Myogen Steve Stucky (1946-2013)

Myogen Steve Stucky
, former abbot of San Francisco Zen Center, passed away this morning, just a few months after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Our thoughts and our condolences go out to his family, his students, and everyone in the SFZC community.

On his passing, zazen was held at San Francisco Zen Center in his memory while the the bell was rung 108 times. His body has been prepared for cremation, at his request, clothed in a robe recently sewn for him by his friends. An account by his son, James Stucky, of his final hours, as well as the dedication of merit read at SFZC, can be found here.

Many thanks to Renshin Bunce, who offers the following remembrance of her teacher:

Photo by Shundo Haye

My teacher Myogen was only 67 when he received his diagnosis of stage four pancreatic cancer, and had just agreed to serve an additional three years — beyond the initial seven which he was completing — as Central Abbot of San Francisco Zen Center.

Two days after he learned that he only had months to live, he gave the regular Wednesday night talk at Green Gulch Farm.  The talk he gave is titled “Gratitude.”  Listening to him, I was of course reminded of the way he taught us to meet the fire that threatened to destroy Tassajara, our monastery in the Ventana Wilderness, in 2008. He didn’t talk about dominating it or fighting it; he talked about meeting it and investigating it and even learning from it.  He faced death in the same way that he faced life.

I heard repeatedly that no one expected him to be the first of his generation to die.  He was so big and strong and dependable.   Six weeks after we received the shocking news, I had a chance to ask him “What shall I tell students in the future when they ask me about your dharma?”  He was by this time quite sick and taking many drugs, but he, as always, took a moment to think about my question, and then gave me a straight answer.  He said,  “Endless inquiry.  Not turning away from reality, and when you do turn away from reality —  stop, and resume endless inquiry.”

He was humble, and his trust in Buddha Nature, and his love in talking about the dharma, was unstoppable.  Steve was never one of those guys who had to prove his point or get the last word.  In our nearly 20 years of relationship, he usually stood back and gave me enough rope to hang myself, and then, when I asked, stepped in to help me make sense of my experience.  He never tried to control me, he never criticized, and rarely even told me what to do.  He just watched, and loved.

He was a safe place.  He knew how to take care of the secret and tender parts.  When I had his attention, I had it completely.  He wasn’t a Pollyanna or a goody goody and never pretended to be one; he was a whole person, but one who had learned to control his mind.  He was able to see the good in everyone because he could see the Buddha Nature in everyone.

We went through a number of ceremonies at his home in the weeks following his diagnosis, ceremonies that became urgent as the disease progressed.  When he gave transmission to my dharma sister Koshin Christine Palmer, he handed his ritual implements over to her and spoke of his impending death.  Because he trained me so well, I could sincerely tell him that I now understood that there is no death, and that he will continue to live in the heart/minds of his students long after his body is gone.