Keisho

Three years ago, this month, Rev. Keisho VK Leary died. Many of you had met Keisho. I want to remember my old friend and provide an update on what is happening at California Tendai Monastery. For background on the relationship between Keisho and Monshin and the Tendai Buddhist Institute and California Tendai Monastery please go to tendai.org in a few days. There is a more in depth recounting at that site.

Keisho’s personality, character, and vows were as a shugendo practitioner living in a monastery within Tendai’s purview. He was a devoted and disciplined practitioner who had a big heart, but his demeaner was sometimes eccentric. Our relationship went back to 1994, when Shumon and I first returned from Japan to establish the temple in upstate New York. In many ways we were very different in our outlook and our practice.

As previously mentioned he was a monastic shugendo practitioner, while I am devoted to spreading the Dharma through a village temple system. Fortunately, Tendai is an Ekayana school, and we both respected the other as authentic practitioners of the Dharma fulfilling our mission to the same ends through different mechanisms.

California Tendai Monastery (CTM) was a direct affiliate of Tendai Buddhist Institute, at the request of his teachers, as well as a result of our close relationship. Thus, several months before his death I visited him for several days on Cobb Mountain in Northern California, at CTM. There was no one who could succeed him. While there was another Tendai monk who was a lifelong friend of his, that person was not able to succeed him at the monastery for logistical and personal reasons. As a result, Keisho, after discussions with his two daughters who own land, as well as his sister, adjacent to California Tendai Monastery, asked that I take over the monastery upon his death, and he deeded the land to me.

During my visit with Keisho before his death we discussed personal things, such as reminiscences about his life and his relationships, his funeral (he requested that I officiate, this was later affirmed by his daughters, James and Jennifer), legal issues regarding the property, that the caretaker of the property be able to live there throughout her life, of the how we should proceed with CTM in the future. Among the issues that were vitally important to him was that CTM would be a Tendai temple. He didn’t want it to be a ecumenical Buddhist retreat center, conservation area, hiking trails, definitely no yoga, etc. He was also adamant that only his and my lineage be involved. He recognized that his idea of a monastic community was not going to be fulfilled the way he had envisioned. He trusted me to develop a program that would be consistent with our mutual understanding.

Something that he, nor I, could foresee would be that in the fall of 2015 there was a devastating fire in Lake County that totally destroyed Hoshū-in (a Goma-do), associated buildings, including the main house, and the infrastructure on the property. Any plans that I had before the fire required rethinking.

I won’t go into detail here, because this is still a work in progress. However, within the next few years there will be several people, including Junsen Nettles and Jiko Clarke, who will be living near and on CTM, putting our plans into action. There will be a functioning temple, living quarters, and associated buildings. The leaders of the temple will all be ordained in the Tendai tradition and have specific skills that lend themselves to the goals of the reorganized CTM.

This Tendai complex will be devoted to Ikigai (Jpn. 生きがい) which is roughly translated as intellectual and spiritual settings that enable people to feel that their lives are valued. We will use Morita teachings as a guide, including and incorporating Tendai Shikan meditation, mikkyo (esoteric practices), chanting, shodo (brush calligraphy), tai chi, constructive living principles, and Buddha Dharma classes, etc. It will not be a retreat center. People can be in residence for various periods of time, and they will be expected to work and function as a monastic community, with instruction from the core teachers.

There is a lesson is to be learned from this narrative. Keisho and I were very different in our expressions of Tendai philosophy, practices, and teachings, but we were always respectful of the other’s viewpoint.  We could have been obstinate in our individual perspectives, but we worked together, bringing our own gifts, to make a better world.

Keisho – Nama Amida Butsu, Nama Amida Butsu, Nama Amida Butsu – on the third anniversary of your passing.

Love and Gassho . . . Monshin