Memorial Tributes to Toni

Karen Kempe – I met Toni when I was very young, 21 years old I think, in 1971. My first encounter with her was maybe a year later when we did a Japanese bath together at my first sesshin. I was having terrible pain and it was a completely silent but very intimate experience. She was my Zen teacher, and she remains my teacher. When I came back and did retreat with her later, I would always bow when I would go into interview with her, and I would always bow on leaving. I had strong conditioning I suppose, but it was also what I loved. She would give me a really hard time about this: “Why are you bowing?” And I would say, “You know Toni, I think I’m going to bow.” [laughter] I would just do it, totally instinctive on my part. I remember the last meeting of a particular retreat. I was coming up from my bow, and I looked up; here she was bowing back, not stuck at all. The very last time I saw her was when we came for Philip Kapleau’s memorial. We took her to lunch and she enjoyed meatloaf and potatoes, a totally comfortable German lady. She just loved it. It was a very very beautiful day.

I’ll read one small poem from the Zen tradition which many may remember. It’s from a koan called Ordinary Mind is the Way, and of course that was her teaching. Our huge huge not-knowing mind, our ordinary mind.
Hundreds of flowers in spring, the moon in autumn
A cool breeze in summer and snow in winter.
When the mind is not clouded with unnecessary things,
That is your best season.
(From the version of the Wu-men Kuan, the Gateless Barrier, used internally at the Zen Center of Denver).

D Allen – After Toni was no longer able to do retreats and I found myself coming out to Springwater less frequently, I would from time to time of course still get tangled in some confusion or other. I’d feel a strong need to touch base with Toni, ask a question. So I’d call up on the phone and just hope that maybe she’d be available and able to talk. This happened a number of times. Often I would have some burning question but she wanted to talk about “Oh, how is it there now in California, and have you been to Point Lobos recently?” Point Lobos, if you don’t know, is known as the most beautiful meeting of sea and land on the North American continent–at least west coast people see it that way. And I could go along with that. It’s an amazing place, and Toni loved it, she loved it, and also many other places along that central California coast. So on one of these calls, my question was… well, I was feeling tired of… you know, having a little taste of being here, a little taste of presence, or like in retreat we taste it so deliciously sometimes, and then it seems like the diet gets kind of bland for a while. So my question this time was, “Toni, please tell me, is there anything I can do to get more stable, to get more firmly grounded in this… this… being here, this presence, this awareness?” And without missing a beat, she said, “The thing is, not to do anything at all. Still waters.” So……