AIDS Affects U.$. All -- The photography and Words of Morgan Alexander

A Project of The International Humanities Center

The Photography of
Morgan Alexander
   

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ISSAN & STEVE

Copyright © Morgan Alexander 2004

   A writer once asked me why Issan was so special and I replied "that he could not only accept the great and the small and the high and the low but that he had the capacity to accept the unacceptable".

   My favorite of those Issan photos, by the way, is the one that you took just a few days before his death and has Issan in full light and me in the dark over his right shoulder. He is in the light but has the face of death and I am in the dark but have the face of life--and we are one. I have a copy of that picture outside the zendo here in Crestone--just a reminder. I have called the new organization here "Dragon Mountain"--which has the japanese characters for his Buddhist name as well as my own and Phil's as well. We are "all in it together".

   As you know Issan and I were an odd group--in many ways opposites. He was gay, I was not. He was conventional (in Zen circles) on the outside, but radical on the inside. I was radical on the outside (in Zen circles), but conventional on the inside. Neither one of us cared much about it one way or the other. We worked well together because there was absolute trust in the relationship--but it was not a relationship based on our personalities (which would never have gotten along), but on our intention to find ourselves through our spiritual practice and to extend that practice in every aspect of our daily life, and to extend it to as many people as possible, even to death. As Issan was fond of quoting: "We have bonds with each other that are more important than life and death". I held him in my arms for the last seven hours of his life and when he passed away I knew that he would be with me as long as I am here myself. There was no gap--and yet.

 

   There is an old zen koan that Issan used to enjoy. A disciple asks his teacher: where will I meet you after you die? The teacher replied: Between meeting and not meeting no difference. On the ancient fully blossomed plum tree the north branch owns the whole spring and the south branch owns the whole spring. Thinking of this koan in the fall after his death I wrote him this poem:

Autumn leaves fall/ into the clear pool/ just beyond my reach.
He is here with me in everything I do, but "just beyond my reach".

Kijun Steven Allen,
Abbot of Dragon Mountain Zendo
Crestone, Colorado

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