Hakuin - Death

Poems from the New Year Death Poem Workshop

On January 6, we had a workshop during which we discussed the tradition of writing death poems in Zen and Japanese culture. We then spent some time writing and sharing our own death poems, some of which are included below. Deep appreciation to all participants!

I Won’t Go!
One more taste of the sweet nectar of this life!
Ah… there…

Let her go, this Alice Jean.
Your blessing like breath on a dandelion, she scatters thus.

Lightening strikes the tree.
Split open to its core.
Aah, there look!
I wasn’t “Me” all along.

- Alice Jean

Walking at sunset
You lightly hold my arm
Tonight I may let go completely
- Brian

God, I love Susan.
Thank you.

Damn, I’m going to miss
Martin Scorcese’s next picture.
- Dean                                                         ※

One day, or one hundred years,

every story is whole and complete.

I can’t say I’ll ever be wholly willing to leave you–

my precious ones,

or you, wondrous world of blue, and moon,

the smell of water, the sound of rain.

But I am so glad we found one another


So, give me your hand now,

and I’ll take my last leap

into your heart.

And I’ll be

there (when you need me)

safe and warm

and laughing.

- Dojin

As the flame starts to flicker, I ask,
“Can you wait a moment longer?”
Maybe then I’ll be ready to go.

Breathing out, I wonder.
Is this it?  The last one?
Then I hear the rattle in my chest return.
Not quite yet…

As I sit facing the wall,
I feel this world recede.
Those soft, familiar faces fade.
Something new is coming into view.

So grateful for this brief sojourn.
My body starting to chill.
Yet smouldering embers persist,
So to spark the next cooking fire.

Silence follows the robin’s song.
Darkness settles after sunset.
This final outbreath soothes the room.
No need to worry now.

I watch my father age and falter,
The trees drop their leaves.
Yet I am blind to how this world persists,
On beyond my presence.

My death, not a concern before,
Scares me since I have raised a child.
Non-attachment has a different tone,
When I see the sadness in her eyes.
- Gary

All burnt up, but is the end the end?
Do I go nowhere into nothing?
Or, from one fierce embrace into another?
From bright dreams filled with you and me to a more intimate slumber?

The warm laughter around the camp fire,
I offer to you all.
And if in the last moments there is a lot of smoke,
I hope it doesn’t get in your eyes.
- Korin

Hold the hand of Lady Death through
this gracious dance,
through the eyes of God, through
the whimper of a small child,
this mercy,
this brilliance,
and gone.
- Lisa

Finally, my pound of flesh!
Already gone. Not diminished.
Are you here yet?
with patience comes acceptance.
It’s never too late.
Good morning,
Death. What’s new…
Has the snow melted?
Chill out: haha
- Liz

This box of death may be my last gift to you.
Open the perfectly fitting lid.
You won’t need to save the wrapping.
Inside you will find a stone.  A fish.  A mirror.  A string of pearls.  A key.  Pine pitch.  A silver dollar.  An owl feather.
Or some other object made of the most ordinary matter, perfect in design and function,
Bridging nothing and everything.
- Myozen

Karmic clouds
Born of my body, speech and mind
If you must continue,
Oh please, flow gently on and on
As I take my leave.
- Peggy

Ah! How I’ve loved this life!
Oh! Please be OK without me!
The door opens – I can dance again!
- Susan


Grasses Love Snakes by Myozen Barton Stone

Grasses Love Snakes

All beings large and small, animate and inanimate,
attend matter’s attraction to itself.

Frank romance abounds:

The sea loves the fish, as the bear loves the woods.

Grasses love snakes like rocks love lizards,

Gardens churn with ecstatic gophers

(where else could they possibly rather be?)

Conifers drink dripping fog,

Electrons cling to adoring nuclei.

C + H = True Love Forever, or at least

again and again.

Foxes and sweet plums come together in urgent delight.

Earth holds us skin to skin

As she is held by the white love-fire of the sun.

Myozen Barton Stone 2014


In Memory of Thomas Nash

Thomas Nash, a member of the Stone Creek Zen Center community, has passed away. We will conduct a memorial service for him soon.

