‘When you first seek dharma, you imagine that you are far away from its environs. But dharma is already correctly transmitted – you are immediately your original self’ – Genjo Koan

Every line in the Genjo Koan is illuminating. Everything you need is right there.


‘Layman Pang was sitting in his thatched cottage one day, studying the sutras. “Difficult, difficult, difficult,” he suddenly exclaimed, “like trying to store ten bushels of sesame seed in the top of a tree.”
“Easy, easy, easy,” his wife, Laywoman Pang, answered. “It’s like touching your feet to the floor when you get out of bed.”
“Neither difficult nor easy,” said their daughter Lingzhao. “It’s like the teachings of the ancestors shining on the hundred grass tips.” (The Hidden Lamp).

 Well, which is it? What do the hundred grass tips look like right now?

Uchiyama Roshi

‘Middle Way does not mean halfway. Nor does it mean some sort of watered-down, defeated compromise or shallow eclecticism. Rather, Middle Way means to accept this contradiction of impermanence and cause-and-effect within your own life. To accept this contradiction means to forbear and overcome it without trying to resolve it. At its every essence life is contradiction, and the flexibility to forbear and assimilate contradiction without being beaten down by it nor attempting to resolve it is our life force.’

Reading Uchiyama’s commentary on the Tenzo Kyokun again today in preparation for the last of these four classes, plenty of wonderful material to ponder on.

Chan Master Sheng Yen

‘Most of the time we have a subjective view of the world. The interesting thing is that most of the time we believe ourselves to be objective. In fact there is no such thing as being absolutely objective. Objectivity really is just several people’s subjectivity. When a group of people agree on something, it becomes objective.’


‘In the beginning, when I was giving lectures here in New York, when I sat in SILENCE the audience thought the Reverend has forgotten a word and is thinking about it. But it is not that. My meaning was that there are no words to speak about it with. Then some of my audience would say, “Reverend, do you need a dictionary?”
No, I don’t need a dictionary. This is not written in a dictionary. The human being cannot explain THIS. I said THIS; I didn’t say “this attitude” or “this silence”. I said THIS. Human beings cannot explain THIS.’

Suzuki Roshi

‘This morning when we were bowing in the zendo,  we heard a big noise overhead, because upstairs in the dining room people were pushing chairs across the floor without picking them up. This is not the way to treat chairs, not only because it may disturb the people who are bowing in the zendo underneath, but also because fundamentally this is not a respectful way to treat things.
To push the chairs across the floor is very convenient, but it will give us a lazy feeling. Of course this laziness is part of our culture, and it eventually causes us to fight with each other. Instead of respecting things, we want to use them for ourselves, and if it is difficult to use them, we want to conquer them. This kind of idea does not accord with the spirit of practice…
When we pick up the chairs one by one carefully, without making much noise, then we will have the feeling of practice in the dining room. We will not make much noise of course, but also the feeling is quite different. When we practice this way we ourselves are Buddha, and we respect ourselves. To care for the chairs means our practice goes beyond the zendo.’

This is the piece that was referenced during the reading for Blanche’s new book, which of course took place in the same dining room.

Dining room soji sunburst 2

Shohaku Okumura

‘ “Each sense and every field
Interact and do not interact;
When interacting, they also merge –
Otherwise, they remain in their own states.” (Sandokai)

Each line in the original Chinese poem consists of five Chinese characters. In these four lines Shitou uses only fifteen different Chinese characters, fifteen words to express the whole of reality. This is incredible to me. I could write a book about these four lines.’


‘There is a simple way to become a buddha: when you refrain from unwholesome actions, are not attached to birth and death, and are compassionate towards all sentient beings, respectful to seniors and kind to juniors, not excluding or desiring anything, with no thoughts or worries, you will be called a buddha. Seek nothing else’ – Shobogenzo Shoji

Dogen always makes it sound so easy.

Chan Master Sheng Yen

‘In the agamas, the early Buddhist scriptures, the Buddha said, “This arises, therefore that arises; this perishes, therefore that perishes.” The Buddha meant that when ignorance and vexation arise, we do certain deeds, and then we receive the retribution from those deeds. In receiving retribution our vexation causes us to commit more deeds, prolonging this long chain of suffering, which is ultimately the chain of birth and death. This is the meaning of “This arises, therefore that arises.”
What does “This perishes, therefore that perishes” mean? Ignorance is the root cause of our vexation. When ignorance perishes, all vexations in the rest of the chain perish. Therefore as one practices towards enlightenment and ignorance is eliminated, the suffering of birth, old age, sickness and death also perish, along with worry, sorrow, agony and emotional affliction.’

While I was reading this in the sun on the front steps yesterday, a man came down the steps from Koshland Park, crossed the street, took his small water bottle out of his pack, and poured a little water on a small plant in one of the sidewalk flower beds we have on this block before taking a drink himself and walking on.

I worry that some people might read the strong words like retribution and shrink away from the meaning. In reality, it can look very simple.

The Blue Cliff Record

‘Ummon said to his disciples, “Medicine and disease cure each other. The whole world is medicine. Where do you find the self?”‘

I have been asked to speak to a class this week about how buddhists relate to suffering, and as part of my reflections, I thought of this koan. I have struggled to get on top of this one before – I remember Michael Wenger quoting it often. As usual for a koan, there is no single right answer, but there is a way of looking at things which steers you away from wrong answers. For now I will say: everything exists in relation to everything else, but if you expect the way you conceive those relationships to be the truth, then you are not seeing the whole picture.