Sunday, June 24, 2012


I just read the sad news posted by Adam Tebbe at the Sweeping Zen website that husband and wife Zen teachers Shin Getsu Fern McGuire (far left) and Hogaku Ken McGuire (middle) have both passed away.

The couple had been married for 55 years. Fern died two days ago (June 22, 2012) on her 75th birthday, and was found laying behind a truck in the couple’s yard in Las Cruces, New Mexico. It is believed that she had suffered a massive heart attack.

This morning, Hogaku Ken McGuire, her husband, also died of an apparent heart attack, just two days after his wife’s passing.

Fern and Ken were both disciples of the late Rev. Soyu Matsuoka, Roshi, my teacher's teacher, so they were in effect my dharma aunt and uncle.  Although I never met them, I recall hearing Taiun Michael Elliston, Roshi, my teacher, speak fondly of them on many occasions. They had both been ordained as Soto Zen priests by Rev. Matsuoka; Ken was additionally given the title of Roshi. The Matsuoka lineage in the United States is very small and this loss makes it smaller still.

Harvery Daiho Hilbert (far right in the photo above), Hogaku Roshi’s dharma successor, said, 
“Ken-roshi was my teacher, friend, and sometime adversary. While we often did not see eye to eye on matters of consequence, through our dharma combat, we found a deep respect and admiration for each other. I spent the last two afternoons with Ken-roshi offering my support to him and planning Rev. Fern-roshi’s memorial. It was quite a shock, then, to get the news this afternoon of Ken-roshi’s death this morning.” 
"Born in the morning and dead in the evening, a person we saw yesterday is no longer here today," observed Zen Master Dogen.  "These are the facts we see with our eyes and hear with our ears. This is what we see and hear about others. Applying this to our own bodies and thinking of the reality of all things, though we expect to live for seventy or eighty years, we die when we must die. During our lifetime, though we may see the reality of sorrow, pleasure, love of our families, and hatred of our enemies, these are not worthy matters. We could spend our time letting go of them."

In Zen, it is not unusual to see two closely entwined individuals pass away so soon one after the other.  According to legend, one day when Layman Pang (740 - 808) was very old, he announced he was ready to die when the sun reached its midday height. He bathed, put on a clean robe, and lay on his sleeping mat. As the hour approached, his daughter, Lingzhao, announced to him that there was an eclipse covering the sun.  The layman stepped outside to see, and while he watched the eclipse, Lingzhao took his place on the sleeping mat and died.  When Layman Pang found his daughter, he sighed, "She has beaten me once more."   He then postponed his departure from the world by seven days.

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