1939 – December 17, 2018
By Laura Burges; edited by Mary Watson, David Chadwick, and Andrew Main
Jack Weller’s study and practice with Shunryu Suzuki Roshi was one of the most important times of his life. The deepening of his understanding of Suzuki Roshi’s way continued throughout his life. Jack passed on December 17, 2018, at the age of 79.
Jack grew up in Vancouver, British Columbia, and was brought up to be Jewish. His father had a large chain of candy stories in England before emigrating. Later, when they moved to Santa Monica, his mother took a class in World Religions. She told Jack that if she had her life to live over again, she would be a Buddhist. When Jack was 11 or 12 years old, she introduced him to a radio program by Alan Watts. “My mother was more than my mother,” Jack would say, “She was my teacher.”
Jack came to the San Francisco Zen Center in 1967 when he was in his late twenties. He had recently had open heart surgery and was under stress at UC Santa Barbara working on his PhD in philosophy. He knew he needed a radical change. A friend sent him about an article about Tassajara Zen Mountain Center from the Village Voice. It described Suzuki Roshi and the newly founded Buddhist Monastery near Carmel Valley. Jack intuitively knew this was where he needed to be.
After a brief period as a student at Tassajara before it had officially opened, he went to the city, At first he stayed in a hotel on Van Ness Avenue near Bush Street and went to zazen (meditation) on the balcony overlooking the main hall inside Sokoji, a Buddhist temple. Zazen was for 40 minutes with a 10 minute walking meditation and another period of zazen. Everyone else then got up to do the chanting service, but he continued sitting in the balcony in full cross-legged lotus position. The next day someone told him to join the service, so he did. He first met Suzuki Roshi as he bowed to him when leaving morning service, as was the custom. He felt that Suzuki Roshi really looked at him and saw him. Jack continued coming back.
It wasn’t long before he found a place to stay across from Sokoji. One of his roommates was Reb Anderson, who later went on to become an abbot of the Zen Center. They would go to early morning zazen together.
He also met Katagiri Sensei, who was an assistant teacher with Suzuki Roshi. Katagiri recommended that Jack finish his PhD oral exams (which would give him an MA) before going to Tassajara. Thus, Jack returned to Santa Barbara in the Spring of 1968, studying and working as a teaching assistant. At the end of the summer he was able to pass his exams and go to Tassajara that fall.
His first work there was to organize the few shelves of books into a Buddhist library. Then he worked in accounting, and later became the person in charge of the baths, a position he jokingly referred to as the “bath girl,” as it had come to be called due to having been filled by women up to that time. The next summer he was the guest manager
He moved back to San Francisco, not having the funds to continue at Tassajara, and started looking for part time teaching positions. At the same time he was working on his PhD thesis in philosophy.
In September of 1969, while the building was still in escrow, Jack was the first person to stay overnight at the Zen Center’s City Center at 300 Page Street. The first night, Jack lit incense from Eiheiji in Japan, one of the two main temples of the Soto Zen sect. He walked around each floor of the building with the lit incense, and then sat zazen. Bob Halpern and Niels Holm soon moved in, joining Jack before the day in mid-November when the whole building was ready for occupancy.
Suzuki Roshi came to visit when the sale was finalized and Jack showed him around. On the third floor they looked across at the building on the corner and Suzuki Roshi said, “We should buy that building, too.”
Suzuki Roshi died on December 4, 1971, on the first day of the zazen intensive seven day Rohatsu Sesshin. Jack had just moved into the nearby apartment building at 340 Page Street and was the first Zen student to live there. Gradually, as the other tenants moved out, Zen students and their families moved in. One such student was Mary Watson, who met and talked to Jack as he was doing his house job of vacuuming the halls. A few years later, they were married and lived together at 340 Page for over 38 years. Their son Daniel played with other children living in the building, sliding down stairs on mattresses and playing baseball in the hallway of the third floor.
At City Center, Jack taught courses in Zen and Buddhist art. Katagiri, now called Roshi, asked Jack to teach a course on the Self and Not-Self teaching in early Buddhism, which he was studying for his PhD, and he taught a course on Abhidharma with Kazuaki Tanahashi.
