire places, tall ceilings, maids quarters,etc. The only complaint its tenants seem to have is that film crews are always around. You know how that is.
On the same side of Wilshire Blvd. but just on the other corner of Berendo, fifty feet away, is Immanuel Presbyterian Church - built in 1929 and about as beautiful a church as you’ll find anywhere. So measured and timeless in that self-conscious but reassuring WASP way. I’m talking architecturally of course. Today it’s a polyglot mixture of Spanish, Korean, and English congregants. Here is its facade which isn’t showing Immanuel’s wonderful steeple.
And here is where the Presbyterian Elders kept the collection money or something.( It couldn’t have been the communion wine. That was always grape juice.) The arched small doorway you see is actually the thick steel entrance to a walk-in safe. The clock and the light stole my heart.
And this is a big foundation hole for a 15-20 story (depending on who you talk to) building going in right next to the venerable Talmadge Apartments and directly across from the church. Whooah! "Turn! Turn! Turn!” (..to everything there is a season) - a song by Pete Seeger
Thanks Pete for bringing such joy and encouragement to so many of us. I laughed and loved you every time I heard you sing. May your journey go well.
In many Zen communities it is traditional to participate in a sesshin ( meditation retreat) called Rohatsu. This particular sesshin commemorates the Buddha’s enlightenment which is traditionally said to have occurred on the morning of the eighth day of the twelfth month. The sesshin usually runs from the first of December until the morning of the eighth. It is an intense and inspiring experience grounded on the fact that whatever realization/awakening transpired for the Buddha is available to each of us. Each day begins well before dawn and ends at nine in the evening.
When I was growing up we lived on our bikes and rode in packs everywhere…the movies, fishing, friends’ houses, the parks. Your bike was a part of you. Then age 15 hit, you got your drivers license and goodbye bike. It’s very interesting that a lot of young people now aren’t bothering to get car licenses. Whatever the reasons, they love their bikes more than cars. I love it.
One of the places you can see this happening is the last Friday night of every month at the corner of Wilshire and Western. From all directions several thousand riders arrive.
They then take off together, shepherded by the cops.
It’s a terrific get together, full of energy, friendliness.
It made me feel good just to be there photographing.
The end of a year, the middle, or the beginning, no matter when, there is zazen. That is the sine qua non. In the zendo or meditation hall, it is thirty minutes of sitting alternating with ten minutes of walking.
The study of the Way is to study the self.
To study the self is to forget the self.
To forget the self is to be enlightened by the ten thousand things.
To be enlightened by all things is to remove the barriers between one’s self and others.
Unprepossessing from the outside. Loved on the inside. Maria’s has been a neighborhood gathering place for eighteen years. Set next to a bowling alley and on top of a skating rink, it more than held its own.
Huge menu. Comfort food and Mexican. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Seven days a week. Hot Turkey sandwiches, liver and onions, burritos, incredible meatloaf. I don’t need to go on. Just look at the side choices in the photo above. I never walked out unsatisfied.
But it was Maria Barojas and her wonderful family that made the place special. Everyone was welcome and treated like a friend. A cliche, but there you have it. Just to to walk in and be greeted by her or her daughters was to immediately relax. Her husband Jose ran the kitchen. No small task.
Here’s what I’m talking about. Maria helping a friend who’s a little stiff get on her feet. Every bit of warmth sincere.
I was sorry all day yesterday that I was going to miss photographing the May Day demonstrations. I had an afternoon Tai Chi Class in Alhambra. But, when I stepped off the bus at Union Station I heard a celebration going on at La Placita Olvera. The first group of people I encountered is immediately below.
I was struck by the happiness and exuberance of everyone I saw. I wanted to record that.
There are more than 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. It is a life in the shadows. Try imagining it.
To be young, gifted, and undocumented. Our country is losing a lot when we ignore this issue.
One of the concerns with immigration deportations is that families are being separated. Apart from resolving the current situation, we might ask ourselves as a people the following question. “Really, why did we look the other way when millions of people were pouring into the country and performing cheap labor?”
And finally there is the irony of the following image. Please look at the founding date of the church and then remember a little California history.
I am often struck by the rich variety of interior worlds that appear in the bus window. I remind myself that I have no idea what those worlds actually are other than what immediately arise as my own projections. And, of course, much depends on the surrounding light and colors, as well as other triggers.
