Monday, April 5, 2010

Walter, My Good Friend.

My good friend in the Dharma, Walter Blum, died yesterday, Easter Sunday at 2:20 in the afternoon. Two daughters, two granddaughters, and his close friend and neighbor, Tiaga, were with him as he passed away peacefully.

 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.


jinksy said...

A beautiful heart felt tribute...

Shaista (Lupus in Flight) said...

Dan, this is such a speaking tribute that I am sure your fellow traveller has heard you, and is smiling even now, sharing our moments of perfect mindful togetherness.
The three jewels carry us and complete us until we aspire to touch the hem of Suchness.

steven said...

oh dan - such a beautiful man and your deep friend and guide. fortunate and blessed you and then also him. i would love to know what he said of you. peace fullness dan. steven

Vagabonde said...

This is a beautiful tribute to your friend. It is hard to lose a dear friend and I am sorry. The Zen nun Rengetsu said:

“The impermanence of this floating world
I feel over and over
It is hardest to be the one left behind.”

but then, to have known such a person as your valued friend is also a great joy.

The Pollinatrix said...

I just have warm chills all over. Thank you so much for sharing this.

Bonnie, Original Art Studio said...

Sorry for the loss of your beloved friend Dan. As Vagabonde says, it is hardest on the one left behind. I know your beliefs and loved ones will support you through this time.

Dan Gurney said...

Jinksy, Shaista, steven, Vagabonde, Polli, and Bonnie: Thank you for taking a moment to empathize with me. I'm holding Walter close to my heart today and wishing him well. I appreciate you blogger friends out there, I do.

Reya Mellicker said...

What a beautiful tribute, Dan. Walter sounds like an exceptional person. May he fly high and be remembered by others as he is by you.

What is remembered, lives. Sending love,

Dan Gurney said...

Thank you. Walter was exceptional. And yes, I so agree, what is remembered lives. Well said, Reya.

Alden Smith said...

What a wonderful friend, what a wonderful life, what a wonderful testiment from you about his life Dan.

Dan Gurney said...

Hi, Alden—

thanks, yes Walter was a wonderful friend. A group of 10 of us just spent a wonderful evening remembering Walter, including his granddaughter, Emily! Such a wonderful evening.

Dave King said...

What a superb testimony for one who was obviously a great human being. Almost you made me think I knew him. More than that, you've made me wish I had.

Dan Gurney said...

Thank you, Dave. Thank you.

Dan Gurney said...

Steven, Walter, who had two daughters, often told me that if he had a son, he'd wish his son would be just like me. I told Walter he was like my Pop, since the fact that my actual father passed away in 2001.

best friend said...

the true best friend is ourself, coz in every man there’s bad n good side live together in one body and understand each other. They never be separated n won’t leave each other. Nice blog, I added u in my link, would u add me too. Thanx.