A cup of coffee—deeply sweet, stirred thoroughly. More than the scent of incense or aftershave, the aroma of a creamy, steamy cup of coffee, and for me, Daido is present, a whisper not quite heard but known nonetheless, in that way of things.
In these days since his death, and in other times when I’ve needed in some sense to bring him awake in my body-heart-mind, all it takes is that—making and taking time to taste, smell, hold, and to be held, by this very simple ritual that he wove resolutely into dailiness (often—Feh!—against the objections of the politically correct Buddhist caffeine police)—before each sitting at dawn; a time or two during the always busy workday of teaching, ministering, and administering; and, remarkably, even after evening zazen just before heading to sleep. If Bodhidharma tore off his eyelids and green tea sprouted to wake up centuries of adepts—one of Daidoshi’s legacies is surely the warm cup of completely enjoyed coffee.
His life so often was of that ilk: the intimate gesture, the ritual so simple yet suddenly so radically generous, the bitter and sweet, like coffee and cream, intermingled into one so thoroughly that it made the most unlikely places and beings know they were home, they had great work to do, and they could, of course, do it. (And if they worked for Dharma Communications, they might find they were doing it again, until it was not just perfect, but beautiful.)
Dogen Zenji wrote: “Since intimacy surrounds you, it is fully intimate; it is beyond intimate. You should clearly study this. Thus the person becomes the correct heir of Buddha ancestors. Right now is the very moment when you are intimate with yourself and intimate with others.” The word “intimate” will likely always be associated with Daido: “Be intimate with your life, with the Buddha, with each and everything. To trust yourself,” he would emphasize, “is to be intimate with the Great Way.” Where Maezumi Roshi, his teacher’s, key word was perhaps “appreciate”… ”let us appreciate”…Daido’s language pattern and life study seemed to key on “intimacy.”
I remember his tears—never spill-over, gush, silly tears, but the wet-eye, can’t-hide-them kind—when sangha was beginning to really shape at Mt. Tremper. Sitting one Sunday afternoon in the late eighties at a Chinese restaurant after the morning sitting and dharma talk at the center, attended by what was then a recordbreaking crowd of forty, he reported, as the miso soup arrived, that a couple from out of town had told him they were going to move to the area, buy a house, reset their life, just to be close by. “It’s happening,” he said. I looked out the window at the stream running over the rocks. “More and more trouble,” he said. I smiled, and when I looked back at him his eyes were wet. We both looked back at the stream, ate our soup, keeping a good quiet.
His dharma talks were from the beginning serious, warm, exciting to the heart—and the buildings and grounds and formation program over the early years would be met again and again by his astonishing insight and unflagging love. What might get lost to history, however, and I think also needs to be celebrated, was his capacity for craziness and joy.
“Indeed,” as he would say. (And I would edit out of every other paragraph of his talks.)
Adirondack Wilderness trainees have been imprinted with his mangled and marvelous version of the Voyageurs’ song…”Oooohh preddy mae blondae, kae fae bon fae bon fae bon…,” which he would launch into around the campfire or whenever the canoes faced a particularly difficult passage. He would give each camper a quasi-French or quirky Native name, as in Hojin’s “No Man Tepee Woman.” All of it basically working to make it impossible to be stopped by fear, even amid four-foot waves on a fog-filled lake with no shoreline in view.
In addition to the impressive, well-known dharma catalogue of videos, books, and other media offerings, Roshi also produced the private-label “Dogs and Cats Know It; Zen Students Do Not,” featuring his son Asian’s tabby cat, his dog Lobo, and himself disguised in a fake moustache fashioned of dog hair, conducting interviews, and making perhaps the most killing presentation of the ancient koan ever.
And there is also his underground video “Zen Fang,” in which the monastery compost heap is rid of an infestation of giant rats, the community is saved from certain doom, and Roshi awards Lobo, the rat killer and film’s hero, with kisses on both cheeks and a Legion of Honor Medal as the dog sits posed, confused, in front of the vanquished rat pack.
Tears and laughter.
The profound and profane.
Dogen: “You are intimate with Buddha ancestors, intimate with other beings. This being so, intimacy renews intimacy.” Daido was known for his boldness and creativity, yet I think of so many moments of his quiet and wondrous healing. Many who have known, loved, been his friend or student, no doubt have memories of such times. I have a particularly special one. A day, again, in the Adirondacks.
I was in a great deal of bodily pain from an illness, but not speaking of it, and Daido had not said anything direct either, as I stumbled a bit with the routines of twilight in camp. As it got dark, he suddenly ordered—”Myo, get in the boat.” I was too tired to even offer the objection of not being able, or that he should not, I didn’t think, use that imperative tone in this time/ place/position/to that degree/etc., and just climbed down the rocks into the bow of the very small motorboat. We puttered out into the blackness of Moose Bay. Stars were just coming out. Everything I called bones and muscles felt as if beaten and bruised beyond expression. He knocked back the boat engine, and at once we were in a slow spin, the stern of the boat a pivot point as we turned and turned. Nothing was said. The whole sky was the whole mind. I imagine that we must have been there half an hour or so. Or maybe it was a lifetime. I lost time, lost body, lost pain.
Dogen and Daido would say: these mountains belong to those who love them. Belonging to love, to the mountains and the waters—this, I think, is the big legacy of Daido’s life and love.
We once published his intimate words on love:
I Love You
This is loving the Self
being love by loving
and being loved by the Way.
Isn’t this the same as
loving a mountain
loving a person
loving the self.
My love for you
Your love for me
This is so not only for love
but for all activity.
This is so not only for sentient beings
but the ten thousand things.
I love you.
May the Great Way
of being love by loving
and the scent of the sweet cup
is never far
I love you, Daido.
—Bonnie Myotai Treace