Some years ago, he gave a way-seeking mind talk at Stone Creek. The text he prepared follows:

To Zen To Stone Creek Zendo

In 1968 I was introduced to Zen Philosophy by Allen Watts
on San Francisco’s KMPX underground radio station.
On his Sunday morning show, Allen shocked me once by saying in
his (sometimes) arrogant voice, that you should get “it” together,
or kill yourself. I wondered about this statement? Soon I was meditating

One of my most early memories is that of a funny little man that
would do this magic trick with a radish. He would hold the radish
with both hands cupped, shake them, then hold each hand to his side.
I would then point to what hand I thought the radish was in. He would
grin, then open the empty hand and we would laugh and laugh. I would
point to the other hand with the same results. I searched and searched,
but never found out where the radish went?

This funny man magician was named Suzuki and he was our family cook in Japan,
1947 durning the American occupation. My father was a Army Major then.
My Nanny at the time, would translate my two year old Japanese words
to English for my parents. I spoke little English.

Growing up as a “Army Brat” my father (Col Roshi) would hold a
Saturday morning inspection of our rooms. If we failed the inspection,
it was held again the next Saturday. I learned about detachment from
friends, schools, homes, because of moving so much. Nature became
my Zazen as I would sit for hours in this quiet. I wandered the East
Bay hills, or sat fishing off the Berkeley Pier, watching, observing the
“slow flow”

On many nights, my friend and I would follow the underground storm
drains that ran to the Bay, underneath the city. Sometimes, in the dark,
my brother who is blind, would be our fearless navigator. If he took off
running and you were to scared to run into the unknown, you would be
left, marooned, in the void.

In the Army, boot camp retreat, we chanted our cadences, rising before dawn,
running in the silence, standing still, breath slowing.

Viet Nam Third World! The simplistic beauty of the rural farming hamlets.
No excess, trash, junk. everything in place, perfect!

Trail incense shrines in beautiful setting. A familiarness of temples,
curious about walking monks in robes.

Waiting, quietly in the pitch black for my eyes to adjust to night vision,
my breath softens

The no mind focused,heightened awareness of point man on combat patrol.

Going Native, squat eating with chopsticks and wooden bowl.
Staying at Mamason’s, not going back to my unit.

The Zen Mind of the Sixties Revolution! Anything goes!
“Orange Sunshine Acid” Nirvana. Everyone is Buddha!

“Going back to the Boonies” “Dropping Out! Checking in!
“Following the Tao” My sole possessions, three blankets, a cooking
pot, and “Begging Bowl” “Have any spare change?”

Sitting! Watching the tide change above my cliff side bush at
“Green Gulf Ranch” shiny eyed cows munching!

The reckless shallow water dive. Born again, now a Quadriplegic.
Saved by the Dharma! Surrender! Detach! Trust! I still sit and do nothing!
In the space between the lines, magic abounds!

Building a intentional spiritual community, deep in the bible belt,
“Zen Mind Beginners Mind” our Gospel! 300 on hillside watching
sunrise, sitting Zazen, Meditation in Action!

Our teacher passes on Suzuki Roshi’s mind melt and…..
As we would look into each other’s eyes
Besides recognition or greeting
There would be a hint of excitement
The possibility of unspoken attainment
Losing the self, dropping the fears
The judgments that bind us from flying free
A unconditional majestic love
Carrying us to a sacred place
A state of clear beauty
Where healing, understanding, protection is possible
Back to “Forgotten Roots”  our “Original nature”
All capable of returning to
Once again and again

Sonoma County, many Zen Groups later
In Woman’s Voice’s I find Stone Creek Zendo,
Jisho and You! A fresh heartfelt look at Zen!

Thank You!

Thomas Nash
May 2009

2014 Green Earth Sesshin – Poems and Photos


insect haiku

Black bugs in brown duff
Busy busy busy biz
Great activity!

Beetle on grass stalk
Dancing in the summer breeze.
Who will let go first?

Tiny green inch worm
Stretches hopefully up from
Spent altar flowers.

