Roselyn Stone (晴雲庵 Sei’un-an ”Clearing Away the Clouds”)
8 February 1931 – 2 August 2022
I recently came across a note in one of my journals about “staying with a teacher until you have stripped off all the fruit.” Now I share with you the final fruit of Roselyn’s teaching.
A few years ago, some time after Roselyn had stopped formal teaching, stopped offering dokusan, she told me a traditional Taoist story[i]. In this story a monk is walking down a road carrying a backpack and in this backpack is an expensive pottery pitcher. As he walks, the pitcher slips loose from the pack and falls, crashing to the road behind him. He keeps walking on. Afterall, the pottery is already broken. Why turn back? Then, she demonstrated this story to me. Just walking on.
Just walking on.
I watched her amazed, tears in my eyes at the beauty of this demonstration. So simple and profoundly clear.
This same teaching is imbedded in two of Roselyn’s favourite koans, koans that gave the “Mountain” in the name of her Sangha: Mountain Moon. One of these is also one of my favourites: “Go straight along a mountain road with ninety-nine curves.” [No. 11 of the Miscellaneous Collection.] How do we walk straight on when the road has so many curves? This mountain road has switchbacks which make you feel like you keep treading the same ground over and over, sometimes left, sometimes right. Which way to go? Just walking on.
The other koan is from the Blue Cliff Record (Hekiganroku, Case 25 The Hermit of Lotus Peak Holds Up His Staff[ii]]: “Carrying my staff across my shoulders, I pay the others no heed and go straight into the thousand peaks.” Going straight. Just walking on. Just this… demonstrated to us over and over throughout her life. And yet – whilst paying others no heed, with great compassion, nurturing the transmission at home and abroad.
She demonstrated these teachings when after years of effort to get into a position of Professor in the Sport and Dance program at the University of Toronto, she retired early so as to focus all her energy on Zen…just walking on.
She demonstrated this in 2007 when she realized that the Australian students who had become her successors, teachers in their own right, needed the space to grow into their own styles and so she wound down her teaching in Australia…just walking on.
She demonstrated this again 4 November 2014 when, recognizing she could no longer see well enough the face across from hers in the dokusan room, she stopped formal teaching altogether…just walking on.
In the spring of 2020, Roselyn experienced a period of low energy and confusion caused by undiagnosed diabetes that culminated in a trip to emergency and several weeks of rehabilitation. At that time her doctor told her that she was within a few hours of death. She made a remarkable recovery, but the diabetes combined with her increasingly poor vision meant leaving her apartment and moving to a retirement residence in Orillia where she could be near her nieces. Since that time, her vision, and both her long term and working memory continued to decline. What she described to me was: realizing that she couldn’t function, that her memory and ability to communicate were declining. Even her memories of Zen and Koan practice were out of reach, although when prompted with familiar phrases her whole being smiled. The words were gone, but the truth is not. She made a decision and in late May of this year, when a neurologist informed her that she had vascular degeneration related dementia, she began the process of applying for MAID – Medical Assistance in Dying.
When she told me about this decision, she said “we don’t cling to moments, to things. The flower is lovely one day and then it’s gone. You move on. The next moment is coming.”
She also said to me “I have lived a great life. No regrets.
Her application was approved July 14, 2022. Roselyn Stone died peacefully 2 August 2022 in her apartment with her beloved niece Peggy at her side after spending the morning with both nieces laughing and joking.
Going straight into the thousand peaks.
And how do we respond to this teaching? Letting go, yes. Walking on, yes. But also turning to the third of Roselyn’s favourite koans: Blue Cliff Record, case 80, Jōshū’s Newborn Infant:
A monk asked Joshu, “Does a newborn baby have the sixth consciousness or not?” Jôshû said, “Bouncing a ball upon swift current.” The monk also asked Tôsu, “What does ‘bouncing a ball upon swift current mean?” Tôsu said, “Moment by moment, it never stops flowing.”
And so, as her flower falls amidst our longing, we move on. The ball bobs and bounces along the flowing stream. The teaching is transmitted now here, now there. It never stops flowing.
It is important not to misunderstand and think that Roselyn’s decision is the “enlightened decision” and would be appropriate for everyone. The practice teaches us to act in accordance with conditions and circumstances, like “a box fitting it’s lid.” This is also different from a popular perception of Zen as “anything goes.” Anyone who uses a lot of plastic lunch containers knows, not every lid fits every container. It is minutely precise.
This text will also be published in Kyosho (Awakening Gong) # 402, the magazine of Sanbozen International.
* Dogen Zenji, Genjokoan
[i] “Failing, he drops the pitcher without looking back.” Meng Min of the latter Han dynasty stayed in Taiyuan during his travels; once as he was carrying a pitcher, it fell to the ground, but he went on without looking back. Guo Linzong saw this and asked him the meaning. Meng Min replied, “The pitcher is already broken; what’s the use of looking back?” Linzong considered him unusual because of this, and urged him to travel for study.
Quoted from Cleary, Thomas. The Book of Serenity: volume I (pp. 19-20). Kindle Edition. (With thanks to Wah Keong Boey for finding the reference).
[ii] The full koan: The hermit of Lotus Peak held up his staff and showed it to the assembled people saying, “When the patriarchs reached this point why didn’t they remain here?” The crowd was silent. He answered for them saying, “Because it has no power for the Way”. He spoke again, saying “When all’s said and done, how is it?” Again, he answered in their place and said, “Carrying my staff across my shoulders, I pay the others no heed and go straight into the thousand peaks.”