JANIS SOSHIN LEVINE



One day, during a sesshin at Ryutakuji after Soen Roshi had officially retired, he tapped me on the shoulder during zazen. I followed him out of the hall to a small room. He urgently wanted to tell me something important about cha no yu – the tea ceremony.

''There is a famous saying: cha zen ichi mi (Tea, Zen, same taste)," Soen Roshi said. But then he roared, "This is wrong! Tea is TEA, Zen is ZEN!"

He hit the tatami with his fan. I was dismissed.

***

Once, after sesshin at Ryutakuji, I was sitting on a bench in the Mishima station waiting for the Kyoto train. I was next to a woman who had also sat at the sesshin and who had been a long-time Soen Roshi lay devotee. Suddenly, she looked at me, shook her head and sighed, "Soen Roshi ga, ningen jya nai ... ningen jya nai." (Soen Roshi is not a human being ... not a human being.) I agreed. What she said made perfect sense.

We both sat there, awestruck at her revelation. You may ask, "What was he, if not a human being?" I don't know and I may never know. All I do know is that I am blessed to have known him.

***

When I was about to return home from Japan, Soen Roshi gave me a can of powdered tea and a tea whisk. He said, "Make tea wherever you go." This has been the spirit of my life ever since .

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