Tag: zen

FLASHBACK: Issan Thomas Dorsey Roshi, Sanctus

issan-girl-boy

I first came across the name of Issan Dorsey when reading a book called Shoes Outside the Door, about the San Francisco Zen Center. SFZC was famous as the home of Shunryu Suzuki Roshi, one of the first Zen teachers in the West, and later infamous as the home of Richard Baker Roshi, successor to Suzuki, who was at the center of a knot of scandal involving sex with students, misuse of community funds, and all the stuff that makes for good reading. At present Baker Roshi is still teaching, but not at San Francisco Zen Center, and SFZC has survived the death of Suzuki Roshi and the scandal of Baker Roshi and keeps on going.

Dorsey was one name among many in a four- or five-hundred page book full of names, interviews, histories, but he stood out. A gay man, a former drag queen, a sometime junkie, Dorsey used his Zen training and the Dharma transmission which Baker Roshi gave him to minister to people, mostly other gay men, with AIDS. Under his leadership, a club for gay men who were also Buddhists became a Zen center that supported a hospice, the first hospice run by Buddhists in the U.S. Dorsey himself died of AIDS in 1990, but his Zen center, now also known as Issan-ji Temple, continues to serve.

I followed Suzuki Roshi into a biography, Crooked Cucumber by David Chadwick, and Dorsey Roshi into another biography, Street Zen by David Schneider. Then I went on to other things, but I never quite forgot Issan Dorsey. Last year, when I began to practice Antinoan devotion and observe the calendar of the Ekklesia Antinoou, I looked at the Calendar of the Sancti and found Dorsey Roshi again. I am honored to count him as a spiritual ancestor.

I recommend reading Street Zen–try your local library system before you try Amazon. Here are some links pertinent to Dorsey Roshi’s life and work:

Hartford Street Zen Center, which he founded

a New Yorker Talk of the Town piece on Dorsey from June 13, 1988 by Katy Butler
Bernie Glassman of Zen Peacemakers reflects on Dorsey
And from Joan Halifax Roshi, two stories (this is a pdf).

There’s much more out there: Dorsey Roshi’s legacy is alive, and so is he. Now let me combine traditions, if I may:

Ignis corporis infirmat, ignis sed animae persistat!

Nine bows to Issan Thomas Dorsey Roshi!

(Originally published at Antinous for Everybody)

Nothing special

When I got interested in Buddhism, one of the first books I discovered happened to be No Time to Lose by Pema Chodron. It’s a commentary on one of the core texts of Mahayana Buddhism, the Bodhicaryavatara by Shantideva, The Way of the Bodhisattva. While reading it, I often felt that Pema Chodron must have been reading my journals and bugging my phone for a decade; she seemed to have scarily precise insight into my emotional shit and the ways in which I sabotaged myself.

I was drawn to Tibetan Buddhism right off, but I also did some reading about Zen. I found a lot of wisdom in books by John Daido Loori, a Zen abbot and photographer who was basically everybody’s Italian uncle in robes. My personal aesthetic is much more Tibetan Buddhist than Zen, and there were a few Zen books I always meant to read when I got around to it, but I never did. One of them was a book called Nothing Special, by Charlotte Joko Beck.

I think of that book now as I try to write yet another post about my religion. Writing devotional poetry, as I did throughout the month of May, is like writing my religion. Writing these posts based on a meme is writing about my religion. There’s a step back from the material. And I keep looking at the assigned topics and finding that what I do as a pagan polytheist devotee of Antinous and associated deities is not hugely different from what I did as a High Church Episcopalian worshipper of Jesus Christ. It’s nothing special.
Looking at the suggested topics of this meme, and of other similar memes that I rejected in favor of this one, I get the impression that it’s supposed to be special. People speak of their path, their practice, their lineage, their tradition, not of their religion. I have used the same words in the past, but now, as a polytheist, the word religion comes easily again. Mediterranean polytheism–that’s my shorthand description–is my religion. And it’s nothing special, except that religion has always been hugely important to me.

I don’t reject animal sacrifice, but I don’t practice it myself. I don’t dance naked around bonfires, nor do I wear a special costume for worship. I don’t assume the dress of an Egyptian or Greek or Roman woman before rituals. If I ever attend a ritual hosted by other people, I will undoubtedly dress up, but in contemporary clothes. I am under no constraints as to what I’m allowed to eat, wear, or do; my relationship to Antinous is not less meaningful because I may watch Teen Wolf or because I go to see Marvel movies and enjoy writing fanfic. I’m not a priestess, seer, diviner, or other sacred personage. I don’t have gods whispering in my ear, or ancestors or spirits. At the moment, I have a sleepy, contented bird grinding his beak in my ear, a sign of his calm good mood. I mostly feel content with that.

I am by no means a “normal” person who unquestioningly accepts social mores. I’m divorced, bisexual, a polytheist, a media fan, a writer. On the other hand, I don’t necessarily stick out, either. I work full-time, have a pet I love, keep a Facebook account. I can pass for normal as long as you don’t ask me about pro sports, which I loathe, or deliberately question me about religion or sexuality.

I am not special, and that’s okay. In terms of my religion, I’m a lay person. I use the gifts I have, my writing, to honor the gods, as I have always wanted to do. And the gods, the ancestors, the spirits are present and active in my life.

Issan Thomas Dorsey Roshi, Sanctus

issan-girl-boy

I first came across the name of Issan Dorsey when reading a book called Shoes Outside the Door, about the San Francisco Zen Center. SFZC was famous as the home of Shunryu Suzuki Roshi, one of the first Zen teachers in the West, and later infamous as the home of Richard Baker Roshi, successor to Suzuki, who was at the center of a knot of scandal involving sex with students, misuse of community funds, and all the stuff that makes for good reading. At present Baker Roshi is still teaching, but not at San Francisco Zen Center, and SFZC has survived the death of Suzuki Roshi and the scandal of Baker Roshi and keeps on going.

Dorsey was one name among many in a four- or five-hundred page book full of names, interviews, histories, but he stood out. A gay man, a former drag queen, a sometime junkie, Dorsey used his Zen training and the Dharma transmission which Baker Roshi gave him to minister to people, mostly other gay men, with AIDS. Under his leadership, a club for gay men who were also Buddhists became a Zen center that supported a hospice, the first hospice run by Buddhists in the U.S. Dorsey himself died of AIDS in 1990, but his Zen center, now also known as Issan-ji Temple, continues to serve.

I followed Suzuki Roshi into a biography, Crooked Cucumber by David Chadwick, and Dorsey Roshi into another biography, Street Zen by David Schneider. Then I went on to other things, but I never quite forgot Issan Dorsey. Last year, when I began to practice Antinoan devotion and observe the calendar of the Ekklesia Antinoou, I looked at the Calendar of the Sancti and found Dorsey Roshi again. I am honored to count him as a spiritual ancestor.

I recommend reading Street Zen–try your local library system before you try Amazon. Here are some links pertinent to Dorsey Roshi’s life and work:

Hartford Street Zen Center, which he founded

a New Yorker Talk of the Town piece on Dorsey from June 13, 1988 by Katy Butler
Bernie Glassman of Zen Peacemakers reflects on Dorsey
And from Joan Halifax Roshi, two stories (this is a pdf).

There’s much more out there: Dorsey Roshi’s legacy is alive, and so is he. Now let me combine traditions, if I may:

Ignis corporis infirmat, ignis sed animae persistat!

Nine bows to Issan Thomas Dorsey Roshi!