Back to the Garden - by A. Fleshler Sensei.

Editor’s note:

At this time of remembering the life of T.K. Chiba Sensei, we are re-publishing this reflection first offered by A. Fleshler Sensei in August 2015, just 3 months after Chiba Sensei passed away. (June 5, 2015)

T.K. Chiba Sensei 1940-2015

T.K. Chiba Sensei 1940-2015

Back to the Garden - Personal Reflections Standing Before the Gate

Aki Fleshler | August 27, 2015

In 1989, when Sensei gave me permission to open a dojo, I asked if he had any advice. His words are familiar to many of you: “You should have the perspective that you are creating the place for your own training for the rest of your life. Just sit in the dojo and polish your art. Don’t get involved in politics.”

When I return to this advice all the smoke clears away. Rei. Suburi. Musogi. Rei.

Even more radical are his words from the Zen tradition: to be a person of no place and no stature.

Returning to this, I have no gi, no obi, no hakama, no dojo, no students, no dan grade, no teaching certificate. I release it all now, return to my garden, pull weeds, sit among the bees.

Sensei once described Zazen like this: “You are sitting alone in your suffering. Across the room you see your brother, also sitting alone in his suffering. You open your heart to him, but there is nothing you can do.”

This is what we need to do now - - sit with each other in compassionate silence.

As many of us experienced, the deepest communication with Sensei proceeded in silence - - rich, deep, uncomfortable, unforgettable. I am grateful for all of that practice, since sitting with his silence is now the permanent state of things.


We should not forget the tremendous gift of Sensei’s “active listening”.

Sitting in the garden behind Amnon’s house with Chiba Sensei and Chris Mooney Sensei on a July evening, I began the rituals of the traditional Shabbat meal. Sensei attended to everything with soft eyes, missing nothing, accepting everything.

At an appropriate moment, Chris said, “Sensei has heard that the concept of Return is very important in Judaism. Can you say a little about this?”

My words:

Return is available at any moment of our lives, even if at some moments the Gate of Return is more visible. Here we are entering Shabbat together, with its theme of wholeness and completion, an embodiment of Return, and we even speak of it (Shabbat) as the purpose of creation, a taste of the final Liberation. In the words of a famous song, “Return again... to what you are, to who you are, to where you are... born and re-born again.”

Sensei gave a subtle smile, an invisible nod, a tiny gleam. So I continued.

The Bible’s first story after the creation of the world features Adam - - the ancestor of each one of us - - wandering in the Garden - - the world as it is. He hears the voice of the Master of the Universe, Who created everything with kindness and compassion. He hears the voice say, “Where are you?” Now this is a very strange question; certainly the Master of the Universe knows the exact location of its only human inhabitant!

Adam answers, “Here I am!” The question enabled Adam to realize and proclaim his own existence in its fullness, in that precise place, in that precise moment.

So the very first story in the whole of our sacred writing is the essential story of Return.

Sensei leapt to his feet and shouted at me: “That is the Zen master striking his student! He is waiting for the student to say, ‘Here I am!’”

We nodded to each other, grinned, and returned to the excellent bottle of wine provided by our host.


Later in the meal Sensei indicated, wordlessly, that I should continue.

The author of Hakagure says, “A man should wake up every day resolved to die that day. In this way he will have no doubt about what he should do.” One of the Jewish ancients, Rabbi Eliezer, said: “Return one day before your death; in this way, all your days are spent in Return.”

Sensei again stood, made gassho, bowed.

Thank you, Sensei, for your instruction.


In conclusion I ask all of you to forgive me fully for any lack of respect or injury, whether intentional or unintentional. I truly need this so I can begin again. With deepest bow,

- Aki

Our dojo’s Chiba Sensei Memorial Class will be taught by Aki Fleshler Sensei on Sunday June 2, 2019