Dogen

‘You should know that becoming a buddha is not something new or ancient. How could practice-realization be within any boundary? Do not say that from the beginning not a single thing exists. The causes are complete, and the results are fulfilled through time. Great assembly, please tell me, why is it like this?

After a pause Dogen said: Opening flowers will unfailingly bear the genuine fruit; green leaves meeting autumn immediately turn red.’ (Eihei Koroku, discourse 526)

I might be so bold as to add that Dogen’s words are not carried over from the past and they are not merely arising now. How do they sound to you?

Lingzhao

‘While sitting, Layman Pang asked his daughter Lingzhao, “A teacher of old said ‘Bright and clear are the one hundred grasses, bright and clear is the meaning of the ancestral teaching.’ How about yourself?”
Lingzhao said, “How could someone who is mature and great say such a thing?”
Pang said, “How would you say it?”
Lingzhao said, “Bright and clear are the one hundred grasses, bright and clear is the meaning of the ancestral teachng.”
Pang laughed.’ (Shinji Shobogenzo).

Before you throw up your hands and proclaim that there is no difference, remember how sharp Lingzhao is. Perhaps she has something. How about yourself?

What I think about when I am riding

This is the time of year when I first visited San Francisco, sixteen years ago, on my way to Australia from London, via the East Coast. I remember being surprised that it was warm enough to be able to sit on a beach – it did rain one day during the week I was here, so that day I rented a car and drove down to see Big Sur – but was otherwise clear and bright.
I took a ride to the Headlands early on Saturday morning, under similar bright skies, the sun already starting to warm, the city nestled in hazy blue hills, and remembered the  first time I rode along Crissy Field and over the bridge, on a rental bike I took to the top of Mount Tam, having no idea that I would ever come back to the city. The anniversary of that time allows me to be grateful that, having met the person who introduced me to zen and Zen Center, I was able to contemplate making the transition from my life in London to come and live here. Now that I am making another big transition, I am grateful for all the support I have been receiving that allows me to contemplate staying in San Francisco to teach in various arenas.

I have lived in California now longer than I lived in London between graduating and coming here, but I still don’t think of myself as American (I am not sure I ever really thought of myself as a Londoner either, though I had my loyalties to ‘south of the river’). Indeed, when I first started imagining leaving Zen Center, I could feel an urge to go back ‘home’, as England has always felt to me. Having sat with this for some time, earlier this year it felt clear to me that what was really pulling me was the sense that it was time to move on from residential practice and see what my life would look like outside of those parameters.

Generally I plan my rides ahead of time, and run through them in my head, as a way of preparing myself for what I am going to put myself through; I had thought of going out to Stinson Beach and back along highway 1, but had some hesitation as that feels like a long ride right now, and I didn’t want to stretch myself. I have come to accept that, as I age, it takes longer to get back into what I think of as good shape; knowing also that good shape now is not what it was when I first arrived. It doesn’t bother me that I am slower than I used to be; I am happy just to be able to climb up whatever hill or mountain I set myself to, or to make it around the circuit I choose.

There were many packs of riders heading out on Saturday morning. While I know that riding in company is less effort, and also can be a good way to challenge yourself, I prefer the opportunity to be in silence and enjoying the landscape at my own speed. That does not mean I feel separate from everyone else – I deeply appreciate the community of riders out on the roads, and am so glad that it is a much larger community than when I started riding seriously in the early nineties. There are always times when I can chat easily with people I find myself sharing a stretch of road with, and I enjoy the nods that riders give their fellow women and men as we pass in opposite directions. If you are ever at the side of the road with a mechanical problem, people will check to see if you need help, and I do the same when I see people in that situation.

In a similar vein, on Sunday I volunteered at Winterfest, the Bicycle Coalition’s annual party; one of the things I enjoy about having a more spacious schedule is that it feels easier to offer this kind of help. It is also a way of giving back, as without that event, I would most certainly not be here. In contrast to previous times I have attended, it was held on the top floor of the Metreon, with views over to the high-rise end of the city. It was nice to arrive before the action started, having a chance to look over the auction items before people started pouring in and the music got louder. The few of us assigned to our task had fun, and I met several other people I know in the city; the sense of community and celebration was strong. I didn’t talk much about bikes, but it is always nice to talk with bike people.

Enkyo O’Hara

‘One of the elements in the ancient Chinese ideogram for Zen is “clearing a space for an altar.” I feel this is exceedingly apt, because so much of Zen is about making space in our heart-minds so that we can live a life that is direct and clear. We burn off the brush and find ourselves in an unobstructed opening to life, and that opening, that bare space, is our altar. It is open and allows reality to enter. When a flower comes, it is accepted as a flower; when a dark cloud comes, it is accepted as a dark cloud. There is no denial or grasping. There is recognition.’

