Setcho

The empty hall resounds with the voice of the raindrops.
Even a master fails to answer.
If you say you have turned the current,
You have no true understanding.
Understanding? No understanding?
Misty with rain, the northern and southern mountains.

Kueishan

Yangshan asked Kueishan, “If a million objects come to you, what do you do?” Kueishan answered, “A green article is not yellow. A long thing is not short. Each object manages its own fate. Why should I interfere with them?” (The Iron Flute)

One of the pleasure of browsing in the Tassajara library is to scan the cards to see who has taken the books out over the years. Mostly I find familiar names going back twenty years. The Iron Flute is a less-well-known collection of koans, translated by Nyogen Senzaki, which I like mostly for his dry comments, and the lovely illustrations in the square editions of which Tassajara has two copies. I was a little surprised, though, to see that no-one had taken out the copy I pulled from the shelf since I had in 2007…

The Sutra of Innumerable Meanings

‘A bodhisattva, if he wants to learn and master the doctrine of Innumerable Meanings, should observes that all laws were originally, will be, and are in themselves void in nature and form; they are neither great nor small, neither appearing nor disappearing, neither fixed nor immovable, and neither advancing nor retreating; and they are nondualistic, just emptiness. All living beings, however, discriminate falsely: “It is this” or “It is that” and “It is advantageous” or “It is disadvantageous”; they entertain evil thoughts, make various evil karmas, and thus transmigrate within the six realms of existence; and they suffer all manner of miseries, and cannot escape from there during infinite kotis of kalpas. Bodhisattva-mahasattvas, observing rightly like this, should raise the mind of compassion, display the great mercy desiring to relieve others of suffering, and once again penetrate deeply into all laws. According to the nature of a law, such a law emerges. According to the nature of a law, such a law settles. According to the nature of a law, such a law changes. According to the nature of a law, such a law vanishes. According to the nature of a law, such an evil law emerges. According to the nature of a law, such a good law emerges. Settling, changing, and vanishing are also like this. Bodhisattvas, having thus completely observed and known these four aspects from beginning to end, should next observe that none of these laws settles down even for a moment, but all emerge and vanish anew every moment; and observe that they emerge, settle, change and vanish instantly. After such observation, we see all manner of natural desires of living beings. As natural desires are innumerable, preaching is immeasurable, and as preaching is immeasurable, meanings are innumerable. The Innumerable Meanings originate from one law. This one law is, namely, nonform. Such nonform is formless and not-form. Being not form and formless, it is called the real aspect of things. The mercy which bodhisattva-mahasattvas display after stabilising themselves in such a real aspect is real and not vain. They excellently relieve living beings from sufferings. Having given relief from sufferings, they preach the Law again and let all living beings obtain pleasure.’

I had an urge to make The Lotus Sutra my next commute read, and since it is always worth observing such urges, I got stuck into it. In the edition which Linda Ruth recommended we get, when we studied it at Tassajara back in 2004, The Sutra of Innumerable Meanings forms the preface to the main sutra itself.  Reading it for the first time in all these years, I found it very heart-warming and encouraging. Stay tuned for a couple more extracts, as well as some from The Lotus Sutra.

Shodo Harada

‘Original Nature can be realized if you can just let go of everything. To conceptualize around this is meaningless. While still in our world you must hold onto nothing – not a single thing – but let go of your attachment to every possession, every pain, every plan, every material thing, all of your self-centered opinions, separating yourself from all decoration. When you can truly become that state of mind, this is in itself an astonishing experience, full of great wonder. There is a great joy in this, and it will fill you with gratitude when you realize it for the first time.
This is something that cannot be explained in words. It is like the air around us. Who remembers to be thankful for the air we breathe? We all take it for granted. No one notices the air or thinks to say thank-you to it, but whether we notice it or not, it is always there. Those who do notice know the joy of always being supported by it; they know gratitude and joy with each breath. When one approaches the experience of enlightenment only intellectually, trying to grasp some idea of it with the mind, every day will be filled with dissatisfaction and suffering, because one cannot experience this joy merely by thinking about it.’ (The Path to Bodhidharma)

When reading the first paragraph, you might feel daunted by the prescription: who wants to give up all those things? Although I have not met Harada Roshi, by all accounts he does manifest full and concentrated aliveness, which means I trust what he is talking about, just as I trust those teachers I have met who have gone through the same process. My own intimations of the ‘great wonder’ mean that I will continue on this path, as what seems like a sacrifice is actually a relinquishing of an unnecessary burden.

Enkyo O’Hara

‘We can’t control joy. It is something that bobs up when we are truly alive and meet the whole world in an instant. We can experience joy in every aspect of our life, in working, in caring, in creating, and even in suffering. I think the key to experiencing joy is, as we say so often, being awake… What is “being awake”? Isn’t it our capacity to let go of our grasping onto what we think we want, what we think is happening to us, to drop all of those presumptions and be exposed and intimate with what is here, right now? I believe it is our resistance to what is right here, right now, that blocks the natural flow of joy.’ (Most Intimate)

Recently I was out on a run, and had got to the top of Portola, warmed up and settling into a rhythm. I was heading for Mount Davidson, the highest point in the city. As I trotted along a quiet street, I smiled at an elderly woman who was weeding her front yard, sitting in a chair and bending down. A car drove by, seemingly much too fast for a narrow road, which irritated me. Then I saw a perfect rose bush in another yard, an instant of joy. I still had to run up a mountain…

