Katagiri Roshi’s Peaceful Life is a very sweet poem that we occasionally chanted at Zen Center for services; its simplicity almost disguises his deep understanding of how practice can transform our limited mind, and bring out our full heart in the way of compassion.
Being told that is impossible
One believes, in despair, “Is that so?”
Being told it is possible,
One believes, in excitement, “That’s right.”
But, whichever is chosen,
It does not fit one’s heart neatly.
Being asked, What is unfitting?”
I don’t know what it is.
But my heart knows somehow.
I feel an irresistible desire to know.
What a mystery “human” is.
As to this mystery:
Knowing how to live,
Knowing how to walk with people,
Demonstrating and teaching,
This is the Buddha.
From my human eyes,
I feel it’s really impossible to become a Buddha.
But this “I,” regarding what the Buddha does,
Vows to practice,
To be resolute,
And tells myself, “Yes I will.”
Just practice right here now,
And achieve continuity,
This is living in vow.
Herein is one’s peaceful life found.
‘It is not only that there is water in the world, but there is a world in water. It is not merely in water. There is a world of sentient beings in clouds. There is a world of sentient beings in the air. There is a world of sentient beings in fire. There is a world of sentient beings on earth. There is a world of sentient beings in the world of phenomena. There is a world of sentient beings in a blade of grass. There is a world of sentient beings in one staff.
Wherever there is a world of sentient beings, there is a world of buddha ancestors. Thoroughly examine the meaning of this.’ (Mountains and Rivers Sutra)
A reminder that I will be giving a dharma talk in San Rafael on Monday night. Please think about coming along if you are in the area. Dogen will not be the focus of the talk, as he will be in Santa Cruz the following Saturday, but I am not sure I have managed to give a talk without bringing in some Dogen.
I find myself less and less interested in professional road cycling as the years go by, with the seemingly endless episodes of drug cheating, but the drama of it can still be compelling if I watch some footage. Thinking back to the first times I saw professionals riding in the flesh, some twenty five years ago, I still remember how unbelievable their speed seemed to be, especially on hills that I had struggled up myself, like Ditchling Beacon outside Brighton where the Tour de France passed through one sunny day in 1994. Apart from the ability to be so close to the action, I think the appeal of watching races is from knowing yourself how much effort it takes, how a particular section of road feels.
More than running or walking, I find body memory an intrinsic part of riding a bike. I can distinctly remember sitting in sesshin at Tassajara and allowing my mind to relive the contours of roads outside London, up in the north downs, the narrow lanes of Kent and Sussex, or the wild roads that lie between Dartmoor and Bodmin Moor when I was visiting my father in Cornwall. I only rode seriously for six years before I moved to California, but I can still recapture the feelings of certain stretches of road fifteen years on.
Now that I am starting to string a few rides together without interruption, I am back on territory I know well from my ten years of riding in San Francisco; there are not so many route choices in Marin, but many of them are marvelous. This past weekend I tried my hand at climbing again, up from Mill Valley to the Panoramic Highway, along the shoulder of Mount Tam, and then back along Highway One.
The day was relatively clear and mild, but the upper stretches of the Panoramic can be at cloud level; with the climate we have here, though, sometimes you are riding up into the clouds, and sometimes you are climbing above the marine fog layer into unexpected warm blue sky. At the western end is the 1500 foot drop from the Pantoll to Stinson Beach, one of my least favourite climbs in the area if I am coming the other way. My body memory is of being cold on the lengthy descent, no matter the season, and of misjudging at least one of the tighter right-hand bends, though I never remember which one in advance. On this occasion, I was also anticipating debris on the road from rock slides, and potentially some standing water from all the rain.
The views were so very familiar to me, even if I have only been there a couple of times in the last nine months or so. Less familiar were the sounds, of abundant water running down the hillside – just as at Tassajara after a storm, when the gullies and canyons revealed themselves to be also streams and cascades. As I approached sea level, I could hear the king tide breaking along the length of the beach, much louder than usual (when I was coming back across the bridge, Baker Beach seemed to be completely subsumed by surf).
Once I had climbed higher, above Steep Ravine, in the lee of the mountain, suddenly it was intensely quiet. The sea was ice green as the sun weakly glimmered through the clouds, and I had leisure enough to take in the turkey vultures bucking and gliding on the breeze over the cliffs, before needing to turn my attention to what I knew would be two draining climbs – the short wall up to the Muir Beach overlook from Slide Ranch, and the longer drag up past Green Gulch, cheerfully accepting that just about everyone else out on a bike that morning was faster than me.
