Walter loved life and he loved food, right up to the end.
Walter was a real inspiration for me. His example teaches us that we can continue to open our hearts and live life with gusto even into our eighties.
Walter did not come to the Dharma until comparatively late in his life. After retiring from his metal wholesaling business near New York, Walter moved to California. He first studied at the San Francisco Zen Center some decades ago. He stayed in contact with that community, going to retreats at Green Gulch and Tassajara, even after moving to Sonoma County where he lived in a cabin up on Cherry Ridge Road with a view south towards San Francisco.
The view from behind Walter's cottage as it appeared this morning, April 5, 2010.
Walter walked the Eightfold Path at an age when many people seem content to sit in front of a television set.
I first met Walter when he served as the substitute Dharma teacher at Bruce Fortin’s Occidental/Laguna Sangha here in Sebastopol. I can remember feeling a rush of joy when I would see Walter sitting up front there on Sunday mornings. Walter’s Dharma talks were memorable, down-to-earth first-person stories about stumbling and fumbling his way along the Eightfold Path. Walter's stories were hilarious. Just as often, sometimes just moments after he'd have us rolling in laughter, Walter might tell a story that would bring him (and us) to tears. I remember many times when he’d have to pause, take some deep breaths, pull out a handkerchief, wipe away his tears, and say, “Look at me! I’m the Town Crier!” He’d smile, tuck the handkerchief back in his pocket, take a few more breaths, and go on.
Later, I knew Walter as a member of Sebastopol’s Sutra Salon. Walter contributed his unmistakable enthusiasm for the Discourses, particularly the Vinaya. He was deeply fond of the Vinaya. Perhaps he liked the Vinaya so much because it recounts the foibles and misadventures of the bhikkus who first followed the Buddha. Walter kept us all going that year.
Last year as our Sutra Salon slogged through the denser books in the Flower Garland Sutra’s 1400 pages, it was Walter who was the one who would offer some encouragement and express some enthusiasm for our yearlong journey through that sometimes strenuous text.
Walter at his front door. "Come on in!"
Walter and I took individual instruction Monday afternoons from DharmaJim. It was then, during those sublime and memorable Monday afternoons that I came to feel really close to Walter as a fellow traveler on the path. We maintained a Dharma reading practice and studied the Awakening of Faith together.
I asked Walter to join the Society of Friends of the Buddha as a founding member when I first started it up two years ago. He attended many meetings, and on occasion he would bring along his beloved granddaughter, Emily. (He spoke about Emily with so much love that I insisted he invite her to our meetings.)
When Walter and Emily sat together in meditation, it seemed as if I could see the warm glow of love emanating from Walter’s heart chakra. Love that strong is palpable. At our Society of Friends of the Buddha meetings, we discuss basic Buddhist teachings. The lesson Walter would draw from most of these Buddhist teachings would be these words or some close variation of them: “It’s all about opening the heart, Dan! Just open your heart! Open your HEART!”
Walter's heart is now opened up all the way. He is now the first of our group to begin his journey beyond this earthly life to a Pure Land beyond. Friends like Walter don't come along too often.
The rarity of good friendship makes us treasure it with special fondness.
Walter, I will hold your memory close and try to embody the love you gave me.
Walter, my friend, may the journey you've just begun be sweet, lovely, and full of joy.