- Kathy


The container is so immense and intimately held:

Clouds black
Drops as big as silver dollars

Your feast is my dead end
Dangling in your mouth.

Three black bulls
Seemingly aloof and austere
Lean into each other
Nuzzling brows
Brushing cheeks
And a lick behind the ear

- Liz


The bowl of trust, warmth, support, was immensely nourishing to me, dissolved the rough, settled, clarified, home. In gratitude…

What the Eucalyptus Say

We’re entangled. You know this. Never
Separate. Born from a sixteen-toed elephant’s foot. This arm extends over the human made
path. Another braces you against strong wind. Trunks are packed, spiralling toward the sky.

- Centa


The pink blossom is visible above the edge of the deck across from where I’m sitting zazen. An alligator lizard wearing a fancy, multicolored headdress slowly climbs the stem until the headdress just comes into view above the deck. It investigates the blossom, tastes it, and then the headdress flies away, revealing itself as a butterfly, and the lizard as my grasping mind.

Walking meditation, the road lined both sides by giant cypress and eucalyptus trees, we pass one which has fallen away from the road, displaying the underside of an enormous fan of roots. Some of them have obviously pulled out of the ground. Others have torn apart, unable to either release from the earth or to resist the increasing leverage of the trees surrender to gravity. Who clings to what?

A house fly buzzes around the last blossom on a red rose bush outside the zendo. A cliff swallow swoops and swallows the fly with no hesitation or deviation, leaving no trace.

- Myozen


Taking Refuge in Stone Creek

I am coming to my fourth year at Stone Creek and have some observations I would like to share. I am hoping in doing so to encourage others to address their experiences and thoughts about our Sangha. While I have had many of these perspectives in my mind for a long time, Korin’s mentioning the idea of expanding the website and the newsletter gave me the nudge I needed to actually sit here. I hope to set a precedent.

What would I say to someone if they asked me to give my evaluation of our Sangha? Actually, it has happened many times. I say that it is a good place to practice and has a wonderful community that is mostly free of the kind of tensions that plague many groups. If you are waiting for a “but,” there isn’t one.

Taking refuge requires trust. Actually, as I see it, there is a strong correspondence between truly taking refuge and the psychological concept of “safe attachment.” I know on the surface that attachment sounds like a Buddhist no-no, but as my friend John Amodeo argues, the opposite may be closer to the truth. We often confuse our natural wish and need for connection with clinging and grasping. Many of you will remember the Buddha’s chastising Ananda: “Don’t say that, Ananda, friendship is all of the Dharma.” I don’t really want to argue the point, but would like to look at where we as a Sangha support “safety” and where we either undermine it (not often, I think) or just don’t do enough to create it.

The early Sunday morning service is beautiful; lots of bells and bows and readings. It is my favorite time at Stone Creek. After the service, we eat breakfast together. It is a time when I can talk about hiking places and movies with Joko. I get to see Jisho relaxing, hear stories from Burt and puns from Eric. If you have never gotten up early enough to make it, try to come just to feel the interactive richness. Even the clean-up time after breakfast oozes camaraderie.

I point to the early Sunday services because for me they epitomize what feels like sangha-building. They create an atmosphere where we can all experience our wholeness. We bring our practice, our personhood, and our need for interaction. As I see it, all that helps create the “safety” required for refuge.

A couple of years ago we created a Film Night to encourage this kind of mixing. Turned out that it was too labor-intensive and it fell away, but I feel like more of those kinds of opportunities really make a difference in how much connection people feel to our Sangha. I feel like I know a lot of people in the Sangha in a surface way. I like them, but don’t know much about them beyond where they unusually sit on Sunday mornings. I often know their smiles. Like most, I think, I tend to spend time with people I know well.

I have just one other observation that I feel inspired to add. Much of the openness that most of us experience at the Zendo, as I see it, is Jisho’s legacy. Her demand that all of us be heard, all can be said out loud, and all of us have a place at the table, has created our sangha’s inclusiveness.

Thanks for listening.

Bows, Bruce