It amazes me that I have been in the Bay Area for 40 years and had never met Tenshin Roshi, aka Reb Anderson. I was delighted to spend time with this great teacher. He is, as most know, one of the original students of Suzuki Roshi and has subsequently been the abbot and senior dharma teacher of the San Francisco Zen monasteries for many years.
Reb has the amazing gift of greeting every person with great love. He has a penetrating, almost unnerving, look that seems to create an immediate intimacy and friendliness. And I was able to meet his look without fear or shyness. I particularly remember being only a few feet away from him in the dish room. We looked at each other eye-to-eye, in a way that one rarely fully meets another.
I must say I was a little wary of him. I knew very little about him (and still don’t), but I had heard he had a lot of charisma and personal power. I spent many years with charismatic gurus in the tradition of kundalini yoga, and while I received many gifts of insight and love from them, I now believe that I will be very careful about giving my complete devotion to any teacher.
Norman Fischer advised me to have dokusan with Reb, so I set up a meeting. I felt strangely exhilarated in his presence. We were both laughing, like two children in a sandbox. I told him how I had once asked Norman if he was a Zen master, and Norman replied, “Unfortunately, no,” and how later Norman told me that I could study with Reb, a genuine Zen master. After telling him this story, I looked directly at him and said, “Are you a Zen master?” He smiled his enigmatic smile and said, “I don’t know.” I asked him what a Zen master is, and he said both the “unknowable and mysterious” and “all the stories we tell about him.” I was flattered that Reb asked my permission to tell the story at Sunday’s dharma talk, without mentioning Norman’s name. It was interesting that Richard Baker was there at his talk, which could have been entitled, “What is a Zen Master?”
In my second dokusan – encouraged by Norman – I told him about my many years with kundalini gurus and the hurt I had suffered by their betrayals of my trust. I told him I am now reluctant to trust any teacher. Although I am very devotional by nature, how can I love the teacher but not the man? This is my lifelong koan. His answer at the time was a little vague to me. He seemed to be linking the Perfections (generosity, etc) with how to love the teacher.
But a few days later, I experienced an important insight, which I saw as a profound answer to my question. Reb and I passed each other in the dining room. We looked deeply at each other. Afterword, I was filled with great love and joy. I realized that it was just love, not really directed to Reb, because, after all, I do not know him at all. It was just love – fluid, dynamic, alive! Anything added on is just extra. Love is the mysterious and pure. When we add on our stories to the person, we open ourselves to attachment and suffering.
Wouldn’t it be a wonderful practice to greet each person with this non-clinging and mysterious love?