Alice Jean

In Memoriam: Alice Jean Rylaarsdam’s talk “I Am”

Our beloved sangha member Alice Jean died in her home on April 8, 2020.  Here is the talk she gave on May 27, 2018 about her life in intimate relationship with cancer.

We will have an online memorial service for her soon- details to be forthcoming.

With deep gratitude for her life, her joy, and the great offering of her teaching:

Hakuin - Death

Poems from the 2018 New Year Death Poem Workshop

The trees and I!
For almost 80 years we have breathed each other.
Now, approaching my last breath,
I can’t tell one of us from the other.

Farewell at last to this metabolic fire
that warmed me from birth!
80 years of mammalian love and loneliness!
Now for the big molecular reunion!

At last I am ready to go wherever gravity may lead,
To fall with the leaf, to merge with the stream,
To sink deep into the soft, thirsty earth.

- Myozen Barton Stone


1.The earth laughs in flowers, waterfalls, rainbows.
I laugh at the amazing good fortune for this
rich and wonderful life.

2. Irises, the first food for bees in spring.
This bag of old bones might nourish
a tree, a shrub…Bees may alight on
the blossoms. Their buzz will not
awaken me.

3. I am dying. There are no more
weeds to pull.

4. As a child, fearful of death, I’d hold
my breath in bed, trying to know what
it must be like to be dead.
Now breath holds me, for not much longer.

5. My granddaughter, Samaya, tells me her
kitty is dead, died next to her in bed. We
dig a hole together. Flowers will grow here.
So simple.

6. Each precious moment,
dewdrops sparkle in sunlight.
Breath’s insistence like pelting rain.
Heartbeat fades, descending mountain,
journey’s end.

7. We have done well, my love, in this dance
with all beings, in this dance together.
Time now to set down shovel and hoe,
to scatter our last seeds.

- Constance Miles 1/3/18


It’s getting closer. . .
Its nearness manifests: hot tears burst from my eyes and sobs catch the breath.
More bad news.
Fine to soften it,
To pad the sharp metallic edge with the continuous coatings of daily-ness.
Let me open, let me open, let me open-
I beg you, sky!

Inexhaustible, beyond, all-encompassing,
Endless, boundless, infinite, forever, never-ending, eternal
. . . .do you get it?

Let experience swallow me,
Let action melt completely into the next, and the next, and the next.
Let movement be breathing wind,
Body, solid water.
Let the sunset break over and soak into me like a yolk staining the sand.
Stones at the bottom of the sea- now I am one with you.

- Jude


So bright, so bright – cold certain fact
Unwavering fate – shared by all
Connects us all – the cold softens
And there, at the edge of the light -
So dark, so dark – gaping night
Not even a drop of knowing can get through
But a warmth – expansive, unbridled
A colt gallops under twinkling stars

Without liking it, finally loved it: death.
Busting out of the closet in a jumble of boxes.
One intimate moment is worth all of it.

- Korin

Hakuin - Death

Poems from the 2017 New Year Death Poem Workshop

I’m outta here,
dusting off my hands,
and I don:t have to go someplace else either.
Big relief!!

The World is your problem now.
Good luck with it.

- Tomi G.


If You Throw Me a Wake
(aka Death Poem 2017)

If you throw me a wake
light a candle or two
Say something, tell the truth, or
at least a credible lie.

Try to keep the wisecracks to a minimum.

Play some music:  not too maudlin,
but not too jolly either, in between.
Quiet phrases and subtle notes.

Toast to life with all it’s vagaries, and
to my wondrous journey with you through it.
Its pains and pleasures done.

Remember what you will. I wish to remember it all,
if only for a fleeting moment.

Cast my ashes into the ocean.  Allow my remains
to mingle and dance with the currents.  Seeking out
my origins.

Take a moment each day to reflect on our paths together.
I walk a different path than you now,
but no so different it is unrecognizable.

I no longer depend on those rose colored glasses.

They say you should have no regrets when you go.
I still have one or two…
Does that mean I get a reprieve?

- Richard


Sweet winter rain!
I fall with you,
Melting cold into the gravel path.

Sorry to leave before you were ready!
It could have been the other way.
Still, in my heart, I touch your hair and kiss your tears
As always.

The fruit trees!  The scrub jays!  The grasses!
Tell them I died of gratitude.

- Myozen


Sleepwalking when I thought I was awake.
Cracked Open.
Now I see.

Sweetness for me.
Like a wave my life briefly looks distinct in the vast ocean.
The ocean I am.
No distinction.

The human body truly is the entire cosmos*.
What struggle?
Steer gently as to not unknowingly impede what is already flowing.
(*with gratitude to Myogen Steve Stucky)

- Alice Jean


Susan Spencer once told me
In this culture death is here and life over here (gestures with hands held far apart)
But in Buddhism, they are like this….
(gestures with hands folded together)
She said more but I forget the rest.

