Transmitting the Light

‘The twenty-first patriarch was the Venerable Vasubandhu. One time the twentieth patriarch said, “I do not seek the Way, yet I am not confused. I do not venerate the Buddhas, yet I am not conceited. I do not meditate for long periods of time, yet I am not lazy. I do not restrict myself to just one meal a day, yet I am not attached to food. I do not know what is enough, yet I am not covetous. When the mind seeks nothing, this is called the Way.” When Vasubandhu heard this, he aroused the undefiled wisdom.’

From Keizan Jokin’s commentary: ‘If you think that sitting in meditation for a long time is the Way, then sitting in the womb for nine months would be the Way, so what would there be to seek later? … Ever since Bodhidharma came from India in order to make people see directly, zen masters have not spoken of having wisdom or not having wisdom, or of ancient learning and new learning. They have just made people alike sit up straight and calmly abide in the Self. This itself is the great teaching of tranquility and happiness.’

Katagiri Roshi

‘The bodhisattva vow to save all sentient beings isn’t based on an evaluation. It’s not thinking that all sentient beings need to be saved based on ideas of good or bad, right or wrong. A bodhisattva vows to save all sentient beings because most people don’t know where they are. We are already in the ocean of Buddha’s world, but we don’t know where the water is. We are confused.  We are already great beings, but we don’t realize it, so we create problems.’ (Each Moment is the Universe)

To be filed alongside the Dogen and Daido Loori from earlier in the week.

Other work

In a shameless piece of self-promotion, I want to invite anyone who is local to come to Zen Center to see a show of my photographs during December – which will be tricky at times as there will be a silent sesshin going on, and the holidays as well, when the building will be closed.

I am also scheduled to show work at the Wild Goose in Carmel Valley in January, and at Farleys on Potrero Hill in April; these will all feature different pictures.

Selecting for a show is somewhat hard – I spent a week revisiting my entire archive, from which I pulled about a thousand photos I wanted to keep on hand. From there I narrowed it down to thirty or so for City Center, and a dozen for the Wild Goose. The header picture above did not make the cut, though I had imagined it would. Printing up the likely choices helps inform the decision, as some images somehow don’t work when enlarged, or fail to make the impression I thought they would. Artist friends of mine urge me to stick to a particular theme, and I don’t find this easy (the Wild Goose will just be pictures from the wilderness around Tassajara, so that was a simpler choice). The City Center show is split between landscapes and urban abstracts, with one or two outliers I am particularly fond of; I do generally consider whether someone might want to buy the photo to hang on their wall, but not at the price of limiting my options.

One of the easier choices was the lead picture for the publicity; this is a shot from the summer at Tassajara, between the old and new bathhouses, at a place where hot springs water bubbles up to the surface – I know the verb is not accurate, but I can’t find another way to describe it. In any case, the cause of the ripple is underneath, not from above.

Hot springs ripple

Uchiyama Roshi

‘In Buddhism, finding the meaning of life never means to search for it among toys. A life which relies on toys for its value means nothing more than that one is being led around by these toys, thus losing sight of living with true purpose or intensity. To live the buddhadharma is to live without the necessity of having to be constantly entertained by toys. Having a passion for life means only to pour all our life forces into our true Self. Life, in terms of everything we encounter, the people with whom we come into contact, all the material things we use and handle every day – that is our life and our true Self, and it is into this that we throw our life force.’


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

To be read alongside the Daido Loori quote from the other day. I have already posted this quote, but it never hurts to be reminded of the essentials at regular intervals. On one level we know it to be true; on another somehow we have to be able to trust that it is, and then manifest the truth of it in our lives.


The Hidden Lamp

‘Once a monk on pilgrimage met an old woman living alone in a hut. The monk asked, “Do you have any relatives?”
She said, “Yes.”
The monk asked, “Where are they?”
She answered, “The mountains, rivers, and the whole earth, the plants and trees, are all my relatives.”‘

In Florence Caplow’s commentary (all of which is worth reading), she says, ‘The Zen stories are quite clear: if you want to truly meet a teacher, you have to ask a question… You must understand that is is the asking that matters, not the answer. Because every real asking, every real meeting comes from the place where the Buddha glimmers in the depths. In the asking is the answerer, and in the answer is the asker. And in the meeting of the two, there are mountains, rivers, and the whole earth.’

I would perhaps add that the monk’s question may not have been that fierce, but the woman’s answer came from the depths.

Daido Loori

‘You should understand that no thing ever falls short of its own completeness. Wherever it stands, it never fails to cover the ground.’


In England the winter light can be captivating; its watery quality from the sun barely making it over the horizon lends to rich colours. Here in California the light is more robust, but none the less interesting at this time of year. This week, once the rain and north wind had passed through, it was very pleasant and extremely clear – which I usually gauge by how well we can see the East Bay from where we are – at least until the fog rolled in over the park on Friday afternoon.

Happily, my replacement camera has arrived – I managed to win an auction on eBay, which I was not expecting. I took it for a quick test on Thursday afternoon, and again on Friday; I can see that I am going to enjoy it once I get used to the adjustments from my previous camera.

From the train 11
The view from a train somewhere close to the Welsh border, a year ago

The view from the Zen Center roof on Thursday afternoon as the sun went down

What I think about when I am riding

This year I have had two regular teaching engagements outside of Zen Center: one at a tech company, and one at the county jail. When I mentioned this to someone I was meeting recently, they remarked on them being opposite ends of the spectrum, and of course in some ways they are. In terms of the guided meditation, they are not so different. I will always adjust the focus depending on the energy of the group in the room at that moment, and often offer similar instructions.

The other similarity is in their respective locations, which are not far apart, so that my commute from Zen Center has been largely identical – down the hill on Page St, along Market for a few blocks and then down 8th St. This is a nice route to take as there are wide bike lanes all the way on the latter two streets, which allows a certain sense of security, but drivers are usually going pretty fast along 8th (it is just the same coming back up 7th), and we have to pay close attention to cars wanting to turn, especially around the freeway junctions.

I tend to allow more than enough time to get down to the two engagements, so once I am underway, I am not usually rushing. These days I really don’t seem to be in so much of a hurry, and I am not sure if that is more a function of getting older, having a less packed schedule, or just mellowing out through practice. In any case, on sunny Friday mornings, and the darkening Monday afternoons, I am usually able to have the ride be preparation for the meditation: enjoying my surroundings, taking in the many sights and sounds, relaxing – as far as it is possible – with the motion and ease of the bicycle.

These days commuting often means flowing with a group of riders. Even as we weave together through tight gaps and awkward manoeuvres, I rarely come across any bad tempers or raised voices among cyclists, which I would say compares favourably with the driving experience. There is also a sense of safety in numbers that I only used to feel in my days of doing Critical Mass in London in the early nineties; it often feels that we are really looking out for each other.

When people complain to me about traffic, I like to remind them that they are not separate from traffic. Everyone is in the same boat, just trying to get where they are going. All we can control is our attitude and reaction to what we encounter.

Suzuki Roshi

‘Shikantaza, our zazen, is just to be ourselves. When we do not expect anything, we can be ourselves. That is our way, to live fully in each moment of time. This practice continues forever.’

I just opened Not Always So at random, and there is was: just enough, fully complete. Read it again.