Robin Wall Kimmerer

‘To be heard, you must speak the language of the one you want to listen…

To me an experiment is a kind of conversation with plants. I have a question for them, but since we don’t speak the same language, I can’t ask them directly and they won’t answer verbally. But plants can be eloquent in their physical responses and behaviors. Plants answer questions by the way they live, by their responses to change; you just need to learn how to ask. I smile when I hear my colleagues say, “I discovered X.” That’s kind of like Columbus claiming to have discovered America. It was here all along, it’s just that he didn’t know it.’ (Braiding Sweetgrass)

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Dongshan asked, “Who can hear the non-sentient preach the Dharma?” Yunyan answered, “The non-sentient can hear the non-sentient preach the Dharma.” Dongshan asked, “Can you hear it?” Yunyan replied, “If I could hear it, you would not be able to hear me preach the Dharma”. Dongshan replied, “In that case I do not hear you preach the Dharma”. Yunyan said, “If you still don’t hear me preach the Dharma, how much less can you hear the non-sentient preach the Dharma?” At this, Dongshan had an insight, and declared in verse:

“Wonderful! Wonderful!
The preaching of the Dharma by the non-sentient is inconceivable.
If you try to hear with your ears, it’s hard to understand;
When you listen with your eyes, then you will know.”

Dogen

Mountains and rivers intimately transmit the power of mountains and rivers.
From the outset the self has not had much ability.
Who cannot grasp which of these sides returns?
After fully questioning once, question it again.

Nyogen Senzaki

‘I am now sowing some inconspicuous Dharma seeds, and I will likewise end my life in this country  inconspicuously. But I am convinced that fifty years from now, the seeds I have sown will sprout, and true Buddhadharma will shine in America. I have made many sacrifices, but I am following my teacher Soyen Shaku’s will, and this is my main purpose for my coming to America. 

I am now fifty-two years old. My hair has turned white; perhaps you would not recognize me. Essentially what I am doing is tsuyubarai: cultivating the soil so that the Buddhadharma may successfully be transplanted to America.’ (Eloquent Silence)

As context, this is from a letter written by Senzaki to a friend in 1928. Fifty years later, there were zen temples established across the west. I have been thinking of Senzaki a lot recently, of how Soyen Shaku abruptly left him in San Francisco and told him not to say a word about Buddhism for fifteen years. Perhaps eventually I will have something to say as well.

Duncan Ryuken Williams

‘Our liberation is actually not about transcending or distancing ourselves from trauma or pain and suffering, but it is to acknowledge how we can transform ourselves, our communities, our nation, our world, from all that pain.’ (from the New York Times)

This is from a report about the ceremony held on May 4th as a memorial for the victims of racial violence. I suspect that many people I know were tuning in; it’s hard to tell with the masks, but I might have met some of those in attendance. I recommend clicking on the link at least to look at the gorgeous photos. The words and the sentiments are also beautiful; we can all ask ourselves how we can contribute to this transformation.

Baizhang

‘One day the old monk Baizhang, addressing his assembly, said, “Work the rice field for me, and I’ll instruct you in the fundamental principles of the great matter.”

After the monks had worked the rice field for the master, they said, “Now master, please instruct us  in the fundamental principles of the great matter.”

Baizhang spread open his arms.’ (Shinji Shobogenzo)

It won’t necessarily help your grasp of the fundamental principles, but Baizhang is well-known for his edicts on work.

Alison Gopnik

‘I think that kind of open-ended meditation and the kind of consciousness that it goes with is actually a lot like things that, for example, the romantic poets, like Wordsworth, talked about. So there’s this lovely concept that I like of the numinous. And sometimes it’s connected with spirituality, but I don’t think it has to be. It’s this idea that you’re going through the world. And often, quite suddenly, if you’re an adult, everything in the world seems to be significant and important and important and significant in a way that makes you insignificant by comparison. My colleague, Dacher Keltner, has studied awe. And awe is kind of an example of this. But the numinous sort of turns up the dial on awe. And part of the numinous is it doesn’t just have to be about something that’s bigger than you, like a mountain. It could just be your garden or the street that you’re walking on. And suddenly that becomes illuminated. Everything around you becomes illuminated. And you yourself sort of disappear. And I think that’s kind of the best analogy I can think of for the state that the children are in. And it’s worth saying, it’s not like the children are always in that state. So the children, perhaps because they spend so much time in that state, also can be fussy and cranky and desperately wanting their next meal or desperately wanting comfort. They’re not always in that kind of broad state. But I think they spend much more of their time in that state. That’s more like their natural state than adults are.