A new building goes up directly across from the Chinese Senior Center and just inside the Golden Dragons entrance. Beautiful Spring day. Late afternoon. Behind me, women were doing Qigong in the Center courtyard.
After the insanity and sorrow of last week’s massacre in Connecticut, my neighborhood got it’s own call with a twisted mind. Someone phoned police headquarters four times during the early morning Tuesday Dec.18 claiming there was a bomb planted in the police car parked in front of the local elementary school - a block and a half down from my place. The car had been there for several days as an indication of police presence. The school is directly across from a hotel catering to Korean guests. Packed as usual.
The police car is parked on the right against the curb. Dogs, Robots, Firemen, Ambulances, Police, Trucks of all kinds. Streets sealed off. Buses rerouted. Traffic nuts. People frightened. Not much information given out. People standing in front of their houses behind the yellow tape. One thing - you got a chance to meet the neighbors you hadn’t met previously.
The smaller machine on the left is a robot that will go to the car, smash a window, stick a camera inside, then break open the trunk and check that out. Force the hood, look at the engine. The big truck is empty at this point. Someone inside a van somewhere was running the little guy.
This picture was taken from the roof of my building after all of the neighborhood was kept inside (yup, the police told you to go back in if you came out). The school was empty. The hotel guests and workers moved to the back of the top floor. The robot is moving up to do its job. An armored dump truck has been moved in close to the car.
Bomb squad member checks again after the robot - and the truck has lifted the car. No bomb.
Many public workers - firemen, police, bomb squad - for four or five hours. Traffic snarled. This is not the first time our neighborhood is searched. A large luxury condo building at Western and Wilshire - -bomb search - bank buildings - the metro underground ….you get the idea.
Obon is a traditional Japanese Buddhist observance which allows families to honor and feel closer to their loved ones who have died. It’s a time for sharing memories, prayers, rituals of food and drink, nourishment and generosity. Dia De Los Muertos is a traditional Mexican holiday with the same purpose. At the Hazy Moon Zen Center we have combined both in a way that is meaningful for us and our families and friends. The following photographs show the flow of our observance: creating the first altar, making a new one, rehearsing for the service of remembrance, and then the service itself.
The observance begins about the middle of October when we set up a traditional Mexican family altar where members place photographs of those who have left this particular life, including our lineage of buddhist teachers.
At the end of October the altar is then dismantled and a new one created in our zendo. This one is more traditionally Japanese - with food and drink offerings - but still contains photographs.
Rehearsal for the ceremony - Obon-Segaki
During theObon-Segaki Service prayers are offered and the names of those who have died and being remembered are read aloud. The list is long.
Through the years the faces in the photographs and the read aloud names become familiar. It feels good to remember them.
About a year ago I took a series of photographs at Occupy LA. Now, there’s a week left before the presidential election is decided. The issues have not gone away, and we have a candidate, Romney, who got caught talking about his disinterest in 47% of our country’s citizens. In a number of polls, Romney appears to be leading. It’s interesting, isn’t it ? Or infuriating. Where are we going?
Cesar Nunez is a Mexican painter and sculptor. This is his painting studio. It is part of a home that he designed and built near Tepoztlan, Morelos, Mexico. His property includes a sculpture studio and his wife’s ceramic studio. When I visited the studio, John Coltrane, Coleman Hawkins, as well as Bach Partitas played in the space. So as you look at these images, you may hear their sound. For a complete look at the work of this extraordinary artist go to cesarnunez.com.mx.
Cesar and his friend, neighbor, and fellow artist, Claudia Hosso Politi
I don’t know whether it was this man or not. It disturbed me to read it so soon after my last post. The link at the bottom of the article is to another (from L.A. Times 2006) much longer, complete piece which is worth reading. It’s very revealing about a number of things. I think that article (2006) is what must have unconsciously stayed with me over the years and prompted the post.
Every few years I seem to read about the death of a tree trimmer in the newspaper. It’s invariably about one who was trimming a palm tree. The trimmer suffocates as the palm fronds, dust, and lack of oxygen enclose him as he moves up into the hanging branches, close to the trunk. Most trimmers carry chain saws as well. I once spent several months using a chain saw, cutting trees and wood for the winter’s heat. It’s exhausting even when you’re young.
