Memorial Tributes to Toni

Tom Klintworth – I came here today to really just focus on expressing my gratitude for Toni, which is infinitely abiding–it’s always there. She came along at a point in my life when I really was right up against self-hatred, and just deep fear. When I came to her with that in the meeting room (dokusan) at my first retreat (sesshin) with her, she showed me, through her very presence and kind words, that there is a reality unfolding underneath all that that I can let go to and trust. So thank you so much, Toni.

Also I’m hearing the old battle with the Rochester Zen Center–which started when Toni decided she was no longer comfortable working in the context of Buddhism and left with her students–kind of still going on a little bit. I just want to say that Toni Packer came through, and developed in, the Zen tradition and I’m sure that her meetings with Roshi Kapleau were much more than just fraught with conflict and judgment or any of it. This reminds me of one of my favorite Rumi lines:  “Out beyond ideas of wrong-doing and right-doing there’s a field. I’ll meet you there. So that’s the field. It’s the field that Toni so tirelessly invited us to join her in. That’s all I’ve got to say. Thank you.

Doris Weber – I had actually decided not to stand here and say anything but then that was before, and this is now [laughter] I still remember how it all started in 1984. I lived in Montreal then, and I had this yearning for meditation and having a teacher. But it had interfered with my knowing myself or thinking of myself as being very gullible. So I didn’t want to get into the fangs of “one of those gurus.” A friend of mine said, “You might be interested in Zen. That’s straightforward.” So I tried to hook up with the Montreal Zen Center. Had to call three times before I got an answer. That was their way of finding out how serious I was. At that time I was working at night as a waitress, and I could only go to sesshins on the weekend. I was then so tired that I always swayed during sitting and almost fell off the tan many times. I urgently wanted to read something about Zen, but Albert Low said, “Oh, yeah, yeah, eventually.” After one weekend sesshin, I heard somebody talk about a book and I asked, “What’s that book? I want to read something.” And he said “Yeah, but I’ve promised it to this person.” And I said “Can I make a photocopy of something?” And I did. It was Toni’s booklet “Seeing Without Knowing/What is Meditative Inquiry” which spoke to me. So I contacted the owner of the book to tell me more about Toni and he agreed to meet me for lunch, and then it never happened. And I said, “But you promised.” And he said, “I have something better to offer. Toni is having a question and answer period in Ottawa and if you drive me there [laughter] I’ll take you along.” He also said, “I have to tell you, that I’m just here to be supportive and to keep the exercises going, but my real teacher is Toni Packer. Your teacher is your teacher for life, and you can’t change it, no matter what vices the person has, how terrible it is, that person is your teacher.” Hearing this I was terrorized. “I can’t do this, I can’t do this.” So I went to dokusan and I said, “You know, Albert, I might be under your influence right now.” He said, “No, no, no, no, no. I’m just lending a helping hand.” And I said, “No, no, no, no, no. I am under your influence. But I can’t promise that this will last forever. There might be a time when I have to move on. I can’t commit myself.” And he said, “It’s a pity that you can’t commit yourself.” I also told him that I was going to meet Toni in Ottawa. And this is how we stayed.

So we went to Ottawa. I still remember: it was a sunny afternoon in Ottawa and we were talking about “ugly” and “beautiful” and Toni mentioned that it didn’t have to be perceived or judged as “ugly” or “beautiful,” everything could just be seen as what it is, just it. I had never even thought that there might be something beyond judgment. But at that moment it became totally clear to me that judgment could be transcended and I was mesmerized.

The following day Toni offered individual meetings. So now I go to Toni, and this, the reprimand of not being able to commit myself was still with me, and I was kind of working with it, and I said to her, “Toni would you work with me?” And she said “Oh yes.” [laughter] And I said, “But I have to tell you something, I can’t commit myself.” And she said, “Oh, that’s okay, stay just as long as this is good for you and if you feel this is no longer appropriate, you just move on.” Well, I would like to tell you that that really committed me, and I went to retreat with her, I think it was in June ’85, just a month or two later, and then I wanted to come and live here in Springwater for some time. So I quit my job, and I came here at the end of 1985; I wanted to stay here for six months and straighten up my life.” I ended up being three and a half years and then went back to Canada. Toni gave me that freedom to stay, and also the freedom to leave, and she has never lost me, and she has been and will always be part of my life, yes, part of me, no matter where she is, and regardless of whether she is still among us in her usual form. I will forever be grateful to have met her and to belong to Springwater.