Saturday, September 8, 2012

Tassajara, jury duty, and an unexpected encounter

A couple weekends ago, we went to Tassajara Zen Mountain Center, the first Zen monastery outside of Asia (part of San Francisco Zen Center). Our teacher takes small groups there every summer, where we visit for four days as "guest practitioners": we eat breakfast and lunch with the students, and work with them in the mornings. In the afternoons we have a dharma discussion, then some unscheduled time, then we eat dinner with the guests.

I missed jury duty back in July, and when I called to reschedule, for some reason I thought I'd just get it done with--who actually gets picked for a jury?--and I scheduled it right before the Tassajara trip. I promptly forgot about it and then discovered I had to go to the courthouse.

I had fun calculating the odds of getting picked for a jury: there were 165 of us, and before the morning started they knew they needed 120. I ended up in a courtroom, where they were selecting a jury for a 5-day trial of a gentleman charged with various drug offenses, and something about importing a dagger into California. (I don't know under what circumstances that's illegal; I know people who have done it recently, and knife sellers are happy to ship daggers here, which they won't do with e.g. nunchuks.)

Notes about jury selection:
  • The process is absolutely fascinating, in almost every way. I cannot recommend it highly enough.
  • I am reminded of how many kinds of people I never encounter. One woman had an FBI agent ex-husband and her son and two cousins are DEA agents, and decided that affected her impartiality. Another woman saw her husband murdered a few years ago, but figured she could be impartial.
  • The bar for serving as a juror is fantastically low, and the judge was very articulate about why that should be.
It was particularly interesting to watch the judge decide whether someone's English was good enough for jury service. One guy who was up in the jury box at the same time as me didn't even understand that he was dismissed, just as he hadn't understood that he was supposed to go sit in the jury box. To save everyone some time, I turned around and said "Se puede salir." It's possible he wasn't a citizen and could have saved himself a day of waiting around--I thought English was a requirement, at least de facto, for naturalization.

The judge was a little cranky about letting me go, but Anna helped with the proper wording: "I have a pre-arranged religious retreat in two days with my wife and our teacher, and I won't be able to go again for a few years." The judge is properly skeptical and reluctant to let anyone go, but eventually let me out. This saved us all the awkward conversation where it turns out that I (a) believe in jury nullification, and (b) have a small knife collection and would be hard-pressed to convict someone of something as lame as simply possessing the wrong kind of knife, as opposed to using it on someone.

I felt genuinely bad for my lame planning. It would have been interesting to serve, and I'm lucky that I can afford the time and money to do so.

And then we were at Tassajara! There is no electricity, it is very warm during the day, and we got up for the morning zazen at 5:50. I love, love, love being in a monastery. This was Anna's first monastic visit, and she now understands the draw. When we have successfully turned J into a self-sufficient adult, maybe the two of us can go there for a while.

The big surprise was that Richard Baker showed up. You can read the history yourself, but the short version is that he built San Francisco Zen Center into the mammoth organization it is today, and was forced to resign as abbott and teacher in 1983 over various ethical failures. He disappeared from Zen Center's world, teaching some in Colorado and mostly in Europe. People have been working all these years to effect reconciliation between him and SFZC; I was at City Center in 2008, and while the organization had done a lot of healing, his shadow hung over the place. Finally, at Zen Center's 50th anniversary, he came to give a talk, and...apologized at the beginning. For the first time. It wasn't a long or detailed apology--you can watch it here, starting at about time 29:00--but according to my teacher, it felt like the entire room exhaled, because it's been 30 years that Baker and Zen Center have been stuck like this.

On the drive up to Tassajara, we talked about reconciliation and forgiveness, what's the difference and who has to be involved. One person unilaterally forgives another, but for reconciliation, everyone has to be there. Zen Center, as the individuals who were there and the group culture they passed down to subsequent members, has done the work to forgive Baker, and understand their own role in his behavior, but reconciliation was impossible, because Baker wasn't there for it. All Zen Center has had, all these years, is Zentatsu Richard Baker as a historical construct, just a reputation and a bunch of stories. You can't reconcile, you can't have a relationship, with a reputation and a bunch of stories. For him to be present and acknowledge, even briefly, that he made a lot of mistakes and hurt people, makes all the difference for the people who were there, and it could have a remarkable effect on the general culture of Zen Center.

Baker Roshi's visit was spur of the moment. I was actually detailing the temple cars at the front gate when he came, so I got to say "Welcome!" and have a brief exchange, which felt nice; I wondered if he'd been there since he had to resign in 1983, and I suspected not. For whatever reason, when addressing the combined Tassajara residents and guests, he did not start out by mentioning The Great Unpleasantness. As a result, the first question after the talk was a tactless interrogation from a resident in his early 20s: "How does it make you feel when people demonize you?". Which has a pretty obvious answer ("Not very good.") and maybe was not the question that young gentleman really wanted to ask.

The endnote is that Anna and I ended up at Baker-roshi's table for breakfast, which was a trip. This poor resident was there and asked him about the previous night's talk.
"You mentioned a few times that Zen is a 'yoga' practice. What did you mean?"
"Oh, I just meant that Zen is a Yogachara practice, that's all."
It is obvious to me, but not to Richard Baker, that this girl has no idea what Yogachara is. And isn't about to ask.
"Could you talk a little more about Yogachara?"
"Oh, well, there's an amazing book about it, very dense, but worthwhile: [insert a couple minutes of recommending very dense and somewhat scholarly books about Yogachara without ever explaining why one would care]."
I intervened.
"Sarah, do you know where Yogachara falls in the timeline of Buddhist history and everything?"
"Uh, well, no..."
So I told her. Maybe being observant isn't Baker's thing.

I still had my question.
"Is this your first time back here, since way back when?"
"This is my first time staying overnight. Once or twice I drove out here to the end of the road, looked around, then drove back."
"Welcome back. We're glad you could come."

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