A Katagiri Memorial in Italy

Teijo Munnich, abbess of Great Tree Zen Temple in Asheville, North Carolina, recently performed a memorial service for Katagiri Roshi and placed an ihai memorial tablet (there’s a photo of it at the end of this post) on the altar at Fudenji in Salsomaggiore, Italy. Right before that, she performed a ceremony to “open the eyes” of the tablet, when it’s customary to speak directly to the item. Here are the moving words that Teijo spoke—

Jikai Dainin Daiosho (Compassionate Ocean, Great Patience, Great Priest)
Tomorrow is the 25th anniversary of your passing from the human realm.
This ihai is a reminder of your life, of your great patience and steadfast perseverance.

We met in California almost 40 years ago; both of us were visitors from Minneapolis. Now I wear your okesa even with its wax stain on the front, I wear your kimono with mold stains which will not come out, and your teachings are still warm in my heart.

You shared teachings in Japan and America and inspired many. And Taiten Roshi has shared some of your spirit in Fudenji in Italy, a place where you wanted to visit—but you died too soon. You told us, “Please don’t call me ‘Zen Master.’ No one can master Zen.” And you also said, “Do not make me into a god after I die.”

Your humanness was your greatest teaching. Your mistakes were an encouragement to your students. Your continuous effort was your greatest gift. Compassionate Ocean Great Patience, we bow to you in gratitude for your example. And we vow to make our best effort to continue the pure Dharma you embodied.

So, how did this come about? In November 1988, Katagiri Roshi was head teacher of the Tokubetsu sesshin, a month-long retreat that brought together Western and Eastern Zen teachers. One of those Westerners was Taiten Guareschi, abbot of Fudenji, who found practicing with Katagiri to be a transformative experience. In remembrance of their connection, he wanted to honor the 25th anniversary of Katagiri’s passing. Yes, in America we honored the 24th anniversary on March 1, but in the Japanese way of counting, the first anniversary of an event is when it happens. For this memorial, a traditional ihai would be ceremonially placed on his temple’s altar.

Taiten felt this was best done by one of Katagiri’s dharma heirs, so he talked about it with his friend Shuichi Tom Kurai, an American monk and taiko drummer who had also attended that Tokubetsu sesshin. Tom suggested his friend Teijo. Teijo called on Shohaku Okumura for help with the Japanese characters, and with Tom’s help she arranged for the making of the ihai. She reported that it was an object of great curiosity in the four airport security scanners it had to pass through on their trip to Italy.

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