‘When you ride in a boat and watch the shore, you might assume that the shore is moving, but when you keep your eyes closely on the boat, you can see that the boat moves. Similarly, if you examine things with a confused body and mind, you might suppose that your mind and nature are permanent, but when you practise intimately, and return to where you are, it will be clear that nothing at all has unchanging self.’ (Genjo Koan)

Another kind and clear analogy from Dogen to help us wake up to reality. So how do we return to where we are? By practising intimately in each moment.

Master Ma

‘Once, Lecturer Liang of Mount Xi, Hong Region, studied with Mazu, who said, “Which sutra do you teach?”
Liang said, “The Heart Sutra.”
Mazu said, “How do you teach it?”
Liang said, “I teach it with the heart.”
Mazu said, “The heart is like a main actor. The will is like a supporting actor. The six types of consciousness are like their company. How do they understand your teaching of the sutra?”
Liang said, “If the heart doesn’t understand it, does emptiness understand it?”
Mazu said, “Yes it does.”
Liang flipped his sleeves and started to walk away.
Mazu called, “Lecturer.”
Liang turned his head around.
Mazu said, “Just this, from birth till death.”
At this moment, Liang had great realization. He hid himself at Mount Xi, and no one heard about him any longer.’ (Quoted in Shobogenzo Koku – Space)

Not for the first time, I have gone looking in the archives of the Ino’s Blog and found something to nourish me. Now, is my understanding of ‘Just this,’ the same as when I wrote that out four years or so ago, or is it different?


As I get used to life outside of Zen Center, one aspect I am enjoying is having a different starting point for exploring the city, especially when I put on my running shoes and head out for some exercise.
I started running regularly in the city a couple of years ago, mainly motivated by wanting to give a good account of myself at the Tassajara No Race to which I had been invited (it is the kind of challenge I relish), but also to get outside more after my days of sitting in the director’s office. I was seeking out unpaved areas, and it surprised me how many pockets of the city I had not discovered in ten years of living here: little open spaces, staircases tucked away on empty streets, the quiet woods of Mount Sutro, the long stretch of Glen Canyon.
Happily my new residence is a little nearer to most of these (though now the Presidio is probably out of reach), being further to the west, where the street grid tends to break down as it meets the hills. Having grown up in a country where some roads are just where the Romans left them, and every street has a name and a history, I am always glad to leave grids behind, though I do appreciate their efficiency and simplicity. A meander is much more to my taste, and climbing hills also, especially when the reward is a grand skyscape such as I used to enjoy from the roof of Zen Center, and a view over whole swathes of the city, the traffic flowing down from the Bay Bridge, the towers rising downtown, the contours of houses in every direction, and of course, eventually, the water that bounds the city.
Mt Sutro woods 5
The Mount Sutro woods
Twin Peaks and houses
Twin Peaks from Mount Sutro
Mountain Spring view 2
Downtown visible from Mount Sutro
Corona Heights view street bay
View of the bay from Buena Vista

Transmitting the Light

‘The forty-first patriarch was Great Master Tongan the Latter. He studied with the former Tongan. He said, “The ancients said, ‘What worldly people love, I love not.’ I wonder what you love.” Tongan Daopi replied, “I have already been able to be like this.” At these words, Tongan the Latter was greatly enlightened.’

From Keizan’s commentary: ‘Whether you are beginners or veterans, you are descendants of the Venerable Shakyamuni, and use [the same robes and bowl] he used. How can you be attached in the same way worldly people are? First, you must free yourselves of all false views of such things as right and wrong, good and evil, male and female. Next, do not get stuck in the nihilism of non-action, indifference and formlessness. If you want to experience this realm personally, do not look for it in others or beyond yourselves. You must go back to the time when you had no body, before you were conceived, and have a close look. You will not find the slightest sign of the many distinctions. Do not be like a demon in a dark cave. This Mind is fundamentally wonderfully clear, bright and undarkened. It illuminates perfectly, and is open as the sky…

The Buddha can do nothing for you, and there is nothing to be had from a teacher. Not only is it not distinguished through sound and form, but it has no ears and eyes. However the Mind-moon shines round and bright; the eye-flower opens and forms are fresh. You must arrive here fully and be worthy like Tongan Guanzhi.’

