Mold & “Don’t Know Mind”

“I hope you only go straight, don’t know, which is clear like space, soon find your correct way, truth, and correct life, get enlightenment, and save all beings from suffering.”  – Korean Zen Teacher Seung Sahn

Today I’m trying my best to stay with “don’t know mind.” My tenant called and reported that his roommate has mold in the corner of his bedroom. I DON’T KNOW if it’s really mold and I DON’T KNOW what I’m going to do about it if it IS !

12/7/11- Today I know a little more. It is mold, and I think I have found the cause. The neighbor planted a long line of trees along the fence row a few years ago and without my noticing they have spread wide and enveloped that side of the house in perpetual shade.  Also, once on the roof I found that the gutters were as full as they could be, so I think the cause of the mold was chronic dampness from constant shading, and gutters that are over flowing and not draining properly. Possibly some dampness from gutters overflowing towards the house. Yesterday I pruned a huge number of branches away and today is gutter cleaning day. I hope this solves the problem (along with some scrubbing with bleach). I also hope I don’t fall off the roof ! ( note to friends > it’s a very shallow pitch)

12/8/11 – I don’t want to make the same mistake as George W. Bush, but I think I can say that at least Plan A has been accomplished. My very kind tenants washed the walls themselves and removed the mold, which came off easily with bleach and water. Now we will wait and see if it returns. If not, I’ll know it’s fixed, if it returns I may have to turn to a professional.




The Wonderful World of Plumbing

There are Bodhisattvas everywhere. Yesterday I walked into my local plumbing store ( the one that gives good advice ) with a few drawings and high hopes. I was replacing a leaking drain line in one of our two 100 year old houses. There I found a couple women behind the counter that I was reluctant to talk to, because neither one looked like an experienced plumber. It turned out that the younger gal, 6 months pregnant,  had actually worked as a plumber for 7 years. I was skeptical until she uttered the magic word, Oakum. No one but a real plumber would know what that weird old stuff that they once used to help seal cast iron pipe joints was called. Plumbers used it in conjunction with molten lead that they poured into a fitting.  She went on to give me some good advice on how to bond the new ABS drain line to the ancient cast iron stuff that may have been installed by a guy who rode a horse to work.

One great thing I’ve learned over the years is that people with knowledge like to share that knowledge. I’ve had plumbers teach me about plumbing, electricians teach me how to install a GFI outlet, and appliance repair man  help me repair a busted clothes dryer. I have found that a lot of this stuff is pretty easy to fix if you know how a bolt and a nut go together, and ABS plastic plumbing is just like cutting and pasting on your computer.

I think this tendency is a sign of what Chogyam Trungpa called “basic goodness.” I think everyone likes to help….

“Buddhist psychology is based on the notion that human beings are fundamentally good. Their most basic qualities are positive ones: openness, intelligence and warmth. Of course this viewpoint has its philosophical and psychological expressions in concepts such as bodhichitta (awakened mind), and tathagatagarbha (birthplace of the enlightened ones). But this idea is ultimately rooted in experience—the experience of goodness and worthiness in oneself and others. This understanding is very fundamental and is the basic inspiration for Buddhist practice and Buddhist psychology.” – Chogyam Trungpa


Stay In Business: extend Compassion in ALL directions

I’ve been thinking about what my first post regarding the actual work of property management should be, and what it takes to be “successful” financially as well as beneficial. For me the essential element is that compassion in business needs to extend in ALL directions. By this I mean that we have to be aware of our tendency to be either compassionate towards ourselves, or to be compassionate towards our tenants, as if they are different and separate. When we ignore our tenants and just take care of ourselves, then we’re like a lot of business people, “I am going to make this product (or provide this service) and people will pay me for it.” The thinking stops there, and the only goal is to get as many people as possible to pay us. On the other hand, if we are completely focused on being good and generous to our customers/tenants (often times because we just want them to like us), we do so at the peril of our own endeavor.
There are fewer examples of the later, than the former, but I have known really good, wonderful people, in business, who lost their shirts because they extended compassion in only one direction, away from themselves. They were so busy taking care of their customers that they forgot that they also needed to take care of themselves, their family and also their creditors. We want the world to be full of compassionate business people – but if they don’t make money, they will have to go back to working for someone else – and the world will be worse off !


A Landlord since 1987 – a Zen student since 1980

From playing Monopoly in the hot Detroit summers, to the first experiences of being a tenant while a student at Michigan State University, I was intrigued with the idea of collecting rent. Sure, there was an element of greed there, it seemed like a way to earn a living that would not involve a lot of work. I am not sure though if it was not my father’s life that motivated me most of all. An autoworker with an 8th grade education, he worked in Detroit’s factories for 40 years. He once described his job title to me as “Slave,” for an elementary school assignment I had to write, and often said that he was “chained to a machine” eight hours a day. Listening to him bang and curse around the kitchen, day after day, at 5am on a frozen or sweltering Michigan morning, sent the message to me, loud and clear, that he was an unhappy man. Unhappy with his very life. Even though I was just a kid, some part of me knew I had to do something differently.

Beginning in college, before graduating from MSU with a degree in Building Construction, I experienced a long period of deep personal suffering, catalyzed, in part, by the death of my father when I was 21 years old. I ended up at Tassajara Zen Monastery, near Carmel Valley, California in 1980 at the age of 25.

Tassajara was like boot camp and detox at the same time. Even though it was the “Guest Season” ( a period of less intense meditation practice ) it was unimaginably difficult for a suicidal long- haired hippie who had spent the previous 6 years self medicating with as much beer and pot as he could get his hands on. Then, after a period in San Francisco, living in an apartment with other Zen students in the era of Baker-Roshi, and his stunning expansion of the San Francisco Zen Center, I returned to Portland, Oregon, where I had lived in 1978 and 1979.

Hired by the Portland Art Museum in 1981 as a maintenance man, I met my future wife, a curator at the Museum. We bonded over shared rides to “sitting” at the Zen house that I shared with (now  Roshi ) John Tesshin Sanderson, a monk from the Zen Center of Los Angeles. Tesshin brought Charlotte Joko Beck to Portland to do a retreat ( traditionally called a sesshin) in 1983, or thereabouts, and I met the woman who would be my best friend for the next 24 years. A brilliant, frightening, all loving, mind blowing Zen teacher – Joko.

Before my wife and I were married by Joko in 1987 we decided to buy a house. My dormant desire to be a landlord re-surfaced when we found that the $55,000 price we could afford would buy us a very miserable house, or, we could incorporate potential rental income into our formula, and buy a lovely 1953 duplex ( pictured in the header) for $75k. Since it was agreed that this was “my baby,” and my wife would continue her career in Arts administration, suddenly I was a Landlord, and the question immediately arose “How to do this without harming any person or thing ?”


Property Management for the Sake of all Beings


“Vast is the Heartmind of liberation,

A Boundless field of Benefaction,

Living the Universal Teaching,

Compassion and Wisdom Awaken

– Zen Center of Portland morning recitation

On this 11/11/11, I dedicate this blog to all suffering beings with sincere hopes that it will provide benefit.


Today there are 7 beautiful rentals to take care of – 18 wonderful tenants who always pay their rent on time – A much depleted net worth thanks to the economic slump – and, much joy in life after 31 years of Zen meditation. I go to morning meditation at the Zen Center of Portland 5 days a week, and get good guidance from my teacher there, Dr. Larry Christensen, a Dharma heir of Charlotte Joko Beck. I also serve as a meditation instructor ( not a Zen teacher) at the center.


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