Finding Soen Roshi at the New York Zendo

If you asked when I first met Soen Roshi, I couldn't tell you. The early years of my practice were filled with him. It seems as though he was always there, tapping me on the shoulder in a thousand kind of ways. I felt he was my constant companion and was never even aware of it when he went back to Japan for a visit, or returned here, home. His presence was so intense it naturally pervaded everywhere, like a wind wafting through my entire life. All of a sudden, I was refreshed, something was lighter, the day more electric. My sense of urgency increased as well. Time became extremely precious. When Soen Roshi was around, I felt as though everything and anything could happen in a moment's notice, and it did. There were constant surprises and adventures. He turned my life upside down.

My first interaction with him was at morning service. In those days I lived close to the Zendo and was able to get there early every morning for morning service, while my children still slept. I got up very early and went downstairs in the elevator by 5:10 a.m. Needless to say, this change of routine introduced me to many new people and new worlds. Some women of the night, who lived in the building, would be coming home from work at that time. As they were often coming in the building, I was leaving. We greeted each other every morning, none of us asking where we were going to, or coming from.

Doors opened at the Zendo promptly at 5:30 a.m. In the very beginning, when I came into the zendo, I hardly realized that Soen was there at all. Often, he would be standing in the vestibule so unobtrusively, that he seemed to blend in with the walls. Every morning there was chanting, zazen, and, often, breakfast upstairs with Soen Roshi, Eido Roshi, monks from Japan, and whichever American students had come to sit; incredible oatmeal, prepared by Jonen Shiela Curtis.

One morning, as I stopped at the entrance of the zendo to bow, I felt a strong energy surrounding me, turned, and saw Soen standing there, watching. "Who is that guy?" I wondered as I slowly walked to my seat. A few minutes later, as I was sitting, he entered, came down the aisle, stopped at my cushion, bent over and whispered in my ear, "Bad karma relations, good Dharma relations." Then he just moved on.

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