These words are dedicated to Tony, who fully lived his wild and precious life with generosity and love, until June 20 this year. The disease Tony had, MND, is known as the One Thousand Day Disease, but we didn’t know this when he was diagnosed. We knew the disease was a muscle thief, and grieved when his hands seized up, when he needed special cutlery and a B-pap machine to enable him to breathe in bed.
Tony encountered the Dharma in the form of Robert Aitken roshi back in 1980, immediately signing up for sesshin. He came home with shining eyes and great joy. When Gary Snyder visited Sydney and the fledgling SZC, and mentioned building a zendo in Northern California, Tony signed up and off we went to the Sierra Nevada wilderness to become part of the team. The Ring of Bone Zendo has its 40th anniversary on October 2.
Tony at opening of RoBZ l982
When it was SZC’s turn to design and build a zendo, Tony was architect, master builder and samu co-ordinator at Gorricks Run for over twenty-five years, one weekend a month. His Dharma name is Den Katsu – activity like lightening – ironic because when he was fifteen, and camping down the South Coast with school friends, there was a ferocious storm and a ball of lightning rolled into their tent. He’d just let go of the centre pole to get another sausage – the headline at the time was “Boy Saved by Sausage” – while one of his friends became unconscious, and had to be breathed back to life and another briefly lost his sight. There was the smell of burning flesh and Tony bore a scar from this misadventure on his arm. Of those four boys in the tent with Tony, three died young. And, although we don’t have maranasati, or mindfulness of death, as a practice in our tradition, nevertheless, at the close of each sesshin day, our Jisha reminds us:
Life and death is a grave matter,
all things pass quickly away.
Each of us must be completely alert,
Never neglectful, never indulgent.
We don’t need to wait for a terminal diagnosis. We can begin right here, right now, wherever we are, embracing mindfulness of death, letting go of our avoidance of mortality and waking up to this moment.
I am deeply grateful to our sangha for your love and support.