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Sunday, 14 July 2013

7/14 - Dosho Port

                Dosho (Mike) Port is one of Dainin Katagiri’s Dharma heirs. He lives and works outside of St. Paul, Minnesota, in a place called White Bear. I am not going to be able to get there for these interviews, but, as chance has it, he is giving a workshop at the Boundless Way Temple in Worcester [see May 3rd entry] on the same weekend I am traveling to Massachusetts to interview Bernie Glassman in Montague. Joan comes with me on this trip, and we book rooms by Hotwire, which actually puts us in Marlborough overnight. But our GPS—we refer to the female voice as “Daphne”—gets us to both Marlborough and Worcester without a hitch.
                We find Melissa Blacker, David Rynick, and Dosho drinking coffee on the verandah as we pull up. The clematis on the trellis behind their large Buddha is in luxuriant bloom. Melissa shows us a Kannon statue she rescued from a second-hand store.
                The agreement I made with Dosho was that we’d meet for breakfast and then I’d drive him to Logan Airport. Melissa uses her i-phone to help us find an appropriate restaurant.
                After a long practice with Katagiri in the Soto tradition, Dosho went to Japan where he became involved in koan practice. He has continued the practice with Melissa and David at Boundless Way. I remark that it’s a fair distance between Massachusetts and Minneapolis, and he explains that he has done some of the work via Skype. Electronic dokusan. It’s an intriguing concept.
                Dosho grew up in a devout Catholic family and, for a while, considered becoming a priest. Puberty helped put an end to that career path. When, later, he ordained as a Buddhist priest, his grandmother blamed his mother, “She was completely fine with me, but she was mad with my mother for about a decade. She figured it wasn’t my fault that my mother had let me go astray.” I ask, “Really? She held a grudge for ten years?” He laughs. “You’ll have to ask my mom. Maybe it’s an exaggeration, but I’m tellin’ the story. Okay?” As Joan will  attest, I’ve been known to exaggerate a bit from time to time as well. I’ve always felt it was the story-teller’s prerogative. And you can tell that Dosho is a story-teller.
                He describes a trip he took with Dainin Katagiri when they had what he now estimates was a nine-hour wait at the San Francisco airport. Katagiri found one of “those plastic, awful blue-color, plastic airport chairs, and he just sat down and waited, and every few hours he would get up and go to the bathroom. There were other people with us, but I saw myself, at least, as his attendant, so I was trying to do what he did. But after two or three hours, I told him, ‘I’m going to take a walk.’ So I walked around a bit and came back, and he was still sitting there, so I sat down next to him. And a moment or two later, he leaned over and said, ‘You’re not a very patient person.’”
                We continue the conversation in the car. Joan is driving. It is her first time in Boston, but, with one eye on Daphne and the other on the highway signs, she manages. Meanwhile, Dosho and I are discussing the way in which the koan curriculum operates. “Shikan-taza is difficult,” he points out. “The koan system kind of tricks you into shikan-taza.”
                We discuss the difficulties some centers are having now that the first and second generation of teachers are no longer with them. A lot of the attraction of Zen in the early days had been based on those strong personalities. “I heard Leonard Cohen say that he felt such a connection with Joshu Sasaki that he would have learned shoe-making from him if he’d been a shoe-maker rather than a Zen Master. I like to think my relationship with Katagiri Roshi was like that.”
                But it strikes me that it’s not just a matter of personality. In the same way that the youth drawn to Zen in the ‘60s and ‘70s were challenging the values of the previous generation, young people today are questioning some of the structures associated with Zen, including the Japanese cultural characteristics. “In the old days,” Dosho remembers, “when we’d meet people from other centers, we’d all compare how tough our training was. Now it’s almost the reverse. Now centers are vying with one another about how accommodating they can be. There was this young man at a talk I gave who raised his hand and asked, ‘Please, sir, what is the minimum amount of asceticism needed to practice Zen?’”
                It’s also, as Bobby Rhodes had pointed out, a more electronically engaged generation. And if dokusan can be done by Skype, why not experiment with other ways of using the internet to promote Zen? Dosho, like Eshu Martin, is working along those lines. I’m not wholly comfortable with the idea; however, distance education works in other fields, so why not Zen?
                After leaving Dosho at the airport, we set Daphne to take us to Northampton where we will stay tonight. Two hours later, she takes us down an old farm road, stops on a dirt track in the middle of a cornfield, and tells us we’ve reached our destination.

Cypress Trees in the Garden:

Port, Dosho Mike – 118, 207, 409-21, 468-69, 476-77

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