So every time I see a trimmer go up, it worries me. It also bugs me because I know how relatively little they get paid. Everybody wants a bargain and jobs are scarce. So the brave or foolhardy do it. Usually immigrants or first generation. The young smoke mota to steady themselves - the last thing I would do, but to each his own - I can’t look over the edge of a building without feeling queasy.
Here’s to Palm Trimmers. May they always come down safely. May they someday soon be paid what they’re worth…including health you know what. Yeah, I know. I’m a dreamer.
Let me begin by saying I don’t know anything about Butoh except what I looked up in Google and YouTube; it’s a performance art form that began in Japan during a time of artistic frustration and rebellion. Here’s what someone else said about it (found in Wikipedia).
Critic Mark Holborn has written that butoh is defined by its very evasion of definition. The Kyoto Journal variably categorizes butoh as dance, theater, “kitchen,” or “seditious act.” The San Francisco Examiner describes butoh as “unclassifiable”. Butoh frequently occurs in areas of extremes of the human condition, such as skid rows, or extreme physical environments, such as a cave with no audience, remote Japanese cemetery, or hanging by ropes from a skyscraper in front of the Washington Monument.
Here what I saw one night in downtown Los Angeles.
Some of the males passing by referred to the women as skanks and crack hoes. Others tried to touch or pretended to dry hump them when their backs were turned. Women, on the other hand, seemed unsettled, confused by the female apparitions.
One burly guy, football player build, simply said, “BUTOH,” and pushed on.
Recently I enjoyed a retreat at the Black Scorpion Temple in Tepotzlan, Mexico - about an hour or so outside of Mexico City. It’s a Zen temple. Beautiful - and in an extraordinary setting.
I arrived a day early. There’s a lot of work to hosting a retreat or sesshin. Here oryoki sets are being prepared for retreatants. Oryoki is a formal Japanese style of eating using nested eating bowls. Meals are eaten on your meditation cushion in the meditation hall (zendo)-everything done in a particular time and rhythm. It’s a form of mindfulness practice.
This is the zendo or meditation hall. It was formerly a painter’s studio. One source of beauty and inspiration into another.
The woman at the center in brown robe is Claudia Hosso Politi, Sensei, the resident teacher of the Black Scorpion. She is in the lineage of Taizan Maezumi Roshi and Nyogen Yeo Roshi. The group is in the entrance foyer to the zendo where shoes are removed, and cushions, liturgies, etc., are stored.
Students “facing the wall” in meditation. Not easy, but worth the effort.
Every thirty minutes or so there is a brisk formal walking meditation practice called “kinhin.” It’s an expansion of the sitting practice. It lasts about ten minutes and then it’s back to the cushion, and the wall, and your own mind.
Students are preparing to open their oryoki bowls. A priest is dedicating the service by making a food offering at the altar.
When I went to Oxaca, Mexico several years ago to study with the photographer Ernesto Bazan, I met another student of his, Carlos Figueroa, who is a photographer for one of Mexico City’s newspapers. I suggested that he contact Hosso Sensei to photograph the Black Scorpion. He didn’t do just that. He became a zen practitioner as well. At this retreat he made his formal vows as a Buddhist. This is called “Jukai.” I was very happy for him.
There’s a lot of warmth and fun in the students at the Black Scorpion - in addition to the seriousness with which they take their zen practice. I enjoyed their company enormously. Here they are joking around while a photographer tries to take a photo of them from the second story.
I’m including this last photo because it gives some idea of the natural environment around the temple. It is one of only three places on the planet where these particular rock formations exist - the other two being China and Thailand. The gigantic cliff like rocks were thrown out from an enormous volcano countless ages ago.
If you’d like to find out more about the Black Scorpion, you can go to blackscorpiontemple.com or hazymoon.com.
I’m fascinated by construction projects and can watch them for hours. The way things fit together - from the skillful and dangerous erecting of scaffolding to the sequencing of what comes next in the construction/reconstruction. Wilshire Boulevard Temple, built in 1929 and THE temple for Hollywood stars and executives during the golden years- is undergoing a major facelift as well as expansion. It and its educational/community facilities will fill an entire square block in the heart of Koreatown. Think more than a hundred million dollar price tag. Meanwhile I an amazed at how patiently and minutely cracks are found and patched. I enjoy watching the hardhats move along the yellow framed walkways, seven, nine stories in the air. These guys are artisans. All of the patterns become a beautiful abstraction emerging from - well - just construction. Just construction, indeed.