The Buddha said when you meditate focus on the breath,
then focus on the body and then the Dharmas.
Finally go to the charnel  grounds and meditate on the  decaying corpse..
The Buddha said more but I forget the rest.

My Darling, some day we will be alone and then together and then alone together a thousand million times in this realm of samsaric rebirth and death and beauty.
There is more I wanted to say but I forget the rest.

- Bob


Is it sinmply the end? Is it ever?
When has nothing ever begun?
To really know what dies here and now,
We need to know what was born.
Graspable ends are filled
With countless inconceivable ands

Eight and forty years -
If it goes, it goes,
But please know, dear ones,
The only thing I’m sure I don’t refret
Is every drop of love.

Now – one dance.
After – one dance.

- Korin

Invocation to the Earth

I want to offer an invocation from my heart
out to the universe.
I call to the Universe to charge the pulse
of our interconnection.
To open our eyes and hearts to the
Earth’s deep need of our caring.
To surge up in our consciousness, awareness
of the unity of our bodies, our flesh–
with the Earth’s body, her flesh.
This Earth that gives us everything
that causes us to live.

Charge us with the pulse of our deep
connection that we may respond
with like passion in the care
of one another.

Charge us with the power to break
through our delusions of loneliness and lack.
Help us to perceive the many ways
our Earth sustains us. Our food, our water,
our air, our shelter.
Help us open our hearts and minds
to respond to her with deep caring,
to return her gifts, to reciprocate her love.

There is a deep–immensely deep Caring in
what the Earth provides.
I long to touch the depth of this
evident caring and to become conscious
in ways that I am not yet conscious,
to enter into an intimate relationship
of reciprocity with the Earth and her
presence as Nature. I long to return to her
the glory she pours out to me.

Dear children, young ones–
the Earth’s caring for you reflects your
beauty and preciousness.
Your open hearts can flow in the
joy of giving and receiving.

This pulse and flow is the life
of our shared deep Nature.

We are all gifted as gift givers
with a powerful charged impulse to bless
one another, the Earth, her creatures,
the full cosmos with the Treasury of gifts.

In deep gratitude I offer this invocation
to the Earth and all life forms.

~ Toan Flynn, 2016

Poems from the May 22, 2016 Dharma Talk

The Little Duck
by Donald C. Babcock.

Now we are ready to look at something pretty special.
It is a duck riding the ocean a hundred feet beyond the surf.
No, it isn’t a gull.

A gull always has a raucous touch about him.
This is some sort of duck, and he cuddles in the swells.
He isn’t cold, and he is thinking things over.

There is a great heaving in the Atlantic,
And he is a part of it.
He looks a little like a mandarin,

Or the Lord Buddha meditating under the Bo tree
But he has hardly enough above the eyes to be a philosopher.
He has poise, however, which is what philosophers must have.

He can rest while the Atlantic heaves, because he rests in the Atlantic.

Probably he doesn’t know how large the ocean is.
And neither do you.
But he realizes it.

And what does he do, I ask you. He sits down in it.
He reposes in the immediate as if it were infinity – which it is.
That is religion, and the duck has it.

He has made himself a part of the boundless,
by easing himself into it just where it touches him.
I like the little duck.

He doesn’t know much.
But he has religion.

Before You Know What Kindness Really Is
by Naomi Shihab Nye

Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.

Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
it is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you every where
like a shadow or a friend.

Hakuin - Death

Poems from the 2016 New Year Death Poem Workshop

I call to you, throwing across the silk skein of this life.
If you hear me, what is it I am saying?

There is just this sense of now this, now that.
In, out
Now this, now . . .

So far now beyond connection, what is love?
Alive, it is the only action possible.
I have held my grandson close and told him the story of Stone Soup.
He won?t mind if now, crossing over, I tuck it in my pocket
A stone for good luck.

- Jude


For seventy seven years I have held this Barton thing together. going this way and that in search of the truth.
Now it disperses into ten thousand things.
Each one of them is true.


Of course I’d like to enter the grand feast in my finest form,
to be as luscious and beautiful as all
I have feasted upon in 77 adventurous years,
But it’s too late for that.

Now I approach the table dry and stringy,
with brittle old bones.
I hope there will be lots of butter.
And garlic.

- Myozen


this first week of January
so filled
with the embrace of life and death
the sweetness and the melancholy
twenty years brings
a clarity and softness
a knowing that sometimes
death lives stronger
in the present

and, what would Christmas be without Grandpa’s cheese


I think the journey begins long before the final sigh
in small and large ways
I don’t want to miss any of it
wake me if I fall asleep

- Cindy


I bathe in the many
joys and sorrows
of my life.
As the water flows
From under my feet

- Carolyn


Dearest of my dearest, in this
sweet, tart life, in this
jumbled tiger-eyed time,
does true love die?
Does apple crisp
and bee stings
and this now lonely planet
of my heart
stop its orbit?
Will you meet me
at the flowering cherry tree?


