Thursday, February 16, 2006

Child of Samsara

How can I express my gratitude to this very man I have never met?

Issan was his Zen name, One Mountain.

He used to love being the impersonator of “ Hard-Hearted Hannah”, a striking beautiful girl with legs as long as the night and skin of exquisite velvet dressed up to break your heart, she could in her sweet voice and in a flash of her eyelashes send you straight to heaven or hell.

Tommy Dorsey, his real name.

Sometimes, in the arms of his gay lovers, he was given other names.

Sometimes drinking, smoking getting everything and anything running down his veins. LSD, dope, whatever. Sometimes picked up by friends or police in the morning, not remembering anybody’s name.

Issan was also a Zen oddity, after giving up his junky life and drag queen trip, he became the Zen abbot of a gay community an later, when AIDS started its bloody work, he just opened the Maitri Hospice for people to die in dignity and surrounded with love. Issan was just a child of Samsara ( Beautiful expression coined by another one of these children, Chogyam Trungpa).

This little game of expressing views could go on and on, I could try to endlessly frame the guy and presumably his portrait would end up on an altar. And why not? The bloke is such a mixture of Saint Francis, Ryokan, Rumi, Ikkyu…

But that’s not what I want to do. I would like to just say that what touches me in this junky-drag queen-Zen master, is the face of the unknown, the name of the nameless. When he was opening his kesa on the body of the dying and kissing them on their cheeks like he would kiss babies saying : it’s Okay, I just came for you, I am here for you”. When he was ascending the seat of abbot or sitting at a table having a drink with you or dating a gorgeous man, the guy was pretty much the same, carefree, transparent, at ease. A perfect embodiment of the “nothing holy” of our rebellious ancestor. An absolute challenge to our petty holiness and arrogance. To our beliefs. He was not trying to be anything else but a vulnerable, beautiful man in love with the Dharma and with other men.

How can I express my gratitude to this man who lives closer, much closer that I would have thought?



Blogger Michael said...

Hi Pierre,

I read his book, "Street Zen," about 12 years ago and loved it. Regrettably, I gave it to a friend before I moved to Japan. I'll have to buy another copy. It's a great book to have on the shelf.

12:54 PM  
Blogger Michael said...

P.S. I'm sure you know he died of AIDS some time ago -- but yes, spirits like his are ever present.

12:56 PM  
Blogger Pierre Turlur said...

Dear Michael,

Yes, coming and going. I have a wonderful story for you, just for you. Sean murphy wrote a book about 108 American Zen stories. You certainly know it, it doesn't matter, for you and me, NOW, THIS:

Issan was on his deathbed when one of his closest friends came to visit him:

"I am going to miss you" The friend said.

" I am going to miss you too" responded Issan. He was silent for a moment. Then he asked: " Are you going somewhere?".

Michael, dear friend i have never met, are we going somewhere?... Tell me, are we?



2:39 PM  
Blogger Pierre Turlur said...


A younger Mike Cross met Issan years ago in San Francisco. I remember the eyes of my teacher when he was mentioning this brief meeting, something casual, nothing special. But bloddy hell, Mike's eyes!!!

Ask him.

2:44 PM  

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