Though tempted to be ordained as a priest, Jack felt strongly that his path was to be a different kind of teacher. During his academic life, he had the opportunity to study with Edward Conze, Huston Smith, and Paul Wienpahl. Jack has taught philosophy and Buddhist Studies at San Francisco State, the California Institute of Integral Studies, Mills College, The University of California Extension in San Francisco, UC Santa Barbara, and John F. Kennedy University. He was the founding director of the Arts and Consciousness program at JFK for 10 years. At the California Institute of Integral Studies, Jack created a master’s degree in Expressive Arts Therapy which he ran for 20 years. This unique MA program combined all of the arts—dance, music, art, sculpture, poetry. Thus, a student would graduate as a therapist skilled in using these modalities according to the needs of their clients.
Jack searched for teachers who embodied the same lovingkindness and compassion as he’d found with Suzuki Roshi. He practiced with two women teachers, Tseda Lehmo from Tibet and Rina Sirkar from Burma. In the last years, he was a student of Thich Nhat Hanh, the Vietnamese monk and peace activist. He, Mary, and Daniel attend his retreats in various parts of California.
Jack was an avid San Francisco Giants fan. When Daniel was about six years old, they started going to games and spring trainings in Arizona together. He and Mary went backpacking in the Sierras, sometimes with Daniel. One of their favorite places to go was to Lake Eleanor in Northern Yosemite. Starting when he was three, Daniel would ride a small horse which also carried much of the gear.
In order to get a break from the stresses of Jack’s work, they would go for a weekend a month to such places as Inverness, Downieville, a gold mining community in the lower Sierras, Pescadero, and the Bay Area Delta. When Daniel was four, they went on a trip to see relatives in Manchester, England, and then visited in Belgium and France. Other trips included going to Bali, Scotland, a number of the Hawaiian Islands, Japan, to Costa Rica with Daniel, and a trip Mary and Jack took to France to follow the footsteps of Jack’s favorite artist, Van Gogh.
Although Jack was sociable and enjoyed traveling, he also had the ability to be content just being at home, reading and studying. He was truly present in what he was doing and in where he was. He accepted the lessening ability of his body to function well with grace, but he also was fearful of what would happen next. It was a deep practice for him of being out of control of his body. He first was diagnosed with Parkinson’s and a few years later with congestive heart failure, the latter being the cause of his death.
Jack has written a great deal about his time at Tassajara and early Zen Center, which include stories of his teacher Suzuki Roshi. He was close to finishing a book with these writings and recently gave a talk at the City Center in which he read from the manuscript and talked about it. Listen to that talk and read the transcript.
Jack said of Suzuki Roshi, “His stature wasn’t always apparent, he appeared very ordinary: extraordinarily ordinary! I was moved by his presence, his smile, his kind intensity and the connection I felt with him.” Of life, Jack said, “There is brightness in darkness. The darkness is non-verbal. You can be in that darkness and be alive. The most important things in life, you can’t know in words.”
Shokan Jordan Thorn
January 13, 1953 – June 10, 2018
With great sorrow, we announce the passing away of Shokan Jordan Thorn. Jordan was a constant warm presence at San Francisco Zen Center, welcoming and caring for students, staff and employees, visitors and Board members, and overseeing many areas of SF Zen Center practice and administrative operations.
Posting on cuke.com by David Chadwick.
We take refuge in Buddha, we take refuge in Dharma, we take refuge in Sangha.
From Scott Wren:
I met Jordan at Green Gulch in the late ’80s. I was new to practice and he had returned to Zen Center after living for a number of years in Berkeley. I remember the time I first heard him in Reb’s Book of Serenity class. Somebody erupted in laughter. The sound was big and expansive. Fresh and lively. Nothing was being held back. You could feel the breadth and depth of it.
Flash forward a few years: I was on the San Francisco Zen Center Board, and Jordan moved to City Center. I was chair of the Finance Committee and Jordan became Treasurer. We worked closely and shared our love of practice and sitting together. We also soon discovered that we shared an interest in wine. Eventually we started a tasting group that met a couple of times a year for dinners and tastings. To say Jordan liked to drink wine would be true, but would miss what I came to appreciate was the main point of his appetites. Jordan loved everything in life. From food and wine to sci-fi and sports—he embraced it all. He often struck me as the modern day equivalent of Zen bon vivant and poet Ikkyu, who famously wondered, “Why is it all so beautiful, this fake dream, this craziness. Why?”
Jordan didn’t waste a lot of time trying to answer such “why” questions. He was too busy enjoying and sharing his life with friends and students. I found him to be a wonderfully inspirational dharma friend and teacher. I’ll never forget one lecture he gave a few years back where he invoked Spiderman as a model for Zen practice. After all, Spiderman was just an ordinary, slightly weird guy who developed super powers. So he started saving people. No big deal. Just doing what came naturally. Nothing special. But, in fact, it was very special. Just like Jordan.