What I think about when I am riding

Since all my books are currently still in boxes, and being that it is a time of year for more leisured reflection, I hope I will be forgiven some more personal ramblings…

It was traditional in my family to take a walk on Christmas Day, as a bracing antidote to sitting by the fire and the usual over-consumption. In later years I also took to going for a run on Boxing Day to get my sluggish system moving again.
It is ten years since I have spent Christmas with my family, and these days, without festive traditions to uphold, I like to go for a ride early on Christmas morning. Bearing in mind that I had not been out on my bike in three weeks, and was still feeling the lingering effects of sickness, I did not intend anything grand, but took another loop around the city.
How wonderfully quiet it was, with the sun just up over the east bay, far to the south of course at this time of year. There were occasional buses and street cars, and a number of homeless people trying to stay warm – it was on the cold end of San Francisco weather, with a little bite to the wind, and I had on merino for my various extremities. Junctions and sections of roads that are usually stressful became serene with almost no cars I needed to pay attention to. It was easier to relax and just watch the wider scene around me, noticing details in buildings that are usually just in the background on a ride.
More people started to appear, walking and jogging, as I rode around from the bay piers to Fisherman’s Wharf, the Marina, and past the bridge, but it was the lack of vehicles that was really causing the sense of quiet.
There are a number of times when I have been in car-free urban spaces, and it is a whole different way of experiencing the city. Most notable was the Millennium Eve, when I left my work at the BBC at around 9pm, and managed to navigate my bike through the celebrating crowds to get over the river and back home for my own celebration. Similarly, visiting London for the Tour de France grand départ in 2007 was a time of joyful crowds and no motor vehicles, as have been more recently and on a smaller scale, the Sunday Streets initiatives in the city. This year, on the weekend the Golden Gate Bridge was closed to install the new median barriers, but was still open to pedestrians and cyclists, I was lucky enough to ride across, and it was quiet enough to hear the waves and the seagulls. When a police patrol car appeared on the bridge, you could hear it from one end to the other, which really brought home how much of a din is usually being created. And it is not that there is anything wrong with the busyness of the city, but experiencing its opposite is incredibly refreshing.
On my way around, I was keen to try the new trail which meets the west side of the bridge; not ideal for bikes, but it will still be a nice way to bypass the tourist crowds on the east side. Coming out by Immigrant Point, there was a gorgeous view of Sea Cliff and Land’s End, the sun mostly out, illuminating beautifully from its low angle.
After the full moon, the tide was running strong under the bridge, and swooping down past the Cliff House from the seaward end of Geary, I could see lines of breakers rolling into Ocean Beach, scouring the sand as I continued along Great Highway with expanses of sky in all directions.
Even though I had been struggling to get up the hills on the way out, I noticed I could not resist the challenge of coming back from the zoo over Portola and Twin Peaks instead of through the park, to take in the views, from Point Reyes to the Dumbarton Bridge, before a cold descent to my new home, and a welcome hot bath.

I looked for pictures to illustrate some of the places on the ride, and there were surprisingly few that matched up:

Ocean Beach 7.2 Cliff House copyThe Cliff House from Ocean Beach; the tide was much higher today

Great Highway March 3Big skies on Great Highway on a warmer day

A Day at Tassajara

The Tassajara shuso ceremony is always later in December than those at City Center or Green Gulch, and I planned my recent travels around being able to attend last Friday. Being there felt like an oasis of formal ritual in the midst all my recent worldly activities.

It makes for a long day: leaving the city at six in the morning, driving down through the morning rush hour to Jamesburg, switching vehicles to one of the Tassajara Suburbans – I was driving this part, and had to negotiate some ice and snow at the higher elevations of the road – some tea and socialising with the monks, two or more hours of ceremony, time for a quick bathe, dinner, and then the four-plus hours of driving back to the city, which culminated this time in a very heavy downpour as we came up the last few miles of 280.

Nevertheless, in the three years since I was shuso, I have always found it a trip worth making, to see my friends take their turn in the spotlight. Djinn has been my good friend at Zen Center for many years (there was a running joke at the ceremony that she was everyone’s special friend), and it was wonderful to see her take her place on the teaching seat, and deliver consistently strong answers to people on both sides of the hall – the sixty or so practice period monks, and the large numbers of former shusos who had come. It was notable that none of the latter chose to push her with their questioning, which is always a sign that they trust the answers they have already heard.