Storm rages,
moon sets,
a galaxy of clouds now
You, heart of
my heart,
leaning over,
breath here
breath gone
breath here
breath gone
O’ lovely, O’ love, O

- Lisa


This feast
of experience, of sensation
of love, of loss -
May it be of benefit
May it be of benefit.

Sometimes, when you can
take a moment to feel
my arms around you

I’ll be right here
I’m right here

- Dojin


Ready? Ready? Ready? Ready?
Dear ones, will you be here with me?
Dear ones, I will be here with you
Until I finally count to ten,
“Ready or not, here I come!”

For all the words,
a last word,
Or maybe just a period, or a question mark,
dot dot dot
open parentheses

Intimate companion
How will you scatter the dust
Of the days and nights of this life
This heart, flesh, bones, marrow?

- Korin

Black Oak

Black Oak

Black oak stands stark in
the gray dawn after
a night of rain.

Soggy leaves, losing
their grip in
the buffeting wind, cover
the ground beneath
the tree like
a brown blanket.

Do you, too, cling this way when the wind blows?
Do you, too, tumble and twist against your life, weakening
the only tie you have ever known?

And when you release at last,
when you float and fall into that leafy mat,
is it the grief of loss you feel?

Or will you find your way content into the dark dirt,
that grand microbial feast, nurturing with
your precious body
the deep mother root?


three monks

Poems and Reflections from Opening the Book of Serenity: Case 3

A rajah of an East Indian country invited the twenty-seventh Buddhist patriarch Prajnatara to a feast. The rajah asked him, “Why don’t you read scriptures?” The patriarch said, “This poor wayfarer doesn’t dwell in the realms of the body or mind when breathing in, doesn’t get involved in myriad circumstances when breathing out—I always reiterate such a scripture, hundreds, thousands, millions of scrolls.”

Reading scripture is like counting another person’s treasure when the whole world is open before you.

- Myozen

Oh boy!  Too many references, so much history.
It gives me a head ache. How about this instead:

Brooks babble, children play,
The tides move in and out.
The whole universe breaths.

Can you hear the wind in the trees?
I love the color and sound of aspen in the Fall.
To inhale such joyful moments is a gift.

- Tony

I’d like to
Offer something
To help you
But in the Zen School
We don’t have a single thing!

- Ikkyu poem offered by Terrie

While breathing in, not dwelling in breathing in:
A beating heart totally becomes a beating heart
Alive with walls, fences, twirling flowers, morning stars and faces.
While breathing out, not getting involved in breathing out:
A face breaking into a smile totally becomes a face breaking into a smile
Opening, revealing, expressing faces alive with opening, revealing and expressing.
May we recite such a koan, hundreds, thousands, millions of times.

- Korin

Korea PIc Bodhidharma

Poems and Reflections from Opening the Book of Serenity: Case 2

Emperor Wu of Liang asked Great Teacher Bodhidharma, “What is the highest meaning of the holy truths?”

Bodhidharma said, “Empty–there’s no holy.”

The emperor said, “Who are you facing me?”

Bodhidharma said, “Don’t know.”

The emperor didn’t understand.

Bodhidharma subsequently crossed the Yangtse River, came to Shaolin, and faced a wall for nine years.

Skillful means meant tough love for the emperor. This wide eyed peasant can’t help but shake his head. Why didn’t he just say, Everything Holy?

- Tony

Indra’s Net

Nothing holy, everything holy
All things touched
All things touching
In each moment

- Cindy

What is the bridge between awareness & compassion?
Can I cross alone?
9 years hardly meets the learning curve;
Sitting, I’m jealous of the spider swinging in its hammock;
I cling to the perfected indentation in the mound of sand of my making.
Almost every moment is a field day for the clinician of desire.
Where are you Emperor, Wu?
I’m lost without the edge of your inquisition;
I need the comfort of your company, in the dark night of my vulnerability.

“Robe and Bowl”
Dharma embodied
Sustaining student and teacher
Unshakeable reciprocity;
Good for digestion.

Guess what?
I need to face into my own doubt
and get to the heart of it.

- Liz

Bodhidharma met the emperor of the Liang Dynasty, a devout Buddhist
renowned for his piety and charity, who was much given to endowing
monasteries and orphanages. Wu said: “I have endowed temples and
authorized ordinations–what is my merit?” Bodhidharma’s answer was
radical: “No merit at all.” Wu had been doing good for the sake of
accumulating merit. Bodhidharma cut through Wu’s ideas about merit to the
core of his teaching, that your practice isn’t apart from you: when your
mind is pure, you live in a pure universe; when you’re caught up in the
ideas of gaining and losing, you live in a world of delusions.