I count myself as very, very lucky to have known Jordan and I loved him dearly. He wasn’t bigger than life—he was life itself.
Zoketsu Norman Fischer will officiate for Shokan Jordan Thorn’s funeral on Sunday, August 5 at 10 am.
The ceremony will be held in the Buddha Hall at San Francisco Zen Center, 300 Page Street, San Francisco, CA 94102
For practical queries, call the Front Office at 415-863-3136.
Gengetsu Junsei Jana Drakka / Mysterious Moon, Pure Spirit
October 21, 1952 – October 27, 2017
Funeral Ceremony – Friday, December 15, 2017, 4 pm
Hosshinji – Beginner’s Mind Temple
San Francisco Zen Center’s City Center, 300 Page Street, SF
For more information, call 415.863.3136.
Funeral Ceremony Program
(Will be available at the ceremony.)
There is an accessible entrance.
The event will be Livestreamed to accommodate those who are not able to attend.
December 1923 – November 7, 2017
From the Facebook post of San Francisco Zen Center, courtesy of Linda Galijan and Sachico Ohanks:
Del Carlson passed away on the morning of November 7 in Sarasota, Florida. Del came to Tassajara in 1969 at the invitation of Yvonne Rand and spent many summers working in the Tassajara kitchen. He also regularly joined the community at Green Gulch Farm for practice periods. We hold him in our thoughts.
“Sooner or later we may die, and we will go to the same place we go when we sit.” —Suzuki Roshi, July 30, 1965
This video by cinematographer Frazer Bradshaw opens with Del working diligently in the Zen kitchen at Tassajara.
Gengetsu Junsei Jana Drakka / Mysterious Moon, Pure Spirit
October 21, 1952 – October 27, 2017
Memorial service at San Francisco Zen Center, 300 Page Street, Thursday, November 9, 6:10 – 6:30 pm
Funeral Ceremony at City Center on Friday, December 15, at 4 pm in the City Center Buddha Hall. There is an accessible entrance. The event will be Livestreamed to accommodate those who are not able to attend.
From the Facebook page hosted by Rev. Joko Mira Ingram and Shishin Junsei Benn Meyers:
Reverend Gengetsu Junsei Jana Drakka departed her body on October 28 at 9:16 pm. Please join us for a memorial in her honor at San Francisco Zen Center on Thursday, November 9 at 6:10 pm sharp. With her “Zendo Without Walls,” Rev. Junsei Jana Drakka brought the Dharma to many of San Francisco’s poor, houseless, and marginalized communities. She created and taught Harm Reduction Meditation to support people facing great stressors. She could often be seen on the streets of San Francisco giving comfort to people who were suffering, and her presence will be greatly missed.
Jana wanted you to know that loving you was a great joy in her life. Like her teacher, Zenkei Blanche Hartman, she felt that kindness is one of our most important practices. She said, “There is never such a thing as too much love.” This is a basic realization that has sustained her in the past difficult days, freeing her to do her inner work despite the pain.
Prior to the memorial, there will be the usual evening period of zazen/meditation starting at 5:40 pm (please arrive by 5:30 pm). Anyone who is attending the memorial is welcome to join the period of zazen beforehand. The memorial will begin promptly, and parking is scarce, so please allow yourself extra time to park if driving.
This event is wheelchair accessible. San Francisco Zen Center is at 300 Page Street at Laguna. Entrance to the memorial will be at the Laguna Street double-door entrance (enter through right-hand door).
Junsei Jana Drakka dies at 65 by Lilly Greenblatt posted October 30, 2017 on the Lion’s Roar web site.
by Diane Miller and Basya Petnick
Shin Ke Rei Gen
Deep River―Spiritual Source
January 1, 1949 – August 19, 2017
Kan Shin Zen Ki
Generous Heart―The Whole Works
October 28, 1951 – August 28, 2017
Hilary Parsons and Lin Zenki were passionate women. They were lovers―loving each other, their community of friends, and their lives in practice. They were also fighters―New Age warriors fighting for social justice as nurses, political activists, and as practitioners.
Hilary’s practice began with martial arts and then evolved when she became a student of Ruth Dennison. Lin’s practice began in her college years with Francis Cook at UC Riverside. It was the night shift on an oncology ward where Hilary and Lin’s relationship began and so did their joint devotion to the dharma. They lived and practiced together at San Francisco Zen Center for many years.