What I think about when I am riding

There is a well-known zen story I was reminded of this weekend. Here is one version – other versions have the same narrative but a different number of horses…

It is warm enough in San Francisco at the moment that I am having trouble sleeping – trying to balance staying cool with being exposed to the mosquitos who make themselves heard and felt overnight. The day after the solstice roam, I was awake around 4 am; that didn’t bother me too much as I wanted to get out and ride early. I set off around 6:15, and the sun was already shining and starting to heat up the city; it was beautifully quiet, perfect conditions for a ride.
The roam had been wonderful – well-attended, and apart from managing to make it to Land’s End in time to sit and watch the sun melt into the tranquil ocean, we had seen a large pod of whales breaching and blowing as they passed under the bridge, a memorable spectacle at any time. The only downside for me was that I had inadvertently left the house with my glasses in my pocket, and having put them in my bag, they had dropped out, and I guessed it was when I put another layer on after the sunset.
Starting out on my bike, still feeling a little tired from the walking and getting to bed a little late by my current standards, I decided that since the ride was just a general leg-stretching effort,  I might as well head down to the place where we had sat just in case they were still there, so I rode through the park to 23rd, then took Geary west, marveling that not a single car passed me in the twenty-five blocks to Seal Rock Road. When I got to the spot we had been, they were indeed sitting in the dust. I shared my good fortune with a couple of passers-by, who were enjoying the early morning sun streaming through the trees, and was thinking of heading back to the bridge for my intended loop of Paradise Drive. Putting my glasses in the back pocket of my cycling jersey with a feeling of satisfaction, I had a horrible realisation – my wallet was no longer where I had stuffed it on the way out of the house.
As I had rolled along JFK in the park, closed to traffic as always on a Sunday, I had been cleaning my glasses with my base layer, and had heard a slight noise, as if I had run over a flattened paper cup, and didn’t think to look round or check, but now I assumed it was my wallet dropping out of my pocket. The only time I can remember this happening before was in my first couple of years in San Francisco: I had ridden up Mount Tam, and in those days there was a pay phone at the summit (we are talking almost two decades ago now…) I had made a call and then descended towards Fairfax on the Bolinas – Fairfax Road, a lovely quiet stretch with some great descents and climbs. In Fairfax I thought I should stop for a coffee to help get me home; reaching for my wallet, I discovered it was not there, and with a heavy heart and equally heavy legs I set off back up the mountain, where I found it, most of the way up the climb from Alpine Dam to the Ridgecrest, sitting squarely on the double yellow lines in the middle of the road.
With a little more urgency in my pedaling than I had managed thus far, I rode back to the park to scan the road between 23rd and the deYoung, which is where I remembered hearing the sound. Nothing. Some park workers were already cleaning up yesterday’s rubbish, so I asked them for help, and they directed me to the park ranger station on the edge of the park. I stopped in there, and the adjacent police station, where I was also directed to the Richmond police station.
Having ridden around and made three reports, I didn’t want to continue with my original route – mainly thinking I should get back and cancel the two cards that were in the wallet – but I also felt compelled to ride back to Geary and Land’s End just in case it had actually fallen out later.
My mood was not desperate or even that despondent; mostly a little fatalistic in that I was expecting to have lost all the cash that was in the wallet (including all the dana from the roam, I had about $150 in there, much more than I generally carry, but because of the late arrival home and early start I had not thought to take most of it out), and that I would to deal with the calls to the card companies – and then I also thought about the DMV…
In any case, there was nothing to be seen anywhere I had been, so I rode down past the Cliff House and came back through the park – once again scanning the surface in that stretch of road, still to no avail. It was warming up, but still early, so I took the fast spin down Oak to catch the string of lights from Stanyan to Webster, and then, since I had a little energy left, I took my once-regular climb of Liberty Hill from 20th, over the top on Sanchez, then along 22nd to the top of Collingwood.
Once back at home, checking online that nothing had been done with the cards at least, I called my credit union and my English bank, told the story to my room-mate, and reflected on how I could use the experience as part of my teaching on equanimity this week – if I was not entirely equanimous, I would say that I had tipped more towards joy in finding the cheap glasses than towards despair at losing a sum of money I could have done with to make this month a little more comfortable than recent ones have been.

And then, as I was in the process of typing this story out, I got an email from a woman saying she had found the wallet, intact, and could I call her. It turned out she was local but had been in a hurry to get her son to a baseball game in the East Bay, and apologised for not being in touch sooner (among the other items in the wallet were some of my business cards, of course). So it was, at the end of the hot afternoon, I was back on my bike riding up to a large Victorian just north of the Panhandle, where I was given back my wallet, in exchange for which I offered my last jar of Zen Center honey which I have had for a while as a potential gift, just waiting for the right occasion.

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As a kind of coda, last night I rode out to the Seacliff end of the Land’s End trail to take a photo of the beautiful views there, and saw plenty of whale blowing – here with Mount Tam as the backdrop.

Yunyan

‘Yunyan was making tea.
Daowu asked him, “Who are you making tea for?”
Yunyan said, “There’s someone who wants it.”
Daowu said, “Why don’t you let him make it himself?”
Yunyan said, “Fortunately, I’m here to do it.”‘ (Zen’s Chinese Heritage)

There are a few different levels we can read this story at, but at the simplest, isn’t it nice that Yunyan is there to make the tea when it is needed?