Dogen

This is the time when the brochure for next summer’s Tassajara guest season is being put together, so I am being asked for words to describe the retreats I am going to be helping with. For one of the retreats, we are planning on using the Mountains and Rivers Sutra as a study guide, as well as borrowing a phrase from it for the title of the retreat. Reading it through again today, I try to find a small paragraph to extract that might be less bamboozling than Dogen usually is for most people. When I am teaching Dogen, or talking about him, I have often encouraged people to treat his words like poetry, allowing them to sink in rather than expecting to understand it cognitively; these days I am also thinking that reading the Shobogenzo is like tackling a book of cryptic crosswords – once you grasp the way the clues are assembled, it becomes easier to approach the meaning.
That said, try this:

“At this time, human beings deeply know that what is in the ocean and the river is water, but do not know what dragons and fish see and use as water. Do not foolishly suppose that what we see as water is used as water by all other beings. You who study with buddhas should not be limited to human views when you see water. Go further and study water in the buddha way. Study how you view the water used by buddha ancestors. Study whether there is water or no water in the house of buddha ancestors.”

What I think about when I am riding

When I was more tightly scheduled, I felt like I needed to make my Sunday morning bike rides really count, and would go for as long as I could comfortably manage. Now that I am in transition and still building up a work schedule for myself, I can fit in a ride on other mornings, and so I did on Tuesday; since I am still finding my legs again, I did a shorter route, just to see how that felt.
I was down in Santa Cruz after the one-day sitting on Saturday, to help a friend lead a small retreat for some of her students. We had what felt like the first of the winter rain (though it has rained once or twice since the summer already), both on Sunday afternoon and Monday morning, with dark skies and a chilly dreariness. By Tuesday morning the clouds had all gone, but it was quite cold by San Francisco standards, and I had various winter accoutrements on, which just about did the job. On my way out of the city I noticed how many people were out in the park running, and how many riders were already returning from early morning rides, which they seemed to be doing at a much harder tempo than I was attempting. Most of all I was astonished, not having been down that way on a school morning in many years, just how many middle schoolers were taking the bike path along Richardson Bay, which felt very encouraging, and which also really helped me to relax rather than rush through that lovely stretch.
It is a truism that the English always talk about the weather, but I think that is largely because it is a fairly unpredictable force in people’s lives there. Though there are none of the extremes of other parts of the world, often the weather is something to set yourself against – the ever-present possibility of rain, the cold, the damp, the wind. Having gone out in that frame of mind, I noticed myself paying very close attention to the effects of the weather – how it was coldest in the valleys, and on Richardson Bay crossing the wetlands, warmer as I climbed up to the Panoramic Highway where I enjoyed the views over the clear ocean, even warmer in places where the low sun was hitting and as the morning wore on – and was reminded that, like the breath, the weather is always available to us as something we can pay attention to.

Settling the self on the self

I selected the previous two posts at different times over the past few weeks, and added them to the stack of quotes that I am maintaining for this blog. Putting them side by side reveals similarities even as they take different angles. Both caution against closing down against the outside world: the self only becomes vital as it engages with everything around it. Self-centeredness transforms into interconnection, and settling the self on the self is allowing the self to flow with the impermanence of everything.
Somehow, through practice, I hope I am taking myself less seriously.

Uchiyama Roshi

‘When I use the term Self, I am not referring to some fixed entity; the Self is life, and life is functioning. Functioning means activity which works toward the world in which this Self lives. When I talk of a “Self settling upon itself”, do not interpret this to mean a withdrawing and escaping from society. On the contrary, this expression means that your life manifests itself as life. It is a Self that works to settle or bring composure to everything you encounter in your life.’

Chan Master Sheng Yen

‘I emphasize that prajna is wisdom, and wisdom is the attitude of no self. This means not having an attitude that is based on a self-centered perspective. Please do not misunderstand that this attitude of no self means that there is nothing out there. The self of wisdom is there to solve problems; the self of compassion is there to benefit people.  One applies both the self of wisdom and the self of compassion to develop and cultivate a self that is pure and happy.’

Sitting

I was invited to a shabbat dinner on Friday night – I was not the only gentile among the attendees – and as a part of the ritual we were all asked to say what the high and low points of the week had been. The high point for me was certainly securing some housing for myself after I move out of Zen Center in about six weeks: a lovely apartment sharing with a former Zen Center resident. The low point is a little personal to be broadcast so widely, but I concluded by saying I was looking forward to the one-day sitting.
This is the first time I have sat all day since the spring; they are a regular part of the Zen Center schedule, and in my years as ino I was in charge of all the logistics and smooth running of them, so I did not always get to enjoy the benefits. On Saturday it was nice to be able just to go along and sit. It was also the first time I have eaten oryoki in almost six months, but having done it so many times at Tassajara, it remains embedded in the body, and it was a delight to remember the elegance of the forms. I was sitting next to my dharma friend Liên, who began her Tassajara training at the same time as I did, and it was sweet that our movements were synchronised at times. In fact David, the current head of practice, and Erin, who was acting ino for the day, also sat tangaryo that same practic period, thirteen years ago – this is something I treasure about Zen Center.
Having not sat for so long in a while, my legs were sore, but I enjoyed keeping myself upright. In the afternoon I met with students, which is always enjoyable, but meant I didn’t get to settle in the zendo as much as I would have with more zazen. The aftertaste of the day though was, as so often, one of spaciousness, which is always welcome.