A rather exceptional teacher in the local yoga/Buddhist community shuffled off this mortal coil this past Labour Day. I hadn't studied with him very often over the years, but the few times I did were memorable. I remember him leading a kirtan once, and instructing us that the Sanskrit word "jai" is an expression of excitement; he translated it as "hot dog!" Then he thought for a moment and changed his translation to "not dog!" in deference to vegetarians. That still makes me crack up a little bit when I think about it. He also taught a primer on Buddhist teachings one Sunday afternoon last winter (which I mentioned here), and this was when I really got an inkling of the depth of his practice. Jonji had been diagnosed with stage 4 stomach cancer about 8 months earlier. He'd gone through one (or more) round(s) of chemo. He warned us at the start of the talk that due to the medications he was on, he might have to run to the bathroom without warning. And he still sat with greater stillness and equipoise than I could muster. He didn't budge during his talk, even when I was cramping up and squirming around. He had this presence that's hard to describe... humble, honest, fierce, compassionate. And he told me to tell more jokes.
I went to Jonji's memorial service on Saturday. Sad to say that when paying my respects at his alter, it did not occur to me to think of a joke to share with his spirit, but in his honour, I will share one here.
What did the Buddhist say to the hot dog vendor?
Make me one with everything.
And when he complained that the vendor did not give him enough change when he paid for his hot dog, what did the vendor reply?
True change comes from within.
Rest in peace, Jonji. Thank you for your teachings.