‘All buddha tathagathas who individually transmit inconceivable dharma, actualizing unsurpassable, complete enlightnment, have a wondrous art, supreme and unconditioned. Receptive samadhi is its mark; only buddhas transmit it to buddhas without veering off. Sitting upright, practicing Zen, is the authentic gate to free yourself in the unconfined realm of this samadhi.
Although this inconceivable dharma is abundant in each person, it is not actualized without practice, and it is not experienced without realization. When you release it, it fills your hand – how could it be limited to one or many? When you speak it, it fills your mouth – it is not bounded by length or width.
All buddhas continuously abide in this dharma, and do not leave traces of consciousness about where they are. Sentient beings continuously move about in this dharma, but where they are is not clear in their consciousness.’ (Shobogenzo Bendowa – On the Endeavor of the Way).

I appear not to have my copy of the Bendowa in my bookcase right now. Since I also cannot find my copy of the Shobogenzo Zuimonki I hope that they are in a box that I have not unpacked since returning from Tassajara. In Kaz Tanahashi’s translation of the Shobogenzo, this stands as the first paragraph of the first chapter. It has always felt to me like a rousing manifesto, an opening salvo in Dogen’s decades-long encouragement of whole-hearted practice. Each time I open to this page, I feel freshly inspired.

Suzuki Roshi

‘All the rules we have are just to make practice easier. Not to make our door narrow, but to open our door to everyone. We know how difficult it is, so we set up some rules to help you practice. If there is no pole for you to climb up, it is difficult for you to experience the kind of feeling you will have when you jump off the top. If a baby has no toy, it is rather difficult to have the actual experience of a human being. The rules we have are a kind of toy to help your experience as a Buddhist. It does not mean that the toy is always necessary, but when you are young it is necessary.
So it is not necessary to always stick to the rules. What is important is to extend your way of life deeper and wider. To have a beautiful ceramic bowl is not necessary when you are ready to appreciate things. Whatever it is, things will encourage your practice. If you can enjoy your life in its true sense, then even if you injure your body it is alright. Even if you die it is alright. When you are encouraged by anything, and you realize everything is always helping you, then there is no difference whether you are dead or alive. It is all right. Quite all right. That is complete renunciation.’ (Not Always So)

Everything is always helping you. Can you trust that?


‘You must understand one thing in Buddhism: there is no mystery in authentic Dharma. Some people misunderstand Buddhism. They think anyone who studies Buddhism will acquire supernatural power, not knowing the real meaning of “supernatural.” Especially in America today, everyone wishes to have some form of power. They have enough power materially, therefore they wish to have some mental power. Their idea is to see through the wall, or to hear some voice the ordinary ear cannot hear. They are not trying to find repose of mind; their endless desire is to grasp something supernatural. I do not know what they would do with it if they had it.’

The Blue Cliff Record

‘Yunmen spoke to his assembly and said, “Everyone has their own light. If they try to see it, everything is darkness. What is everyone’s light?”
No-one in the assembly spoke, so he answered himself, “The halls and the gate.” He also added, “A good thing does not compare with no thing.” (Case 81)

What does your light look like? Is it as good as no thing? Keep looking.


‘Do not take up the buddha measure to measure and analyze the great way. The buddha measure is one step, just like an open blossom. Do not hold out the mind measure to grope for and deliberate about the awesome presence. The mind measure is a single face, like the world. The measure of a single blade of grass is clearly the measure of the buddha-ancestor mind – one blade that recognizes the whereabouts of active buddhas.’ (Shobogenzo Gyobutsu Iigi – The Awesome Presence of Active Buddhas)

Transmitting the Light

‘The fourth patriarch in China, Dayi Daoxin, bowed to great master Jianzhi and said, “I beg the master in his great compassion to give me the teaching of liberation.” The third patriarch replied, “Who is binding you?” Dayi said, “No-one is binding me.” The patriarch answered, “Then why are you seeking liberation?” With these words, Dayi was greatly awakened.’

From Keizan Jokin’s commentary: ‘Once this barrier of liberation is crossed, this principle of liberation no longer exists. That is to say, there is no bondage, no liberation, no that, no this. Therefore, none of these names is established, none of the shapes of things is distinguished. You penetrate the results of practice, so how can you be concerned with relative and absolute? There are no distinctions in this place, nor should you get stuck in any direction. If you can see in this way, you will not use the word “liberation”, so how can you hate bondage?’

The Hidden Lamp

‘Master Hakuin Ekaku used to tell his students about an old woman who had a teashop nearby, praising her understanding of Zen. The students didn’t believe that such a person could have much wisdom, and so they would go to the teashop to find out for themselves.
Whenever the woman saw them coming she could tell at once whether they had come for tea or to look into her grasp of Zen. In the former case, she served them graciously. In the latter, she beckoned them to come behind the screen to the back of the teashop. The instant they obeyed, she struck them with a fire poker.
Nine out of ten of them did not escape her beating.’

From Jane Hirshfield’s commentary: ‘Walk into the old woman’s teashop today, you’d still get either tea or a thrashing. But her koan? This book? She’d burn them right up, stirring the ashes gladly with her plain iron poker.’

As Jane Hirshfield says, the gracious offering of tea and the striking with the poker are both the full expression of the old woman’s zen. What have you come for?

Suzuki Roshi

‘Direct experience will come when you are completely one with your activity; when you have no idea of self. This could be when you are sitting, but it could also be whenever your way-seeking mind is strong enough to forget your selfish desires. When you believe you have some problem it means your practice is not good enough. When your practice is good enough, whatever you see, whatever you do, that is the direct experience of reality. This point should be remembered. Usually, without knowing this point we are involved in judgements, so we say, “This is right, that is wrong,” “This is perfect,” and “That is not perfect.” That seems ridiculous when we are doing real practice.’ (Not Always So)

Nyogen Senzaki

‘Buddhist realism explains very well that the noumenon is the phenomenon, and the phenomenon is the noumenon, but to actualize what reality is, one has to pass the gateless gate. The reality is called Buddha, but the name is only a shadow, not the essence. In pointing to the esoteric or inner teaching, therefore, Nansen could only say, “It is not mind; it is not Buddha; it is not things.” If you add a word to Nansen’s answer, you spoil his Zen. If you take a word from the answer, you break the completeness of his Zen. Just enter into the realm of golden silence through this gate of no-thing. When you emerge from your samadhi, you see everything, and you may say,  “Masters preached this, and nothing else. It is mind, it is Buddha, and it is all things.”‘ (Eloquent Silence)

I have a real soft spot for Nyogen Senzaki; like Sokei-An, and later, Suzuki Roshi, he brings forth the fullness of zen understanding to a generation of Americans for whom it was a complete novelty, using straightforward language that should not deceive anyone into thinking it was not a complete expression. This is a part of his commentary on yesterday’s case from the Mumon Kan, The Gateless Gate.

The Gateless Gate

‘A monk asked Nansen, “Is there any dharma that has not been preached to the people?’
Nansen answered, “There is.”
“What is the truth that has not been taught?”
Nansen said, “It is not mind; it is not Buddha; it is not things.”

Mumon’s comment: “At this question, Nansen used up all his personal treasure immediately and became quite debilitated”‘ (Case 27).

Good for Nansen. But what was he actually saying? Did he reveal any secrets really?