Their nursing careers followed the course of the AIDS epidemic. Lin was one of the first nurses to care for patients with this mystery disease. She, along with other UCSF nurses, were recognized in And the Band Played On: Politics, People and the AIDS Epidemic, a book by Randy Shilts that was made into a film. Lin later worked with HIV prevention programs for heroin addicts. But as her health weakened and she could no longer do hands–on nursing care, Lin transitioned to a case management program for patients with complex medical problems. However, taking her difficulties in stride, she kept working and learning and earned her MSN in nursing from Holy Names University.
COME SHARE YOUR BEAUTIFUL MEMORIES
AND CELEBRATE THE LIFE
OF THE EFFERVESCENT
Ninsen Kashin (River of Patience, Singing Heart)
December 9, 1937 – August 17, 2016
SUNDAY, OCTOBER 9, 2016, 2 – 5 pm
HAMILTON BUILDING – GRAND BALLROOM
631 O’Farrell Street, San Francisco CA
between Hyde & Leavenworth
It was Lee’s wish that upon her death, her community of family, friends, colleagues, students,
dharma brothers and sisters, volunteers, teachers, and medical caregivers would be invited to
gather in a spirited celebration of her life – with music, laughter, frivolity, storytelling,
delicious snacks, and, of course, CHOCOLATE AND COOKIES!
Please bring a favorite photo and come write a note with a precious memory of Lee, as a gift for her
baby great-grandson Aiden – so he may know his great-grandmother through your eyes when he grows up.
PLEASE JOIN US!
If you plan to attend, kindly email your name to firstname.lastname@example.org
Remembering Lee Lipp
I remember meeting Lee Lipp in the early 2000’s when some of us practitioners of color and our white allies created a few “Diversity as Practice” events both at San Francisco Zen Center and in the East Bay. These memories also reminded me of how long and how deep Lee’s commitment was to the practices of inclusion, multiculturalism, and anti-racism within the total context of the Dharma. She was an ardent ally, maybe because of what she said, what she believed, but even more than that, because of how she moved and acted in the world. She fully understood and felt how intention-of-heart connects to action-in-world connects to impact-on-others. Her felt understanding allowed the beautiful qualities of humility and leadership to emerge simultaneously and blend seamlessly with how she was in the world.
Along with having her clinical private practice, her dedication to supervise interns and clinicians at the Haight Ashbury Clinic, and serving on the Board of Buddhist Peace Fellowship, she involved herself in anti-racism work and diversifying the reach of the dharma by being involved with the efforts at both San Francisco Zen Center and Spirit Rock Meditation Center for over 15 years. She contributed to multicultural teaching teams at East Bay Meditation Center where she brought her deeply impactful work of Transforming Depression and Anxiety workshops to diverse communities. She also assisted EBMC by managing and coordinating their Continuing Education Unit program.
From 2000-2005, Lee was the Diversity Coordinator of SF Zen Center’s Outreach program. She worked with the Diversity Committee at Spirit Rock to coordinate daylong retreats on diversity and anti-racism work that were joint ventures by both SF Zen Center and Spirit Rock. In 2007, when the Diversity Coordinator position became further woven into the Zen Center infrastructure by being moved into the Abbot’s office, Lee once again filled that role. She wrote in one 2008 report:
“A widening of focus from racism to include study of other isms has resulted in growing interest in these efforts from a greater number of people, and more enthusiasm for addressing racism. Students and staff in various locations have formed ongoing groups looking at isms. SFZC is providing Staff with conflict resolution training and empathy-building training. Tassajara recently completed a three-day diversity training and some staff from Tassajara, GGF, and City Center completed two days of empathy training. More teachers of different traditions now being invited to teach, with workshops for POC, LGBTQIQ, youth, and other specialized classes and events.”
In 2012, Lee graduated from the fourth iteration of Spirit Rock’s Community Dharma Leaders training program which was ground-breaking in its diverse demographics and intention to serve diverse communities. She was totally in her element and was a deeply engaged participant and resource to both the training group and the training team.
Thank you, Lee, for being such an ardent ally who has been consistent in bridging the difficult complexities of culture and identity across space, time, and lineage. But even more, I bow to you as a precious member of family. You are dearly missed.
With much love,
Bodhisattvas/Angels – Relating to Cancer, the last dharma talk given by Lee Lipp, was on April 27, 2016, at City Center. You can listen here.