The emperor tried again: “What is the first principle of the holy
teaching?” And Bodhidharma’s answer once again cut to the quick: “Vast
emptiness, nothing holy.” There is nothing to cling to, holy is just a
word. The great dynamic universe of absolute reality flourishes, and it is
completely ordinary. The emperor did not understand what he was saying,
and Bodhidharma left his kingdom…

- Commentary by Jisho offered by Susan

No more bones for the Emperor.
Hand back the holy relics!

Who admires the harvest moon
Multiplied in ochre orbs, the lights of Valley For—
Oh shit.
Inscrutable icon floating up from the dashboard, flashing orange!

STOP the car.
STUDY the owner’s manual.

Slowly now, bathed in headlights,
Glittering dots and matte dashes down the middle of the two-lane highway
Draw me home.

- Laura

Holy or common, high or low, all empty, all true.  Dropping such distinctions, you will know who I am and who you are.

- Myozen

Sitting for nine years facing a wall one chill Autumn evening,
Holding a thousand years of Zen just under the thumb-tips gently touching.
Sometimes it needs to get cold to fully appreciate the warmth of this soft body,
And this soft heart of bottomless love.

- Korin

three monks

Poems and Reflections from Opening the Book of Serenity: Case 1

One day the World Honored One ascended the seat. Manjusri struck the gravel and said, “Clearly observe the Dharma of the King of Dharma; the Dharma of the King of Dharma is thus.” The World Honored One then got down from the seat.

The entire Universe sits on the Throne of Suchness, including those who bark at the moon.  What else is there?

- Tony

The whole great world from light to dark
lives the dharma king’s great dharma!

Manjushri announced it again just now!


Buddha up, Buddha down,
What’s the difference?
Thinking mind makes it so.
Manjusri should know better!

- Susan

We are the night ocean
Filled with glints of light
We are the space
Between the fish and the moon
While we sit here together

- Rumi poem offered by Cindy

Driving home,
The full moon rising in the night sky
Fills my senses.
A moment of sheer ecstasy.
Knowing it could only be that moment.

- Cindy

Clearly observe
In a circle, how a hundred koans bloom.
Could it be
Jostling the heart of doubt?
Arising, abiding, fading away.
Only the thumbprint of a throne remains.

- Laura

I reach the bridge and see the line-up of birders, and know I’ve found the spot.

The White Wagtail was reported a few days ago and we don’t expect it to stay long. The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Western North America says that the White Wagtail is “Uncommon and local in western Alaska, where it nests among large boulders. Solitary. Forages on open ground along edges of ponds and lagoons.”

This bird foraging along the edge of Rodeo Lagoon in the Marin Headlands has caused quite a stir. It’s been here for two days and no one expects it to stay for long. A frantic email popped through on the bird list earlier this morning. “Which parking lot at the lagoon? There are two!” — Dea is worried she’ll miss it.

We line the eastern bank and bridge. I see someone I know, Scott, and he offers me a glimpse through his scope.

But the bird has disappeared. We laugh. Just my luck.

We move further south for a different angle. Then the bird appears again, at the edge of the reeds, easy to see in my binoculars. It moves quickly. I get a closer look through the scope, too. It dashes in and out of the reeds as it feeds. An excited Asian man in a floppy hat calls out every time the Wagtail appears, “It’s out!”

We all stand, chatting about the bird. Is it from the small population of Alaskan birds, or could it be from the much larger Eurasian population? We are all feeling good, having seen the bird on this bright morning. The wagtail disappears into the reeds, then runs out to forage. “It’s out!”

As we watch, three river otters roll in the water. They’re hunting the ducks. The otters gather together, three heads just above the water in a tight group as they stalk the mallards and wigeons. Suddenly the otters disappear, and we see nothing but a strong wake coursing toward the bank the ducks rest on. But the birds move away, and the otters are out of luck.

I take a few last looks at the White Wagtail, then say goodbye to Scott and the others, and continue my trip into the city. I drive away, wondering what possible use it is to go see a bird like that, when really every bird is its own miracle. Or, how many of these rare vagrant birds do we never notice? There must be more than we see. It’s kind of silly, really. Still, I’m glad I went.

The next day, others report that the wagtail is gone.

I make a checkmark in my field guide, and pen a notation, “Rodeo Lagoon, Marin Headlands, 10/22/2015.”

Sibley says that the White Wagtail is “Very long-tailed. Note clean black and white plumage with black breast-band.” The White Wagtail is thus.

But he doesn’t say anything about the otters, or about the easy camaraderie of birders, or if Dea ever found the right parking lot.

- Terrie

Manjusri pokes a hole in the universe.
Deflated, the Great Golden Buddha becomes a shadow of awakening.
Even as the shifting shadows close in, a cool, refreshing breeze.
The wind of the House of Dawn is in our hearts.

- Korin