DSCF0189Djinn, holding the fan, after the ceremony, talking with one of the monks. Paul, who led the practice period, and Greg, the tanto, are behind her, in the brown robes.

By the way, I have updated the calendar page, and will continue to do so as events get confirmed, so please check the tab above the header photograph.


In case yesterday’s mention of Dogen and the moon left you flummoxed:

‘Enlightenment is like the moon reflected in the water. The moon does not get wet, nor is the water broken. Although its light is wide and great, the moon is reflected even in a puddle an inch wide. The whole moon and the entire sky are reflected in dewdrops on the grass, or even in one drop of water. Enlightenment does not divide you, just as the moon does not break the water. You cannot hinder enlightenment, just as a drop of water does not hinder the moon in the sky. The depth of the drop is the height of the moon. Each reflection, however long or short its duration, manifests the vastness of the dewdrop, and realizes the limitlessness of the moonlight in the sky.’ (Genjo Koan)

On the move

I have been traveling this month, and one of my friends asked me if I made time to sit when I was away from home and out of my usual schedules. A couple of weeks ago on my travels, I offered a meditation session at a friend’s office, but otherwise I did not do any formal sitting. There were plenty of times, though, when I paused for a moment to relax and engage the moment with presence.

When I am giving meditation instruction I often tell people that they can practise anywhere, and usually give the examples of walking down Market Street and being at the airport – though any street will do, and any airport. In New York last week, the stereotypes of hardened New Yorkers was belied by eye contact and smiles on a number of occasions, especially on the subway. These are small things, but to me they embody a moment being met. Visiting a museum, paying close attention to the exhibits around me, just for a second, things felt totally clear. In the long and tiring security line at JFK, I turned to focusing on the sensations in my body, which was a two-fold exercise: I had gone to the airport with ample time, so I was completely unstressed about time or being late, but I had also started getting sick, and had bundled up against the heavy rain in the city, which left me feeling very warm inside the terminal building. On the plane I was also just allowing myself to feel the sickness, and that slightly dislocated feeling of being high over the earth in a small pressurised cabin.

Flying west, we had just caught the last of the sunset in the sky, and had the half moon guiding the way across the continent. As we came into land under clear skies over the bay, I was watching the reflection of the moon in the water, and thought of Dogen. 

DSCF3676The picture does not do justice to the beauty of the scene, as we came in to land over the bay with the moon above; my attempt to capture the reflection in the still water was even less successful.

By the way, I have updated the calendar page, and will continue to do so as events get confirmed, so please check the tab above the header photograph.

Enkyo O’Hara

‘We tend to think that we are independent of our environment, of the people and things around us. But when we sit in meditation and experience ourselves completely, breath by breath, we realize that we do not exist in a vacuum; we co-exist with the elements and with all those with whom we’re connected consciously or unconsciously, directly or indirectly, in time and space. That is what wakes us up.’ (Most Intimate)

Transmitting the Light

‘The forty-second patriarch was Liangshan. He studied with Tongan Guanzhi and served him. Tongan asked him, “What is the business beneath the patched robe?” Liangshan had no answer. Tongan said, “Studying the Buddha Way and still not reaching this realm is the most painful thing. Now, you ask me.” Liangshan asked, “What is the business beneath the patched robe?” Tongan said, “Intimacy.” Liangshan was greatly awakened.

From Keizan Jokin’s commentary: ‘What was the original intention in getting people to leave home and escape the passions? It was just to get them to arrive at Buddha’s wisdom and vision. Taking the trouble to establish Zen communities and gathering together the four groups (monks and nuns, laywomen and -men) were only for the purpose of clarifying this matter…
Of course, even if any numbers of Buddhas came and tried to offer you this one great matter, even their powers would not suffice in the end. Therefore, this is not a path you can pass on to your children, or a path you can receive from your father. You have to do it yourself, awaken to it yourself, and acquire it yourself. Even though you practice for infinite eons, self-authentication and self-awakening happen in an instant.’

I would add that it is certainly not necessary to put on a patched robe to be awakened, but wearing one and not fully arousing the aspiration to awaken is indeed a great sadness.