Marian Mountain

‘Zen literature is full of examples showing how zen masters use their nyoi, or staff, to wake up their students. Here is one of my favorites: One day a student at Tassajara pointed to the nyoi of a visiting zen master, Yamada Mumon Roshi, and asked him, “What is this used for?” Mumon Roshi picked up his nyoi and scratched his back with it, saying, “It is used for back scratching. It can reach anywhere you want it to.” I like this mondo (zen question and answer) very much. Zen, like sex, is most fertile when it touches the ridiculous and the sublime in one quick thrust, when it combines the love of being human with the joke of being human.’ (The Zen Environment)

I first came across Marian Mountain’s book ten years ago, at a jumble sale in British Columbia. I picked it up casually and flicking through the pages, saw references to Tassajara and Suzuki Roshi, so I bought it for a few cents. I have read it a few times over the years, including when I was at Tassajara, and have enjoyed her wry and refreshing take on how she came to practice and how she moved on from formal practice without losing her way-seeking mind. It was in her garage zendo in Los Altos that the talks for Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind were given and recorded, so if nothing else, we all owe her a debt of gratitude for that. I would encourage anyone to read her book though to see what a fine mind of practice she cultivated. I recall hearing that she died just a year or two ago, although I am finding it hard to uncover news about that.

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