So, going for a walk with a two-year-old is like going for a walk with William Blake. You go to the corner to get milk, and part of what we can even show from the neuroscience is that as adults, when you do something really often, you become habituated. You do the same thing over and over again. It kind of disappears from your consciousness. You’re not doing it with much experience. And again, that’s a lot of the times, that’s a good thing because there’s other things that we have to do. But if you do the same walk with a two-year-old, you realize, wait a minute. This, three blocks, it’s just amazing. It’s so rich. There’s dogs and there’s gates and there’s pizza fliers and there’s plants and trees and there’s airplanes. I’m sure you’ve seen this with your two-year-old with this phenomenon of some plane, plane, plane.’ (from the New York Times)

I posted a section of this conversation a couple of weeks ago, and this is another part that I really enjoyed. I was recently asked about some of the experiences I had on retreat, and could conjure up many moments of sesshin at Tassajara where things became illuminated – just sitting on the Stone Office lawn watching the bees at work with the flowers. I was also asked how I brought mindfulness into my day these days, and walking was the example I gave, doing my best to notice everything as I walk, even just around the block. And I also remembered Blanche giving the example of a two-year-old who was living in City Center at the time demonstrating beginner’s mind with almost every activity. Maybe, when I get Roaming Zen going again, we can share this experience .

Corey Ichigen Hess

‘Out in the world, no one cares if you had kensho. No one cares how hard Rohatsu was. No one cares that you did not lay down for a year but sat up in meditation.  No one cares about energy or Zhan Zhuang. They want you to listen to them and validate them as people.  They want to be acknowledged. I spent a long time after my training missing the cues to shut up and not push my agenda, my self importance. 

It’s a great practice to figure out how to offer ourselves to society. Seeing what people actually need. This is a huge slow maturation.  In the training, we learned to receive people, to receive life, and it takes a long time to put into normal life.’ (from Zen Embodiment)

Once again, Corey articulates beautifully how monastic training is a launch pad, not an landing pad.

Fengxhue

‘A monk asked Fengxhue, “Speech and silence are concerned with equality and differentation. How can I transcend equality and differentiation?”

Fengxhue said, “I always think of Hunan in the spring; partridges chirp among the many fragrant flowers.”‘ (The Blue Cliff Record)

The monk is stuck; Fengxhue is not just reminiscing. Speech or silence, what do you have to say?

Tesshu Yamaoka

Falling blossoms are scattering on the ground. 
No one ever tries to sweep them away.
Birds are singing the melody of Spring. 
Undisturbed, a guest still rests in his land of Dreams. 

A Second Blossoming

A typhoon came across the Pacific in our direction last week. We had some grey and drab days, and on Sunday, a smattering of rain – though not as much as forecast, and not enough to ease the impending drought. I remember how last year it rained into May, adding an extra sense of weight to the early weeks of lockdown. Then the sun came out and we had some bright warm days. It was the time of the pink supermoon, which rose above the clouds in the evening, and shone bright in the early morning sky.

On a free morning I rode up to Sweeney Ridge, and enjoyed seeing the many currently blooming wildflowers along the narrow road: paintbrush, ceanothus, irises, penstemon and lupins. It was also bunny season, and I must have seen twenty scurrying for cover as I approached their little corner of the world. I realised how much I have missed getting my doses of wildflowers at Wilbur and Tassajara these past two springs.

Typically, of course, when I went out on my bike again, yesterday, climbing San Bruno Mountain, I arrived at the fog line, with a chilly wind blowing the fog across the road, for all that it had been sunny when I set out. I wanted to get some riding in before the weekend as today I will be heading over to SF General for my second vaccine, and thought it best to have a restful weekend, as I did after my first shot, especially having heard stories from a number of friends of the after-effects of their vaccinations.

As I have written on Patreon, I am teaching more meditation at the moment than I have probably at any time before, mostly to corporate groups across different time zones. The work makes me happy, and I hope that some people find a spark of inspiration to continue practising, but we can never really know the impact of what we do. I will keep plugging away at it, and I do look forward to sitting in the same room as people one of these days. Hope seems close at hand, but not so close or clear that we can rely on it yet.

The skies clearing over San Andreas Lake on my way down from Sweeney Ridge
A clear view of Mount Tam from Great Highway
And from the ferry ride home on Thursday evening, with Angel Island to the right

Poppies furled up above Guadeloupe Canyon Road as I descended from San Bruno Mountain