The name of Jun Po carries weight wherever it’s written or spoken. As I’ve prepared newsletters and postcards and all manner of lineage lists, sutra book printings, and financial reports, I have often felt like a steward of his graphical and typographical legacy. I’ve sat in on debates about whether it is “Jun Po” or “Junpo” or “junpo” and whether “Roshi” (or “roshi”) must always come afterward, or only in formal settings. I have undertaken to find and archive all the photos of him that I can, regardless of the year taken (or the resulting image quality), and I’ve recently been spending time frowning at options for memorial posts going, “no, we mustn’t say that, it’s too high-handed and stiff, he was almost never that way” and “no, we will not use that picture of him– he looks more like himself in this one instead.”
In the years I’ve served HBZ, I’ve heard so many stories about Jun Po– everything from how he looked into someone’s heart and made them feel comforted and frightened all at once, to how he made someone cry in the middle of a retreat, to how he engaged in some questionable activities at points in his personal and professional life, to how he thought about death, to how he was keenly interested to learn that his PBS shows didn’t come on at specific times anymore, they were just there at the push of a streaming media button.
For myself, I met Jun Po only once in person (and it was not a particularly good day, nor opportune time for either of us, by no one’s fault), so I never got to see him in his prime or in Full Teacher Mode or any of the storied personas I hear about. To me, it’s felt as though I came like a communications director Charon– crossing his path only when it neared his time to move onward, as if I approached him for the sole purpose of taking the letters from his hands as he boarded the boat, making sure the envelopes made it into the “mail” of his online legacy as he set off. I like to think time is not a straight line, and he knows me as a steward, not just the younger and angrier pagan who disliked parts of his earlier Mondo manual.
His presence looms large everywhere I go at HBZ– pauses in conversations hold the shape of his silhouette, there’s a solemn air of concern around every decision (“but what would Jun Po think? Does this action do right by what he has left us?”), and there are his stories and quotations shared with smiles at almost every gathering.
This year, I said to the staff and the stewards, “there have been enough blog posts that summarize where Jun Po came from and how accomplished he was. Who wants to share a story about what he was like? Who has a funny story, a particular memory, or a memorable quote that’s not captured in a book, to share about this man?”
And to my surprise (though I should not have been surprised at all, in hindsight), I got silence. No one came forward with a story. How interesting!
How interesting that the summation of a life can be this– a life so full there are no words to encompass it, a silence so rich that it unrolls like a colorful fabric across space and time, stitched with memories and intricate wisdom which hangs over us all even now– a legacy so profound that no one feels as if they could possibly do it justice. Perhaps a feeling that they were not the closest to him, nor his best student, nor his dearest friend, nor his longest companion, nor his most studious devotee, so– no, no, I cannot think of anything that would suffice and oh dear, just a few weeks wouldn’t be enough time to pull together something good enough, I’m sure someone else would do better than I can, and ah, my memory is not as good as it once was, I remember his shine but not the many days of its sun.
So with just a few days (or hours) left before this newsletter sends, there is silence where I intended a personal story to be. I am supposed to show you promos and tell you to come sit in honor of this man, but without any tribute to mark his passing this year– no, this will not do.
In Appalachia, there is a legend that one must tend a grave at least once every year– if there is a grave on or near your land and you are able-bodied, then you must help make sure it is mowed and cleaned up at least once annually. The legend suggests that failure to do this will result in restless ghosts that trouble your livestock in their anger… or perhaps just sad spirits that wail in the night for loneliness. While I don’t imagine Jun Po as either of those, this website is as much a digital shrine as it is anything else– so here, I will come, and I will pull a few weeds and trim the underbrush, and make sure the headstone is clear. And doing so makes me smile, because I know this fact would make Jun Po proud– because why shouldn’t it be me? You, sangha, are not looking backward, are not lingering with the dead, are not loitering in the temple–
You are this light! Pure, selfless awareness.
You rely upon selfless awareness.
You do not depend upon beliefs, sensations, and emotions
which arise and fall away.
Meditative awareness, clear intention,
acting wisely, compassionately, and skillfully
IS your practice.
You rely upon this only.
You rely upon this ceaselessly.
Jun Po taught you very well, and your busy, full lives of wisdom and compassion are better tributes to Jun Po than anything I could have made out of a photo gallery or blog post.
So keep on living this Way, his way.