Highway 1 climbing past Green Gulch, with Mount Tam as a backdrop
‘Though the mind’s function is to integrate events and help us make meaning through the use of language and boundaries, those boundaries exist only within the mind and dissolve at every opportunity in which we find stillness.’ (Awake in the World)
‘If practice and realisation were two things, as it appears to an ordinary person, each could be recognised separately. But what can be met with recognition is not realisation itself, because realisation is not reached by a deluded mind. In stillness mind and object merge in realisation and go beyond enlightenment’ (Jijuyu Zanmai)
Recently I have revived a long-standing habit of mine and begun reciting sutras in my head as I walk around the city. Over the years, by dint of repetition, and in some cases applied learning, I memorised most of the Zen Center chant book, and found that bringing different chants to mind as I walked on Market St or elsewhere in San Francisco not only kept them fresh in my mind, but also changed my relationship to what I was passing through and who I was meeting on the way.
On Saturday I was on my way to the Mission, for the first in what I hope will be a regular series of sittings at a live/work space run by someone who used to come to Young Urban Zen. It had been raining, suddenly and heavily just before I left, but the strong wind had moved the clouds along, and as I cut across Dolores Park, with the above phrases in my mind, the newly laid paths across the slopes were gleaming wet in the bright sun. Green grass, blue sky.
On my way back across the park I was feeling a buoyancy from having sat for an hour and met people who had been most receptive to the instructions. For the third time in as many outings around town, I came across someone I knew through Zen Center, and was further buoyed by the sense of connection out there in the world.
A different view of Dolores Park on one of the rainier days last week
Following on from last Monday’s post, another line from the shukke tokudo ceremony that always resonated with me and comforted me is the preceptor’s comment after the recitation of the three refuges (taking refuge in Buddha, dharma and sangha):
‘This is the path of mercy for all existence and things’.
How does the line make you feel?
‘Do not remain bewildered and skeptical when you hear the words Mountains flow; but study these words with buddha ancestors. When you take up one view, you see mountains flowing, and when you take up another view, mountains are not flowing.’ (Mountains and Rivers Sutra)
I would add, do not forget to let go of each view after you have taken it up.
Pine Ridge, summer 2015. Are the mountains flowing, or not?
The rains that have filled this winter abated for a couple of days – though they are due to have returned by the time this is published – so I made the most of the clear sky lull by getting outside.
Friends and peers in transition have cautioned me to watch out for old bad habits creeping back in now that I am away from the temple, and I do notice that happening a little for me – and I am trying to meet this with caution rather than prohibition. I feel lucky though, in that from the age of fifteen on, I have used exercise to help keep myself in check in that regard.
On Wednesday, I set out on my bike to ride around Paradise Drive in the morning, another of the beautiful routes I did not think much of a challenge when I had fewer opportunities to ride. In the afternoon I set out on foot, with my camera, to Farley’s – basically thirty blocks along the same street – since I had not been there in some time, and wanted to know how much room I had for showing pictures next month. The route took me across the low-lying basin of Mission Creek – the centre-piece of the original European settlement, now a busy and long-gentrifying area – before rising up into the quieter surroundings of Potrero Hill, bounded on each side by noisy freeways; after my visit and a coffee, I continued east to the more newly gentrified Dogpatch by the bay to catch the streetcar home.
Yesterday, after spending too much time reading inconsequential things online, I went for a run to Twin Peaks, clear above the city, enjoying the swooping views in the way I remember from being out on the trails of Tassajara, quite intoxicating when mixed with the sense of accomplishment. The last time I was up on Twin Peaks was the afternoon of New Year’s Eve, and it was crowded with families, whom I presumed to be catching the last sunset of the year over the ocean. This time there were just a few people with cameras, other runners and hikers, and I got a joyful sense of being away from crowds and routines – the same joy that I got from being early onto the roads of Marin on my Sunday morning rides.
As I re-orient myself in my new abode, in addition to revisiting familiar hide-aways – the Pemberton Steps, the Interior Greenbelt – I have come across some other trails and staircases that don’t figure on the online map I have been using: unexpected views suddenly reveal themselves as I take tucked-away shortcuts from one slice of the city to another.
People around Zen Center are fond of quoting the lines from Leonard Cohen (whom we like to claim as one of our own in any case): ‘There is a crack in everything/ That’s how the light gets in.’ On my way up and down Twin Peaks, I was reflecting that it is true for cities as well: it is the hidden corners, the break in the grid, the compact open space with a stunning view, that reveal the true beauty of the city.
A view north from Potrero Hill from my Wednesday walk.
I had chosen these two shots to potentially include in the Farley’s show, but there will not be room for them after all:
The view north from Liberty Hill
The city from Corona Heights
There is going to be a little more Dogen in the next couple of weeks as I start organising my thoughts around the upcoming workshop in Santa Cruz, and that is how it should be…
‘The Buddha said, “All things are ultimately unbound. There is nowhere that they permanently abide.”
Know that even though all things are unbound and not tied to anything, they abide in their own condition.’ (Mountains and Rivers Sutra)
‘Thinking in the proper way is not to understand life through your intellect; it is to contemplate deeply how to live every day based on wisdom.’