I got a telephone call last Saturday from my friend and Zen teacher Arthur. He had been travelling quite extensively over the past several years, and I hadn't seen or heard from him in quite some time. I think the last time I saw him was at one of his dharma talks at the Zen Center back in February 2007.
Arthur was probably the biggest single influence on my early Zen education. He had organized and did much of the heavy lifting at the four week-long meditation retreats I attended at Lake Allatoona in 2001 and 2002. In fact, Arthur was the one who broke the news to me of the terrorist attacks of September 11 while I was at one of those retreats in 2001. In June 2003, when he first began his long-term travel assignments, he asked me if I could take over the Monday-night Zen services that he had long been leading for that month - in fact, I'm still filling that role five years later.
The big news: he's accepted a full-time, permanent position in Geneva with a major Swiss bank. For most of the past 18 months or more, he's been traveling back and forth to Switzerland working for the bank on a consulting basis, and earlier this year they offered him a full-time job. He accepted, and will be leaving more-or-less permanently starting December 23.
So yesterday, Sunday, I drove up to Chattanooga with Arthur to sit with the Zen group there and to catch up on things. Arthur has been the head teacher for the Chattanooga group for about six years now, and I used to go up there with him fairly frequently to assist with the driving and various other chores, but hadn't been up there for at least two years now due to our mutual travels and other complicating factors.
During our phone conversation, Arthur asked if I would also assist him on December 14 with an initiation ceremony for two of the Chattanooga sangha members. I already knew one of the two and agreed, but I would have agreed to assist even if I hadn't known either.
In Chattanooga, we sat for three 30-minute periods, followed by a discussion period. It's always refreshing to me to hear Arthur expound the dharma - he sees Zen much the same way as I do, not surprisingly, because I probably learned my view of Zen from him. In any event, he will be missed.
I also agreed to help support and maintain the Chattanooga Center in his absence next year. He had been going up there at least once a month, at least until his Swiss assignment precluded that frequency. The sangha there meets weekly for zazen, but has only been participating in dharma talks or formal practice discussions during those times that Arthur's been there. He reassured me that he's also been asking others to assist and that Michael Elliston, the roshi (abbott) of the Atlanta Center, has agreed to visit more frequently, so that all of the weight of commitment isn't on me. I replied that I would be glad to help according to their need and my ability, and while I couldn't commit at the time to visiting them monthly, I would agree to try and help assist their practice - Arthur and I both would hate to see the group dissolve due to his absence.
The irony behind all of this is that for years Arthur had been anticipating an eventual move to somewhere in Asia - he had visited China and Thailand several times, and had even initiated a few romantic relationships there. But as it turned out, his karma was to move instead to Europe. At this time last year, I thought that I would be moving to Portland, but it seems that my karma has me tied to Atlanta, where, among other things, I'm needed to help maintain the practice of the dharma at the Atlanta Center on Monday nights and other occasions, occasionally in Kennesaw, Georgia, and now, apparently, in Chattanooga, Tennessee as well.